Sino-Indian CBMs: Problems and Prospects

-Swaran Singh, Research Fellow, IDSA


It has been fashionable in much of the English literature on the subject to visualise confidence building measures (CBMs) essentially in their Western framework. However, the CBMs in the Asian context have preceded all these Western models, most of which owe their origins to the Final Act of the Helsinki process of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) that was concluded in 1975. Besides, the Asian CBMs have also been far more broadbased than even those Western mechanisms that were launched later under the Document of the Conference on Disarmament in Europe held in 1986 at Stockholm (Sweden). Similar arrangements had been for long experimented amongst various Asian nations, including both China and India.1 In the Sino-Indian context, for example, right from the setting up of the Joint Defence Council of 1948 that had effected the division of armed forces and assets between India and Pakistan to the Sino-Indian Panchsheel Agreement of 1954, such CBMs had been part of their nation-building during the early years of their independence and were later consolidated under their later agreements like the Indo-Pak Simla Agreement of 1971 and the two famous Sino-Indian CBMs agreements of 1993 and 1996. China has also been building similar arrangements with its other neighbours like Russia, Pakistan and the newly created three Central Asian Republics. Many of these formal and informal measures had also been effected over the years which include written and unwritten agreements-in-principle on ideals like the "non-use", or the "selective use" of the armed forces, which found expression later in American "city avoidance" doctrines of the early 1970s. If anything, the CBMs had been institutionalised in Asia much earlier.2

The second major myth about Sino-Indian CBMs is that they are the by-product of the post-Cold War peace dividend. Talking about the evolution of CBMs in these two separate theatres, the global factors have surely been much more influential in moulding the European CBMs than those amongst the Asian countries. In fact, talking of Sino-Indian CBMs, contrary to emerging global trends, India had initiated its second round of evolving Sino-Indian CBMs during the mid-1970s and India's Foreign Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee paid his first visit visit to Beijing at the time when (a) China was launching its war against Vietnam; and (b) the Soviet forces were about to enter Afghanistan. Yet, India's closeness to Moscow and the new Cold War of 1980 did not at all disturb the smooth evolution of Sino-Indian rapprochement. Similarly, following the June 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, while most world powers had imposed sanctions, thus, completely isolating China, the relations between China and India not only continued to be smooth but experienced a greater momentum: the period between the second half of 1989 and 1990 saw 10 high-level visits between the two countries that included visits to New Delhi by Vice Premier Wu Xueguian in October 1989 and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in March 1990.3

And third, unlike most of the Western examples, the Sino-Indian CBMs have been growing steadily over the years and have not been a knee-jerk response under some imminent danger of a nuclear apocalypse. Some landmarks are the only point of departure that divides the smooth growth of Sino-Indian CBMs during the last two decades. And here, starting from their exchange of Ambassadors in 1976, Sino-Indian interactions can be divided into three major phases. The first phase (1976-1988), was characterised by both simply gauging the potential for expanding mutual goodwill and trust. The second phase (1988-1996), witnessed five formal summits interspersed by hectic initiatives and agreements towards evolving and solidifying CBMs. Then having established this strong network of CBMs, with the recent four agreements (including the one that extends CBMs to the military field) signed during President Jiang Zemin's visit to New Delhi, Sino-Indian rapprochement has now entered its third and final phase (1996) where the two are expected to take concrete decisions on more difficult issues like defining and demarcating their border, and their cooperation has already resulted in evolving common strategies on various regional and global issues. So much so that today, therefore, CBMs have come to be the byword for Sino-Indian rapprochement.

From Freeze to Fervour

Glancing through these last two decades of the evolution of Sino-Indian ties shows how, though no breakthrough has been yet achieved on their crucial boundary question yet, considering their complicated ground realities, the progress in Sino-Indian ties has still been substantial. In fact, that is what makes the CBMs so crucial to any progress in Sino-Indian ties. To begin with was the 1988 visit to Beijing by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that can be surely described as the greatest breakthrough in facilitating a symbolic U-turn in Sino-Indian ties.4 In their Joint Communique at the end of this visit, India, for the first time, (a) dropped its earlier policy stance of asking for settlement of the border as a precondition for any improvement in relations; and (b) expressed "concern over anti-Chinese activities by some Tibetan elements in India" which was criticised by some as a clear sell-out of the Tibetan interests.5

But there were some legal hurdles. The historic November 1962 resolution of the Indian Parliament, for example, had bound successive Indian leaders from making any move towards improving Sino-Indian ties until they had obtained every inch of India's sacred land claimed or taken by the Chinese. But this legal hurdle was removed through another symbolic resolution that was passed by the All India Congress Working Committee on November 5, 1988, urging the government to seek a settlement through "peaceful negotiations" based on "mutual interest" and "acceptable to the people of both countries" even if it took time. The main significance of this resolution lay in its avoidance of the language recalling a parliamentary resolution of 1962 binding the successive governments to obtain the return of every inch of India's "sacred soil" claimed or taken by China.6 Also, apart from minor objections, none of the main national political parties raised much voice against these "concessions" by Rajiv Gandhi. This was partly possible because (i) the Congress Party, at this time, had an overwhelming majority in the Indian Parliament; and (ii) because the earlier major initiative towards building peace with China had been taken during the Janata Party government in February 1979. Moreover, eight rounds of border talks (which were initiated during Foreign Minister Huang Hua's visit to New Delhi in 1981) had already generated some goodwill for Sino-Indian rapprochement.

