Originally published: January-March 2008
Extract: Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh’s three-day visit to China from 13-15 January 2008 was the first of the year by a foreign dignitary to the country, and in a land where symbolism counts for a great deal, it may be seen as notable for just this reason. Earlier, the Indian ruling coalition chairperson, Sonia Gandhi’s trip to China in November 2007 was also considered significant for being the first visit by a foreign political leader, following the conclusion of the important 17th Congress of the Communist Party of China. The Singh visit saw the additional highlight of the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao hosting his Indian counterpart to a private dinner testifying to both the significance of bilateral ties as well as to the excellent rapport between the two leaders.
However, symbolism apart, and despite the booming trade that continues to exceed all targets, Sino-Indian relations have seen some major political incidents beginning around the time of Chinese President, Hu Jintao’s visit to India in November 2006. These include then Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi’s statement on the eve of Hu Jintao’s visit reiterating China’s claim over Arunachal, the denial of a Chinese visa to an Indian civil servant of Arunachali origin and the Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi’s statement that the “mere” fact of populated areas was insufficient reason for China to give up its territorial claims. While the first two incidents are not surprising, given that they reflect the official Chinese position – Arunachalis have been denied Chinese visas in the past as well – it was the last one that provided the real jolt as it was in apparent contradiction of the Article VII of the 2005 Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question, which statedsthat “the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.”
Taken together, the Hu Jintao visit to India and the Manmohan Singh visit to China mark perhaps the beginning of a new stage in Sino-Indian ties. For one, both sides seem to have reconciled themselves to the fact that every visit will not produce a “great leap forward” in ties but that progress can only be incremental. Two, it appears now that the economic relationship is also beginning to witness increasing problems and given that the actors involved are more than governmental ones, these are likely to crop more often and more visibly in the future. While the boundary talks continue with no end in sight, the relationship is likely to be tested further by these and other newer issues.
Original Article: “Manmohan Singh’s Visit to China: New Challenges Ahead,” China Report, Vol. 44, No. 1, January-March 2008, pp. 63-70.