ACROSS THE HIMALAYAN GAP
BUILDING CONFIDENCE WITH CHINA
During these last twenty years of rapprochement Sino-lndian
trade has risen from mere $ 2.5 million in 1977 to $ 1.16 billion for 1999.
This expansion in trade has been possible because of persistent efforts on
the part of Indian and Chinese trading and business communities, especially
during these last ten years. In 1994 the two had signed protocols replacing
their differential tariffs by granting each other the most favoured nation (MFN)
trading status and since then their annual protocols continue to enumerate
expanding list of items for their bilateral trade. The two sides have also
occasionally been signing other trade related agreements. For example, on
July 18, 1994, during his third visit to New Delhi, Foreign Minister Qian
Qichen signed another trade agreement on “avoidance of double taxation”,
which is expected to create further favourable conditions “to encourage
business, scientific, cultural as well as personal exchanges in the
Though the Reserve Bank of India and the People’s Bank of China signed an
MoU for resumption of direct banking links allowing their banks to set up
representative offices in each others country in October 1994, there has
been no, reciprocal action except that the State Bank of India has opened
one branch in Beijing. As much of the trade is in
private hands, lack of infrastructural facilities like telecommunications,
shipping and banking channels as also the differences of language and
business culture have stood as important barrier.
Nevertheless, complementarities are gradually coming to the fore, pushing
them closer together. China, for example, has enormous need and is ambitious
to emerge as world’s largest producer of steel by year 2000 and will thus
increasingly require India to supply high grade iron ore, The first Sino-lndian
joint venture in this regard was already launched in Orissa (India) between
India’s Mideast Integrated Steels Limited and China’s Metallurgical
Import Export Corporation (CMIEC) in January 1993.
And here, their two agreements of November 1996 on (i) maritime shipping
that (a) provides MFN to each others’ sea-borne trade commodities and
ships and, (b) puts in place the double tax avoidance mechanism; and (ii)
agreement on combating smuggling of narcotics and arms and other economic
offenses on the Sio-lndian border will both go a long way in expanding the
Sine-Indian trade ties.
As regards exploring collaborations for future, India’s
growing expertise in computer software can strengthen China’s hands in
dealing with its Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) problems with the United
States. Other uncharted areas for future cooperation can include joint
development and manufacture of aircraft and systems (for civilian needs to
start with), ship-building and repairs, railway equipment etc.
China, for example, has already shown interest in participating in India’s
Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) proiect.
Similarly, there were also reports about China, India and South Korea
jointly working for developing a 100-seater civilian aircraft.
In fact, apart from these joint ventures, reviving other network like direct
flights between various Chinese and Indian cities and re-building the old
Burma Road (and ancient Silk Route) should now be reopened to serve the
larger and necessary purposes of trade and transit.
This will completely transform the entire communication and trade profile of
Sine-Indian ties. But in the long-run, it is their greater understanding as
also their cooperation in more basic fields like agriculture and population
control that will go a long way in helping them to fulfil their common
desire for peace and development.
As the preceding discussion shows so clearly a genuine
process of Sino-ndian CSBMs has not only picked up momentum of their own but
even reached a certain level of maturity where the two sides are even
willing to exchange sensitive information on their military manpower and
equipment, and to partake training with each other’s officers and men as
also to show them each other’s defence facilities and establishments. Yet,
at the same time, there are issues that have neither been ignored nor
completely resolved and they continue to be cause of concern and even
occasional friction between the two countries. But then considering the
magnitude and complexities of Sino-Indian relations it will also be perhaps
patently absurd to expect a perfect harmony between these two civilizational
states and pragmatism demands that the best they can do is to be aware of
both their strengths and difficulties and both should keep their eyes open
to these advantages as well as pitfalls as they start evolving their working
relationship in the future which will unfold its own challenges and
To first deal with the pitfalls, the boundary question
remains the most central and toughest of all issues and slow progress here
will continue to delay (if not block) the overall progress in Sino-Indian rapprochement.
The ramifications of this problem have to be understood in the context of
their historical and geographical realities. Firstly, until the modern
times, both China and India had never been in full knowledge or control of
these far flung territories. Secondly, the areas involved cove, over 90,000
square kilometres of land and this generally consists of thousands of miles
of deserts, snow capped mountains and dense tropical forests which means
that much of it has never been inhabited, making it difficult to examine
counter-claims by both sides in the absence of definite details, even local
histories or folklore. This also makes it extremely difficult to obtain
workable details of these world’s youngest and still growing mountain
range where both its size and terrain pose serious technical difficulties,
let alone evolving a political understanding which is further complicated by
their domestic sensitivities. Though lot has been done during the eighteen
rounds of Sine-Indian official border talks, with number of border related
CSBMs put in place, the border issue remains mired in various bilateral and
domestic compulsions and contradictions on both sides.