Thanks to the 1962 war, any interaction between their military establishments or on defence related personnel particularly continued to be taboo until the early 1990s. The first exchange in this direction was made by the senior serving officials of the National Defence College (New Delhi) and the National Defence University (Beijing) respectively visiting each other in 1990 and 1992.7 The major thrust to this military-to-military dialogue was, however, given by the visit in July 1992 by India's Defence Minister, Sharad Pawar.8 Since then, China has been included in the itinerary of foreign study tours by officers attending courses at the Indian National Defence College. The two have also since been considering undertaking a more formal arrangement for an institutional exchange wherein at least one officer is to attend each other's training courses. This opened the way and was followed by Vice Chief of China's People's Liberation Army, Lt. General Xu Hui-zi, visiting India in December 1993 followed by a visit by their Defence Minister, Chi Haotian, during September 7-13, 1994. From the Indian side, Chief of Army Staff, General B.C. Joshi and Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral V.S. Shekhawat paid reciprocal visits to various defence facilities in China during July 1994 and March 1996 respectively. Earlier, in March 1995, the Indian Army had also sent to Beijing a first ever delegation led by a Major General. And now, in May 1997, a high-level four-member Army delegation led by India's Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt General V.P. Malik paid a ten-day-long visit to China's military facilities and held discussions with various top ranking Generals and officials, including the Defence Minister. According to reports, a PLA delegation led by a Divisional Commander is now scheduled to visit India in June this year and this visit is expected to be reciprocated by the Indian side later this year.9

Similarly, at the higher level of policy-making, these expanding interactions have brought about greater mutual understanding on various issues ranging from global problems like nuclear non-proliferation and trade to regional and bilateral contentions like Kashmir, Tibet, and the border, and both China and India have made serious efforts towards allaying each other's fears and threat perceptions. As a result, while owing to their ideological systems and methods of operation the two had appeared to be dramatically opposites during the 1950s, over the years the two sides have begun to appreciate and emphasise on their similarities and evolve a common approach on certain issues like nuclear disarmament, trade and human rights. On the nuclear question, for example, while China has sought to keep its own nuclear build-up (including its intermediate and short-range nukes which concern India) completely insulated from the ongoing disarmament debates between Moscow and Washington, yet, Beijing has also generally kept a low profile on India's nuclear and missile programme and, in fact, assisted India by supplying heavy water at a crucial stage in January 1996.10 Nevertheless, there still exist differences of approach on various issues and in spite of these improving ties, India has continued to be deeply concerned about China's supplies of nuclear components, materials and knowhow to Pakistan. Yet, in the end, it does not discourage India from making efforts at improving ties with both Beijing and Islamabad. This partly shows how Sino-Indian rapprochement in the 1990s is based on pragmatism which is totally different from their euphoric bonhomie of the 1950s.

Indian Initiatives

From the Indian side, these efforts had started since the mid-1970s. India, in fact, was the first to take the initiative and it not only became the first one to declare but also the first to actually resume its ambassadorial level diplomatic relations with Beijing.11 However, each time the Chinese responded positively and reciprocated. In this case, the first feelers from the Chinese side came in May 1980 and April 1981 from the then Vice Premier, Deng Xiaoping, who revived Zhou En-lai's 1960 proposal for a package deal on the boundary question.12 Here, Deng proposed Chinese recognition of the McMahon Line in the eastern sector in return for Indian acceptance of the status quo along the Line of Actual Control (LOAC) in the western sector. In fact, according to Mrs. Gandhi's foreign policy advisor, G. Parthasarthy, Mrs. Gandhi had even agreed to accept the Chinese package deal--only, with the Chinese assent, the formal announcement had been postponed until after the December 1985 general elections.13 But the assassination of Mrs. Gandhi in October 1984 and later the Sumdorong Chu Valley incident in December 1986 completely rocked this spirit of accommodation and delayed major initiatives by a few more years.14

