It is heartening to note that relations between India and China have been improving steadily in recent decades. A great future is beckoning our two ancient civilizations to come together on a path of mutual rediscovery and cooperation in the modern era to promote peace and stability in Asia and all-round enrichment of life in the world. In the present scenario, I believe, our two countries should attach greater importance and urgency to resolving the border dispute on a fair, reasonable and durable basis, and also in a spirit of accommodation of each other’s concerns and recognition of the ground-realities.
It is a matter of satisfaction that the resolution of the border dispute with China has, since 2003, been entrusted to an institutionalised mechanism of negotiations by the governments of our two countries. Reassuringly, both New Delhi and Beijing have decided not to allow mutually beneficial cooperation in other fields to become a hostage to the resolution of the border dispute. In other words, cooperation and border-settlement through dialogue have been moving on two parallel tracks, with both sides ruling out the use of force to change the status quo along the Line of Actual Control.
The credit for evolving this sound conceptual framework for normalizing and strengthening the bilateral relations between our two great countries goes, principally, to two great leaders: Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the Indian side and Deng Xiaoping on the Chinese side. Atalji became the first Indian leader to travel to China after the 1962 war when he visited the country as Foreign Minister in February 1979. Receiving him warmly in the Great Hall of People in Beijing, Deng Xiaoping said: ‘We do have some issues on which we are far apart. We should put those on the side for the moment and do some actual work to improve the climate to go about the problem. Our two countries are the two most populous countries in the world, and we are both Asian countries. How can we not be friends?’ Vajpayee and Deng discussed a ‘package solution’ to the border problem, with both countries making some concessions. I believe that it remains the best way to go forward together.
Of course, I must mention here the contribution made by the historic visit of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to China in December 1988. The famous handshake between Rajiv and Deng, and the warm sentiments they both expressed to restore peace and friendship between our two countries, reinforced the hope that our bilateral relations can, indeed, be unshackled from the unpleasant legacy of 1962. Conversion of this hope into reality was placed on a fast-track mechanism when Vajpayee visited China as Prime Minister in June 2003 and held fruitful talks with President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
In my own meeting with Hu Jintao in New Delhi, during his visit to India in November 2006, I commended the approach of our two countries to make progress in bilateral relations immune to our efforts to settle the border dispute through dialogue. I added that India would like Pakistan to adopt the same approach to ring-fence resolution of the Kashmir issue through dialogue, while moving ahead on bilateral cooperation in all mutually beneficial areas. I also expressed the hope that the Chinese government would create conditions for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, to visit Tibet before the Beijing Olympics in October 2008.