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India-China Relations

There is little doubt that India and China are moving on the path of normalisation of relations - albeit, not quite with fluidity and ease. At best they have acquired a fair degree of political comfort, at worst, they are merely conflict-free, though suspicion-prone.

Commentary

INDIA-CHINA RELATIONS

A Partnership of‘Global Significance’

There is little doubt that India and China are moving on the path of normalisation of relations – albeit, not quite with fluidity and ease. At best they have acquired a fair degree of political comfort, at worst, they are merely conflict-free,

though suspicion-prone.

ALKA ACHARYA

H
u Jintao was the second Chinese president to visit India, a decade after president Jiang Zemin’s November 1996 visit. It took place at a time when the discourse of “China’s rise” and of a “rising India” have moved onto the centre stage of international relations and when these two most populous countries in the world and major regional powers are being seen as the proponents of change in the rules of the global game in favour of the developing countries. This was thus an event that captured the imagination and keen interest of the world community. As a leader in The Guardian on November 22, 2006 put it, “The summit…brings together the leaders of more than a third of humanity and of the two countries whose growth is the starting point for all serious discussion of the global economy in the 21st century. Few bilateral relationships are more important than this. This one matters to us all.”

Emphasising Economic Ties

The vigorous thrust to economic ties and a determination to double the current bilateral trade of nearly US $ 20 billion by 2010 that were announced during president Hu Jintao’s November 20-23 visit bring into sharp relief two contradictory trends which currently characterise India-China relations. We are witnessing the increasing importance and significance of economic cooperation on the one hand and persisting high levels of political mistrust and suspicion on the other. With the People’s Republic of China (PRC) poised to replace the US as India’s largest trading partner within a decade, if not sooner, the robustness and future potential of their economic cooperation stands in stark contrast to the relative fragility and uncertainty of their political ties.

What is of greater significance is that there is now evident, both on the part of India and China, a greater resolve to address the obvious drawbacks and lacunae in economic ties, for instance, reducing the dominance of primary products and raw materials in India’s export basket by including manufactured goods therein. Both sides have also begun exploring the huge potential of trade in services. They are especially keen to dismantle the barriers to cooperation in information technology, education, the financial sector, healthcare and tourism. They are also examining the feasibility of joint India-China enterprises for exports to third countries. The two sides are interested in further facilitating trade by addressing issues related to tariff and non-tariff barriers, trade financing, reducing transaction costs by streamlining customs procedures and maintaining a comprehensive electronic data interface at various levels and across different agencies and related institutions.

In a recent report by the World Economic Forum on global competitiveness rankings in 2006, China is 11 places behind India. When asked whether in view of this fact, the analogy of the tortoise and the hare from the Aesop’s fables was appropriate to the case of India and China, the secretary general of China’s Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), Wang Jinzhen was categorical in denying such a possibility on the basis of statistical evidence. He said that the hare lost because he was caught napping; “China will never ‘nap’ in the process of its economic development”. Other questions at this interview on the eve of the Chinese president’s visit to India raised crucial aspects of India-China economic ties, for instance, whether it was a primarily government-driven process rather than a people-driven one; or whether yet another popular analogy for their economic cooperation – twin engines of an aircraft, was a more accurate one. More importantly, there was also a discussion on the ways of strengthening economic cooperation.

Border Issue

In the midst of exploring these possibilities and examining the means to remove the existing hurdles, the controversy over the reported denial of permission to some Chinese infrastructure companies for “security reasons” was raised. The problem may not be as big as is being made out, but bizarre implications are drawn, and as is usually the case, they end up bringing the entire relationship under the scanner. There is little doubt that India and China are moving on the path of normalisation – albeit, not quite with fluidity and ease. At best they have acquired a fair degree of political comfort, at worst, they are merely conflict-free, though suspicion-prone. The border is no longer the sum and substance of the relationship, as of yore. There are claims and counterclaims on both sides but since the then prime minister Vajpayee’s June 2003 China visit and the appointment of special political representatives on both sides, an agreed mechanism to explore the problem from a political standpoint has been put in place. With premier Wen Jiabao’s April 2005 visit and the Guiding Principles and Political Parameters in place, the expectation is that eventually, the necessary compromise, which could provide the basis for an ultimate settlement, would be reached. It has been often remarked that

Economic and Political Weekly December 2, 2006

settled de jure borders would release considerable military and financial energies for other more purposeful activities and open up the possibility of development and growth in the border regions leading to greater prosperity of the populations in those areas. There are also proponents of the argument that it is necessary to overcome borders, making them gateposts to dynamic and flourishing economic frontiers. This is eminently desirable, but given the historical baggage involved, there is no escaping the fact that it is necessary to demarcate the borders first. Only then it would be possible to overcome them. China’s own approach to its borders is premised on clear mutual acceptance of where they lie. This is the reason why they readily agreed to talk about the Line of Actual Control.