But in the end, this period sure witnessed a clear shift in China's South Asia policy, beginning from the late 1980s when Beijing gradually gave up its earlier post-1962 tactics of providing moral and material support to India's smaller neighbours which was aimed at: (i) tying New Delhi down to the South Asian region; and (ii) trying to offset India's pre-eminence even in this smaller region. In 1989, for example, China not only refused to supply weapons to Nepal and gave only muted response to India's peace-keeping in Sri Lanka, it even told General Ershad of Bangladesh to no longer expect China's support on their river water dispute with New Delhi.15 And this has since actually resulted in improving India's relations with both Bangladesh and Nepal. Putting an end to its dilly-dallying of the late 1980s, the Rao-Li joint statement of December 1991 clearly told China's closest ally, Pakistan, that Beijing now regards Kashmir as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Since then, China's position on Kashmir has undergone a marked change on two counts: (i) by describing it as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan that should be dealt with not under the UN resolutions of 1954 but the 1972 Simla Agreement; and (ii) by broadly agreeing to underline the fear from "Islamic fundamentalism" in Sino-Indian joint statements which, however, do not directly mention either India's Kashmir or China's Xinjiang yet; as both these provinces share common borders with Pakistan, these statements have clear implications for Islamabad.16 In fact, according to some experts, it is China's sensitivities about Xinjiang that partly explain Beijing's "special relationship" with Islamabad.

1993: First CBMs Agreement

Signed between Prime Ministers Narasimha Rao and Li Peng at Beijing's Great Hall of the People on September 7, 1993, the "Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control" (henceforth MPTA) was hailed as the first major conventional arms control agreement between two Asian countries without any role played by third countries.17 As the first thing, it reiterates its faith in Panchsheel and asserts that these Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence should be revived to form the basis of inter-state relations. But far from the earlier Sino-India Panchsheel Agreement of April 1954 where only India made major concessions, this clearly represents the equality of the two nations and lays out various CBMs that should further buttress Sino-India understanding and mutual confidence.18 This spirit and sincerity is crystal clear throughout its concise text that details on a number of CBMs.

Article I of the MPTA starts by highlighting the consensus where both sides wish to resolve the boundary question "through peaceful and friendly consultations" and both undertake to "strictly respect and observe the line of actual control" and never to "use or threaten to use force" and whenever necessary "jointly check and determine the segments" of their borders. Article II makes a far more concrete recommendation asking the two sides to keep their border military presence "to a minimum level compatible with the friendly and goodneighbourly relations" and in fact to further agree "to reduce" them "in conformity with the requirements of the principle of mutual and equal security." Taking off from here, Article III talks of evolving "effective CBMs" and asks each side to not "undertake specified levels of military exercises in mutually identified zones" and to "give the other notification of military exercises" along the border. Then Articles IV and V speak about their agreement to create mechanisms for dealing with intrusions and other exigencies while in Article VI both sides clarify that despite these resolutions, nothing in this treaty shall "prejudice their respective positions on the boundary question."

To actually kick off initiatives, Article VII asks both sides to start by specifically defining the "form, method, scale and content of effective verification measures," and Article VIII initiates this process by asking each side to "appoint diplomats and military experts to formulate, through mutual consultations, implementation measures for the present agreement," and this setting up of an Expert Group can be easily described as the greatest achievement of this pact in terms of building Sino-Indian CBMs. Finally, Article IX gives its date of coming into effect and declares all its versions--Hindi, Chinese, English--as equally valid.

1996: Second CBMs Agreement

This twelve-Article agreement on CBMs was signed during President Jiang Zemin's November 1996 visit to New Delhi. Amongst some new initiatives, this treaty is primarily geared to fulfill the agenda of their first such agreement of 1993 and it seeks to further extend their existing CBMs to more specific and sensitive areas in the military field.19 Going by its first Article that reads, "Neither side shall use its military capability against the other side," it virtually stands out as a no-war pact and both sides have also projected it in that spirit. The agreement once again affirms their commitment to the LOAC (Article II) while this time fully recognising that both have "different perceptions" on certain segments for which the two agree "to speed up process of clarification" and start "to exchange maps indicating their respective soon as possible" (Article X). It in this businesslike approach to these sensitive questions that gives hope for the future as it depicts their mutual confidence in the current state of their rapprochement. Besides, all these years there had been major confusion as China does not consider its deployments in Tibet as being open for mutual reductions and India believes that Chinese forces on the Tibetan plateau have a clear one-to-ten advantage against Indian forces who will have to operate from below.

Accordingly, Article III of this agreement provides that in keeping with "the principle of mutual and equal security" all future ceilings are expected to be based on "parameters such as the nature of terrain, road communications and other infrastructure and time taken to induct/deinduct troops and armaments." Article IV clearly categorises certain types of offensive weapons, withdrawal of which will be given priority. These include combat tanks, infantry combat vehicles, guns (including howitzers) with 75 mm or bigger calibre, mortars with 120 mm or bigger calibre, surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and to start with, the two sides will "exchange data on the military forces and armaments" that are to be reduced. It also exhorts the two to "avoid holding large scale military exercises involving more than one division (15,000 troops) in close proximity to the LOAC" and to inform the other side on "type, level, planned duration and areas of exercise" in case it involves more than a brigade (5,000 troops), and about deinduction "within five days of completion," and the other side shall be free to seek any number of clarifications as it deems necessary.

