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June 1, 2000
Despite successful presidential visit, Sino-Indian relations have a long way to go
Nikhil Lakshman in Kunming, southwest China
"Just because the Chinese did not discuss the nuclear issue during the President's visit does not mean they have abandoned the issue," one observer of Sino-Indian relations told rediff.com, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We made the same mistake in 1954 about the border issue," he said. "Just because they did not discuss the issue after that year, we thought they had given up the boundary dispute, and we all know what happened in 1962."
While encouraged by the warm reception accorded to the President on his current visit to China, long-time observers of the Sino-Indian relationship caution against excessive optimism about the eventual outcome for Indian diplomacy. "It is not going to be softball. It will be hardball all the way," one analyst said.
"We will have to haggle all the way with the Chinese. That is what is interesting about negotiating with the Chinese. They never give up. They try to push the issue further all the time," he added.
This analyst believes the Chinese appreciated the significance and timing of the President's visit, coming as it did after nearly two years of suspicion consequent to the 1998 nuclear tests. That is why, he says, the Chinese went all out to convey the appropriate messages via their famed gestures.
On a more serious level, they abstained from discussion on contentious issues that may have soured the warmth of the visit. On a brand-building plane, President Jiang Zemin's presence at Monday's concert by Dr L Subramaniam and the Beijing Symphony Orchestra was unprecedented.
"Chinese leaders never attend such cultural events along with visiting leaders, therefore Jiang was trying to impress upon the Indians that the Chinese consider the President's visit a very important event to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties," the afore-quoted analyst said.
Another analyst feels the mood may have been different had the prime minister visited Beijing instead of the President. "They know our system intimately, and know what power the President has or does not have. Had the prime minister come along, they could have raised the contentious issues -- India's nuclear agenda, even Sikkim maybe."
But for now, there is considerable enthusiasm, even euphoria about the Presidential visit. "They were determined to make the visit successful. We have made all the gestures after 1998. It is now time for them to reciprocate."
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