In a recent poll of Indian citizens by the Lowy Institute in Australia, 83 percent of respondents said they view China as a major national security threat. Just slightly more (87 percent) said the same of Pakistan. Despite China being India’s number one trading partner, fewer than a third of poll respondents said China’s rise has been good for India.
Contrast these results with Indians’ impressions of the United States: 83 percent said India-US relations are strong, and 75 percent want those relations to improve over the next decade.
China’s Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, is in India on his first trip abroad since taking office, and you would think he’d be trying hard to improve the relationship with Delhi. Just a few weeks ago this trip was nearly canceled because of the Great Himalayan Standoff of 2013, when Chinese troops set up camp several miles inside India and refused to withdraw. Relations between the two countries soured over the intrusion.
Yet, strangely, Li’s to-do list while in India is full of non-prickly items: buffalo meat, book translation, sister cities, pilgrims, sewage. Neither country, it seems, wants to deal with the serious issues: border disputes, huge dams that China is constructing that will deprive millions of farmers and fishermen in India (and elsewhere) of their most important resource, the Dalai Lama, and much else.
Instead, officials from both countries sought to put a shiny gloss on Li’s trip and avoid discussing these darker disagreements. “My visit to India is meant to tell the world that mutual political confidence between China and India is growing, that our practical cooperation is expanding, and that our common interests far outweigh our disagreements,” Li told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
And yet, no one should fault Li and his Indian counterparts for trying. Together, India and China account for over a third of the global human population. Both countries have nuclear weapons. Though the relationship between Beijing and Delhi has been rocky for much of the past few decades, there is some hope on the horizon: according to that Lowy poll, almost two thirds of Indians want ties with China to improve in the future.
[Image of China's Premier Li Keqiang speaking to the Indian Youth Delegation during a meeting on May 15, 2013 in Beijing; courtesy of Getty images]