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Sino-Indian relations are good; it can be still better

October 21, 2013 19:08 IST

In spite of irritants and hiccups in the relationship, a few deliverables are expected of the prime minister’s visit to China, says Rup Narayan Das.

The media in China will be orchestrated to extend a warm welcome to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has endeared himself to the Chinese leadership during his bilateral meetings and through meetings on the sidelines of international summitries.

This will be his fourth visit to China as prime minister. He first visited China in January 2008, the year in which China hosted the Beijing Olympics. During the visit, the two countries signed “a Shared Vision for the 21st Century of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of India”. Among various issues that the vision document mentioned, cooperation on climate change issue and international energy order were conspicuous. The two sides reiterated their readiness to join the international community in the efforts to address climate change.

As regards energy challenges, the document said that “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.”

Yet another highlight of his visit was that he was extended the honour to address the scholars at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, where he broached “the idea for an open inclusive economic architecture from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific”. The same year, Dr Singh again visited China in October to participate in the seventh summit of the Asia-Europe meeting and held discussions with Chinese leaders including other participating world leaders and shared his thoughts and ideas with regard to the world financial crises.

He visited China for the third time in April 2011 to participate in the BRICS summit held in Sanya, where South Africa was admitted as the fifth member of the multilateral grouping. It may be recalled that while earlier the issuance of the stapled visa to a senior Indian Army officer from Jammu and Kashmir had cast a shadow on the bilateral relations during Dr Singh’s visit to Sanya, Beijing issued normal visas to Indian journalists accompanying him.

During the visit Dr Singh and the Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to set up a joint mechanism on coordination and consultation on border affairs, resume senior level defence exchanges and initiate a high-level economic dialogue mechanism to address investment and market access grievances by Indian companies particularly in IT and pharmaceutical sectors.

In between, he also met the Chinese leaders, particularly the former President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of multilateral meetings. He also played host to the Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2006 and Premier Wen Jiabao in 2005 and 2010. The visit of Wen in 2005 was indeed a milestone in the relationship between the two countries. During this visit in his meeting with Dr Singh the joint statement signed between the two leaders explicitly referred to “Sikkim of the Republic of India.” The two sides also signed the historic “Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question”, which inter alia stated that “In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.”

It is unfortunate, however, that in spite of such explicit understanding, Indian citizens from Arunachal Pradesh are declined regular Chinese visas. This is an issue which needs to be thoughtfully addressed by the Chinese leadership. Some solution to this impasse will give a great impetus to the bilateral relationship between the two countries and their people.

Be that as it may, after the smooth leadership transition in China, Dr Singh met the Chinese President Xi Jinping at the BRICS summit in Durban in March this year and held wide-ranging discussions. The Chinese President also elucidated his ‘five point’ policy for strengthening bilateral relations.

The momentum of friendship and ties, however, suffered a major jolt when the PLA troops intruded into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control in mid-April this year and the border standoff continued for about three weeks straining the relationship between the two countries. The subsequent developments leading to the resolution the impasse, which paved the way for the visit of Chinese Premier Li to New Delhi in May are fresh in our memory and as such need not be recounted.

The bottom line is that the two countries need to have greater strategic trust so as to mitigate the persistent security dilemma. It is in the interest of both the countries, and other stakeholders not to look at Sino-Indian relations in the prism of the Cold War and not necessarily in terms of zero-sum game.

Complementarities of mutual interest and ‘genuine’ strategic partnership, and not rhetoric should be the guiding principle of the relationship between the two countries. Complementarities of mutual interests are not only the lexicons at the state banquet, but also are the economic imperatives for mutually beneficial relations. India needs to be professionally prepared to deal with China politically, militarily, diplomatically and economically as well.

In spite of irritants and hiccups few deliverables are expected of the prime minister’s visit to China. The much touted Border Defence Cooperation Agreement, the latest CBM between the two countries, is likely to fructify. There will be some pronouncements to neutralise the alarming trade imbalance against India such as establishing industrial parks for manufacturing purposes.

The two sides may reiterate need for military exchanges and joint military exercises. The issue of stapled visa to Indian citizens from Arunachal Pradesh, the hydrological issue and the Sino-Pak nuclear nexus are also likely to be taken up by the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh during his discussions with the Chinese leaders.

Rup Narayan Das is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

Image: The Beijing skyline

Rup Narayan Das