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29 October, 2013

To Russia, China with love

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The outcome of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visits to China and Russia last week testifies to the maturing of India’s relationship with the two countries, which, with Brazil and South Africa are its partners in the BRICS grouping. He was able to deepen ties with China, thanks to the spadework done by officials.

At an earlier phase in India’s diplomatic history, personal equations had played a major part in defining its relations with these countries. Ties with the Soviet Union were extremely formal until Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev established warm personal relations with Jawaharlal Nehru. The camaraderie that Nehru established with prime minister Zhou Enlai at Bandung kept Sino-Indian relations on an even keel until the 1962 border war drove the countries apart.

There has been a shift in the relative position of these countries in the global context since then. The Soviet Union has disappeared and its successor, Russia, does not possess the clout that it had. China, which the United States forcibly kept out of the world stage for a quarter century, has catapulted itself into the Number 2 position and is aiming for the top slot. Leaders still try to cultivate personal friendship but they know it cannot override political, economic and strategic factors.

At the end of the tour, Manmohan Singh said the visits had served their purpose and he was satisfied with the results.

His meeting with Vladimir Putin was the 14th successive annual Indo-Russian summit. A joint statement issued later referred to the cooperation between them in varied spheres such as space, energy, investment, high-tech trade, science, education, culture and tourism.

While Manmohan Singh was in Russia, the Indian government announced the commissioning of the first of two units of the Koodankulam nuclear project supplied by that country but the planned agreement for the supply of two more units did not materialise as the terms could not be settled in time.

The China visit yielded many agreements, some of which represent a significant advance. The most important of them aims at ensuring peace along the 4,000-kilometre long disputed border, which was the scene of a bloody conflict in the early 1960s. Beijing’s official assessment was that the visit sent a positive and powerful message that the two countries are committed to working together.

During the half-century that has elapsed since the war, the two countries have been in talks on the border issue with little progress. China has been arguing for some time that since the issue is highly complex a quick resolution cannot be expected and a framework should be established to prevent border incidents.

According to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the border defence cooperation agreement has codified the good practices evolved in the handling of developments along the line of control. It also provides for the establishment of a hotline between the two military headquarters and increased contacts between the military commands.

On the contentious trans-border rivers issue, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding which expands the scope of the existing expert-level mechanism beyond providing hydrological data on the Brahmaputra during the flood season.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party invited Manmohan Singh to address its Party School, which nurtures the country’s future leaders. He took the opportunity to stress that the Chinese and Indian economies can be complementary and outlined certain specific areas where they can cooperate for mutual benefit.

“We both know that the benefits of cooperation far outweigh any presumed gains from containment,” he told China’s emerging young leaders. “Therefore we should engage with each other in a spirit of equality and friendship and with confidence that neither country is a threat to the other.”

Reciprocating the sentiments he expressed, Wang Yi said there are unprecedented opportunities for cooperation and the leaders of the two countries have agreed on deepening strategic partnership. The national television quoted a Party School student as saying Manmohan Singh made many useful suggestions and he would “try to advance bilateral cooperation from my position”.

Looking beyond the prism of bilateral relations, Manmohan Singh and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang decided to work on the proposed BCIM economic corridor project, which will bring Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar together and link up with the Asean, China-Asean and India-Asean free trade areas to create the world’s largest free trade area. Tantalising as its prospects are India is inclined to hasten slowly, pending detailed examination of its implications for the northeastern states.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 29, 2013.

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