There is something about the number five in Sino-Indian relations. Asia’s two giants have long defined their relationship in terms of the famous Panchsheel Treaty: mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty; mutual non-aggression; mutual non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; equality and mutual benefit; and peaceful co-existence.
Now China’s new leaders have enunciated a new Panchsheel, with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) offering a “five-point proposal” for Sino-Indian relations.
The updated principles would maintain strategic communication and healthy bilateral relations; harness each other’s strengths and expand cooperation in infrastructure, investment, and other areas; deepen cultural ties and increase mutual understanding and friendship; expand coordination and collaboration in multilateral affairs to safeguard developing countries’ legitimate interests and address global challenges; and accommodate each other’s core concerns and reconcile bilateral disagreements amicably.
India would be happy to embrace each of these principles. Only the fifth point is tricky, for it leaves China’s “core concerns” undefined. Traditionally, these were Tibet and Taiwan, but Chinese officials have recently referred to their claims on the South China Sea as a “core interest” as well.
This has opened a Pandora’s box for China and has facilitated the US rediscovery of Asia.
India, like many other countries with economic interests in the Pacific, wants freedom of maritime navigation to be assured, with no threat of a Chinese veto. Indeed, China must be mindful of India’s “core interests,” especially because it has grievously damaged at least one such interest by enabling Pakistan to develop nuclear weapons.
China’s investment in strategic assets like the Gwadar Port in Pakistan has reinforced India’s anxiety. While China cannot be blamed, perhaps not even implicated, in the growing tendency of India’s South Asian neighbors to play the “China card,” India cannot remain oblivious to this trend.
With that caveat, India should welcome Xi’s five principles, for they recognize the two countries’ new and growing economic relationship and global cooperation. This in itself would have been a good starting point for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s conversation with Xi at last week’s BRICS summit in Durban, South Africa.
Over the past nine years, Singh has enunciated his own five principles for Sino-Indian relations. The first principle concerns the border issue and Singh stated it at his first meeting with then-Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) in Vientiane, Laos, in November 2004. Singh told Wen that India was willing to find an accommodation with China on the border question and that any agreement must take into account “ground realities.”
Singh’s second principle, often erroneously attributed to Wen, who subsequently repeated it on several occasions, is that “the world has enough space for the growth ambitions of both countries.” In other words, the rise of China, followed by India — fully two-fifths of the world’s population — does not imply a conflict-ridden zero-sum game.
On the contrary, Singh’s third principle is that the rise of China and India could amount to providing a global public good. Addressing the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in January 2008, Singh foresaw the possibility of positive externalities for the world as a whole from the rise of China and India, owing to the new opportunities for development that they could bring, especially to other developing countries.