By M.D.Nalapat (Global Times)
08:46, September 07, 2012
Since both countries became independent nations, there has only been a single Sino-Indian armed conflict in 1962. Since then, even while India and China were engaged in war on other fronts, the Sino-Indian border has remained calm.
However, despite such a peaceful record, neither military has much contact with the other, a situation that makes them susceptible to disinformation from those countries that gain by India and China remaining geopolitically apart. Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie's visit to India on Tuesday will help reduce this "knowledge deficit" between the two ancient countries.
As the two countries are facing the same threats from foreign sources, separatism and terrorism, it would be in the overall interests of India and China for the militaries of the two to cooperate with each other.
At present, while defense links between India and the US are high and rising, military-to-military ties with China are near zero. This has created an imbalance in India's strategic diplomacy, and a propensity to look at the international situation through a narrow rather than a broad-spectrum lens.
As a consequence of the lack of adequate contact, despite the huge common ground on international issues, media attention in both countries gets focused on the relatively smaller areas where the two countries' views diverge. Such a perception plays into the hands of outsiders who seek to keep China and India apart. They know that were China and India to come together in meeting common security challenges, no outside powers can dominate Asia.
Both China and India have demonstrated their commitments to peaceful resolution of disputes, in contrast to NATO, which is daily engaged in acts of war in locations across the world, actions that have caused hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. Peace is win-win, while war is usually zero-sum. The two militaries that give priority to peace over war, those of China and India, are natural partners of each other.
The lack of significant military-to-military ties between two countries that together have armed forces totaling over 6 million people is mirrored by a lack of ties in other spheres. For example, there are hardly a dozen direct flights between India and China, while cultural and sports contacts are also low. This is in contrast to business, which is expanding rapidly.
Indeed, in a situation where growth is faltering in Europe, India has become a major market for China to export goods and services, almost all at costs far below other international competitors. In energy, infrastructure and other fields, India has the potential to become a huge market, provided overall relations warm up to desired levels.
The common culture of professionalism provides the cement that can forge a close partnership between the armed forces of China and India. Such a partnership is needed, because both China and India have been facing terrorist and separatist efforts aimed at disrupting the lives of their citizens.
Hence it is logical that both share their experience and expertise in counter-terror operations. If the 21st century is to be the Asian century, there is need for much greater coordination between China and India, especially in the military sphere.
While Europe provided a horrible example of colonization and conflict in previous centuries, NATO is trudging the same road today, using armed forces to change regimes in weaker states. The zero-sum NATO preference for war as the preferred means of settling diplomatic differences needs to be shunned in favor of a win-win path of peace and harmony.
The coming together in friendship and cooperation between the militaries of India and China would be a significant step toward a comprehensive geopolitical partnership between two countries that together account for over 2.5 billion people, a partnership designed to ensure that countries and peoples that were dominated and exploited in the past gain the ability to lead their lives independent of external control, and can forge the institutions and instruments needed for their welfare. Closer defense coordination between China and India would, among other benefits, help to ensure that the oceans get cleansed of pirates.
The dream of those who are opposed to the steady increase in prosperity by both China and India is to somehow goad the two countries in the direction of tension and conflict. Such an outcome will be a nightmare for Asia, as it will set back the continent's chances for regaining the preeminent position that it enjoyed throughout much of human history.
Once there is closer contact between the militaries of China and India, the prospects for a resolution of the border issue would brighten substantially. Together with this, India and China could take the lead, together with Kuwait, Russia, Brazil and South Africa, to create international financial institutions which would better reflect current realities rather than the past.
Closer defense ties have the potential to ignite a much broader partnership that would be to the benefit of both sides. In such a context, Liang's visit to India is a welcome development, which needs to be followed up with a deepening of the strategic engagement between China and India.