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Sino-Indian Relations:Public in China Educated on Indian Perspectives

( At the request made through e-mail, of Senior Editor Ding Li, of Beijing-based weekly newspaper “Economic Observer”, being brought out both in English and Chinese, an article on “India-China Relations: An Indian Perspective”, containing personal views of Mr D.S.Rajan, Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, CCCS,on the subject, was prepared; The “Economic Observer” , which began operating in 2000 with its website appearing in 2007, and which describes itself as an ‘independent’ organ nurturing ‘progressive spirit and journalistic integrity’,has now published the Chinese language version of that article for the benefit of its readers on 14 June 2010- URL, The newspaper has informed the CCCS that such Indian perspectives will help the readers in China to better understand the bilateral relations. Mr Rajan’s article is frank, criticising China where ever it is due and the Chinese publishers have given a verbatim translation of Mr Rajan’s article, with no attempt to censor.It is a good sign that the Chinese media like Economic Observer, have started educating their readers in such a manner about Indian sensitivities on bilateral issues. The original article of Mr Rajan in English is given at Annexure below for the benefit of viewers in India).


India-China Relations: An Indian Perspective

D.S.Rajan, 8 June 2010

There is a growing perception now that the global economic gravity has shifted to Asia and that India and China, the emerging economic powerhouses in the region, will shape the Twenty-first century. In making such feelings a reality however, the nature of the future dynamics of domestic conditions as well as external relations of the two nations appears a crucial factor; this article attempts to focus in particular on the future prospects for India-China ties on the premise that this, along with the roles of other Asian powers like Japan, is going to be important in the matter of guaranteeing the stability and prosperity of the region as well as rest of the world. The article tries to present the Chinese side with Indian perspectives of key developments. Chinese perspectives are already being made available in India in a similar manner. The writer feels that put together, such exchanges will facilitate creation of a better mutual understanding between the two sides, impacting favourably on the overall India-China relationship.

Growing Optimism

Broadly speaking, India-China ties at government levels remain stable at this juncture; New Delhi and Beijing have established a ‘strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity’ and signed a document on ‘shared vision for the 21st century’, signifying that the Sino-Indian ties have gone beyond the bilateral context and acquired a global character. Accordingly, India and China are cooperating on international issues related to the diversification of global energy mix, climate change, arms control and disarmament, non-traditional security threats, counter-terrorism, WTO, WMD, human rights and South-South Co-operation. Bilaterally, the two sides now aim at building ‘ a relationship of friendship and trust, based on equality, in which each is sensitive to the concerns and aspirations of the other’ . They are not viewing each other as a security threat and are by and large satisfactorily implementing confidence building measures in the disputed border, besides carrying out joint military exercises. Special Representatives of India and China have so far held thirteen rounds of border talks, though with no tangible results. Most important is that with an attitude of promoting ties looking beyond the unsolved and ‘complex’ border dispute, India and China are speeding up their trade and economic contacts. Bilateral trade is fast gathering momentum, with the volume to the tune of US$ 40 billion now and projections for US$ 60 billion by 2010. China has emerged as India’s largest trading partner, replacing the US, in April 2008-February 2009 period. Also significant is the ongoing momentum in their exchanges of high level visits reflecting the desire of each party to forge stronger ties, of which the recently concluded state visit of Indian President Ms Patil to China is a prominent example.

Notwithstanding the encouraging picture brought out above, there are issues deeply dividing India and China; resolving them once for all is of utmost necessity, to further strengthen their relations. There are some talks in India about the past civilisational contacts helping resolution of the issues; they however lack substance. As modern nation states, the India and China have developed geo-political interests, which often tend to clash. What follows is a discussion on the conditions contributing to India-China frictions and the likely scenario in bilateral ties in future.

Problem Areas

Boundary Issue

As this writer sees, the boundary issue comes foremost in the list of problem areas. It is most sensitive one for both India and China as it relates closely to territorial integrity and sovereignty in respect of each side. It therefore needs to be handled carefully by the two nations. China’s understanding of Indian perspectives on the boundary issue will remain incomplete if it does not take into account the traditional doubts prevailing in India on China having been territorially ambitious. Examples being quoted in India in this regard include Mao’s description of China’s ‘palm’ (Tibet) and ‘five fingers’ (Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, NEFA and Ladakh); references are also being made in India to the PRC’s sense of ‘historical loss’ of territories expressed through their maps and atlas series, published in eighties. Such maps had even been seen claiming that India’s Assam, even Andamans, were ‘historically’ parts of China.