Taking a major step forward, the two agree that no combat aircraft which "include fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, military trainer, armed helicopter and other armed aircraft" shall be allowed to fly "within ten kilometers" of the LOAC "except by prior permission" from the other side (Article V). Similarly, Article VI prohibits any use of "hazardous chemicals, conduct blast operations or hunt with guns or explosives within two kilometers" of the LOAC unless it is "part of developmental activities" in which case the other side shall be informed "through diplomatic channels or by convening a border personnel meeting, preferably five days in advance." Then to "strengthen exchanges and cooperation between their military personnel and establishments," Article VII provides that the two sides shall expand (a) "meetings between their border representatives at designated places; (b) "telecommunication links" between these border points; and (c) establish "step-by-step medium and high-level contacts between the border authorities" of the two sides. Should any land or air intrusions take place "because of unavoidable circumstances like natural disasters," the other side is expected under Article VIII to "extend all possible assistance to them" and the two shall exchange information and have consultations to work out "modalities of return of the concerned personnel."

And finally, as under Article XI the Sino-Indian Joint Working Group on Boundary Question starts "mutual consultations" for "detailed implementation measures", once again under Article IX each side shall have "the right to seek clarification" regarding the "manner in which the other side is observing the agreement" or on any "doubtful situation" in the border region, and under Article XII, though all Hindi, Chinese and English versions are "equally authentic," but "in case of divergence, the English text shall prevail" and like most other agreements, it is also subject to ratification and "shall enter into force on the date of exchange of instruments of ratification."

Other CBMs

Apart from being a major take-off point for many fresh initiatives, these two agreements also provide a major boost for their other existing channels for Sino-Indian border related CBMs. Within less than two months of the MPTA, for example, a Chinese ship, Zheng He, made a port visit to Bombay, which was the first of its kind in the last 35 years. Before this only the INS Mysur had visited Shanghai in 1958. This was followed by these important visits to New Delhi: Li Ruihuan (Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Consultative Committee), Wen Jiao (an alternate member of the Central Politburo), Wu Yi (Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Minister) and Chi Haotian (Defence Minister) respectively in December 1993 and January, June and September 1994. Qiao Shi, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) came to India in November 1995 and finally President Jiang Zemin (who is also Chairman of the Central Military Commission) paid a three-day visit to New Delhi in November 1996.

Also working on the basis of the Chinese guanxi (personal contacts), principle, exchanges between other opinion makers and members of strategic research institutions (like the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, United Services Institution of India, Centre for Policy Research, and Rajiv Gandhi Foundation from India and China Institute for Contemporary International Relations, China Association for Friendly International Contact, Fudan University, etc from China) have also been increasingly formalised. Similarly, Xinhua, People's Daily and Beijing Review have their accredited correspondents in India and India's Press Trust of India has a resident reporter in Beijing. The agreements on exchange of scholars (between the Indian Council for Social Science Research and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences signed at New Delhi in January 1992) and their Agreement on Radio and Television Cooperation (signed in Beijing on September 7, 1993) have also contributed to expanding mutual awareness. Contacts have also evolved between various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like trade unions and women's organisations, stimulating a great deal of interest and goodwill. The Festival of China was staged in India in 1992 and the Festival of India was held in China in April 1994. In fact, the Communist Party of China now has direct links with the Indian National Congress, the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The two countries had also opened up direct flights between New Delhi and Beijing and now have telecom lines between various cities of the two countries.

The Joint Working Group (JWG) on Boundary Question has been a most effective and generic forum for implementing Sino-Indian CBMs. To begin with, the JWG has institutionalised regular meetings of military commanders from both sides at Bumla and Dichu in the eastern sector, Lipulekh near Pithoragarh (U.P.) in the middle sector and Spangur near Chushul in the western sector. These meetings are organised and conducted by the area commanders from the two sides to establish facts on the ground and can also be held more than once or in case of any exigencies. Besides, commanders on both sides are provided with "hotline" links to ensure consultations in case of any intrusions or other emergencies. Advance notice of proposed military manoeuvres on one side is provided to the other and mechanisms for handling possible intrusions on either side are put in place. The high point of these JWG meetings occurred during its eighth meeting during August 1995 at New Delhi where the two sides agreed to actually disengage their troops from four border posts in the Wangdong tract where they had been deployed at an alarming proximity to each other. Apart from their land borders, the two Air Forces have also been building ties and officers of the People's Liberation Army-Air Force (PLAAF) have already visited India's Air Force bases in 1995.20 Similarly, the two Navies have also been working together, allaying each other's doubts about the Chinese naval presence in Myanmar or India's maritime capabilities at its Fortress Andaman. India has suggested that China's envoy visit the Indian naval base at Port Blair in Andaman and Nicobar. At a certain stage there were even reports of China and India preparing for joint military and naval exercises which, however, was soon denied by the Chinese officials.21

Growing Bilateral Trade

Trade has come to be perhaps the most durable CBM in Sino-Indian rapprochement. Though compared to their size and total foreign trade, the volume of their bilateral trade remains still very small, yet their border trade has substantially increased the traffic of goods and people, thus solidifying the border related CBMs between these two countries.22 Garbyang (in Uttar Pradesh) was the first border port to be opened in February 1991 followed by Gunji (in Uttar Pradesh) in 1992 and later Shipki La (in Himachal Pradesh) in 1994. A fourth route, agreed upon in principle but to be opened is yet to be announced: India has suggested an eastern route originating in Sikkim on which China has been evasive as it means recognising Sikkim's accession to India. As an alternative, a route from Kalimpong in Darjeeling district in West Bengal, passing through Sikkim to Yatung in Chumbi Valley, is likely to be agreed upon. Besides, in 1994, India became China's largest trading partner in South Asia overtaking China's long-standing close friend and ally Pakistan, and this should obtain India greater leverage and psychological advantage in dealing with Sino-Pak ties. Moreover, according to a recent study by the US based Centre for Global Trade Development that monitors trade patterns of 220 countries, trade between China and India is expected to cross $25 billion by the year 2000. According to the study, this is possible because at their current rate of growth, India's total annual exports are expected to reach $90 billion and those of China (plus Hong Kong, $225 billion after 1997) to $425 billion per annum.23 During these last twenty years of rapprochement, Sino-Indian trade has risen from a mere $2.5 million in 1997 to $1.4 billion for 1996. Though these estimates appear very ambitious, given their track record these targets cannot be brushed aside as euphoric and have been the result of a long-drawn process.

As early as in 1984, the two countries had signed protocols replacing their differential tariffs with granting each other the most favoured nation (MFN) trading status, and since then their annual protocols continue to enumerate an expanding list of items for their bilateral trade which currently runs to over one billion dollars per annum. On July 18, 1994, during his third visit to New Delhi, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen signed another trade agreement on "avoidance of double taxation," which is expected to create further favourable conditions "to encourage business, scientific, cultural as well as personnel exchanges in the future."24 But since much of the trade is in private hands, lack of infrastructural facilities like telecommunications, shipping and banking channels as also the differences of language and business culture have been important barriers.25 Though the Reserve Bank of India and the People's Bank of China signed an MoU for resumption of direct banking links allowing their banks to set up representative offices in each other's country in October 1994, there has been no reciprocal action except that the State Bank of India has opened one branch in Beijing.26 Nevertheless, complementarities are gradually coming to the fore, pushing them closer together. China, for example, has enormous need and is ambitious to emerge as the world's largest producer of steel by the year 2000 and will thus increasingly require India to supply high grade iron ore and coal. The first Sino-Indian joint venture in this regard was launched in Orissa (India) between India's Mideast Integrated Steels Limited and China's Metallurgical Import Export Corporation (CMIEC) in January 1993.27 And here, their two agreements of November 1996 on (i) maritime shipping that (a) provides MFN to each other's sea-borne trade commodities and ships, and, (b) puts in place the double tax avoidance mechanisms; and (ii) on combatting smuggling of narcotics and arms and other economic offences on the Sino-Indian border will go a long way in expanding the Sino-Indian trade ties.

As regards exploring collaborations for the future, India's growing expertise in computer software can strengthen China's hands in dealing with its Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) problems with the United States. Other uncharted areas for future cooperation can include joint development and manufacture of aircraft and systems (for civilian needs to start with), ship-building and repairs, railway equipment, etc.28 China, for example, has already shown interest in participating in India's Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project.29 Similarly, there were also reports about China, India and South Korea jointly working for developing a 100-seater civilian aircraft.30 In fact, apart from these joint ventures, reviving other networks like direct flights between various Chinese and Indian cities and re-building the old Burma Road (and ancient Silk Route) should now be reopened to serve the larger and necessary purposes of trade and transit.31 This will completely transform the entire communication and trade profile of Sino-Indian ties. But more than these, their cooperation in more basic fields like agriculture and population control that will go a long way in helping them to fulfill their common desire for development and peace.32

Problems and Prospects

As is clear from the preceding discussion, a genuine process of Sino-Indian CBMs has not only picked up momentum but even reached a certain level of maturity where these two erstwhile adversaries are willing to even exchange sensitive information on their manpower and equipment, and to participate in training with each other's officers and men as also to show them each other's defence facilities and establishments. Yet, at the same time, there are issues that have neither been resolved nor completely ignored and they continue to be a major cause of concern and even occasional friction between the two sides.

To deal with the problems first, the boundary question remains the most central and toughest of all issues and slow progress in this sector will continue to delay (if not block) the overall progress in Sino-Indian rapprochement.33 The areas under dispute involve over 130,000 sq km of land which generally consists of thousands of miles of deserts, snow-capped mountains and dense tropical forests, making it extremely difficult even for technocrats to come to any practical solution, leave alone evolving a political package which is further complicated by their legacies and domestic sensitivities on each side of the border. India has long been suggesting that steps be taken towards accurate assessment of existing force levels and a freeze should be affected on present troop strength with an expectation of subsequent reductions.34 Analysts, in fact, believe that during the early 1990s, India had unilaterally withdrawn about 35,000 troops from its eastern sector.35 But on the Chinese side this question of troop reduction has some inherent complications. The PLA maintains a force of between 180,000 and 300,000 soldiers and has directly ruled Tibet from 1950 to 1976, and indirectly thereafter.36 Besides, China's reservations on troop withdrawals from inside Tibet relate to Tibet's Indian connection that continues to haunt Chinese imaginations. From the Indian point of view, unlike the 1950s, Tibet today is connected to other military regions through four-lane highways and strategic roads and Beijing's capability to airlift troops from its other neighbouring military regions has come very far from its comparative inability to use the Air Force in 1962.

Similarly, apart from China's conventional arms transfers to Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal, which have occasionally raised all kinds of doubts and conspiracy theories about India's encirclement, it is China's alleged supplies of nuclear designs, components, materials and other knowhow and facilities to Pakistan as also its supplies of missiles to Iran, Pakistan, Syria and Saudi Arabia that have been the most sensitive irritants of this Sino-Indian rapprochement.37 During the last two years alone, apart from persistent reports on China's supplies of M-11 and M-9 nuclear capable missiles, the media has quoted American intelligence agencies and high-ranking US officials confirming China's supply to Pakistan of 5,000 ring magnets and a furnace plant, both of which are required during uranium enrichment to weapons grade. Later China was reported as having been involved in building a missile factory near Islamabad. Besides, China has been the largest as also the most reliable supplier of conventional weapons to Pakistan, has defence collaborations in almost all major areas and apart from its alleged clandestine cooperation in building nuclear arsenals, China remains the most ardent supplier and builder of Pakistan's civilian nuclear programme.38

Then talking of its prospects, the track-record has been fairly encouraging to say the least. These twenty years of Sino-Indian rapprochement have already resulted in (a) making India, since 1994, China's largest trading partner in South Asia, thus, at least in trade overtaking its closest ally, Pakistan; and (b) effected a marked shift in China's policy postures on the Kashmir issue which gives hope that all these other irritants of Sino-Indian ties can also be resolved in due course. Amongst various regional and global issues, the two have already evolved a fairly substantial common approach towards issues like restructuring of the United Nations and various other international bodies. Though China remains as yet reluctant in supporting India's candidature for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, some change has been noticed in this regard during the 1990s. During their October 1995 meeting at the UN's 50th anniversary celebrations at New York, for example, Jiang Zemin expressed his understanding of India's aspirations to become a permanent member of the expanded Security Council and said that in this regard, "Views of the general membership must be listened to in order to achieve a reasonable solution."39 Apart from the United Nations, India has been supporting China's entry to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and China has been supporting India's membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

With their increasing interest in the Asia-Pacific region, the ASEAN Regional (Security) Forum (ARF) is another forum which will see both China and India working together to deter Western members from once again becoming the masters of the Asian destiny. And this should only further cement their bilateral ties. In fact, the ARF's Inter-sessional Support Group on CBMs has already laid out a long list of CBMs for its members which will further consolidate the Sino-Indian rapprochement, since both have already become its "dialogue partners" and are all set to become its full members.40 This is also expected to resolve some Indian apprehensions about China's military modernisation, especially in areas like China's defence allocations which, with the lack of transparency, as yet remain a complete mystery for Indian scholars.41 Then there are issues like trade and human rights which bring them together as the linkage between these two issues has become the latest instrument in North-South confrontation. The two countries may not have had identical views on human rights yet lately both agree that for developing countries the most fundamental human rights are the right to subsistence and the right for development. The two are particularly opposed to this emerging new practice amongst the developed nations of using economic aid and human rights linkage as an instrument for bringing pressure to bear on certain developing countries. In fact, Sino-Indian cooperation in certain international forums has often frustrated vested interests amongst the Western powers at using the linkage between nuclear proliferation, human rights and trade to pressurise developing countries like China and India.


