ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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One Step Forward, Three Steps Backward: The Danger of Drift in India-China Relations

Drift unfortunately seems to have taken hold of India-China relations. For every one step forward, we appear to be taking three steps backward. The danger of drift is that it can easily take you back to square one.

“Drift” is the word that springs to mind as the most appropriate description of the ongoing state of affairs between India and China. It may in fact be qualified as “seriously adrift”, notwithstanding the cooperative stand at the Copenhagen Summit in December last year and what has come to be dubbed the “Copenhagen Spirit”. The Chambers Dictionary instructs us about the different senses in which “drift” may be used – “passive travel with the current; to be floated along; to be driven into heaps; abandonment to external influences; to leave things to circumstances”. Insofar as India-China relations are concerned, all of the above would apply.

Since the last three years at least, one controversy has trod on the heels of the other, so thick and fast they have come (with due apologies to Shakespeare). Each of these controversies was relentlessly – and often senselessly – thrashed out in the media – print and electronic – with the entire gamut of outrage and criticisms, speculations and charges being thrust upon our collective consciousness, in a manner which can only be described as unfortunate. Over and over again we were educated about the sources of suspicion and mistrust that are preventing the budding bilateral ties from blossoming. Some of the controversies are what may be described as the older perennials – the border incursions by the Chinese, their claims to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and their suspicious activities in and around India’s neighbourhood, especially Pakistan – and some newer ones such as issuing stapled visas to Indians travelling to China from Kashmir and China’s attempts to choke off India’s water supply by building a dam across the Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet (Brahmaputra when it comes to India). Then there are those which could be described as the seasonal variety or those emerging in a specific context, involving some aspect of security, as was the case with the proposed entry of the Chinese telecom majors, viz, Huawei, into the Indian market. This one acquired rather discordant notes on the eve of the Indian president’s visit to China in May, and looked set to mar the overall tenor and outcome of the visit. Fortunately, politically correct sort of statements emanated from all quarters of the political and bureaucratic establishment prior to the president’s departure, paving the way for a fairly normal kind of a visit under the circumstances.

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