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India: Mixed Signals from China

The 13th round of the talks between the Special Representatives of India and China on the long-pending border dispute was held at New Delhi on August 7 and 8,2009. India was represented by M.K.Narayanan, the National Security Adviser, and China by Dai Bingguo, the State Councillor. It was reported that in addition to the border dispute, which was the principal subject of the discussions, they also discussed other matters of strategic importance.

2. According to the briefing given to the Indian media by Indian officials, the discussions on other matters of strategic importance resulted in the following agreements:

  1. To set up a hotline between the Prime Ministers of the two countries as a confidence-building measure. India presently has a hotline only with Russia. It has been reported that the suggestion for a hotline between the Prime Ministers of India and China originally came from President Hu Jintao when he had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the margins of the summit of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) at Yekaterinburg in Russia on June 15,2009.

  2. To keep up the momentum in the expansion of the bilateral trade, which reached US $ 52 billion last year.

  3. To celebrate the 60 th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in a befitting manner next year.

3. The focus in the media briefings on the positive decisions in respect of other matters of strategic importance and not on the border dispute possibly indicated that the deadlock in finding a mutually acceptable solution to the border dispute remained unbroken in the talks. It is noticed that the Government/party controlled Chinese media gave more details of the talks than the Indian media. The text of identical reports carried by the “People’s Daily” and the “China Daily” is annexed.

4. It may be recalled that earlier this year the ” Global Times”, an English language daily of the “People’s Daily” group, and a section of Chinese academics had mounted a critical and sarcastic campaign against India following media reports of reported Indian plans to deploy two Mountain Divisions and an Air Force Squadron in Arunachal Pradesh for its defence. In this connection, reference is invited to my article of June 12,2009, titled ” Chinese Media Fury over Arunachal Pradesh” at and the article of June 18,2009 titled ” CHINA: Media Anger on Arunachal Pradesh Continues Unabated” by D.S.Rajan, Director, Chennai Centre For China Studies, at

5. This media campaign against India—– unusual in its sarcasm and ridicule of Indian aspirations of becoming a global power— had a strongly negative impact on large sections of Indian public opinion and added to the existing prejudices against China. Possibly realising this, an attempt was made by the “People’s Daily” on the eve of the border talks to project India in a positive light by the publication of some articles, which gave the impression of being more objective and appreciative of India. One of these articles, which was widely noticed in India, was contributed by Zhang Yan, who assumed charge as the Chinese Ambassador to India in March last year.

6.In a special interview to the Xinhua news agency on the eve of the border talks, which was disseminated on August 4,2009, he said: “China and India should settle the existing border disputes properly, calling into play the greatest possible political wisdom. Despite the twists and turns in China-India ties and border disputes, the two countries share the same historical responsibilities of developing economies, improving people’s lives and safeguarding world peace and development, which requires them to properly handle existing problems with the utmost political wisdom.The two countries are facing valuable development opportunities. They should use the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries next year to cement bilateral links and contribute to Asia’s and world peace and development. The two largest Asian countries have witnessed rapid growth in their relationship in recent years and forged a strategic cooperative partnership.There were frequent visits between top leaders and increasing parliamentary, youth and military exchanges. China is now India’s top trading partner, while India has become China’s largest overseas project contracting market and an important investment destination.Bilateral trade volume between the two hit 51.7 billion U.S. dollars in 2008, up 35 per cent over the same period of a year ago. The two countries have also set a target of bilateral trade volume of 60 billion U.S. dollars by 2010. The two countries share the same stance on major international and regional issues, and had maintained close cooperation on hot topics such as climate change, food security, Doha negotiations and the worldwide economic downturn.As emerging powers, China and India have worked closely within the frameworks of BRIC, the five developing nations and the Group of 20, to safeguard the common interests of developing countries.”

7. It is learnt that the Chinese visual media also projected a more positive image of India. While I have not had an opportunity of watching the Chinese TV, a member of the web site, who had, has posted as follows: “Newstory in Chinese CCTV on India as a global player. The story was spurred by the launch of Arihant (the nuclear submarine). Mostly accurate and probably the most accurate coming from a foreign source. The Chinese analyst clearly talks about India’s arrival on the Asian and the world scene. More sober than the scathing diatribes from Global Times in the recent past. They talk about India being one of the four ancient civilizations. Never seen that from CNN types.”

