Irrespective of the end results of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh'svisit to Beijing, the intriguing question remains: can we trust China? Are we being take for another ride? According to a paper prepared by the American CIA in mid-1963 recently released, the Chinese duped Jawaharlal Nehru by its guile over the Sino-Indian border row that led to a war in 1962. Nehru turned out to be na?ve leader, easily taken in by Chinese pretensions of friendship.
In this matter also to be blamed is V.K. Krishna Menon who was Nehru'sforeign policy adviser. In March 1979, then Foreign Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited China against the advise of professionals. He disregarded the information given him that Beijing was preparing to attack Vietnam. The professionals turned out to be right. Vajpayee had barely begun his visit when China did attack Vietnam, with its leader Deng Xiao Ping claiming that China had only taught a ?lesson? to Vietnam as it had done to India in 1962. That was adding insult to injury. Vajpayee had to make a quick turn-around and cut short his visit.
In December 1988 Rajiv Gandhi visited China and there was much hype about the establishment of a Joint Working Group to settle the border issue. To this day the border issue has not been resolved. Indeed, amid reports of intrusion by Chinese forces in Bhutan, the Indian Army was forced to move more than 60, 000 troops to the Sino-Indian border close to the tri-junction of India, Bhutan and China, in the final weeks of 2007. On November 23, 2007, a week before the visit of Defence Minister A.K.Antony and Chief of Army Staff Deepak Kapoor to Sikkim, Peoples? Liberation Army'sa soldiers reportedly unloaded boulders to wreck the construction of a metalled road at a strategic spot in North Sikkim.
Prior to that, Chinese troops had entered Indian territory to ask Indian Army personnel manning the border post there to stop construction of the road. China has repeatedly claimed sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh to the point that China'sAmbassador to India was to say that the whole of Arunachal Pradesh was Chinese territory. The claim was also made that Tawang, birthplace of Dalai Lama be returned to China as it was part of the country. After the 1962 war, China has maintained its claim on nearly 90,000 sq kms of Indian land. With China, one can never tell what it is up to. Even while it claimed friendship with India, China had begun to supply nuclear weapon designs and know-how to Pakistan, simultaneously supplying nuclear capable M-11 missiles to Islamabad. With amazing consistency, soon after the former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao'svisit to Beijing in September 1993, China started supplying ring magnets for Pakistan'snuclear weapons programmed and the nuclear capable DF-9 missile. What short of friendship is this? That is one side of the picture.
The other side is all goodwill and bonhomie. Thus, on February 13, 2007 the Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing led a 110-member delegation to Nalanda for the inauguration of the renovated Hieun Tsang Memorial Hall. Speaking on the occasion, he said: ?Let us begin from this beautiful example? of strengthening age-old cultural ties. Then, the sixth meeting of the India-China Eminent Persons Group took place in Beijing in August 30, 2007, with the leader of the Indian delegation, C.V. Ranganathan declaring that the strong message that came from the talks was that ?while some problems between the two countries may persist, both sides attach great importance to ties with each other?. And Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was quoted as saying: ?India'sdevelopment in every aspect is in the interests of China and vice versa?. Sweet words. At the EPG meeting, China also sought full Market Economy Status (MES) from India. In that same vein, India'sForeign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, addressing the Seoul-based Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in the Korean capital on September 17, 2007 said that India does not ?visualise any constraints? on the development of bilateral relations between India and the US while insisting that India is confident that its ?strategic and cooperative partnership? with China ?will mature and steadily develop?.
It is difficult to understand what this cooperation could be when one realises that China has been building a road in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, leading right up to the Indian border, while simultaneously opening up one of the highest airports in the world in the Nyingti Prefecture which borders Arunachal Pradesh and Burma. Another airport close to the Aksai Chin region of Ladakh is also expected to be opened shortly. To what purpose were these airports being built? But then we have the picture of the red carpet being unrolled as Sonia Gandhi made a high-profile visit to Beijing in October 2007. The Chinese did everything to make Sonia Gandhi visit a memorable one and a major success but many suspect this was in the hope that India could thus be weaned away from the US Beijing has been alarmed at the joint naval exercises in which India joined Australia, the US and Japan. All this must be taken in the context of other developments like the increase in mutual trade from a paltry $ 5 billion in 2002 to $ 34.2 billion in 2007, even if India'strade deficit had widened to $ 9.02 billion when, as recently as 2005, India had a surplus of $ 843 million.
The year 2007 had been designated as the Year of Friendship through Tourism and some 67,600 Chinese came to India as visitors, not a big deal, considering that as many as 35 million Chinese had gone abroad as tourists. Another sign of cooperation has been the addition of fresh flight routes between Eastern India and southern China, taking the total number of weekly direct flights between the two countries to 22. Even more significantly, and in a major sign of thawing relation between them, a limited number of Indian and Chinese troops conducted in December 2007 the first ever Joint Exercise code-named hand in hand 2007 in a hilly terrain in the Yunnan province of China to learn skills to fight terrorism.
The irony of such an exercise is that many of the terrorists operating against India are those from Pakistan, a close ally of China! The troops from both sides apparently learnt a lot amidst cheering cries of hindi chini bhai bhai. What do all these things mean? It is hard to say. India has been beguiled in the past. It could happen again. It would be in India'sinterests to be on the alert. China could be as formidable an ally as it has been a formidable competitor. Much would depend on how India plays its cards. The point is not to take anything at face value. There is much to say about that old saying: Once bit, twice shy.