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Sino-Indian 'tensions' heading for a thaw

Last updated on: April 07, 2010 01:42 IST

The relations between India and China is all set to change, thanks to the Copenhagen summit where the two countries joined forces for a common cause, reports's Sheela Bhatt.

The tense atmosphere between India and China has changed for good after the Copenhagen summit, claimed a top-level source dealing with the Chinese in Indian government.

"Things have been improving since India and China's close co-operation at the Summit of Climate Change in Copenhagen," he said.

India and China's policy on climate change saw synchronisation at the international platform last December. While commenting on External Affairs Minister S M Krishna's visit to Beijing starting from Monday, he said, "Krishna's visit is important after the visible improvements in bilateral relations were noticed post- Copenhagen. I hope the media has noticed that there has been a series of bilateral visits from both the sides." 

More than a dozen high-level delegations belonging to defense, foreign affairs, trade, media and even a delegation to discuss consular services, have held talks in both the countries in the last four months.

Last week Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu met Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on his visit to New Delhi and visited agro-industry outlets in Nagpur.

Recently, another high-level group of People's Liberation Army, that included a senior military officer serving in Tibet, have visited India.

Zhou Gang, former Chinese ambassador to India, and Wang Yingfan, China's former representative to the United Nations, are in New Delhi as part of the public diplomacy endeavour of the Chinese government.

These gentlemen are ready to talk on all the subjects, including Tibet, press censorship and Chinese military. While explaining the change of atmospherics, a senior officer aptly said, "In the post-Bush era, zamaana  badal gaya hai" (..times have changed).

"Surely, something is cooking between India and China," says a New Delhi-based China expert after reading closely National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon's speech given on April 1 on 'India and China: Public Diplomacy, Building Understanding.'

Menon set the template for bilateral relations in the coming months when both countries are vigorously engaged in public diplomacy.

Menon in his speech noted, "The larger issue is whether India and China can work together to help in managing the complicated regional security environment in Asia. India's preference is for the open security architecture and the sort of multi-polarity that China too has advocated previously for global issues, and from which we have both benefited in the recent past."

Menon's speech is taken as a pointer to a possibility of closer co-operation between two countries on occasion of 60th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between India and China. 

Menon said that for better relations, 'China and other rising Asian powers must be willing and capable of contributing to global public goods in terms of security, growth and stability that the region and world require.'

"How will we help to preserve security in the global commons? Asia has proved that she can do the economics. Can she also do the politics that come with power?" Menon had said.

Krishna's visit is essentially about politics, says the source. He will be inaugurating Festival of India in China during his visit.

While explaining the importance of his visit, he also added, "When Krishna will meet Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, or his counterpart Yang Jiechi, he won't be talking about trade or border issues. It's about debating bigger and broader aspects of all the issues. Already, Krishna is perceived as a positive personality in the Chinese establishment, who is having a calming influence on the bilateral relation."

He pointed out that when there was tension on issues like border skirmishes or stapled visas to Kashmiris, the Chinese have noted that Krishna's statements have been 'measured and constructive.'

The source also pointed out that India has taken up a 'never-done-before' kind of diplomatic exercise in China to celebrate 60 years of bilateral relations -- by planning the Festival of India.

There will be a series of cultural shows in China at a scale that has never been done before by the Indian government in any other country.

Krishna will kick start these programmes, which includes live cultural performances in 30 cities of China, six exhibitions to demonstrate Indian art and various talents, film festivals in three metro cities, five large-scale tourism shows and some 17 business-cum-cultural events all over China.

The Indian festival will start in Krishna's presence with musical named 'Uttar Praydarshi' (The Final Beatitude) by Ratan Thiyam. It's based on Emperor Ashoka's life and Buddhism.

Of course, there is a range of issues on which both the countries are having strong views, and the most important issue of boundary resolution doesn't seem to resolve soon.

But, as Menon has suggested, 'the two countries have found a modus vivendi to deal with the fact of the boundary issue and to manage their different approaches to issues where their peripheries overlap.'

"India and China both cooperate and compete at the same time because of their interests and how they perceive the balance of power and situation around them. We have also shown through practice that our bilateral relations are too important to be affected by our relations with any third country," Menon had said.

Not surprisingly, most visitors from China tell the Indian audience two or three important things. They point out that on most international issues like environment, terrorism, Afghanistan and nuclear security, India and China are not having divergent views.

Two, China has never opposed India's entry to the United Nations Security Council. Also, they ask, "Has China supported any other nation?" They explain that if even India is included in the UNSC, it's unlikely to have veto so; China doesn't think that India's presence in UNSC would harm China's national interests.

More importantly, they say, it's high time that both the countries accept that the border issue is 'a legacy of bygone era.' Then, the issue is linked to national sentiments. Chinese visitors these days mention that they have 300 million strong young Chinese people connected to the internet, and they form strong opposition to political leaders on various issues.

The Chinese and Indian sides both acknowledge that in last 20 years, lots of progress has been made on the border issue if compared to the 50s and 60s.

No one can escape the fact that India and China are both maintaining peace on the borders, till they find solution. But, the Chinese experts invariably claim that the Indian media is aggressive and not helping in creating ground in domestic politics to help arrive at mutually acceptable solution to settle the border issue.

The solution of border issue is far, far away, but, surely, the announcements and movement in India and China's bilateral relation suggests that the Manmohan Singh government seems to have taken a new look at the American policies in Afghanistan, Pakistan and of global war on terrorism after David Headley's case. 

A senior serving diplomat said, "After Bush, the ball game in the region has changed, and so, we have changed."

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi