On 18 January, The Hague Institute hosted a discussion on “A New Look at Asian Relationships”, focusing on Sino-Indian relations. The discussion featured presentations by Willem van Eekelen and Henk Schulte Nordholt, who examined the historic, political, and economic dimensions of existing tensions between emerging powers China and India.
Dr. Nikola Dimitrov, Distinguished Fellow at The Hague Institute, provided the welcoming remarks. Referring to the Institute’s earlier work which addressed the issue of global power shifts, including the “Pivot to Asia”, the Report of the Commission on Global Security, Justice & Governance, the policy roundtable on “ASEAN in Global Governance”, and the high-level discussion on the EU’s forthcoming Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, he emphasized that Asian relationships will define the future not only of the region, but of the architecture of global governance as a whole.
Dr. Willem van Eekelen, former Minister of Defense of the Netherlands, Senator, and author of Indian Foreign Policy and the Border Dispute with China, started by outlining the history of the border disputes between India and China. He examined the bilateral discussions between the two countries, detailing the principles upon which various agreements in the 1960’s and 1970’s were based and placing the discussions in the context of the Cold War.
Despite the origins of this dispute in the early part of the 20th century, Dr. van Eekelen contends that the dispute remains extremely relevant. It has not been resolved, and, in his words, the situation “has not improved either.” He identified issues concerning the ‘Line of Actual Control’, highlighting the lack of consensus about the geographical location of such a line. The ongoing dispute will continue to cause friction for the entire region until it is resolved.
Mr. Henk Schulte Nordholt, sinologist and publicist with 20 years’ experience in China and author of the book China en de Barbaren (in Dutch), subsequently offered insights into the Chinese government’s foreign policy priorities and objectives. Accordingly, three key principles underlie Chinese foreign policy: economic development, sovereignty, and security. China’s history during the “Century of Humiliation” have caused it to prioritize security, with economic development and sovereignty as tools used to bolster the security of the state. Mr. Schulte Nordholt elaborated on the conflicting interests within these principles. As China pursues economic development, it can be seen as overlooking human rights. China’s desire for security has also put it at odds with its neighbors in both the South and East China Seas, specifically due to pursuing its claims based on the so-called “Nine-Dash Line”.
The speakers agreed that India faces daunting challenges, albeit for different reasons. Militarily and politically, Dr. van Eekelen argued, China is superior. Simultaneously, as Mr. Schulte Nordholt pointed out, India is economically dependent on China, while India is a smaller trading partner for China. Perhaps, moderator Dr. Joris Larik, Senior Researcher in the Global Governance Program with The Hague Institute, commented, those aspects are factors in the apparent lack of concern for ‘the peaceful rise of India’ and the high degree of perceived urgency as regards ‘the rise of China’.
The discussion concluded with a question and answer session moderated by Dr. Larik. Questions addressed a range of aspects concerning Indian and Chinese foreign policy, disputes in the South China Sea, and China’s “One Belt One Road” policy.