A season to repair relations

The Hindu


Nirupama Rao, a former ambassador to China, makes a case for Indo-China dialogue to promote connectivity, communication & betterment of bilateral relations b/w the two countries


Article takes the backdrop of recent suggestions made by Chinese ambassador for improvement of bilateral ties between China and India

 Issues that concern India vis-à-vis China

  • China’s blocking of India’s entry to NSG
  • Vetoing India’s efforts to get Masood Azhar listed under UNSC’s 1267 Committee
  • Deployment of Chinese military and engineering assets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK)
  • The development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)

Suggestions made by ambassador

Chinese ambassador suggested a

  • Friendship and cooperation treaty
  • A free trade agreement (FTA) to boost bilateral relations
  • Joining of hands on China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative
  • Resolution of Boundary disputes: Ambassador expressed that time is ripe for both countries to reap some ‘early harvest’ outcomes from unresolved boundary issues
  • Early harvest: A term, in trade negotiations, for agreeing to accept and implement the results of a portion of the negotiations before the rest of the negotiations are completed
  • In here, it indicates that both India & China need to build upon existing points of agreement while working to resolve the issue fully

 Significance: A policy shift within Chinese establishment vis-à-vis India!

That the Ambassador chose to make these remarks at the newly-established Ji Xianlin Centre for India-China Studies at the University of Mumbai campus could mean that

  • There is an effort within Chinese establishment to review relations with neighbors like India

Who was Ji Xanlin?

Ji Xianlin was one of China’s foremost modern Indologists and a protagonist of friendship and civilizational understanding between India and China

 Why, such a shift might be taking place within Chinese establishment?

Author states that the recent suggestions by Chinese ambassador might indicate a shift in China’s policy towards India because of strategic uncertainties generated by the advent of Donald Trump’s administration in the U.S. and his open negativity towards China. Moreover, Mr Trump’s following actions have spurred concern in Beijing,

  • His phone call with the Taiwanese President, Tsai Ing-wen, before he took office (It should be noted that as per People Republic of China’s (PRC) One China policy, Taiwan (or Republic Of China (ROC)) is its inalienable part while ROC considers itself a fully sovereign country)
  • His proclaimed intention to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese goods
  • The new U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson’s thinly disguised threats against China’s building of artificial islands in the disputed areas in the South China Sea

Dissecting the suggestions: –

 Treaty of friendship & Cooperation

Author states that the suggestion of a friendship & cooperation treaty made by Chinese ambassador recalls the 1954 “Panchsheel” Agreement which outlined the 5 principles of peaceful co-existence & were broken with impunity by China in 1962

  • Previous agreements: The 1993 and 1996 agreements on peace and tranquility and confidence-building in the India-China border areas reiterated the five principles and also spoke of the non-use of force and the concept of mutual and equal security
  • Mere symbolism: Given the difference in size & strength of both the nations, a treaty here would be only a symbolic gesture rather than having any transformative value

Free Trade Agreement

Author terms the suggestion of an FTA to be forward-looking idea

  • Growth in Indo-China trade: Trade between India and China has grown to an annual volume of $70 billion (2015-16)
  • India wants Chinese investment:India has made a strong pitch for Chinese investments under Make in India in infrastructure development, solar energy and smart cities
  • Only a comprehensive FTA will help India: An FTA that is goods-centred will obviously not benefit India given the huge trade in goods imbalance that favours China. An FTA that is comprehensive, covering goods and services, cross-border investment, R&D, standards and dispute resolution would be worth exploring.

Connectivity: Joining OBOR
India’s reservations against OBOR are mainly due to the following reason,

  • Chinese ambassador has suggested resolving boundary issues and joining of OBOR by India but it should be noted that China conveniently undermined Indian apprehensions and sensitivities over CPEC despite recognizing the disputed nature of the area under 1963 China-Pakistan Boundary Agreement
  • Reviving connectivity b/w India & Tibet: Author states that India can consider reviving connectivity between Tibet and India, especially through the Sikkim sector into Bengal. The old route between Lhasa and Kolkata via Nathu La was the most easily traversed route — and may still be, despite the road networks constructed by the Chinese in Tibet — between Tibet and mainland China, via land and sea, up until the mid-20th century. This is a road that provided for the transport of goods and services between Tibet and the outside world through India

  • Opening ties b/w India & Xinjiang region: An opening of ties between India and the Xinjiang region of China is also worth examining. Providing for air connectivity between Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, and New Delhi as one of the OBOR linkages, for instance, would help the promotion of people-to-people ties and trade and commercial contact and could also help open a new chapter in counter-terrorism cooperation between India and China
    • Common challenges:Kashmir and Xinjiang, both contiguous neighbors, have similar challenges posed by terrorism and separatist movements

Way forward

Author states that the longstanding peace b/w two countries should be preserved and the suggestions made by Chinese ambassador, howsoever, modest they may be, are worth a consideration

  • Competitive coexistence with a clear listing out of differences b/w two nations and how to manage them, the promotion of business and people-centered connectivity, and mutual confidence-building present a way forward
  • The border problem will take time to resolve owing to its complexity

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