By Lt Gen S L Narasimhan
On 14 and 15 May this month, China is holding a summit meeting in Beijing in which leaders of approximately 28 countries and representatives of 90 countries are attending. Much has been written about India not attending the same and the present state of India China relations. The aim of this meeting is to gain support for her One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.
This is the right time to take stock of the convergences in India – China Relations and the present level of cooperation that is going on between both the countries, even though India is not participating in the summit in Beijing because of her concerns about the One Belt One Road initiative. Those concerns have been explained in an earlier article.
Convergences in International Relationship.
In spite of the imbalance, trade is increasing between both countries. Bilateral trade is expected to touch the $100 billion mark soon. BRICS Bank and Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank have been established by close economic cooperation between both the countries.
India and China have been on the same page with respect to Kyoto Protocol. In the Paris deliberations also India and China cooperated.
India and China have similar views on anti-piracy operations but operate differently. While China operates as part of the International task forces, India operates on her own. Moreover, China fields a three ship flotilla as against a single ship by the Indian Navy.
Though India and China have been competing for energy and natural resources abroad, there have been instances of joint bidding for natural resources, thereby, contributing towards enhanced cooperation. India and China were able to acquire energy assets in Syria, Sudan, Colombia, Iran and Peru through joint bidding. The two sides are committed to making joint efforts to diversify the global energy mix and enhance the share of clean and renewable energy, so as to meet the energy requirements of all countries. GAIL has signed an agreement with China Gas Holdings Limited for a 10 percent equity stake in the Chinese company. The two companies plan to cooperate in the areas of operation and management of city gas pipeline networks, as well as the sale and distribution of natural gas.
There are a number of agreements and frameworks already in place contributing towards defence cooperation between India and China. The same is being discussed later in this article.
Even though the convergences in the India China Bilateral relationship are only a few, if worked on properly they can contribute in improving the relations between both the countries phenomenally.
Existing Cooperation between India and China.
After having analysed the convergences and divergences, it is prudent to understand the existing agreements and frameworks for co-operation in different fields before looking into suggestions for improving the relationship.
The Joint Communique signed on 15 May 2015 during Indian PM’s visit to China is very comprehensive and highlights the mutual agreements between both the countries. The salient aspects are as follows:-
Additional Consulates General are being established at Chengdu and Chennai by India and China respectively. Though it is a forward step in improving the bilateral relations, India wanted to establish additional consulate general at Lhasa which was denied by China.
The first State-Provincial Leaders Forum was held on 15 May 2015 in the presence of PMs of both countries.
The enhanced military ties have also been embedded in the joint statement. It includes annual exchanges of visits between military headquarters of neighbouring military commands. However, the provision of hotline between India and China needs to be hastened up. Though the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement 2013 had the provision to establish hotline, the same has not been implemented so far. There seems to be some hurdle in establishing the same.
Exchanges between Border Commanders was initially proposed in 2004 to enhance confidence level between the troops facing each other. However, the same has not reached the desired level.
Establishment of Border Personnel Meeting Points started with establishing meeting points at Spanggur, Nathula and Bumla. Another meeting point has been established at Kibithu, ie in the Lohit Valley in Eastern part of the Arunachal Pradesh. Such meeting points facilitate closer interaction and help in resolving various local issues.
It is worth highlighting that till 2014, there was a consensus amongst the leaders of both countries that boundary dispute is a problem left over from the history and the same should be left to the next generation to resolve. Thereafter, there was a period when there was an increased resolve by the leaderships of both China and India to find a solution proactively. Presently, this issue is in a state of limbo.
The Joint Communique provides inputs about strengthening closer developmental partnership to give impetus to economic growth and prosperity. Joint measures to alleviate skewed bilateral trade are to be looked into.
In order to enhance people to people contact, 200 students per year will be exchanged between both countries as part of Youth Exchange Programme.
Chinese are very fond of traditional medicines and outlets for the same are found in most places in China. Similarly, Ayurveda and homeopathy are commonly used in India. There can be cooperation in this field.
Establishing India- China think tanks forum and high level media forum is something new and must be pursued. This will go a long way in improving bilateral relationship. The First India – China Think Tanks Forum was held in New Delhi in January 2017 in which free and frank views were exchanged.
Provision of flood season hydrological data by China to India will assist in emergency flood management. In 2004, there were concerns with respect to China holding back water when Pari Chu was in spate and likely to release it to wash away the downstream villages. However, China was sharing the data twice daily with the Indian Embassy. The same agreement is in place and being effectively coordinated.
There is enhancement in border areas cooperation wherein border trade and pilgrimage take place. The opening of the route to Manasarovar through Nathula is a positive trend.
India’s permanent membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation will come through but with a caveat that Pakistan also will get the permanent membership.
The cooperation on Bangladesh China India Myanmar Corridor and the strength in India’s link with ASEAN have been highlighted and agreed upon.
In addition to the above, mutual cooperation has been going on which are not commonly known. These are firstly, an exhibition on Gupta Period was held in China in September 2016.
Secondly, as part of youth exchange programme eight Chinese students get scholarships to study Hindi, 22 Chinese teachers are teaching Chinese language in Kendriya Vidyalayas,12,000 Indian students are studying in China – mainly engineering and medicine and 2000 Chinese students are pursuing higher studies in India.
Thirdly, in agriculture and food, India exports cotton, castor oil, frozen fish, meat and rice to China. Fourthly, annual dialogue on counter terrorism has been going on since 2002. Fifthly, India and China have already agreed to collaborate in various facets of space research.
That all is not lost in the India China bilateral relationship can be clearly seen from the issues that have been discussed above. In the last article of this four part series, we will see what all can be done to improve the bilateral relationship. Happy reading till then.