Vajpayee´s China Visit: Eating a Humble Pie


by CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine

Atal Behari Vajpayee´s six-day visit to China coincided with General Pervez Musharraf´s Camp David rendezvous with the American President. The two simultaneous visits have served to highlight the paradoxical realities underlying the subcontinent´s external relations with the rest of the world.

Musharraf´s US visit fetched Pakistan a $ 3 billion aid package and renewed political support for his regime. This also meant a clear message for the Vajpayee government that despite its all-out attempts to please Washington and emerge as the exclusive American ally or client in this part of the world, Pakistan continues to enjoy greater strategic significance in the American scheme. Vajpayee´s China visit has yielded a joint declaration and nine separate agreements – all essentially in the nature of statements of intent and policy directives. The biggest message emanating from the exercise is that it is impossible for India to ignore China and live only on US blessings.

Vajpayee´s China visit was the third by an Indian Prime Minister in the last fifteen years. The high point of the visit was the signing of a "Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation" between China and India. The declaration called for building "a qualitatively new relationship" that would meet the need to "promote the socio-economic development and prosperity of both China and India; maintain peace and stability regionally and globally; strengthen multipolarity at the international level; and enhance the positive factors of globalization." It should be noted that while the declaration did not mention the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq or the growing threat of American intervention in other parts of Asia, it did in its own way emphasise the need for a multipolar world order, for strengthening and reforming the UN system and ensuring greater representation of developing countries in the UN Security Council and for forging closer cooperation between China and India in the World Trade Organisation.

The joint declaration has also highlighted the need for a qualitative enhancement of the China-India "bilateral relationship at all levels and in all areas." In this context, it has been categorically mentioned that the two neighbours do not pose a threat to each other, and that India recognises the Tibet Autonomous Region as part of the Chinese territory and would not allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China political activities in India. The declaration also called for expanding economic cooperation between the two countries on the basis of the existing complementarities between the two economies.

According to Chinese diplomats, this is the first time India has clearly recognised Tibet as part of the Chinese territory. The term Tibet Autonomous Region used in the declaration is the term used by China to describe Tibet. There is however no mention of Sikkim in the main declaration. Sikkim figures in the agreement on expansion of Indo-China border trade which arguably amounts to a tacit recognition of Sikkim as part of India. Even Vajpayee in his concluding statement issued from Shanghai only claimed this much: "we have …… started the process by which Sikkim will cease to be an issue in India-China relations."
Indian chauvinists, whether of the saffron variety or donning the Congress tricolour or the Lohiaite Green, are predictably making a lot of noise about the so-called Tibet-Sikkim deal, with some even going to the extent of calling the entire visit a sell-out. It is first of all wrong to equate Tibet and Sikkim. For all the controversies surrounding Tibet, it has effectively been Chinese territory ever since the emergence of the post-revolutionary People´s Republic of China. And the Dalai Lama´s self-proclaimed government-in-exile, which continues to operate from Indian soil despite Indian Government´s commitment to the contrary, continues to be as irrelevant as ever. Sikkim, on the other hand was incorporated into India only in 1975 and the process was described by many, including China, as annexation. It is another thing that today there is little controversy inside Sikkim regarding its incorporation into India as one of India´s twenty-eight states. The fear of Indian annexation is however still a reality in Bhutan.

It is true that the joint declaration marks a clear climb down from many of India´s earlier positions on China. Five years ago in the wake of the Pokhran blasts it was none other than Vajpayee who had tried to justify Pokhran by invoking the so-called Chinese threat. And we cannot forget the disgrace he had inflicted on the country by writing a letter to Bill Clinton to this effect. His Man Friday (or Hanuman), George Fernandes tried to impose his anti-China prejudice as India´s foreign policy by describing China as India´s enemy number one!
These extreme positions were clearly unrealistic and unsustainable. Since 1962, there is nothing that China has done vis-à -vis India that could have even remotely justified describing China as a threat or as an enemy. The recent visits to China by Fernandes and Vajpayee have therefore marked a welcome and major policy defeat for the chauvinist doctrine of Indian foreign policy. A befitting fiasco for chauvinists who would like to sell their stupid arrogance and pathetic pro-Americanism as India´s foreign policy. It was long overdue for Vajpayee and Fernandes to eat their humble pies, and that´s probably why we did not see them wearing masks in SARS-hit China!