Proceeding from ‘doubts’ to substantive points , it is being seen in India that the border positions of India and China are in conflict with each other and hence are difficult to solve. China’s claims are based on its historical stand – all its borders, including with India, are as defined during the Qing dynasty period which ended in 1912.The root of the border problem with India lies in Beijing’s position that a large chunk of its territory, especially the 90,000 Sq km area in the Eastern sector, were illegally taken away by the British India, after the 1914 Simla Convention and that India inherited the British legacy. This has provided the rationale for Beijing in rejecting the McMahon line, a product of the Convention and in claiming the entire Arunachal Pradesh state of India as part of Chinese territory, called by it as ‘Southern Tibet’ Authoritative scholars in China have categorically stated that Beijing cannot recognize the McMahon line; if it did so, it would amount to Chinese admission of the 1962 conflict as a ‘war of aggression’ as well as an implicit acknowledgement that Tibet was once independent of China . On the other hand, for India, McMahon line remains the ‘de facto’ border with China.

The Sino-Indian border problem remains complicated with the Chinese claiming recently the 2.1 Sq km ‘finger area’ of Sikkim, the status of which as an Indian state has already been recognized by Beijing ‘de facto’. On the current scenario, meriting attention are India’s concerns arising from various factors – the reported Chinese intrusions, said to number 270 in 2008, into the Indian border, the adverse reaction of Beijing to the visit of the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to Arunachal Pradesh, China’s bid to stop the loans for Arunachal Pradesh from the Asian Development Bank and strong Chinese state-controlled media criticisms of India’s dispatch of additional troops to and positioning of advanced fighter aircraft in its Eastern border. Adding to India’s discomfort has also been the rise in the level of Chinese media rhetoric against India, noticed in 2009; this has however subsided now. Sino-Indian border talks, despite thirteen rounds of talks so far between two Special representatives, have not led to any tangible result in finalising a ‘frame work’ for a boundary settlement in accordance with the Agreement on Political Parameters, reached in 2005. While Beijing’s stand is to approach the border issue in the spirit of ‘mutual understanding and mutual accommodation’, India wants ‘ground realities’ to be taken into account. About the reported Chinese claim over Tawang, an interesting argument is that besides strategic factors, the same has been due to the China’s fears that Buddhist monasteries in the border including the one in Tawang have been centers of Tibetan resistance to the Chinese authority and as such, they should be taken over by it. Interestingly, the Chinese have introduced some new elements to the border question by questioning the already agreed position of keeping areas with settled populations out of the dispute. Is China ready for accommodation on the border issue? The statement made by the PRC Ambassador to India in November 2006 that both sides should make compromises on the ‘disputed’ Arunachal may be meaningful in this regard.

China’s general stand is to ‘shelve’ the difficult border issues like the one with India and instead work for ‘common development’. For e.g the PRC wants to ‘shelve’ the South China Sea territorial dispute, leave the Senkaku issue with Japan for ‘future generations’ to solve and ‘put aside the Sino-Indian border dispute waiting for a suitable climate for solution’ (Deng Xiaoping to the then Indian leader Vajpayee, Beijing, 1979). What is being noticed in India is that China never gives up its claims on sovereignty over disputed areas. An example is Japan-China settlement on exploring the disputed Chunxiao gas field in the East China Sea. Though Beijing has agreed for joint development of the field, it has declared that China’s sovereignty over the field is indisputable. The Chinese ‘shelving’ formula needs close scrutiny of India in particular. As this writer views, this formula has inherent flaws – for some at least, the projected completion of China’s military modernization in 2050 may create new pressures on the leaders in Beijing at that time to become aggressive on all border issues. What are therefore needed are serious efforts from India and China at their border talks, leading to a ‘compromise’ based solution to the issue, much sooner than later.

Other Bilateral Issues

Tibet Issue

Tibet issue is prominent among other problems.It can be said that with India accepting the Tibet Autonomous Region as an integral part of China and standing firmly against any anti-China activity of the Dalai Lama from India’s soil, this issue does not figure in Sino-Indian state to state relations. However, Beijing appears to be having reservations on India’s motives with respect to the Dalai Lama. The State-controlled media allegation , made on the eve of Manmohan Singh – Wen Jiabao meeting in Thailand, that the Dalai Lama is colluding with India whenever Sino-Indian border talks are held, along with the Chinese official view that the proposed visit to Arunachal Pradesh by the Dalai Lama in November 2009, ‘further exposes the anti-China and separatist nature of the Dalai clique’ and a subsequent authoritative comment that such visits cast a new shadow on Sino-Indian relations , firmly point to Beijing’s approach linking the Dalai Lama factor with the Sino-Indian border question.

China’s fears need to be understood in the context of March 2008 unrest in Tibet, posing a challenge to China’s sovereignty over that territory, even weakening Beijing’s position in its border negotiations with India. Also, the question as to why India is tolerating the Tibetan Government in Exile in its soil, seems to be bothering China. Premier Wen Jiabao’s description of the Tibet issue as a ‘sensitive’ one in relations with India, assumes significance in the context of what has been said above. The writer feels that Chinese suspicions on India-Dalai Lama relations are not going to disappear soon; the picture may change if talks between Beijing and the exiled spiritual leader succeed, but chances in this regard appear to be bleak at least for the moment.

