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Himalayan High-Five

Both India and China, with more than a third of humanity between them, have held a long grudge ever since the two fought a war in 1962 over a tiny, treeless territory in the Himalayas. The brief war so deflated the hopes of then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for Indo-Chinese brotherhood - called Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai - that he openly wept upon hearing of the Indian war casualties.

Fast-forward 41 years to this week's successful visit to Beijing by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, a right-wing nationalist making a sort of Nixonian breakthrough visit to an old rival. The grudge match was replaced by a giant handshake across the Himalayas that could reshape both world politics and the global economy. (See story.)

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Among other things, India and China agreed to open the border on India's Sikkim region, where they fought the war, and to refocus their relationship on trade. With both of these Asian giants now embracing market economics, the two can learn from each other's entrepreneurial successes and the ways each is emerging from state-managed economies.

Despite its vibrant democracy, India has fallen behind in its open race with China for economic development. Average incomes are more than double in China. India needs to fully join the Asian market, which is led by China and Japan.

China, meanwhile, realized that it could not remain cool to its southern neighbor after India exploded a nuclear bomb in 1998. In fact, India's defense minister stated that the bomb was developed more for protection from China than against Pakistan. Beijing's communist leaders seek stability on all of China's borders to help keep the economy humming and the party in power.

In the same way, India is trying once again for peace with Pakistan over the issue of Kashmir, knowing that it won't get the foreign investment it needs if there's a potential for nuclear war in South Asia.

The one troubling aspect of the India-China rapprochement is India's willingness to recognize Beijing's hold on Tibet. The Tibetan government in exile, led by the Dalai Lama, has had a home in India since 1959, and still needs India's protection if the Tibetans are to be free of Beijing's heavy hand in their land.

Still, the world can find much to celebrate in the thaw that's come in this long Himalayan cold war. The joining of these two world giants should help stabilize a region and further the steady progress toward democracy in many of Asia's nations.


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