Event ReportsPublished on Apr 20, 2011
Cautioning that the security situation in Afghanistan may become complicated in future, Chinese scholars said since both India and China have interests in that country, it could provide an opportunity for both to play a bigger role, setting aside the disagreements regarding Pakistan.
Afghan situation likely to become complicated, says Chinese scholar

China thinks that there is a need for a comprehensive security organisation in Asia, according to the Vice President of China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), Prof. Ji Zhiye.

Participating in an interaction with the faculty of Observer Research Foundation on Wednesday April 20, 2011, he spoke on the current Asian Security Structure and gave an insight on how China viewed the Asian security architecture.  Other members of the CICIR delegation were Mr. Du Bing, Dr. Hu Shisheng and Ms. Ni Xiayun.

Issues like the lack of a comprehensive security organisation in the region, territorial disputes, China’s relations with Pakistan, future of Afghanistan and the relevance of regional forums like Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) were discussed during the hour long meeting.

Prof. Ji said the existing regional organisations like ASEAN focussed too much on economic issues and gave less importance to security issues. Organisations like the Shanghai Corporation Organisation (SCO) which was founded for solving security concerns mainly focussed on non traditional security issues. ASEAN, despite having security cooperation features, was also limited to non traditional areas. Quoting the example of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), he said that the current security organisations in the world are very loosely organised and have no binding powers on their members.

Prof Ji also raised the question of how India and China could cooperate to address common challenges, to find solutions for traditional security issues like territorial disputes with neighbours and to address non traditional security threats like terrorism, epidemic and natural disasters. He expressed his desire to see a regional security structure being formed on common grounds and mutual interests wherein all the members had equal voting rights despite their capabilities.

Mr. M Rasgotra, President of ORF Centre for International Relations, who chaired the discussion, agreed with the Chinese views about the lack of a comprehensive security organisation in the neighbourhood. Observing that China was the biggest military and economic power in the region, he urged China to take the lead in providing solutions for these issues.

The focus of the discussion then moved towards China’s territorial disputes with its neighbours. The unsettled territorial dispute with India was also raised during the discussion. Territorial issues regarding Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin were raised. It was pointed out that unlike the Indian government, the Chinese government had made certain statements in the past that had raised concerns in India. Prof. Ji Zhiye said the territorial disputes should be set aside so that it does not impact on other areas of cooperation. He highlighted the need to find common grounds to solve the territorial disputes. He said that it was necessary to maintain the status quo and so was the need for an increase in people-to-people contacts along with the political will in both the countries to solve the issue.

The issue of Chinese stance on Jammu and Kashmir (J & K) also came up during the meeting. Questions were raised about a Chinese Government advisory to the think-tanks, which essentially deleted 1500 kilometres from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector (circulated before Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India in December 2010). The issue of stapled visas being issued to Indian citizens belonging to J&K (not done for people from the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir) was also highlighted out during the discussion.

Mr. Rasgotra, responding to the range of issues, noted that both India and China should respect each other’s security interests and if China leans towards Pakistan, It would become difficult for India and China to improve their bilateral relations.

Prof. Ji agreed that there was a difference between the official border length figures recognised by both the governments. He blamed the lack of communication between the two sides and other tactical issues for such a discrepancy.  He said that since people from the Indian side of J & K had not visited China until recently, the Chinese government was not sure on how to issue the visas and hence followed the policy of issuing stapled visas. He pointed out that like Tibet, the issue of J&K was a result of colonialism. He explained that China viewed J & K as a disputed territory between India and Pakistan and had no intentions of interfering in the dispute and did not want the issue of J & K to further complicate relations between India and China. He made it clear that since Pakistan is a neighbouring country, it is important for China to engage with it. He said that Beijing followed the guiding principle that seeks to develop relations with both India and Pakistan and believed that the bilateral disputes should be solved without involving China.

Situation in Afghanistan and the possible US troop withdrawal by 2014 were also discussed. Since both India and China have interests in Afghanistan, it could provide an opportunity for both countries to play a bigger role, setting aside the disagreements regarding Pakistan. Prof. Ji noted that the security situation in Afghanistan is likely to complicate in the coming years. He believed that despite the withdrawal, the U.S. would remain the biggest factor in Afghanistan. China believed that there should be a comprehensive solution to the problem in Afghanistan, highlighting particularly the economic issues like large scale poverty and unemployment as areas that need to be addressed on an immediate basis.  In addition, he observed that issues like reconciliation among the ethnic tribes in the region and helping Afghan people in finding a means of livelihood, as potential areas for cooperation between India and China.

Lastly, the issue of Asian security architecture was raised by detailing how India was unable to develop relations with countries in East Asia during the Cold War.  The changes in India’s foreign policy in post-Cold War created new imperatives and one of the resultant policies was the ’Look East’ policy adopted in 1991.  This gained further momentum as India strengthened economic and military relations with East and South East Asian countries. East Asian Summit was also seen with potential to become the centre of the Asian security architecture in the future.

Talking about East Asian Summit, the CICIR delegation maintained that most of the ASEAN countries had suspicions about China as it was the most powerful amongst the group. Moreover, China had territorial disputes with some ASEAN countries which further complicated the issues. Prof. Ji said that China was still a ’developing’ country and it wanted ASEAN countries to take the lead. He had reservations about the future of ASEAN plus eight as there were now too many giants in one room, making it difficult to forge consensus.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Rasgotra said that India wanted cooperation with China in trade, economy and science & technology. He also said that India expects China’s influence on Pakistan to be in favour of peace and cooperation, and not towards escalation of conflict and confrontation.

(This report is prepared by Mr. Rahul Prakash, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation)

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