India, for example, has long been suggesting that steps be taken towards accurate assessment of existing force levels and a freeze should be effected on present troop strength with an expectation of subsequent reductions. Analysts, in fact, believe that during early 1990s, India has unilaterally withdrawn about 35,000 troops from its eastern sector. On the other hand, the PLA maintains a force between 180,000 and 300,000 soldiers and has directly ruled Tibet from 1950 to 1976, and indirectly thereafter. Besides, unlike in the 1950s, Tibet today is connected to other military regions through four-lane highways and strategic roads and Beijing’s capability to airlift troops from its other neighbouring military regions has advanced very far from its comparative inability to use air force in 1962. The Gordian knot, therefore, can be cut only at the political level, and for that the Indian side should be clear in its own mind as to what that bottom line is that will be acceptable to the Parliament and the people. China has continued to argue that their troops levels in Tibet are not relevant to the subject of Sino-Indian CSBMs though they have assured India about their commitment to downsizing their military presence in Tibet. Surely then, in the western sector India has not been able to realistically envisage any troop reduction. But here again, the November 1996 agreement on CSBMs, for the first time, underlines these Indian concerns and under its Article Ill all future troop ceilings are to be decided “in conformity with the principle of mutual and equal security” keeping in mind “parameters such as the nature of terrain, road communications and other infrastructure and time taken to induct/deinduct troops and annaments And having already initiated disengagement in the eastern sector, this agreement should also open opportunities for troop withdrawals in the sensitive western sector.
As regards China, apart from their reservations on troop
withdrawals from inside Tibet, its Indian connection continues to haunt
their imaginations. This is despite the fact that successive governments in
New Delhi have made repeated policy statements and given assurances saying
that India regards Tibet as an integral part of China and that India will
never allow its territory to be used for anti-China activities by its
100,000 Tibetans. However, during the 1990s, due to the increasing focus on
human rights in the policies of most Western powers, His Highness the Dalai
Lama has received expanding support and publicity for his cause through his
increasingly frequent foreign trips and speeches, making China weary of
Tibet’s expanding international recognition. Besides, even within India,
apart from the Tibetans themselves, there does exit a small force of
pro-Tibet activists ranging from those seeking Tibet’s independence to
those who exhort Indian leaders to play the Tibet card in their dealings
And here, being a democratic country, governments in New Delhi have not been
able to play too harsh against these variety of opinions and activities.
Then, apart from their bilateral ties, China’s arms
transfers to Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal have
occasionally raised all kinds of doubts in India apprehending encirclement.
China’s alleged supplies of nuclear designs, components, materials and
other knowhow and facilities to Pakistan has been the most sensitive
sour-point of Sino-Indian ties.
A few years ago, apart from persistent reports on China’s supplies of M-l
1 nuclear capable missiles, media reports tracing to American intelligence
agencies and high-ranking officials confirming China’s supply to Pakistan
of 5,000 ring magnets, and a furnace plant
for uranium enrichment to weapons grade. China has
reportedly been involved in building a missile factory near Islamabad.
Besides, China has been the largest and also the most reliable supplier of
conventional weapons to Pakistan; has defence collaborations in almost all
major areas, and apart from its alleged clandestine cooperation in building
nuclear arsenals, China remains
the most ardent supplier and builder of Pakistan’s civilian nuclear
But given the fact that Sino-Indian rapprochement has resulted in (a)
India’s becoming the largest trading partner in South Asia and, (b)a
marked shift in China’s policy on Kashmir, thus giving hope that all these
and other irritants of Sino-lndian ties will also be resolved in due course
Then talking about the strengths of the Sino-lndian ties
it is this process of evolving CSBMs that forms the solid base. Moreover,
the Panchsheel principles -- of
mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual
non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs,
equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence -- which were
propounded by these two countries in mid-1950s have not only stood the test
of time but emerged as major positive element in strengthening their ties.
Far from becoming outdated in the post-Cold War context, the essential
correctness of these principles has become increasingly visible. In fact, in
December 1988, it was formally proposed by Deng Xiaoping to Rajiv Gandhi,
that the two countries
have a great potential for cooperation in working together “to recommend to the international community to take the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence as the norm for international relations." Accordingly, the two countries have already evolved fairly substantial common approach towards various issues like restructuring of the United Nations and other international bodies. Though China remains uncommitted in supporting India’s candidature for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, a favourable sign has been noticed in this regard during the early 1990s. During their October 1995 meeting at the UN 50th anniversary celebrations at New York, for example, Jiang Zemin expressed his understanding of India’s aspirations to become a permanent member of the expanded Security Council and said that in this regard “views of the general membership must be listened to in order to achieve a reasonable solution.“ This ensures that China is certainly not the one that will oppose to India’s candidature for the UN Security Council’s permanent seat.
