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'One Should Not Lay Deadlines'

'That is a great mistake in diplomacy where you lay artificial deadlines. When you cannot meet those deadlines and then you have a feeling of being unsuccessful,' says the Foreign Secretary on the eve of the PM's China visit and Indo-China relations.

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'One Should Not Lay Deadlines'
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Opening remarks and media briefing by the Foreign Secretary at the press briefing on Saturday 21 June, 2003 prior to Prime Minsiter Vajpayee’s visit to China.


Kanwal Sibal: This is indeed an impressive gathering. I am not surprised for there is great interest in Prime Minister’s visit to China; an interest that is reflected not simply by the presence of all of you today, but also by the very senior media delegation that is accompanying the Prime Minister. 

At the risk of repetition, may I recall that Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit is the first in almost a decade. In the interim, there have been other high level visits exchanged. Vice President K.R. Narayanan visited China in October 1994, President Jiang Zemin visited India in November 1996, President K.R. Narayanan was in China in May 2000, NPC Chairman Li Peng and Premier Zhu Rongji visited India in January 2001 and 2002 respectively. 

Prime Minister Vajpayee is, however, no stranger to China. His visit as the Foreign Minister of India in February 1979 led to the unfreezing of India-China relations. We have traversed a considerable distance since then. 

Mr. Vajpayee visited again in January 1993 as a member of the Indian Parliamentary delegation led by the then Speaker of the Lok Sabha. His visit on this occasion will, therefore, enable him to see for himself the significant changes that have taken place in China during the last decade. 

In the last few years, India and China have developed a wide canvas of mutually beneficial cooperation. The objective of the Prime Minister’s visit to China on this occasion is to impart further momentum to our broad-based bilateral cooperation and to build better understanding and trust between our two peoples. I need hardly remind this audience that in the last decade the world around us has changed dramatically. We believe that as two of the world’s largest and most populous developing countries, India and China should remain in close touch on global issues of concern to our country and to developing countries. 

Our two countries face common challenges in our efforts to rapidly improve the socio-economic conditions of our peoples. Our perspectives in today’s fast changing and globalising world have much in common. 

Prime Minister will be meeting with virtually the entire top leadership of China. As you know, there has been a generational leadership change in China in the last few months. Prime minister has already had one useful and friendly meeting with President Hu Jintao in St. Petersburg and is looking forward to resuming his acquaintance with him. There will be extended discussions with Premier Wen Jiabao. 

Prime Minister will also meet with Chairman of the Military Commission Jiang Zemin, NPC Chairman Wu Bengguo and Vice President Zeng Qinghong. 

He is to make three important addresses. You already have other details of his programme. It promises to be a busy four days. 

There will be major business interactions both in Beijing and Shanghai. An impressive team of the captains of Indian industry comprising members of FICCI, CII and ASSOCHAM will be present both in Beijing and Shanghai. The Shanghai event will focus on information technology and how best we can tap the Chinese market. 

The visit to Luoyang will help renew our ancient connectivity. The White House Temple there is where the first two Buddhist monks from India, Kasyapa Matanga and Dharama Ratna, came and lived. 

During Prime Minister’s visit we expect to sign a number of agreements. The spread is quite considerable and reflects the growing diversification of our relations. 

We expect that the Prime Minister’s visit will buttress the ongoing effort to construct an enduring and strong partnership between India and China, based on the principles of Pansheel, mutual sensitivity to each other’s concerns and equality.

Question: What do you expect from the Chinese leadership on the issue of Sikkim? Would you say something on that?

Kanwal Sibal:
A lot has already been said about it in the press on the basis of a great deal of speculation. This is an old issue. There is nothing new in it. It is always there in the background. 

Question: A related question to this. Is there a possibility that it could be agreed upon that a trade route could be opened via Sikkim again?

Kanwal Sibal:
At the moment, we have a certain number of agreements that we are going to sign. They are a large number. For the time being I do not see this as one of them. 

Question: You are not ruling it out though?

Kanwal Sibal:
  This is not on my list. By ‘for the time being’ I meant that in the sense that relationship with China is a continuing one while the Prime Minister’s visit to China will be a very very important point in this visit. But the relationship is a continuing one and it will continue to progress steadily and it will move forward. We have several issues that we have to resolve with China. These issues, we are persuaded, will be resolved in due course on the basis of principles that we have agreed upon and basically … because of the basic advantage to both sides the two big countries India and China want to develop a strong relationship because this has repercussions, very positive repercussions, not only in terms of bilateral relationship but regional stability but also global peace and stability. So, there is a mutuality of interest there. 

