Terming the relations between India and China as both major and minor, GP Deshpande, a South Asia scholar, had said, "It is minor in the sense that although a solution of it might not yet be in sight, it is not inherently impossible to find. It is a major problem in the sense that Sino-Indian relations can never be regarded as fully normal unless there is a border settlement between two countries."
His conclusion was that while the border settlement cannot be a sufficient condition for the normal relations between the two countries, that is, it will not guarantee them, they are none the less necessary as without it, normalisation cannot be achieved.
Though achieving such a resolution to the border issue might be considered difficult at the moment given the current rise in tensions as the Indian and Chinese armed forces are locked in a face-off in Dokalam region at the India (Sikkim)-Bhutan-China tri-junction. Especially with the media in both the countries only adding fuel to fire, and are getting help by being able to report sharp barbs from their political establishments.
But in order to ensure the promise that the 21st century had brought along with the general acceptance that it was to belong to Asia are to be fulfilled, it needs to dawn on the leadership of both the countries, that such a rise in the stature of the continent has to be led by both of them and not just one. And the resolution of the disputed border areas and those arising out of the geographical position of the two countries is the key to it.
Border concerns need to be resolved
For the current century to really be dominated and led by the two countries, keeping in mind Deshpande's points, both India and China need to cut down on the rhetoric being currently played out to please the domestic audience, and get down to brass tacks and focus on resolving the issues along the entire border and not just the area of the present concerns.
The problem till now has been that both sides have tried to put the border issue on the back-burner trying to build a relationship on other matters. Concerns related to the border cannot continue to be treated the same way if both nations want to move ahead.
As, if not brought top and centre, they have the power to be used as a tool against each other any time other concerns, which are natural to occur between two competing powers, between them arise.
The act of using the situation at the border to convey such irritations can easily lead to a rise in tensions, like the current incident, and is exaggerated by the heightened reactions of the people and media of both countries.
The change in such methodology needs to begin with resolving the current crisis as though it might not seem like a condition which might lead to actual armed conflict, the history of the relationship and conflicts between the two countries show that not only can border and territorial issues be resolved but also if mishandled have the ability to snowball into a major conflict.
The example of such a conflict can be seen in the context of the 1962 war that was fought even though close relations existed between the two leaders of the countries, India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, and the countries had co-ordinated closely at the international forum. This included India's endorsement for China's acceptance at the United Nations level and the relations between the neighbours being described by the phrase "Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai."
The eventual war was due to issues related to the border, with both nations accusing the other of violating their territorial integrity. A continuation of border issues like the present one could very well again lead to problems of such scale and nature again.
History suggests it can be done peacefully
Though the history of such a major incident behind them might suggest that there may be no coming back from it. Other decisions by the two countries both before and after the war clearly suggest that when both nations intend to they can find a resolution to most problems between the two. Such steps include, India being one of the first countries to recognise China after the country became a communist state in 1949, and its decision to recognise Tibet as a region of it.
On China's side even though it has supported Pakistan as part of its foreign policy, during the Kargil War it did not go against India's stand and stood with the rest of the world in asking Pakistan to stop the aggression in the region. Along with this, while it had not openly accepted Sikkim(the region of the current conflict) as a part of India in 1975, the changing circumstances over the last decade or so between the two led it to do so in 2006.
Whatever might have been the compulsions and reasons for such decisions, the fact that they were taken, make it clear that when both sides do decide on resolving their issues, reaching a logical and reasonable solution will be a very real possibility.
Such a change in approach can lead to calming of other concerns which are based on the geographical positioning of the two neighbours. These include the political asylum given to Dalai Lama in India, China's support to Pakistan to counter the India threat, etc.
The clear demarcation of the border between the two should give the footing required to clear up most issues that exist between the two. While in reality some of them will always exist given the proximity between the two on the map along with strategies such as support to countries like Pakistan and India's other neighbours by China to achieve an advantage over its competitor, it is up to the leadership of both countries to find a way past them if they cannot be solved in toto.
The future of both depend on it
Former Indian Army Chief General Bikram Singh's had earlier said that India and China are not enemies but peer competitors. The statement goes far in explaining not only the nature of the problem between both the countries but also how to go about dealing with them.
It is the fear and suspicion of enmity that has helped the Western powers pit both the countries against each other. This has not been helped with growing concerns in China about India's tilt towards the US which need to be calmed. As such a climate allows the developed world to use both of them as bargaining chips against the other.
The 21st century was and is still expected to belong to Asia and for that to come true it has to be led by both of them. For that to happen they need to accept General Singh's statement of them being competitors and such competition between the two and also them standing together against the developed world can ensure mutual growth along with that of the rest of the developing world.
Examples of common standing which showed remarkable results include the Paris Climate Accord, in which the developing world made powers like the US and Europe own responsibility for the damage to the environment caused by their industrialisation
These along with the growing relations between the two on trade, though not ideally balanced for India, has shown that a working relationship between the countries can be to the benefit of both. This has led to them becoming partners on the world stage and coming together to form groups such as BRICS along with others
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government need to understand that China and India relations, as well as tensions, are bigger and far more important than with Pakistan even though the Kashmir, terrorism and the border issue are ever present.
It is a longer game aimed at the vision for India's standing and not just the short-term view of immediate peace. Other prime ministers before him, have played their part with slow and steady progress in building ties with China, ever since the war. Now with the mandate that he enjoys not only in Parliament but also the support among the people, clearly sets the ground for him to take the next step of discussing the matter openly and clarity.