|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.