Event ReportsPublished on Jul 03, 2014
India and China should begin a full-fledged dialogue on water resources in order to address the suspicion that China is diverting river water away from India, according to former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh.
India, China need to institutionalize water resources sharing: Jairam Ramesh

India and China need to hold a full-fledged dialogue on water resources in order to address the suspicion that China is diverting river water away from India, says former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh.

Mr. Ramesh, now a Member of Parliament, was speaking at Observer Research Foundation, Kolkata, on the topic ’Sixty Years After Panchsheel’ on July 3.

He said sharing views and concerns on water resources is very important for operationalising the Panchsheel Agreement which states the principles of peaceful coexistence. He said both the countries need to institutionalise water resource sharing.

Mr. Ramesh felt that the recent agreement between India and China on the sharing of hydrological and meteorological data is a small but significant step towards deepening the bilateral ties.

He said that a major concern for India is China’s diversion of rivers, especially the building of the Zangmu dam. Many in India, and especially in the North-East region, fear that China would do to Brahmaputra what it has done to Mekong river, i.e., turning it dry.

Mr Ramesh said the year 2014 is a commemorative year for India-China relations for two milestones -- one, the 100 years of the Shimla Agreement and second, the 60 years of Panchsheel. He said that in India more programmes have taken place marking the 100 years of the Shimla Agreement compared to that on Panchasheel.

He explained why the Panchsheel view should be popularised. He pointed out that much of the scholarship on China is derived from Western sources, which says that India and China are natural competitors and this could lead to competition, and to conflict as well. The contrary view is the Panchsheel view.

There are many areas where we have been able to operationalise the cooperation principle . Climate change is a good example where India and China found mutual interests. China and India could co-operate or compete, but there could be a system of dialogue where this competition would not lead to confrontation and conflict.

However, fundamental issues continue to cast a shadow and after 60 years of Panchsheel today these issues continue to be significant. Mr. Ramesh cited the structural trade deficit as a major concern for India.

Mr. Ramesh said on climate change issue, India now runs the risk of being isolated by China, Brazil, South Africa that make up the BASIC. He said China has shown that it is ready to play the multilateral card. China’s position will get nuanced between now and December 2015, signs of which have already appeared.

India’s position must be much more nuanced, far more proactive and flexible than it has been, Mr Ramesh pointed out. He blamed the political parties, who for earning brownie points in Parliament , want India to be the last man standing in the global arena to take on the West.

Barriers in trade, especially the non-tarrif barriers in trade with China, are important for the impeding trade. Indian investment is also not impressive. The prospects of Chinese investment in India hinges on the issues of perception and security in the latter, pointed out Mr. Ramesh.

India has to augment its perception relating to border trade. The highest traded item on the border going from the Indian side is Basmati rice and the yak’s tail from the Chinese side. These are not the goods which have to be best traded in this day and age between the two economies, he said.

Mr. Ramesh also mentioned the need for deepening political dialogue at the national and sub-national levels. However, the difference in the political system between the two countries might be in favour of China and not India, Ramesh said.

The lecture-discussion ’Sixty Years After Panchsheel’ was attended by researchers, university professors, consular staff and journalists.

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