Brokering Peace in the Neighborhood

Brokering Peace in the Neighborhood
June 2003

After 1993 visit of the then Indian Prime Minister, P V Narasimha Rao, the visit of A.B. Vajpayee to China in June 2003 could be of immense significance for the region as well as for the world. The demonstration effect, besides the importance New Delhi has attached to the China-India relationship recently especially after a number of hiccups arising from issues such as Tibet, Chinese links with Pakistan and territorial disputes, from the fact that Beijing and New Delhi are serious about creating a new forward-looking relationship, can not be easily discounted. As Chinese President Hu Jintao, put it, this visit to China has shown very clearly to the international community that China and India, “the two most populous countries in the world, are determined to further advance the good neighborly, friendly and mutually beneficial cooperation and relations forward.”[i] Seen in the context of India using the China card as a justification for its nuclear tests of 1998, this visit was meant to be a path breaker seeking a modus-vivendi on a range of bilateral irritants, from their territorial dispute to ties with Pakistan, in a bid to carve out their political and economic space in a vastly changed world order. Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee’s “distrust” of China and Defence Minister George Fernandes’s subsequent characterization of the country as the predominant threat to India deeply offended and angered Beijing and bilateral ties, which were set on an improvement course since Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in December 1988, went into a freeze. Thus “the visit is important in terms of symbolism,” says C. Uday Bhaskar, deputy director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, who visited China a month ago with Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes. “It is remarkable that in these five years India and China have arrived at some kind of political accommodation to facilitate a summit even as their bilateral trade has spiraled.”[ii]

In their discussions both the Chinese leaders, the Indian Prime Minister, pledged closer relations. Addressing at the Great Hall of the People, Vajpayee said “I have brought from India ties of peace, friendship, trust and cooperation. India attaches great importance to having cooperative relations with China. I hope my trip to China will strengthen trust and understanding between the two countries, peoples and governments and further promote our broad cooperation.”[iii] Indian Prime Minister said that relations with China have been transformed as the two sides seek new ways to overcome their differences. “Our present course of developing all-round bilateral co-operation, while simultaneously addressing our differences, has transformed the quality of our relationship.”[iv] Remarking that he was struck by the congruence of (India-China) positions at the recent G8 meeting in France, Vajpayee said that, “If we acted in concert, it would be very difficult for the world to ignore us. We are the two most populous countries of the world and we have the two fastest growing economies in the world, yoursfaster than ours. In any economic forum in the world the focus would inevitably be on China and India. Both of us have continent-sized markets,” accounting for one-third of the world’s population. The two countries would complement each other if they worked more closely together. “Exchange of developmental experiences can be valuable.”[v]

On Pakistan:

Reacting to Indian Prime Minister’s concerns on cross border terrorism, which New Delhi has been making Islamabad responsible for, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, appreciated the steps recently taken by Pakistan and India for relaxation of tension on the border and normalization of their relations. He hoped that the two sides would soon resume talks for settlement of their disputes, including the Kashmir issue.[vi]

Joint Declaration:

Two key documents, a joint declaration on principles that will guide Sino-Indian ties and a memorandum on expanding border trade, were the product of the historic visit as the Indian leader wound up his discussions with the entire top leadership of China, including chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission Jiang Zemin and President Hu Jintao.

Both sides agreed on the need to “broaden and deepen” defence exchanges including more visits by the defence ministers and of military officials at various levels which would help enhance mutual understanding and trust between the two armed forces. The two sides acknowledged the vital importance of the role of the United Nations, world peace, stability and development and agreed to work together to promote UN reforms. While carrying out reforms of the UN Security Council “priority”should be given to enhancing representation of developing countries. “Both sides stood for continued multilateral arms control and disarmament process, undiminished and equal security for all at progressively lower levels of armament and for multilateral negotiations aimed at nuclear disarmament and elimination of nuclear weapons.”[vii]


The most remarkable feature of the visit has been the declarations by both sides on the status of Tibet with India formally recognizing that the area known as the Tibetan autonomous region is part of the People’s Republic of China. China, for its part, agreed to start border trade through Sikkim – a move that is being seen as an acceptance by Beijing of India’s claim over that area. This is a welcoming development aimed at solving their long-running border disputes, which erupted into war in 1962 and remained as perpetual irritants ever since. India said that its recognition of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was consistent with its stand since 1954. Prior to the release of the two documents, the Chinese foreign ministry claimed that India had admitted that the Tibet Autonomous Region was an “inalienable” part of the territory of China. But the joint declaration does not contain the word “inalienable.” India also discounted the suggestions that any concessions have been made on the Tibetan question and maintained that the formulation was merely a “reflection of the contemporary reality on the ground.” The effort on both sides was to move the bilateral relationship forward and there had been great success in that direction.[viii]However, a spokeswoman for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, played down thesignificance of India’s declaration on Tibet. In an interview with the BBC, Kesang Takla said the move did not alter the Dalai Lama’s desire for eventual talks with China on self-rule for Tibet. [ix]

Bilateral Agreements:

China and India signed nine documents on cooperation in economy, law and justice, science and technology, and culture. The documents include:

Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation Between the Supreme People’s Procuratorate of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Law and Justice of the Government of the Republic of India;

Executive Program on Educational Cooperation and Exchange Between the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Human Resource Development of the Government of India;

Memorandum of Understanding on Simplifying Visa Procedures Between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of India;

Memorandum of Understanding For Enhanced Cooperation in the Field of Renewable Energy Between the Ministry of Water Resources, the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources, the Government of the Republic of India; and

