By Arvind Gupta
What are the issues that India should take up with the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao when he visits India from 15 November 2010?
In general, China’s rapid rise is creating anxieties all over the world. Chinese commentators have shed their coyness about China’s rise and are no longer insisting that this will be peaceful. Chinese policies have become more assertive. This flows from the Chinese assessment that US power is in decline and that this will lead to new power equations and balances in the world. The global financial crisis, which China handled well, has infused new confidence in the Chinese behaviour. Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea has led to anxieties among its neighbours.
Wen Jiabao’s visit to India takes place at a difficult time in Sino-Indian relations. While bilateral relations have grown in recent years, there have been apprehensions in India about the direction of the relationship. Questions have been raised about China’s intentions.
Indian apprehensions are many. Chinese incursions across the Line of Actual Control have increased. The Chinese attitude towards Jammu and Kashmir has also changed. China regards Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory. But that has not stopped it from enhancing its activities in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir where there have been reports of a Chinese troop presence. China has also been helping Pakistan upgrade the Karakoram highway passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. To India’s great discomfort, the Chinese have begun the practice of issuing stapled visas to the residents of Jammu and Kashmir and have even denied issuing a visa to a serving general of the Indian armed forces.
The border talks between India and China, although continuing, have not made much progress. On the contrary, the Chinese have hardened their position on Arunanchal Pradesh. They have objected to the visit of the Indian prime minister to the state. They have refused to issue visas to the residentS of Arunanchal Pradesh and they have openly declared the state to be a part of ‘Southern Tibet’.
Chinese military modernisation is gathering momentum. China’s defence budget is rising at a double-digit rate every year. China’s Navy is developing global power projection capabilities. The PLA and the PLAAF are being rapidly modernised. China has conducted anti-satellite and anti-ballistic missile tests. The Chinese have rapidly built a huge military infrastructure in Tibet. There have been reports of Chinese deployment of medium range missiles there. They have stepped up attacks against the Dalai Lama.
New issues are also emerging in Sino-Indian relations. The Chinese have started constructing a dam on the river Yarlung Tsangpo, which flows into India as the Brahmaputra. There has been little consultation between India and China on the construction of the upstream dam. There are fears of China diverting water from the river. This will cause hardship to downstream countries like India and Bangladesh.
India has also been concerned about China’s growing footprint in South Asia. China is constructing ports in Pakistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. It is building railway lines which will be extended up to the China-Nepal border. It has plans to build a railway line in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. China has helped Pakistan develop its nuclear and missile potential. It is supplying modern fighter aircraft to Pakistan. China’s all-weather friendship with Pakistan, which it describes as ‘higher than any mountain and deeper than any sea’, has serious security implications for India. Recently, China has decided to construct nuclear reactors in Pakistan ignoring NSG guidelines.
China’s prime concern with India is about the Dalai Lama. It refuses to believe that India does not allow the Dalai Lama to conduct political activities from Indian soil and that his status here is that of a spiritual and religious leader and that of a refugee. The Chinese media routinely criticises India for inducting troops into North East and for placing undue restrictions on Chinese companies. The Chinese are also suspicions about the growing partnership between India and the United States. They fear that the two will join hands to contain China.
Wen Jiabao’s visit takes place against the backdrop of growing mutual apprehensions. The task before the two leaders is cut out: they should address these mutual apprehensions and chalk out a path for mutual cooperation to strengthen stability and peace in the region. Both counties need stability to grow further.
Cooperation and competition are inherent in Sino-Indian relations. But the two countries should avoid becoming rivals and getting sucked into an unproductive cycle of reaction and counter-reaction.
To the credit of the two leaders, they have endorsed the formulation that there is enough room for both India and China to grow without confronting with each other, though cooperation and competition are not ruled out. However, there is a need for both countries to take demonstrable measures to translate this vision into action.
The visit should be devoted to enhance mutual trust and confidence but this should not be done by brushing longstanding problems under the carpet. Both sides must display maturity and confidence in discussing the difficult issues in a constructive spirit. India must clarify its major concerns to China on the China-Pakistan nexus, on Arunanchal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and China’s military modernisation. Urgent steps should be taken to redress the adverse trade balance which is highly destabilising for the Indian economy.
India for its part must listen to China’s concerns and clarify its positions, particularly on the Dalai Lama.
China should be asked to clarify its position on the “settled populations” principle agreed to by the two sides in 2005. This will be critical for the boundary settlement.
To build mutual trust and confidence, China and India could agree to qualitatively enhance defence cooperation. Joint exercises and training could be stepped up. A military-political dialogue could be established.
The Special Representatives of the two countries have been meeting regularly. The political engagement should be broadened and institutionalised. Annual summits at the highest political level could be instituted. An annual strategic dialogue at the level of foreign misters should be set up. Economic dialogue at the level of finance and commerce misters could also be instituted.
The two countries have been cooperating and consulting on global issues like climate change. They have also been cooperating in the G20, as well as in the Russia-India-China, Brazil-Russia-India-China, and EAS formats. But their cooperation at the bilateral level has not been able to build mutual trust to the desired level. During Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit this issue should be addressed.
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/AddressSensitiveIssuesandBuildMutualTrustduringPremierWensIndiaVisit_agupta_131210