January 2, 2001
Significance of Li Peng visit
New Delhi, Jan. 1: Mr. Li Peng, number two in the Chinese hierarchy, will be here next week and the very fact of his decision to undertake the India visit is highly significant. Given to conveying messages through its actions (or non-actions), Beijing has
clearly suggested, through this step, the end of the slump in bilateral relations. Had that not been the case, it would not have chosen to send a leader of his standing, second only to the President, Mr. Jiang Zemin.
A former Prime Minister, Mr. Li Peng, had dealt with India on crucial occasions - with the 1988 visit of the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi (which marked the beginning of a thaw after a prolonged chill), the 1993 trip of Mr. P. V. Narasimha Rao, also in
his capacity as Prime Minister. He last visited India in 1991. Think of the period after India's nuclear tests and the related developments, think of Chinese insistence on India making the first move to undo the damage to mutual ties, and the significance
of Mr. Li Peng's trip will be clear.
Mr. Li Peng is the Chairman of China's parliament, that is, the standing committee of the National Peoples Congress, and, as such he, and his delegation, have been invited by the Lok Sabha Speaker, Mr. G. M. C. Balayogi, but it is seen as more than the visit
of a parliamentary delegation.
The interaction between the visiting team and Indian parliamentarians will, no doubt, be important, but equally so will be his talks with the Government leaders- the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, and others. The last visit by the Chinese parliament
chairman took place in 1996 and it was now India's turn to reciprocate the gesture. However, Beijing showed interest in Mr. Li Peng's visit to India and New Delhi warmly welcomed the suggestion.
In July last year, Dr. Najma Heptullah, Deputy Chairperson, Rajya Sabha, went to Beijing in her capacity as the President of the International Parliamentary Union, but it also became an occasion for preliminary discussions on his visit. Later, he met her in
New York at the time of the world presiding officers conference and their discussions centered on issues of common interest like approach to the WTO and related matters.
Mr. Li Peng's visit will provide an opportunity for the two countries to gauge each other's thinking on global issues, and for exchange of views on major bilateral subjects. LAC issue
India, as is known, is keen on early steps for the clarification of the Line of Actual Control between the two countries. In May last year, the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, had written to his Chinese counterpart, Mr. Tang Jiaxuan, suggesting
completion of this process in a time-bound manner, possibly by the end of 2001.
As seen here, this is necessary to ensure against any incidents along the border. Though it had been peaceful, the differences in the perception of the LAC had led to situations on the ground that, in the words of Mr. Jaswant Singh during a parliamentary debate,
``could have been avoided had the agreement on the LAC clarification been completed''.
The agreement was reached in 1993 (during Mr. Rao's visit), and in 1996, during Mr. Jiang Zemin's trip to India, the two sides agreed on confidence building measures in the military field along the LAC. However, there had been little progress in the clarification
job. It was only in November last year that the experts group, to which this job had been entrusted, exchanged maps of the LAC as perceived by the two sides in the middle sector.
Of the three sectors, western and eastern being the other two, the gap in the perceptions is narrow here. The next step is to identify and reconcile the differences. When this job is completed, the experts group will take up the other two - and more difficult
New Delhi would like the sense of urgency to be maintained. As the President, Mr. K. R. Narayanan, said during his visit to China last year - successful from all accounts - the problems left by history (China's description of the boundary issue) should not
be passed on to history.
How to enhance trade and economic relationship is another major bilateral issue. The quantum of the two-way trade last year was of the order of 2.5 billion dollars - as against China's 60 billion dollars total each with the U.S. and Japan.
Also, India may like to make use of any bilateral contact to explain that steps taken by the Government to control smuggling and other such practices were not country-specific and were within the parameters of the WTO.
India is aware of the strength of ties between China and Pakistan, ``the friends of all weathers'', in Beijing's words. The latest illustration was provided by China's decision not to take part in the International Fleet Review, to be organised next month by
the Indian Navy. Beijing's action was widely believed to be the sequel to India's decision not to invite Pakistan. China's participation in this event - in which 27 navies will take part - could have given an additional fillip to expansion of bilateral ties.