Braving out against Beijing

By NT Bureau Published on Aug 12, 2017 05:16 PM IST

Tensions between the two Asian giants have sent ripples all over the world.

The standoff between India and China at Bhutan’s border has been accompanied by a frenzied global diplomatic campaign by both countries to project their point of view.

India’s hard line on the issue of protecting its smaller neighbour has apparently taken the Chinese by surprise, hence the aggressive public posturing.

The question is: will this long-drawn border spat affect the diverse economic relations between the two countries which have become deep and longstanding over the past two decades?

On the economic front, according to the CII, as many as 142 Chinese companies have invested 27 billion dollars over the last 13 years in various industries in this country, including auto components and consumer electronics. These include Huawei, ZTE, Alibaba, and Xiaomi.

Over the same period, 139 Indian companies have invested 12 billion dollars in China, largely in the software and information technology sector.

Official data shows much lower investments by China but in any case, there is clearly a surge of interest in the large Indian market. This is visible even to consumers seeking to buy white goods, mobile phones or computers.

In other words, the engagement of the two economies is far greater than ever before in history. Not only that, tourism between the two countries is growing rapidly.

A package tour for the average tourists was a rarity about ten years ago. Now it is commonplace for Indians to go on holiday to China and traverse all over the country without any hindrance, barring Tibet, which remains a difficult terrain.

At any rate, economic relationship between India and China moves on a separate footing and this will go on uninterrupted to a large extent despite the tensions over strategic border issues.

The intertwining of the Indian and Chinese economies is not only complex but looks difficult to unravel at this stage by both countries.

Even as there is a ratcheting up of aggressive postures by the Chinese side, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman goes to Beijing to discuss routine issues like the trade deficit, meetings of the joint economic group, trade disputes between the countries and preparation for the BRICS summit.

This is indeed all to the good. Economic self-interest of countries should ultimately be accorded higher priority than skirmishes over distant borders.

Much will depend, however, on whether China wants to resolve the current border stand off by diplomatic means or whether it wants to continue aggravating tensions by going on the offensive publicly.

Fortunately, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has eschewed any warlike stance and has emphasised the need for a diplomatic resolution to the problem.

Hopefully this should ensure that the economic engagement between the two countries is not only uninterrupted but deepens and becomes more meaningful over the coming years.