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May 30, 2000
Narayanan, Li discuss border dispute
Nikhil Lakshman in Beijing
The border issue once again came up for discussion at President K R Narayanan's meeting with former Chinese premier Li Peng, who is currently chairman of the National People's Congress, on Tuesday evening.
Referring to his path-breaking discussions with then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988, where many significant decisions to lower tensions on the Sino-Indian border were reached, Li said there was no reason for differences between the two countries because differences can be resolved. "For the sake of the future, we have to solve the problems of today," he said.
China, Li said, had border disputes with many countries, but after the break-up of the USSR, many such problems with the Central Asian republics had been resolved. Most recently, China had reached an agreement resolving its border dispute with Vietnam.
His country, Li added, would support every step towards the resolution of the issue. President Narayanan is understood to have told Li that the border issue was a stumbling block between India and China, but it was important to get it over with as soon as possible. With China and India's thousand-year history of friendship and commonality of approach, he added, a resolution of the dispute was clearly possible.
Another Li - Li Ruihaan, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference - is believed to have told Narayanan - who is on a seven-day visit to China - that the Chinese side was very pleased that the visit has gone off well. Chinese President Jiang Zemin is understood to have been especially happy with Monday's summit with the Indian leader.
Observers say Narayanan's visit has been remarkable for several reasons.
One, the "atmospherics" - a key factor in the way China conducts its statecraft and diplomacy - has been "excellent". There is genuine, palpable warmth on this visit, they say.
Two, they feel, though it was not explicit, that there is a gradual Chinese acceptance of India as a player on the international stage. Both Lis referred to India as a great country, a phrase Indian diplomats have not heard often in their encounters with the Chinese.
Three, there was an openness in addressing problems. For instance, in the discussions on the border issue, all the Chinese leaders displayed a desire to debate the issues and look ahead to resolve the dispute. The Indians have already expressed the need for frequent meetings of the Experts Group to delineate the Line of Actual Control, and they have discovered a sympathetic response, if not an actual Chinese commitment.
Four, the Chinese have treated all issues with a broad, futuristic approach, clearly a 'let us move forward' attitude.
Fifth, the Chinese appeared eager not to induce any negative vibrations in the discussions. Hence, India's nuclear programme and Pakistan - two issues that would clearly have invoked a negative slant - were not discussed at any of the meetings the President had with the Chinese leaders.
In the words of one observer of the talks, "While formalisms have been observed, there has been nothing formulaic and staid about the discussions. The Chinese have extracted the necessary symbolism from the visit."
"They realised that there was no better opportunity than the President's visit to build up the atmospherics for a better Sino-Indian relationship. The President - whom Jiang described as 'an old friend with experience in state and diplomatic affairs' - has goodwill in China and the Chinese made an effort to make good the visit."
The Chinese, this analyst added, also know that when it gets to the nitty-gritty, India's MPs are going to be very important, hence they are already making plans to build the atmospherics to win over India's parliamentarians, notably by increased parliamentarian-to-parliamentarian contact.
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