Thanks to this process of evolving CBMs, the Sino-Indian border has not suffered any major disruptions during these last ten years. This, when compared to India's experience of incessant firing incidents and infiltration on its borders with Pakistan, makes the Sino-Indian border look almost peaceful. It is this increasing goodwill and understanding that gives hope that this complicated boundary question can be resolved in the course of time. Sometimes some commentators negate these Sino-Indian CBMs citing that they have not resulted in resolving the Sino-Indian boundary question. But keeping in mind the complexities involved, the gradual evolution of CBMs has not only preserved peace between these two Asian giants but also generated a great deal of mutual trust and understanding giving hope towards eventually resolving their border dispute. The strength of this process lies not in its speed but in the fact that unlike the romantic bonhomie of the 1950s, this time round their ties have evolved on a solid rock of pragmatism. And it is this steady track record of the CBMs during these last twenty years that should provide hope for the future of Sino-Indian rapprochement.


1. Sumit Ganguly, "Mending Fences" in Michael Krepon and Amit Sevak eds., Crisis Prevention, Confidence Building and Reconciliation in South Asia, (London: Mcmillan, 1995), pp. 11-24; also Reinhard Drifte, "Arms Control and the Superpower Balance in East Asia," in Gerald Segel ed., Arms Control in Asia, (London: Macmillam, 1987), pp. 37-38.

2. Zhao Weiwen and Giri Deshingkar, "Improving Sino-Indo Relations", in Krepon and Sevak, Ibid., p. 227; Ganguly, Ibid., p. 12.

3. Zhen Ruixiang, "Shifting Obstacles in Sino-Indian Relations," The Pacific Review, vol. 6, no. 1, 1993, p. 66.

4. Shen-chun Chuan, "Peking's Relations with India and Pakistan," Issues & Studies, vol. 25, no. 9, September 1989, just before "Benazir Bhutto's Visit to Peking."

5. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, "India-China Joint Press Communique," Statement on Foreign Policy, (New Delhi: Ministry of External Affairs, External Publicity Division, October 1989) pp. 62-64; also Giri Deshingkar, "Gains From the China Visit," Indian Express, January 9, 1989.

6. Surjit Mansingh, "India-China Relations in the Post-Cold War Era," Asian Survey, vol. xxiv, no. 3, March 1994, p. 289.

7. Ibid., p. 293.

8. Chinese Foreign Office spokesperson described it as "positively significant in increasing mutual understanding between the two armed forces." See The Statesman, July 31, 1992.

9. "Army Vice Chief Will Visit China," Times of India, May 21, 1997, p. 10.

10. This is, however, not to deny that some of the differences on the nuclear question have also increased during the 1990s. For example, China is now a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) (1992) and an adherent to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and during Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations it, in fact, sided with Washington in asking for India's signature on the draft treaty. What is more worrying for Sino-India ties is that China has used this newly gained club membership to obtain credibility whereas its assistance to Pakistan's nuclear and missile programme has continued unabated.

11. Shen-chun Chua, "Peking-New Delhi Relations in Recent Years," Issues & Studies, vol. 22, no. 3, March 1986, p. 142.

12. First during Secretary (in Ministry of External Affairs) Eric Gonsalves' visit to Beijing, Deng mentioned this proposal during an interview to an Indian journalist representing the not so well known journal Vikrant. Later, Deng revived this proposal during his discussions with a visiting member of the Indian Parliament, Subrahmanian Swamy, saying that "conditions are not ripe now for settlement, then other aspects of normalisation can take place." For details, see Gyaneshwar Chaturvedi, Indo-China Relations 1947 to Present Day, (Agra: M.G. Publishers, 1981), pp. 161-62; also Surjit Mansingh and Steven I. Levine, "China and India: Moving Beyond Confrontation," Problems of Communism, vol. xxxviii, no. 2-3, March-June 1989, p. 36.

13. G.S. Bhargava, "Dealing with China," Mainstream, January 7, 1989.

14. Many scholars have tried to explain this change of the early 1990s in terms of change in global scenario where the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Tiananmen Square crisis followed by Western sanctions had compelled Beijing to search for friends and allies. But it seems that Sino-Indian rapprochement was still the most important factor and while India had described the Tiananmen incidents as China's internal matter, China also made no comments on the demolition of the Babri Masjid which sent a correct signal of change to both Indians and Pakistanis. See Allen S. Whiting, "China's Foreign Relations after 40 years," in Anthony J. Kane ed., China Briefing, 1990, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990), p. 67; and Hwei-ling Huo, "Patterns of Behaviour in China's Foreign Policy: The Gulf Crisis and Beyond," Asian Survey, vol. xxxii, no. 3, March 1992, p. 267.

