Forward-looking approach to China

NEW DELHI Jan. 28. The External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, has categorically rejected the contention of theorists that a conflict between India and China is inevitable. In a policy-setting speech delivered at a conference held by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses yesterday, he disappointed some Western and East Asian analysts who believed that the two Asain giants were bound to clash.

Mr. Sinha left no doubt in anyone's mind that India is committed to the unwavering course of improving relations with China. He spelt out a long-term prescription of how the two countries could work together and, simultaneously, resolve their differences. "Let me debunk these theories completely and state with full conviction that India neither pursues nor makes policy towards China based on the belief that conflict between the two is inevitable."

"A substantial measure of success has been achieved by now in the endeavour to establish mutual understanding between India and China,'' Mr. Sinha said. "Let me, however, assure everyone gathered here that India's approach to China is and will remain forward-looking and infused with a sense of optimism. India's policies will not be based on fear of Chinese power nor envy of China's economic achievements. They will be based on the conviction that a prosperous India is inevitable. So is a strong and prosperous China."

"It is, therefore, logical, reasonable and in the enlightened self-interest of both (India and China) that the two countries learn not just to live with each other but also address differences and build on what is common...." he said.

Pointing to the dialogue mechanisms that were in place, Mr. Sinha said: "Functional delegations to learn from each other's experiences are crisscrossing each other's countries. High-level visits are being regularly exchanged. Premier Zhu Rongji visited India early last year and Prime Minister Vajpayee will visit China this year. Both countries realise, however, that much more ground needs to be covered."

The People's Daily of China, which picked up Mr. Sinha's remarks, highlighted the long-term commitment of the two countries to continue the process of addressing their differences. It quoted approvingly the External Affairs Minister's comments that India and China had "shown the wisdom to move ahead in their bilateral relations even as contentious issues such as the border dispute are separately addressed''.

His views are a recognition of the two poles in Asia — India and China. He is of the opinion that Asia will allow for the growth of both the countries as they themselves moved in the direction of greater economic integration. The differences that Mr. Sinha refers to are a recognition of reality, but more important is the direction in which he points India's bilateral relations with China — towards greater understanding and economic integration.

He also stressed that India and China had agreed at the highest level to move ahead in diverse areas of cooperation while simultaneously finding ways and means of addressing their differences through dialogue and peaceful means. Those familiar with official thinking said that India was very much looking forward to the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee's visit to China as an occasion to deepen the bilateral relationship.

Here, it may be pointed out that China has recently settled some of its outstanding boundary disputes with Vietnam. There is no reason, given goodwill on both sides, why Mr. Vajpayee's visit should not lead to acceleration in the process of addressing contentious boundary issues.

India is keen on sending out the signal that it will do everything in its power to mend fences with China while ensuring that a "second track" addresses the contentious issues.

Given that officialdom often passes off silence as policy towards China, Mr. Sinha has done well to lay down the contours of India's approach to China. Finally, he stressed that the key to Asian security lies in the collective ability of Asian nations to build mutual economic stakes in each other.

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