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The China Tantrum

The China Tantrum

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Times of India
Dated: April 17, 2009
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/4410880.cms

Introduction: New Delhi must make it clear that Beijing's obstructionism is needless and unwanted

Coming on the heels of the G-20 summit in London with global economic cooperation as its leitmotif, China's withholding approval of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan to India strikes a discordant note. Despite the lack of an official line from Beijing, there can be little doubt that the decision hinged on projects in Arunachal Pradesh forming a component of the plan. Seen in the light of Beijing's protest against President Pratibha Patil's visit to the state just a few days ago and against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit in 2008 it seems the latest step is a continuing policy to raise the stakes over the simmering border dispute. Given the current international climate, this is regrettable.

At a time when China and to a lesser extent India have the potential to share in the heavy lifting required to bring the global economy back on track, this geopolitical spoiler is particularly inopportune. Petty obstructionism has no place in a relationship between the only major economies that continue to show relatively healthy growth. The pity is that recent developments in the bilateral relationship have revealed glimpses of the potential it holds. They may be competing in Myanmar, Africa and elsewhere, but the growing economic and energy rivalry between the two countries has also thrown up opportunities for synergy. Witness the agreement between ONGC Videsh Ltd and China National Petroleum Corporation to bid jointly for future projects, and all its attendant implications. Or, in a particularly relevant example, the amicable settlement of the Sikkim issue in 2003.

Perversely, New Delhi would do well to take a leaf out of Beijing's book when it comes to formulating a muscular response. A deliberately confrontationist policy would be counterproductive but there is nothing to be gained from restraint based on a false perception of ground realities or needless appeasement. Beijing has shown no hesitation in utilising international forums to apply pressure on New Delhi, whether it is the ADB, attempting to block the NSG waiver or resisting India's membership of the ASEAN Regional Forum and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. New Delhi could do worse than emulate this tactic. While it is unlikely to be able to apply real pressure by bringing up Tibet, the issue remains an emotive one for Beijing and a potential embarrassment.

It must be made clear to Beijing that the relationship with New Delhi is based on quid pro quo. And it would benefit both countries far more to focus on its positive implications, not the negative.

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