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Dancing with the dragon

delhi Updated: Apr 05, 2010 23:37 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times
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It’s a relationship with tremendous synergies and potential.

It’s also a relationship that has been under tremendous stress, especially over the last couple of years. Foreign minister S.M. Krishna, on a visit to China to commemorate 60 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, is having to walk on eggshells, as he tries to manage the contradictions and build on the convergence.

Two obvious areas of convergence between India and China are the talks on the World Trade Organisation and climate change.

In both these forums, India and China are on the same side of the fence — and have, thus far, provided leadership to the not-so-rich countries and successfully staved off pressure from the US, western Europe and Japan to accept terms that would effectively allow the latter to get away cheaply while burdening the poorer nations with a disproportionate share of the costs.

“Asia has proved that she can get the economics right. Can she also do the politics that comes with power?” asked National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon at a seminar on India-China on April 1 in the capital, which set the tone in the new direction of relationship between the two countries.

“That’s an interesting thought. Since there are many areas of convergence in the relationship, we should be building on the positives while attempting to resolve the outstanding differences,” adds M.K. Bhandrakumar, a former diplomat who is in China on a lecture series on the relationship between the two countries.

But the two Asian neighbours, who account for 40 per cent of the world’s population, also carry a huge burden of past baggage.

The biggest outstanding issue, of course, is the border question and China’s increasingly assertive claims on Arunachal Pradesh, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said, is an integral part of India.

And China remains deeply suspicious of the Dalai Lama’s stay in India.

Krishna will want Beijing to address Indian concerns over stapled visas (Kashmiris visiting China have their visas stamped not on their passports but on separate documents that are stapled on to their Indian passports, thus, indicating that it does not accept India’s sovereignty over J&K).

“We have asked the Chinese side to do away with this dual visa policy. This is a matter of core concern for India because it goes to the heart of our territorial sovereignty and integrity,” says Gautam Bambawale, joint secretary in charge East Asia Division that deals with China, in the foreign ministry.

Then, alleged Chinese funding of projects in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, its efforts to stall World Bank and Asian Development Bank funding of development projects in Arunachal Pradesh and frequent incursions over the Line of Actual Control, the effective border between the two countries, are also impediments to the normalisation of ties. But after the rancour last year, especially the shrill Chinese rhetoric over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in November, 2010 has been relatively tension-free.

In the first two months of the year, bilateral trade between the two countries grew 50 per cent over the figure for the corresponding period last year. China is India’s largest trading partner. Trade volumes between the countries touched $43 billion (Rs 1.98 lakh crore) in 2009 and seem on track to achieve the target of $60 billion (Rs 2.58 lakh crore) this year. But the balance of trade is tilted heavily in favour of China. India is keen on correcting this asymmetry and wants Beijing to step up imports of IT services.

On Afghanistan, and especially on the question of the reintegration of the Taliban into that country’s — and the world’s — mainstream, New Delhi finds Beijing views similar to its own. The critical question is whether the two countries can work together on the issue of the complicated regional security environment, especially given China’s open tilt towards Pakistan.

“There’s common ground between India and China on combating terrorism and extremism, enhancing maritime security, and on the need for a peaceful environment to permit the domestic transformation of the two countries. While there may be differences in method and choice of tools, in most cases there’s a marked similarity of goals,” says Menon.

There is growing realisation in both countries that despite differences, future ties do not have to be marked by animus and rhetoric.

Krishna’s visit, Indian officials say, will give him an opportunity to discuss all these issues with the Chinese side.
“We expect that our important concern will be taken on board,” says Vishnu Prakash, foreign ministry spokesman.

“If we go by the statements from both sides in the recent past, there is scope for forward movement even on the
boundary issue,” says Bhadrakumar.

Both sides are working on the dates for the 14th round of boundary talks between the special representatives of the two countries. As Prime Minister Singh has said, the world is “big enough to accommodate the developmental aspirations of
both counties” in a way that is mutually reinforcing.