Friday, January 07, 2011

Bilateral Relations: China and Pakistan Now 'Brothers Forever'

By Clive Banerjee
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

NEW DELHI (IDN) - Devinder Mehta was in his 20s when the war between China and India broke out in October 1962. Triggered by a dispute over border regions in the Himalayas, the conflict coincided with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Like many Indians, he and his family and friends viewed the war as a betrayal of India's efforts to establish a sustainable peace with China.

The slogan "Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai" ("Indians and Chinese are brothers"), oft repeated by India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his Chinese counterpart Zhou Enlai, had given rise to expectations that India and China would together strengthen the policy of non-alignment as a counterweight in international relations.

Those hopes were shattered. The Cold War in which the two ideological blocs led by the United States and the now defunct Soviet Union dominated international relations continued to plague every walk of life.

The memories of youth days came alive to Mehta, now in his 70s, when the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao paid a three-day visit to India in December 2010 before flying to Pakistan. Controversial remarks in Beijing about the status of India's border region Arunachal Pradesh unleashed reminiscences of the 1960s.

The cause of the Sino-Indian war for which India was not militarily prepared, Mehta recalls, was a dispute over the sovereignty of the widely-separated Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh border regions. Aksai Chin, claimed by India to belong to Kashmir and by China to be part of Xinjiang, contains an important road link that connects the Chinese regions of Tibet and Xinjiang.

Chinese troops advanced over Indian forces in both theatres, capturing Rezang la in Chushul in the western theatre, as well as Tawang in the eastern theatre. The war ended when the Chinese declared a ceasefire on November 20, 1962, and simultaneously announced its withdrawal from the disputed area.


A senior China analyst in New Delhi perceives Wen's visits to India and Pakistan as proof of China’s balancing act in its diplomatic posturing in the sub-continent, "While there are discernable changes in China’s foreign policy, friendship with Pakistan has remained a constant. The only other exception is with respect to Beijing’s relationship with Pyongyang," says R. N. Das, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) in New Delhi.

"So deep is the all-weather friendship between China and Pakistan that the visit of Premier Wen to India and Pakistan was declared almost simultaneously in Beijing, in deference to Pakistan’s sensitivities," says Das in an analysis posted on IDSA's website.

It was Wen’s second visit to both countries in the last five years, though with a difference. During his previous visit in 2005, New Delhi was Wen's last port of call out of the four nations that he visited, while this time New Delhi preceded Islamabad. This, says Das, simply cannot be a mere coincidence; it was planned and consciously scheduled.

The high point of the visit was the honour extended to the Chinese Premier to address Pakistan's Parliament, an honour that India had bestowed on U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to India in November 2010.

"In a country where the military wields considerable clout, the Pakistani offer was more of a symbolic gesture than a substantive one," says Das, adding that in his address entitled 'Shaping the future together through thick and thin,' Premier Wen deployed the phrase "brothers forever" to describe the relationship between the two countries.

Deploying phrases reminiscent of the "Hindi-Chin bhai-bhai" slogan, Wen declared that "China-Pakistan friendship is full of vigour and vitality, like a lush tree, with deep roots and thick foliage". He added that "China-Pakistan relationship is strong and solid, like a rock standing firm despite the pressure of time".

Besides reinforcing the strategic commitment to Pakistan, a number of important announcements were made during this address. Premier Wen also recalled Pakistan’s consistent and full support to China in the past at some crucial junctures on various issues, including Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang.


China analyst Das recalls in this context India's role and contributions at a very critical point in time that was marked by Beijing's efforts to seek admission to the United Nations. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, India voted in favour of the UN action against the North, but when China entered the Korean war India resisted the condemnation of China as an aggressor by the UN General Assembly in order not to minimise the area of hostility.

Das writes: "In its efforts to bring about a settlement, India served as a channel of communication of Chinese intentions and requirements to the outside world, and consistently pressed for the recognition of the People’s Republic of China as the rightful representative in the United Nations.

"Further, in September 1951, India declined to attend the Conference at San Francisco for the conclusion of a peace treaty with Japan because, among other reasons, China was not a party to it. Beijing should not forget these Indian efforts."

A close look at the outcome of Wen's visits reveals that If the achievements of the Chinese Premier visit to India were more pronounced in terms of economic content, his visit to Pakistan was more characterised by political and strategic significance.

"Although China has been helping Pakistan in all fields, particularly in its defence modernization and development including the nuclear programme, its recent help in mitigating the flurry of floods in Pakistan was unprecedented in its volume and magnitude, and suggests the depth of the strategic relationship between the two countries," Das points out.

He adds: China had offered about 250 million USD worth of aid to Pakistan. As part of the aid, China sent a team of experts to the "PoK region" ("Pakistan occupied Kashmir") in November 2010 -- as claimed by China -- to help Pakistan expedite its reconstruction work.

An article in China Daily stated that the aid to Pakistan has broken several records in the history of China's aid and relief work in other countries. The Chinese claim of humanitarian assistance to Pakistan has, however, been taken with a pinch of salt by eminent western newspapers such as the New York Times.

Making an important announcement, Premier Wen declared that China had decided to provide 500 government scholarships to Pakistan in the next three years, and that 100 Pakistani high-school students will be invited to participate in the Chinese Bridge Summer-Camp in China.

Wen also said that China may explore the possibility of a currency-swap agreement with Pakistan. During his visit the two sides further signed 35 new treaties, expected to bring 30 billion USD of investment into Pakistan over the next five years.

Das is of the view that China's adversarial relationship with India has been one of the important factors in its all-weather friendship with Pakistan. China developed a very close relationship with Pakistan at a time when Beijing had yet to evolve a global profile to the extent that is discernable now.

In fact, over the years, Sino-Indian relationship has also matured to a greater degree of engagement. China is now projecting itself as a responsible global power, beyond the sub-continent and the region, says Das.

"One can fathom China's primordial commitment to Pakistan and China's imperative need for Pakistan's support to rein in Muslim separatists operating in China-Pakistan border in the Uygur region, but China needs to calibrate its relationship with Pakistan in the context of these changes and in such a manner so as not to arouse any misgivings in New Delhi," says the China analyst Das.

He notes with obvious satisfaction that although India has expressed concerns about China’s engagement in infrastructural projects in 'Pakistan occupied Kashmir' and about Beijing's support for Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, the Sino-Indian relationship has acquired an independent dynamism and is not hamstrung by the all-weather friendship between China and Pakistan. Neither should Beijing have any anxiety about India's strategic relationship with the United States with which China itself has a deeper all-round engagement and cooperation.

Das concludes: "An important issue which needs to be noted is that while the Pakistani foreign minister was quoted as saying that China's position is 'clear about Kashmir', the Chinese Premier seems to have maintained a studied silence on the Kashmir issue."

This prompted an editorial in an important English daily which commented that "Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani may have been fishing for a Chinese role in facilitating dialogue with India on Kashmir but it is apparent that Beijing is keen to reiterate its neutrality on the issue." (IDN-InDepthNews/