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Competing Realities in China-India Multilateral Discourse: Regional, Cross-Regional and Global Underpinnings

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  • December 23, 2011
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Ambassador R Rajagopalan
    Discussants: Ambassador J C Sharma & Professor Sreemati Chakrabarti

    Dr. JP Panda’s fellow paper titled, ‘Competing Realities in China-India Multilateral Discourse: Regional, Cross-Regional and Global Underpinnings’ focused on China and India’s discourse on multilateral forums at regional, cross-regional and global levels. The paper dispelled the conformist view that in the China-India multilateral context, associating in various regional and global bodies is mainly a medium of establishing cooperation and maximizing mutual interests. It argued that their increasing multilateral engagement is a potential medium for denying space and holding an edge over each other by acquiring global resources, forming regional and global identity, and notably in securing their respective national strategic objectives.

    The main points made were:

    The multilateral discourse in the China-India context is underpinned by competitive rather than collaborative engagement. At the regional level, it is characterized by ‘resources, rivalry and supremacy in Asia’; at the cross-regional setting, ‘checking Western influence and aiming for a multi-polar world’ characterize the discourse; while the global scenario is defined by the idea of ‘living as ‘developing country, aiming to become global powers’.

    China and India’s contemporary bilateral approach is quite different from the past because of: a) Multi-polarity in world politics; and, b) Rise of economic and global political processes.

    Multilateral engagement for China and India is not necessarily a fitting medium for collaboration, but it is a medium of denying space and holding an edge over each other. In that regard, three spaces narrate the phenomena: a) Resources; b) National security objectives; and, c) Identity politics.
    Dr. Panda further argued that there are certain basic strategic premises that define the Indian and Chinese discourse:

    1. Both see each other as part of the ‘non-western’ world structure.
    2. They are both large societies.
    3. They are the fastest rising economies.
    4. Geo-strategic conditions are more in China’s favour.

    Highlighting the importance of energy resources, Dr Panda argued that getting access to major sources of resources - oil, gas, water and land - has always been a central factor in global power politics. He asserted that the politics over resources and the evolving politics of China and India in multilateral organizations are the two most vital determinants of the current global politics; still one barely connects these two to understand the full spectrum of power relations.

    He opined that the politics of China-India polygonal dialogue is an apt example in that regard, which establishes a link between identity power politics and resource politics at different spatial levels. According to him, apart from territorial integrity, the quest for strategic resources and forming their respective global identity as superpowers have received the highest priority in domestic as well as foreign policy stratagem of both Asian powers.

    In conclusion, Dr. Panda pointed out that rise of India's influence at three levels need not result in reciprocal decline in China's influence and rise. He further added that not only the south-south formulation is temporary, but also the win-win China-India nexus is rhetorical.

    Points of Discussion

    • India-China rivalry is reflected in almost all multilateral forums.
    • A more comprehensive study of Myanmar’s engagement with both China and India is needed to understand the dynamics of this equation.
    • The paper demands a more detailed study of regional institutions such as WTO, BOA, Mekong- Ganga Cooperation, Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) and the UN.
    • A detailed account of the importance of the organisations, mentioned in the paper, and how they are being used by China and India is also required.

    Report prepared by Rahul Mishra, Research Assistant, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.