India will flag its concerns over China’s policy towards Kashmir and the need for an early resolution to the boundary dispute during Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit to India this week, officials and analysts said.
Wen’s 15-17 December state visit is aimed at putting ties between the world’s two most populated countries, buffetted by irritants in the past two years, on an even keel.
Complex ties: China’s premier Wen Jiabao. An unresolved boundary dispute, the management of common rivers, and Pakistan are the biggest impediments in the way of a trusting relationship between the neighbours. Nelson Ching/Bloomberg
The Chinese premier’s visit comes five years after his first trip in April 2005 and days after India attended the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on 10 December in Oslo that felicitated jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo despite demarches from China to boycott the function.
Ties between the Asian giants have remained mired in suspicion, a legacy of their brief but bitter 1962 border war, despite booming trade, which is expected to cross $60 billion this year, and joining of forces at international forums like the climate change and Group of Twenty (G-20) negotiations.
An insight into Indian government thinking about ties with China was given by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao earlier this month in a speech in which she described the six-decade-old relationship as “chequered” with “elements of cooperation and competition forming the warp and weft” of the “complex ties.”
The unresolved boundary dispute, the management of common rivers, China’s ties with Pakistan—with which India has fought three wars—and more market access for Indian goods are the issues complicating the “big relationship with the clear possibility of an ambitious agenda of mutual engagement,” she said.
A government official said on condition of anonymity that India would flag its concerns about the undemarcated border during Wen’s visit.
Though the India-China border is described as one of India’s most peaceful—thanks to pacts signed in 1993 and 1996—countless rounds of talks to settle the dispute have not resulted in the demarcation of the frontier.
As it stands, China claims 90,000 sq. km of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and occupies around 38,000 sq. km in Jammu and Kashmir, which India claims is its territory. Also, under the China-Pakistan “boundary agreement signed in March 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq. km of Indian territory in PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) to China,” external affairs minister S.M. Krishna had told Parliament last month.
According to Swaran Singh, a China expert and a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, China had no “incentive” to arrive at a solution.
“The border dispute remains the fundamental issue between China and India and this continues to symbolize the trust-deficit,” Singh said. “Apparently, China does not see any incentives to resolve this dispute.”
Srikanth Kondapilly, also a professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University, recalled that China had resolved border issues with Russia and Vietnam at a time when both countries were in a “weaker” position vis-a-vis China.
Former Indian ambassador to China, Chandra Shekhar Dasgupta, conceded that he did not “see a border agreement round the corner.”
Among the other irritants are China’s plans to build a dam on the Brahmaputra river, a move India fears will deny it of its share of the water, being a lower riparian state. New Delhi has also been upset by China issuing stapled visas to Indian citizens from Jammu and Kashmir, a policy officials say violates India’s sovereignty.
Reports of Chinese firms engaging in infrastructure construction in the region of Kashmir administered by Pakistan did not go down well with India either. And earlier this year, India suspended defence exchanges with China when Beijing refused to give a visa to an army officer in charge of Kashmir.
Recent news reports have said China has agreed to resolve the stapled visa row but another government official in New Delhi said Beijing had not made any such promise. He, too, declined to be named.
Analyst Singh attributed China’s assertiveness to its economic growth and India’s warming ties with the US that China sees as its strategic rival.
“Given India’s focused engagement of US since July 2005, China has felt neglected and most of its discordant notes in its India policy have been to convey their discomfiture and annoyance with New Delhi. Most Chinese see Indo-US friendship having potential of negative implications for Beijing,” Singh said.
Besides, “China is also undergoing political transition to fifth generation leaders with Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang in the wings to replace President Hu and Premier Wen. Transitions make all nations, including China, a bit more assertive and nationalistic, so this trend of China’s assertiveness is likely to continue till 2012 at least,” Singh added.
Kondapilly noted that India had in recent months stood up to Chinese assertiveness—permitting a visit by the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to disputed Arunachal Pradesh last year, equating India’s concerns on Kashmir with Chinese sensitivities over Tibet and Taiwan and attending the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. “This shows India is becoming more confident of itself and that it can resist pressure mounted on it from China,” he said.
Dasgupta, however, offered a different reasoning. He noted that India had taken Chinese sensitivities into account up to a point in the past. “In my personal view, and I have not spoken to anyone in the government, some recent Chinese actions show a degree of insensitivity toward Indian concerns,” he said, referring to the stapled visas and other issues. “It may well be that we, too, would have shown greater sensitivity for Chinese concerns” had these things not happened.