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Home > News > Interview

The Rediff Interview/South Asia expert Ma Jiali

'India, China relations getting better and better'

January 11, 2008


Ma Jiali
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When Chinese leaders want expert opinion on India, Professor Ma Jiali is the most reliable source for them in Beijing [Images]. Ma is among a rare breed of Chinese scholars with a deep understanding of India. He is a veteran South Asia expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations and has written extensively on India.

In 1991-92 he stayed at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi to learn more about India's foreign policy and relations between India and China, how to promote bilateral trade and also to learn about India's education system.

Later he wrote books on the education system in India and on the rise of India.

Sometime back, Ma was involved in a controversy regarding Sino-India border dispute. Ma had allegedly suggested India should give away Tawang area and retain remaining parts of Arunachal Pradesh. The suggestion differed from official Chinese policy and was obviously opposed by the Chinese establishment.

In the well-guarded establishment of the CICIR in Beijing, Ma spoke exclusively to rediff.com Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt.

On Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] visit

We are looking forward to Dr Singh's visit. We hope it will be successful.

We hope that both governments will reach better understanding on trade, economic co-operation, investment, cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts.

On the civil nuclear issue, I think full-size efforts are required from both sides. I think they will talk about it. I am not sure if it can reach the level of an agreement. During the last visit of President Hu Jintao to India both countries had agreed that they should co-operate in the nuclear field. But it could mean many things.

On Sino-Indian relations

I think more and more Indians are changing their view on China. Indians are ready to take accept China -- if not as a friend, at least as a partner. When (former defence minister) George Fernandes [Images] met me in New Delhi, I told him that you should go to China to see what China is thinking, what the Chinese people are doing, how the Chinese are building their nation.

The Chinese are thinking of how to make money and not about threatening another country. China has already said we should work towards strategic partnership for peace and stability. I see a political change between the two countries.

Once there are high level meetings, some co-operation in international affairs will be seen. Bilateral trade is increasing and is hovering near $35 billion (about Rs 140,000 crore). We have a very bright future. However, 20 years back you could not have imagined this relationship. It is getting better and better.

China's India Policy

Even if China becomes a bigger economic force than now, its foreign policy cannot change.

We are looking for good neighbourly relations. It is well-known that our policy rests on four pillars. Even if China becomes the world's number one economy, it has many issues to tackle. Like population, like peoples' living standards. It is a huge burden.

The average Chinese does not have enough information about India. But now more and more people like India because they see it as an IT giant, they see India as a stable and friendly country towards China. India is seen as a big market.

The border issue

I would like to tell the Indian people that both sides are talking on the border issue and we should wait. Both sides have decided the political principle for a border settlement. It means China's position is very clear. In Arunchal Pradesh, Tawang is the disputed area. You should know the history. Tawang's position changed only after India's Independence.

The China side did not consent. In Tawang, there is a Tibetan Buddhist monetary. It is the sixth Dalai Lama's [Images] birthplace. It is very complicated. We should find a solution to that.

China's policy is that both sides should make substantial adjustments. Of course, it is not easy for both countries. The border issue is an important factor in the relationship and it cannot be neglected.

During 1993, India and China signed agreements. I don't see the possibility of conflict. Both sides should ensure that calm prevails. On the border, soldiers may create trouble on either side but I don't see it turning into conflict. Both China and India do not want to see this (border) conflict happen. Both sides have suffered in conflict so both do not want it.

I do understand Indian people's feeling about the 1962 war. The Chinese people have their own national feeling. For the Chinese, the MacMohan line illegal.

On China-Pakistan relations

China and Pakistan's relations are not recent, it's going on since the Cold War days. You must not forget that. China's policy is to have good relations with all neighbours. During the Kargil conflict China's position was clear. We persuaded Pakistan to sit down and talk to reduce tension. We built the Gwadar port but it is now managed by a Singapore company. It is not used for military purposes. The argument of 'encirclement' of India is not correct. Even you have friendly relations with our neighbour Japan [Images]. Myanmar is our close neighbour. We should develop our ocean interests in the area. It's important for the ocean security of China. Even in case of possible India and Pakistan conflict, China can do something to persuade both sides to have a dialogue.

On China and democracy

China cannot raise democracy in the short term but it can move toward democracy.

President Hu Jintao has said that democracy is a good thing. It depends on the historic condition. In rural areas, the cadre are directly elected. The Communist Party of China is the biggest party of China but it is not the only one.

There are ten other parties and they have a voice too. No one doubts that India is a democracy but in China too we have many parties. They have differences but they don't fight!

They have votes in the Upper House. In the world, there are many political systems and China has its own political system. Our system has provided stability needed for development. China attracted million of dollars investments from abroad and from overseas Chinese. China's economic policy is to open up to the world. India has been late by a few years. When such huge economic development efforts are going on, political stability is important. One major factor in China's growth is its stable political leadership.

Recently, there was a military exercise of five navies of 'democratic' countries. Some of the countries in these exercise clearly said that it is the alignment of democracy.

Official documents of the Americans show that they want to contain China. Fortunately, Australia and India have not shown such interest. The region should not be divided on the issue of democracy.

On growing Indo-US relations

I think US-China relations are complicated and competitive. However, I do not think India will ever become a playing field for the US and China because India has its own national interest. India cannot become a collateral for American interests. Even if the Indo-US nuclear deal goes through, India will remain independent. About the nuclear deal I think India surely needs energy security and technology.

India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. China's concern is that if these conditions are relaxed, then how to deal with other nuclear countries like North Korea and Iran. This is an international concern and China thinks that India should accept non-proliferation safeguards. Many Indians do not know that China gave India nuclear material in the past. India's strategists never mention that India wants to save their nuclear material for military purposes.

I can't say what China will do at the Nuclear Suppliers Group as this issue is complicated. I don't know the official line but the issue is not about China and India. It is between China and the international system.

Things to learn from India

I wrote an article once that all Chinese should learn something from India's cultural confidence. As China opened up, Chinese have changed their dress code. I am not worried about the cultural changes in China. The preference for clothes is one thing and preference for a political system is another thing. 

On India's Tibet policy

India's Tibet policy is very clear. India recognises Tibet's status with China.

But, unfortunately, Tibetans are still living in India. The Indian government policy is very clear, that it will not allow any independent movement from India. I hope India strictly follows its official policy. Tibetans want independence and this is a big challenge for China and its national security. Chinese people take Tibet as a part of China. In Tibet, you can ask many people this question. They don't want independent Tibet. You will find great changes in Tibet -- like railways and new buildings. The local and central government respects Tibetan culture. It is interesting to see that on one hand people want development and they also want to preserve their cultural heritage.

On the Taiwan issue

The Taiwan issue is China's core interest and important for national security. It is a sensitive issue. China is strongly against an independent Taiwan. India and Taiwan have trade relations and it won't be questioned. But we don't want to see India having political relations with Taiwan. I don't think India is trying to get closer to Taiwan. I think it is very clear that India has a 'One China' policy. I think India cannot damage Chinese interest.


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