No one could have put a simple proposition better than Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi did in early March on the mending of the India-China relationship. Bilateral ties have been uneasy following the conflict between the two armies along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector of China-India border areas last year.
On March 7, Wang held a news conference on the sidelines of the Fourth Session of the 13th National People's Congress, China's top legislature, in Beijing to explain the country's diplomatic agenda for 2021 to the outside world.
Wang spoke about the importance of building a "constructive relationship" with India. He offered a fresh blueprint to clear the air on India-China relations after the prolonged border standoff.
The foreign minister exhibited both hope and confidence on relations between Asia's two biggest countries. The candid tone of his remarks emphasized that China values its friendship with India and will work to manage its differences with its neighbor.
Calling the boundary dispute as not the "whole story" of the bilateral relationship, Wang said China and India are each other's friends and partners, not threats or rivals, so the two sides need to help rather than undercut each other and intensify cooperation rather than harbor suspicions. Surely, the points he made hold much significance to have a strong relationship, as long as both sides strive to build trust instead of fighting each other.
Without directly mentioning unilateral actions such as imposing a range of economic measures against Chinese firms and apps as well as tightening the curbs on Chinese investment taken by the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party government following the border conflict at the Galwan Valley since last May, the Chinese minister rightly pointed out that the two countries together can bring greater benefits to their 2.7 billion people and make greater contributions to the advent of the "Asian Century."
Truly, in terms of their growing power and economic influence, India-China ties may indeed be the most influential relationship of the 21st century. As such, the need of the hour is that the two countries should significantly expand spheres of economic and trade relations, mutual trust and people-to-people friendship in order to bring back bilateral relations to the right track of healthy and steady growth for the "historic mission" of bettering lives for the two peoples.
Fortunately, the months-long border crisis came to end as the two countries agreed to disengage their frontline troops after several rounds of diplomatic and military talks. The disengagement process began on both northern and southern banks of Pangong Tso Lake on February 11 and completed on February 19. It was followed by the 10th round of corps commander-level talks between the two armies on the Chinese side of the Moldo-Chushul border meeting point on February 20, which had "candid and in-depth exchange of views on the remaining issues along the LAC in the western sector" as per the words of India's External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.
The Pangong disengagement suggests that both sides are willing to create a positive atmosphere for forward movement in bilateral ties that have been affected and disrupted much by the border conflict in the past year.
However, it is unrealistic to expect a permanent solution to the sticky border issue in the near future. So "peaceful negotiation" is very important to maintaining peace along the 3,488-km-long border between the two Asian giants.
Furthermore, after the completion of the military disengagement, the two countries moved on a political dialogue over phone led by Wang and Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on February 25 in which the two ministers reiterated that the two countries should work together to bring greater benefits to the two peoples.
It's really encouraging to hear that Wang urged India to meet China halfway. Since the border conflict is primarily a legacy of colonialism rather than a Chinese creation, it is hoped that India should come back to negotiation and strengthen crisis management instead of taking unilateral actions.
In the past two years the Modi government has adopted an aggressive diplomacy to China by embracing former U.S. President Donald Trump's flip-flopping "South Asia policy." As such, following the standoffs at multiple points at the LAC in the western sector of China-India border areas last year, Modi announced "lockdown" on Chinese investments to prevent the "dragon's paw" in its domestic market.
But the irony is that despite Modi's "Aatmanirbhar Bharat" (a self-reliant India) push, China displaced the U.S. and regained its position as India's largest trading partner in 2020, due to New Delhi's reliance on machines imported from China and muted demand for goods from the U.S. in the middle of the pandemic.
According to provisional data from India's commerce ministry, India-China two-way trade stood at $77.7 billion last year, while bilateral trade between India and the U.S. came in at $75.9 billion.
From April to December 2020, India exported $15.3 billion of goods to China while its imports totaled $45.4 billion. Such numbers clearly indicate that India is in need of substantial Chinese investment in order to transform its weaker economy by exploring new avenues through trade and investment with China in the post-pandemic period.
On March 7, an article in the Chinese newspaper Global Times entitled Hard Reality That India Cannot Dodge When Making Development Policy rightly noted: "Roaring nationalism cannot become a cure for the Indian society to solve its problems. New Delhi cannot scapegoat Beijing for its own governance woes. And leading the whole society to hate China will only harm it."
It is hoped that India's China policy should not be lost in the so-called "patriotic" sentiments incited by some people that will only beleaguer its economy and, of course, its foreign policy should not be kidnapped by the U.S.
India-China relations are now at a new crossroads. Maintaining solid friendship best serves the fundamental interests between the two neighbors which is essential for making this century the "Asian Century."
As Deng Xiaoping, chief architect of China's reform and opening-up policy, put it long ago, "No genuine Asia-Pacific century or Asian century can come until China, India and other neighboring countries are developed."
The general picture of India-China friendship will not stagnate due to the difficulty posed by one issue or incident at one time. During his second visit to India in October 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the "dragon-elephant tango" between the two countries has become the only path for bilateral ties, stressing that the world's two most populous countries should shoulder the responsibility to maintain global stability.
Dark clouds of mistrust must vanish. In this post-pandemic era, the two countries as neighbors, friends and partners should work harder through more grounded activities and cooperation projects to inject more positive energy into bilateral relations which is the common aspirations of the two peoples and an irreversible trend.
The author is an Indian analyst and commentator. This article was first published on Cnfocus.com