By B.S. Raghavan
The Global Times, published under the auspices of The People’s Daily of China, may not like being called the mouthpiece of the Government of the People’s Republic of China, but there can be no doubt that it is a trustworthy, if not authoritative, source of leads and clues to the thinking of the Chinese power structure. Since its launch in 2009, it has acquired a stature of its own as a reasonably professional and studious purveyor of news and commentaries on the trends of opinion and course of events in China in relation to the rest of the world.
It is pleased no end by the encomiums it has received (and proudly quotes) from The Economist and The Wall Street Journal. The former has praised it as a “remarkable innovation”, covering “realms once thought taboo”, while the latter has commended it for its “insightful stories”.
If The Global Times comes out with any clear-cut proposition bearing on India-China relations, it has to be taken in all seriousness. Its issue of Oct.24 carries an article on the subject which is not only unambiguous but also effusive. Considering that, in the past, it had been somewhat unenthusiastic and ambivalent in its writings on the issue, the tone and tenor of the piece can only be described as unprecedentedly conciliatory and even pressing.
It embodies a glowing tribute, suffused with uncharacteristic sentimentality, to the “profound culture and diplomatic wisdom” of both countries, going to the extent of recalling Rabindranath Tagore’s description of China as a”brother country”. It generously acknowledges China’s indebtedness to India’s “sages who brought the country’s ancient culture to China” and to Buddhism which “contributed greatly to China’s unification” and saved it from collapse. It also points out how “there was no conflict during their historical change that lasted thousands of years” and how the anniversary of the 1962 China-India conflict should become a starting point for an enduring relationship of cooperation and amity between the two countries.
And then comes the punch line: “The border issues, historical problems and trade frictions are only a small part of Sino-Indian relations…. Despite the unpleasant history and development gap between China and India…. they hold similar stances in issues such as the global order, economic development and climate change. The two should become inseparable strategic partners”.
It cannot be a mere coincidence that this is on the lines of a similar enunciation by China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1962 war, indicating China’s willingness to make joint efforts with India “to boost trust, enhance communication, expand cooperation and deepen the China-India strategic cooperative partnership for the benefit of both the countries and both peoples”.
I do not recall any occasion in the past decade or so when China had made such an ingratiating overture, so insistently offering to make amends for the past. When a government, directly or obliquely, makes such an earnest call, it usually carries a diplomatic significance: That it is ready with a policy signifying a departure from the status quo, provided the other party too would grasp the extended hand.
In this light, my strong plea to the External Affairs Minister is to ascertain from his Chinese counterpart whether these new statements from China , coinciding with the 50th anniversary of its attack on India, represent any new formula that it has forged to bury the hatchet and give a fillip to India-China relations in a new direction.
I know, however, there are many China watchers and specialists in India who cannot get over the humiliating trauma of 1962, and are against India putting its faith in the sincerity of any of the moves emanating from China. In fact, the conviction burnt into their psyche is that China is bent on directing its efforts towards weakening, sidelining and destablising India, and, hence, there can be no understanding with it on any account.
Even so, it is worthwhile for India at least to find out whether China has in mind any new approach vis-à-vis India. This does not necessarily mean India giving up on anything that it considers to be in its national interest. It only means dealing with China in a mature and self-confident manner, drawing on India’s own achievements, strengths and potentials.