Boosting China-India cooperation

The symbolic gesture of Chinese President Xi Jinping meeting Mr Narendra Modi in Xian, making the Indian Prime Minister the first world leader to be hosted outside Beijing, underlined the tenacity of historical links between the two civilisations. These links embody the Silk Road that connected China and India through trade, scholarship and cultural affinity in an era of soft borders, long before the advent of nation-states and their jealousies and rivalries. Xian, a quintessential Silk Road city, is an iconic reminder of what past solidarity between the Sinic and Indic spheres could achieve today. The goal is no less than the re-engagement of the two most populous countries on earth in the larger interests of a rising Asia.

Of course, differences derived from a recent period of history exist stubbornly. The Sino-Indian border dispute is central to them. However, it is clear that New Delhi and Beijing have decided that intractable problems are best put on the diplomatic back burner till the time is ripe for a resolution. In the meantime, economic relations could and should move forward so that they create in time an overall environment of overlapping interests and spreading trust. Bilateral agreements worth more than US$22 billion signed during the visit, in the key sectors of renewable energy, ports, financing and industrial parks, show how an expansive economic relationship could place contentious territorial issues in realistic perspective.

India's attempts to reduce its US$48 billion (S$64 billion) trade deficit with China would benefit from Beijing's willingness to ramp up investments in India and be more open to its neighbour in IT, pharmaceuticals and other areas. Such exercises would not be purely economic but depend on the momentum created by political initiatives. Mr Modi and Mr Xi have displayed the statesmanship expected of forward-looking leaders by renewing a bilateral relationship in which coinciding interests lay the foundation of ties that are free of bitter, short-term rivalry.

Moving ahead, India and China hold the key to Asia replicating the spirit of cooperation amid competition that has made the Euro-American powers stabilisers of the international system. Hard choices will be inevitable as India and China take their places at the table of the great powers. An obvious threat is the resurgence of global terror. Another urgent issue is the global challenge of climate change. China and India, two of the world's top three greenhouse gas emitters, have asked rich countries to step up efforts to reduce global carbon emissions. However, they themselves should come together to make a substantial contribution by setting their own targets ahead of crucial global talks later this year.