Indian and Chinese media commentaries on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, most of them jingoistic recounts of the modernization of their respective nation’s military, while panning each other for the geopolitical skirmishes, suggest that half a century has healed almost nothing.
Poking fun at Indians who “still worry” about the possibility of China retaking “the land that it recovered but later gave to India five decades ago,” China’s Global Times, owned by the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily, wrote that India should rather focus on bridging the “economic gap” with China. The accompanying illustration is that of a weary Indian snake charmer who has failed to work his spell on a drooping plant, symbolizing a somewhat flagging Indian economy, though he has his fair share of missiles sticking out of a backpack.
“The PLA's (People’s Liberation Army) arms and equipment are apparently better than those of the Indian army, and China has increased its spending on border defense,” Global Times wrote adding, “But China's military growth is essentially simultaneous with its economic development.”
Though the article doesn’t refer to the border dispute between New Delhi and Beijing over India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, it says India’s “ordinary Indians, especially those living in bordering regions of northeastern India,” are reaping the benefits of “the spillover effect of the Chinese economy.”
Referring to the ethnic strife between Bodos and Muslims in India’s northeastern state of Assam and the stunted economic development fueled by domestic crises, the article declares: “India's soft spot is economic, not military.”
The Times of India, on the other hand, observed it was “inevitable” that both nations will bump against each other and that “rising China looms larger on our radar screen than ever before.”
“A lesson of the 1962 war is that India must never let down its guard,” the commentary said adding “we are better prepared than ever before, but this is not a static.”
The Chinese version of the relationship between the two Asian giants, as it appeared in the PLA Daily in November last year, is that it’s India that treats China as a “de facto” competitor, while Beijing has always adhered to the principle of peaceful rise, which is “misinterpreted by some countries as rising threat.”
Despite the lingering bitterness from a war fought decades ago, China is India’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade of over $60 billion which is expected to touch $100 billion by 2015. However, “booming bilateral trade” — in this case sharply tilted in favor of China — “is no guarantee of moderation between countries,” says Brahma Chellaney, author and Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, in an article published on Project Syndicate.
He says the Sino-Indian rivalry has persisted despite regular Chinese-Indian talks since 1981, though “these talks constitute the longest and most futile negotiating process between any two countries in modern history.”
Remarkably, India has at times, “used” the rivalry with China to justify its military advancements and reduce the friction with the U.S. over arms race, but not without repercussions on ties with Beijing.
When the CIA was taken by surprise by India’s nuclear tests of May 1998 that shot up tensions between Washington and New Delhi, Brajesh Mishra, the Principal Secretary to then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wrote a letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton explaining why India carried out the tests. “The letter referred to India’s fears of a possible threat from China as a reason for the decision,” India’s Outlook Magazine writes. “The U.S. State Department mischievously leaked that letter to the U.S. media, thereby adding to the friction between India and China.”
Ahead of the 50th war anniversary, the youth wing of India’s key opposition, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) has called for making public the Henderson Brooks report, which probed the causes of India's defeat in the 1962 war against China.
"The country wants to know what were the shortcomings of the 1962 war,” BJYM national president Anurag Thakur was quoted saying Thursday by the Indian Express.
"We notice that our focus and also information about China is much less than our knowledge about Pakistan. We need to follow China more," he said, adding that China continues to occupy the Aksai Chin area in Ladakh.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Nitin Gadkari flagged off a car and bike rally to commemorate the 50th war anniversary. The course of the rally will be from Guwahati to Bomla in Arunachal Pradesh via Tezpur, Bomdila, Dirang and Tawang.
Though the global state of affairs have never been too peaceful for the prime focus of international community to be on Sino-India relations — even the 1962 war was shielded due to the Cuban missile crisis between the U.S. and the Soviet Union — whatever happens in the world’s two most populous nations is sure to have repercussions affecting beyond the 37 percent of world’s population residing within their boundaries.
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