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China: “Friendship with India not to be at cost of ties with Pakistan”, Say Scholars Prior to Manmoh

On the eve of Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing, the Party and State-controlled domestic Chinese language media in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), have carried statements of some of the country’s prominent leaders and scholars on Sino-Indian ties, which are notable for their new points and emphasis different from what has so far been seen in the despatches meant for international audience. For reasons which are obvious, the question as to what extent such statements may be relevant for its foreign policy, becomes important for India, which now finds itself at an important moment in history facing compulsions to ‘engage’ China.

First, the acknowledgement by top Chinese leaders in the Party journals of India’s rising status both in the region and the world, signifies the fact that their perceptions of a rising India, which have been evolving in recent years, are reaching logical conclusions. Also, it has been symbolically important in providing a positive atmosphere prior to the visit. In specifics, the mention of India by Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in the theoretical organ of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee “Qiushi” (‘Seeking Truth’, Chinese, 1 January 2008), stands out. Yang has highly evaluated the rise of newly emerging powers like India, Brazil etc, as the main motivating forces for the world economic growth. That was followed by similar comments from General Xiong Guangkai, former Chief of Military Intelligence and now Chairman of the China Institute of International Strategic Studies (CIISS), in the journal of the CCP Central Party School “Study Times” (7 January 2008). He named China, Russia, India and Brazil, all ‘developing countries’, for their increasing roles in the world economic structure with their collective economic output reaching the level of 15% of the world economy.

Secondly, analysing the significance of Indian Prime Minister’s visit, the CIISS ‘online’ edition (Chinese, 7 January 2008), quoted in detail what Professor Fu Xiaoqiang told the People’s Daily-affiliated Global Times. The scholar, belonging to the Ministry of State Security – affiliated China Institute for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), assessed that the visit would lead to regularisation of bilateral high-level visits and that the two prime ministers, would be able to exchange views on a fresh plan concerning the future directions of Beijing- New Delhi relations. He expressed confidence that the visit would have a healthy impact on removing the lack of trust on matters of security and military, prevailing in bilateral ties.

Admitting that the trilateral China-India-Pakistan relations remain a factor in Sino-Indian ties, Prof. Fu stated that China couldn’t afford to ‘sabotage’ its long-term and close relations with Pakistan, for the sake of improving relations with India. The vice-versa would also hold good for China. He then pointed out that this position of China is being understood by India and in the last two years, New Delhi’s approach to China- Pakistan relations has become more ‘realistic’.

Referring to the Sino-Indian border issue, Prof. Fu commented that there can be no short-term solution for it, which stand appears somewhat in contrast to the upbeat note in the statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson (11 January 2008) that after the meetings between special representatives of the two sides, China and India have much in common, despite differences. The scholar’s position also varies with that of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson (8 January, 2008) that the border negotiations have been positive and that ‘important progress’ has been achieved over the past years with both the sides showing ‘positive, political willingness’.

Professor Fu’s another notable remark has been that the existence of the border problem is not going to affect Sino-Indian relations. This may reflect CCP General Secretary and the PRC President Hu Jintao’s thinking that border issues have become irrelevant to China’s foreign policy. Thus, he made no mention of border conflicts in his political report to the very recent Party Congress, deviating from the line of his predecessor Jiang Zemin who in the CCP Congress (2002) referred to border disputes (also religious conflicts) as affecting China’s foreign policy. Also in the view of the scholar, for finding a final solution to the border issue, the wisdom of Indian and Chinese leaderships will be put to test. China-India mutual beneficial cooperation, which is gathering momentum in various fields like international affairs, economy and trade and security, will lead to creation of mutual trust, which would in turn create conditions conducive to the evolvement of a ‘new thinking’ towards solving the boundary question.

The pre-visit atmosphere in China is however not free from materials, critical of India. The Bulletin Board of the CIISS (7 January, 2008) carried remarks of a contributor who found that India is viewing the completion of the Qinghai – Tibet railway as resulting in a shift of the strategic balance in the Sino-Indian border in favour of China. The Tibet issue is also a key factor in Sino-Indian relations, as New Delhi wants to change Tibet into its ‘buffer zone’. The unnamed writer then revealed what the Chinese representative told recently in the new round of India-China border talks- “the Chinese government would protect the Chinese territory and will not hesitate to take all measures needed in this regard”. The writer added that this has been the first occasion for China to take a hard-line position against India in the border negotiations, indicating that ‘China has already completed its strategic preparedness to defend its territory, even to fight a second war with India’. Admittedly, the views are not from the CIISS, which can claim that the same are from a contributor in his individual capacity. But, this writer seems to have some authority as he could reveal confidential information on border negotiations. Is it a deliberate a leak by China intended to convey a message to the Chinese population that the government will not make any compromise on the Sino-Indian border issue?

The comments above, coming from the authoritative Chinese media and scholars, can unmistakably be considered as inputs to the foreign policy making in the PRC. Herein lies their importance. In this context, it would be important for New Delhi to factor the message being given by China through its analysts, in its policy towards Beijing – bilateral ties could be improved without waiting for a border solution which may take a long time. India should not miss the parallels in this regard as “ Seeking common ground, while shelving the disputes”, remains the PRC’s formulae in respect of China’s disputes relating to South China Sea Islands, Japan etc. Deserving India’s attention is another signal from Beijing that its ties with Islamabad would continue to be important, irrespective of the Sino-Indian bonhomie. The border and Sino-Pakistan nexus remain most serious problems in Sino-Indian relations. The pronouncements as given above, have on the other hand given an indication that Beijing may not be in a position for a long time to adequately address India’s sensitivities on the two issues. Realisation of a Sino-Indian strategic cooperative partnership in a full sense would therefore appear a difficult task under such circumstances.

(The writer, Mr.D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies. Email: dsrajan@gmail.com)

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