India has also been supporting China’s entry to the
World Trade Organisation (WTO) and China supports India’s membership in
the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Besides, with their
increasing interest in the Asia-Pacific region, the ASEAN Regional
[Security] Forum (ARF) is another platform which has witnessed both China
and India working together to deter western members from becoming the
masters of the Asian destiny. In fact, ARF’s Inter-sessional Support Group
on CBMs has already laid out a long list of CSBMs for its members which will
further consolidate the Sino-Indian mppmchement.
This is also expected to resolve some of Indian apprehensions about
China’s military modernisation especially in areas like China’s defence
expenditures which, as yet remain complete mystery for Indian scholars.
Then there are other issues like trade and human rights which have lately
become the latest instrument in north-south confrontation. But here, the two
may not have had identical views on human rights yet lately both have agreed
that for the developing countries the most fundamental human rights is the
right to subststence and right for development. The two are particularly
opposed to the increasing practice on the part of the developed nations
linking economic aid with human rights as an instrument for bringing
pressure to bear on certain developing Countries. In fact, Sino-Indian
cooperation in international forums has often frustrated vested interests
amongst the western powers who seek to use similar linkage between nuclear
proliferation, human rights and trade to pressurise developing countries
like China and India.
That since 1986 Sino-Indian border has not suffered any
major disruptions as compared to the incessant firing incidents and
infiltration on the Indo-Pak borders, makes the Sino-Indian border almost an
ideal example of good neighbourly relations. Sometimes commentators negate
the process of CSBMs citing that this has not yet resulted in resolving the
Sino-India boundary question. But keeping in mind the magnitude of
complexities involved this gradual evaluation of CSBMs has not only
preserved peace between these two Asian giants but also generated great deal
of mutual trust and understanding giving hope to the prospects of final
resolution of the border problem. This optimism rests not on euphoria, but
on the solid base of growing shared interests and understanding between the
two countries. There is a tendency to contrast the slow pace of Sino-Indian
CSBMs with China’s fast recoveries of CSBMs with her newly acquired
friends like Vietnam and Russia. Here, once again, one must appreciate that
compared to, Sino-Indian interactions, China’s links with these two
countries have been far more deep-rooted and extensive, and this is further
reinforced by their ideological, institutional and cultural similarities. By
comparison, friendly relations with India during the 1950 were essentially
superficial, and its experience of 1962 devastating. It is in this context
that CSBMs have played the critical role preparing both sides to find ways
and means of working together. Global changes have also played their roles
in further facilitating this process. And as a result, in the 1990s as both
China and India envision their future role in this new expanded strategic
spectrum of the 21st century Asia, their CSBMs become an absolute imperative
towards achieving their common goals of peace and development. And looking
at their track record of last 20-25 years, this gradual evolution of
Sino-India CSBMs not only proves ‘that they both quite appreciate this new
piecemeal approach to their complicated ground realities but this also gives
hope of both these countries gradually coming closer and emerging as friends
(may be partners) for the forthcoming Asian century of the next millennium.
Recent decision by New Delhi to weaponise its nuclear
option has once again kicked-off debates about the future of Sino-Indian
CSBMs. According to most commentators the decision to conduct five nuclear
tests in May 1998, and more so India’s attemtps at highlighting
“China” as being the most important factor behind New Delhi’s a
difficult choice, have definitely administered a severe blow to the spirit
of Sine-India rapprochement that has been so assiduously built up during the
last two decades or so. I for one who have followed this debate quite
seriously, feel that this debate has been purely academic with little
substantial bearing on the ground reality.
I feel that apart from some momentary exchange of harsh
words on the pan of government spokesmen of both countries, and some
not-too-pleasant articles appearing in the media, nothing has altered the
two governments’ commitment to CSBMs. The China-India Joint Working Group
on the Boundary Question met as was scheduled for June, and the Military
Commanders meeting at the border though delayed for a few days, did take
place early June 1998. Similarly, bilateral trade and commerce have been
going on normally, and other business and cultural interactions have
continued without manifest interruptions. Of course, there is no denying the
fact that the deep-seated misunderstanding between the two countries has now
brought into sharper focus affecting the atmosphere of mutual goodwill, and
it will take a while to recover the pre-Pokhran cordiality There was an
element of abruptness in New Delhi’s reversal of her own longest-ever
self-imposed moratorium’on nuclear testing that enough time was not given
to the Indian diplomats to put Indian governments position across the board
without causing misgivings from Beijing.
