In the last month, India has seen our Prime Minister Narendra Modi visit Japan and completed a very successful tour. Immediately, we find that the Chinese President. Xi Jinping is in india and he also had a very successful visit. It has been rare to have two such events and visits take place rapidly in the same month .
The backdrop of this intense diplomatic activity by India with Japan and China is that there has been intense hostile diplomatic and military standoffs between China and Japan in the last 5 years. Though the Chinese Army and the Japanese forces have not actually had skirmishes, the rivalry has been nail-biting and claims over Maritime islands has been tense .
If one goes by geo-politics, then it is only China that should matter to India and not Japan..But since India and China have been having problems since 1962, with un-resolved tensions, the recent open hostility between Japan and China has brought Japan into focus as an interested player in the India-China competition .
India has a long land border with China and since historic times, they have been rivals and friends . While during the Mughal times, there was little contact with China, the 19th century saw the British using India as a spring board to China for their Opium export and business in China.
The British used opium to penetrate the Chinese economy. Opium became a major export to China and large swathes of Chinese population were addicted to opium. The advent of the term “Opium-Den ” originates from the 19th century context of British opium exports to China.
India was an important springboard for all British activities in China. Britain also was very vigilant on the Indo-Tibet borders and Indo-China borders. Independent India had a very hostile relationship with China right from Independence. This bad relationships actually restricted Indian growth in all sectors. It became worse as China grew in strength, particularly on the economic front. Though there has been enormous increases in trade between India and China, political hostility is un-diminished.
The visit of President Xi Jinpeng is obviously an attempt by China to rectify the poor relationship with India. The international climate for China is not too pleasant. The Chinese enjoyed the advantage of dealing with one enemy at a time earlier. It carefully separated its antagonists and could survive. Though it looked strong and posed that it was ready for a Multi-opponent war at the same time, the Chinese never had to face that dilemma.
In the last 65 years, the Chinese always had one war with only one enemy at a time. But in the last 5 Years, China has opened hostile fronts with Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Vietnam. This has also made Australia an interested party ,as it fears the sudden and dramatic rise of China and its constant display of military prowess.
Therefore India has to take advantage of the Japan-China hostility. But India has to be careful not to be too crude in playing off Japan against China. A very sophisticated foreign policy is needed to ensure that India gets the best advantage from Japan and China. India has to be friends with both China and Japan.
As the great statesman Lord Palmerstone said centuries ago, ” Nations have not permanent friends. Only permanent interests”. India spoil remember that.