Monday, December 14, 2009

As Ties Between India and China Grow, So Does Mistrust

Chinese and Indian media reports often include a quote from an old Chinese proverb: "Two tigers cannot share the same mountain."

On a remote mountain pass, Chinese soldiers berated a group of Indian laborers building a five-mile road near the India-China border. The land belonged to China, asserted the soldiers, who reportedly waved their guns and scared off the workers. The incident became the biggest breaking news story in India early this month, dominating TV coverage, capturing front-page headlines and igniting fears that the two countries were headed toward a crisis.

In many ways, cooperation between India and China has never been better, officials and observers say. China is India's biggest trading partner, and in the days before the climate summit taking place in Copenhagen, the two agreed on commitments to slow greenhouse gas emissions. But border disputes are occurring more frequently, analysts say, one sign that a fierce competition between India and China for regional dominance is heating up.

The two Asian giants have been locked in decades of mutual suspicion and lingering disputes over their 2,200-mile border since they fought a short war in 1962, in which China quickly overtook Indian forces. In the past two years, the heightened activity at the border has sparked a fresh round of discord.

India has increased its military presence and infrastructure projects along the border, "which from the Chinese side . . . looks threatening, especially when coupled with statements and press reports from India. China has also beefed up border patrols and development in the area, analysts say, and has spoken out about visits to the disputed frontier by high-level Indian officials.

Chinese cross-border incursions nearly doubled from 140 in 2006 to 270 in 2008 and have stayed at that higher level this year. Most analysts say another war between the nuclear-armed countries is unlikely. But the friction reveals an increasingly tortured relationship that experts say will define a new world order as their economies and influence continue to grow.

As China grows more powerful, so does the anxiety and envy in India. As India's economy and global standing have grown, China has come to view India as a legitimate threat.

The new alliances each country has made in recent years have contributed to the tensions. China angered India with its "string of pearls" strategy of building ports in Burma, Sri Lanka and Pakistan that could be used by its navy. And India has watched closely as the Obama administration advocates improved ties with China.
But China is also concerned about India's relations with Washington, and some say there is concern that an India backed by the United States would have more diplomatic clout.

Since the 1960s, China has sought ties with Pakistan -- India's perennial archrival --including nuclear cooperation and large-scale weapons sales in recent years. For its part, China is increasingly critical of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who lives in exile in northern India.

Officials on both sides of the border say the Indian media have fueled fears with sensationalistic and often jingoistic reports. The October road incident along the heavily militarized mountain border was reported weeks after it occurred, when a village leader's written complaint was leaked to Indian news stations and radio talk shows. The media repeatedly emphasized that the confrontation took place just a mile from a September incursion by Chinese soldiers, who painted huge rocks there with Chinese characters. Extracts from an article by Emily Wax, Washington Post

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