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Sino-Indian Relations: Questions & Answers

As appeared in www.saag.org

(I was in receipt by E-mail of some questions on Sino-Indian relations from a well-known Chinese journalist, who is a good friend of India. The questions and my answers to them are given below)

1. You must have noticed the talk about Arunachal Pradash by Chinese Ambassador Sun. In fact, what Sun said in CNN-IBN is just the restated Chinese formal position. However, the echo in India is so strong. Why? Is CNN-IBN an American background media?

MY REPLY: IT IS TRUE THAT THE CHINESE AMBASSADOR RE-STATED THE CHINESE POSITION. HOWEVER, THERE WAS SOME SURPRISE DUE TO TWO REASONS: FIRST, HIS STATEMENT IN A TV INTERVIEW CAME JUST BEFORE THE VISIT OF THE CHINESE PRESIDENT. MANY THOUGHT THAT THE TIMING OF THE INTERVIEW WAS DELIBERATE AND SIGNIFICANT. THE SECOND REASON IS THAT THE INDIAN PUBLIC HAD SOMEHOW COME TO BELIEVE THAT THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN INDIA AND CHINA IN THE ARUNACHAL PRADESH SECTOR HAD BEEN NARROWED DOWN TO THE CHINESE CLAIM TO THE TAWANG AREA ONLY. THE PUBLIC OPINION WAS, THEREFORE, TAKEN BY SURPRISE BY THE AMBASSADOR’S POSITION THAT THE CHINESE CLAIM RELATED TO THE WHOLE OF ARUNACHAL PRADESH AND NOT MERELY TO TAWANG. THE INDIAN PUBLIC OPINION IS ALSO WORRIED AS TO WHY THE CHINESE ARE SO FIRM IN THEIR CLAIM TO TAWANG. IS IT BECAUSE ONE OF THE DALAI LAMAS WAS BORN THERE OR IS THERE A STRATEGIC ANGLE TO IT? SUCH CONCERNS AND DEBATES ARE NATURAL WHILE THE BORDER ISSUE IS UNDER DISCUSSION AND SHOULD NOT BE INTERPRETED IN A NEGATIVE MANNER. THE IBN HAS A WORKING ARRANGEMENT WITH THE CNN OF THE US, BUT I DON’T THINK THE CNN INFLUENCES ITS EDITORIAL POLICY.

2. According to my observation in India, an Indian is very much friendly to China. But most articles and opinions, which appeared in Indian media recently, are not so much friendly, and many of them mentioned that India must be watchful of China, should not trust China. I wonder what is the general Indian perspective on China? Strategically and otherwise? What does the man on the street think about China? Does he think China is un-trustful?

MY REPLY: INDIANS CONTINUE TO BE FRIENDLY TO CHINA AND THE CHINESE PEOPLE. THERE IS A GREAT ADMIRATION IN INDIA FOR THE PRAGMATIC CHINESE LEADERSHIP AND FOR THE PHENOMENAL PROGRESS IN CHINA‘S ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. THE INDIAN PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN GREAT ADMIRERS OF THE CHINESE CULTURE. THERE HAS BEEN NO CHANGE IN THAT POSITION. AT THE SAME TIME, THERE IS SOME ANXIETY THAT IN OUR OVER-EAGERNESS TO GIVE AN ADDED MOMENTUM TO THE ALREADY FAST DEVELOPING RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIES, THE LESSONS FROM THE PAST SHOULD NOT BE FORGOTTEN. REITERATION OF SOME OF THOSE LESSONS BY SOME ANALYSTS SUCH AS ME DOES NOT MEAN THAT WE HAVE TURNED AGAINST CHINA. THE INDIAN PUBLIC OPINION CONTINUES TO ADVOCATE STRONGLY A CLOSE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIES IN ALL FIELDS, BUT WITHOUT REPEATING THE MISTAKES OF THE PAST, WHICH CREATED PROBLEMS IN THE RELATIONSHIP. IN VIEW OF THE CHINESE PRESIDENT’S VISIT, THERE HAS BEEN AN INTENSE DEBATE ON THE VARIOUS ASPECTS OF THE SINO-INDIAN RELATIONSHIP. NATURALLY, MORE ARTICLES HAD APPEARED IN THE LAST FEW DAYS THAN IN THE PAST. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT THERE HAS BEEN A SUDDEN CHANGE IN THE ATTITUDE OF THE INDIAN PUBLIC OPINION.

3. In Indian web fora, Indians often talk about the Chinese trying to encircle India by opening strategic bases in Burma and Pakistan. What do you think of that?

