At Rio+20 summit, India and China strengthen cooperation

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Perhaps the most interesting geopolitical development of the Rio+20 Summit is not related to the environment, but to a further rapprochement between India and China, a trend that may fundamentally shape the political dynamics in Asia over the coming decades.

Rather than debating climate change, the Indian delegation was abuzz yesterday with talk about boosting trade between India and China to 100 billion US-dollars over the next years (it currently stands at roughly 75 billion dollars). Considering how recent this commercial relationship is, these figures are nothing short of astonishing and likely to expand both socieities' mutual exposure to each other. Despite the significant potential for conflict between the two countries (which I described in a recent post), such massive exchange of goods and services could bind China and India so closely together that they enter a relationship of de facto 'mutually assured economic destruction', which will dramatically decrease the risk of war.

Both Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao are near the end of their time in office, so their meeting in Rio de Janeiro can be seen as an attempt to consolidate the remarkable progress the world has seen in Sino-Indian relations during past decade. In 8 years, Singh and Jiabao met 13 times; underscoring the importance they assign to each other. While Xi Jinping is almost certain to assume power in Beijing, it is entirely unclear who will govern India after Prime Minister Singh (Rahul Gandhi, whom I predicted as Singh's successor back in 2010, seems no longer the inevitable choice). Still, no Indian leader will not be able to easily undo recent progress regarding China. Quite to the contrary, ties are likely to grow stronger still.

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In this context, one must remember that a mere decade ago, India-China ties were marked by mistrust and a lack of economic interaction. While mistrust and suspicion remains, decision-making elite now know each other much better, having created many direct channels of communications, which reduces the risk of misunderstandings.

Stronger cooperation between China and India largely contradicts an important expectation and narrative, prevalent in the West, that the two powers are bound to clash at some point, engaging in a battle over who rules Asia. Whether "Asia is large enough for two both a Chinese and an Indian superpower" (as Manmohan Singh often says) remains to be seen - but stronger commercial ties are certainly a powerful step in the right direction.

Read also:

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Can India and China resolve their differences?

Book review: “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power” by Robert D. Kaplan

How long can India capitalize on global China angst?

Image credit: Tomazino/shutterstock