Revisiting the frenemy principle

Way back in December 1988, Rajiv Gandhi made a historic visit to China, the first Indian PM to do so in 34 years.

Published: 19th October 2017 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th October 2017 02:31 AM   |  A+A-

Way back in December 1988, Rajiv Gandhi made a historic visit to China, the first Indian PM to do so in 34 years. One of the major agreements arrived at during his extensive talks with Premier Li Peng, President Yang Shangkun and the Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission Deng Xiaoping, was that even as they sought a long-term solution to the border issue, the two nations would rapidly ramp up cooperation in other areas of common interest, like culture, trade, science and technology, even international affairs.

So successful was this formula that at a panel discussion at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in June this year, PM Narendra Modi pointed out that “It is true that we have a border dispute with China. But in the last 40 years, not a single bullet has been fired because of the border dispute.” In an “interconnected and interdependent world” many nations may have disputes, but that should not stop them from moving ahead in “areas of collaboration”, he added. Perhaps that same formula is at play today, with the Global Times, the Chinese state-run daily which had taken an aggressive tone during the standoff at Doklam, on Sunday saying India and China could cooperate to resolve the Rohingya ethnic crisis plaguing Myanmar and its neighbours. Noting that both sides had extensive strategic and economic investments in Myanmar, it said that as “Myanmar’s neighbours, the last thing China and India want is terrorist violence on their doorstep.”

Thus, the two nations “could cooperate in offering humanitarian aid to Rakhine state, assisting Bangladesh in resettlement of refugees” it said. “Such actions by China and India will without doubt help resolve the Rohingya crisis and may even elicit support from more ASEAN nations. Unlike the way the Western media would have it, Myanmar is not a new battleground. In fact, it is a new opportunity.” New Delhi, however, needs to study this offer very carefully before taking a call.

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