NPR Story
2:01 am
Thu October 24, 2013

Indian And Chinese Leaders Sign Border Agreement At Summit

Originally published on Thu October 24, 2013 5:07 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And now let's turn to the world's two giants: China and India. China is the world's most populous country. India is projected to become the most populous country before long. Yesterday, their leaders met in Beijing and signed an agreement to ease tensions on the long border that they share. That agreement comes after an incident this spring when India accused Chinese soldiers of crossing the border.

We're going to hear now from both sides of the border. NPR's Frank Langfitt is on the line from Shanghai. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Julie McCarthy is in New Delhi. Hi, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi there.

INSKEEP: And Julie, let's start with you. What do Indians think about when they peer across the 2500-mile border?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's changed rather dramatically in recent years. The recent polling shows that Indians have shifted their attitude, and see China really as a potential security threat, even more so than Pakistan. And so that is a significant difference.

That said, I think the Indian government doesn't consider China as a friend. It doesn't look to it as a friend, but nor does it want it as a rival, Steve, so there needs to be this fine balance that you have to strike here and all that, you know, so you've got economics and how they're going to finesse India's yawning trade imbalance with China.

You've got water wars about rivers being dammed in China. You've got the Chinese diplomatic embrace of Pakistan, which is all very troubling to them. So there's a lot on their plate as they move forward and increasingly they're wary.

INSKEEP: Okay. The two largest countries in the world and a lot of complex issues. And Frank Langfitt, do the Chinese see India in any way as a threat?

LANGFITT: To some extent, yeah. I mean since we're talking polls, there was a Pew poll last year that saw a rise in which about a quarter people in China saw India as their - the growth of their economy as a bad thing. But you know, you've got to remember, the gap between these countries is really big. We often talk of them maybe in the same sentence, but China's the world's second largest economy. India is the 10th largest. China more than four times the size of India's economy. Also, India has a growing trade deficit with China. It's now over $40 billion. And I know we often harp on this, but the infrastructure difference between the two countries is really staggering. I routinely now report by bullet train, and certainly when I have some Indian friends who come to visit, they see a huge difference.

INSKEEP: You mentioned Indian friends coming to visit. How much traffic is there going back and forth? How much tourism? How much business between the two countries?

LANGFITT: There's not that much, but I - when I talk to Indian friends, they often ask me a lot about China and they always make comparisons. And they despair, frankly, that in China the infrastructure is pretty extraordinary, as you know. And they still feel that India is lagging behind.

INSKEEP: Julie McCarthy, is that part of the reason that India would see China as a threat? Its economy is more advanced at this point.

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, it's interesting. I often encounter Indians who believe very fervently that India is on par in just about every arena with China, and then you ask them if they've been there. And the answer is invariably no. So there is this huge disconnect between what people see as themselves and how they project themselves and what really is a rather stark difference between the two.

INSKEEP: This 2,500 mile border, can you give me a picture of it? It's mostly in the mountains, is that right?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's the Himalayas, so yes. A great deal of it is in mountainous regions and other conflicting areas where you've got rivers that the two countries share, and then you have a whole issue of damming water. So along the border there are these very tricky places, and you know, since 1962, where there was a small war between the two, you get these incursions and disputed territory and a disputed border that still needs to be settled.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask, Frank Langfitt, because the United States has sometimes seen India as an ally and a potential counterweight to China in Asia. Does the United States have anything to worry about when India and China get together and sign cooperation agreements as they've done here?

LANGFITT: China is definitely concerned that India can be a counterweight to China in terms of its relationship with the U.S. India isn't entirely convinced that the U.S. can be counted on. There's a concern that because the economic between China and the U.S. is so strong that push comes to shove, actually the U.S. will throw in with China.

So everybody, as they look across this region, they're kind of hedging. They're watching. They're trying to put chips on different parts of the table to try to cover themselves, depending on how things turn out.

INSKEEP: Frank, thanks very much.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Frank Langfitt in Shanghai. NPR's Julie McCarthy is in New Delhi. Julie, thanks to you.

MCCARTHY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: And you hear both of them right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.