VAIL, Colorado — The term “frenemies” is usually used to describe the relationship between two people, say the complicated mess of a love-hate relationship between two teenage girls.
Asia expert and Asia Society Senior Fellow Jamie Metzl uses this term to describe the current relationship between China and India.
“The relationship between China and India will be one of the defining international relationships of the 21st century,” said Metzl in a phone interview. “They are both growing and have many overlapping and competing interests. And even as the two are collaborating more, there are many areas where the rivalry between them is growing exponentially.”
Last winter, Metzl spoke to a Vail Symposium audience about China’s rapid growth and the effect that growth is having on the United States and the rest of the world. On Sunday, he builds on that discussion, adding another piece to the complex puzzle that is modern-day Asia by discussing the relationship between China and India, the potential for conflict between them, and the global implications.
In a break from a mostly all-evening programming schedule, the Vail Symposium is presenting Metzl’s program over lunch at Game Creek Club on Vail Mountain.
Metzl is a regular commentator on Asian affairs in the American and international media, a syndicated columnist, and the author of two books on Asia. He has a PhD in Asian history from Oxford and a law degree from Harvard, and recently stepped down as the executive vice president of the Asia Society to become a founding partner of a new global investment company based in New York. An avid skier and Ironman triathlete, he has been coming to Colorado for four decades to ski and train.
Metzl sees four simmering problem areas that have the potential to lead to larger conflicts between China and India. First is the highly contested land border between the two countries, along which there are conflicts daily.
Next is the maritime rivalry in the Indian Ocean, a body of water for many years seen primarily as India’s domain. In recent years, China has begun to move aggressively into the Indian Ocean by increasing its naval presence and gaining access to a string of naval bases and ports along the sea route between China and the Middle East. As this maritime rivalry heats up, both countries are making massive investments in aircraft carriers to protect their interests.
As tensions in the ocean heat up, conflict over how China handles fresh water supplies is also causing conflict between the two countries. “Fresh water will be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century,” said Metzl. With all the major rivers of Asia except one originating in the Tibetan Plateau in China,
Finally, according to Metzl, although China and India’s economies are currently somewhat complimentary, with India’s focus on software and China’s on hardware, India will need to build a manufacturing base in order to employ its young population, while China must develop a software and services economy to move up the value chain. If either of these happens, China and India will become direct economic competitors.
Metzl says the U.S. will certainly have a role to play if a conflict does erupt between China and India. Metzl likens the relationship between China, India and the U.S. to that of Britain, Germany and the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century; and if a conflict emerges between China and India, the U.S. will likely be charged with the role of balancer.
Tracey Flower is a communications associate with the Vail Symposium. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.