Indian experts welcome Manmohan’s China visit outcome

By Manish Chand, IANS

New Delhi : Indian analysts have responded positively to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China that has resulted in an ambitious ‘shared vision’ statement mapping out a partnership of cooperation and the intent to work together in the crucial area of civil nuclear energy.

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While many have hailed the Jan 13-15 visit as a success that was high on both symbolism and substance, some critics have contended that Beijing has managed more diplomatic concessions from New Delhi than the other way round.

Most experts agree that China’s support for civil nuclear cooperation with India and its backing of New Delhi’s desire for a greater role in the UN Security Council are a perceptible advance over earlier Chinese positions, as enunciated during President Hu Jintao’s visit to India in November 2006.

“It’s a reiteration of the 2006 statement, but wordings in the Jan 14, 2008 statement (entitled ‘A Shared Vision for the 21st Century’) on civil nuclear cooperation with India are clearly an advance. It’s beneficial for India,” Srikant Kondapalli, a China expert at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, told IANS here.

“We now have the assumption that China will back us in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). It would be justified to have this assumption provided our bilateral relations continue to grow in the years to come,” Kondapalli said.

K. Subrahmanyam, who heads the prime minister’s task force on global strategic developments, said: “The same goes for the Chinese backing for India’s claim for a seat in the UN Security Council. It’s roughly a reiteration, but is an advance over the 2006 position in so far as the joint statement mentions the UN Security Council explicitly.

“The visit got across the message that China has a stake in India’s rise and India has a stake in China’s rise. In a multi-polar globalised world, India and China can be balancers against the US hegemony,” Subrahmanyam said while debunking analysts who claim the US was deploying India to contain China.

G. Parthasarathy, a former ambassador to Pakistan and a columnist on international affairs, however, warned against reading too much into “polite” statements of support.

“China sabotaged India’s candidature when the UN Security Council issue was alive. Now that the UN reforms are not going to happen for at least another decade, they are making polite noises.”

But more important than specific issues of civil nuclear cooperation and the UN Security Council was the broad overarching message of “partnership, rather than rivalry” during Manmohan Singh’s three-day visit to Beijing that ended Tuesday.

“The broad message of this visit is that the rise of India and China and their burgeoning ties can shape the world order. The fact that the two rising Asian powers are cooperating rather than seeing each other as rivals is a very important message to the world community,” said Manoranjan Mohanty, an honorary fellow at the Institute of Chinese Studies, a New Delhi-based think tank.

“It’s a fairly successful visit. The level of trust and understanding has improved substantially,” said Mohanty, while disagreeing with critics who still continue to see China through the Western prism with suspicion.

The decision to scale up India-China bilateral trade from $38.6 billion to $60 billion by 2010 is also seen as a robust affirmation of improving ties between two of the world’s fastest growing economies.

However, an agreement on the possibility of launching a Regional Trading Arrangement (RTA) is seen as a mixed bag.

Kondapalli argued that the proposed RTA would be heavily weighed in China’s favour and could end up further increasing the trade deficit of $10 billion for India.

He also cited India’s reiteration of its one China policy as a sign of diplomatic concession to Beijing at a time when a referendum is due in Taiwan after a pro-Chinese party swept the recent polls.

The experts agree that there was no advance in resolving the decades-old border issue, which led to a bitter war in 1962, but a reiteration of the April 2005 statement on political parameters and guiding principles, one of which includes not disturbing settled populations, in resolving the boundary dispute is seen as significant.

Last year, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, during his meeting with his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee in Hamburg, had created a flutter by giving the impression that Beijing was not bound by the principle of not settling disturbed population, giving rise to speculation about China hardening its claims on Tawang town in Arunachal Pradesh in India’s northeast.

India and China Monday signed 11 agreements in diverse areas, including economic planning, housing, health and culture and land management. The two countries also agreed to deepen a defence engagement that was till a few years ago unthinkable between the wary Asian neighbours and decided not to allow the border row to affect the development of their ties.