How India activated its Chinese diplomacy in post-1962?


by Dr. Rajkumar Singh 19 October 2019

In post-1962 period relations between India and China were put on rails with the establishment of ambassadorial level contact in April 1976. It could not be done earlier because Peking was engaged in a full-scale campaign against India whose chief purpose was to carry the conviction that India was no longer non-aligned but was firmly in the imperialist camp. In the meantime China shifted its position on Kashmir, moved closer to Pakistan and gradually became a major source of military and economic aid to Islamabad. Particularly in case of Nepal and Sri Lanka China adopted the policy of creating or encouraging dissensions between them and India. The border question was, in addition, made complicated with Pakistan giving China a direct access to the disputed territory of Kashmir. It was reported at the close of the sixties that Pakistan was building a road from Mor- Khun in Northern Kashmir to Khunjareb Pass on the Kashmir-Sinkiang territory. The entire alignment of the road ran in Indian territory under Pakistani occupation. The road was strategic one and would help extend the Chinese road network in the Tibet-Sinkiang area into Northern Kashmir. The Government of India viewed that ‘it will give easier access to Chinese troops from areas under the illegal occupation of China in North-east Kashmir and from Tibet into the Gilgit area in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir which lies to the North of ceasefire line.

Indian initiatives

China’s strategic relations with Pakistan and construction of Karakoram highway on a disputed land with the help of the former had marred the prospect of border talks between the two. But in spite of these negative developments India, on her part, did not shift its policy towards China either on Tibet or on Taiwan. It also backed fully China’s efforts for representation in the United Nations. By the time Indira Gandhi took the reign of administration in January 1980 a lot of change had been made in China’s internal and external policies. Considering the proper perspective, she opted for a policy of establishing contact with the Chinese. As a major breakthrough she met Huo Guofeng, her Chinese counterpart, on the occasion of Tito’s funeral in May 1980 and an agreement was announced when Huang Hua, the Foreign Minister of China, visited New Delhi in June 1981. With no major gain on the border side it could be counted as slow serpantine movement of adjustment and accommodation. They agreed that the officials of the two countries should take up the problems and seek settlement through periodic and on going discussions. Huang Hua mentioned that the three principles: historical background, existing realities and national sentiments of the two countries should constitute the framework for addressing the border problem. Among the positive developments, the most important was Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Beijing in December 1988.

                For India the central issue was border problem but with the visit of Rajiv Gandhi in December 1988 India changed the track and decided to push relations with Beijing ahead without waiting for a border settlement. Indian view received further impetus in May 1992 when R.Venkataraman, the President of India, visited China and emphasised the creation of conditions of tranquility on the border. During the visit they acknowledged in their statements that the border problem was a serious road block and needed redress through serious negotiations. Side by side several meetings of Joint Working Group (JWG) were concluded to strengthen the process of peace and tranquility on the border and both sides agreed to facilitate greater mutual confidence in their relations.

 Development of understanding

The two countries moved in direction of getting peace and tranquility on the border and as a mark  of success they agreed to keep the border dispute apart and develop friendly relations when P.V. Narasimha Rao, the Indian Prime Minister paid a visit to Beijing in 1993. Until the border dispute is resolved, Rao and Li Peng agreed to maintain peace on Line of Actual Control (LAC). They also greed to undertake specific confidence building measures like informing each other on their military exercises, but unfortunately no consensus was arrived at the reduction of troops on the border. It seems that the original impetus given and policy orientations initiated by Deng Xiaoping, Rajiv Gandhi, Li Peng and Narasimha Rao has lost momentum.

                As a result of the understanding reached between the two during Narasimha Rao’s visit to Beijing “to skirt border dispute” and develop friendship Jiang Zemin, President of China and Head of the Chinese Communist Party paid an official visit to India in November 1996 and among others, signed an Agreement on Confidence Building Measures. The signed agreement provided that the two countries would reduce their military strength along the Line of Actual Control and that no military activities would be undertaken by either country that affected the other country. The preamble of the agreement laid stress on the relevance of Panchsheel and stated that it was aimed at a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement of the complicated border issue. However, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was the leader of opposition at the time, called for cautious approach towards China. He wondered why President Jiang Zemin was maintaining a mysterious silence on the border issue.

                Differences between India and China on many other issues have been narrowed down but by no means eliminated. Some of the operational confidence building measures have been put in place since 1993, but the CBM’s agreed upon in this time and later in 1996 can be fully implemented only after the problems affecting the Line of Actual Control are settled. The fact of the matter is that the Chinese seemed reluctant to take even the interim step necessary to move towards a solution of the boundary question, namely, to delineate the Line of Actual Control in the seven segments where there is a difference of opinion between China and India. China has no intention to resolve the boundary question. It remains opposed to India’s nuclear weaponisation and missile programme. On the other Chinese defence cooperation, particularly with Pakistan, remains a major security concerns of India to which there has been no satisfactory Chinese response.

Perceptional status as today

                Even today, China remains concerned about India’s policies on Tibet. This concern is heightened by the incremental support that the Dalai Lama is getting from the international community. The China visit of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Indian Prime Minister, in July 2003 was a classic exempler of Indian diplomacy in practice. Despite elusive statements and concessions from the Indian side, the Chinese spoke in measured terms on Sino-Indian relations and gave no ground. In the period since the negotiations began, China has emerged as a global economic and political force and strengthened its leverage vis-à-vis India, both directly and through its mass transfers of weapons of mass destruction to Pakistan.

                As viewed by the Indian establishment China desires a normal relationship with India, they seem insistent about having this on their own terms. Another Indian view is that Chinese relations with Pakistan and Myanmar could be an exercise for creating a Chinese cordon sanitaire around India. In an atmosphere of mistrust, net result would not be easy to come by. Prolonged and hard-nosed discussions would follow. But as they are neighbours, big countries, vast landmasses, ancient civilizations, modern, independent, nationalist countries they have to live together and learn to make adjustments and accommodations.