China-Pakistan Nexus

China-Pakistan nexus is the next major bilateral issue. A better understanding is required in China about India’s sensitivities on this account. The Chinese military, missiles and nuclear help to Pakistan continues, but Beijing is not in a position to give a guarantee to India that Pakistan will not leverage such support from China, to fight against India. Not surprisingly, New Delhi perceives that China’s military assistance to Pakistan has direct implications for India.

China’s Defence Modernisation

On the third issue of China’s military modernization programme, India’s concerns are being expressed through its important government documents, for e.g. the Defence Ministry’s Annual Report (2008-2009) has said that the programme has implications for India’s defence and security. Asking Beijing to show greater transparency in its defence policy and postures, particularly on the double-digit growth in defence spending in last two decades, it has observed that China’s stated aim in its Defence White Paper for 2008 to develop missiles, space based assets and blue water naval capabilities will have an effect on the overall military environment in the neighbourhood of India. The Chinese side should properly address such concerns of India.

China’s policy towards India’s Neighborhood

India’s concerns also relate to China’s attempts to establish a strategic presence in India’s neighbourhood, for e.g port projects like Gwadar (Pakistan), Hambantota(Sri Lanka), Chittagong(Bangladesh). They are giving rise to fears in India of a Chinese encirclement of the country, under what has come to be known as a ‘string of pearls strategy’. The PRC has taken care to officially repudiate such concerns, by asserting that it has no plans to try for domination of the shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean and has no intentions to establish a chain to encircle India. An India-China understanding on the issue is a must for further improving bilateral relations.

India-US Relations

Chinese critical positions on the India-US relations are also a matter of India’s concern. The Chinese have welcomed the India-US Strategic Dialogue and are themselves promoting ties with the US. Still, China seems to nurture fears about US-India collusion against it. Its official media description of India’s policy as one ‘befriending the far and attacking the near’ is unmistakably an indirect, but strong criticism of the developing strategic relations between India and the US.

East Asia Integration

It would be necessary for China to pay attention to the Indian perception that it hesitates to accept India’s leading role in the East Asian regional integration process on the plea that the process should only be based on ASEAN+3 (China, Japan and South Korea) cooperation, and that ‘ outsiders’ like India, Australia and New Zealand have no place in it.

India’s Defence Strategy

Reports in India about the country’s defence strategy visualizing war on two fronts- Pakistan and China, have been commented upon in China. A Chinese comment (China Youth Daily) has said that India’s real target is China, not Pakistan. Indian strategic planners have only done a scenario building; war is not an option for India, which wants to settle its historic problems with its two neighbours peacefully. Under the strategy, both land and sea power are getting emphasis in India, which reflects a logical consideration of the country’s geopolitical position.

How to read Chinese Media?

The Indian public does not understand the reasons for appearance of hawkish views on India in some of China’s strategic journals/websites. Global Times and writers like Colonel Dai Xu, have often given controversial views on India. How far such views reflect official thinking remains a question in India. Is the People’s Liberation army (PLA) influencing China’s foreign policy making? Even the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates hs hinted to such possibilities (Shangrila Dialogue, Singapore, 2010).The answer to such misgivings may lie in the need for reporting transparency in China.


Questions are being asked in China on how India will use its economic power. They are similar to doubts in India and abroad about China’s intentions once its modernization programme gets completed, say in 2050. China has announced peaceful development as its goal. India’s objectives are on the same lines – enriching the entrepreneurial and economic potential of the country through a suitable reform strategy as well as integrating the country with the world’s economic system under a new order. India’s increasing role in G-20 mechanism speaks for the latter in particular. Another basic point relates to attempts to compare the development models of India and China. Which one is the better? A debate may be unending in this regard- generally, the Indian model based on democracy is being viewed favourably from a long term point of view than that of China which rests on a one-party system. The main difference is that while China has been following a model based on investment flow from abroad and exports. India has been giving a boost to entrepreneurship and free enterprise. In the opinion of the writer, the Indian superiority in the service sector notwithstanding, it will not be easy for India to catch up fast with China, which has already emerged as a manufacturing giant.

What will be India’s global interests as an emerging power is another topic getting focus in China. As Dr Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister puts it, India’s goal is to gain its rightful place in the comity of nations, making full use of the opportunities offered by a globalised world, operating on the frontiers of modern science and technology and using modern science and technology as important instruments of national economic and social development. The emerging India’s partnerships with the US, China and other powers, India’s role in the G-20 mechanism etc stand to explain its interests in the 21st century. Realising its responsibilities as a growing power, India is cooperating with other nations on addressing issues of global concern like terrorism, climate change,disarmamament, world trade etc.

In conclusion, it can be said that there are mixed views on China in India; Indians are noticing the prevailing good atmosphere in bilateral relations at state levels, but their concerns are continuing on China’s strategic intentions vis-à-vis India. More and more people to people contacts between the two sides can bring a beneficial change to such conditions.

( The writer, Mr D.S.Rajan, is presently Director of the Chennai Centre for China Stdies, Chennai, India. Views expressed are his own. This article is a contribution to the Chinese newspaper, “The Economic Observer’, ———————–

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