One more step forward India, China seeking a new relationship

One more step forward
India, China seeking a new relationship

Asia’s Big Two – India and China – have decided to build a new relationship of the kind the two neighbours ought to have in the 21st century. Guided more by mature judgement and statesmanship than emotions, Dr Manmohan Singh and the Chinese Prime Minister, Mr Wen Jiabao, have during their just-concluded talks chosen to resolve outstanding issues keeping in mind overall and strategic interests of the two countries.

Not that the sentimental Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai spirit permeated the atmosphere in the talks between the two Prime Ministers and their officials. Besides the obvious warmth, a dispassionate view of the emerging world has obviously led the two countries to think with greater clarity and understanding than ever before about their future relations. That China has accepted Sikkim as a part of the Republic of India was known for the last year and a half, but the presentation by the Chinese Prime Minister of a map showing Sikkim as a part of India certainly makes it official, removing at the same time any doubt that may have been lingering in the Indian mind.

What is of greater significance is the “Guiding Principles” and a set of parameters that the Special Representatives of the two countries have worked out to sort out the long-outstanding border dispute that pushed the two countries over four decades ago. The “Guiding Principles” and the parameters, read in fine print, are clearly aimed at seeking a political settlement of the boundary question keeping in mind the overall and long-term interests of the two nations. The statement containing the “Guiding Principles” has a lot to convey when it says:

“Both sides should, in the spirit of mutual respect and mutual understanding, make meaningful and mutually acceptable adjustments to their respective positions on the boundary question, so as to arrive at the package settlement to the boundary question. The boundary settlement must be final, covering all sectors of the India-China boundary.

“In reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas. The two Special Representatives would now work to set up a framework for a settlement.”

The two governments have clearly gone beyond the general proposition, laying down broad parameters for a political and overall settlement of the border question for all the three sectors. There is a clear hint of the two countries agreeing to work towards a give-and-take deal in which territorial concessions can be mutually exchanged by them in different sectors. How long it will take for the two countries to make adjustments in their respective positions and work out a package deal will depend on the labours of the two Special Representatives, Mr M.K. Narayanan and Mr Dai Bingguo, but the two Prime Ministers would certainly like that the attempt should be made to get the border dispute out of the way so that the new relationship they envisage can be built on surer foundations.

This is evident from the two countries’ resolve to step up their trade to $20 billion a year from the present $14 billion, to go in for greater cooperation in civil aviation and areas like energy and information technology.

The two countries seem to be getting on to the right track and, considering the international situation, are unlikely to change course. Not that there is identity of views on every issue. India, for instance, has serious reservations on China’s continuing military and nuclear assistance to Pakistan and the Delhi talks could not be expected to make Beijing walk out on Pakistan to please India. India also cannot be expected by Beijing to give up its own options in foreign policy for the sake of its decision to go on improving relations with China. Yet for Beijing and New Delhi to have decided to build bridges of friendship is a positive and hopeful development for both countries, as also for Asia. It throws up many possibilities, including that of a package deal on the border question, not in the near future, but over a period of time.