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After Prime Ministers' meeting, India and China look to address trust gap

Ananth Krishnan

BEIJING: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao in Hanoi would set the tone for both countries to address persisting gaps in strategic trust ahead of the Chinese Premier's December visit to India, say analysts here.

“This meeting is very significant, as it has become increasingly important for both sides to better communicate their interests,” Rong Ying, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), an influential think tank, told The Hindu on Thursday.

“Both governments agree that the relationship is of importance beyond bilateral issues, and has strategic and global significance,” he said. “In areas like G20 cooperation, global economic governance and climate change, the two countries can really show to the public, and the world at large, that they can work together. By doing so, we can also help build strategic trust, which is particularly important in a fast-changing regional environment.”

Officials here acknowledge that a lack of trust has been particularly evident in recent months, as the year designated to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties became marked by a series of diplomatic disputes.

Core issues

Only three months ago, when National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon arrived here for talks with the Chinese leadership, were relations on an upswing. Mr. Menon said in July he came here with a broad and ambitious agenda — to formulate the basis for taking the strategic relationship to a whole new level. The foundation, he suggested, was that both countries would show sensitivity to each other's core interests to establish a level of trust.

But a month later, Beijing issuing a stapled visa to Lieutenant General B.S. Jaswal, chief of the Army's Northern Command, indicated fundamental disagreement over core issues. Officials here have so far not commented on visa policies, only saying China's policy was “consistent” and “unchanged.” “We hope that the development of the overall situation of bilateral ties will not be affected by some individual cases,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said.

On Thursday, English language newspapers here, known for their strident views, wrote that “containing China” was the motivation behind Dr. Singh's East Asia tour. “India and Japan have vowed recently to cement a closer relationship to confront a rising China,” Global Times said. This followed an article by a commentator in the People's Daily English website which struck a similar note. Officials and analysts stressed that views of papers known for their nationalist views did not merit much attention in India. “At the government level, and at the level of scholars here who study India, we are very aware of India's good interactions with regional countries and the Look East policy, which has been around for a long time,” Professor Rong said.

“The development of trade and economic cooperation is only natural. Take India's relations with Japan. It has its own characteristics. We are now living in a different world, where interactions between major powers are many and much more complex. These are not relations where one country wins and the other loses.”

Shen Dingli, a leading strategic analyst at Fudan University, echoed this view in a recent interview with The Hindu. “Post Cold-War relations are more complex,” he said, when asked about China's relations with Pakistan. He acknowledged that better communication and more transparency were required in managing these relationships. On the visa row too, he said China could have been more sensitive to India's sovereignty concerns. Both countries needed to better balance their relationships.

“I hope China, Pakistan and India would have maturity in developing win-win-win relationships.” On suggestions that China itself was concerned over increasing U.S. influence in Pakistan, and hence recently accelerated its engagement there, he said: “Some people may have that concern, but I think there are positives out of the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, too.” “I don't think an exclusive relationship with Pakistan is in China's interests,” he added. “It will reduce our manoeuvring space.”

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