India and China: ties bloom despite border differences

April 1st, 2008 - 10:28 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Economic, social and cultural ties between the two Asian giants are blooming again, quietly overriding the contentious political and border issues as India and China seek out their rightful roles in a changing global order. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent official visit to Beijing — his first — turned the spotlight away from differences to areas of cooperation as the two nations that are home to one in three people in the world agreed to ink 11 agreements. The economic pacts would boost trade to $60 billion by 2008 from the current level of almost $40 billion.

Trade is itself the barometer of the transformation of relations between the two galloping economies: The present mark of almost $40 billion was originally set for 2010. No wonder a confident Manmohan Singh told the China-India Business Summit that both the countries needed to have a strategic plan because they “stand poised to regain their weight in the global economy”.

Perhaps more significant for India-China watchers are the elements of the pacts to deepen defence cooperation between the two countries whose armies had stood eyeball-to-eyeball in the Himalayas not too long ago. They held their first joint training exercise in China’s Kunming city last December. Another exercise is due in India this year.

And, in a diplomatic breakthrough, China has said that it “understands and supports” India’s desire to play a greater role in the United Nations, including in the all-important Security Council.

The warm embrace of the two rising powers may have generated some apprehensions in Washington, but India and China have declared that their friendship would have a positive influence on the future of the international system and is not targeted at any country.

Rather than a power play, their growing ties have a key role in their race to develop their countries and improve the lives of their citizens.

Diplomats in New Delhi and Beijing noted that the people as well as trade and industry in both the countries are keen on close relations and - as in the case of India and Pakistan - are driving the momentum in bilateral ties. “It is only increased interaction that will enhance understanding and mutual respect necessary to negotiate the differences,” a senior Asian diplomat in Beijing said, emphasising the importance of the Sino-Indian bonhomie.

The two countries have complementary strengths. India has much to offer in computer software and information technology, outsourced back office work, education, management, pharmaceuticals, the services sector and certain areas of high technology.

The Chinese are strong in the computer hardware, manufacturing, engineering, machinery, infrastructure, telecom and power sectors.

But India-China relations are not just confined to business, diplomacy and military.

Manmohan Singh’s three-day trip mid-January to China brought to the fore hidden facets of a growing relationship whose depth and warmth are rarely known to most outsiders. It was not just Chinese media coverage of Manmohan Singh’s stay that was surprising; revealing was the positive and eager reaction to India of the English-knowing people on the street who were eager to strike up conversations with visiting Indians at the slightest opportunity.

And there is yet another stimulant for these ties. The growing presence of the Indian community in China - and of the Chinese in India - means more and more Indians and Chinese are coming to know each other first hand, the language barriers notwithstanding. Tourist traffic between the two countries is rising rapidly.

Among the thousands of Indians in China are more than 6,000 students attracted to the Middle Kingdom for its easy admission systems, affordable fees as well as high standards of facilities at its universities. The dominant choice of Indians is medicine. The desire to learn Chinese in China is also a major draw.

According to Ravi Ranjan, who teaches Indian literature and culture and Hindi at Peking University, Chinese institutions are good in science and technology too. Indian students are full of praise for China - although many say they are missing their favourite food back home!

But eating Indian food is no more a problem in China. There are, surprisingly, more than 100 restaurants across the country serving Indian cuisine. Most of the Chinese clientele are in the 20s and 30s although most users are Indians or Western expatriates. Beijing has nearly 20 restaurants with Indian cuisine on their menus, double of what it was 10 years ago.

Yoga too is becoming popular in China. There are about 400 yoga teachers from India who have made China their home - and are making a mark. “The Chinese are crazy about yoga,” says Kapil Gautam, a 27-year-old yoga teacher from New Delhi who lives in Shenyang town, about 700 km northeast of Beijing where temperatures dip in winter to a bone-chilling -37 (minus 37)degrees.

“China is a very nice country to live in,” explains Meena Banot, 36, the China representative of Shalina Group, a conglomerate with diversified interests in construction, mining and pharmaceuticals. “Once you start understanding and speaking basic Chinese, there is no problem. The people are very kind and helpful by nature.”

So are Indians falling in love with China? Yes! And it seems that Indians and Chinese are also falling in love with one another - after decades of distrust and distance!

There are growing numbers of marriages, mainly between Indian men and Chinese women. It is a trend that has dramatically picked up in the past decade. A teacher from India with a Chinese girlfriend who may end up marrying her explained the phenomenon in one sentence: “Chinese women are truly beautiful and make great wives!”

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