“Chinese premier Li Peng’s visit to India generates quiet optimism about improved relations”
The ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, once said “De bu gu, bi you living” (a virtuous government won’t be in isolation. It will enjoy good neighbourliness). Apparently, not so long back, the Chinese could not care less about what ancient philosophers had to say.
Consider the problems China has with almost all of its neighbours. Besides, its well-known border dispute with India, it has boundary problems with the USSR and North Korea, too. The Chinese have also been involved in sporadic clashes with Vietnam. In fact, the year 1979 saw a major Chinese attack on Vietnam. China is also involved in a complex dispute over the Sparty Islands with Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
It has maritime boundary disputes with Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonian, and has occupied Paracel Islands to which both Vietnam and China lay their claims. Besides, China also claims the Japanese administered Senkaku-Shoto (Senkaku Islands). But for the time being, the Chinese leadership has put the border disputes on the backburner. Moreover, with slow and steady steps, China has started improving relations with her neighbours.
It is not an overnight transformation. For the Chinese, who are expert in the art of realpolitik, the Indian visit of Li Peng is but a part of its overall strategy. The slow and steady death of its powerful neighbour, the former Soviet empire, has sent shivers down the spines of the ageing Chinese leaders. Will they be the next on the list? Moreover, they feel an ideological loss as well. Says A.P. Venkateshwaran, the former foreign secretary, ” The Chinese had special affinity for the USSR. They considered the USSR as a big brother, as a guide on the path of communism.”
Besides, the United States has found the once in -vogue China card redundant. It no longer needs China as a counterbalance to the USSR. The Americans, losing no time, have started tightening the screws on China, by raking up human rights issues in China and criticizing the trade barriers that country has imposed, apparently, to protect its economy. Result: the Chinese are feeling the pinch and consequently, stand isolated. And, out of this isolation, grew the need for the Chinese to mend fences so as not be placed in quarantine in a uni-polar world dominated by the Americans.
It is amidst this background that the Chinese Premier, Li Peng (pronounced Li Phang) decided to pay a five-day visit to India, the first by any Chinese head of state, in the past 33 years. The last Chinese leader of importance to have visited India was Zhou En Lai, who came in April 1960, almost two and a half years before the Indo-Chinese of 1962.
LiPeng’s visit was meant to reciprotate Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China Expectedly, a lot of verbal goodwill was exchanged. Apart from the “government level discussions”, matters of “much interest” (read trade, commerce, industry etc.) were discussed with the visitors. The Chinese delegation signed three agreements aimed at normalizing relation. One among them was to reopen consulate in Bombay and Shanghai
The second was to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU), allowing under trade between the two countries, is a significant step considering the ships the people living in the border to face because of the hostile terrain. The third and the last related to bilateral cooperation in the field of space and aeronautics among the others.
So far, so good! But the gloss of good neighbourly relations” and “mutual cooperation” and other sugar coated diplomatic jargon failed to consider specific issues like the border dispute and the Tibetan problem. In fact, so agitated were the Chinese about the Tibetan exiles in India that the Chinese ambassador castigated the Indian authorities.
An embarrassed government quickly got down to the task of placating the Chinese and cracked down brutally on the Tibetans in Delhi.
However, Li Peng’s visit generated a lot of goodwill for the Chinese in India. The consultations and agreements signed signaled the Chinese desire to mend fences with India. During his five-day visit, Li Peng went through all the customs and conventions that visiting foreign dignitaries are usually put through in the course of their visits. Government-level talks, signing of memorandums, meetings with senior Opposition leaders and the routine visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s samadhi. In addition, of course, a courtesy call on Sonia Gandhi.
But when it came to showing his cards, the Chinese premier turned coy. All he mouthed was platitudes like “borders would eventually become a friendship linking the Chinese and the Indian people” and “border problems should not hinder close and friendly relations”
Both countries also strongly condemned the western powers and denounced “global oligarchies”. However, not everybody agreed with Rao when he joined in this condemnation. Says A.P. Venkateshwaran, “What was the need for Rao to use such strong terms when we are desperately trying to improve our own relations with the West? The Chinese are using the Indian shoulder to fire their guns at the West.”
Agrees Subramanian Swamy: “In the Chinese scheme of global politics, we fit nowhere. We would be fooling nobody but ourselves if we get euphoric about Li’s visit. China has yet to recognize Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory. More over, its ambivalent attitude on Kashmir is no great help. China is providing arms to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and, till recently, to Nepal. We on the other hand have recognized Tibet as China’s integral part, contrary to the public aspirations Tibetans. We have to discuss across the table all the issues, which apparently we have not. Therefore, relations with China have to be kept on the hold”
Apparently, the Indian government has tried to extract as much as it can from the businesslike Chinese. And not with standing the prickly issues in Indo-Chinese relations, the two Asian giants, who together make up half the world’s population, have come together after a long time and that by itself, is an achievement.
Opines Giri Deshingkar, director study for Developing Societis, “India and China can become friends provided there is an attitude of give and take. Li Peng’s visit is just a preliminary step. Long years of mutual animosity and hate cannot solve problems”.
Both the countries have come a long way from the utopian world of Hindi Chini bhai bhai. Relations cannot be built overnight. But the only way to do it would be through the process of mutual understanding.