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January 15, 2006
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January 15, 2006

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Home > 2006 Issues > January 15, 2006

Will 2006 witness an India-China alliance?

By M.D. Nalapat

During the years when Jiang Zemin was President of the People's Republic of China, he was so entranced by the West that the focus of Beijng?s diplomacy was exclusively countries that were geographically or culturally linked to the peoples of the continent that dominated human history for four centuries, Europe. Even New Zealand and Belgium were shown greater consideration than India, although then Premier Zhu Rongji sought to correct to a limited extent the neglect shown to the other giant of Asia, India, by Jiang. It was only after the ?Asian Nationalist? Hu Jintao took over from ?Westernizer? Jiang two years ago that the Persons Group of China (PRC) became serious about rectifying this imbalance between the strategic importance of India to China?s own interests and the meagre attention shown to New Delhi?s interests and sensibilities by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing

After a decade of neglect, border talks began to be given priority, and trade between the two countries took off from a small base and is now on course to cross $ 50 billion within three years. Cultural contacts are still low, as the hangover of the Jiang regime persists in the form of policies that give a monopoly to western music, films and culture rather than (politically neutral) Indian versions. For any individual who loves and respects the 5000-year traditions of the Chinese people, it is a sorrowful experience to watch the ?cultural? performances on Chinese television channels, as these are usually a tasteless mix of western remixes with Chinese costumes and players, being in the process derogatory to both these great cultures, the Western as well as the Chinese.

Paradoxically, it is New Delhi that by its eagerness to give unilateral concessions that has been responsible for the lower-than-expected return gestures from the Hu Jintao administration. In 2003, without getting any concession back in return, India agreed to effectively recognise Tibet as a province of China, rather than the Autonomous Region it remains. This unilateral gesture by an over-generous Indian government was similar to the early policies of Jawaharlal Nehru, who during 1953-57 surrendered all the treaty rights of India in Tibet in exchange, again, for nothing except a few kind words. Later, the effusive welcome given to the Dalai Lama in 1959 ensured that from then on, India was seen as an enemy by China. Subsequently, Nehru declined to follow up on Zhou Enlai?s practical suggestion that the border dispute between the two countries be settled on the basis of the status quo. This was because the Indian PM was under the illusion that Mao Zedong was like him, all talk and no action.

In 1962, by refusing to use the Indian Air Force, by cravenly accepting a cease-fire at the worst possible moment, and by earlier appointing an incompetent army commander simply because of bloodline, Nehru ensured the humiliation of India. From then on, the whole world has seen China as significantly superior to India, when in fact the two countries are roughly equal in overall capabilities. It is the inherent strength of the Indian people, whether at home or abroad, that has since 1995 revived the international image of India, despite New Delhi?s consistent policy of bombastic rhetoric masking a surrender of vital interests, a tragedy that these days is being most clearly manifested in the India-US nuclear talks.

The best course would be for the immensely respected President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to visit Beijing in 2006, followed by a return visit by President Hu the same year. These visits can be backed up by reciprocal visits of the Defense, Commerce, Culture and Foreign Ministers of the two countries.

Although efforts are proceeding apace by the UPA to bring back the rule of a single family that was the norm in India for 36 years out of 58 years of freedom, the ordinary people of this country are still strong enough to resist creeping dictatorship. This is why the UPA will be unable to hand over to China the massive concessions that Beijing?s many supporters within India are lobbying for. It is in expectation of-as usual-getting a lot of somethings for nothing that the still-influential Jiang elements in Beijing are resisting sane advice to make substantrive gestures to India, so as to create the pre-conditions for a possible future Sino-Indian alliance. If President Hu Jintao frees himself of the wrong advice given by his Ministry of Foreign Affairs and recognises India as an equal, then the prospects are excellent for such a partnership even by 2010, especially in view of what may be termed as ?Washington Follies?. Under such an alliance, both countries would work closely together in Asia to promote security and stability in the continent, as well as help build a world order in which every civilisation has equal opportunity and privileges, including the great traditional cultures of Africa and South America. 2006 can truly become the year that marked the start of genuine India-China friendship, if President Hu so wills.