15. See John W. Garver, "China-India Rivalry in Nepal: The Clash over Chinese Arms Sales," Asian Survey, vol. xxxi, no. 10, October 1991, p. 968; and Abu Taher Salahuddin Ahmed, "Sino-Indian Relations: Problems, Progress Prospects," BIISS Journal, vol. 15, no. 4, October 1994, p. 384-85.

16. For details, see Mao Siwei, "China and the Kashmir Issue," Strategic Analysis, vol. xvii, no. 12, March 1995, pp. 1572-1597.

17. Jasjit Singh, "Future of Sino-Indian Relations, Strategic Analysis, vol. xvi, no. 11, February 1994, p. 1517.

18. Lt. Gen. K.K. Nanda (Retd), "Promising New Turn in Sino-Indian Relations," Defence Seminar, vol. III, no. 3, March 1993, pp. 5-7. All subsequent quotations from this treaty are from the text published in this article.

19. Agreement between the Government of the Republic of India and the Government of the People's Republic of China on Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field along the Line of Actual Control in the India-China Border Areas. Signed November 29, 1996. All the subsequent quotations from this treaty are from this text.

20. "Officers of PLAAF Have Been Visiting Indian Air Force Bases," Times of India, December 22, 1995, reprinted in Strategic Digest, vol. xxvi, no. 3, March 1996, pp. 444-45.

21. "Sino-Indian Joint Military Exercises Plans Denied," Xinhua (in English) printed in Foreign Broadcast Information Service--China (henceforth FBIS-CHI), 94-244, December 20, 1994, p. 12.

22. These 15 items are wool, goat skin, sheep skin, yak tail, yak hair, goats, sheep, horses, salt, borax, China clay, butter, silk, and Szaibel yite.

23. "Report Stresses Trade Between India, China," Xinhua (in English), FBIS-CHI-94-103, May 27, 1994, p. 15.

24. "Qian, Finance Minister Sign Agreement," Xinhua (in English) printed in FBIS-CHI-94-137, July 18, 1994, p. 9.

25. It is interesting to note that over 70 to 75 per cent of foreign investment in China comes from the overseas Chinese who have been generally successful in business in Hong Kong, Taiwan and much of South-East Asia and North America. For reasons of their emotional attachment with the mainland and for being so familiar with the ways and systems of this expanding Chinese market, most overseas Chinese prefer to invest in China.

26. "Banking, Visa Agreements Signed," All India Radio (New Delhi), printed in FBIS-CHI-94-205, October 24, 1994, p. 22.

27. "Beijing Establishes Joint Venture in India," Xinhua (in English), printed in FBIS-CHI-93-013, January 22, 1993, p. 15.

28. n. 17, p. 1512.

29. Vivek Raghuvanshi, "China Asks to Develop LCA Fighter With India," Defense News, August 15-21, 1994.

30. "India, China and South Korea Will Form Consortium: Plan to Build Passenger Planes," Times of India, August 28, 1995.

31. n. 17, p. 1512.

32. Zheng Ruixiang and Dong Manyuan, "Developing Friendly Sino-Indian Relations on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence," Foreign Affairs, no. 12, June 1989, pp. 69-70.

33. V.P. Dutt, "India and China: A Leap Into the Future," World Focus, nos. 167-168, November-December 1993, p. 51.

34. n. 6, p. 291.

35. Pravin Sawhney, "Massive Troop Pullout from China Border," Indian Express, December 24, 1992; also Pravin Sawhney, "Chinese Checker: Beijing Calls the Shots on the Border Dispute," The Asian Age, August 31, 1995.

36. D. Banerjee, "India-China Relations and Chinese Military Capabilities," Trishul, vol. iii, no. 1, July 1990, p. 69.

37. K. Subrahmanyam, "Sino-Pak Nuclear Deal: New Light on an Old Alliance," Times of India, August 30, 1995; also K. Subrahmanyam, "Jiang Zemin Comes Calling: Talking Turkey to the Dragon," Times of India, November 21, 1996.

38. Kathy Gannon, "Sino-Pakistan Nuclear Ties to Continue: Jiang," Times of India, December 2, 1996; also Kathy Gannon, "China to Build New N-Plant in Pakistan," Times of India, December 6, 1996.

39. FBIS-CHI-95-204, 23 October 1995, p. 17.

40. Raphael Pura, "ASEAN's Courtship of Burma Makes Key Allies Nervous," Asian Wall Street Journal, July 19-20, 1996; and Barry Wain, "The ASEAN Regional Forum is Moving Forward," Asian Wall Street Journal, July 19-20, 1996.

41. For details, see Jasjit Singh, "Trends in Military Expenditures," in Jasjit Singh ed., Asian Strategic Review 1995-96, (New Delhi: Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, December 1996), chapter 2.