MY REPLY: ENCIRCLEMENT IS TOO STRONG A WORD TO DESCRIBE THE CONCERNS OF THE INDIAN PUBLIC OPINION. HOWEVER, IT WOULD BE CORRECT TO SAY THAT ONE OF THE AREAS OF CONCERN, WHICH ARE OFTEN HIGHLIGHTED IN DEBATES ON SINO-INDIAN RELATIONS, IS THE GROWING CHINESE PRESENCE IN COUNTRIES NEIGHBORING INDIA. AMONG DEVELOPMENTS, WHICH CAUSE CONCERN, ARE THE GROWING CHINESE MILITARY SUPPLY RELATIONSHIP WITH THESE COUNTRIES, SUSTAINED NUCLEAR AND MISSILE RELATIONSHIP WITH PAKISTAN, THE CHINESE INTEREST IN STRATEGIC SECTORS, WHICH COULD NEGATIVELY IMPACT ON INDIA’S OVERALL THREAT PERCEPTIONS ETC. AMONG SUCH SECTORS ONE COULD MENTION THE CHINESE ASSISTANCE TO PAKISTAN IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF A STRATEGIC PORT IN GWADAR AND IN THE UPGRADATION OF THE KARAKORAM HIGHWAY, THE REPORTED CHINESE ASSISTANCE TO MYANMAR IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF A COMMUNICATIONS BASE IN THE COCO ISLANDS IN THE VICINITY OF INDIA’S ANDAMAN & NICOBAR ISLANDS, THE REPORTED CHINESE ASSISTANCE TO SRI LANKA IN THE UPGRADATION OF A PORT AT HAMBANTOTA, THE REPORTED CHINESE TALKS WITH BANGLADESH FOR ASSISTING IT IN DEVELOPING A CIVILIAN NUCLEAR CAPABILITY ETC. WHILE CHINA HAS EVERY RIGHT TO DEVELOP ITS RELATIONS WITH OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE SOUTH ASIAN REGION IN ACCORDANCE WITH ITS NATIONAL INTERESTS, IT HAS TO TAKE NOTE OF INDIAN SENSITIVITIES AND CONCERNS IN THIS REGARD IN THE LONG-TERM INTEREST OF GOOD SINO-INDIAN RELATIONS. HOW TO ADDRESS THESE CONCERNS IS A QUESTION, WHICH NEED THE ATTENTION OF THE CHINESE POLICY-MAKERS.

4. I read lots of reports on Indian opinion about the restriction of Chinese investments in port and telecom fields. Some of them complained that India is too much suspicious of China. However, other security experts said it is too late to start to restrict Chinese investments. How do you see this issue?

MY REPLY: THERE IS A BACKGROUND TO THIS CONTROVERSY, WHICH CHINESE POLICY-MAKERS HAVE TO UNDERSTAND IN THE RIGHT PERSPECTIVE. THE ADVENT OF GLOBALISATION RIGHTLY CAUSED CONCERN IN THE MINDS OF SECURITY EXPERTS ALL OVER THE WORLD REGARDING THE LIKELY SECURITY IMPLICATIONS OF GLOBALISATION AND THE KIND OF NEW SECURITY CAPABILITIES THAT MUST BE CREATED IN ORDER TO PROTECT ONESELF FROM ANY NEGATIVE SECURITY CONSEQUENCES OF GLOBALISATION. CHINA WAS AMONG THE FIRST COUNTRIES TO UNDERTAKE SUCH AN EXERCISE AND GUARD ITSELF. UNFORTUNATELY, IN INDIA, DUE TO THE PREOCCUPATION OF THE INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY AGENCIES WITH PAKISTAN AND TERRORISM, SUCH A COMPREHENSIVE EXERCISE WAS NOT UNDERTAKEN TILL RECENTLY. DECISIONS ON MATTERS INVOLVING FOREIGN INVESTMENTS AND NATIONAL SECURITY WERE TAKEN ON A SPORADIC, AD HOC BASIS. IN THE 1990S, WHEN NARASIMHA RAO WAS THE PRIME MINISTER, THERE WAS A DEBATE ON THE SECURITY IMPLICATIONS OF ALLOWING AMERICAN COMPANIES TO BE INVOLVED IN RUNNING TELECOMMUNICATION SERVICES IN NEW DELHI AND CERTAIN OTHER CITIES. SUBSEQUENTLY, WHEN MR. DEV GOWDA WAS THE PRIME MINISTER, THERE WAS A DEBATE ON THE SECURITY IMPLICATIONS OF A PROPOSAL SUBMITTED BY A LEADING INDUSTRIALIST FOR A JOINT VENTURE WITH AN AIRLINE COMPANY OF ONE OF THE SOUTH-EAST ASIAN COUNTRIES FOR RUNNING DOMESTIC AIR SERVICES. WHAT IS NEW NOW IS THAT INSTEAD OF UNDERTAKING SUCH AD HOC EXAMINATIONS, A COMPREHENSIVE EXAMINATION OF THE ENTIRE QUESTION OF GLOBALISATION AND NATIONAL SECURITY HAS BEEN UNDERTAKEN IN ORDER TO LAY DOWN THE NECESSARY GUIDELINES AND CREATE A CAPABILITY IN OUR SECURITY AGENCIES FOR ENFORCING THESE GUIDELINES. FROM MEDIA REPORTS, IT WOULD APPEAR THAT THIS COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW WAS TRIGGERED OFF BY THE INTEREST EVINCED BY CHINESE COMPANIES IN THE PORT AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS SECTORS. AS A RESULT, THE FOCUS IN THE PUBLIC DEBATE HAS BEEN IN A LARGE MEASURE ON CHINA. THIS DOES NOT INDICATE ANY MISTRUST OF CHINA OR ITS COMPANIES. ACCORDING TO THE MEDIA, THE GOVERNMENT HAS TAKEN NOTE OF THE WRONG PERCEPTIONS CREATED BY THIS DEBATE AND HAS SOUGHT TO ADDRESS THEM BY DIRECTING THAT ANY SECURITY GUIDELINES TO BE ISSUED ON THIS SUBJECT SHOULD BE UNIVERSALLY APPLICABLE TO ALL COUNTRIES EXCEPT PAKISTAN AND BANGLADESH, WHICH ARE ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN SPONSORING TERRORISM AGAINST INDIA, AND SHOULD NOT BE COUNTRY SPECIFIC. IT IS TO BE HOPED THAT THIS WOULD REMOVE ANY WRONG PERCEPTION IN CHINA THAT ITS COMPANIES WERE BEING UNFAIRLY TARGETED.

