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#131, 6 August 1998
India-China Relations
Co-Director, IPCS

India-China relations suffered a serious reverse in April 1998. It was sparked off by a series of statements made by the Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes, soon after he assumed office in late March this year. An analysis of this has been made elsewhere in these web pages. Relations suffered a further setback when India conducted nuclear test explosions on 11 and 13 May 98 identifying China as the primary threat. Prime Minister Vajpayee's letter to President Clinton on 14th May, leaked to the New York Times, which spelt this out clearly was seen by the Chinese as the final proof of this change in Indian policy.



This brief analysis draws upon two statements of the Chinese Ambassador in India . He made these at an interview to a leading Delhi newspaper, The Hindu, published on 10 July and at a public address at the India International Centre on 25 July. Two remarks from the Hindu article needs to be quoted. First, referring to the statements since April, the Ambassador their effect as;



"All this has sabotaged the atmosphere of the current Sino-Indian relations, harmed the developing bilateral relations between China and India and endangered the future of the relations between the two countries."



The second, are the conditions that he ascribes to restoring good relations between our two countries, where he says:-



"However, 'it is up to the doer to undo the knot' just as a Chinese saying points out. The Chinese side hopes that the Indian side will make responsible explanations with regard to the aforesaid remarks against China , immediately stop all its accusations and take actual actions."



The Ambassador's speech at the Centre on 25 May describes China 's policy on reform and opening up, China 's foreign policy, China 's South Asia policy, and traces the history of Sino-Indian relations. The last paragraph of this talk deserves to be quoted in full: -



"Since April and May this year the Sino-Indian relations have witnessed abnormal developments. That is something we are unwilling to see. The so-called China threat to India 's security is baseless. Fictitious charges against China have greatly hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and harmed the Sino-Indian relations. What China hopes from India is neighbourliness, friendship and co-operation. What China wishes India is stability, progress and development. China does not pose any threat to India . The Chinese side could not but refute some wanton attack and accusation against China by certain personages in India in order to safeguard the friendly relations between our two countries and bring the Sino-Indian relations back onto the track of healthy development at an early date. We are glad to find that it is the common aspiration of most Indian people and persons of insight to restore and develop the friendly relations between our two countries. I sincerely hope that the Sino-Indian relations will overcome temporary difficulties and return to normal at the earliest possible time and that the friendship between our two peoples will keep growing."



The relations are presently at an all time low since 1976, perhaps even worse than 1986-87 during the Sumdorong Chu incident. The working group level meeting on 8-9 June this year was downgraded and did not discuss the LAC. The meeting was a mere formality. The next round of talks at the Joint Working Group level was to be held in August this year at Beijing , but is unlikely to take place any time soon. It is possible that the Chinese may not have ascribed too great a significance to the Defence Minister's statements. He is a known maverick and staunchly pro-Tibetan. His anti-Chinese views are known and may, therefore, have been discounted. But, the Prime Minister's letter to President Clinton was the final confirmation that the Chinese Government needed. The question today is how to bring the relations back to an even keel.



The Ambassador has repeatedly mentioned in response to questions, of India 's need to rectify the wrongs. Its Foreign Minister in Manila referred to the country tying the knot has to undo it first. The Ambassador also raised the level of 'hurt' to the formidable level of the feelings of the Chinese people. What might these imply? The Chinese Government should ofcourse have no delusion that there can be any backtracking, far less an apology of sorts from India . Even though the Defence Minister's interview to the Far Eastern Economic Review recently, was very conciliatory, the Government can hardly be expected to go back on its policies so soon.



There can be two clear deductions from the above. One, the Chinese would like to study the situation more closely before reaching a firm conclusion. There is no hurry over this. Second, there would be some doubts in their mind regarding the continuation of the current Government in India . Any serious discussion with the present Government for the time can be ruled out.



A sense of strategic partnership with the USA must be a heady affair for Jiang Zemin. Indian tests came at a particularly advantageous time for China , with Clinton 's visit so soon afterwards. Unknowingly New Delhi provided Beijing the best advantage it had so far to emerge as a global player at par with the USA . Beijing can be expected to play this card for all it is worth before giving it up.



A period of high discomfort mixed with tension is the prognostication for India-China relations for the last few years of this Century.






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