Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday outlined a new vision for the future of India’s ties with China, detailing “seven practical principles of engagement” that emphasised greater sensitivity to core issues, such as the boundary question and managing trans-border rivers, as a prerequisite for taking the relationship forward in other areas.
Maintaining peace and tranquillity in border areas was “a cornerstone” of the relationship, Dr. Singh said in a speech to around 500 members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee’s Party School, an elite body that trains future officials. The Prime Minister stressed that “we should do nothing to disturb that” and “at the same time should move quickly to resolve our boundary issue”.
Ensuring peace along the border and increasing consultations “on complex issues such as trans-border rivers and our trade imbalance” were two of the seven principles of engagement Dr. Singh outlined.
His speech struck a noticeably more measured – and realistic – tone about the future of the relationship than evident in past “shared vision” statements by leaders, which have often downplayed – or even ignored – more difficult issues while setting lofty objectives.
The idea was to impress upon Thursday’s select audience, which included rising provincial Party secretaries, promising CPC cadres and diplomats-in-waiting – China’s “future leaders”, as one school official put it – the often divergent and complex forces shaping the bilateral relationship, which has seen rapid economic growth even as strategic mistrust has persisted.
“Concerns on both sides – whether it is incidents in the border region, trans-border rivers or trade imbalances…. can become impediments to the full exploitation of the opportunities for bilateral and multilateral cooperation between India and China,” Dr. Singh said.
Framing peace on the border as the “cornerstone” of the relationship is a message that the Prime Minister has emphasised to the Chinese leadership particularly in the aftermath of the face-off along the border in April, in Depsang in Ladakh, triggered by Chinese troops putting up tents in disputed areas.
Trans-boundary rivers and the widening trade imbalance were also mentioned as “complex issues” that required greater consultations.
The other five areas of engagement were: sensitivity to each other’s core concerns; greater policy coordination on global issues to boost strategic trust; pushing economic ties; widening people-to-people contact; and “a spirit of transparency” to eliminate misunderstandings on issues concerning “our region and our periphery”.
The last point appeared to reference India’s concerns on a number of aspects of China’s engagement with Pakistan. During Wednesday’s talks, India reiterated its concerns over Chinese investments in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
In Thursday’s speech, Dr. Singh also highlighted the threat of “terrorism, extremism and radicalism emanating from our neighbourhood”, saying it was affecting “both of us directly and can create instability across Asia.”
The Prime Minister described maritime security in the Pacific and Indian Oceans as essential to India’s energy security, and said it was in India’s interest to see an “inclusive and rule-based security architecture” in Asia. He also emphasised that India’s strategic partnerships with other countries were “defined by our own economic interests, needs and aspirations” and “not directed against China or anyone else”. Chinese State media have frequently denounced India's recent moves to bolster its economic ties in Southeast Asia, particularly with countries like Vietnam that are embroiled in disputes with China over the South China Sea.
“We expect a similar approach from China,” Dr. Singh said. “We were not destined to be rivals, and we should show determination to become partners”.
Dr. Singh was earlier introduced to the Party School’s students in glowing terms, described by Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister, as a “world-renowned statesman”.
He Yiting, the Party’s School Executive Vice-President, introduced Dr. Singh as the architect of India’s economic reforms. “The success of India can be attributed to the hard work of Dr. Singh,” he said.
Following the address, Dr. Singh was asked by the mayor of a city in southern Hunan province about how both sides could widen economic cooperation. He suggested infrastructure investments as one avenue, considering Chinese capabilities and Indian needs.
An official from the Foreign Affairs Office of Hainan, a southern island province, asked Dr. Singh what he saw as the biggest challenge facing the relationship.
“The most important thing for both of us to undertake,” he answered, “is to maintain peace and tranquillity on the border”.