‘Great wall of suspicion’ persists between China, India

NEW DELHI, (Reuters) –  Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao   left New Delhi yesterday, vowing that India will never be a   rival, but his rhetoric has done little to lift Indian unease   over a long-running border dispute and China-Pakistan relations.   

Despite the effusive displays of warmth during Wen’s visit    neither side appears anywhere close to resolving differences   over their disputed border, China’s policy on Kashmir and its   close security ties with India’s arch-rival, Pakistan.   

“Because the relationship had entered into a rough phase,   China probably calculated that the downward trend needed to be   arrested and that explains the visit,” said Kanwal Sibal, who   was India’s former foreign secretary from 2002-03.   

“But…he did not seem to come prepared with any concrete   decisions or signals to arrest these problems.”   
Wen’s visit is the first by a Chinese premier in five   years and he brought with him more than 300 business   executives, many of whom signed deals with Indian firms worth   more than $16 billion.   

Even as trade ties between the world’s two fastest-growing   major economies continue to flourish, with Wen setting an   ambitious target of $100 billion by 2015, he gave few firm   commitments on when and how India’s ballooning trade deficit   with China would be addressed.   

Wen said he would give Indian companies greater access to   the I.T., pharmaceuticals and agricultural products sectors in   China, in a bid to assuage Indian exporters, who have been   frustrated with the slow pace at which they see China opening   up its markets.   

“I don’t think that’s going to happen quickly,” Sibal   said. “China doesn’t yield ground quickly. Even with powerful   players, China hasn’t done much to satisfy their demands.”   
“My fear is that while the trade volumes will increase,   the trade deficit will also increase.”   
India’s trade deficit with China is by far the highest    among its trade partners and could touch $25 billion this   year, which would account for around a fifth of India’s total    expected annual deficit.  
India has sought to diversify its trade basket, but raw   materials and other low-end commodities such as iron ore still    make up about 60 percent of its exports to China.   
At the start of his trip, Wen said he was looking forward   to an early launch of negotiations for a free trade agreement,   but no progress was made due to Indian worries that it might   be a dumping ground for cheap manufactured goods from China.   
No other country has initiated more anti-dumping   investigations against China at the World Trade Organisation   than has India.   
 GREAT WALL OF SUSPICION    Many Indians were counting on the fact that Wen would   acknowledge that: Kashmir was an integral part of India; that   Pakistan-based militant groups were involved in the Mumbai   attacks in 2008; and that he would offer a solution to the   boundary dispute — issues that have marred Sino-Indian   relations.   
But he disappointed on all counts.   
“All Talk No Gain. Wen’s visit fails to breach Great Wall   of Suspicion,” said a headline in India’s Mail Today. “Peking   ducks on core issues,” said another.   

One of the immediate issues left hanging was a row over   China’s policy on Kashmir, where the Indian side was hoping   Wen would reiterate the country’s long-standing policy of   non-interference in the internal affairs of another country.    But the joint statement made no mention of the disputed   Himalayan region.   

In 2009, China began issuing stapled visas to residents of   Indian administered Kashmir, angering Indian politicians who   interpreted the move as a sign of Chinese interference to   discredit Indian sovereignty over the disputed region.   
From the Chinese point of view, the joint statement did   not make the usual mention of the “one China principle,”   referring to Taiwan, and “Tibet Autonomous Region as part of   the territory of the People’s Republic of China, issues close   to Beijing’s heart.    
One analyst saw the lack of reference to Tibet or Taiwan   as New Delhi’s response to Beijing for failing to endorse its   sovereignty over Kashmir.   
“You cannot treat Kashmir as a separate part of India and   expect us to go publicly to support ‘One China,” said   Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs editor of The Hindu.   

The biggest sticking point remained the unsettled border   over which China and India fought a war in 1962.    
“To completely resolve this problem, it will not be an   easy task,” Wen said at a speech on Thursday. “We need enough   patience and a fairly long period of time.”   

The Asian giants still claim vast swathes of each other’s   territories along their 3,500 km (2,173 mile) Himalayan border   which has never been demarcated.  
“If the border issue is not resolved, the national   identity is not defined, which means that the normalisation of   relations between India and China is not complete,”said   Srikanth Kondapalli, the chairman of the Centre for East Asian   Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.   
“That is the biggest source of mistrust. There is no road   map, no progress.”    

Beijing’s close military ties with Pakistan which New   Delhi blames for aiding militant groups involved in acts of   violence in the country are also a sore point.     

Unlike recent visitors French President Nicolas Sarkozy   and U.S. President Barack Obama, Wen did not mention the   Mumbai attacks or acknowledge that Pakistan harboured the   militants responsible for the attacks.   
While China is India’s largest trade partner, it invests   seven times more in Pakistan and is helping it build nuclear   reactors, despite grave misgivings in the West.    

Wen arrived in Islamabad yesterday to further deepen ties.   
India also fears China wants to restrict its global reach   by possibly opposing its bid for a permanent U.N. Security    Council seat or encircling the Indian Ocean region with    massive projects from Pakistan to Myanmar.  
China on Thursday reiterated its support for India’s   aspirations to play a greater role in the Security Council,   but it stopped short of expressing full backing for India’s   bid for a permanent seat.   

A hotline between Wen and his counterpart Manmohan Singh   was launched a few days ago, one of the few tangible gains in   political ties. Both sides agreed on regular consultations on   issues of importance.   

“Both sides recognise that the broader problem behind   these specific problems is a lack of mutual strategic trust,”   said Zhang Li, a professor who specialises in China-India   relations at Sichuan University in southwest China.  
“So I think the point is that before we can deal with   those specific problems, we have to first nurture broader   trust, and that was the main point of this visit.”

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