The most defining feature of early 21st century is that our world is passing through a survival crisis. There are around a dozen very serious environmental issues which together add up to a serious threat to the basic life-nurturing conditions of our planet. The equally serious threat from weapons of mass destruction is additional to this. The most urgent task before humanity is to do all that is possible, and expand the horizons of possibilities, to protect humanity and all forms of life from survival crisis.
A very basic first step that can be taken to contribute to and facilitate this many-sided and most urgent task is to ensure that there is no war in future. Apart from all the ruin and misery wars bring, the stark fact is that our endangered planet just cannot afford any future wars. Petty border disputes between nations have become completely irrelevant in the context of the real big changes confronting humanity.
It is only in this wider perspective that the growing threat of a confrontation between India and China over long-festering border disputes should be examined.
While there is no justification for any future war between any nations, the reasons for avoiding any war between India and China are even more compelling.
India and China are the two most populous countries in the world. Both countries have big armed forces and are heavily armed. Both countries have nuclear weapons. Hence any war between these two countries has the potential of being very destructive.
Both countries have big development needs and very serious environmental problems. Any war will push them away from their real responsibilities in a big way. On the other hand both countries can gain enormously from being friendly towards each other and increasing cooperation while avoiding hostility and confrontation.
It may be true that at present the military advantage is with China and it also has Pakistan and perhaps some other countries of the region very firmly on its side, more so now than before. But there is no doubt that China too will lose heavily from such a confrontation, or a policy of confrontation.
In its overall world concerns, it is much more beneficial for China, in the short-term as well as the long-term, to have India as a friendly neighbour rather than as a hostile neighbor. This is as much true from economic and trade perspective as it is from strategic and diplomatic perspective. Of course, the cultural aspect is also very important, given the ancient civilizations of both countries.
From the narrow battlefield perspective, China inflicted a humiliating defeat on India in 1962. But did China really benefit from this ‘victory’. No, it did not. What it lost in the form of trust and goodwill was much more important than whatever it claimed to have ‘won’. The entire cause of peaceful co-existence, justice in international relations and socialist pattern of society was harmed. Nehru, who overall was one of the greatest leaders of world standing for peace and justice, received the biggest blow of his life from this war and never quite recovered, dying from fast deteriorating health in 1964. Can China be happy about this?
China should learn from 1962 and should not proceed on the assumption of its military superiority and regional strength. Even if it succeeds in getting some quick military results, the wider and longer-term adverse implications for China in these times will be even worse than in 1962.
Let there be no illusions. If confrontation between India and China increases there will be no winners, only losers on both sides. Above all humanity will suffer the most from the clash of the two great Asian nations at a time when peace is needed more than ever before.
So in the interests of humanity as well as self-interest, India and China should quickly move towards peace. As already mentioned earlier, disputes relating to border-lines are only of relatively petty consequence in a world threatened with survival issues and should be settled quickly on the basis of give and take so that attention is not distracted from the really important issues.
Some years back a great Indian doctor Dr. Kotnis sacrificed his life while trying to save the lives of Chinese people and soldiers who were fighting invaders. Let Dr. Kotnis become the symbol of a great new initiative to bring permanent peace between China and India. Let this great cause be taken up by not only the governments of India and China but also by the people of India and China.
The writer is Convener, Save the Earth Now Campaign. His recent books include Protect Earth to Save Children and Man Over Machine (Gandhian Ideas For Our Times).