Question: What substantive outcome do you expect on the boundary dispute? 

Kanwal Sibal: Boundary dispute has very old beginnings. We are grappling with it. There is absolutely no expectation on either side that this visit will result in any settlement of the boundary dispute. That process is continuing. We have agreed to clarify the Line of Actual Control. That process is moving forward. We have already exchanged the maps in the Central Sector. We are now looking at the Western Sector. After we managed to do that, we will move on to the Eastern Sector. After the Line of Actual Control is delineated on the ground on the maps, then we begin the next stage of settling the boundary issue. So, there is a process. I think it is not necessary to project this visit in the context of this process whereas that process is independent of this visit. 

Question: Would you please elaborate on the agreements to be signed?

Kanwal Sibal:
Actually, I have the list before me. But I want to reserve some surprise for you people. 

Question: Indicate some of the subjects. 

Kanwal Sibal:
Already in the press some areas in which agreements are going to be signed have appeared. Those are by and large correct. It is consular side, science and technology, culture, education, etc. These are by and large the areas. 

Question: On the issue of exchange of maps, since almost a year the process on the Western Sector has been stalled. As you said, the relationship is a process and not just one visit. But, obviously you have hit some hurdle on this issue. So, is there going to be any via media, any mechanism that is being worked out or which might be known during the Prime Minister’s visit which will sort of help us overcome this obstacle?

Kanwal Sibal: The process is something which has been bilaterally agreed upon. The stages of the process are clear. The hurdles, which you have referred to, have nothing to do with the process per se. If we can get back to the process, we can overcome the hurdles. 

Question: Will you be a little more specific? Now you are saying that it has nothing to do with the process. Will you be able to take us into confidence about what is the issue that is holding it up?

Kanwal Sibal: From our point of view, we should be able to move ahead without any difficulty. We do hope that the Chinese will think likewise, especially after the Prime Minister’s visit. If, on their side they have any things on their mind, we hope that those particular question marks they may have would be dispelled, would be answered and we can move forward. But let me clarify that it is not saying that they are going to ask us a question and we are going to answer. I am just putting it in a general way. If they have some reasons in their mind, those reasons we hope would be satisfactorily addressed and we move forward. 

Question: The Middle Sector which you talked about the maps for which have been exchanged between the two countries was in any case the least disputed one.

Kanwal Sibal: No, no, do not underestimate these things. It is just we succeeded, therefore the impression is that there was no difficulty. When it comes to territory, there is a saying of Napoleon that he was willing to sacrifice one Division for one inch of territory. So, if you want to make an issue of things, you can make an issue of anything. So, the fact that we were able to agree to exchange maps in the middle sector in fact gives hope that we will be able to move forward in the other sectors. But this is a process which is inherently a complex one. You cannot expedite the pace artificially. But if you are heading in the right direction, that is the right thing to do. 

Question: Are any deadlines going to be fixed during the Prime Minister’s visit?

Kanwal Sibal: That is a great mistake in diplomacy where you lay artificial deadlines. When you cannot meet those deadlines and then you have a feeling of being unsuccessful. One should not lay deadlines. But also do not forget that even the Middle Sector took quite a while. It was not something which was settled overnight. 

Question: Are there going to be any tariff lines exchanged in terms of boosting trade? Is anything happening on trade?

Kanwal Sibal: Yes, we have some ideas that we are working on. They are good, useful ideas. I think the trade part is one of the very satisfying, encouraging areas of our developing relationship with China because trade figures are growing. The first four months are showing are showing spectacular results. It is 70 per cent plus. 

Question: It is actually 96 per cent.

Kanwal Sibal: Ninety-six is even better than the figures with me. But 70 per cent is good enough, as satisfying as 96 per cent. So, the fact that we are going to have these two particular business events in Shanghai and Beijing and the large business delegation accompanying our Prime Minister, plus certain ideas we are discussing in terms of giving a boost to our bilateral economic relationship, all that augurs well on the economic side. 

Question: Would you tell us what those ideas are?

Kanwal Sibal: I think they will appear when … 

Question: In the fullness of time?

Kanwal Sibal: Well, the time is not far away. Fullness of time is that the process of ripening is going to be long term. In the immediacy of time. 

