Print this article

Wen visit: At least the Chinese are willing to talk now

Last updated on: December 17, 2010 12:38 IST

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit gave India an opportunity to firmly put its concerns across the table. Though the major issues were not fully addressed, New Delhi will be glad that the Chinese are now, at least, willing to talk about them, observes Sheela Bhatt

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to India has set the process of resolving complex issues back on track, said a senior diplomat privy to the delegation level talks between India and China in New Delhi.

Importantly, when the process of negotiation started between both sides on the eve of Wen's visit the Chinese side wanted India to reiterate the 'One China' policy (that recognises Taiwan and Tibet as part of China) in join communique.

But when India asked China to understand its sensitivity to the Jammu and Kashmir visa issue and the issue of sovereignty connected to the Kashmir issue, the proposal of mention of India's reiteration of 'One China' was dropped by Beijing. 

United States, Pakistan and the Dalai Lama have been surely the issues present overtly or covertly between the two sides, but Wen's visit has shown -- once again -- that 'trade' is the factor that can better the average on the balance sheet of Sino-India bilateral relations.

Since the last 18 months, New Delhi has raised concerns over China's nuclear supply agreement with Pakistan, over rivers waters and over China's policy with India's neighbours.

But, China's action of granting 'stapled visas' to Indians from Jammu and Kashmir on separate pieces of paper disturbed every Indian greatly. More stress came when India cancelled defence exchanges after China refused visa to a Kashmir-based general.

Then came India's turn to be 'assertive' when India attended the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in Oslo. 

In view of the negativity that persists between both countries, Wen's visit has greatly helped Indians to put across their views firmly before China's highest leadership.

A senior diplomat, talking off-the-record about the high-level talks, said: "We were straight-talking. We expressed our concerns, we could discuss all the issues. That itself is a positive sign if compared to last year when China was not even ready to discuss the issue of stapled visas or on imbalance in trade with India!"

He added, "The Indian side put across the table its concerns quite strongly over the Free Trade Agreement. The Indian business community has been strongly protesting any such move."

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said, "The market trade imbalance was candidly discussed. We said we would like more market access. We want our pharma, agricultural commodities and IT services to come to China." 

China is India's largest trading partner, but the relation is tilting heavily in favour of Chinese businessmen. China is not importing enough and this is going to be India's number one worry in coming decade in bilateral relations.

Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor of The Hindu, said: "It is not a flop visit. I think there were new beginnings like agreeing for measures to co-operate in maritime security and establishing Strategic Economic dialogue." 

Vardarajan, who advocates that both countries should 'reset' the relationship, said, "The stapled visa issue was the 'problem' till Wen arrived. Now, the issue is being taken up for solution."

B Raman, terrorism expert and founder member of Chennai Centre for China studies, said: "I would not say Wen's visit was flop or negative visit. However, India's concern about China's broader Kashmir policy was not addressed." 

On the much-talked-about issue of Sino-Pakistan relationship and India's concerns about it, Vardarajan said, "You take it as given that China is Pakistan's closest ally." 

On the Chinese side, the biggest gain was that Wen's visit opened the door wider for China's business community to make merry in an ever-growing Indian market. Nobody can deny that the madness to do business between entrepreneurs in both countries is catching on.

These Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs and traders value the meeting between Wen and Dr Singh immensely.

Chinese premier is taking home $16 billion worth of contracts from the Indian market. India's biggest gain is that its most powerful neighbour came home to discuss entire gamut of pending issues.

The issues didn't get resolved, but on some issues the process started or the promises were made to restart the process.
Indian foreign ministry officials insist that there is 'progress' on the issue of stapled visa.

In fact, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said that during the high-level talks, Wen himself said that India and China should have in-depth discussions to resolve the differences on stapled visas issue. 

An officer connected with the issue told that Premier Wen had told India that after his visit officers of both countries should meet and resolve the issue.

"In that sense, there is progress on the issue," the officer said.

The Indian side insists that on issue of rivers waters emanating from China and flowing into India, Beijing had assured that there was no threat to the people living on lower side.

Wen himself said,  "China takes seriously India's concern about the trans-border rivers and we are ready to further improve the joint working mechanism. I would like to assure our Indian friends that the upstream development activities by China will be based on scientific planning and study and will take into consideration the interests of both upstream and downstream."

There are mixed reactions to Wen's visit, which had low expectations to begin with.

Those who know how China and India's relations operate are terming the Wen's visit as part of the continuous process, which both countries are trying to institutionalise.

As the joint communique mentioned, 'both sides have agreed to establish the mechanism of annual exchange of visits between the two foreign ministers'.

Both side have set the target of $100 billion bilateral trade by 2015. Wen's visit has also got the nuts and bolts of banking sector fixed for both countries.

And those who are not over-obsessed with getting quick-fix solutions for political issues would like to know that on Thursday both sides agreed to initiate an encyclopaedia on India-China cultural contacts that started some 1600 years back.

In a heartfelt speech at the Indian Council of World Affairs, Wen remembered Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and quoted from Upanishads.

Wen, who himself reaches out to his people during natural calamites, said: " For peace and justice, Mahatma Gandhi travelled from one village to another with firm steps, knowing no fatigue. He was intrepid and so much so that no force or individual could make him stop."

"This great man, a man of love and integrity, has always lived in my heart," Wen said. 

The Chinese Premier also paid tributes to Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, who had a great friendship with China's literary giants Lu Xun, Liang Qichao and Xu Zhimo. 

Twice during his visit, Wen tried to reach out to young Indians by drawing similarities between Yoga and calligraphy. He said Yoga signifies the union of soul and physical strength, the Chinese art demonstrates the strength of hand and that of the heart.

The issues connected with education, rivers waters, culture, youth and climate change have also seen new elements today between two countries. 

In fact, Alka Acharya, professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University and China expert, said while putting the Wen's visit in perspective, "The outcome of talks between India and China can not be like instant noodles. When these two ancient countries talk and engage themselves the outcome don't come in a day."

She dismissed the contention that there was all sound and little substance in Wen's visit as some critics have been talking on many TV channels.

She added, "I think India has put its concerns strongly during today's talks. It is obvious that India will have to calibrate China policy differently. Between us level of maturity has been reached. It is obvious that the US factor is strongly in between us as Pakistan factor has been since many years. These factors are going to be there for some time to come. In view of these realities Wen's visit was not a negative visit."

In fact, the critics on both sides should listen to Wen's moving words in his address at ICWA: "China and India, two great nations that have gone through so many trials and tribulations, will, as always, remain vibrant, live up to the important mission bestowed by history, and work together for new glories of the Oriental civilization."

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi