Raise concerns

The 11 pacts that India and China signed during their recent strategic economic dialogue will take economic co-operation to a new high. The deals are worth around US$ 5.2 billion and include plans for investments in clean energy, infrastructure, electric power, steel, etc.

While much of this co-operation will see India’s private sector engaging with Chinese firms, the government-run Indian Railways will also benefit with China agreeing to modernise India’s rail infrastructure. Strong economic ties with China are welcome.

However, India must tread cautiously. Two-way trade currently stands at $74 billion and is heavily in China’s favour. The two countries are eyeing a 2016 bilateral trade target of $ 100 billion. It is likely that the deficit will grow and could remain in China’s favour unless India acts to close this gap. Indian security agencies have raised concerns too over Chinese investment in telecom.

There are fears that China’s telecom companies could plant bugs in networks and communication systems that have the potential to cripple India’s defence systems. If there is substance to these anxieties India must act now. Unfortunately, these concerns were not raised during the recent economic dialogue with China.

Decades ago India and China decided to put the border dispute on the back-burner even as they pursued economic co-operation. Back then it made sense. Robust trade had the potential to build trust. An atmosphere of trust was seen to be helpful in resolving the border dispute. While this approach helped boost trade ties, enabling China to emerge as India’s largest trade partner, the border dispute continues to fester.

Tensions over it erupt periodically. The recent tension over a map of China on Chinese passports that showed Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as a part of China is a case in point. Yet both sides are dragging their feet on the border question. In the process, they are putting at risk the gains made in fostering co-operation in other fields.

In a week from now, special representatives from the two sides will engage in ‘informal parleys’ on the border row. India must raise its concerns during these talks. While Delhi is right in avoiding a confrontationist approach, shirking from raising points of concern during the dialogue is not in its interest. It must indicate to the Chinese that robust trade ties must be matched by progress in resolving the border row and that the full potential of the relationship can be realised only if this dispute is addressed.

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