On January 1, 2006, both sides are expected to exchange messages of goodwill to herald the Year of Friendship. These should be at both the Presidential as well as the Prime Ministerial levels, to indicate that both the nation, as represented by the respective Presidents-and the government-signified by each Prime Minister-are working in tandem towards this objective. While Beijing appears to be giving more prominence to UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi rather than to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the best course would be for the immensely respected President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to visit Beijing in 2006, followed by a return visit by President Hu the same year. These visits can be backed up by reciprocal visits of the Defense, Commerce, Culture and Foreign Ministers of the two countries. Culture is important, as unless the people of both India and China rid themselves of the recent mutual ignorance of each other that they have, relations will not reach the level that the conguence of the two civilisations makes feasible.

There is a suggestion that the Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) visit India. The difficulty lies in the fact that Beijing defines the TAR to include Arunachal Pradesh. It needs to be conveyed that such a visit could be of immense political benefit if the TAR Chairman makes clear that Arunachal Pradesh is not a part of Tibet but of India. Otherwise, he would not be welcome in that Indian state. Ideally, the Chinese side should cut through these contentious issues by accepting the status quo as the solution to the border dispute. Such a stand need not preclude minor adjustments in territory, provided that the strategic significance of the land given up by one side is equal to that given to it by the other. Indeed, as the bigger country, the PRC should-in the interests of long-term friendship-compensate India by giving at least three times more land in one sector than it may get elsewhere as a result of local territorial adjustments, if any.

As for the Eminent Persons Group on China in India, this should not be afflicted with the virulent cronyism that-let it be admitted-was rampant during the period in office of the NDA, when only those close to a certain bureacrat were considered for inclusion. Pragmatism and not politics ought to be the deciding factors in selection of individuals, but in a Pizza Republic, this may be too much to expect. At a minimum, both sides need to explore new approaches and-by implication-jettison the baggage of the past.

Indeed, were China and India to develop a robust economic partnership, both sides could cooperate not simply in enhancing business opportunities in India?s east and in Tibet and Yunnan, but in Myanmar and the rest of ASEAN as well. True, there will be competition, but there will also be ample scope for cooperation.

For the next five years, economic and cultural progression in relations will need to take precedence over strategic considerations, as there is need for a cooling-off period before Sino-Indian military congruence is attempted (on the assumption that the India-US negotiations fail on the rock of the prejudiced attitudes of policymakers in Washington about India, the international Ekalavya). There needs to be not one but several expos of Indian products and services in the PRC, and reciprocal shows in India. A Business Summit needs to be organised in both Shanghai and Mumbai, as well as in Beijing and New Delhi, during 2006. Hopefully, both CII and FICCI will work on this together with counterparts in China. President Hu also needs to nudge his team towards ensuring that the Indian offer of opening up the Nathu La pass gets actioned on by generating a significant volume of trade through the route.

Indeed, were China and India to develop a robust economic partnership, both sides could cooperate not simply in enhancing business opportunities in India?s east and in Tibet and Yunnan, but in Myanmar and the rest of ASEAN as well. True, there will be competition, but there will also be ample scope for cooperation. In this context, the recent willingness of China to cooperate and not only compete with India in the oil sector needs to be welcomed.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has shown his goodwill towards China by opening up even sensitive sectors of the Indian economy to PRC investment. This is a clear indication that New Delhi does not foresee a new conflict between China and India. Now it is for Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to respond to this by, for example, opening his market to Indian films and to Indian companies generally, rather than follow Jiang Zemin in lavishing attention only on western countries. Premier Wen also needs to appreciate the importance of spiritual matters in India, and one way of this would be the renovation of an ancient Hindu temple in South-central China. Another would be to join with the Japanese in improving the physical infrastructure of the numerous Buddhist monuments in India, especially in Bihar. The Buddha united China and India more than two thousand years ago, and the power of Siddhartha Gautama to do so again is still powerful.

What is most crucial is that Beijing recognise its strategic blunder in making Pakistan a nuclear and missile power, and reduce its help to that country?s strategic programmes so as to prevent a future jihadi nuclear and missile attack on China itself. The nuclear field offers an opportunity for China to show that it accepts India as an equal. This would be by backing New Delhi in the IAEA and in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, as well as making available essential materiel to India to upgrade its nuclear power programme. This would significantly increase the prospects of a comprehensive India-China strategic alliance in the next decade. Hopefully, President Hu Jintao will pay personal attention towards a new and equitable policy towards India that recognises New Delhi as a partner equal to Beijing. If he does so, 2006 can become a historic year for Sino-India relations.

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