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A tug and a pull from Grandpa Wen

December 17, 2010

The third head of state to visit India in recent times , the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao wrapped up his three day visit the other day. Wen Jiabao is from the traditional Communist stable of China and his visit was marked by an unusually large trade delegation of 400 Chinese businessmen. That a top Chinese leader chose to visit India itself is a bit surprising, that he chose to make it a three day affair with an obvious effort at melting the thaw that bedevils the relationship between these two Asian giants was wholly unexpected.

The first day of the Chinese premier’s visit was restricted to meeting with the kids of Tagore International School where he taught them a bit of calligraphy in Mandarin. He insisted that the kids call him Grandpa Wen as they do in China. A scheduled twenty minute stopover extended to almost an hour talking to the kids and learning about their activities besides pointing out as to how popular Tagore was in China and that his writings were a part of the curriculum there. His visit to Rajghat and a reminder of the esteem with which Chinese people look up to Gandhi was also mentioned.

Wen Jiabao and Manmohan Singh

It was only on the second day that Wen Jiabao settled down to business. He met the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh besides Sonia Gandhi and others leaders both from the ruling party and the opposition. He was given a ceremonial guard of honor at the Rashtrapati Bhavan with all the pomp and pageantry. There was also a function celebrating 60 years of Indo-China friendship at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. There was a lukewarm response from the Indian side but as far as the Chinese delegation was concerned they were out to woo the Indians and had pulled all stops in their efforts.

By the time premier Wen Jiabao started for Pakistan on a three day visit to the nation, India and China had signed some 45 agreements worth a total of $16 billion. The two nations also resolved to expand trade between the two nations from the existing $60billion to $100 billion by 2015. There were trade agreements between the two nations in a number of fields including power, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, clean energy, engineering and others. There has been put in place a hot line between the prime ministers of the two nations. It was also agreed that the foreign ministers of the two nations will meet at least once every year.

The joint declaration between the two countries was drafted after much discussion and there was no mention of One China policy being accepted by India. It was said that when the question of One China policy came the Indian delegation insisted that the joint declaration mention Jammu and Kashmir as an integral part of India at which the Chinese balked! The One China policy therefore found no mention in the final joint declaration.

Those who think that premier Jiabao came to India for expanding business and opening the Indian market are missing the point. The 400 strong business delegation was of course impressive but it was more of a posture by Beijing that India was important to them. Business was of course on the mind of the Chinese premier but there was a lot more to the visit than mere expanding trade and commerce.

The recent coming together of the west and India has raised the hackles of Beijing. This year started by the visit of British Prime Minister David Cameron, followed by US President Barack Obama and then French President Nicolas Sarkozy visited New Delhi. There is no denying that there is a close cooperation between West and India and this has made Beijing uncomfortable like never before. They feel the pressure and it shows. Premier Wen Jiabao may not have promised to support India’s candidature for the permanent membership of the expanded UN Security Council but then it would have been foolhardy for us to expect that he would. It is said that the Chinese premier himself raised the issue of stapled visas being issued by the Chinese embassy to Indian citizens from Jammu and Kashmir. But he did not say that the practice will be aborted. In fact, his only commitment was that there should be continued talks between the two sides on this issue. The issue of terrorism also was soft peddled by Jiabao and Pakistan was never mentioned in the joint declaration. However, some Pakistan outfits did find mention and that I would say is a big concession from the Chinese side which had vetoed sanctions on LeT and Jamaat ud Daawa for nearly four years at the Security Council.

On the face of it one would assume that with trade agreement of $16 billion and better interaction between the two countries that make up almost a quarter of the world population this visit was a big success. However, while there was an enthusiasm from the Chinese side there was a perceptible lack of real warmth between the two countries. Again, the question remains as to what prompted the Chinese premier to give New Delhi a dekko!

