Opinion

First step towards settlement

Both India and China have also happily decided to use the talks to improve the overall climate between the two countries. Consequently, the talks will not be limited to the border question but will also explore ways and means of enlarging the areas of cooperation in various fields including cultural affairs, trade, agriculture and industry.

All those interested in seeing India and China resolve their border dispute and revive friendly relations between the two countries are keeping their finger crossed. India’s delegation to the forthcoming Sino-Indian talks is expected to begin preliminary consultations in Beijing this morning. Substantive talks will start tomorrow or on Thursday. All manner of speculative stories have been carried by the media on the possible outcome of the talks. Some of these have been overly optimistic and some unduly pessimistic. New Delhi is approaching the talks positively, cautiously and realistically. Beijing, for its part, appears to have adopted an identical approach according to available indications. Happily, both sides seem keen to ensure that the parleys do not run into rough weather or, bluntly put, fail even if they do not turn out to be successful. One thing alone is certain. Nothing dramatic is likely to happen one way or the other. True, miracles can never be ruled out. But in this case there seems to be little scope for any.

Some commentators have read a lot more than is justified in the fact that the Beijing talks are being held later than anticipated. Following the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Mr. Huang Hua, to New Delhi in June last, the parleys were expected in September. The “delay” of over two months has been attributed by some to “fresh hurdles and misunderstandings.” This is not so. There is no particular reason for what has come to pass. The delay has occurred mainly due to what may be described as the time-table problem of finding mutually convenient dates for meetings in a world beset by increasing bilateral, group and global consultations. (September was largely taken up by the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Melbourne and October by the Cancun meet.) There is no gainsaying the fact that India’s decision to include the Speaker of Arunachal Pradesh in its Parliamentary delegation to the Asian Conference on Population and Development inadvertently caused a breeze. But good sense on both sides eventually helped to resolve the issue smoothly.

In fact, it needs to be remembered that the Foreign Ministers of India and China took every care at their meeting in New Delhi to ensure that their decision to hold a “purposeful discussion to arrive at a settlement” of the border issue should proceed smoothly. Accordingly, Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao and Mr. Huang Hua decided not to identify the level at which the first meeting should be held. Instead, they agreed that these “should be undertaken at the appropriate levels” which left both sides free to make proposals in the best mutual interest. New Delhi and Beijing have now decided through common consent to hold initial talks at the intermediate level, namely, that of the Secretaries. This has its advantages. A Secretary is in a position to develop policy as things go along, which is not possible at a lower level or that of Ambassadors, who have their own constraints. Between 1958 and 1962, the level of Sino-Indian talks fluctuated from the level of the Prime Ministers to that of Directors in the Ministry which, in retrospect, was perhaps not the best way of handling a sensitive matter.

Both India and China have also happily decided to use the talks to improve the overall climate between the two countries. Consequently, the talks will not be limited to the border question but will also explore ways and means of enlarging the areas of cooperation in various fields including cultural affairs, trade, agriculture and industry. (A cultural accord was expected to be signed during Mr. Huang Hua’s visit. But this could not materialize owing to lack of time.) India’s delegation has been constituted accordingly and New Delhi has conveyed to Beijing its interest in certain specific things, namely, biogas units, mini hydel plants, small-scale cement factories and water and soil conservancy. Beijing has communicated broadly its own areas of interest. These include certain sectors of India’s textile industry, open pit mining, shellac industry and diamond cutting. India and China have already exchanged delegations in regard to the manufacturer of machine tools. More such in other fields may well follow.

