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India's NSA: A Feel Good Visit to China

Mr.Shiv Shankar Menon, the National Security Adviser, is undertaking a three-day visit to China from July 3,2010, as a special envoy of Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh. He is going there not specifically in his capacity as the designated representative of the Prime Minister to discuss with his Chinese counterpart Mr. Dai Bingguo, State Councillor, ways of solving the pending border dispute between the two countries. He is going with a broader mandate in his capacity as the strategic adviser to the Prime Minister on national security matters, including India’s relations with China and their implications for India’s national security.

2. Since the Copenhagen climate summit of last year in which India and China interacted closely with each other for mutual benefit, there have been many positives and negatives in the bilateral relations. The positives have contributed to a budding feel good factor in the bilateral relations. The negatives could come in the way of a further development of the feel good atmosphere if not handled with sensitivity and understandng of each other’s misgivings, if not concerns.

3. Among the positive developments, one could mention the absence of unwise rhetoric and mutual demonisation in public statements, Indian efforts to delink India’s relations with the US and Japan from any strategic designs relating to China and the attempt on both sides not to allow developments relating to Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama to inject poison in the bilateral relations. The trade has continued to develop despite the global economic melt-down though no longer as rapidly as it was developing before the onset of the global economic crisis.An important positive was that the two countries have refrained from projecting the negative factors, which have recently appeared in the bilateral relations, in an over-dramatic manner despite alarming interpretations by some think-tanks and analysts in both countries.

4.Among the negative factors, which are not insignificant, one could mention China’s decision to help Pakistan in the construction of hydel projects in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Gilgit-Baltistan and the reported undertaking of a feasibility study on the construction of a railway line between Pakistan and the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, which will pass through the Gilgit-Baltistan area. China’s action in starting the issue of stapled visas on a separate sheet of paper to Indian citizens resident in J & K and its action in not following this practice in respect of the residents of POK and Gilgit-Baltistan have added to India’s misgivings. All these developments indicated, in India’s interpretation, that while China was not prepared to treat J&K as an integral part of India, it has no qualms about treating POK and Gilgit-Baltistan as integral parts of Pakistan.

5. China’s relations with Pakistan have become another cause for worry to India due to the recent decision of Beijing to accept Pakistan’s requests for the construction of two more-Chinese aided nuclear power reactors at Chashma in Pakistan without seeking the formal clearance of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. This special gesture by China to Pakistan, which came in the wake of its disturbing actions relating to J&K, has rekindled Indian misgivings that China has been reverting to its pre-1999 (Kargil conflict) policy of balancing Pakistan with India and strengthening Pakistan’s military-related capacity against India.

6. Though the economic relations continue to progress, there are misgivings here too. China has misgivings arising from Indian suspicions of Chinese telecommunication companies. India’s unhappiness could be attributed to the failure of any action by China to make the bilateral trade more balanced. It is now considerably in favour of China. Another cause for unhappiness has been what many in India consider as the shabby treatment meted out by the Chinese authorities to some Indian retail diamond merchants, who have been detained in China for allegedly violating Chinese laws.

7. Some Indian analysts continue to voice concern over what they interpret as Chinese plans to divert the waters of the Brahmaputra river which flows from China to India. Though the Chinese have denied their allegations, suspicions remain.

8. There has been no transparency in the talks over the border dispute. But from media accounts, one could conclude that there has been no forward movement because of the Chinese insistence on their claims relating to Arunachal Pradesh, which the Chinese call Southern Tibet. As a result, both the countries have been strengthening their military-related infrastructure in the border areas—-China more rapidly and with greater determination than India.

9. It goes to the credit of the political leaderships of the two countries that they have not allowed the negative factors to overshadow the emerging feel good atmosphere. However, it has to be underlined that there is a limit beyond which this feel good atmosphere cannot be expanded and strengthened if these negative factors persist. Over-all healthy relations between the two countries would be a sum total of over-all healthy development of the various components of the bilateral relations. If the components are affected by misgivings and concerns, it cannot but have an impact on the over-all relations whatever be the goodwill between the political leaderships.

10. The goodwill between the people of the two countries has not kept pace with the growing goodwill between the political leaderships because for large sections of the people the components are as important as the whole. Adequate attention has to be paid to all these factors during the forthcoming discussions of Mr.Menon with his Chinese interlocutors.

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

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