Question: Do you expect the Prime Minister’s visit to focus any attention on the Tibetan issue? Or would you characterize that also as very very old?

Kanwal Sibal: Yes. We have accepted a position there. We have accepted a formulation there which was agreed in 1991. So, this is not a … 

Question: Can you just spell out for the record?

Kanwal Sibal: I do not have that formulation. But the 1991 formulation in the Joint Communiqué signed at that time states our position. While, of course, the whole Tibetan issue is a fluid one. You know that a delegation of His Holiness Dalai Lama visited China recently. So, in that sense the issue in its entirety would need to be resolved. But this is not an issue of a nature which is germane to the reasons for this visit, to the quality of this visit, or to the results of this visit. 

Question: Is it true that China is very disturbed with our Naval movements in South China Sea?

Kanwal Sibal: No, no. I do not know where you picked this up. No.

Question: Would the Prime Minister also be discussing the issues of Sikkim and the boundary with the Chinese leadership and Mr. Jintao? Would it be one of the issues?

Kanwal Sibal: I cannot in advance tell you what issues can or will not be raised. Since we are discussing our bilateral relationship in all its aspects, I cannot at this stage give you any answer to this. But, it is clear that this is an issue in our relationship.

Question: On the issue of multipolarity, do you expect any discussion with China?

Kanwal Sibal: Discussion, no. But I think both India and China support the principle of multipolarity. So, I do not think we need to discuss where we had already reached an agreement on multipolarity. In other words, we do not have to discuss this in order to create a convergence in our positions. That convergence is there. But very clearly also I must explain, and this is important, that our vision of multipolarity is different -- significant power centres in the world cooperating with each other internationally and not confronting each other. We should be able to tackle the global problems and those are growing. The world as a whole is addressing them more and more. Therefore, all the major countries should put their heads and minds together and address those problems in a cooperative framework. There should not be an attempt to develop a global agenda which is based on the interest priorities or concerns of one single power centre. 

Question: My first question is that in the last few days the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman has been using one phrase referring to the discussions on the LAC as well as on the border. The phrase is ‘on equal consultation, mutual understanding and accommodation and mutual readjustment'. What does this mean? Do we accept this phrase? What are they referring to?

Kanwal Sibal: Nobody has so far explained to us what this means. That is why this is not joint parlance. The moment it becomes joint parlance we will know what it means. 

Question: Why are they bringing it up again and again? What does it mean? Even President Zhu in St. Petersburg brought it up with the Prime Minister. What does it refer to?

Kanwal Sibal: I hope that at some stage we will be able to answer your question. 

Question: What does it mean?

Kanwal Sibal: You are asking me what it means. I do not know what it means. So, when I know what it means, then I will tell you what it means. 

Question: After all the Chinese President raised it with the Indian Prime Minister. And the Foreign Ministry Spokesman …

Kanwal Sibal: We have not come to a stage in our dialogue with the Chinese where we have sought or are being given clarifications on the meaning of the formulations. This is true. 

Question: Would you say a lot is lost in translation?

Question: Are they saying something else? I think you referred earlier to the 1988 Communiqué when Rajiv Gandhi went.

Kanwal Sibal: That is joint formulation. That is what the both sides have agreed to and both sides know what meaning of that is. For the rest it is … 

Question: Are you saying that they are trying to change or move forward from this joint formulation that was agreed upon in 1988? Are they trying to introduce new elements?

Kanwal Sibal: When the time comes, we will be able to understand this and be able to pronounce on it. At the moment… 

Question: In fullness of time….?

Kanwal Sibal: In fullness of time, yes.

Question: You said the two countries are the world’s most populous countries. Are there going to any visa relaxations to enable easier movement of people between the two countries?

Kanwal Sibal: We are going to sign an agreement. 

Question: Can you tell us something about it?

Kanwal Sibal: We have already said that this agreement will be signed and all these things will be simplified. That is why this agreement is important. This does not apply only to the diplomats and the officials, it would be an across the board agreement. 

Question: Do you thing that after this visit there would be a resolution of the problem of stopping of Chinese goods in India?

Kanwal Sibal: I do not think that this is a problem of the dimension that you are suggesting that it is. The balance of trade for the first time has moved in India’s favour. Five billion dollars of trade has been built up in a few years and the latest statistics show that the balance of trade has moved in our favour. Therefore, let us look at it realistically. 

Question: You talked about multipolarity. Are you trying to make a distinction from what Chinese position is on multipolarity?


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