| A Tibetan child at a refugee camp in New Delhi
The prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, visited China from June 22 to 27. This was an important visit as China is India’s most important neighbour. It is more important to examine the visit in the context in which it took place and the prospects of Sino-Indian relations which are of vital significance to regional peace and stability.
Sino-Indian relations have seen ups and downs during the last 15 years.Vajpayee and his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, had wide-ranging discussions on global, regional and bilateral issues. Such discussions also took place between Vajpayee and the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, and former Chinese president, Jiang Zemin. The specifics on which India and China had useful discussions were the following.
Management of the emerging new world order subjected to the unipolar power of the United States of America, a trend, the imbalance of which has to be redressed; dealing with the shortcomings and aberrations of international economic and technological arrangements under the World Trade Organization; exploring the possibilities of mutual cooperation and playing an effective role in world security arrangements and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Security Forum — ARF; examining possibilities of working together on reviving the role of the United Nations in world affairs, including its reforms.
More important, substantive issues affecting bilateral relations formed part of the exchange of views which included a review of the progress made by the Sino-Indian joint working group on the boundary question in relation to the agreed delineation of the line of actual control. These issues are the following: initiating steps to deal with the substantive issues of resolving the boundary issue; a candid discussion on the implications of Chinese defence cooperation and defence supplies arrangements with Pakistan on Indian security specifically, and regional security in general; coming to mutually acceptable and transparent equations on issues related to Tibet and the status of Sikkim, issues about which there are ambiguities rooted in differences of opinion; charting out a substantive scheme for expanding bilateral trade, technological and economic relations.
Official pronouncements from China from the second week of June onwards indicated that China is willing to expand and encourage positive trends in Sino-Indian relations. Chinese spokespersons underlined that recent policy orientations of both India and China on the security dimension of equations indicate that Vajpayee and Wen Jiabao have re-defined strategic and security terms of reference of bilateral relations between the two countries.
The logical expectation should be that China and India would affirm the intention in their policies towards each other not to threaten each other’s security. Chinese spokespersons have also indicated the willingness of the Chinese government to move on to discuss the substantive aspects of the boundary issue while the residual problems related to the line of actual control are getting sorted out. While all the right noises and all the right gestures are being made about Vajpayee’s visit to Beijing, the outcome and the prospects need an assessment in terms of realities and practical possibilities. The boundary question is a vexed one. The most recent pronouncement of the Chinese is that they would like to resolve the issue on the basis of equality and mutual understanding, accommodation and adjustment.
As far as the status of Sikkim and that of Tibet go, India should stand by its policy decision of Chinese jurisdiction over Tibet. China should simultaneously recognize Sikkim as an integral part of India. While we should express our concern regarding Chinese military cooperation with Pakistan, and defence cooperation arrangements with Myanmar, there is no point in complaining to the Chinese about it. The solution is to tell the Chinese that we view their defence relationships with these two countries with concern, that they should not object to India adopting defence doctrines about increasing its defence capacity to meet the challenges resulting from their cooperation with these two countries.
Vajpayee signed nine agreements stipulating bilateral cooperation between India and China on separate subjects, ranging from expanding economic and technological cooperation to raising the volume of bilateral trade, to cultural and scientific exchanges. The most recent agreements signed confirm the fact that Sino-Indian relations are being conducted within the macro-level political framework of what was agreed upon between Deng Xiaoping and Rajiv Gandhi in December 1988, namely, that India and China will expand and consolidate bilateral relations in those spheres which are of mutual interest, without letting the boundary question stand in the way. The boundary question and related issues being complex, the two sides will address it in a practical and constructive manner.
More important than the nine agreements signed was the joint declaration issued in Beijing at the end of Vajpayee’s visit on June 27. The joint declaration titled “Declaration on Principles Governing Inter-state Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation” is somewhat unique in nature. India and China do not normally issue joint statements or communiqués at the end of high-level visits. The joint statement indicates an increased congruence of interests and political will to cooperate with each other. Significant points in this declaration are worth recalling.
Both sides have affirmed that they do not and they will not constitute any security threat to each other; both sides have committed themselves not to use force to resolve pending issues; India and China have affirmed that a cooperative relationship between them will contribute to both regional and global stability and security.
Much has been made of the manner in which Tibet has been mentioned in the joint declaration. There has been some assessment that this is a shift in India’s policies of accepting the Chinese stand. This assessment is ill-informed. Since 1954, India’s policy has been consistent — that of acknowledging Tibet as an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese perhaps wanted a re-affirmation of this old policy because of their anxieties regarding Tibet. There has been no shift or new nuances in India’s Tibet policy.
On the question of China recognizing Sikkim as part of India, China seems by implication to accept the Indian jurisdiction. The agreement to resume border trade between Tibet and Sikkim will involve Indian authorities giving a visa and then stamping travel documents of traders coming from Tibet, which automatically means China’s acceptance of Indian jurisdiction. One, however, feels that if India responded to Chinese suggestion about reiterating Indian Tibet policy, India could have insisted on a similar formulation regarding Sikkim in the joint declaration. It is not clear why we did not take this stand.
The declaration indicates that India and China would now more actively focus on resolving the boundary issue. Discussions are to be held at two levels. The joint working group dealing with the line of actual control will continue its work to delineate this line, and to put in place additional confidence-building measures. Whereas the two special political representatives designated by the two governments (Brajesh Mishra and the senior vice-minister, Wu Bangguo) would explore the political perspectives for a practical solution to the boundary question which could be mutually acceptable. The general agreement between the two countries to counter international terrorism, to create a just world order, to reform the UN system was also reflected in the joint statement. Initial reports indicate that the Indian side raised the question of Chinese defence and nuclear cooperation with Pakistan and on China’s regional security policies which have some negative implications for India. The Chinese were ambiguous in their response which was to be accepted.
In overall terms, the visit was as satisfactory as it could be. There are differences of approach between India and China on issues related to non-proliferation, the presence of the dalai lama in India, on India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the security council and on China’s close relationship with Pakistan. The decisions at the recent summit seem to be able to tackle these issues in a rational manner without confrontation. The controversies related to India’s nuclear weapons tests of 1998, Vajpayee mentioning China as a threat leading to these tests in his letter to Bill Clinton, and George Fernandes’s describing China as an adversary, have been overcome as they should be. In rational terms, neither India nor China sought any strategic equation to counter the US, an advocacy articulated by analysts whose enthusiasm clouds acknowledgment of realities in power equations.
Forging a relationship with China while keeping in mind possible undercurrents in China’s policies which may affect India negatively is the practical approach. India should not remain subject to memories and complexes of the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962. There is a difference between being suspicious and being alert.