The Complexities of Contemporary India-China Relations


Neither Friends Nor Rivals: The Complexities of Contemporary India-China Relations

Date: 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm, 5 August 2014
Venue: Upstairs Seminar Room, Australia India Institute, 147-149 Barry St Carlton, The University of Melbourne, 3053

The contemporary relationship between India and China is often described as one that is either marked by deep-rooted rivalries or intimately bonded through friendly, civilizational ties. Political scientists have, on the other hand, used the models of realism or liberalism to offer prognosis and assess the future of the relationship. These dichotomies clearly fails to penetrate the extremely complex relationship that has developed between India and China since the late 1950s with the defection of Dalai Lama and the subsequent border war in 1962. These two events not only transformed the political relations between India and China, but also created an atmosphere of distrust and neglect of each other in other arenas. During the past two decades, bilateral commercial relations have increased to record levels, people-to-people interactions have grown significantly, and the two countries have collaborated at various multinational forums. However, reports of border incursions, agreements with perceived “hostile” third parties, nuclear tests and dam-buildings, and “big-power” aspirations have created uproar in traditional media and outcry in the blogosphere. Yet, the disputed borders have remained relatively tranquil and the two countries have not engaged in full-fledged armed conflict since 1962. This presentation tries to explain the intricate and erratic aspects of contemporary India-China relations by focusing on three issues. First, it examines the asymmetries in the bilateral relationship associated with distinct worldviews, different domestic concerns, and contracting set of socio-cultural expectations. Second, it looks at how the media in the two countries have failed to properly educate the general public about each other and instead often perpetuated the stereotypes and sensationalized selective episodes of disagreements and geopolitical disputes. The paper concludes with an analysis of the lack of awareness and mutual distrust that hinder mundane business dealings and people-to-people exchanges. These three issues seem to be the key structural problems in India-China relations that may have direct implications for resolving the border problem and establishing a beneficial cooperative relationship.

Tansen Sen is Associate Professor of Asian history and religions at Baruch College, The City University of New York. He received his MA from Peking University and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600-1400 (University of Hawai’i Press, 2003) and co-author (with Victor H. Mair) of Traditional China in Asian and World History (Association for Asian Studies, 2012). He has edited Buddhism Across Asia: Networks of Material, Cultural and Intellectual Exchange (2014) and guest-edited special issues of China Report (“Kolkata and China,” December 2007; and “Studies on India-China Interactions Dedicated to Ji Xianlin,” 2012). He is currently completing a book manuscript entitled India, China, and the World: Networks of Exchange and Interactions.

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