ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, December 3, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 27

Indo-China bond that transcends border row
By Kuldip Nayar
It may be the best of times to sort out our border problem with China. It may also be the worst of times for doing so. The reason why I think that it is the best of times is Chinese President Hu Jintao's plea at New Delhi that it was something "basic" to settle borders for "peace and stability" in the region.

He is justified in saying this because both countries fought a war in 1962 over the border dispute. They have improved relations since then because they have kept aside the border dispute to resume trade and contact. But it cannot go on like this. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said, both countries can build upon the settlement. We will have to move towards that soon.

I believe that China has a vested interest in the economic progress it is making. It wants peace. The manner in which Hu talked about the development of Asia on the whole and in particular the region indicates that China is no longer in favour of any confrontation. There was a time when stability in the world did not fit into its scheme of things built on "self-reliant detachment or confrontation."

Then the Chinese leaders also did not approve of the Communist Soviet Union because it was "a partner in the conspiracy of stability in the world." The Soviet Union is history. China also realises that its image of "confrontation" did not change the plight of its people.
A new China has been born in the last two or three decades. It has employed all the capitalist ways to grow by implementing Deng Xiaoping's maxim: It does not matter whether a cat is black or white so long as it kills rats. Why I think that it is the worst of times is that the India-US nuclear deal is suspect in the eyes of China. It believes that India has a tilt towards Washington which is also wooing New Delhi. President Bush has said at Singapore that he is trying to bring India "into the inner circle of the US friends and allies."

New Delhi is not yet a member of the APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation). Not that America's friendship is crucial to us, but our equation with it will help us get a better offer on the border from China. On the other hand, Washington may become suspicious of our efforts in making up with Beijing. It suits us to keep America guessing whether we would ever be a counterforce to check China. But Beijing's suspicion does not suit us at this time. By passing a resolution in parliament on the border question, we would have failed in sensing the friendly mood at Beijing. We would have repeated the earlier mistake. A resolution by parliament in 1962 left the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with no option except to adopt a hard line. Nehru was in favour of leasing out perpetually the Aksai Chin which was the only link between Sinkiang and Tibet. This was the only demand of Beijing. The resolution made Nehru intractable.

Some forces are at it again. The pitch raised on the border issue is being heightened relentlessly. The same atmosphere was built in the late fifties and the early sixties. Then the Congress party was in the forefront. The result was the war. This time the BJP leads the attack. The party's attitude is much more dangerous because it tends to whip up passions to a point where a compromise becomes difficult. On the other hand, China appears to seek a solution to which India is a willing partner.

This was clear even before the Chinese President arrived in India. When Beijing's envoy in New Delhi said almost on the eve of Hu's visit that Arunachal is part of their country, China officially reacted differently to make it clear that the boundary dispute would be settled through compromise.

What Beijing wanted to convey was that despite its stand on Arunachal it was ready for an agreement on the give-and-take basis. Hu confirmed this when he said repeatedly in his statements and talks that the settlement of boundary issues would bind the two countries together.

Goodwill is what needs to be generated in our relations with China. While Beijing seems to have sorted out its doubts to a large extent, New Delhi is yet to formulate its policy. By stating that Arunachal is an integral part of India, we are enunciating our stance on boundary in that part. This cannot be a policy. The controversy over the Aksai Chin says it all.

The area is under China's occupation, although it is part of our territory. In the fifties and the early sixties China made many overtures to let India know that Aksai Chin was essential for it. Beijing was willing to accommodate New Delhi elsewhere. What the Polish ambassador spelled out to me (I was then Home Minister G.B Pant's press officer) was swap of sorts. China would recognise the McMahon Line, enunciating most of Arunachal as part of the Indian territories provided New Delhi accepted Chinese suzerainty over the Aksai Chin.

Forty-five years ago when this happened, followed by a war, both China and India were struggling countries -- highly nationalist and suspicious. Today, they are emerging economies which need to transcend their shores. At least, they have to understand each other now. New Delhi should seriously think over the proposal to exchange Aksai Chin with Arunachal if China's old proposal still stands.

Beijing should, in the meanwhile, show its gesture by accepting the 1962 Colombo proposal which suggested, one, nowhere would Indian troops be required any further withdrawals; two, the McMahon Line would be more or less the ceasefire line. (India gave an assurance that it would not take its troops right up to the McMahon Line even though the Colombo conference had allowed it to do so).

Both New Delhi and Beijing have done well to keep aside the border problem and promote business between the two. Doubling the trade in another four years is quite a challenge. This requires peace and understanding. They have indicated this in their statements and agreements. But they have to go beyond. The writer is a veteran journalist, diplomat and former member of Rajya Sabha

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.