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Frenemies forever: India and China have a lot to gain from working together

Frenemies forever: India and China have a lot to gain from working together

Frenemies forever: India and China have a lot to gain from working together
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By Harini Calamur  Oct 11, 2019 6:45:57 AM IST (Updated)

While there will always be contentious issues between India and China – the border, their land claims, water and Pakistan – there are many areas of collaboration between us, outside of trade, that will help both our people. We don’t have to be the closest buddies. But, can we as neighbours work together for a better future? writes Harini Calamur.

President Xi Jinping  of China and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India are all set to meet again, in the second set of informal talks between the leaders of the two nations. The first was held in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and this one is to be held in the city of Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu.

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The Wuhan set of interactions between Modi and Xi led to a serious lowering of tensions between the two countries after a 70-day stand-off at Doklam. It normalised relations to a great deal. Post that, India and China have had multiple speed bumps in their relationship. The first was India’s participation in Quad – a grouping with the USA, Australia, Japan and India and that looks at countering China in the Pacific. Then there is the issue on trade and the conflicting signals about whether Chinese giant Huawei will be allowed to participate in 5G trials.
Right now, post the abrogation of Article 370, China has been steadfastly supporting Pakistan’s stand, and relations are not what they ought to be. But the reason is less Kashmir, and more the creation of Ladakh as a separate union territory. China has traditionally claimed a part of Ladakh as its own.
Contentious issues
While there will always be contentious issues between India and China – the border, their land claims, water and Pakistan – there are many areas of collaboration between us, outside of trade, that will help both our people. And, this collaboration can be in areas that doesn’t impact military security, sovereignty and supremacy – rather it looks at cementing ties between two nations that hold 36 percent of the world’s population and increasing the welfare of peoples of both nations. And, in a world confronted by the potential disaster to be wrought by climate change, there is nothing more important that joining hands to combat this.
The first area is environment. Both nations have a disastrous record on pollution caused by development and the pollution that chokes urban agglomerations. Like India, China too suffers excessive air pollution owing to vehicles and factories. Much of the air is unbreathable. And, both countries have been trying hard to bring down pollution. Almost 2 decades ago China declared war on air pollution and has been gradually working towards reducing pollution in cities. India is still grappling with this. This could be an area of co-operation, working together to reduce pollution. China has had a head start on working on EV batteries, and environmentally friendly mass transit.
The second area where there can be collaboration is water. India and China have 36 percent of the world’s population, but only 11 percent of its water requirements. Both countries have been grappling to solve this problem. Both countries have plans to dam and divert rivers. China to make sure that its dry northern regions have water; and India to ensure that one part of the nation doesn’t drown while the other one is dying of thirst.  Rivers don’t know national boundaries. The Brahmaputra that rises in Chinese territories feeds large swathes of the Northern and Eastern parts of India, and the Chinese are planning to dam and divert the water, that would have an impact on Indian agriculture. While you can’t change the country’s priorities, can you collaborate on helping conserve water resources better?
Need to work together 
The third area is food and agriculture. Both nations have made tremendous advances from the late 1940s till now – going from nations where millions died of starvation, simply because of lack of grains and the means to transport them, to nations that export food.  But, is it enough for populations aspiring for better? Can we collaborate on research on less water intense cultivation of rice, or the production of fortified wheat? Can we learn about animal husbandry from each other?  With climate change and weather patterns changing, the nature of crop cycles is changing too. Can the two giants work together in these areas?
Finally how do you trade off the growing aspirations of people and consumption associated with it, with lower carbon footprints? Is there a way scientists and researchers in two massively populated economies can work together to find a solution?
India and China have lived most of their history in peace. Or absence of war. There have been academic, cultural, scientific and trade exchanges. We don’t have to be the closest buddies. But, can we as neighbours work together for a better future?
Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences.
Read Harini Calamur's columns here.
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