Memorandum of Understanding of Cooperation in the Field of Ocean Science and Technology Between the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) of the People’s Republic of China and the Department of Ocean Development of the Government of the Republic of India.[x] The MOU is expected to push forward Sino-Indian technological cooperation in the fields of integrated coastal zone management, sea-bed resources exploration, polar science, ocean energy, gas hydrate exploration, marine resource assessment, seaweed production and processing, and satellite oceanography. The two governments “considered that the cooperation in the field of ocean science and technology can promote well-being and prosperity and strengthen friendly relations between the two countries, and wished to establish closer cooperation and foster friendly relationships between scientific and technological institutions and personnel.” China and India had also agreed in the MOU to establish a Joint Committee on Ocean Cooperation. China and India established contact in marine cooperation in 2000, and the leaders of the two marine administrations visited each other that year. [xi]

Border Issues:

India and China decided to appoint special envoys to map out a resolution of long-standing border disputes as per the joint declaration. “The two sides agree to each appoint a special representative to explore from the political perspective of the overall bilateral relationship the framework of a boundary settlement.” The agreement, signed by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao lays out a blueprint for closer relations between the world’s most populous nations, which have had uneasy ties since a border war in 1962. [xii]

Economic Relations:

On the business front, India and China decided to further step up bilateral trade and increase their cooperation to safeguard the interests of developing nations especially on contentious trade issues such as agriculture and pharmaceuticals at the World Trade Organization (WTO). The two sides also decided to hold the next round of the Joint Economic Group (JEC) meeting sometime in November-December this year. Arun Jaitley, the Indian Minister for commerce, who held discussions with his Chinese counterpart, Lu Fuyan on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) in the area of public health care, as well as agricultural negotiations and investment-related issues, said that India and China have many commonalities and their cooperation is vital to safeguard the interests of the developing countries.[xiii] In his Shanghai speech, the Indian Prime Minister talked about an “effective alliance” between Indian and Chinese IT sectors. He said it could become a “potent force”, with far-reaching implications for South-South cooperation. Dwelling upon the progress made by India in the software field and China’s leaps in the hardware sector, Vajpayee told an industry gathering in Shanghai that “our respective competence… provides a natural ground for an effective alliance in the IT industry.” The strong international brand recognition of Indian IT firms was an asset that can enrich an India-China IT partnership. Observing that technological advantage could be sustained only with research and continuous innovation, he said if countries like India and China were to concentrate on specific areas of their technological advantage, they could benefit far more than by competing across the spectrum. “In combination, rather than in competition, Indian and Chinese IT industries can be a potent force. This is a principle which has far wider application in South-South co-operation.”[xiv]Commenting on the impact of the visit and agreements , the Indian Commerce Minister said that the landmark visit had set off a chain of discussions between trade officials of the two countries at various levels. India, which is influential among developing countries on multilateral trade issues, is a long-standing opponent of subsidies for agricultural products from developed countries which it says make poor nations’ exports uncompetitive. It also wants developing nations to be allowed to buy low-cost lifesaving medicines from countries such as India and Brazil, rather than developed countries where they are patented. The commerce minister said Chinese officials agreed with their Indian counterparts that negotiations on trade and investments should not be started until the parameters were clearly laid.[xv]

Describing Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to China as “highly successful”, India’s External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha said that there has been narrowing of differences between the two countries and progress in the bilateral relationship. He said the “central focus” in the talks between the two sides was on enhancing trade and economic cooperation. Bilateral trade had already touched $5 billion. “We are within striking distance of reaching $10 billion in the next two years,” he said observing that this showed the vitality that existed in the trade and economic relationship between the two countries and “we can make enormous progress in these areas”.[xvi]

Many Chinese analysts also agree on the momentum achieved during the visit. According to them, the stage is now set for enhanced strategic cooperation and coordination between China, India and Russia on global issues for a new international political and economic order. “China, Russia and India share many common interests in promoting a democratic international relationship and safeguarding international security and stability as well as developing regional economy and safeguarding regional stability and development,” a senior Chinese foreign ministry official said. He pointed out that the three countries have many identical positions and concerns and recently scholars of the three countries have had some discussions on trilateral cooperation. In the past, he said the proposed strategic triangle between India, China and Russia failed to take-off mainly due to lack of trust between New Delhi and Beijing. Now that relations between the two nations have entered a new phase, analysts say trilateral ties between the three countries offer immense scope for them to cooperate, maintain regional and global peace and stability. “We believe that those exchanges, coordination and cooperation conform to enhancing mutual understanding and bilateral ties between the three.”[xvii]

[i] Vajpayee visit shows world that China, India serious on new ties, Yahoo News, 24 June 2003.

[ii] 181_281621,0008.htm


[iv] India and China agree over Tibet, BBC, 24 June 2003

[v] World cannot ignore us if we work together, Indian PM tells China, Yahoo News, 23 June 2003.



[viii] India recognises Tibet as part of Chinese territory, The Indian Express.

[ix] Deal boosts Vajpayee China trip, BBC, 25 June 2003

[x] China, India sign nine documents in Beijing, Eastday

[xi] China, India cooperate in ocean science, technology, China Daily, 23 June 2003


[xiii] India, China Decide To Boost Cooperation At WTO, INDOlink, 25 June 2003


[xv] India and China to join forces at WTO trade talks, Yahoo News, 28 June 2003


Compiled from media sources


Arabinda Acharya