You are here
For China, the Indian Prime Minister’s visit was significant because it dealt with sensitive border disputes and made clearer India’s geopolitical intentions. Afghanistan is important for China, but its approach and emphasis continues to be different to India.
By Dr. Wang Shida
By Vinod Anand, Senior Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation, New Delhi
By Dr. Wang Shida, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, China
Indian Prime Minister Manomohan Singh’s scheduled bilateral summit with Chinese leaders was dominated by a packed schedule of important decisions.
During his visit, between 22 and 24 October, Mr Singh concluded nine cooperation agreements with China covering the border issue, cross-border water resources, infrastructure, electricity, cultural exchange and other fields. As two of the largest populous and developing countries, China and India have an increasingly similar understanding and common interests on international and regional issues such as climate change, the international financial crisis, anti-terrorism and so on.
The issue of Afghanistan didn’t matter too much during this visit. One reason is that China and India has established a Director-General level dialogue on Afghanistan which has held several rounds of discussion. In fact, China and India have a common interest in stabilising Afghanistan as well as the whole region and will discuss how to facilitate more cooperation on the issue.
China has important national interests in Afghanistan, such as prevent the reemergence of terrorist in Afghanistan, maintain the peace and stability of the Western Frontline and facilitate the transit trade via Afghanistan. However, China does not consider military means as an efficient method and terms the reconciliation with different ethnic groups in Afghanistan as the only way to resolve the Afghanistan problem and supports an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process.
In recent years, Pakistan has been under tremendous pressure to do more in facilitating the reconciliation process and is taking more active steps, such as the release of dozens of former Taliban leaders including Mullah Baradar. However, people have to keep in mind that the Afghan Taliban is a group that is rooted in Afghanistan society. Pakistan may act as a bridge or communication channel, but Afghans have to find their own way to solve the problem of their national reconciliation and reconstruction.
In my opinion, China, India and Pakistan have a common interest in stabilising Afghanistan. China may play a role in alleviating the distrust between India and Pakistan. However, it is better to have a China-Pakistan-India Trilateral Forum focusing on Afghanistan issue which can be a combination of China-India Bilateral Dialogue of Afghanistan and China-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue.
Another reason why Afghanistan was not on the agenda maybe because Singh wants to concentrate on the core issue of the Sino-India relationship including the boundary problem and too many topics may dilute his effort. The most striking agreement made at this summit was the conclusion of the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement which aims to deal with this most sensitive aspect of China-India relations.
The two countries have fought over their shared borders, and there used to be tensions in the border regions ever since, not least earlier this year when there was a stand-off in the western Himalayas. The Border Defence Cooperation Agreement reiterated that both sides abide by the principle and procedure of previous bilateral agreements on the border issue signed in 1993, 1996 and 2005, restraining themselves in their activity in the border region. At the same time, the leaders also instructed their special representatives on the border issue to work towards a final agreement
From China’s perspective, Mr Singh made significant overtures towards China’s wish to have a ‘New Patter of Relationship Between Great Powers’, that is, to promote mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation on the basis of mutual respect and equality. During his visit, Singh outlined the blueprint for the future of the Sino-India relationship, which included ‘high-level strategic communication’ and a respect for each other’s ‘sovereignty and interests’ in a spirit of ‘mutual respect and equality.
In particular, Mr Singh also made it quite clear that the old theory of containment policy has been out of date. India and China should not seek to limit each other. In the background of rebalancing in the Asia-Pacific, this political commitment is particularly important. It shows that India is still the independent India in people’s memory: one that is not a pawn of any country and one that will adopt foreign policy on the basis of its own national interest.
Dr Wang Shida is Chief of the South West Asia Unit, Institute of South, Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, China