Monday, August 7, 2017

The Current Border Row Should be Downplayed for the Sake of Future Sino-Indian Relations

In previous posts, this blog has noted how mutual ignorance has continued to plague the relationship between China and India, the past and future superpowers of Asia (and the world), and how the ignorance ensure that bilateral relationships, especially at the grassroots level, remain highly underdeveloped and susceptible to mutual suspicions.  Unfortunately, the recent (re-)flaring up of the Doklam border issue has only further entrenched the mutual suspicions, threatening to take the relationship a step back and wipe out positive results from nascent efforts at cooperation through the BRICS framework.

To discuss who is right and who is wrong in any border row is quite pointless.   It is one of those highly nationalistic political issues where sentimentalism trumps logic by significant distance, and any negotiation only degenerates into a shouting match of national fervor at  the grassroots level.  Holding certain territories may provide certain geopolitical/geostrategic advantage for the holder, but it is unlikely that most members of the general public will see things the same way.  The blind nationalism associated with territorial rows ensure that governments cannot engage in rational trading of territories without inciting anger and opposition at home.

While the blind nationalism of the general public ensures that neither governments can visually display weakness by backing down from contesting territorial claims, it should be supposed that leaders in China and India have not forgotten that the current border row is but a tiny portion of the greater bilateral relationship.  As two of the world's fastest growing large economies and premier military powers of the Asian continent, China and India, if were to degenerate into open conflict, will be devastating for both the global economy and the well-being of the citizenry that are just becoming well-off enough to take concrete strides into the global middle-class.

In fact, the very fact that both countries have the capital to pursue such high-profile bouts of hostility come the fact  that the past decades of economic reforms have given the two countries enough resources at disposal to display military and political strengths.  In the hawkish right-wing media outlets of both countries, there are plenty of talks about how their own country has now improved so much in terms of military hardware, logistical support, and infrastructure that the difficulties of the 1962 war would not be repeated.  Economic strength, media of both countries argue, ultimately provides lasting strength for military victory.

We should be glad that the governments of both countries have remained largely silent in the face of continued inflammatory comments from nationalistic media outlets and citizens.  Both governments should realize that the discussions of whether the country has enough resources to afford open conflict with the giant neighbor is a ridiculous one.  Whether or not the resources are available, open conflict can quickly worsen the economic situation of both countries for the coming generations.  For each, future growth hinges upon peace and greater cooperation.

For the Chinese side, the grand strategy of "Belt and Road Initiative" requires Indian support and participation.  The Initiative passes through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, all of which lie within striking distances of India.  Should India become a hostile party, it can be assumed that none of the South Asian portions of the Initiative can actually be realized.  The Chinese strategy to use the region as a strategic way to rid itself of economic dependence of the Malacca Strait chokepoint controlled by the US would be largely grounded with a hostile India.

For the Indian side, any success from Modi's high-profile "Make in India" campaign hinges upon smooth, gradual shifting of the global manufacturing supply chain from China's southern and eastern industrial centers to the subcontinent.  A hostile China will significant delay and disrupt the process, making Modi's plan to generate large numbers of formal jobs for millions of Indian youth entering the job market every year no more than a distant pipe dream.  A hostile China today may very well have future implications for socioeconomic instability in India.

As long as (if?) Chinese and Indian leaders can remember just how much negative impact mutual hostility can have on the two countries, the current border row should be contained and the nationalistic outbursts of the ring-wing media not replicated in government circles.  Cooler heads among policymakers should ensure that the border row downplayed to ensure that it does not become a permanent obstacle to future bilateral cooperation for greater economic interests, much less a sufficient reason for open conflict.  National interests of both countries go much beyond control over a few specks of land, no matter how geopolitically significant.

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