5. Officially the leaders from India and China had already made it clear that the border issue will not be the main obstacle, but I often heard the voices in both countries say that the relationship cannot go ahead materially until we settle the border issue. Could you make comments on this question?

MY REPLY; YES, IT WAS A RIGHT DECISION BY THE POLITICAL LEADERS AND POLICY-MAKERS OF THE TWO COUNTRIES NOT TO ALLOW THE BORDER QUESTION TO PREVENT OR DELAY THE DEVELOPMENT OF RELATIONS IN OTHER FIELDS. ONE CAN SEE THE BENEFITS ALL AROUND—THE TREMENDOUS INCREASE IN BILATERAL TRADE, THE GREATER MUTUAL COMFORT LEVEL BETWEEN THE LEADERS AND OTHER POLICY-MAKERS OF THE TWO COUNTRIES, GREATER EXCHANGE OF DELEGATIONS BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIES, MORE PEOPLE TO PEOPLE CONTACTS, A GREATER WILLINGNESS TO RAISE AND DEBATE INCONVENIENT OR SENSITIVE ISSUES, WHICH ARISES FROM THIS COMFORT LEVEL, WITHOUT WORRYING THAT THERE COULD BE A MISUNDERSTANDING ETC. AT THE SAME TIME, ONE HAS TO BE REALISTIC ENOUGH TO KEEP NOTE OF THE FACT THAT THERE WAS A MILITARY CONFLICT BETWEEN INDIA AND CHINA IN 1962, TOTALLY DUE TO DIFFERENCES ON THE BORDER ISSUE. UNLESS AND UNTIL THE BORDER ISSUE IS RESOLVED TO THE MUTUAL SATISFACTION OF THE TWO COUNTRIES, THERE WILL ALWAYS BE LINGERING MEMORIES AND CONCERNS AT THE BACK OF THE MINDS OF THE PEOPLE ABOUT THE FUTURE DIRECTION OF THE RELATIONS. SUCH LINGERING MEMORIES AND CONCERNS WOULD BE MORE IN THE MINDS OF THE INDIANS THAN THE CHINESE BECAUSE THIS MILITARY CONFLICT WAS A TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE FOR INDIA AND NOT FOR CHINA. IT IS, THEREFORE, IMPORTANT TO FIND A MUTUALLY ACCEPTABLE SOLUTION TO THE BORDER PROBLEM AS QUICKLY AS WE CAN. AS I CAN SEE IT, THE AREAS UNDER DISPUTE CAN BE DIVIDED INTO THREE CATEGORIES: FIRST, THOSE THAT CAUSE STRATEGIC CONCERNS. A TYPICAL EXAMPLE IS TAWANG. CHINESE EXPERTS VIEW TAWANG AS A POSSIBLE STRATEGIC GATEWAY FOR OUTSIDE ELEMENTS TO TIBET. INDIAN EXPERTS VIEW TAWANG AS A POSSIBLE STRATEGIC GATEWAY TO INDIA‘S NORTH-EAST, INCLUDING ASSAM, FOR THE CHINESE. SECOND, THOSE THAT HAVE POLITICAL SENSITIVITIES. THESE ARE THE POPULATED AREAS, WITH TAWANG AGAIN BEING A TYPICAL EXAMPLE. CHINA DOES NOT FACE THIS PROBLEM, BUT INDIA DOES. THE THIRD IS AREAS WHERE NO STRATEGIC CONCERNS AND/OR POLITICAL SENSITIVITIES ARE INVOLVED. IF THE FIRST TWO ARE RESOLVED TO THE MUTUAL SATISFACTION, THE LAST ONE WILL BE AUTOMATICALLY RESOLVED. THE POLICY-MAKERS IN BOTH THE COUNTRIES SHOULD ADDRESS THESE ISSUES IN A SUSTAINED MANNER, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME, CONTINUING THE PRESENT POLICY OF NOT ALLOWING THE DIFFERENCES OVER THE BORDER COME IN THE WAY OF THE OVER-ALL CORDIAL RELATIONSHIP. THERE IS A NEED FOR A GREATER TRANSPARENCY IN NEW DELHI AND BEIJING REGARDING THE PROGRESS OR THE LACK OF IT IN THE BORDER TALKS. WHEN THERE IS NO TRANSPARENCY, PEOPLE TEND TO NURSE IMAGINARY FEARS.

