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On Pakistan mess, monologue yes, dialogue no?

Are New Delhi and Beijing in a position to, say, have a substantive discussion on Pakistan, during the forthcoming visit of Manmohan Singh, writes Amit Baruah.

world Updated: Jan 11, 2008 03:02 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times

In international affairs, the term "strategic" is an oft-abused one. India and China agreed in 2005 that bilateral relations had acquired a "global and strategic character"; in 2006 they argued their ties were of "global and strategic significance".

But what does this amount to in concrete terms? Are New Delhi and Beijing in a position to, say, have a substantive discussion on Pakistan, China's all-weather ally, during the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh?

"Of course, we will talk about Pakistan during the Prime Minister's visit. But, as far as substantive discussions go, it will be up to the Chinese side to respond," a South Block source told

Hindustan Times

on Thursday.

"We are aware of their sensitivities on Pakistan," the source added, pointing out that External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had referred to the situation in Pakistan during his October 2007 meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi in Harbin.

Lt Gen VR Raghavan (retd), who heads the Delhi Policy Group, believes that in the current state of bilateral relations, the two countries can't have a "good discussion" on Pakistan.

"They (the Chinese) know that Pakistan is in big trouble. And, they have known about it for some time," Raghavan said. The former army official took the view that China could not be comfortable with the growing American presence in Pakistan.

India and China, both immediate neighbours of Pakistan, have (separate) concerns about stability in that country, especially the growing strength of Islamist forces and their apparent ability to strike at will inside Pakistan.

"We can have a conversation (with the Chinese on Pakistan). They will hear us out. But that's about it," a former Indian diplomat, with extensive knowledge of Chinese affairs, told this writer.

However, the former diplomat believes that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will have lots in common about when they discuss climate change.

During the recent India, China, Russia meeting of foreign ministers in Harbin, the three countries felt that the UN framework on climate change and the Kyoto protocol remained the "major framework" for tackling the issue of climate change.

Given that both China and India are under pressure to "do more" on the issue of climate change, there's little doubt that the two sides will make common cause to fend off this pressure from both the United States and the European Union. Asked what position China would take on India's case at the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG), the former diplomat took the view that Beijing, which has lately veered around to see New Delhi's viewpoint, stated that the issue was not yet before the NSG in any case.

The general opinion among government functionaries and analysts appears to be that China will not stand in the way of any consensus at the NSG on lifting India-specific restrictions, but will not announce in advance support for New Delhi's case. As far as bilateral civil nuclear cooperation is concerned, the two sides made an "in principle" commitment on the issue in their joint declaration.