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Lately, China has been assertive: PM Singh

By Aziz Haniffa
Last updated on: November 24, 2009 10:25 IST
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Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh Monday dismissed the controversy that arose over the joint statement issued by United States President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing on the eve of his state visit to Washington, seemingly mooting a role for Beijing in resolving the India-Pakistan dispute, saying, "What happens between President Obama and President Hu is not our direct concern."

During the interaction that followed his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday, the Prime Minister also made a forceful defense of the Indian brand of democracy against Chinese authoritarianism, arguing that the be-all and the end-off of a country shouldn't be its Gross Domestic Product alone.

Dr Singh said New Delhi wanted 'the world to prepare for the peaceful rise of China as a major power,' and hence 'engagement is the right strategy, both for India as well as from the United States.'

He pointed out, "We our ourselves have tried very hard to engage China in the last five years and today China is one of our major trading partners."

"But, we've also to recognise that we have a long-standing border problem with China and we are trying to resolve it through dialogue," he added.

The Prime Minister said that meanwhile, "Both our countries have agreed that pending the resolution of the border problem, peace and tranquility should be maintained in the border line."

"Having said that, I would like to say that I have received the assurances from the Chinese leadership at the highest level. But there is a certain amount of assertiveness on the part of the Chinese," he said, and added, "I don't fully understand the reason for it. That has to be taken note of."

When the question arose of the constant comparison between India and China's approaches to development and why he believes  -- assuming he does -- that New Delhi's approach is preferable to Beijing's when the latter has grown at a much higher rate for more years that India, Singh acknowledged, "There is do doubt that the Chinese growth performance is superior to India's performance."

But he argued, "I have always believed that there are other values which are important than the growth of the GDP. I think the respect for fundamental human rights, the respect for the rule of law, respect for multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious rights, these have values also."

Dr Singh continued, "There are several dimensions of human freedom," which were not always taken into account vis-à-vis a country's GDP. "So, I do believe that even though the Indian performance with regard to GDP might not be as good as the Chinese, certainly I would not like to choose the Chinese path."

"I would like to stick to the Indian path," he declared, and added, "Also, I believe, India may appear as an indecisive democracy at times, and it does, because many democracies are short-term maximizers -- they are not able to take a long-term view."

But, the Prime Minister said he believes that 'once a democracy believes on the basis of a wide-ranging consensus only reforms that are undertaken will be far more durable, will be far more effective than reforms introduced by the writ of a ruling group in a non-democratic set-up.'

The president of the CFR, Richard Haass, who had asked the question, quipped, "Ladies and Gentlemen, you've just been treated to an economist saying there's more to life than GDP."

"This is an important moment in our…" and before Haass could complete his sentence, the crowd broke into laughter and sustained applause.

Haass then said, "That was a wonderful answer about it."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC