bond that transcends border row
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
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
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