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Playing Chinese checkers

President Hu will soon be in India, and the time is right for us to unravel a strategy that will take Sino-Indo ties to a deeper level, Tarun Vijay comments.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2006 02:03 IST

From Jiang Jemin’s India visit in 1996 to Hu’s forthcoming visit in mid-November, India-China relations have moved a great deal; the political scenario, too, has changed in Beijing and New Delhi. The two nations have emerged as major players influencing events and authoring the future course of global affairs like never before. It can be safely said that President Hu’s visit has a great potential to succeed — and could mark the beginning of a new chapter of confidence and cooperation if he follows the policy of respecting others’ concerns and ambitions.

The Chinese hunger — to gain more knowledge, more military power, more prosperity and a decisive say in global matters — has become the most significant stories of our times. Chinese cities are bubbling with unprecedented resurgence, the economy is booming, new city centres and SEZs are being created, students are being offered niche courses in new universities, and everyone from everywhere is being invited to invest in China and make money.

Chinese entrepreneurs are set to take over even the US car industry replacing the Japanese; from African countries to the Indian region, their presence is increasing each day, at times overshadowing others completely.

President Hu represents a major Chinese policy shift since Jemin’s regime. He changed the earlier ‘city first’ policy into ‘rural area focused planning’ and pumped millions of RNBs into the rural sector. If the Chinese story is an inspiring one, India’s emergence on the world stage on the back of knowledge, technology, prosperity and stability along with an excellent record of multi-party democracy, secular pluralism and a living civilisation dating back 5,000 years is an amazing tale too — and should be of considerable interest for the dragon land.

Today’s China represents a patriotic, nationalist regime rather than being an extra-territorially loyal Communism one. The Communism badge is now worn on their sleeves by the remnants of the Indian Left. And there hangs an interesting true tale. When Sitaram Kesri, veteran Congress leader, was leaving for his maiden China visit, a top Indian serving diplomat was asked to brief him properly. After a two-hour marathon briefing, Kesari said with a smile, “Hum samajh gaya. China hamari DTC ki tarah hai, signal left mein dekar right mein chalta hai.”

Lighter side apart, China’s progress path has passed through upheavals unprecedented in our history like the Long March, the Cultural Revolution and the Tiannenman square incidents following a totalitarian Communist order. Nevertheless,the world moves with the strong and hence the global and geo-political situation in the neighbourhood will be deeply influenced by Sino-India relations. We have positive as well as disturbing factors enveloping the bilateral ties.

Reports about China’s nuke deal with Pakistan dovetailed to Hu’s India visit may prove as a vighna while the maitri-yajna is on. China says her relations with Pakistan are independent of her India engagement and if she does not supply arms or have a nuke deal for ‘peaceful’ purposes, another nation will do that.

China’s Islamabad love is also to ensure her presence in Pakistan’s affairs — so dominated by the US presently. “They openly take commission for doing dirty US jobs — it is dangerous for the region if Pakistan is left alone in the US kitty,” said a defence analyst in Beijing the last time I was there.

There has never been a history of armed conflict between India and China in the last thousand years of their existence — till 1962. It is because of the sheer will and maturity of both nations to move ahead and decide to resolve issues of conflict through dialogue that today there is a Chinese presence in virtually every Indian home and an extraordinary consensus amongst Indian parties to further strengthen relations with her. India too has a large presence in today’s China through hundreds of manufacturing units producing everything from medicines to software.

Despite all the cooperation, there is an uneasy question often asked: “Can we trust China?” The areas of conflict that loom large are: China-Pakistan military cooperation (Chinese arms that Pakistan gets can be used against India alone); the India recognised Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and One China-One Land; China still lays claim to India’s Arunachal Pradesh and has under its control large tracts of Indian territory (38,000 sq km in J&K and 5,180 sq km of land which Pakistan illegally ceded to China in 1963 ). In 1965, China criticised India and helped Pakistan; she opposed the creation of Bangladesh and was, in fact, the last to recognise her; and China still doesn’t support India’s claim to the Security Council membership.

China’s presence ranging from Gwadar in the west to the Coco Islands in the east is also discomforting. Beijing recognises PoK as part of Pakistan while J&K is ‘disputed’ in her eyes. India is a vibrant democracy and nourishes a strong human rights lobby. In this scenario, Indian defence analysts lament that we ditched the Tibetan cause, recognised TAR and chose to ignore the gross human rights violations against Tibetans: that is the sad Indian story of miscalculations on the strategic front.

Yet, the relations have an extraordinary record of improvement too. In 1981, the then foreign minister A.B. Vajpayee tried to write a new chapter and the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra was re-opened. One hopes President Hu would open the Demchok route to the Holy Mount Kailash.

Rajiv Gandhi visited China in 1988 and a breakthrough was achieved when an India-China Working Group was formed for ‘the mutually acceptable’ solution of the boundary issue. There has also been a remarkable consistency in furthering the India-China friendship — no matter what colour the South Block wore.

Diplomacy is no charity; neither is it the rhetoric of swollen faces rooted in a defeatist attitude. It works on strength and a self-confidence to serve your nation first, thriving on fresh openings conceived through out-of-the-box thinking.

President Hu’s visit provides an opportunity to push the strategic partnership agenda a little harder. The people of India and China have a strong desire to move closer and work for a prosperous and peaceful future. As Deng Xiaoping exhorted the Chinese to get rich and be glorified, so should the worshippers of Laxmi in India do: tighten their security belt, reach out for newer opportunities, resolve points of discord on the table and move ahead with a confidence that has already dazzled the world.

(The writer is editor, Panchjanya, and was a member of the first India-China Eminent Persons Group, MEA. Reach him at

First Published: Nov 12, 2006 01:54 IST