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India-China: Need For Fresh Thinking

There are welcome indicators of some fresh-thinking in New Delhi on India’s relations with China. This fresh-thinking has been reflected in the decision of the Goverment of India to bring on record its unhappiness and concern over the Chinese involvement in the construction or upgradation of some infrastructure projects in the disputed territory of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), including the Northern Areas of Jammu & Kashmir (Gilgit & Baltistan). The Chinese, who had earlier helped Pakistan in the construction of the Karakoram Highway connecting Pakistan’s Punjab with the Xinjiang province of China through Kashmiri territory occupied by Pakistan, are now helping it in its upgradation. They have also agreed to help Pakistan in the construction of a hydel project in the Kashmiri territory occupied by Pakistan.A feasibility study has been undertaken by Pakistan for the construction of a railway line, with Chinese assistance, to connect the Chinese-constructed port of Gwadar on the Mekran coast of Balochistan with Xinjiang through Pakistan-occupied Kashmiri territory.

2. The Chinese action in helping Pakistan in integrating with Pakistan, territory which does not legally belong to Pakistan, amounts to an unfriendly act to India and is detrimental to India’s territorial integrity. India was within its rights to have protested and expressed its unhappiness over the Chinese actions, which are contrary to its professions of friendship and goodwill for India. Our past hesitation to bring on record our protests over such Chinese actions has encouraged the Chinese into thinking that they could do anything vis-a-vis India, without provoking any protest from New Delhi. Our protests may not make the Chinese stop their participation in these projects, but it has to be made clear to Beijing that such Chinese actions in disregard of Indian sensitivities could come in the way of further development of the bilateral relations. Beijing should be made to realise that it cannot be business as usual between the two countries if it continues to disregard Indian interests and sensitivities.

3. Another welcome indicator of re-thinking relates to Chinese construction companies, which have won contracts in India and which have been bringing a large number of Chinese workers—skilled and unskilled— to work in their projects in India without employing Indian workers and engineers. This is a practice which Chinese companies have been following in African countries where there is a severe shortage of manpower, but there is no such shortage in India. It has been reported that the Government of India has taken a decision or is about to take a decision not to issue work visas to unskilled Chinese workers. Even in respect of skilled workers, the issue of work visas should be more an exception than the rule. Work visas should be issued only in those cases where the Chinese companies can demonstrate that recruits in certain skills are not available in India. There are hundreds of Western, Japanese, South Korean and South-East Asian companies which win contracts in India. They don’t bring their own labour from their countries. They employ local labour. If the Chinese executives are not able to manage with Indian labour because of their inability to communicate with the Indians in English, they should not bid for contracts in India.

4. There is also a need for a fresh look into our past decisions to allow Chinese companies in sensitive fields such as telecommunications to operate in India as collaborators of Indian companies for expanding our telecommunications network. In view of the increasingly hostile attitude being taken by the Government and party-controlled media in China towards India, the time has come to re-consider these decisions. It would be unwise to allow a Chinese presence in sensitive fields such as telecommunications at a time when Chinese media such as the “Global Times” (October 14), which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, has started threatening India with “dangerous consequences” if it does not concede the Chinese point of view on Arunachal Pradesh. India should not accept threatening language from China—whether it be from the Government or from the Government and party-controlled media.

5.The Government of India should also re-consider its attitude towards His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He and thousands of his Tibetan followers have been our honoured guests for fifty years. We respect him as a Buddhist leader. Their welfare is our responsibility. Till now, in deference to Chinese sensitivities, successive Prime Ministers have been avoiding meeting His Holiness even on occasions such as the Indian festival of Diwali. We do not give him an opportunity to meet Indian leaders to discuss the problems and welfare of the Tibetan refugees. A couple of years ago,a function was held in New Delhi to facilitate His Holiness on the award to him of the US Congressional Medal of Honour. At that time, in an unwise and unwarranted move, the then Cabinet Secretary of the Government of India was reported to have advised the Cabinet members to keep away from the function. This policy has to change. The Prime Minister should meet His Holiness from time to time in New Delhi as well as Dharamsala to discuss about the welfare of the Tibetan refugees.

6.Sino-Indian relations have steadily improved since the visit of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in 1988 and his meeting with Deng Xiao-ping. Credit should go to Deng for laying the foundation for this improvement despite the pending border dispute. This improvement continued under President Jiang Zemin. India reciprocated the Chinese desire for better bilateral relations in spite of its unhappiness and concern over the Chinese actions in giving military nuclear and missile capabilities to Pakistan, which wanted them for possible use against India.

7. Ever since Hu Jintao, who won his spurs as a political leader in Tibet, assumed charge as the President the policies of Deng and Jiang have been slowly sought to be reversed—- under pressure from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the hawkish elements in the party. The recent anti-India editorials in the party-controlled ” Global Times” and ” People’s Daily” on October 14 are indicators of anti- India and pro-Pakistan hawks in the party once again influencing the Chinese policy towards India and seeking to reverse the progress made under Deng and Jiang. We have to take note of this and re-fashion our policies accordingly.

8.India and China cannot afford a military conflict or confrontation or even sporadic trans-border incidents. It will damage their aspirations of a better life for their people and a more important role for their countries in the international stage.Misperceptions and misunderstandings over the border issue need to be handled delicately and sought to be removed by continuing the policy of engagement at the official and political levels. A war of words and hysteria and a tendency to demonise each other should be avoided. The gains made so far should be preserved. At the same time, we should not hesitate to articulate our core interests and adhere to them firmly even while trying to strengthen the bilateral relations. ( 17-10-09)

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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