India and China must develop mutual trust - GulfToday

India and China must develop mutual trust

BRP Bhaskar


Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.


Chinese and Indian soldiers seen at the LOC on the Himalayan border.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in India briefly last week in the course of a whirlwind tour which took him also to Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal.

These countries are India’s partners in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. But the country’s relationship with two of them are in virtual deep freeze.

Wang, who is also a member of the State Council, was the highest ranking Chinese leader to visit India since unarmed soldiers of the two countries, who were patrolling the line of control along the undefined Himalayan border, fought each other with bare hands and stones in June 2020, resulting in casualties on both sides.

Both the countries later beefed up their forces along the LOC. There were also attempts at several places to capture vantage points and alter the LOC.

After multi-level talks it was agreed that senior commanders of both sides should meet and arrange for disengagement.

Accordingly, soldiers of the two sides pulled back to earlier positions at four points. Thereafter the process ran aground and soldiers are still facing each other elsewhere.

Wang’s visit offered an opportunity to break the impasse and resume the pull-back process. Sadly, the opportunity was not used properly.

The Indian government did not notify Wang’s visit in advance. The explanation it offered was that China wanted it that way.

It is customary for a visiting foreign minister to call on the Prime Minister.

According to Indian officials, a meeting between Narendra Modi and Wang could not be arranged as the former was going to Lucknow to attend the swearing-in of Yogi Adityanath’s second ministry in Uttar Pradesh.

But the possibility that the government was displaying its displeasure at Wang Yi’s recent remarks on Kashmir cannot be ruled out. Such whimsical responses are not unusual in recent Indian diplomacy.

All that India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar could say after three hours of talks with Wang was that the relationship between the two countries was not normal. Relations could not be normal until their troops pulled back from each other on the disputed border, he observed.

While briefing the media, Jaishankar traced the continuing frictions and tensions to China’s deployments since April 2020 which could not be reconciled with a normal relationship between neighbours.

Wang, in a statement, said China and India should work together to promote peace and stability around the world.

He suggested that they should “put the differences on the boundary issue in an appropriate position in bilateral relations” and stick to the correct direction in development of bilateral relations.

Those unfamiliar with the history of the border dispute may find Wang’s words conciliatory.

It actually glosses over pertinent facts. When the Communist Party came to power, China had raised border disputes also with other neighbours like Russia and Vietnam.  These too had led to friction and conflict. However, Beijing made border settlements with all neighbouts except India.

The 1962 border war has no parallel in the long history of the empires that rose and fell in the two countries.  

More than 40 years have passed since India and China began talks to settle the boundary question. They have been going on in a leisurely manner at the official level with no meeting point in sight. The issue needs to be taken up at the political level and resolved without further delay.

Wang’s suggestion is to put the issue in cold storage and move forward on other matters is unrealistic.

It will be unwise to let a dispute, which has already precipitated a war and led to friction on several occasions, to hang fire.

Anyone taking a dispassionate view of Sino-Indian relations cannot miss the point that the two large neighbours are labouring under the weight of mutual distrust.

The motivation behind several steps taken by the two countries in the recent past can be traced to suspicions about each other’s objectives.

Sadly, on both sides there are so-called think tanks which are fuelling these suspicions.

Wang Yi’s vision of China and India working hand in hand and the world paying attention is realisable. The first requirement for that to happen is to develop mutual trust, respecting each other’s legitimate interests. A step in this direction was indeed taken by Prime Ministers Zhou Enlai and Jawaharlal Nehru when they signed the Panch Sheel agreement embodying the five principles of co-existence nearly seven decades ago.

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