The parallel rise of China and India is one of the most significant developments in international affairs. It excites a lot of curiosity and speculation in various places. The key question being asked everywhere is whether India and China will be partners or rivals. This is hardly surprising since the relationship between the two Asian giants is likely to play a decisive role in defining the contours of the emerging global order in the 21st century. To say this is not to downplay the importance of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and Japan. Nor is there any need to minimise the necessity for both New Delhi and Beijing to maintain good political and economic relations with Washington. However, if the crises of Iraq and Afghanistan, the impasse over Iran, and the confused response to North Korea's nuclear explosion demonstrate one thing, it is the inability of the U.S. to establish a world order that is stable and peaceful. Pax Americana is a dangerous concept but when America is not even able to deliver Pax, somebody has to take responsibility for retrieving the situation. This week's summit-level meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Hu Jintao sends an unusually upbeat peace and development message to the world. It is that India and China are partners, not rivals; and that they will go beyond bilateral issues to involve themselves cooperatively on the side of international peace, security, and stability. If conflicts across Asia and the world stand a chance of being resolved in a harmonious way, India and China will need to play a more proactive and better coordinated role. That is why President Hu, in his Vigyan Bhavan speech, listed the development of "multilateral cooperation for creating a multi-polar world" as one of the five-pronged strategies India and China must follow in order to enhance their strategic partnership.
The current goodwill between India and China goes back to the breakthrough achieved during the December 1988 Rajiv Gandhi visit to China. Hearteningly, the depth of the relationship exceeds the most optimistic predictions of that time. This year's bilateral trade is expected to cross the $20 billion mark and, going by present trends, the $ 40 billion target set for 2010 seems conservative. At the political level, a determined stab is being made at solving the boundary question. A residual lack of political trust is holding the two sides back somewhat but it has not prevented India and China from carving out significant areas for mutual cooperation, notably in the energy sector. While it is possible that the growing Chinese interest in improving relations with India is related to the emerging strategic partnership between India and the U.S., the Manmohan Singh government needs carefully to calibrate and manage the development of this triangular relationship. New Delhi has rightly emphasised that neither containment nor rivalry will be part of its China policy. At the same time, elements in the Indian establishment, aided and abetted by incompetent, slavishly pro-U.S. strategic affairs punditry, seem to be nursing `balance of power' delusions. The past centuries of conflict have shown how fluid, contingent, and impermanent the idea of `balance' is. Rather than weapon acquisition sprees and military partnerships and alliances, it is economic interdependence and the shared quest for development that provide dependable insurance against conflict. The Sino-Indian relationship is certainly headed in the right direction. For the strategic and cooperative partnership to become truly irreversible, there must be enhanced political sensitivity, trust, and enthusiasm on both sides. The Manmohan-Hu summit is an important milestone that must be followed through with a prime ministerial visit to China in 2007 - in order to sustain the momentum and deepen the trends.