Rediff India Abroad
 Rediff India Abroad Home  |  All the sections


The Web

India Abroad

Sign up today!

Article Tools
Email this article
Top emailed links
Print this article
Contact the editors
Discuss this article
Home > News > Columnists > Han Hua

India-China: Changing themes

July 03, 2003

For many Chinese, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit was a joy without much prior notice. They were dazed by the laudatory tone of Indian leaders on China, by the charisma of the Indian 'poet' prime minister, and by the sincerity of cooperation on both sides.

This changing theme of Sino-Indian relations has abruptly overwhelmed the noise of a 'Chinese threat,' which was articulated by Defence Minister George Fernandes and mentioned in Vajpayee's letter to leaders of eight countries after India's 1998 nuclear explosions, just five years ago.

A question of 'what is the impetus for this change,' therefore, is raised for answering.

Indeed, Indo-China relations had deteriorated substantially following Fernandes' assertion and the nuclear tests which followed. The Chinese were offended by that phrase and retaliated by labelling India as a 'betrayer' of a 'friendly neighbour.' Some even accused India of 'regional hegemony.'

But after one-year of rhetoric wrangle, both Beijing and New Delhi realised that the setback of bilateral relations was not serving their foreign policies and strategic goals. For Beijing, stable relations with India is critical for its policy toward South Asia as a whole and for security of its south-west flank; for New Delhi, better ties with China can dilute its defence burden and increase its capacity to cope with Pakistan in Jammu & Kashmir.

In April 1999, then Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh visited Beijing and met with his Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan. This paved the way for a series of other high-level exchanges, including President K R Narayanan's visit to China and Premier Zhu Rongji's visit to India, which helped bring the relationship back to a level of normalcy.

While the rapid restoration of ties between Beijing and Delhi has shown the determination of both sides to forge stable relations which meet their national interests, pushing the relation to a higher or broader footing needs a reappraisal of present policy and shift of perception which takes into account the new reality of world geopolitics.

In the post-Iraq war era, China and India have realised the necessity to make some modifications in their strategy and policy, and take a fresh look at each other.

They both have recognised that the 'Chinese threat' in India and 'regional hegemony' in China block the two in a 'rivalry' game loop, and hinder them from becoming partners, which was phrased in a joint declaration announced during Vajpayee's visit.

This reappraisal and shift of perception were first revealed in speeches of Indian leaders and documents since the turn of 2002-2003. In a speech made by External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha at an IDSA [Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses] conference on Asian Security in January 2003, he stressed that economic cooperation, rather than security concerns, would dominate Indo-China relations. Again, at the same occasion, Fernandes, who once made the pledge of 'China No I threat,' referred to the 1962 border conflict as a 'clash', instead of a 'war.'

Moreover, in its annual defence report, New Delhi took a softer tone talking about China's security posture and Indo-Pak military cooperation. Furthermore, Fernandes paid his first visit in April despite the SARS scare, and claimed China posed no threat to India.

Replacing perception of China as a 'threat,' India terms China politically and economically as an 'opportunity' for India. India's policy, therefore, should seek to explore cooperation rather than confrontation with China.

On the other side, Beijing has also reviewed its policy toward New Delhi, and concluded that India has made great efforts to strengthen its national capability both in economic and military fronts and tried to become one of the key players in international arena. As another fast-growing economy and military power, India has become a competitor with China in absorbing foreign investment, in world arms market and in political influence.

During his 2002 visit, Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, indicated that China and India have a 'healthy competitive' relationship. Consequently, China has taken a 'new look' on India, and managed the relations through cooperation.

Based on this reappraisal both in Beijing and New Delhi, the two Asian giants have taken steps to restructure their bilateral relations. Vajpayee is the first prime minister after Narasimha Rao's visit in 1993, to come to China and be so warmly received by Chinese officials as well as the people. His visit marks a new stage for Indo-China relations. Although there is no breakthrough in terms of resolving their disputes, they endorsed some settlements and stabilised some others, such as Sikkim and Tibet.

With regard to border issue, the two governments named their one representative to push the talk forward. As for the seat that India claims in UN Security Council, China promises its support for inclusion of more 'developing countries,' which implies certain flexibility on India's bid. In sum, all of these steps taken by both sides help promote trust, confidence and cooperation, and move obstacles on the path to closer relations.

Han Hua is an associate professor at the School of International Studies, Peking University. She is also director, Center for Arms Control and Disarmament, which is affiliated to SIS.

Guest Column

Share your comments

 What do you think about the story?

Read what others have to say:

Number of User Comments: 13

Sub: china versus INDIA

china wants to show that INDIAN are behind them so how thay become our frinds

Posted by ritesh garg

Sub: Biased and sounds like a typical PR stunt – What’s your point?

The author tried to put forward her views from Chinese point of view, which is expected from a person who is living and working for ...

Posted by Vijay

Sub: India-China Changing themes

Dear Rediff and Ms. Han Hua, I would like to commend both of you for this article, but it clearly smacks of Communist Party of ...

Posted by Dinesh Jain


India has had no designs against China. History of China's actions proves that China is a threat to Indian security. China is involved in supporting ...

Posted by Hari Sharma

Sub: No hogwash please

I agree with the parts where writer states that economic cooperation with China will benefit India. But only economic cooperation cannot take two nations far. ...

Posted by Sudhanshu Mittal



Copyright © 2005 India Limited. All Rights Reserved.