Scaling the Chinese Wall

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at
Thu Nov 11 17:26:59 MST 1999

The Indian Express
 Thursday, November 11, 1999
Scaling the Chinese Wall
J N Dixit

The provocation for this article is my week-long stay in Beijing in October
for a bilateral colloquium between the Centre for Policy Research, New
Delhi, and the China Institute of International Studies. This provided an
opportunity to inter-act with not only scholars of the Chinese Institute but
also government officials, including policy-planners. These exchanges threw
some light on the attitude of the Chinese establishment and strategic
community towards India. It is pertinent to take note of these attitudes and
relate them to emerging trends in our China policy.
Our perceptions regarding China have been coloured by the negative,
antagonistic and disdainful views about India held by the Chinese leadership
till Deng Xiaoping advent to power. Besides transforming the Chinese polity
and economy, he initiated a new and practical approach towards India. The
result was a gradual improvement in bilateral relations from 1979 to 1998,
the high points being Vajpayee's visit to China as Foreign Minister in
1979,Rajiv Gandhi's visit in December 1988, Narasimha Rao's visit in
September 1993, and the visits of Prime Minister Li Peng to Delhi in
December 1991 and President Jiang Zemin in November 1996.
The broad undercurrent of this process of normalisation was of expanding
bilateral relations in the economic, cultural, technological and scientific
spheres while continuing to discuss the political issues, about which there
were differences of opinion, the most important being the boundary question.
The process was interrupted by the Indian nuclear weapons tests and the
strategic and political justification given by India for having taken the
step, mentioning Chinese nuclear capacities and China's defence cooperation
arrangements with India's neighbours, Pakistan and Myanmar, as a factor. The
period between May and September 1998 witnessed acrimony and distances
between India and China which are being overcome gradually through
high-level contacts between the two countries.
China's primary focus in the short andmedium terms remains on managing
internal political and economic criticalities despite all the achievements
that China can claim over the last two decades. It is acknowledged that
China faces problems of internal movement of populations, unemployment, food
security and intra-regional economic and developmental imbalances. These
would remain challenging during the early decades of the next century. These
being their primary concerns, China wants to ensure an atmosphere of
stability and strategic equilibrium in its neighbourhood. The inclination
towards assertiveness and external projections of power would be tempered by
China's internal predicaments.
Subject to this overarching situation, the specific factors which could
affect Sino-Indian relations in terms of mutual strategic perceptions could
be: discernible Chinese threat perceptions about India becoming a base for
secessionism in Tibet with international support; potentialities of an
Indo-US or Indo-Russian strategic collusion against China; tensionsbetween
India and Pakistan, which could impose responsibilities on China in the
context of its close relationship with Pakistan; India's nuclear and missile
weaponisation which has been underpinned by declared concerns about China's
inclinations and a general strategic concern about what China calls Indian
`hegemonistic' tendencies.
The Indian threat perceptions are: China's defence cooperation with Pakistan
and Myanmar; the possibility of a strategic encirclement of India; tensions
on the line of actual control and the dispute about the boundary problem, on
which no substantive progress has been made despite the agreements of 1993
and 1996; China's questioning of India's territorial integrity, with Chinese
maps still depicting India's international boundaries inaccurately; Chinese
nuclear and missile capacities in a hostile axis with Pakistan, profoundly
affecting India's security interests; China's generation of
non-proliferation pressures on India, compounding all these threat
There havebeen reports that the meetings between Foreign Ministers Jaswant
Singh and Tang between September 1998 and last June have resulted in a
significant decision for bilateral discussions on strategic and security
matters. The mutual apprehensions detailed before could form the subject
matter of such a discussion at both the ministerial and official levels. The
process could be oriented towards a practical bilateral relationship with
two objectives: first, to take initiatives to remove the mutual concerns
listed and, secondly, to give an impetus to cooperation on broader issues,
on which there is a convergence of views and interests.
The Chinese are not averse to UN reforms and making the Security Council
more representative. Both India and China are opposed to intrusive
internationalism. Leaving aside China's opposition to India's nuclear
weaponisation, there are possibilities of cooperation to work against
discriminatory arms control and disarmament regimes. Both countries share
concerns about the rise ofreligious and ethno-linguistic separatism. There
are shared concerns about trans-border terrorism and narco-terrorism. If
China is genuinely concerned about ensuring regional stability, China should
be able to tell Pakistan to desist from military adventurism and adjust to
the ground realities in Jammu and Kashmir.
One has ventured to be prescriptive because, despite the objections raised
by the Chinese to some of the points of Indian concern and apprehension
during the October discussions, there was acknowledgement that the general
factors affecting Sino-Indian relations as described here are valid. There
is acceptance that these factors are complex and have to be tackled with
patience and deliberation. A beginning can be made by taking initiatives to
build an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence. These initiatives could
be the expeditious implementation of the 1993 and 1996 agreements, giving
high priority to define and delineate the line of actual control.
Simultaneously, the security dialoguecould be commenced including military
and non-military issues between the two governments on an early date. A
purposive effort for the development and expansion of bilateral trade and
economic cooperation could contribute to the process.
There is an invitation pending for our President to visit China for nearly a
year now. Further meetings of the Joint Working Group and the exchange of
visits between party and economic delegations are scheduled. Now that our
new government is in position, new beginnings could be made to stabilise our
relations with China, which are of particular importance in the regional
strategic context.
Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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