The fact of the matter is that while China has been playing a smart game of trying to keep India engaged with Pakistan China has found to their utter horror that they are as much on New Delhi and West’s radar as the West and New Delhi are on theirs. The String of Pearls strategy that they have adopted to encircle India has New Delhi concerned. But then China also finds itself surrounded by nations that are not exactly their friends. From India in the South, Vietnam in South-East, to Taiwan, Philippines, Japan and South Korea they find that they hardly have any friends in their neighborhood. India is one country that they share land border with of more than 3,000 kilometers.  The other nations except Vietnam have maritime border with China. India therefore has strategic importance that is unparalleled from Beijing’s point of view. Any coming together of India and the West therefore has larger security and strategic issues that Beijing would like to address before they boomerang on their face. India had been by and large ignored by the West till the mid- nineties. After Bill Clinton’s India visit there was a marked upswing. George Bush took the relationship a step further. Obama has taken this relationship to a different level altogether with India and the US and its allies depending upon New Delhi to secure their strategic interests in the region. That is such a departure from the earlier lackadaisical relationship between the west and India that Beijing was lulled into taking New Delhi for granted on most issues. I must add that Prime Minsiter Manmohan Singh’s Berlin visit was also extraordinarily successful and the forthright manner in which Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor condemned any Pakistan sponsored terrorism against India gave a strong message to the world that Indian and western interests are so closely intertwined that any act against India will be construed as an act against the democratic free world.

There were two other issues that need to be mentioned here, One, the way India attended the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and the other –India’s posture during the climate talks at Cancun. Both clearly showed that India was ready to stand with her western friends and that Indian interest’s and those of the west are not at variance. The Chinese had asked India not to attend the Peace Prize ceremony at Oslo. India stood up and did what we thought was right. Democracy and free speech are cornerstones of Indian polity. It would have been inappropriate for us to give Oslo a miss.

During Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit the Tibetan Diaspora organized huge rallies to protest the visit. While Indian police did make sure that such demonstrations did not affect the premier’s schedule yet the vocal protests did find mention in the press.

How should India deal with China given the bitter history between the two nations and Beijing’s policy of propping up Pakistan to keep India ‘engaged’? Well, India should deal with China the way the rest of the world is dealing with them. It would be foolish of us to keep China at bay. No, that would be counter-productive. It is important for us to try and engage China in trade and commerce and culturally to ensure that our growth remains in double digit. What we should avoid doing is to be the source for Chinese factories of minerals and natural wealth. That is counter-productive. It is important that we impress upon Beijing that the huge balance of payment deficit in favor of Beijing is not in either nations interests. We must also ensure that Beijing open’s up their markets for Indian goods as we open up our markets for Chinese goods. China cannot be a manufacturing hub for India like it is for the west. For the simple reason that our branding leaves a lot to be desired and while the West benefits from cheap Chinese production the same will not be true for India. Yet to wish away our northern neighbor is not in our interest. Besides, if we engage each other we have a lot to gain. Two rising economies have a lot to offer each other. For Beijing, it would be good if they stopped giving nuclear technology to Pakistan and stop supporting Left dissidents in Nepal. China must also realize that terror has no borders and remember that Xinjiang did blow up a couple of years back. What is good for India may not be bad for China and vice versa. Both the leaders did however, reiterate that there was enough room for both China and India to grow in today’s world, mirroring the sentiment of mutual accommodation.

The fact is that China has started to look at India in a different light lately. They see us as a nation that has a mind of its own and one that is no pushover. China on the other hand feels alone and without many friends in the region. The Korean crisis reminded Beijing that Washington will not hesitate to stand by its friends. India was to take part in the naval exercise in the peninsula. The heat is getting on to China. Grandpa Wen didn’t smile for no reason. Grandpa Wen is a wise old man.

  • We are partners and not competitors, says Wen (thehindu.com)
  • You: China’s Wen, India’s Singh make little progress at summit (latimes.com)

    A Note of Thanks
    : Just browsed through the statistics of my blog and found to my surprise that this is the 150th article. When I first started this blog I never thought I would be able to write so much, so frequently and without divergence from the core subjects, i.e., South Asian Studies, International Relations and Sociology. I also never thought there would be so much to share. 

    It has been my good fortune to have been able to share my views with the readers of my blog. Thanks for your support and thanks WordPress for giving such a good platform. I hope to continue the way I have been writing till now. Thanks also to those who have mentioned my articles, tweeted about them and those who have linked to my blog. Your support is most appreciated.

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