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1962 is history, now ties with India strong: China

Chinese official makes cautious comment, says country has noted "reports and comments" about India's commemoration of the war 50 years ago. Sutirtho Patranobis reports.

world Updated: Oct 25, 2012 08:58 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Beijing on Wednesday came closest to making an official comment on the 1962 war with India and managed to do so without mentioning the year or the conflict.

The question at the regular foreign ministry press briefing was asked to elicit a reaction from the government on Indian authorities holding commemorative activities to mark the 50th anniversary of the war.

Interestingly, the question was posed by the government-run China Radio International which has services in Indian languages like Hindi, Tamil and Bengali.
Spokesperson Hong Lei's remark was as revealing as it could be: he essentially said the Chinese government had taken a note of the comment and reports but that world has moved on since the war.

"We have noticed relevant reports and comments. As the two most populous developing countries and emerging economies, China and India face important opportunities for development, Hong pointed out.

"China and India are partners, rather than rivals. We have far more common ground than disagreements, more mutual interests than conflicts," he said, echoing what leaders from both countries often say in public.

"China is willing to work with India to look forward, enhance trust, communication and cooperation to deepen China-India strategic partnership and benefit the two countries and its people," Hong said.

He added that as the leaders of the two countries have repeatedly pointed out, the world has enough space to accommodate China and India for common development and there are enough areas for the two countries to have cooperation.

In a later story on state-run Xinhua on the press conference, the agency reported: "China and India fought over the border in 1962 and hostility afflicted bilateral relations until the end of the 20th Century. India paid homage to soldiers who lost their lives in the war over the weekend and Defence Minister A K Antony said that there would not be a repeat of the 1962 India-China war."

Explaining China's studied silence on the war, a Beijing-based researcher on Sino-India relations told Hindustan Times: "A reality for the Sino-Indian relationship is that it is fundamentally asymmetrical. India cares a whole lot more about china than vice versa. Especially at the popular level people just are not that interested in India. the Chinese foreign policy at popular and elite levels is about competing with the US, putting Japan in its place and keeping a wary eye on Russia, while maintaining China's unity - i.e. Taiwan recovered, Tibet and Xinjiang pacified etc."

Also, just ahead of the leadership change, talking about the war could remind the Chinese that there are significant outstanding territorial claims to be settled with India.

"This fact makes the party look weak. Especially if we consider the way that the People's Liberation Army withdrew from all the territory it gained in the eastern sector…and the Party does not want to remind everyone that it essentially gave the territory back after holding it for a few weeks. A lot of border agreements have been done in secret by the Chinese government with its neighbours, in particular Russia and Central Asian states, that would outrage nationalists for the apparent scale of the concessions," said Anton Harder, who is studying Sino-Indian relations at the London School of Economics..