Debating India


On the fast track

Thursday 14 April 2005

THERE CAN BE no doubt that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Premier Wen Jiabao have taken relations between India and China to a qualitatively new plane, in the process emerging as taller leaders in the eyes of the world. By sealing a "strategic and cooperative partnership," the two economically fastest growing countries in the world have embarked on a new and visionary path that promises long-term stability and development in the region. Traditionally, the two countries have taken a step forward with every top-level visit, but Premier Wen’s meetings mark a paradigm shift in how these Asian partners perceive each other. For those living in the time warp of looking at bilateral relations through the 1962 lens, the 11 agreements produced by the two sides should serve as a reality check. The "political parameters and guiding principles" settled to address and resolve the boundary dispute have provided a progressive basis on which the Special Representatives can work to craft a framework of a "package" solution. The most important of these principles are: not allowing the differences on the boundary question to "affect the overall development of bilateral relations"; the non-use of force or the threat of force; a friendly and businesslike effort to find "a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution ... through consultations on an equal footing" and with the overall bilateral political perspective in command; and the commitment to give due consideration to the "historical evidence, national sentiments, practical difficulties, and reasonable concerns and sensitivities" of both sides. Further, the "modalities" agreed upon for implementing military confidence building measures along the Line of Actual Control hold immense value for the final settlement of the boundary dispute.

Premier Wen’s vision of India, China and Russia as strategic partners who will help restore a multilateral approach to world affairs underlines the importance Beijing attaches to New Delhi’s role in the international arena. Can this be a sign of China gradually coming around to supporting India’s bid for a place in an expanded United Nations Security Council? The agreements on taking the economic relationship forward reflect mutual political will to cement the new partnership. India and China already have a bilateral trade in excess of $13 billion; a regional trade agreement - a joint study group will study its feasibility - could double that. An RTA may even serve as a forerunner to an eventual India-China Free Trade Agreement; Beijing is eager to pursue this but the proposal does not appear to have enough supporters in New Delhi just yet. Indian industry would do well to prepare for what cannot and must not be stopped.

At this stage, the main possibilities for economic co-operation seem to be in the information technology sector, between India’s software development houses and China’s hardware manufacturing industry. Building on this and other complementarities can help to remove the last vestiges of suspicion between the two countries, to the benefit of the people of both.

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