China, India agree to discuss 20-year-old border dispute
New Delhi — Making it clear that their world views remain poles apart, Chinese and Indian leaders have agreed to overlook them in order to solve problems much closer to home.
The neighboring Asian giants, which together account for two-fifths of the planet's population, have agreed to enter discussions on the longstanding border dispute that brought them to war in 1962 and continues to be the acknowledged major spoiler in their strained relations.
"The agreement is that we should talk about it," said Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who received and accepted a Chinese invitation to visit Peking.
"I am optimistic," said Chinese Foreign Minister and Vice-Premier Huang Hua, who met Mrs. Gandhi Sunday and concluded three days of talks with his Indian counterpart, Foreign Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao.
Huang is the first ranking Chinese official to visit India since then-Premier Chou En-Lai called on Mrs. Gandhi's father, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1960 in the heyday of Sino-Indian friendship. That era, immortalized here in the slogan "Hindi-Chini bhai bhai" (Indians and Chinese are brothers) evaporated with China's lightning attack on Indian in 1962.
More recently, widely differing perspectives on international developments -- especially relations with the two Western superpowers -- have divided the world's two largest developing countries.
China blames Soviet "hegemonism" and "expansionism" for much of the world's turmoil. India, linked to the Soviet Union by a 1971 friendship treaty and extensive industrial, trade, and defense supply ties, generally sees Soviet actions as reactions to American moves. India also feels itself threatened by the proposed American rearming of Pakistan, its antagonist in three wars -- and a close friend of China.
Underscoring India's different perceptions, which she explained as "Ideological," Mrs. Gandhi told a press conference outside New Delhi over the weekend that India did not blame either superpower for world tension.
Both Huang and Indian government spokesman J. N. Dixit, at a later press breifing, acknowledged "diffirences" in the two sides' positions. Neither spelled them out -- "You all know them," Mr. Huang smiled in answer to a question -- but both stressed that they need not be a barrier to improved relations.
But neither side has put a specific border settlement proposal on the table, and all indications point to considerable time and talks ahead before an agreement can be reached.
The border dispute concerns 14,000 square miles of Indian-claimed territory occupied by China since the 1962 border clash, and 36,000 square miles in the Indian northeast. India has long administered the latter territory, but China does not recognize the international boundary line drawn there by British colonial administrators in 1914.
The dispute of more than theoretical significance. China, which has the world's largest standing army, and India, whose army comes third, both have divisions of troops tied up guarding the rugged, inhospitable mountain terrain in dispute. An agreement could help bring down the temperature of a region overheated by issues such as Afghanistan and Cambodia.
On area of Sino-Indian agreement was an expressed concern about superpower rivalries unsettling both Asia and the rest of the world.
"The rivalry between the superpowers and their expansion and aggression in various places have rendered the whole world most intranquil," Huand said in a banquet speech. Rao said that "every day we see further manifestation of the increase of outside power presences in our neighborhood."
Indian spokesman Dixit said thaat both foreign ministers "took note of the negative implications of great-power rivalry on the regional and world situations."
Huang departs today for an official visit to Sri Lanka and later the Maldives , continuing a Chinese diplomatic offensive that has taken chinese dignitaries through most of south Asia.