Singh’s fourth principle is that, both because of and despite all of the above, the bilateral relationship will be characterized by elements of both cooperation and competition. While there is space for both countries to rise, and while that may benefit the global economy and offer opportunities for other forms of cooperation — for example, on climate change and energy security — the potential for competition for markets, resources, and influence should not be ignored.
The fifth principle is a more general norm of national security: A country’s policy toward another is defined not just by intentions, but also by capabilities. Intentions can change; capabilities are more enduring.
Thus, it is not what one country’s political leaders say, but what they are capable of doing, that should guide other countries’ policy toward it. Even as Indian leaders accept all of China’s assurances, they cannot afford to remain indifferent to China’s rising capability to create problems for India.
On the question of intention versus capability, former US president Ronald Reagan had the last word. When asked if he could trust his Soviet counterparts when they promised to reduce their nuclear capabilities, Reagan famously said that he would “trust, but verify.” That was precisely Singh’s reply when he was asked if he could trust former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, and it should be any Indian leader’s response to assurances offered by China’s leaders.
There is another concern that ought to engage both leaders: How will developments in the global economy, especially the transatlantic slowdown and the emergence of religious and other extremist politics in Asia affect their own countries’ rise and that of Asia as a whole?
Conflict in Asia, whether in the South China Sea or in western Asia, serves neither side’s interests. China and India cannot afford to remain reticent observers while Asia burns round them, mired in sectarianism, terrorism, violence, and instability.
Likewise, it does not serve China’s interests to unnerve the countries of Southeast Asia, playing one against another. Nor is a Sino-Japanese conflict over the East China Sea in the interests of the rest of Asia. Rather, China and Japan should work together to build a new regional architecture for sustained economic growth and security.
China and India have a responsibility to work with other Asian powers, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan, Russia, and the US, to ensure peace, prosperity, and stability in the region. Many principles of cooperative engagement can — and should — be crafted from the difficult challenges that Asia’s two giants confront.
Sanjaya Baru, a former adviser to India’s prime minister, is director for Geo-Economics and Strategy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and an honorary senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research.
Copyright: Project Syndicate