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July 7, 2020

Sino-India tensions

Opinion

July 7, 2020

The recent tension between India and China seems to have dashed the hopes of those who have been dreaming of Asia’s rise. The two giant states of the continent recently engaged in a fatal clash that claimed the lives of over a dozen Indian soldiers, triggering war frenzy in the largest democracy of the world. Hate-mongers not only resorted to China-bashing but also created an atmosphere that will make it hard for the two countries to normalize ties anytime soon.

The shift of power from one continent to another is not new. There was a time when Europe was an impoverished and overcrowded continent. It was not only natural calamities that plagued the continent for centuries but the pernicious tentacles of superstition, religious bigotry and sectarian intolerance also held sway over the region. The people of the continent waged a long and relentless struggle against the clergy, autocratic rulers and agents of darkness, pulling their region out of extreme poverty and ignorance. Workers, women and peasants did not get their rights without fierce opposition from the powerful elite who resorted to all types of oppressive tactics to stifle the dissenting voices and wipe out rebellious elements.

While Europe was sunk in the abyss of ignorance following the downfall of the Roman Empire, the Eastern civilization continued to enlighten the world. Baghdad, Damascus and several parts of China and India remained the bastion of learning, research and intellectual activities. Though some parts of the West like Spain and Italian city states were blessed with some hope, the rest of the European continent was mired in hopelessness and despair.

With the rise of the West, the East started sliding into backwardness and ignorance. A region that would contribute more than 35 percent of the global GDP shrank immensely in terms of its productive capacity. China was surrounded by Western imperialist states that imposed opium addiction on the giant country besides taking away its main ports, using them to trade and make money. This usurpation and ruthless exploitation greatly helped countries like the UK, Japan and to some extent the US thrive economically. The consequences for the Chinese people were catastrophic. A country that hardly had any significant opium addiction prior to the onslaught of the Westerns, sunk into the abyss of addiction, taking decades to get rid of this Western gift. China that played an important role in the global economy between the 9th and 19th centuries turned into a commodity market or a storeroom of raw materials.

The fate of India was not much different. It would contribute 20 to 30 percent to the global GDP when the British snuck into the country. Some historians claim Indian goods would flood European markets. Its homemade cotton had a substantial share in the world market. But a long foreign rule on the country greatly destroyed its economy, reducing its share to five percent at the time of Partition from 20 to 30 percent at the advent of the British. Some estimates suggest that the British looted around 45 trillion dollars. The famines of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa are said to have decimated around 35 million hapless souls. In addition to that, the English employed brutal coercive tactics to crush various movements for independence.

Not all blame can be laid at the door of the Western powers for China and India's descent. Their erratic rulers and corrupt ruling elites also contributed to this. For instance, China learnt ship-building and paper-making much before the West but they failed to advance owing to the myopic policies of their ruling elites. Similarly in India, the caste system and superstitions also hindered their development in a number of fields that the Western were trying to excel. Tensions between various communities and the obscurantist policies of some Muslim rulers also weakened India.

The two countries made strides in business, science and other fields after their independence. Under the protectionist policy of the Congress, the local bourgeoisie thrived in India, making it capable of competing with Western capitalist classes. Mao’s China created the conditions for economic development by imparting free education and strengthening the social sector of the country which helped improve the health system of the country. Shockingly, life expectancy was hardly 36 years in China in 1949, rising to 66 years. It was because of the improvement in the social sector that China achieved great success in improving life expectancy.

It is ironic that, instead of heaping scorn on the colonisers, India and China are engaged in trading allegations and vowing to decimate one another. If the two large economies of the world worked together, they could turn the dream of an Asian rise into a reality. While China seems to be making efforts for the rise of this region, India, abandoning the policy of non-alignment, has drifted into the lap of the Western corporate world. India is committing the blunder of looking beyond the region for help. Its proximity with the US, Japan and other powers will not help the region because the tension between New Delhi and Beijing is likely to benefit the West.

Therefore, it is important that the two countries sort out their issues bilaterally. The Indian media must stop bashing China for alleged crimes. The war hysteria that is being created by hawks will not benefit India's more than 243 million people living below the poverty line. The two countries have already had significant trade and there is a need to boost it instead of boycotting Chinese goods. The anti-Chinese atmosphere is not only against the interest of the region but that of India as well.

China is no more the world’s assembly plant. It is making tremendous strides in science, technology, research and innovation. Its bulging middle class can benefit Indian businesses. The collaboration of the two countries in the field of science, especially in medicines, could go a long way in serving humanity, should the two countries decide to launch joint ventures in medical research on a large scale.

Both Beijing and New Delhi have cordial ties with Moscow. If the two countries cannot sort out their issues bilaterally, they could involve Putin’s Russia that is also interested in stabilizing the region and working for a multilateral world. The three countries know very well that a conflict in the region would be catastrophic for its people. China and India have fought a war in the past and witnessed tensions on borders several times. Both countries have been spending a huge amount on defence, which could hamper their future development. India with a large population living in extreme poverty cannot afford to pump money into non-productive sectors like defense. Therefore, peace in the region is more in the interest of the largest democracy than any other country of the region.

Pacifist voices in India should make efforts for the normalization of ties. They should confront the voices of war unleashed by sections of Indian media. Beijing should also realize that any move to show its military muscle would prompt the US and the West to intervene in the region, which will harm Chinese economic development. Therefore, for the Asian dream it should take the lead in normalizing ties.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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