Have you ever wondered how two of the world's ancient civilisations, India and China shared advanced ideas in the past? They looked at each other, learned and adopted what was suitable to their genius. Yet in colonial times their relations suffered. This was because of political and boundary disputes. To westerners they are mismatched nations. But the rest of the world hopes that if these two behemoths cooperate the world can only benefit.
Let us look at history. Some 2000 years back China built the 4,000 mile Great Wall of China. About three centuries before Christ, Emperor Qin built the terracotta army which is still a marvel. It was China that gave the world what is a bureaucracy. Without this, the modern world would be rudderless. Besides, China invented the simplest things like umbrellas, to sailing boats to paper money, dams, the compass and many other useful items of daily use.
What did India do? Among others, India invented the zero, without which mathematics and all calculations would be non-existent. Computers would still be in the future as no programming could be invented. India developed much of mathematics, medicine, textiles, chemistry, sewerage systems, etc. One of the greatest contributions of India and a gift to China and the world was Buddhism. The return osmosis was the idea of the great Chinese philosopher Confucius whose idea of humility and right conduct by merciful rulers influenced Emperor Ashok in the 3rd century B.C.
But then, between the 16th and the 17th centuries, contacts were almost lost between these two great civilisations. What really happened? It was the western colonial masters who with their new ideas, technology and way of life discouraged any contacts between the two. These great civilisations did not dip into each others' treasures to learn, to benefit and to grow together. They were clearly on the path to conflict and hostility. All because of a slice of territorial claim in the Himalaya region as well as on the issue of Tibet in China.
So who benefits from this conflict? The world, however, is increasingly becoming globalised. The west has taken full advantage of the benefits that accompany globalisation. These are systematic inter-dependence, integration, mobilisation and a careful redistribution of global resources. Thus we see the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) and the evolution of the European Union (EU) grow into mighty engines of growth. In matters of defense and security we have the formation of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) which is busy consolidating western interests around the world. So why not the same cooperation between the two Asian giants -- India and China?
Let us see in which sectors these two regions can cooperate. One that comes immediately to mind is the global redistribution of qualified manpower. Today, there are increasingly no national economies. The international competition for Research and Development (R&D) resources are global. India and China are producing hundreds and thousands of engineers, doctors and scientists each year. They are taking up jobs in the United States and Europe. Yet if these scientists and the R&D people remained in their own countries they would enrich their knowledge base further. The west would soon be unable to compete and would also be priced out of the market. More and more English speaking R&D scientists are graduating in the world who are of Indian or Chinese origin.
India and China cherish their own cultures and traditions. India for example value individual freedom and self-reliance. These are sterling qualities. Yet when it comes to utilising foreign and domestic investment it is China that shows the way. The moot question is, which of them is best poised to utilise foreign and domestic investment, China with its command economy or India with its boisterous democracy? The answer is China has done much better here. India can learn from China as to how it can overcome mismanagement of investment. Millions of poor Indians can therefore be quickly brought out of poverty. It will be some time before either India or China becomes an advanced industrial society. They therefore need to share each others' experience closely.
The next area of cooperation between India and China can be energy. Both the countries have a voracious appetite for oil. China is soaking up oil from African countries, even from violence ridden Sudan. So is India from other African countries. Both are looking at almost the same set of countries in the world for their carbon needs. But this is harmful to both. Soon, the Middle eastern countries and Russia, who are the suppliers of this source of energy, may price them out of the market. India and China need to look at their common resource base, the Himalayas, where they can utilise the hydro-electric sources of energy for their needs. Water, is another major resource which both need for their survival and growth. The existing sources of water from the ground and run-off are not always enough or not well conserved. They can start to jointly conserve and also scientifically tap into the glaciers which they both share geographically.
In the ultimate analysis, India and China must quickly resolve their territorial claims in the Himalayas so that they can cooperate in science, technology, resources and trade. This will not only benefit them but also their neighbours in a big way. Bangladesh would definitely benefit from its windfall. It would help bring economic parity and equilibrium among countries in this region over time. It is well known that the west is not going to be long in the driving seat in terms of economic development. It is India and China, with a few of their neighbours, who will be the new champions of growth. Are the new leaders of India and China listening?
The writer is a former Ambassador and a commentator on current affairs. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org