India –China have to build a model relationship
SYED ALI MUJTABA
The visit of the Chinese premier Li Keqiang to New Delhi comes in the wake of the heightened border tension and growing mistrust and suspicion between the two neighboring Asian giants.
Although the Chinese premier is being quoted saying that the purpose of his visit to India was three-fold — to increase mutual trust, to intensify cooperation and to face the future, the ground reality is, there exists a huge trust deficit between the two countries.
Notwithstanding the facts, if the two countries have to raise the bar of their relationship to face the future then they have to further deepen mutual understanding and construct a new paradigm in relationship.
The question remains what could be the new model relationship to promote healthy and sound development of each other. It goes without saying that this has to be based on cooperation rather than competition and in order to do so, both the countries have to eschew the cold war mindset and develop sufficient level of trust for cooperation with each other.
This nugget of wisdom for this comes from Mount Kailash pilgrimage tour that points to a new type of relationship developing between India and China. The Kailash Sacred Landscape (KSL) includes an area of the remote south-western portion of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China, and adjacent parts of north-western Nepal, and northern India, and encompasses the cultural geography of the greater Mt. Kailash area.
Each year, India’s Ministry of External Affairs sends some 400 people to Kailash Manasarovar Yatra that includes visit to Mount Kailash and the Manasarovar Lake. The Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation Initiative (KSLCI), under the umbrella of the intergovernmental institution called International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) based in Kathmandu facilitates all the formalities of this tour. These organizations have set up an example of how trilateral relationship can actually work.
If Mount Kailash belongs to China, it also belongs to India and Nepal in a cultural sense. This internationalization is now highly formalized, as a trans-boundary process involving three governments, their official research institutes and many NGOs working together for a common purpose.
In this pilgrimage tour, India, China and Nepal, are enthusiastic partners. All see it an opportunity to promote healthy and sound relationship based on mutual trust and deeper understanding of each other. This rapprochement serves as a model relationship that seems to be working well in spite of differences on many other areas.
Now, when we compare this bohemian with the recent boundary standoff between India and China, one wonders why the same trust level of Kailash Manasarovar Yatra not being replicated to resolve the border row.
India and China has an informal border separating the two countries known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC), while the borders have never been formally demarcated, the countries have signed two accords to maintain peace in the frontier areas. The two armies hold regular flag meetings and the two sides are also holding talks at regular interval to draw an actual Line of Control (LOC).
This exercise is going on since past 50 years or so, but no breakthrough has so far been made. Just like the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan the border dispute between India and China has become a sore point whose solution seems to be nowhere in sight.
India- China in between, had three border disputes; the Sino-Indian War of 1962, the Chola incident in 1967, and the 1987 Sino-Indian skirmish that all have sullied their relationship.
The Chinese military incursions into Indian Territory is often reported in the media, the latest being the face off, in the eastern Ladakh sector in April-May 2013.
The recent faceoff between India and China actually took place at Raki Nala in the Depsang Bulge area, a table-top plateau, where China squatted some 19km inside Indian Territory, claiming to be their own geographical limits.
Chinese arduous intrusion threatened to cut off India's access to some 750 sq km area in northern Ladakh. In retaliation, India also sent its troops to the actual flash point and both the troops of both sides faced each other at a distance of 300 meters for almost three weeks.
The main bone of contention was Indian observation post at Chumar that can overlook troop movements on the Chinese side. China insisted on the demolition of the observation post as a pre-condition for the de-escalation of tension.
It was after a series of flag meetings between the commanders of both the sides that was supported by Joint Mechanism between Foreign Office of both countries, that India and China withdrew their troops.
This standoff had all the trappings of a war breaking out as the fast paced developments sent chill waves across the borders. This was more so because war mongers were shouting form the roof tops to go for a kill!
In the end it was a victory of Indian diplomacy to defuse the tension, but then it remains momentary, as there is all likelihood of the repetition of such episode in future.
The border row has put the progress of the entire gamut of India – China relationship on tenterhooks. Both countries have steadily built-up military infrastructure along border areas and this simmering ember has the potential to burst into nuclear flames.
There is total trust deficit between the two countries. India harbours suspicions about China's strong strategic relations with its arch-rival Pakistan. It also sees Chinese relationship with its other neighbouring countries as a design to encircle it. On the contrary, China sees India as a rising power and has expressed concerns about its military and economic activities in disputed South China Sea.
So the new relationship that the Chinese premier Li Keqiang talked about does not seem to be anywhere on the horizon. It appears that the both the countries like to compete with each other without realizing the futility of the exposition of such power game.
It’s to be remembered that the gap between India and China is deep and wide. If India can keep Kashmir issue alive till eternity, China can keep the border row melting beyond that time frame.
The quest for parity simply does not stand on the test the logic. As India, stands head and shoulders above Pakistan, in the eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth power game and cannot give up Kashmir, its same yardstick that applies to China on the border row and cannot accept Indian demarcation of its line of control.
It’s this disparity of power play that has to be recognized to forge a new relationship. India and China have to evolve a totally different approach to resolve the border row.
In order to do so a separate task force needs to be constituted. It should comprise of an array of specialists besides diplomats and field commanders. This should be an intergovernmental institution with the partnership with nongovernmental institutions working for the common purpose to resolve this festering problem in a time bound and planned manner.
In order to kick star such a process, the leadership of both the countries have to build mutual trust first and this could be in areas of cultural ties such as Kailash Manasarovar Yatra.
It is this new type of relationship that is based on cooperation alone can prepare the two countries to jointly face the future that the Chinese premier Li Keqiang was talking about in New Delhi.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org