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Beyond the India-China Bilateral

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL WEEKLY Beyond the India-China Bilateral After the visit of Chinese president Hu Jintao, India-China relations should mature to a new level of closer and expanded interaction, acquiring what the joint statement issued at the conclusion of the talks described as a

Beyond the India-China Bilateral After the visit of Chinese president Hu Jintao, India-China relations should mature to a new level of closer and expanded interaction, acquiring what the joint statement issued at the conclusion of the talks described as a “strategic and global significance” that would send a “message to the world” that the two countries had come together in pursuit of a long-term partnership. In 2005, during the visit of prime minister Wen Jiabao, the framework had been prepared for a qualitative change, with the governments declaring that theirrelationship was a “strategic and cooperative partnership” and that they were adopting political parameters for a settlement of the boundary question. The objective of Hu Jintao’s visit was to provide greater substance to that partnership. In that, it seems to have largely succeeded. Declaring their commitment to making the positive and comprehensive development of India-China relations an irreversible trend, prime minister Manmohan Singh and president Hu Jintao announced a 10-point strategy and signed 13 agreements to facilitate the intended transformation. Among the areas covered in the agreements were agriculture, tourism, cooperation in science and technology, energy, space and, above all, civilian nuclear energy. In view of the Indo-US nuclear deal, the agreement on cooperation in civilian nuclear technology, “consistent with their respective international commitments”, is a significant development. This indicates the possibility of China taking a favourable view when the Indo-US nuclear deal comes up in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. More importantly, the prospects for cooperation in research on nuclear energy and diversification of nuclear supplies look bright. On the boundary question, both sides expressed a sense of urgency for a settlement that should be “fair, just and mutually acceptable”, asking their special representatives to accelerate the process and the joint working group to expedite the clarification and confirmation of the line of actual control (LAC). Declaring that their border should be transformed from being a dividing line to one uniting for peace and development, Manmohan Singh and Hu Jintao reaffirmed the policy that the boundary issue should not be allowed to affect the growth of bilateral cooperation. To boost economic cooperation and attract investors, a bilateral investment protection agreement has been signed. This is significant in view of the complaints of Chinese companies that they were being singled out and discriminated against on the ground of “security”. The two sides have set a $ 40 billion target for trade in 2010 which is actually a modest figure considering the speed of current growth of India-China trade (estimated at $ 20 billion this year). India and China have also decided to make the composition of the two-way trade more diverse in response to criticism that the bulk of Indian exports to China consists of iron ore and other primary goods. China’s close relationship with Pakistan, including the transfer of nuclear and missile technology, has been a matter of concern for India. President Hu tried to assuage these concerns by welcoming the peace process between India and Pakistan and saying that China had no “selfish gains” to make in south Asia and that it sincerely wished peace in the region and would constructively help the process. The president’s next halt is Pakistan where he is expected to sign a number of crucial agreements including one on building a nuclear reactor and another on the next phase of the Gwadar port. However, it has been very clear for nearly a decade that China has pursued her policies towards the two countries simultaneously and maintains a neutral position on their bilateral issues, including Jammu and Kashmir. One of the issues which had caused concern in India, especially in the north-east, in recent weeks was the reported proposal to construct dams on Brahmaputra/ Yarlung Zangbo/Tsang-po which the Chinese officials explained as only ideas put forth by some academics. There was already a consultative process between the two countries and any such proposal involving international waters will be discussed with concerned countries, according to international law. In fact, the Greater Mekong Scheme was a good example of a joint

effort by China and the Indo-China countries to develop river waters. The Manmohan Singh-Hu Jintao joint statement addressed this issue by agreeing to set up an expert-level mechanism to exchange hydrological data and take up other issues relating to the Brahmaputra, Sutlej, Parlung and Lohit rivers.

The most significant dimension of the visit was the overall impact and affirmation of the new status of the two countries in the world and the attempt to raise the level of mutual trust. The joint statement talked of the role of the two major developing countries in the “emerging multipolar world” – a notable assertion of not just a future condition but one already in the making. Despite the ripples created by the Chinese ambassador’s illtimed statement on Arunachal – even though that is the claim made by China from the very beginning as India claims Aksai Chin now under Chinese control – and the media coverage of Tibetan demonstrations, president Hu Jintao’s visit will remain a landmark in India-China relations. The task now is to implement the agenda that has been agreed to. EPW

Economic and Political Weekly November 25, 2006

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