PM’s China visit creates history of sorts
With China currently existing on the world map as the only surviving Communist ‘giant’ following the collapse of the USSR, Beijing has, in spite of its military superiority over India, conceded that India has, over the years, become sufficiently important to play a significant role in Asia. And on his part, the Indian prime minister, Mr. P V Narasimha Rao, publicly assured the Chinese in Beijing that India was not only keen but also very anxious for friendly relations with China.
If former prime minister, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 visit to China was aptly described as a major diplomatic gain for India, Mr. Narasimha Rao’s four-day official trip to China from September 6 to 9 created history of sorts. The Sino Indian agreement on maintaining peace and tranquillity along the border signed in Beijing during Mr. Rao’s visit, undoubtedly, ushered in a new phase in the bilateral relations between the two Asian neighbours. True the agreement is not a precursor to the revival of ‘Hindi Chini bhai bhai’ spirit of the 1950s. But it had at the same time the potential of becoming the basis for resolving the long- standing boundary dispute, which really plagued Sino-Indian relations for the last three decades. In the course of informal meetings with several Chinese during my visit to China as a member of the media delegation that accompanied Mr. Rao, it was generally felt that neither country runs the risk of surrendering territory pending the final understanding over the boundary issue.
It was anybody’s guess in Beijing that the Indian delegation had put in months of preparatory work for Mr. Rao’s ‘crucial’ visit to China. And this kind of exercise was justified in the context of certain positive encouraging signals from Beijing. At the end of Mr. Rao’s political journey to China a member of the Indian delegation had strong reasons as he observed, “the results were more than we had expected.”
Prior to Mr. Rao’s departure from Delhi to Beijing on September 6, some politicians, including the former Central ministers, namely, Mr. I.K. Gujral and Mr. K. Natwar Singh, had not anticipated the desired results from the prime minister’s mission in China. It is not unknown that visiting heads of government are usually met in Beijing by two or three members of the all-powerful standing committee of the Communist Party Politburo.
It was not so in the case of Mr. Narasimha Rao. In fact, many people were surprised when Mr. Rao was met by five out of the seven members of the politburo in Beijing. This, to say the least, was a reflection of the importance of the Chinese Government attached to Mr. Rao’s visit. This apart, the unexpected coverage by the government-controlled television and and print media in China was also an indicator of importance.
Whatever the attitude of Mr. Rao’s critics, there is no doubt that the immediate gains flowing from his visit to China are noteworthy. Both India and China are to determine their claims through peaceful and friendly consultations wherever there is any doubt in respect of the line of actual control (LAC). Both countries have agreed to avoid use of force against each other. Military forces deployed along the border are to be reduced. There is to be prior notification of military exercises.
This apart, air intrusions into respective territories are also to be halted. Taking the changed scenario into account, it can be argued that all the elements of the agreement in their totality are designed to ensure mutual and equal security. True, the broad thrust of the agreement was decided upon during the Chinese premier, Mr. Li Peng’s visit to Delhi in December, 1991. But the formalisation of the mutual desire of the two countries to usher in an era of peace on the border to pave the way for the further development became real than apparent during Mr. Rao’s visit to China.
China-watchers are of the view that more than the content of the agreement, what is an event of tremendous significance to the two countries is in linking it to the five principles - ‘Panchsheel’, enunciated by the two countries as far ago as 1954. Considering the understanding and goodwill, which were in evidence during the summit discussions in Beijing, one can envisage smooth ironing out of differences during the follow-up negotiations.
And on increasing border trade, environmental cooperation and radio and television exchanges, a significant beginning in exploring and exploiting the enormous scope in bilateral economic and cultural cooperation has also been made through three other agreements. According to some experts, this needs to be followed up in other areas like agriculture, science and technology and space, besides population control. Be that as it may, that certain irritants exist was acknowledged by the two sides in their exchanges of views in Beijing when India raised the issue of China’s missiles to Pakistan and when Chinese leaders referred to Sikkim. In any case, for the present, India will have to accept Beijing’s assurance that it will ‘never’ use the Pakistan card against India.