India and China have been friends for 99.9 per cent of the time in over 2,000 years of exchanges between them, Beijing's chief negotiator in boundary talks Dai Bingguo says, underlining that the two sides should "cast off" the shadow of the 1962 war and build a bright future together.
"In over 2,000 years of exchanges between China and India, we have been friends for 99.9 per cent of the time, while unpleasant experience took up only 0.1 per cent," 71-year-old Dai, who has had the longest engagement with India during the 15 rounds of border talks, said in an interview to PTI, his first ever to the Indian media.
As China's point man for India, Dai, who is set to retire in March next year, negotiated with four top Indian officials -- Brajesh Mishra, J N Dixit, M K Narayanan and present National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon -- on the border issue and normalisation of relations.
"More and more people of vision in India believe that our two countries should cast off the shadow of history in a forward-looking spirit, and the past should guide rather than hinder our endeavour to build a bright future together. I fully agree with this view," he said.
"Nothing is impossible to a willing mind. As long as we are devoted to staying friends forever, never treat each other as enemy, pursue long-term peace and friendly co-existence and vigorously promote win-win cooperation, we will be capable of creating miracles to the benefit of our peoples and the entire mankind," he said.
China, Dai said, is fully committed to pursuing peaceful development and developing friendly and cooperative relations with India.
In the wide-ranging interview, which follows the last round of talks he had with Menon in Beijing on December 3 to finalise a common understanding of the progress made in the border talks since 2005, Dai gave carefully weighed written answers, covering progress made in the boundary negotiations, China's all-weather ties with Pakistan and his assessment of India's foreign policy.
Outlining his thoughts for future Chinese negotiators on India, Dai said India cannot be "wooed or ordered" around by anyone as it pursued an independent foreign policy.
"In my view, India is a country of strategic independence. It will not be wooed or ordered about by anyone else. Being a forerunner of the Non-Aligned Movement and a large emerging country with growing international influence, India will stick to its traditional independent foreign policy and contribute to the peace and development of the region and beyond," he said, answering a question on China's apprehensions about US courting India to be a close ally.
"China welcomes the efforts of India and the US to grow normal relations on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, and hopes that their cooperation will promote peace and stability of the region," he said, hoping that the "shift of US Asia-Pacific strategy will be in keeping with the trend of the times and meet common aspiration of the region for more stability, closer cooperation and common development."
Hailing from minority Tujia community, Dai was groomed into Chinese diplomacy from the days of Mao and accomplished the tough task of normalising China-Russia ties, repairing the deep ideological divide before taking up the task of rebuilding Sino-India ties.
As a top diplomat during the decade-long stint of outgoing President Hu Jintao, Dai argues that there is no "hidden agenda" in Beijing's much touted "all-weather" ties with Islamabad.
"Pakistan is a neighbour and traditional friend of China. China and Pakistan have developed relations in an open and aboveboard manner. There is no hidden agenda, and the relationship is not targeted at any third party," he said.
China provides Pakistan with economic and humanitarian assistance and carries out cooperation in various areas, he said. "It is conducive to the stability and development of
Pakistan and consistent with the interests of all countries in the region," he said.
But at the same time, Dai said, "both India and Pakistan are close neighbours and friends of China."
"We sincerely hope that India and Pakistan will have a friendly relationship, and applaud the improvement in their relations. China will work with India and Pakistan to build sound and mutually-reinforcing relations between our three countries and create a peaceful and stable regional environment based on equality, mutual trust and win-win cooperation," Dai said.
On the India-China border issue for which he has been China's Special Representative for all the 15 rounds held so far, Dai said since the start of the boundary talks in 1979, China and India have worked "relentlessly to push forward the negotiations and achieved some positive results."
"The boundary question, an issue left over from history, is highly complicated. An early settlement will serve the fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples. I believe that in seeking the settlement, we should always bear in mind the overall interest of the bilateral relations, act in the spirit of peace, friendship, equal-footed consultation, mutual respect and mutual accommodation, and work to narrow differences and expand common ground," Dai said.
"In 2005, we signed the Agreement on Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the China-India Boundary Question, and moved on to explore the framework for a boundary settlement, which is the second stage in a three-stage process," Dai said.
The two countries followed it up with two agreements and one protocol on the maintenance of peace and tranquillity and confidence-building measures in the border areas and set up a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on border affairs.
"These efforts have helped ensure durable peace and stability in the border areas and played a positive role in establishing and developing the China-India strategic and cooperative partnership," Dai said.
On the role of the leadership of both countries in pushing ties, Dai said "the burgeoning bilateral relations are attributable to the high importance and personal attention given by the leaders of both countries."
During the last ten years, President Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao each met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over ten times in bilateral and multilateral settings, "developing genuine friendship with the Indian prime minister," he said.
The leaders of both sides agree that the China-India relations have "gone beyond the bilateral scope and acquired global and strategic significance," Dai said.
"We are partners in win-win cooperation, not rivals in competition. There is enough space in the world for the development of both China and India and enough areas for our two countries to cooperate in. These visions and fundamental views have guided the sound growth of the bilateral ties," he said.
The India-China ties also gained increasing importance in China's foreign relations.
"As the person in charge of China's foreign affairs and as China's Special Representative on the boundary question, it is my honour to have witnessed the growth of the bilateral relations and done my bit to promote it," Dai said and added that the recent 18th Communist Party Congress mandated to pursue policy of friendship with neighbours.
"To develop good neighbourly relations with India is China's longstanding strategic choice. After the 18th Party Congress, China will place more importance on developing the strategic and cooperative partnership with India. I firmly believe that the future of China-India relations will be even brighter," he said.
"If we work in this way, we will find a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement. I hope that the Special Representatives from both sides will keep up the good work and finish the negotiation," he said.
Outlining the progress, he said in "we took an innovative step and set up the Special Representatives' meeting mechanism" in 2003.
About China-India defence ties, Dai said the two countries pose "no threat" to each other. "The security of both countries can be achieved only by pursuing peaceful co-existence and common development."
The growing cooperation is "evidenced by the two exchanges of visits between our defence chiefs, the launch of defence dialogue, two joint military exercises involving our armies, mutual port calls by naval vessels, joint escort missions in the Gulf of Aden, as well as frequent meetings and contacts between our border troops," Dai said.
"As we continue enhancing our mutual understanding and trust, the potential for defence cooperation will be further unleashed," he said.
"China advocates a new security concept that stresses mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality and coordination. We seek to promote security through cooperation and resolve disputes through dialogue. This is reflected in the negotiation with India to resolve the boundary question and our joint effort to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas."
"I believe that China and India will continue on this path and work to enhance mutual trust and resolve disputes through friendly cooperation. In so doing, we will promote our common security and contribute to the durable peace and common prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region," Dai said.