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The Dragon will dance with the Elephant on a sound footing

17:17, April 06, 2010

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By Li Hongmei

It is currently a fashionable saying to describe the relations between China and India to be in the way that the Chinese Dragon will be dancing with the Indian Elephant in the coming days, now that the bilateral ties have already experienced the six-decade rosy and bumpy course.

To many Chinese people in their senior years, the memory of the heady days is still vivid, when, in 1950s, Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai (Indians and Chinese are brothers), coined by Nehru's India, was also one of the oft-sung slogans all across China; and when, in 1955, the then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai so warmly took the hand reached out by Nehru, a wide smile, obviously heartfelt, appearing on his face. The Dragon and the Elephant were in those days bathed in the endearing brotherhood.

Unfortunately, the close ties between two giants later gave way to the humiliation of the 1962 border war, after which it was "India-China bye-bye" for decades. Till most recently, with the rise of China and India as the world's emerging powers, the West tends to twin the two countries, speaking of the two in the same breath. Some even terms them as "Chindia", as if the two were joined at the hip in the Western imagination, albeit the far from settled disputes.

Just for one thing, the border dispute remains unresolved, and along with it the always opposite views on the MacMahoon Line and the stark rift over China's South Tibet, but "Arunachal Pradesh" in Indian parlance. What's more, the Dalai Lama, now in exile within the Indian territory, stirs up trouble now and again and would at times put sand in the wheels for China-India relations.

On top of that, some hawkish Indian politicians and media have never thought for a second time before making irresponsible remarks on China's economic growth and military modernization, adding new irritants to the already bitter reality of the bilateral relations. Worse still, the communication vacuum between the two peoples leads to more blind doubts and misunderstandings towards each other. Each might finger point at the other, and even go so far as to pour scorns upon the social structure and even culture of the other.

Also, the political tensions, which could bring the music screeching to a halt, make it impossible for the Dragon and the Elephant to join hands and dance together. Instead, they spew fire at each other constantly.

It is more than a pity that both ancient civilizations, both occupying a rather vast landmass of Asia and both feeding the world's largest population, would stay at their low ebbs in the relationship.

In actuality, aside from the geographic and demographic similarities, China and India have the same or similar fundamental interests in at least three aspects: First, both are developing countries that persist in independent diplomatic policies. Second, both are emerging powers with not only enormous potentials to cooperate on many issues, like climate change, energy security and a reform of the international financial system, but also with the rising leverage to break away from the old global power alignment.

Now the two are both striving for more voice and influence internationally and for a multi-polar world. Last but not the least, both China and India are Asian powers that have the same responsibility and similar goals in maintaining Asia's overall interests and sustainable development.

On this basis, the historic legacies as well as the American factor might slow down the pace, but would never derail the track of the Dragon and the Elephant. Or perhaps, they could hardly find the way to be back in the good old days' legend of brotherhood while trampling in the complicated international jungles. But they cannot afford to go astray, as one false step would possibly bring everlasting grief.

The governments of both sides are well aware of the far-reaching significance in the bilateral relations before deciding to cool down tensions, brush aside the past legacies and look ahead. Once the knot unties in a way acceptable to both, the Dragon and the Elephant will be in the mood to dance, hand-in-hand, as ideal partners.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Dai MinJohn
Dai Min

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."