Both India and China have demonstrated levels of maturity in diffusing tensions and ensuring that the border remains by and large incident free, says Seema Mustafa
The Indian government’s response to China is at complete variance with the hysterical approach of 24-hour television news channels. Unfortunately while this view is available off the record for senior scribes willing to observe the confidentiality clause, it remains absent from television screens thereby allowing hype to take over substance.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China next week promises to be an exercise in moderation with both countries set to sign a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement that has just been cleared by the Union cabinet as part of the Confidence Building Measures to maintain peace and tranquility along the border.
Significantly, despite the media hype about the so-called Chinese incursions into Indian territory recently, government sources have repeatedly insisted that the number of incursions are down as compared to the previous year. They say India-China border remains violence free, with no deaths or shooting reported for several years. This is seen as a success of the ongoing talks between the two countries, which has managed to institutionalise the border dialogue with regular meetings and discussions.
The BDCA is expected to introduce a higher level of military meetings on the border to ensure that the Depsang kind of incident does not recur, and even if there is similar activity, it is dealt with rapidly. Unlike India-Pakistan relations where talks often get bogged down under adverse circumstances, both India and China have demonstrated levels of maturity in diffusing tensions and ensuring that the border remains by and large incident free.
India is clearly not allowing China’s consistent refusal to grant visas to residents of Arunachal Pradesh that remains ‘disputed’ on Beijing’s agenda, to strain relations. Two archers from Arunachal Pradesh were recently denied Chinese visas and were prevented from boarding a Gujagzhou-bound flight even though they were part of the team selected to participate in the World Archery Youth Championships in Wuxi.
The Indian government is no longer reacting to what many in New Delhi see as ‘predictable’ Chinese behaviour, although, the necessary diplomatic steps for clearances were taken.
The prime minister’s meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is expected to also focus on the ongoing border talks, with both India and China close to setting up a framework for the same. Trade will remain a top priority with measures to ensure parity on the agenda. However, the Indian industry’s resistance to China’s keenness to set up manufacturing units in India continues and no breakthrough can be expected on this.
In his visit to India earlier, the Chinese premier had persuaded the government to explore the possibilities of the proposed Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor. New Delhi is still reluctant to move ahead on this, although China is expected to declare Kunming and Kolkata as sister cities during the prime ministerial visit.
An innovative idea that can boost trade dramatically is the opening of the Stilwell road, constructed during World War II. Both Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have been rather enthusiastic about this idea that is being opposed by New Delhi for ‘strategic’ reasons.
Sources said that the Stilwell road is capable of handling at least 25 per cent of India-China bilateral trade but it continues to be opposed by the central government and in particular, the Indian army.
China has modernised its part of the road and is currently working on the Myanmar section as well. Only about 66 km lies in India with supporters of the proposal pointing out that this would hardly deter Chinese military movement if Beijing was so inclined. On the other hand, if the road was developed and opened, trade would boom.
It is no ones case that the Indian defence services should sit back and allow improved bilateral relations between India and China to lull them into complacency. The possibility of a pincer attack by both China and Pakistan is setting strategy in the war room, with the government also worried about the increased Chinese presence in Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
The government is not particularly worried about the Chinese decision to sell nuclear reactors to Pakistan, but is keeping a close eye and monitoring activities in PoK. However, military exercises between India and China will be held as scheduled in early November with both countries aware of the need to maintain peace without lowering their guard.
All in all Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit will be successful in taking forward and strengthening bilateral relations. Both sides have worked carefully to ensure there are no rough notes, and the message from the meeting is positive and a plus for continued peace along the border.
The Chinese handlers in the United Progressive Alliance government are not warmongers and believe in the need to maintain good relations without striking alarm bells at every turn of the page. There seems to be recognition of the fact that the two neighbours cannot afford animosity and need to stretch and reach out to ensure that concerns are addressed and issues resolved on a continuous and constant basis.