Mixed reviews for Wen after India mission

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 December, 2010, 12:00am

Premier Wen Jiabao's second visit to New Delhi in five years has left Indians with mixed feelings: many applauded the strengthened trade and economic ties while others are disappointed no progress was made on politically sour points.

Overall, though, foreign relations experts believe enhanced trade will be an important first step in improving the relationship, which has been largely marked by mutual distrust and held back by problems old and new.

Despite Wen's efforts at a charm offensive and his repeated emphasis of the two countries being 'friends, not rivals', the two most widely read English newspapers in India focused yesterday on the unresolved problems and the things left unsaid in the joint statement by Wen and Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

The Times of India noted that unlike in the previous three joint statements by the two countries, India had left out a reference to the 'one-China policy' and Tibet. Meanwhile, it noted that China had not included Kashmir or condemned Pakistan over terrorism.

The Hindustan Times went with a similar angle, titling its top story as 'Pak[istan] Wall splits India, China'.

The visit celebrated the 60th anniversary of Sino-Indian ties, but Wen's onward visit to Pakistan has reinforced some long-standing distrust in India. Two problems in particular were widely reported by the Indian media before Wen's visit, but China remained silent on both.

The first was that China would change its visa policy towards residents of Jammu and Kashmir, an area of dispute between India and Pakistan.

China issues 'stapled visas' to residents of this area, a sign of disrespect of India's sovereignty. It is considered a problem of 'core interest' to India, as Tibet is to China.

In the meeting between Wen and Singh, the Chinese premier brought up the visa issue before Singh did, but he agreed to have only official discussions about it.

The second hope was that China would voice open support for India's campaign to join the United Nations Security Council as a permanent member. All four other permanent seat holders, including Russia, have backed India's aspiration; only China has remained ambivalent.

In a speech broadcast live on Wednesday after the meeting, Wen reiterated Beijing's stand that India should play a bigger role in international affairs and the United Nations reform, but stopped short of mentioning the permanent seat.

Meanwhile, the Indian business community has expressed great optimism on closer ties from the string of measures Wen announced this trip, many with an aim to narrow India's trade deficit with China, which stood at US$19 billion last year.

Particularly appreciated were Wen's promises to ensure greater access for IT, pharmaceutical and agricultural products, as well as to ensure better flow of capital and personnel. The two leaders further announced a new target for bilateral trade - US$100 billion by 2015.

Indian analysts and foreign affairs experts also said the public and government officials might have produced two different impressions of Wen's trip.

'The Indian leadership might understand China's situation, for example, that it has to take into consideration Pakistan and Japan on the issue of the UNSC permanent seat, but the public still have expectations,' said Professor Baliram Deepak, of the Centre for Chinese and South East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. 'I believe that with trade strengthened, other issues will become less difficult.'

Ribinder Sachdev, president of the media think tank Imagindia, said: 'Perhaps Wen's visit has not helped much to bridge the trust deficit between the Indian public and China, but it has highlighted areas that both sides need to work on, and led to more discussions on these issues. It is a first step.'

Professor Mohan Guruswamy, head of the Centre for Policy Alternatives in New Delhi, said the visit had formalised a 'new realism that has come to mark the relationship between India and China, which is a good thing'.

'It's like shifting gears,' Guruswamy said. 'We have moved to another gear, where we have more mutual sensitivity and less expectation of each other - the way it should be.'