Page last updated at 18:12 GMT, Monday, 9 November 2009

Trust evaporates between Asian giants

By Amit Baruah
Editor, BBC Hindi

Indian and Chinese flags
India and China have much at stake

India-China relations are in flux and their future is uncertain. When senior Indian officials tell you this - even as background - it is time to sit up and take notice.

It doesn't matter that a shot hasn't been fired on the disputed India-China boundary for the past 30 years.

Equally, it doesn't matter that the two countries have had a "strategic and co-operative partnership" since 2005.

For the damage to the relationship has been done in recent weeks.

"The India-China relationship has become a complicated one thanks to our media. One really doesn't know what is going to happen in the future," the officials told the BBC.

Border issue

A "story" appears in the Indian press and the government responds by saying it is looking into the issue. And then the Chinese are furious that the Indian government doesn't deny such stories, but says it is looking into them.

In the flush of economic success sections of the Indian elite believe that it's time to tell off the Chinese

But who is interested in denials when the "story" has already gone out? Very few, it would appear.

"How can India object?" the officials wanted to know. After all, isn't India constructing the Baglihar dam on the Chenab river, whose waters are used by Pakistan?

The Indian officials, who spoke to the BBC on condition of anonymity, also said there had been no material change on the boundary dispute with China.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself said pretty much the same thing on 30 October in Delhi.

Indian guard in Arunachal Pradesh
Indian troops have a long-standing border dispute with China

Pending the resolution of the border dispute, the two countries have agreed to maintain peace and tranquillity along the boundary. "That is the case right now," Mr Singh stressed.

According to the officials, the 14 rounds of talks on the boundary issue at the level of special representatives, tasked with hammering out a settlement of the dispute, hadn't yielded much.

"Nothing much is happening as far as the resolution of the boundary issue is concerned. India's political leadership has made several overtures to settle the boundary dispute, but the Chinese don't seem to be interested," the officials added.

The Dalai Lama's visit to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, territory which China claims for itself, has again highlighted that the boundary issue between the two countries is far from settled.

In the past few months, the carefully constructed relationship between the two countries had been undermined by reports in the Indian media, which Beijing believes Delhi should have rejected out of hand.

'Money talks'

Sane voices in India are few; in the flush of economic success sections of the Indian elite believe that it's time to tell off the Chinese. Never mind the fact that the Chinese are an economic superpower and India isn't.

Writing in The Times of India newspaper, veteran China-watcher Nayan Chanda wrote: "It would be an error to cast the inevitably difficult relations with China in terms of military confrontation. India's main challenge from Beijing does not lie across its frozen border but in the economic success evident in China's glittering cities, infrastructure, booming industries, high-quality schools and its emergent clean energy technology…

"India's fledgling economy, still beset with widespread poverty, malnutrition, inequality and injustice that spawns, among others, Maoist violence, is no match.

"This means that if a military confrontation were to take place, India might well find itself internationally isolated. Money talks and it certainly seems that, for the time being at least, the favoured accent may be Mandarin," Mr Chanda added.

Indian officials are frazzled by the media reporting of bilateral relations. A civilian bureaucracy, used to remaining silent on India-China equations, is unable to cope with the China-bashing frenzy in the Indian media.

India-China relations are entering uncharted territory.

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