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India visit most important of 2005: Wen

By Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
April 12, 2005 01:09 IST
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The Chinese premier Wen Jiabao had told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that visiting India was the most important event in his calendar for the year 2005.

One does not know what the other events in his calendar are, but even then, it reflects the fact that China, which for years had been obsessed with Japan and the United States, is now looking at India with renewed interest.

For India, the recent visit marks a success and a half.

The whole part -- China's complete agreement that Sikkim, a former protectorate that merged with India in 1975, is a part of India; the half part -- their statement that the United Nations does need reform and that it understood India's aspiration to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

It is just half a success because China, like the US and unlike Russia, Britain, and France, has not yet endorsed India's candidature.

In fact, just a month ago, China floated the notion that the new permanent members must be chosen by "consensus" of the UN General Assembly.

Given that there are over 180 members in the Assembly, including nations like Pakistan that has already declared that it opposes India's candidature, it was an effective way of killing any chance of reforming the UNSC and India's chance to be a permanent member in the not-too-distant future.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, who briefed the media on the talks between Wen and Singh and the joint declaration, stressed the positives.

He showed a new map published in China that clearly shows Sikkim as a part of India. The Clause XIII of the joint statement unambiguously spoke about the border trade at Nathu La pass "between the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China and the Sikkim state of the Republic of India".

"The Chinese had told us that Sikkim is no longer an issue," said Saran, "They further said they have put the issue [of Sikkim] behind."

The joint declaration of the two nations states that the two sides have agreed to establish an India-China Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity.

Saran said that a partnership between the two Asian giants acquires strategic overtones because their bilateral ties impact upon the regional and global scene.

He said that the agreement for such a strategic partnership was, to his mind, the most important aspect of Wen's visit to India.

"Earlier, we had a cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity. We are raising this to a higher level. It also means that we don't view each other as adversaries but as partners," he said.

The joint statement also speaks about working towards creating a framework to resolve the disputed boundary issue. Later, clarifying the issue, Saran said that while resolving the boundary issue, the "overall balance would have to be kept in mind and that India would not like a sector-by-sector approach".

According to Commodore (retired) C Uday Bhaskar, acting director of the leading think tank, the Indian Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, such a statement would imply some give and take to resolve the issue.

"The de facto position on the ground might well become the de jure position," he said.

The de facto position is that India holds Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as its territory; while China holds Aksai Chin in eastern Ladakh, which India claims is its own.

In fact, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh further declared, according to Saran, that India has the "political will" to resolve the boundary issue. The political will is needed because there is a resolution in Parliament demanding that India reclaim Aksai Chin, and overturning that resolution with a new one will require quite a bit of political acumen.

Saran further said that Wen told Singh that if the politicians are willing, they can always overcome bureaucratic hurdles in resolving any issue.

"In resolving the border issue, we have gone from phase 1 to phase 2," said Saran, "In phase 1, we both agreed upon certain guidelines by which the talks will proceed. In phase 2, we are now going to create a framework within which the talks will be held; and finally in phase 3, we will actually negotiate the border." He added that the phase 2 talks would begin soon.

But if the above sought to remove the negatives, the positive aspect came from both sides agreeing to push forward their economic and technical cooperation to a much higher level. Saran reiterated a point made by gung-ho officials time and again: Sino-India trade has ballooned from a few million dollars a year at the start of the new millennium to around $13 billion per year and counting.

"We believe that even this present level is far below our potential," he said.

The best example was the one cited by Wen who said Indian software and Chinese hardware together could be a world-beater.

The joint statement said it welcomed the report of the Joint Study Group that was set up to find ways to increase bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2008. The JSG has also recommended a Regional Trading Arrangement.

Uday Bhaskar said that the agreement to boost trade and the establishing of direct flights that was enhancing people-to-people contact were moves that were to be welcomed.

He pointed out that for China, the reservations against reforming the UN was not directed against India as much as it was directed against Japan especially since it was clear that among the possible new permanent members, Japan, Germany, India and Brazil were clearly the forerunners.

"Even today, there are Chinese protests directed against Japan and many who are not at all keen to see Japan as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, so we must understand their concerns," he said.

"On the whole, I think this visit has been very positive. The Chinese have met our requirements on Sikkim and on the border and even on the issue of the UN Security Council, they have gone as far as they can by saying they support India's aspiration and agree that the UN needs reforms but for internal reasons are not naming countries," he said.

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Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi