New Sino-India equation

Ulhas Joglekar ulhasj at SPAMbom4.vsnl.net.in
Sat Jan 27 19:08:01 MST 2001


DAWN - Opinion

22 January 2001 Monday 26 Shawwal 1421

New Sino-India equation

By Afzaal Mahmood

CHINESE leader Li Peng's eight-day (9-17 January) visit to India should be
examined carefully as it has taken place against the backdrop of new
currents in inter-state relations and the fast evolving international
security situation. Even after being replaced by Zhu Rongi as prime
minister, Li Peng, Chairman of the Chinese National People's Congress,
continues to retain his number two position in the party hierarchy and is
the most powerful man in China after President Jiang Zemin.

Whether intended or not, the timing of Mr Li Peng's visit invested it with
added importance. With the advent of the Bush era in Washington, the already
existing uncertainties in US relations with China and Russia are expected to
accentuate. As the Republican administration inducted yesterday, will be
lacking the personal warmth and leanings of President Clinton towards India,
New Delhi is also unsure whether its ties with Washington will continue to
be on the upswing.

Mr Li's visit followed the 1996 state visit to India of Chinese President
Jiang Zemin and the return visit by Indian President Narayanan in May last
year. With a flurry of top-level exchanges, Sino-Indian relations seem to
have improved as there has been a positive movement on the bilateral front -
from a long running border dispute to enhanced trade and closer political
relations.

The two countries made significant progress in tackling their border dispute
when their negotiators exchanged boundary maps last November as the first
major step in 40 years towards delineating their 4,500-km Himalayan border.
The exchange of maps relating to the 545-km middle sector could lay the
ground for resolving the differences over the northern and eastern stretches
of the Sino-Indian border. During Mr Li's meeting with Prime Minister
Vajpayee, both China and India agreed to complete the process of
clarification of the line of actual control as soon as possible.

New Delhi's earnestness to sort out the boundary differences with Beijing
was publicly stated by President Naryanan during his last May visit to China
when he said, "The problems left by history should not be passed on to
history." China has acceded to the Indian viewpoint that the task of
reconciling the differences in the middle sector should be accorded
priority. Of the three sectors, the one which constitutes the boundary
between Himachal Pradesh in India and the Tibetan portion of China is the
easiest to settle. As against this, the western sector along the Aksai Chin
areas and the eastern sector in Arunachal Pradesh, the perception of the two
sides about the line of control is quite muddled and will take much time and
effort to sort out.

Throughout his visit, Mr Li maintained a conciliatory approach to
Sino-Indian differences. He asked India to bury the bitter memories of the
1962 war and the long running border dispute to take the bilateral
relationship "to new heights" of constructive possibilities. Addressing an
Indian elite gathering at the India International Centre, in New Delhi, he
stressed the historical links between the two countries spanning more than
1,000 years. Mr Li stressed that "problems left over from history should not
become impediments" and made a strong plea for countries "to elevate
relations to a new height in the 21st century."

Addressing Indian parliamentarians, Mr Li assured his audience that "China
and India do not pose any threat to each other as they share similar views
on a multipolar world in which both can play their roles for world peace and
development." Stating that "it is China's consistent stand that a multipolar
world is better than a unipolar world", he significantly added: "India has
the potential to grow into a pole herself."

During the course of his visit, Mr Li made some observations which need to
be closely examined by decision makers in Islamabad. In the first ever
indication from the Chinese side of Beijing's readiness to cooperate with
India in combating terrorism, Mr Li, in an exclusive interview with The
Hindu, condemned "terrorism of all descriptions - in any region, any part of
the world." Arguing that terrorism cannot resolve any problems, Mr Li said,
"China is willing to cooperate with all countries which are against
terrorism. Of course, India is one of them."

What is important to note is that until now there had been some hesitation
in Beijing to be seen as joining hands with New Delhi in its campaign
against "international terrorism." But it appears that the agenda of some
Pakistan- and Afghanistan-based Jihadi organizations to export militancy to
other countries has forced the Chinese leadership to review its stand,
leading to a convergence of interests between Beijing and New Delhi on the
issue. China is concerned that some Uighar separatists from the Chinese
province of Xinjiang have taken refuge in Afghanistan and are being trained
in guerilla warfare there.

However, the attitude displayed by New Delhi to Mr Li Peng's visit appeared
somewhat intriguing. Although the Indian prime minister's departure on
official visits abroad, on the eve of Mr Li's arrival in New Delhi, was
itself meaningful, even more significant was the choice of the countries -
Vietnam and Indonesia - visited by Mr Vajpayee on this occasion.
Historically, Vietnam has resisted Chinese domination and even gone to war
with its giant neighbour. Jakarta has had a difficult relationship with
Beijing over the treatment of its influential Chinese community. Some
analysts have interpreted Mr Vajpayee's recent visit to Vietnam and
Indonesia as an effort to put together an informal club of Asian countries
which are wary of China.

According to a Times of India report of January 9, there have been
undisclosed contacts between the Indian and Vietnamese armies, at the
highest level, to exchange information on the way and means of tackling
Chinese military tactics. It may be recalled that in 1978, Mr Vajpayee, who
was foreign minister at that time, cut short his China visit and returned to
India when China invaded Vietnam.

In spite of this point of discordance, the visit proved something of a
turning point in the two countries relations. According to Mr Li Peng, his
eight-day trip to India has been "very, very successful... and will bring
tangible benefits." There are indications that the two neighbours are making
serious efforts to mend their fences. Their bilateral trade, which totalled
2.5 billion dollars last year - up from 265 million dollars in 1991 - is
growing steadily. Chinese Premier Zhu Ronji is expected to visit India later
this year. Li has also announced that China's parliament, the National
People's Congress, would establish a Sino-Indian Friendship group in
Beijing.

According to Indian press reports, Beijing recently informed both New Delhi
and Moscow that it was prepared to support a detailed discussion on
tripartite cooperation among scholars from the three countries. The
objective of the exercise would be to get an "intellectual clarification" of
the issues of interest to China, Russia and India.

Mr Li Peng's conscious efforts to woo India confirms that New Delhi has
succeeded in regaining the prestige and influence it had lost following its
nuclear tests in 1998, whose most scathing condemnation had come from
Beijing. One of the topics discussed during Mr Li's intensive round of
consultations with Indian leadership related to the contribution India and
China could make in the creation of a "multipolar world." Pakistan and other
countries of the region will watch with interest how New Delhi reconciles
its growing friendship with Washington with the concept of a triangular
cooperation among India, Russia and China which will be primarily directed
against the United States.

© The DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2001







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