8. While thus projecting India and the Sino-India relations in a positive light on the eve of the border talks, the English language Chinese media, at the same time, sought to convey a message that this positive portrayal did not presage any change in China’s stand on the border dispute, which remained and which would remain as before. Under the title “Expert: China will not compromise on Sino-Indian border issue”, the ” Global Times” reported as follows on August 7,2009, the day the latest round of border talks started: “Border talks between China and India began today in New Delhi, capital of India, according to the Global Times. This round of negotiations followed media speculation, with Reuters saying the two countries are not likely to reach a border treaty, while Hongkong media claimed the negotiations are making great progress. Ming Pao, a Hongkong newspaper, suggested that the present time is not favorable for China to resolve boundary issue in such a hurried way because the country is still rising globally and if the dispute is not properly addressed, the result will only be blamed by generations to come. Chinese military expert Long Tao commented that the disputed region of South Tibet is not the cause of the two countries’ conflict in the history, but rather was left over from 1914. That was when the British colonialists arbitrarily made the “McMahon Line,” which Long says is even more ridiculous than the unequal Treaty of Nanjing. He also added that though the two parties want to focus on developing bilateral ties, China won’t sacrifice its sovereignty in exchange for friendship. Therefore, India should not have any illusions with regard to this issue.”

8.The Xinhua news agency disseminated a report the same day quoting Jiang Yu, a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, as saying as follows: ” China is willing to make joint efforts with India in the spirit of mutual understanding and accommodation to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution to the issue.China and India have disputed territory along the Himalayan region in southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region as a result of the “McMahon Line” drawn by the British colonial rulers in India in the early 20th century. However, the Chinese Government has never recognized the illegal “McMahon Line”. ”

9. The message, which was conveyed through the Chinese media in the days before the border talks and on the first day of the border talks, was thus very clear: China continued to attach importance to a further improvement of its bilateral relations with India, but it will remain firm on its claims to Indian territory in the Arunachal Pradesh sector.

( 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: )


Text of the report carried by the “People’s Daily” on August 9,2009:

August 09, 2009

China, India hold 13th Boundary Talks in New Delhi

The 13th China-India Boundary Talks were held on Friday and Saturday in the Indian capital.

Chinese Special Representative, State Councilor Dai Bingguo and Indian Special Representative, National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister M.K. Narayanan exchanged in-depth views about relevant issues in an atmosphere of frankness and friendliness.

Dai also met with Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the Indian Congress Party and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his visit in India.

Both sides agreed to press ahead with the framework negotiations in accordance with the agreed political parameters and guiding principle so as to seek for a fair and reasonable solution acceptable to both countries. Prior to that, both sides should work together to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas.

During the talks, the two sides exchanged in-depth views on the further development of China-India Strategic Cooperative Partnership, as well as regional, international and global issues of mutual interest.

The Chinese side pointed out that the Chinese Government and people value the strategic and cooperative partnership between China and India, the largest two developing nations with a combined population accounting for 40 percent of the world’s total.

Friendly co-existence, mutual beneficial cooperation and shared progress between the two neighbors will contribute not only to the people of the two countries but also Asia and the whole world.

The Chinese side also emphasized that China and India have no other option than living in peace and developing side by side. China stands firmly committed to working with India to press ahead with the bilateral ties.

The Chinese side expressed belief that both countries need to promote the relationship with a higher and strategic perspective and continue to uphold the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. China and India should endeavor to build the strategic mutual trust. Both need to expand the common interests and cooperation bilaterally and on regional and global affairs.

Both countries should take concrete steps to enhance people-to-people and cultural interactions so as to nurture the mutual understanding and friendship between the two peoples, according to the Chinese delegation.

As for the questions left over from history, China believes the two countries should work to seek for a fair and reasonable mutually acceptable solution through peaceful and friendly negotiations.

For the future development of the bilateral ties, the Chinese side made the following suggestions:

— The two countries need to maintain the momentum of high-level exchanges, well celebrate the 60th anniversary marking the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the two countries, especially the China Festival and India Festival in each other’s country in 2010;

— Both countries should strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation in the economic field and trade, fully tap the potential for cooperation and properly handle frictions and questions thereof and stand side by side against trade protectionism so as to ensure the sustained and healthy development of bilateral economic ties.

— The two neighbors should enhance people-to-people and cultural exchanges, those between the youth, academic institutions, media and localities in particular, and deepen defense cooperation and continue the defense and security talks.

— China and India should also intensify the coordination and cooperation on major international issues, especially the global efforts in response to world financial crisis, climate change, energy and food security so as to promote evolution of international system that is in favor of developing nations.

The two sides also exchanged views on the situation in South and Northeast Asia.

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