6. India and China had declared that we have a “strategic relationship” during PM Wen jia bao’ visit to India last year. When President Hu visits India, both sides might take some concrete measures to consolidate such a strategic partnership. What do you think of current Sino- Indian “strategic partnership” and in the future?

MY REPLY: SINCE RAJIV GANDHI’S FAMOUS VISIT TO CHINA IN 1988 WHEN HE HAD A MEMORABLE MEETING WITH DENG XIAO-PING, THE COMFORT LEVEL BETWEEN THE LEADERS AND THE POLICY-MAKERS OF THE TWO COUNTRIES HAS BEEN SLOWLY DEVELOPING. THERE IS NOW A COMMONLY NURSED STRATEGIC VISION BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIES. THIS VISION HAS THE FOLLOWING COMPONENTS. FIRST, TO FRANKLY ADMIT THAT THERE ARE TACTICAL DIFFICULTIES ARISING FROM HISTORIC FACTORS AND TRY TO REMOVE THEM IN A SUSTAINED AND DETERMINED MANNER WITHOUT ALLOWING THESE DIFFICULTIES TO BE AGGRAVATED BY THE MANNER IN WHICH THEY ARE HANDLED BY BOTH SIDES. SECOND, THESE DIFFICULTIES AND THE TIME TAKEN IN REMOVING THEM SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO COME IN THE WAY OF A FORWARD MOVEMENT IN AREAS WHERE THERE ARE NO SUCH DIFFICULTIES. THIRD, THERE IS A NEED FOR BILATERAL NETWORKING AT AS MANY LEVELS AS POSSIBLE—GENERAL BUREAUCRACY, SECURITY BUREAUCRACY, MILITARY-TO-MILITARY, NON-GOVERNMENTAL THINK-TANKS ETC. FOUR, NO ULTERIOR MOTIVE SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO IMPACT ON THE BILATERAL RELATIONS. SIMILARLY, THE RELATIONS OF INDIA AND CHINA WITH OTHER COUNTRIES SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO HAVE A NEGATIVE IMPACT ON SINO-INDIAN RELATIONS. IF THIS VISION IS PAINSTAKINGLY MAINTAINED AND PROMOTED, A STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP AUTOMATICALLY FOLLOWS. CREATING AND EXPANDING THE POSITIVE AND TACKLING THE NEGATIVE IN A CONSTRUCTIVE AND MEANINGFUL MANNER IN ORDER TO REDUCE IT, EVEN IF WE ARE UNABLE TO ELIMINATE IT, SHOULD BE THE COMMON OBJECTIVE. NON-GOVERNMENTAL THINK-TANKS IN INDIA AND CHINA CAN PLAY A USEFUL ROLE IN GIVING SHAPE TO THIS STRATEGIC VISION, BUT, UNFORTUNATELY, THE QUALITY OF THE THINK-TANKS IN BOTH INDIA AND CHINA IS NOT SATISFACTORY. THEY FALL INTO TWO CATEGORIES—THOSE THAT ARE THE BHAI-BHAI (BROTHER-BROTHER) TYPES, WHICH FOCUS ONLY ON THE POSITIVE AND PUSH THE NEGATIVE UNDER THE CARPET AND THOSE THAT ARE ALARMIST, WHICH SEE ONLY THE NEGATIVE AND ARE POSITIVE-BLIND. THERE IS A NEED FOR THINK-TANKS, WHICH TAKE A BALANCED VIEW OF THE POSITIVE AND THE NEGATIVE.

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: e-mail: itschen36@gmail.com)

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