Vol. 4 Num 36 Wed. July 02, 2003  

The horizon this weeK
Wind of change in India-China relations
Tilt moving east on the world stage?

A historic agreement has been signed by the two most populous nations of the globe, China and India. India has acknowledged Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and China has in return acknowledged Indian sovereignty over Sikkim. Inone go after half a century India and China have buried the hatchet and started a fresh journey. As time unfolds the historic importance of this event will become clear.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has just completed a visit to China, where an Indian head of government was returning after exactly a decade. Interestingly Vajpayee as Foreign Minister of India had visited China a little over two decades ago and started successful negotiations in order to settle the long-standing border dispute left over by history. Vajpayee has been euphoric while describing the Sino-Indian agreement. He has described it as a 'win-win situation'. According to the text of the Joint Statement, the two sides will appoint special political representatives which Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha described as a 'very big development'. Sinha described the visit as the 'beginning of a new era'.

Exactly forty years ago India and China became embroiled in a military confrontation over the largely undefined mountainous border. China, with her massive army trained to fight in the mountains struck across the high Himalayas and made considerable inroads into Indian territory. China had no intention to hold Indian territory and promptly withdrew. She made forcefully the point that the long border needed to be looked into. The 1962 border conflict left a bad taste in the mouth. Those were the days of 'panchsheel' or five principles on which the Non-Aligned Movement was based. The slogans everywhere used to be Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai (Indians and Chinese are brothers). The 1962 conflict was a severe blow to the majestic march of the Non-Aligned Movement.

It is to the great credit of these two great nations that they have maintained peace between them and have worked patiently for all these years in order to reach a settlement. To complicate the picture for India the highest Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, sought refuge in India and India gave him not only a home but treated him with the utmost regard, due to the exalted office he held. The western media has tried over the years to play the Dalai Lama card but to no avail. India was careful that the Dalai Lama does not fall in a trap and play politics from his new home in India.

Indian media has lauded the agreement between India and China. The Hindu a major independent daily of India wrote appreciatively: the Joint Declaration of 'the seal of formal approval to pragmatism and proven step by step approach to problem solving'. The two sides have anchored their bilateral relations to greater trade and investments. In this day and age of globalisation, it is wise to keep an eye on trade and commerce.

The big leap forward in the bilateral relations between India and China will have profound and far reaching consequences. It is well known that for several decades China has maintained friendly relations with Pakistan, with whom India is locked in a long standing noisy dispute. Although China has not significantly moved away from Pakistan, nor is she prepared to underwrite any adventure in which Pakistan may land herself with India. China has consistently advocated moderation with her Pakistani friends.

Now that China has taken the decisive step to normalise relations with India, this trend is bound to be accentuated. Pakistan, which has suffered from a 'siege mentality' will have to review the whole situation. Both India and China are players on the world stage to which Pakistan will not be able to match.

Since 11 September 2001, the US lost her superpower status although retained the position of the most powerful country on the planet. Thanks to her careless action in Iraq, to which Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Britain has willingly joined, the world has been thrown into chaos. The Security Council stands divided and the closest allies of the US, namely France and Germany, have been estranged. At the time of writing, the US is striving to recruit soldiers from poor countries like Bangladesh and India to replace US soldiers. The burden of the war appears to be too heavy for the US. The US continues to believe in an unipolar world, whereas events have moved very swiftly forward.

As a centre for power outside of the US, there is Russia, which has been considerably weakened by her collapse a little over a decade ago. She fell from the superpower pedestal. Yet she is the largest country on the planet and covers a huge part of the globe. In military strength, in technological advancement, specially in the field of space she is a strong competitor of the US. Then comes the growing European Union (EU). It is daily gathering strength and moving in the direction of a Federal state.

It is already a grouping of 25 countries and is continuing to expand. A former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, has just presented a document whose target is to become eventually the Constitution of the Federation of Europe. Europe by its size, population, highly developed in every field of human endeavour, has the potential to become another powerful centre.

From a bipolar world which lay buried at the last decade of the last century emerged very briefly a unipolar (in the shape of the US) world. The world today appears more like a rudderless ship than with many definite centres of power. With the elimination of possible conflict between the two most populous nations of the globe -- China and India -- the tilt moves to the East, where there are powerful nations like Japan. This is the Chinese Ying and Yang, the moving of the pendulum. We have to hope that with all the weapons of mass destruction, in the possession of some countries, there will be enough sagacity to control the emotions and not blow up the world.

Arshad-uz-Zaman is a former Ambassador.