Essentially, the idea is to generate enough goodwill as will help resolve the longstanding and complex India-China boundary question, complicated by a succession of unfortunate events since the issue first erupted in 1959. The Chinese Vice-Premier, Mr. Deng Xioping, offered a package deal in this regard in June last year and repeated it in his talk in Beijing early this year with Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, the Janata leader, and India’s Ambassador, Mr. Shankar Bajpai. Specifically, he proposed a settlement on the basis of Chinese acceptance of the McMahon Line in exchange for Indian acceptance of the Chinese claim to Aksai Chin. The offer contains little that is new. It repeats in essence China’s old offer made by Mr. Chou En-lai in his six-point proposal when he visited New Delhi in April 1960 for talks with India’s Prime Minister, Mr. Nehru. The difference, if any, lies only in one thing. Mr. Deng has formulated the original offer more explicitly. He has stated that “while we can recognize the present line of actual control in the eastern sector, India should recognize the status quo in the western sector.”

Beijing has been seeking for some time now New Delhi’s views on Mr. Deng’s package proposal. Only recently, China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Han Nianlong, said, “we are waiting for India’s response.” But in doing so, Beijing ignores the fact that time has not stood still since April 1960. Much has happened in the past two decades and more that has roused national feelings and complicated the question. In the Aksai Chin area, China today occupies some 2,000 to 2,500 sq miles more than the 12,000 sq miles it did in April 1960. What is more, this additional area was taken by the force of arms left behind bitter memories but also caused both Houses of Parliament to adopt a unanimous resolution on the subject. This resolution, moved by Mr. Nehru and adopted by members of Parliament while standing in an emotion-charged atmosphere, stated that India would not rest until every inch of aggression was vacated from its sacred soil.

India would have been justified in responding to Mr. Deng’s offer as an invitation to repeat its own earlier stand on Mr. Chou En-lai’s six-point proposal of April 1960. But New Delhi has deliberately desisted from doing so in the interest of genuinely seeking a settlement which is at once fair and honourable to both sides. Nothing illustrates this better than the statement by Mr. Narasimha Rao in the Lok Sabha on July 2, 1980, in response to calling attention notice regarding Mr. Deng’s reported offer on the border question. Mr. Rao, it may be recalled, stated: After a considerable laps of time, our two Governments have only just begun to come to grips with it once more. This itself is a positive step. It may be that ways other than the package solution suggested by the Chinese Government could prove more effective. In any event, I am sure the House will agree that we should proceed forward meaningfully while also keeping our best interest in mind.” This basic approach still holds.

Some China experts have of late come out with new archival material and fresh evidence in regard to “the truth” about India’s border with China both in the western and eastern sectors. One expert, who has been supported by the Dr. Kotnis Memorial Committee, has gone to the astonishing length of even suggesting that Sir Olaf Caroe had in the late thirties tried to give McMahon Line an ex post facto legal basis by getting some of his officials to fake the 1929 edition of Aitchison’s Treaties, which contained the original version of the 1913-14 Simla Conference of Tibetan, Chinese and British plenipotentiaries. New Delhi has its own view on this. It has gone through all evidence — new and old — and continues to do so. In fact, the Foreign Office reaffirms the stand taken by Mr. Narasimha Rao in reply to a discussion on the subject in the Lok Sabha on July 31 last. Mr. Rao then stated that “the Governments who keep abreast of all important research on the subject are fully convinced that the alignment shown in our  maps conforms to the true international border.”

All in all, India and China will have to adopt a political approach and not get bogged in the legalistic minefield of evidence and counter evidence. There is imperative need for the two to recapture the atmosphere of the early fifties and revive their friendship, uninfluenced by third countries. Both New Delhi and Beijing have together a role to play in a world which once again finds itself on the threshold of a cold war. Moscow is expectedly taking keen interest in the Beijing parleys. One of its top China experts, Mr. Kapista, visited New Delhi recently to share his analysis of China today — and presumably offer his “informal advice” in dealing with Beijing. Again, Mr. Kuznetsov, Soviet Deputy Premier, who deals with South-East Asia, is due in the Union Capital tomorrow, causing not a few eyebrows to raise in the diplomatic world. New Delhi and Beijing have to move warily in a situation where it would be unwise and impractical to expect results overnight. The Beijing talks will have more than served their purpose if they constitute the first meaningful step towards an overdue settlement.

 

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Inder Jit

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