“Give it more time. The trajectory is upwards. I am cautiously optimistic,” Dr S Jaishankar recently told Zee News Associate Editor Akash Soni.
Dr S Jaishankar is the former Indian Ambassador to China. He has now taken over as the Indian envoy to the US.
Q1. Where are India and China relations headed? Prior to 2013, never before have the Premiers of two countries visited each other`s nations in the same year.
Ans 1. We are trying to take the relations where they ideally belong. We are two powerful neighbours, two powerful economies. Due to complex historical reasons we have not been able to do this. Let`s not forget India was one of the first nations to recognise China and set up its embassy in Beijing. So in that sense we are still playing catch up.
Q2. As the dust settles following the visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Beijing, would you say that there is an equal eagerness on the Chinese side to take relations to a higher level?
Ans 2: China does not articulate its position in as many words as we often do. But if you look at their actions, it would certainly seem so. Before, during and after the PM`s visit, the Chinese government has expressed its willingness to try and establish peace and stability at the borders. India and China also signed the Defence pact on the border issue. China has also taken steps towards resolving the river water dispute. It remains to be seen if we can deliver. India and China are also working to enhance bilateral trade. Further, China also wants greater connectivity with India.
Q3: Would you say that without progress on three key issues concerning the border, rivers and trade imbalance, genuine friendship between India and China is not possible?
Ans 3: I would not like to put it in words as it sounds conditional. My business is incremental. I take things one by one as they come. But yes, these are the three key issues.
Q4: Let`s take the issues one by one. Border first. Let`s take an example. Say there are two neighbours. They chat, dine together but one fears the other snoops around in its compound and is trying to grab a piece of its land. Can these two ever be friends? When the Chinese government talks about friendship with India, does it realise that this is a major hurdle that cannot be ignored?
Ans 4: Let`s put it this way. People have land disputes but does that they mean they cannot meet on Diwali. Life is not black and white. It is our job to impress upon China as to how important the issue is for us.
Q5: So where do India and China stand today?
Ans 5: There is a mechanism at the level of the National Security Advisor on our side and State Counsellor on the Chinese side. Several rounds of talks are already over.
Q6: So what do you hope to achieve?
Ans 6: We are working on two streams. One is resolving the boundary issue once and for all to mutual satisfaction. This is where we finally want to be. The other stream is to ensure that while the talks are on there must be peace and tranquility on the border. We have to work on both together.
Q7: When serious incidents like the Chinese incursion in Daulat Begh Oldie sector occur, what is India`s position in Beijing? How do you deal with it? The Indian media had alleged that the Chinese troops had first entered the Indian territory and are now building a radar close to it. Beijing has denied the allegations and tensions have been rising. What do you do then?
Ans 7: We are the guys in the middle. We have to manage pressures on both sides. The mechanism springs into action and the External Affairs Ministry leads. Smaller problems are, meanwhile, resolved at lower levels.
Q8: Have the border talks reached the level where you can talk about the contentious issues of Daulat Begh Oldie, Arunachal Pradesh and stapled Visas?
Ans 8: Much as I like you, I cannot discuss this with the media. I cannot divulge anything about talks with China in a closed room on the basis of confidentiality.
Q9: So what is the bigger picture on the border issue? China is challenging the might of the US while India is still looking for crude equality.
Ans 9. The Prime Minister has said that India and China are not destined to be rivals. It`s time we looked beyond the border issue. China may be a military power but the bottom line is that they are widely respected due to their economic might. We, as Indians, need to understand that unless we build our economy and unless we get it right at home, we will not have the respect, authority and influence that we want to have abroad.