This session of THiNK 2013 brought together Harsh Pant, Professor at the Defense Studies Department of King’s College London and Ambassador Shyam Saran, Chairman of the Indian National Security Advisory Board, to discuss the possibilities of a rapprochement between India and China.
Ambassador Saran emphasised the need to look at the India-China relationship differently by setting it in the context of the global chessboard of international relations. In a time of relative decline of the unipolar system of American dominance, Saran said one should not make the mistake of thinking that we are entering a phase where China will replace the United States as a a global hegemon. In this multipolar world dominated by a more diffused international landscape, key issues will be decided by shifting coalitions. Saran insisted that the future of India’s relationship with China and the world will be decided by the flexibility and nimbleness of Indian foreign policy. He stressed the need for a more nuanced reading of the relationship between these emerging powers, emphasising that in areas such as climate change and international trade, India and China frequently find themselves on the same side of the negotiation table.
Professor Pant while discussing the challenges in the India-China relationship, highlighted the difficulties of dealing with the ongoing border dispute, memories of the 1962 war and the widespread narrative of a hostile China on the rise. He argued that the real debate is a structural one, “With two powers rising at the same time, when global power is shifting to Asia-Pacific, if you don’t get the balance right, it will be difficult for India to shape the future of the region”.
Ambassador Saran agreed, arguing that it is necessary to “articulate a vision for how India positions itself in this global great power competition”. Saran emphasised that having a closer relationship with the United States would give India more political space and options and that India “should not let history become a millstone around our neck and limit where we go today”. By increasing its institutional capacity, India could channel its economic potential and use the instruments at its disposal to take on a bigger role in international security. Saran also remarked that India should develop its clout in the neighbourhood because after all, “Indians are globalists in their genes in a manner the Chinese have never been”.
By Sara Sudetic