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Building new bridges

Building new bridges

Author: M.V. Kamath
Publication: The Free Press Journal
Date: June 15, 2000

President K. R. Narayanan has now returned after his week-long, visit to China and it is time to assess Sino-Indian relations in the context of this visit. Has it done any good to India? Have Sino-Indian relations improved significantly? Narayanan had talks with several Chinese leaders starting from President Jiang Zemin. We are told that President Jiang attended an extraordinary concert in he forbidden city with India's violin maestro L. Subramaniam performing with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra conducted by Li Xinaco and that this is a rare event. It is not often, so it is claimed, that Jiang puts in an appearance at a cultural performance along with a visiting Head of State. It is nice of Jiang to break his self-imposed rule and one can be sure that it has been appreciated. On his part President Narayanan seems to have gone overboard to curry Beijing's favour There was no need for him, for example, to tell the academicians of Peking University that "the appropriate code of conduct for a globalised world would be the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence jointly offered to the world by China and India and not overlordship by any one nation or group of nations". That was a dig at the United States and in bad taste. That is not going to get India anywhere. And one may like to remind Narayanan that the Code of Conduct - Panchseela - was broken by none other than China itself when it attacked India in the sixties though it may be argued that it was Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who provided the provocation. What did India gain from its President's state visit to China? Practically nothing. Let it he admitted that China did not raise the nuclear issue, but what good would that have served Beijing if it did? On the question of settling the border issue Jiang advocated patience. It won't hurt India to accept that advice, as long as the Line of Actual Control is quiet, which, from all evidence it is. Indian and Chinese forces facing each other are smiling at each other and not scowling. That is an improvement. India apparently wanted a sense of urgency in settling the border problem but that, probably, will have to wait. China obviously wants to keep the sword of Damocles hanging over India's head for a little longer. At the same time it is heartening to hear Jiang repeatedly highlighting the need for the two countries to take a long-term strategic perspective of their inter-relations and for President Narayanan to insist that cooperation with China has become a "historical necessity". Indeed it is. That goes without saying. Both countries have expressed themselves as against international terrorism but in a vague sense. It would have been more to the point for China to condemn Pakistan for its deliberate- use of terrorism in Kashmir, but in the case of Pakistan, China thinks it is "a good friend" whereas India is, "only a friend". China perhaps does not remember the days when India under Prime Minister Nehru strongly supported Beijing's claim to the U. N. Security Council seat at the risk of courting Washington's displeasure. Over the years India has remained a good friend of China even if Jiang is reluctant to admit it. Politics, after all, is politics. However it is somewhat sad, not to say intriguing, that China has not found it proper to openly support India's case for permanent membership of the Security Council. It merely shows where China draws the line in expounding friendship with India.

At this point it may not be a bad idea to take note of certain realities. Thus:

*Where it has not been possible to resolve an issue peacefully, as on the border issue, China has been willing to shelve it.

*Despite undoubted military superiority - including a nuclear advantage - China has not made any significant move against India in the last 37 years.

*No matter what India might say, China is not going to abandon Pakistan for the sake of friendship with India.

But the question is: are Sino-Pakistani relations invariably aimed against Indian interests? It is true that China has given nuclear and missile expertise to Pakistan which is clearly meant to keep the military balance in south Asia. To say the least, that is to be deeply regretted. It is claimed that on the issue of Kargil, China has remained neutral. Really? According to T. V Rajeswar, a former Governor of West Bengal and Sikkim, China did send out provocative patrols in the border areas to test the moral of Indian troops. But one can dismiss it as a minor matter or as super-sensitiveness on India's part to any Chinese troop movements.

It is relevant to note, in this regard, certain points made by C. V. Ranganathan and Vinod C. Khanna in their book India & China: The Way Ahead. According to them, the present situation is characterised by a complex of factors which China needs to take into account in maintaining an overall balance in the conduct of its relations with both India and Pakistan. They are:

*China would not like to see a of permanent hostility between India and Pakistan, worse still, armed conflicts, or situations where China is called upon to take sides.

*China does not want to internationalise the Kashmir dispute, because such a situation affects it and promotes, as it fears, western intervention, particularly American, on its periphery and

*China cannot but be alive to the variety of threats posed by religious fundamentlism, armed terrorism and spread of narcotics to the social and political fabric of its own sensitive border areas.

What Messers Ranganathan and Khanna insist is that what India needs is a self-confidence and not paranoia. And they add: "We need to break out of the historical pattern in which the Chinese and Indians have placed either their best hopes or their worst fears of each upon the very mixed realities of the other".

How shall we go about making the necessary changes in, our relations with China? One answer is that we must enter into trade relations with China on a massive scale. Bilateral trade between India and China during 1991-92 was -as low as $ 69.54 million. It is true that this has vastly improved to the point that in 1998-99 it was of the order of $ 1469.32 million but even that is chicken feed considering that both countries have a population each of over one billion. India has a middle class of some 400 million which is almost as large as the population of the United States and western Europe put together. In the circumstances for Sino-Indian trade the sky is the limit. And yet consider these facts: India's share in China's foreign trade is about 0.5 per cent and China's share in India's foreign trade, is around 2 per cent. But Sino-Indian trade seems to be on the pattern of a colonial and imperial country in the sense that what India exports to China are ores, mineral and marine products while Chinese exports to India are organic chemicals and electronic goods. Is India that backward that it can export only raw materials and import chemicals and manufactured goods? The point will be made that Chinese goods are very cheap. No doubt they are, considering that the average wages of a Chinese worker are 15 American cents a day or about Rs. 7 a day. Is it any wonder that Chinese goods are cheap? In any event, surely India can manufacture better electronic goods with some sensible investment? That is where India needs to further liberalise its economy so as to attract foreign capital. At this point China apparently is saturated with foreign capital. India must wake up to this fact and cash in on it. That is fair competition. But there are other areas of fruitful cooperation between China and India. It would seem that delegations from Yunnan (China's western most province close to Mynmar) have been knocking at the doors of India and the Indian business community to begin a new adventure in cooperation. According to The Hindu "even during the political chill that descended on Sino-Indian relations after Pokhran II, the provincial government of Kunming sought to keep up its contacts with India. Apparently Yunnan province is reaching out to countries in its neighbourhood to promote trade and cultural ties. Kunming is linked by air to Vientiane, Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Why shouldn't it be linked with Guwahati and Calcutta as well? President Narayanan has already commanded the idea of road and rail links with Kunming. The idea has to be exploited to mutual benefit.

Importantly what India needs is self-confidence. It is too great a country to be scared of China. There is no need to humour China or belittle the United States in order to get along. We need to keep the United States as a friend, but that is not a bar to befriending China at the same time. In a World and at a time when war is becoming increasingly an unacceptable option, India should know how to make friends and influence nations. Surely, it is not beyond its capabilities?

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