Hu Jintao's Visit: More Form than Substance

In their summit meeting on November 21, 2006, President Hu Jintao of China and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed 13 agreements to further consolidate India-China relations. The most noteworthy aspect of the summit was the mutual understanding on enhancing bilateral trade to US $ 40 billion by 2010 and on undertaking a feasibility study on a free trade agreement. 
 
Though the Chinese President did not endorse the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear Cooperation agreement, the joint declaration stated that "international civilian nuclear cooperation should be advanced through innovative and forward-looking approaches, while safeguarding the effectiveness of international non-proliferation principles." Considering that the Chinese juggernaut moves forward slowly, this is considered a major step forward. There is now a fair probability that China may not oppose civilian nuclear cooperation with India in the next meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group as it was widely expected to do. As China intends to supply new nuclear reactors to Pakistan despite its poor track record as the world's leading proliferators of nuclear technology, it has no real alternative but to stand aside on the implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal. 
 
However, it was on the question of the unresolved territorial and boundary dispute that the summit belied even low expectations. All that emerged was reiteration of the position that both the sides favour a "fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable" settlement and agree that it should be a "strategic objective" to resolve the dispute expeditiously. It need not be emphasised that for the relations between the tow Asian giants to gain a genuinely sound footing and become "irreversible", as Dr. Manmohan Singh stated during the meeting, the security relationship must move hand-in-glove with the burgeoning trade relationship and cooperation on other fronts as it has the potential to act as a spoiler. 
 
No Indian government can ignore the fact that China continues to be in occupation of and lays claim to large areas of Indian territory . In Aksai Chin in Ladakh, China is in physical possession of approximately 38,000 square kilometres (sq km) of Indian territory since the 1962 war with India. In addition, Pakistan illegally ceded about 5,200 sq km territory in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to China in 1963. Through this China built the Karakoram highway that now provides a strategic land link between China and Pakistan. China continues to claim that the reunification of Arunachal Pradesh with China, about 96,000 sq km of Indian territory, is a sacred duty.
 
The un-delineated Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China is a major destabilising factor as incidents such as the Nathu La clash of 1967 and the Wang Dung standoff of 1987 can recur. Despite the Border Peace and Tranquillity Agreement (BPTA) of 1993, the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in the Military Field agreed in 1996 and over a dozen meetings of the Joint Working Group, the Experts Group and now the Special Representatives for negotiations at the political level, it is remarkable that even the LAC is yet to be demarcated. 
 
The China-Pakistan nexus in the nuclear, missiles and military hardware fields poses a present and future military challenge to India. It is in India's interest to strive towards an early resolution of the territorial dispute with China so that India has only one major military adversary to contend with and is able to re-deploy at least some of the 10 to 12 mountain divisions and perhaps four to six squadrons of the Indian Air Force from the Tibet-China border to its western border to gain a decisive military edge against Pakistan. India may even be able to consider 'downsizing' a few army divisions and utilise the savings for the qualitative upgradation of the army. 
 
India also needs to be watchful of China's increasing military involvement in Myanmar , which has the potential to impinge on India's trade and maritime interests. China's wooing of Nepal and Bhutan, its sale of sophisticated military technology to Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, and the possibility of it acquiring naval bases such as Gwadar on Pakistan's Makran Coast and over land and air routes to such bases in the countries around India, are areas of concern for India's security. Even though China 's navy is still decades away from acquiring the long-range capability necessary to operate with some degree of assurance and freedom in the Indian Ocean, these aspects need to be constantly monitored and vectored into India's strategic calculations. 
 
Since the Gulf War of 1991, China has stepped up its efforts to modernise the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA army has been engaged in raising a large number of rapid deployment divisions and in improving mobility and logistics support capability, while simultaneously upgrading its ability to undertake all-weather operations, improve air defence capability and institute state-of-the-art command and control systems. In this context, Chinese aspirations to gradually upgrade the PLA navy to a 'blue water' navy, to acquire deep penetration strike and strategic lift transport aircraft for the PLA air force and to obtain mid air refuelling capability for long-range operations, are also issues of concern. All these endeavours aim to create a modern fighting force capable of undertaking swift offensive operations in areas away from China's borders in keeping with China's new doctrine of preparing to fight a limited war under high-tech conditions. 
 
It is noteworthy that the upgradation of the military logistics infrastructure in Tibet is continuing at a steady pace. In addition to the Gormo-Lhasa railway line commissioned this year, China has been actively engaged in building new roads, supply lines and airfields close to the Indian frontier. A resurgent and militarily strong China may eventually attempt to force a military solution to the long-standing territorial and boundary dispute. Hence, a future border conflict between these two Asian giants, though improbable, cannot be ruled out. 
 
Eventually, Indian and Chinese strategic and economic interests can clash. It can only be hoped that the renewed political thrust at the highest levels will give the impetus necessary to negotiate an early settlement of the complex territorial and boundary dispute that will then lead to more stable relations.