According to Pakistan`s ruling elite, the arch-rival is India. But India`s arch-rival is China. The simple distinction is critical for engagement with India. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited India in November and China in December, but not Pakistan. Analysts, too, need to switch their analytical frame from the India-Pakistan-U.S. subcontinental to the India-China-U.S. strategic triangle.

Part of the reason for outsiders` confusion is that while Pakistan makes no secret of its Indophobic attitude, the broad train of interests guiding India`s foreign policy requires it to cooperate with China on many international issues and mute public expressions of the bilateral rivalry. India`s identification of China as the main object of nuclear tests in 1998 was a rare slip. By contrast, Pakistan makes no secret of India being the object of its nuclear policy.

Because both Beijing and Washington attach the highest importance to their relationship and the consequences of a military clash between them would be catastrophic, such an outcome is highly improbable. A clash between an authoritarian, over governed China and a rambunctious, under governed India is less unimaginable.

China`s recent muscle flexing has taken a toll on its international image. In a global public opinion survey of 30,000 people in 28 countries released by the BBC on April 18, images of the United States under President Barack Obama had recovered remarkably. Forty-six percent view its influence positively and 34 percent negatively. For China the respective figures are 41 percent and 38 percent. In the 15 countries in which the survey has been done annually since 2005, positive views of China have fallen from 49 percent to 34 percent.

India`s view of China turned from a net six-point positive image last year to an eight-point net negative this year. Indians are no less divided than Westerners on whether China`s changed behavior is rooted in insecurity or hubris. They fought a short but bitter war in 1962. Both have tried to keep the unresolved border dispute frozen while attempting to build and improve relations on several other fronts.

Setting aside the merits of the border conflict, the 1962 war was caused by a flawed sequence of statements and actions by India. For many years, founding Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, his ego frequently massaged by Chinese bemused at his efforts to tutor the consummate Zhou Enlai in the art of diplomacy, dismissed anxiety about ignoring the strategic legacies inherited from the British on how best to defend India`s territorial integrity. A major component of this was denial of control of the reverse Himalayan slopes to actual and potential adversaries. When Nehru did awaken to the threat to India`s territorial security by Chinese troops positioned on the Himalayas, his ill-advised public saber-rattling provoked Beijing into calling India`s military bluff and inflicting a humiliating defeat. A broken Nehru never recovered and died within two years.

The risk now is China may overplay its hand by gravely underestimating just how much India has changed.

The 3,500-kilometer-long border is not merely disputed by China and India it is also volatile on both sides, running from India`s insurgency-plagued northeast along Nepal and Tibet and on the edges of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, home of the Uygurs. China is hyper-sensitive to `splittism` in relation to Taiwan, Tibet (including the Dalai Lama) and Xinjiang. It is exasperated with the safe haven given by India to the Dalai Lama as well as the thousands of increasingly militant Tibetan exiles based in Dharamsala and elsewhere in India. Beijing is curiously insensitive to the historical fact that Pakistan was created by splitting India.

China was the willing source of Pakistan`s nuclearization. Thomas Reed, a former nuclear weapons designer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, secretary of the air force under Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, and special national security assistant to President Ronald Reagan, has claimed China carried out Pakistan`s first nuclear weapon test on May 26, 1990. `We believe that during [Benazir] Bhutto`s term in office, China tested Pakistan`s first bomb for her in 1990. That`s why the Pakistanis were so quick to respond to the Indian nuclear tests in 1998. It only took them two weeks and three days,` he said.

A report in The Washington Post on Nov. 13 concluded that the `deliberate act of proliferation` by China began in earnest in 1982 with the transfer of weapons-grade uranium and a blueprint for making a bomb that China had already tested. Thus began the chain of proliferation that extended later to Iran and Libya.

China shared Pakistan`s unease at India`s rising global clout that intensified with the India-U.S. civil nuclear cooperation deal and India`s growing military ties with the United States and Israel. China tried to block a $2.9 billion loan from the Asian Development Bank to India because some of the money was for a flood control project in the northeastern border province of Arunachal Pradesh, part of which China also claims. Beijing protested also about the Indian prime minister and president (as well as the Dalai Lama) visiting those regions. The idea that their president and prime minister should be barred from any part of their own country in turn inflames Indian passions.

India worries China is trying to choke it by strategically adopting a `string of pearls` strategy, including access to and development of ports in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the construction of a highway from China into central Nepal and the extension of China`s controversial rail link to Tibet to the border with Nepal. The two countries are maneuvering for position in Afghanistan for the inevitable time when Westerners pull up and out. The U.S. policy of `clear, hold and build` is more accurately described as invade, get bogged down, and abandon.

When China differentiated visa applications from Indians in Kashmir and other states, India pushed back and threatened to do the same with Chinese from Tibet and demanded a halt to China`s construction of a $2 billion power plant in Pakistani Kashmir.

The latest U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review expresses concern that lack of transparency over military development and decision-making processes raise questions about China`s future conduct and intentions. On India it notes rapidly improving military capabilities through increased defense acquisitions that include long-range maritime surveillance, maritime interdiction and patrolling, air interdiction and strategic airlift. It acknowledges shared democratic values, an open political system, and commitment to global stability as demonstrated through peacekeeping, counterpiracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. It accordingly welcomes India`s rising profile `as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.`

The Indian Navy keeps a watchful eye to the east of India`s coastline from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is preparing to open a base in Gan at the southern tip of the Maldives chain to the west. The surveillance aircraft, helicopters and, possibly, ships based there will be supplemented by radar installed across the Maldives and linked to India`s coastal command.

Meanwhile, bilateral trade has climbed from $3 billion in 2000 to $51 billion last year. The annual growth in trade with China is more than India`s total trade with Japan--an astonishing statistic. The two teamed up effectively in the Doha trade talks and then again in the Copenhagen climate change conference. They share a major interest in extinguishing the embers of extremist Islamism in Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are low-intensity combined military exercises, a pale shadow of the land, air and sea exercises that Indian forces engage with U.S., Australian, Singaporean and Japanese militaries.

China has greatly outpaced India in economic growth for the past three decades. But with an aging population, China`s demographic profile is similar to the West`s, while India`s is much younger. Over the next two decades, India will be the center of growth for the working and consuming millions. China and India have much to gain by cooperating and lots to lose by falling prey to tactics of divide and rule by other great powers. The decision to set up a Beijing-New Delhi hotline, their bonhomie in the recent BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) summit meeting in Brasilia, and their caucusing in the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) group at Copenhagen last December--not to mention the new G-20--are all promising developments.

Thakur is director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs and distinguished fellow at The Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Canada. His book `Global Governance and the UN` was published in April.

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