There is however surprisingly little discussion or information about what is clearly going to be a matter of give and take. We do not even know where exactly the process stands. Which is why the recent statement of the Chinese ambassador to India generated the inevitable outcry from certain sections of the strategic and political community, not to mention its impact on nationalistic sentiments. It is clear that the implications of a compromise on the border would have entirely different ramifications in both countries. No sooner had president Hu’s visit been concluded and India’s Parliament session began, than the matter of the Chinese claims over Arunachal Pradesh was raised, recalling the 1962 parliamentary resolution not to part with even an inch of Indian territory along with demands for condemning the Chinese envoy’s statements. While there was nothing new in the claim, as specialists and officials dealing with the issue would testify, the need for sorting out this issue at the earliest is becoming more urgent than ever. The prevailing status quo and the current realities, both of the bilateral and international scenario and the specific security and strategic interests of the two countries will determine the process of the settlement today. But it is patently obvious that no settlement of the border can be possible unless there is a clear political consensus on the matter. Equally, security is obviously one of the prime considerations in determining the extent to which India would be willing to adjust or compromise its claims on transfer of territory. Hence the security concerns will have to be placed clearly on the negotiating table. While Hu’s visit was not expected to announce any breakthrough on the border, there must be some appreciation of the manner in which the two sides downplayed the controversial dimension and reaffirmed the commitment to speed up the process of a mutually acceptable border settlement. Notably, both sides now see this as not only “represent(ing) the common strategic objective”, but the speedy conclusion of which would “invest (our) strategic partnership with further strength and dynamism”.

Joint Declaration

Till a couple of days before president Hu Jintao’s arrival, there was little indication that the agenda for this meeting comprised anything beyond a summit to mark the year of India-China friendship. The fuller implications of the visit will manifest themselves over a period of time. Summit meetings are not merely strongly symbolic occasions; they reaffirm the past and proclaim a promising future for the relationship. President Hu’s visit appears to have taken some steps in both directions. The Joint Declaration signed between the two countries states that “(B)oth sides agree that the relationship between India and China, the two biggest developing countries in the world, is of global and strategic significance…that they are not rivals or competitors but are partners for mutual benefit” (emphasis added). The Joint Declaration went on to specify a “tenpronged strategy”, which, as prime minister Manmohan Singh described at the joint press interaction, aimed “to intensify cooperation in all areas and to give greater content to (our) strategic partnership”. Taken cumulatively, they “point to the consolidation and diversification” of the bilateral relationship. President Hu echoed these themes when he added that “(our) relationship is of global significance, with bilateral, regional and international dimensions”. A total of 13 agreements were signed on the occasion, ranging from a protocol on the establishment of consulates-general at Guangzhou and Kolkata, cooperation between the foreign ministries of the two countries, including a hotline between the two foreign ministers to an agreement on bilateral investment protection and promotion, enhancing trans-border connectivity, cooperation in the fields of agriculture, education, administrative reforms, setting up an expert-level dialogue mechanism to

Krishna Raj Memorial Scholarships 2006-07

Sameeksha Trust, publishers of EPW, announces the award of the first annual Krishna Raj Memorial Scholarships, which have been constituted in memory of the weekly’s distinguished editor of 35 years (1969-2004).

The trust has established three sets of scholarships at different levels of education – at a school, undergraduate college and postgraduate institution. The scholarships have also been designed for award in either the educational institutions Krishna Raj attended or in the city (Mumbai) where he spent all his professional life.

NSSKPT High School, Ottapalam, Kerala: Two scholarships, for one girl and one boy, in the IXth standard have been awarded in the school where Krishna Raj studied for a few years and of which he always had fond memories. The scholarships will cover tuition fees, uniforms, books and special coaching. They will be awarded by the school taking into account the students’ socio-economic background and performance in the VIIIth standard. In 2006-07, the scholarships have been awarded to K. Sruthi and

P.S. Sudheesh.

SNDT College for Women, Mumbai: One scholarship for a Dalit/ST student in the social sciences stream of the BA course. The scholarship will cover tuition and examination fees and all boarding and lodging expenses in the college hostel. SNDT College will award the scholarship based on merit and socio-economic background. The first scholarship has been awarded to Sneha Ramesh Yadav of the BA (Economics) course.

Delhi School of Economics: Assistance will be provided to meet either the expenses of a field survey conducted by interested MA students during the summer break or to cover the cost of a summer research project that a student of the MA (Economics) course may wish to carry out. The field survey on a subject of public policy will be led by interested faculty of the DSE. The first programme will be in the summer of 2007.

(The generous contributions by many well-wishers to the Krishna Raj Memorial Scholarships are gratefully acknowledged. Those wishing to support the scholarships are requested to make donations to the corpus of the Sameeksha Trust. The interest earnings from the corpus will be used to fund the scholarships. The Sameeksha Trust is in any case committed to meeting the full costs of the above scholarships.)

Economic and Political Weekly December 2, 2006 discussinteraction in cooperation on issues regarding trans-border rivers and preservation of cultural heritage. Coming as it did, in the aftermath of the passage of the Indo-US accord on civilian nuclear cooperation in the US Congress, there was some curiosity during this visit, as regards the Chinese response and position. Here again, the language used is revealing of the way in which this issue is being opened up between them. Section VIII of the Joint Declaration says that, “Considering that for both India and China, expansion of civilian nuclear cooperation is an essential and important component of their national energy plans to ensure energy security, the two sides agree to promote cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, consistent with their respective international commitments”. The Indian foreign secretary, in his press briefing stated that India and China had agreed that civilian nuclear cooperation “should be advanced through

innovative and forward-looking approaches” (emphasis added), while the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson stated that while China sought “more information and explanations” from India to address the concerns of “some countries” on the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, she promised to take a “responsible attitude” at the Nuclear Suppliers Group when the issue comes up. Assessments of these statements in terms of outcomes or policies, depend on the degree of expectations one begins with. It is arguable as to whether China’s rather tepid and ambiguous response to India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council is a case of realism or lack of realism on its part. It certainly appears to indicate a degree of distrust of India. In any event, their lack of interest in the matter would be, and indeed is seen as such in India.

Hu Jintao’s Pakistan Visit

As was only to be expected, there was a great deal of interest in the second leg of president Hu’s south Asia visit – to Pakistan. The Indian political elite has by now come to accept the “special relationship” here and in any case, Sino-Indian relations have forged ahead despite its contribution to the trust deficit that prevails between them. The contrast is worth noting though. President Hu’s entire demeanour and utterances, stressed the importance and significance of Sino-Pakistani ties in essentially bilateral terms, drawing out the mutuality and the tremendous benefits that either side derived from the relationship. Bilateralism thus emerged strongly as president Hu dwelled at length on the long, time-tested, all-weather friendship of Pakistan and the PRC. The distinctive and special dimension of the relationship was reiterated on all possible occasions. There was a warmth and friendliness of a degree that was not witnessed in India but at the end of the day it did not appear to go beyond that. Historical ties were recalled, there were expressions of solidarity, there were more agreements than between China and India and accords were signed on practical cooperation, such as a free trade agreement, taking the China-Pakistan friendship and economic as well as all round cooperation, under the new circumstances, to a higher level. Speaking at a banquet president Musharraf hosted in the honour of the Chinese president, Hu Jintao said his country was “proud to have in Pakistan a great and true friend…Let us build on past achievement and strengthen traditional friendship, advanced with the time, expand and enrich China-Pakistan strategic partnership so that our friendship will pass on from generation to generation…

We are good neighbours, close friends, trusted partners and dear brothers” (emphasis added). Ultimately however, the ramifications of this relationship do not exceed the bilateral boundaries in any noteworthy manner, though the concerns of India in the matter of Sino-Pakistani military ties are not likely to be so easily set aside. A substantial part of the aforementioned mistrust stems from the suspicions about the nature of this cooperation. It is important that the Chinese realise the significance of bringing the Sino-Pakistani military cooperation within the ambit of their strategic dialogue.

Need for Dialogue

It is necessary to take the “strategic and cooperative partnership”, as India-China relations were designated during premier Wen Jiabao’s 2005 visit, along the path it logically demands. Such a partnership necessarily calls for a dialogue on their respective strategic perceptions. Whether it is the issue of the current hegemonic world order, the distribution of power, or the nature of global political, financial and economic institutions and the manner in which they are to be recast, the Sino-Indian dialogue has to be meaningful, substantial and in real earnest. As president Hu stated in his speech at Vigyan Bhawan, organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs, India and China have to work together to build a harmonious Asia. Much would depend on how India and China resolve the prevailing contradictory trends in the relationship today.

EPW

Email: alka.acharya@gmail.com

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Economic and Political Weekly December 2, 2006

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