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A future of friendship?

Hu Jintao facilitated a structural transformation of the China-India relationship

Written by C. Raja Mohan |
March 29, 2012 3:40:45 am

Hu Jintao facilitated a structural transformation of the China-India relationship

President Hu Jintao’s visit to India this week,to participate in the BRICS summit,is probably the last by the current generation of the Chinese communist leadership.

Hu and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao,who have steered China through the last decade,will formally step down from their positions after the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party elects a new leadership this September.

Hu leaves behind many problems — old and new,internal and external — for the next generation of Chinese leaders. But there is no denying Hu’s contribution in making China the world’s second largest economy,raising its domestic prosperity,strengthening its military power and expanding its global influence.

One of the less heralded achievements of Hu is his role in facilitating a structural transformation of the Sino-Indian relationship since he took charge in 2002.

In his engagement with the NDA’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee,Hu ended the post-Pokharan chill in bilateral relations and set the stage for a more productive relationship with India.

Working even more closely with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,Hu Jintao has altered Sino-Indian relations immensely and irreversibly.

Take trade for instance. In 2002,the trade between the two countries stood at $5 billion. By 2011,it grew fifteen-fold to reach $75 billion.

China has become a new factor in the modernisation of India’s infrastructure,especially in the power and telecommunications sector.

Current Chinese project exports in the pipeline are estimated at nearly $50 billion.

There has been some progress under Hu in addressing the boundary dispute between the two countries. China recognised Sikkim as part of India during Vajpayee’s visit to Beijing in 2003.

The elevation of the boundary negotiations to the political level saw the first ever substantive agreement — the 2005 declaration on the political parameters and guiding principles for the resolution of the dispute.

Since then,the two sides have been exploring a potential deal with mutual territorial concessions. Meanwhile,the two sides have largely succeeded in maintaining peace and tranquillity along their long and contested border.

Military exchanges between New Delhi and Beijing have begun after an MoU was signed between the two defence ministries in 2006. The two security establishments have also agreed to launch a new maritime security dialogue.

Political consultations and cooperation in the multilateral arena have significantly expanded. Unlike in the past when meetings at the high political level were episodic,Singh has regularly met Hu and Wen on the margins of many international forums.

Before 2002,the contacts between the two countries were limited to a small group of people in the government. Today,business-to-business contacts and exchanges between the two societies have reached unprecedented levels as thousands of Indians and Chinese travel between the two nations.

More Indian professionals are learning Mandarin as Shanghai and Beijing emerge as potentially attractive alternatives to such traditional Western destinations as New York and London.

Over the last decade,Hu has helped build a “full spectrum” bilateral relationship with India and lend it depth and breadth that were unimaginable in 2002.

During Hu’s tenure,Delhi and Beijing have also demonstrated the ability to handle occasional crises in bilateral relations related to Kashmir,Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh with wisdom and restraint.

Viewed from Delhi,the current intensity of bilateral engagement with China and the new maturity in bilateral relations might seem dramatic.

But seen from a broader perspective,India and China have merely arrived at a “new normal” in bilateral relations. Like all the other major powers in the world,India has recognised the importance of taking advantage of the opportunities presented by China’s economic growth.

Like everyone else,Delhi has its share of problems with Beijing — the massive trade deficit,an unresolved boundary dispute,and unending competition for natural resources and political influence around the world.

Delhi and Beijing have significant differences on their relationships with such third parties as Pakistan and the United States,the construction of a new Asian security order,India’s membership of the non-proliferation regime,and the expansion of the United Nations Security Council.

To their credit,Hu and Singh have successfully widened the areas of economic cooperation and political consultation and insulated them from the real divergence that exists.

In its quest for a credible strategic framework to manage bilateral differences with Beijing,India is finally overcoming the mindset of 1962 that prevented Delhi so long from adopting realistic policies towards Beijing.

The military clashes of 1962 were nothing compared to the Korean war between the US and China during 1950-53,in which nearly 35,000 American soldiers and more than 100,000 Chinese soldiers (Western estimates put the figure at 400,000) were killed.

Yet,less than two decades later,the US and China were befriending each other. India,in contrast,allowed the 1962 syndrome to keep the relationship off track for decades and resist economic cooperation even when it is in its own self-interest.

Delhi was among the first to engage Communist China in the 1950s when the West and many in Asia refused to recognise its existence. While the West and Asia contributed to and benefited from the Chinese economic miracle since the 1980s,India stood apart.

India is the last major power to develop a full spectrum relationship with China. Delhi and Beijing are celebrating 2012 as the “year of friendship” between the two countries.

This year will also mark the 50th anniversary of the 1962 war. As they pat each other on the back for the transformation of the Sino-Indian relationship,Singh and Hu are close to putting the ghosts of 1962 to rest.

In what could be one of their last bilateral meetings this week,Singh and Hu must set more ambitious destinations for the long journey that China and India have begun under their leadership.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research,Delhi

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