The elephant and the dragon
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to China from January 13 to 15 is of deep importance to the two Asian giants who have had a wary relationship since the 1962 war, notwithstanding the visible improvement in bilateral ties since Rajiv Gandhi's Beijing breakthrough in 1988. The most intractable issue that lingers is the complex border cum territorial dispute, which is a legacy of 1962 as evidenced by the 4,057 km Line of Actual Control.
A joint mechanism to address the border issue has been constituted but the pace has been glacial — notwithstanding the appointment of Special Representatives. To their credit, both countries have been able to maintain peace and tranquillity across the LAC, though incursions continue to take place.
China has exuded cautious optimism prior to the visit, and an official statement notes: "We will make joint efforts to find a fair and rational settlement that is acceptable to both countries." However, on current evidence a major breakthrough seems unlikely. This assertion stems from two reasons. The scars and humiliation of 1962 remain embedded in the collective Indian consciousness and for their own reasons, both India and China have linked national sovereignty to their respective interpretations of territoriality in a hypersensitive and inflexible manner. Consequently, the national discourses in both countries lack the malleability to revisit their tangled colonial past without being trapped by its emotive contours. And India has already conceded what China has sought on Tibet and Taiwan.
This visit, however, is expected to lead to a major political declaration, including promotion of 'strategic cooperative partnership', though competition and mistrust is abiding in the security domain. Sino-Indian bilateral trade that was a meagre US $260 million in 1990 has increased almost a hundred-fold to $25 billion by 2006, and the target of $40 billion is in sight. It is another matter that India's exports are still primary commodities in the main and the need to balance the quality of goods is an imperative.