Event ReportsPublished on Sep 20, 2014
For formulating an effective China policy, India needs scholars well versed in Chinese language and culture who should be able to understand and appreciate the Chinese style of diplomacy to foster better synergy and cooperation between the two countries.
India needs scholars to formulate effective China policy
For formulating an effective China policy, India needs scholars well versed in Chinese language and culture who should be able to understand and appreciate the Chinese style of diplomacy to foster better synergy and cooperation between the two countries.

This was the view of the participants at an interaction on "President Xi's Visit" at the Chennai Chapter of Observer Research Foundation on September 25.

Initiating the discussion, M Ganapathi, former Secretary (West) in Ministry of External Affairs, said "the Chinese President's visit has definitely been a good visit." He said "while there are differences with China on a host of issues, discussions shall continue".

He said President Xi's visit was a reflection of the growing ties between India and China over the last two decades. He traced the trajectory of visits since 1988 allowing for an agenda of sustained dialogue between the two countries. This had seen the materialisation of significant bilateral documents, particularly in relation to border areas.

Prime Minister A B Vajpayee's visit to China in 2003 provided an opportunity to raise the profile of India-China relations and removed the misunderstandings following the 1998 nuclear tests. This was followed by visits to India by Premier Wen Jiabao in 2005 and President Hu Jintao in 2006. A ten-point strategy for development of bilateral relations was announced during the Hu visit. Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's visit to China in 2008 saw the release of an India-China "Shared Vision for the 21st Century". Thereafter, return visits were seen between Prime Ministers Li Keqiang and Manmohan Singh.

Ganapathi said this was the first time a VVIP was received by our Prime Minister outside Delhi - at Ahmedabad. The visit had another first in terms of the Prime Minister and a visiting dignitary witnessing signing of agreements outside the national Capital. While the Protocol challenges were immense, everything went off perfectly. Ganapathi noted that associating States in incoming VVIP visits fosters greater cooperation and understanding of foreign policy imperatives between the Union and State Governments.

Speaking on the elements of the visit, Ganapathi observed that emphasis in the talks was on bilateral economic cooperation. The majority of the 16 concluded Agreements related to the economic area besides those relating to people-to-people cooperation. Sister-Province/City arrangements were concluded. The opening of an additional route to Kailash-Mansoravar was warmly welcomed. While 2014 was a "Year of Friendly Exchanges"; the leaders have designated 2015 as the "Visit India Year" in China and 2016 as the "Visit China Year" in India. The positive personal rapport between the two leaders was evident.

In the run-up to the visit, Prime Minister Modi was interviewed by a group of Chinese journalists. He spoke extensively on the significance and importance of India's relations with China and wanted the relations given a new terminology "Inch towards Miles" reflecting "India-China" and "Millennium of Exceptional Synergy". President Xi had expounded his thoughts in an article in The Hindu seeing India-China relations leading towards an Asian Century of prosperity. President Xi also spoke on his vision of India-China relations during his address at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA). President Xi thought that given their civilisational values and inherent economic strengths, both nations had considerable potential for engagement.

The Joint Statement issued at the conclusion of the visit was a comprehensive document setting out the agenda for cooperation in a range of sectors.

Sentiment to move ahead

Ganapathi said that the border issue figured prominently in the talks. The visit was taking place against the background of serious Chinese incursions in Depsang and Chumar. At the press interaction, Prime Minister said "I raised our serious concern over repeated incidents along the border" adding "we agreed that peace and tranquillity in the border region constitutes an essential foundation for mutual trust and confidence and for realising the full potential of our relationship". He also sought a clarification of Line of Actual Control (LAC). President Xi mentioned peace and tranquility on the border but was reticent on the LAC.

Ganapathi said that despite considerable forward movement and the desire of both sides towards arriving at a boundary settlement as reflected in the five documents signed since 1993 (in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013), with the 2005 document providing Political Parameters and Guiding Principles mentioning "interests of settled population", and following 17 rounds of talks between Special Representatives, not much headway has been made on this issue. While media attention is helpful, robust articulation of views do at times make it difficult for the normal conduct of diplomacy on such sensitive issues.

In response to a question on the "informatisation" of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), Ganapathi felt that though it is an element of natural progression and modernisation of PLA's military operations, it is not directed at India.

Two other irritants in relations are subject of stapled visas and trans-border rivers. Our concerns were taken up during the talks and Prime Minister referred to these during his press interaction.

Ganapathi said that bilateral trade between India and China has been a subject of considerable concern in India. While two-way trade in 2013-14 was just under $ 66 billion, this continued to be heavily in China's favour. This was taken up during the talks by our side. While there had been an unrealistic portrayal on the eve the visit of a $ 100 billion inflow of Chinese investment, the actual figure mentioned was $ 20 billion over 5 years with Agreements on industrial parks. In this context, Ganapathi noted that the Government could only serve as a facilitator of trade and commerce and increased trade and trade composition is contingent upon various factors. He also observed that India and China compete with each other in several sectors. The Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) platform, the India-China Joint Economic Group and the CEOs Forum have their tasks cut out towards "comprehensively deepening and balancing bilateral economic engagement."

Referring to India-China civil nuclear cooperation, Ganapathi said that it was unclear as to what China could deliver in this regard. Besides, China has not been forthcoming in supporting India's full membership in the four export control regimes viz. the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group.

President Xi invited India into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). He sought greater Chinese engagement with SAARC and South Asia. Ganapathi noted that SAARC currently consisted of eight members and nine observers. India is cautious in expanding the membership of this group, given that the observers outnumbered members. He further said that economic, cultural and political criteria must govern SAARC membership. The organisation needs to consolidate itself before contemplating membership expansion.

While the two sides supported a comprehensive reform of the United Nations, China came up short in supporting India's candidature for a permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council by reiterating its position that it "understands and supports India's aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations including in the Security Council". The Joint Statement reiterated the opposition of both sides to terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

The Chinese proposal of "One Belt and One Road" for joint interests of South Asia" might have found wholehearted support in Sri Lanka and Maldives but did not get the desired response in New Delhi. The BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) Economic Corridor was referred to but the Joint Study Group will discuss this further.

Responding to a question on the ONGC oil exploration in Vietnam, Ganapathi clarified that the ONGC exploration block was situated in Vietnam's territorial waters. He further noted that India and Vietnam have a strategic partnership and have underlined the need for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

(This report is prepared by Deepak Vijayaraghavan, Chennai)

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