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Home > News > Columnists > B S Raghavan

Sino-Indian vision: Bloated, sugar-coated candy floss

January 17, 2008

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When George Bush [Images], Sr, was asked in the midst of his presidential campaign in 1987 to state his long-term objectives, he responded derisively by saying, 'Oh, the vision thing!'

Well, the same must have been the reaction of the skeptics at the news of the joint statement called 'A Shared Vision for the 21st Century' emanating from the meeting in Beijing [Images] on January 14 between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images], resolving 'to promote the building of a harmonious world of durable peace and common prosperity through developing the Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity between the two countries'.

Public memory being proverbially short, the commentariat (the new collective noun for commentators!) cannot be blamed for thinking that each of the many exchanges of visits of the recent past by the top leaders of India and China and the contents of each of the statements under various grandiose guises signed by them is a stunningly revolutionary development and signifies an audacious advance in a brand new direction.

Let us take three of the most nettlesome aspects of the relations between the two countries: The boundary question, nuclear cooperation and India's membership of the UN Security Council.

I shall now juxtapose the quotes from the joint declarations of the past against the latest 'vision' on these items:

The boundary question:

The (two sides) reiterated their readiness to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution through consultations on an equal footing (and) agreed� pending an ultimate solution, (to) work together to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas, and�to continue implementation of the agreements (of 1993 and 1996) signed for this purpose, including the clarification of the line of actual control. -- Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation of 23 June 2003 signed during the visit to China of the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (During Wen's April 2005 visit to India, this declaration was hailed as "a shared vision of bilateral relations and an agreed framework for cooperation". So, there are now two 'shared visions'!)

The two sides� reiterated their readiness to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution, through equal and friendly consultations and proceeding from the overall interests of bilateral relations� Pending a final resolution, the two sides will continue to make joint efforts to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas in accordance with the Agreements of 1993 and 1996� It was agreed to complete the process of exchanging maps indicating their respective perceptions of the entire alignment of the LAC on the basis of already agreed parameters, with the objective of arriving at a common understanding of the alignment, as soon as possible -- Joint Statement following the visit to India of Wen Jiabao on April 9-12, 2005, establishing a 'Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity'

Both sides are committed to resolving outstanding differences, including on the boundary question, through peaceful means and in a fair, reasonable, mutually acceptable and proactive manner, while ensuring that such differences are not allowed to affect the positive development of bilateral relations� the Joint Working Group on the India-China Boundary Question shall expedite their work, including on the clarification and confirmation of the line of actual control� It was agreed to complete the process of exchanging maps indicating their respective perceptions of the entire alignment of the LAC on the basis of already agreed parameters as soon as possible -- Visit to India of Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China, November 20-23, 2006.

The two sides remain firmly committed to resolving outstanding differences, including on the boundary question, through peaceful negotiations, while ensuring that such differences are not allowed to affect the positive development of bilateral relations. The two sides reiterate their determination to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution to the boundary question and to build a boundary of peace and friendship -- Shared Vision Declaration of 14 January 2008.

Nuclear Cooperation:

No mention since the visit was prior to the nuclear deal with the US -- Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation of 23 June 2003 signed during the visit to China of the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee

No reference except in general terms to say, "The two sides agreed to cooperate in the field of energy security and conservation." -- Joint Statement following the visit to India of Mr.Wen Jiabao on April 9-12, 2005, establishing a 'Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity'

Considering that for both India and China, expansion of civilian nuclear energy programme is an essential and important component of their national energy plans to ensure energy security� the two sides agree to promote cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, consistent with their respective international commitments. -- Visit to India of Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China, November 20-23, 2006

As two countries with advanced scientific capabilities, the two sides pledge to promote bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energy, consistent with their respective international commitments, which will contribute to energy security and to dealing with risks associated with climate change� The two sides are committed to making joint efforts to diversify the global energy mix and enhance the share of clean and renewable energy, so as to meet the energy requirements of all countries. -- Shared Vision Declaration of 14 January 2008

Security Council membership:

The two sides acknowledged the vital importance of the role of the United Nations in world peace, stability and development. They are determined to continue their efforts in strengthening the UN system. They reaffirmed their readiness to work together to promote reform of the UN. In reform of the UN Security Council, priority should be given to enhancing representation of the developing countries. -- Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation of 23 June 2003 signed during the visit to China of the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee

The reform of the United Nations should be comprehensive and multi-faceted and should put emphasis on an increase in the representation of developing countries. The Indian side reiterated its aspirations for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The Chinese side also reiterated that India is an important developing country and is having an increasingly important influence in the international arena. China attaches great importance to the status of India in international affairs. It understands and supports India's aspirations to play an active role in the UN and international affairs. -- Joint Statement following the visit to India of Wen Jiabao on April 9-12, 2005, establishing a 'Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity'

The reform of the UN should be comprehensive, ensure balanced representation of developing and developed countries in the UN Security Council, and add to the efficiency and efficacy of the UN and its Security Council. The two sides shall conduct consultations on the question of UN reform, including the reform of the UN Security Council. The Indian side reiterates its aspirations for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. China attaches great importance to the status of India in international affairs. It understands and supports India's aspirations to play a greater role in the United Nations. -- Visit to India of Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China, November 20-23, 2006

The two sides support comprehensive reform of the United Nations, including giving priority to increasing the representation of developing countries in the Security Council. The Indian side reiterates its aspirations for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. The Chinese side attaches great importance to India's position as a major developing country in international affairs. The Chinese side understands and supports India's aspirations to play a greater role in the United Nations, including in the Security Council. -- Shared Vision Declaration of 14 January 2008

Candy floss:

See how, under each item, large chunks are identical in phraseology. The same is the case with all the other topics (panchsheel, economic globalisation, multilateral trading system, 'defence dialogue', terrorism, one China policy, cultural exchanges and the like) covered by the latest 'shared vision'. Each statement is virtually the mirror image of the others. Even major liberalisation of civil aviation links between India and China, about which there was much trumpeting, had been agreed to in principle as early as in 2003 during the visit of Vajpayee.

It is all a candy floss of bloated sugar-coated verbiage that, let us face it, makes little difference to realpolitik as practised by countries. For instance, for all the bromide on the border question, it bristles with potentially explosive issues. First and foremost is "the clarification and confirmation of the line of actual control" based on exchange of maps by the two sides indicating their respective perceptions of the entire alignment of the LAC. China is yet to forward maps showing its 'perceptions' with which India's will have to be matched taking into account, inter alia, historical evidence, national sentiments, practical difficulties and reasonable concerns and sensitivities of both sides, and the actual state of border areas. Each one of these formulations can become bones of contention.

That is not all. According to the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles drawn up by both countries, the boundary settlement has to satisfy the following criteria: Adjustments should be meaningful and mutually acceptable; the solution should be fair and reasonable, conform to 'each other's strategic and reasonable interests', and safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas. Differences have already surfaced on the precise significance of the last-mentioned principle: In India's view, it is applicable to Arunachal Pradesh, and hence keeping it within India whereas China has been publicly asserting its claims on the area.

On nuclear cooperation and Security Council membership too, China's stand is so non-committal, if not nebulous, as to amount to very little by way of practical gains for India.

The only solid stuff, if it could be called that, comprises the number of protocols, totaling 38 in all these visits, on matters which could have been easily concluded at far lower levels.

In other words, although no new ground has been broken during the visit of Dr Singh, the prime ministerial aides have tried to create the grand illusion of a monumental achievement. It is surprising that even perceptive analysts and the normally vigilant media not taken in by the webs the spin masters weave have made a big hoo-ha about the trip.


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