Wen Coming Despite Oslo Rebuff by India

By Rajeev Sharma

The Indian elephant has finally triumphed in standing up to the Chinese dragon. China has finally decided to go ahead with its Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s India visit (December 15-17) despite India ignoring China’s request not to attend the award ceremony of Nobel Peace prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiabao in Oslo on December 10. The confirmation of Wen’s India visit came on December 12 by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu. By not capitulating to the Chinese wishes – as 18 other countries including Pakistan, Russia and Iran, did – and asking its envoy in Oslo to attend the December 10 award function, India has politely but strongly conveyed a point that it will chart out its independent foreign policy without succumbing to anyone’s bullying tactics.

China made the right noises days before Wen’s visit to India as Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue went on record saying in Beijing on December 13 that China had high expectations from this “significant event” that will boost bilateral relations. “China-India relations are significant. The leaders of both nations agree the world has sufficient space for the two emerging economies to grow,” he said.

Far from being livid with India and cancelling Wen’s India visit, China has struck a note of cordiality and bonhomie by assuring India that it will be pro-actively redressing Indian concerns about the massive trade deficit for India in the $ 60 billion India-China bilateral trade. The Indian trade deficit is pegged at $ 16 billion from the Chinese perspective, while Indian figures show the figure as $ 19 billion. Many countries don’t even have a GDP of $ 16 billion.

India looks upon the Chinese official assurances in this regard as “very positive”. However, the proof of the pudding is in eating. India is currently faced by many bug bears from China, but from Indian perspective Wen’s upcoming visit will be characterized a success or a failure mainly on two major Indian concerns. It will have to be seen if Wen announces categorical and unambiguous support to Indian candidature for United Nations Security Council’s permanent membership and what stand he takes on India’s persistent demand to immediately do away with its policy of issuing stapled visas to Indians domiciled in Jammu and Kashmir. India has reached a stage wherein fudging or procrastination by China will only be construed as an unfriendly act and India will be deriving its own conclusions.

When Wen holds delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on December 16 (he will also be meeting a host of top Indian leaders, including President Pratibha Patil and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi) this will be the eleventh time this year alone that the two leaders will be meeting face to face. This shows the intense level of highest-level India-China bilateral engagement. The fact that Wen is coming with over 400 top Chinese business leaders conveys that trade is one of the most important things on his agenda. With bilateral trade zooming to $ 60 billion in 2010, China has already emerged as India’s single largest trading partner. Besides, Wen will attend a number of functions marking the 60th anniversary of India-China diplomatic relations.

Manmohan Singh would be raising another very important issue that has been plaguing India-China bilateral relations: the Chinese refusal to allow the United Nations impose sanctions on Lashkar-e-Tayyeba chief Hafiz Saeed and his charity-terror front, Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD). The Chinese stance smacks of dangerously myopic policy followed by Beijing. This is not the first time that China has refused attempts made by India or the UN in putting restrictions on Pakistan-based terrorist groups and leaders. Earlier, China had blocked similar attempts to rein in Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).

This is a dangerous game played by Beijing without realizing its implications for the stability of the region as well as to its own sovereignty. By preventing the international community from imposing restrictions on terrorist groups based in Pakistan, China is sending a message to Pakistan that it will stand by its “all-weather“ ally in dire circumstances. This action on the part of China also is a reminder to India that it will not allow any positive move made by the latter in bringing peace and stability to Asia.

It will be Wen’s second visit to India as Chinese Premier. He last visited India in April 2005 when both sides decided to elevate their bilateral relations to the level of strategic and cooperative partnership. Apart from the fact that China has now become India’s largest trading partner – and the quantum is poised to go further north – China is India’s largest neighbor. The two countries share 4000 km-long border and 1600 years old civilizational links.

A large number of agreements in diverse fields are expected to be signed during Wen’s India trip and business deals worth over $ 20 billion are expected to be sewn up between the two sides. On the eve of his visit, India has officially dangled a lucrative carrot before the Chinese: that India will be investing one trillion dollars in its infrastructure sector during the 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) and India will “welcome” Chinese companies to play a bigger role, particularly in areas like highways, power sector and metros.

Straws in the wind suggest that Wen will be at his loquacious best in wooing India during his upcoming trip and would be putting his best forward. A country which did its damnedest best in torpedoing an India-specific waiver at the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008 can hardly be expected to bat for India at the UNSC, irrespective of an ambivalent stand by the Chinese so far. The nebulous attitude of the Chinese on the UNSC question is likely to continue, though Wen may try to make some right noises in this regard during his upcoming trip.

Whatever assurances that may flow from Wen’s mouth during this trip, India will do well in adopting the ‘trust but verify’ approach.

(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])

SAAG

SAAG

SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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