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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

India and China: agreeing to disagree

July 30, 2010

By Rupakjyoti Borah
Online Opinion (Australia)
July 29, 2010

Various observers around the world have touted
the 21st century to be an Asian century, but the
most important requirement for that to happen is
peace and tranquility between the two Asian
giants, India and China. The ties between the two
neighbours have seen their highs and lows. China
and India are two ancient civilisations which
have coexisted in peace for millennia. The
Buddhist religion and Indian cultural influence
spread to China from India while many Chinese
scholars studied at ancient Indian universities like Nalanda and Taxila.

However, in the post-colonial period, relations
between the two countries have been dominated by
conflict, mistrust, suspicion and containment.

After India’s independence in 1947, its foreign
policy was based on non-alignment and
non-interference in the internal affairs of other
countries. India’s first Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru believed in friendship between
India and China, based on his vision of a
"resurgent Asia", which he thought would be a
bulwark against Western imperialism. But India
and Nehru received a rude shock in 1962 when
Chinese forces attacked India. It was followed by
armed skirmishes between the two countries in
1967 and 1987. Several rounds of talks have been
held to resolve the disputed boundary question,
though the achievements from these are not worth mentioning.

It was the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv
Gandhi's visit to China in December 1988 that
broke the ice in the frozen relations between the
two countries. Incidentally, this was the first
visit by an Indian Prime Minister to China since
Jawaharlal Nehru's visit way back in 1954. The
visit ended on a positive note with the two
countries agreeing to continue working to achieve
a "fair and reasonable settlement while seeking a
mutually acceptable solution" to the border dispute.

Agreements for maintaining peace and tranquility
along the disputed border were signed in 1993 and
1996 while an agreement on the guiding principles
for settlement was inked in 2005. However, even
after this, there have been repeated incursions
into the Indian side of the border by the
People’s Liberation Army (PLA) which have caused
a big question mark to be placed over the ties.
The unfortunate consequence of this has been that
the 2,520-mile frontier between India and China
is the only one of China’s land borders that has
neither been defined nor demarcated.

Problem areas

India’s nuclear tests of 1998 dealt a further
blow to the relations especially after George
Fernandes, the then Indian Defence Minister,
publicly referred to China as India’s “enemy number one."

India has also been wary of Chinese attempts to
encircle India through alliances with countries
like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Indian officials in the past have voiced their
concerns that China is trying to choke it by
adopting a so-called "string of pearls" strategy,
which includes development of ports in Myanmar,
Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the construction of a
road from China into central Nepal and the
extension of China's Qinghai-Tibet rail link to
the border with Nepal. India has also conveyed
its displeasure to China over the issue of
stapled visas to residents of the Indian state of
Jammu and Kashmir and has objected to China's
construction of a $2 billion power plant in Pakistani-held Kashmir.

In November 2009, China raised a big hue and cry
over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang in
Arunachal Pradesh. The Indian province of
Arunachal Pradesh has been in the news with
Chinese claims for more than 90,000 square
kilometres of Indian territory. China questions
the 1914 McMahon line which serves as the border
between the two countries and argues that the
area now known as Arunachal Pradesh historically
belonged to Tibet and since the Tawang Monastery
in Arunachal Pradesh had a tributary relationship
with the Dalai Lama, China can claim the whole province of Arunachal Pradesh.

Forging co-operation

Even so, what is worth noting is that the
tensions over some areas have not precluded the
two countries from co-operating in others.
Economic relations between the two countries have
been on an upswing. While most of the major
economic powerhouses of the world have been
affected by recession, China and India have
successfully bucked the trend and are the two
fastest growing economies in the world. While
China is generally referred to as the “world’s
factory”, India is known as the “world’s office”-
an indication of their respective strengths in
manufacturing and services. The combined
population of India and China is nearly 2.6
billion, which is nearly 40 per cent of the world’s total population.

The increasing co-operation between the two
neighbours was in view in the Danish capital,
Copenhagen, during the December 2009 Climate
Change summit, which has been dubbed as the
"Copenhagen spirit." During the visit of the
Indian President Pratibha Patil to China in May
2010, she and the Chinese President Hu Jintao
agreed that the Asian giants were ready to
consider co-operation at international groupings
and venues, like G-20, Doha and BRIC (Brazil,
Russia, India and China). The increasingly closer
interaction between the two countries was also
reflected in the decision to set up a Beijing-New
Delhi hotline and the camaraderie witnessed
during the last BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India,
China) summit meeting in Brasilia in April 2010.

India and China also share an interest in
fighting Islamist terrorism in Central Asia,
Afghanistan and Pakistan. Though China has close
ties with Pakistan, it also has worries over the
links of separatists in its restive Xinjiang
province with Pakistan-based Islamist militants.
China is also wary of the American presence in
Afghanistan, though it knows that the Taliban are
as much a threat to the Chinese as the Americans.

India’s trade with China is growing by leaps and
bounds. Bilateral trade between India and China
has increased from $3 billion in 2000 to $51
billion in 2009. China is currently India’s
largest trading partner with trade volumes
expected to reach $60 billion this year. Several
joint ventures have been concluded between India
and China and many more are in the pipeline in
the field of power generation, consumer goods,
steel, chemicals, minerals, mining, transport, IT and telecommunication.

In the field of defence too, India and China have
witnessed collaboration. The third Annual Defence
Dialogue between the two countries was held in
Beijing on January 6, 2010. Besides this, joint
military exercises on counter- terrorism were
held in Belgaum in India in December 2008. India
and China are also co-operating in many other
areas like finance, agriculture, water resources,
environment and tourism. An India-China
Partnership in Science and Technology has been
established to boost co-operation in science and technology.

Lord Palmerston, former British Prime Minister
had said "there are no permanent friends or
enemies in international relations, only
permanent interests”. This has been true of
India-China relations too, particularly in the
recent years; but, it will take a lot from both
the two sides to take the bilateral relationship
forward. The increasing attention being paid to
each other is reflected in the growing number of
ministerial visits, bilateral agreements and
co-operation in diverse fields. Both the
countries have agreed to disagree on certain
issues, but have decided to move on with their ties.

India has what can be described as a "zhengyou"
relationship with China rather than a "pengyou"
relationship. A “pengyou” means a superficial
friend while a “zhengyou” is a real friend who
admits to problems in the friendship, but at the
same time works hard to overcome them.
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