In fact, the Chinese side did display its calm by keeping
quiet for nearly 24 hours following India’s announcement of the first two
explosions May 11. But in the wake of India’s second series of three more
explosion on May 13, followed by the leakage of Prime Minister Atal Behari
Vajpayee's letter to President Bill Clinton which described China’s
nuclear arsenals as also their proliferation to India’s western neighbour
as the main reason for India going nuclear, Beijing unleashed its trade and
described India as trying to emerged as a “hegemone” in South Asia. This
display of displeasure in issuing harsh official statements was then
followed by China’s taking an active part in the passage of resolution
1172 by the UN Security Council and later in chairing another meeting of the
P-5 Foreign Ministers in London on June 4. Then, there was the bilateral
Joint Statements on South Asia by President Jiang Zemin and President Bill
Clinton on June 27, and later when President Jiang Zemin visited Kazakhstan
to attend the third presidential summit of five nations (China, Russia,
Kazakhstan, Krygystan and Tajikistan) a similar Joint Statement expressing
concern on South Asia implicitly putting the blame on India.
Appendix: Four Chronological Tables
Table 1: Pathbreaklng Interatlons, 1976-1996
2: Sine-Indian Border Talks, 1981-1967
Table 3: Joint Working Group
on Boundary Question, 1989-1996
4: Bold Initiatives, 1976-1996
Finance Minister sign agreement”. Xinhua (in English) plinked in
FBIS-CHI-94-137, 16 July 1994, p. 9.
Visa Agreements signed”, All India Radio (New Delhi), printed in
FBIS-CHC94-205. 24 October 1994, p. 22.
interesting to note that over 70 to 75 per cent of foreign investment in
China come from the overseas Chinese who have been generally successful
in business in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and much of the Southeast Asia and
North America. For reasons of their emotional attachment with the
mainland and for being so familiar with the ways and systems of this
expanding Chinese market most overseas Chinese prefer to invest in
estimates Joint Venture in India”, Xinhua (in English), printed in
FBIS-CHI-93-013, 22 January 1993, p, 15.
Singh, “Future of Sine-Indian Relations”, Strategic Analysis, Volxvi
No.11 (February 1994) p. 1512.
Raghuvanshi, ‘China asks to Develop LCA fighter with India”, Defence
News, 15-21 August, 1994.
China and South Korea will form consortium: Plan to build passenger
planes”, The Times of India (New Delhi), 26 August 1995.
Ruixiang and Dong Manyuan, ‘Developing friendly Sino-Indian relations
on the rive Principles of Peaceful Coexistence”,
Banerjee, “India-China relations and Chinese military capability’,
Trishul. VoLlll No.1 (July 1990), p. 66.
Dutt, ‘India and China: A leap into the future”, World Focus (New
Delhi), Nos. 167.166 (November-December 1993) p. 51.
Sawhney, “Massive Troop Pullout from China Border’, The Indian
Express (New Delhi), 24 December 1992; also Pravin Sawhney, “Chinese
Checker: Beijing calls the shots on the border dispute”, The Asian Age
[New Delhi), 31 August, 1995.
Banerjee, "India-China Relations and Chinese Military
Capabilities", Trishul, Vol. iii No. 1 (July 1990), p.69.
Venketeswaran, “Indian-China Relations: An overview”, World Focus
(New Delhi), Nos. 1793160 (November-December 1994) p. 51.
Vera, India-China Relations: Importance of the Tibet Card”, The Times
of India (New Delhi), 5 April, 1996
Subrahmanyam, “Sine-Pak Nuclear Deal: New Light on an Old Alliance”,
The Times of India (New Delhi), 30 August, 1995; also K. Subrahmanyam,
“Jiang Zemin Comes Calling: Talking Turkey to the Dragon”, The Times
of India (New Delhi), 21 November 1996.
Gannon, “Sine-Pakistan nuclear ties to continue: Jiang”, The Times
of India (New Delhi), 2 December, 1996; also Kathy Gannon, “China to
build new N-Plant in Pakistan”, The Times of India (New Delhi), 6
Ruixiang. “Sine-Indian Relations Under a New Situation”, Guoji Wenti
Yanjiu (Beijing) No. 4 (October 1993), pp. 4-7. (Translated
version in FEIS-CHI-93-219, 16 November 1993, p. 12: also Wen Boyen,
“China, India and the New International Order”,
China Report. Vol. 29 No. 3 (July-September 1993), p. 294.
23 October 1995, p, 17.
Pura, “ASEAN’s courtship of Burma makes key allies nervous”, Asian
Wall Street Journal. 19-20 July, 1393; and Barry Wain, “The ASEAN
Regional Forum is moving forward”, Asian Wall Street Journal, 19-20,
details see Jasjit Singh & Swaran Singh. Trends in Military
Expenditures”, in Jasjit Singh (ed.), Asian Strategic Review 1997-98,
(New Delhi: institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, September
1997), pp. 42-48.
©1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without written permission of the publisher.
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