In one of his first foreign policy initiatives, Xi Jinping, China’s new helmsman has announced a five-point formula for bilateral relations between his country and India.
Anything with five facets emanating from Beijing will immediately evoke Panchsheel. That five part set of
principles of non-interference and cooperation embraced by both countries in the early 1960s was fatally compromised by the 1962 border war.
That experience, plus the less than cordial relationship between India and China over the past half-decade, means that New Delhi will and should receive Mr Xi’s offer with a suitable degree of wariness.
There are two elements of his proposal that attract attention. One was his recommendation that both respect each other’s “core interests”. While this has never been spelt out, “core interest” has long been understood as being defined as Tibet and Taiwan for the Chinese and Kashmir for the Indians.
Second was his call for the two countries to work together in the multilateral sphere on specific issues that help the interests of the developed world. His other points were mundane and boilerplate. The problem is that violation of many of these principles is what characterised Chinese policy towards India in the run up to Mr Xi’s accession.
It was Beijing which moved the goalposts on Kashmir. It was Beijing which sought to block Indian membership to various multilateral arena including the Security Council.
It was Beijing which resurrected its claims on Arunachal Pradesh and dragged its heels on the border negotiations. About the only area in which it could be said both sides were to blame was on the economic front where both India and China played protectionism.
President Xi is making all the right noises. But until there is any reasonable explanation of why China suddenly felt it necessary to roil India on so many fronts, New Delhi should be suitably sceptical of whether Beijing’s pronouncements are tactical if not outright falsehoods. China should be tested repeatedly on a number of different fronts — whether the Security Council, the border, trade access and so on — over the next few years.