Visit to India of General Fu Quanyou, Chief-of-Staff of China's P.L.A.

11 May, 1998    ·   83

CV Ranganathan, former Indian Ambassador to China, evaluates the recent visit of General Fu Quanyou, Chief-of-Staff of the Chinese PLA

Since the more normalised pattern of Sino-Indian relations following former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's visit to China in 1988, there has been a steady flow of high-level visitors from China to India and vice versa. All the members of the new Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo ( China 's apex political body) have visited India at one time or the other. Indian chiefs or vice-chiefs of the three separate wings of the armed forces have visited China over recent years and so has India 's former defence minister. This visit of China 's highest ranking serving soldier is a manifestation of the current level of military and political stability which characterises Sino-Indian relations, regardless of the differences that exist between the two.



Fu Quanyou has the distinction of having commanded the military regions of Chengdu and Lanchou before assuming his present position. These two regions have the task of defending China 's long border with India from Xinjiang to south-eastern Tibet , covering six of India 's states in the north-western, northern and mountainous parts of north-eastern India . As chief of staff of the PLA he is now a member of the Party and State Military Commissions, the highest military policy making bodies. Accompanying him were Generals and Admirals of the three wings of the PLA, including the present commander of the Chengdu military region, and staff officers of the Foreign Affairs Division of the Chinese Ministry of Defence.



Although the visit was fixed some time ago, it acquires an important salience with the coming-to-power in March this year of a BJP-led multi-party coalition government in India . More than any other party, it is the BJP that is associated with the view that China 's economic growth and the consequent accretion of military strength pose a security threat to India , and require its active attention. Soon after assuming office as the new government's defence minister, George Fernandes, a long time activist of the Tibetan human rights campaign, made public statements regarding China's military posture in Tibet, its trans-border military activities and its links with Pakistan in the non-conventional, nuclear and missile fields.



The testing of the Ghauri missile by Pakistan reopened the debate on possible Sino-Pak co-operation in this field. Statements by the Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee, however, underplayed some of these remarks. The management of differences over the boundary, which previous governments in India since 1989 had ensured would remain a tension-free exercise, and the links between China and Pakistan provided the background to the Chinese visit and the exchange of views with India 's three service chiefs, the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister.



According to public accounts of these meetings, both sides expressed agreement on the need to strengthen bilateral relations, work jointly for regional peace and stability, and building a consensual approach to resolve the contentious border question and other bilateral issues. Progress on the two agreements in 1993 and 1996 on Confidence Building Measures (CBM's) along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has been seen in India as painfully slow. The implementation of the CBM's, including the thinning out of troops, armaments and the larger task of assuring each other mutual and equal security, is predicated on an agreement on those few areas of the LAC where there are continuing differences between the two sides. One doubts if any effort was made to bridge these differences during the recent high level visit of the Chinese general. This task is left to military and diplomatic representatives who meet in a sub-group before the annual vice-ministerial meeting of the two foreign offices. All that General Fu was willing to offer after his talks was that both sides should make concrete efforts to carry out a gradual realisation of the demarcation of the Sino-Indian border.



On China's assistance to Pakistan's missile programme, it is again to be doubted if the Chinese interlocutors strayed beyond their known positions, which is to state that China's limited assistance to Pakistan is purely for defensive purposes. However, General Fu would have been exposed to a more assertive Indian stance on this issue from the BJP leaders than was the case with previous Indian governments. Generally speaking, the visit should be seen as having an important symbolic significance. It gave an opportunity to military leaders on both sides to exchange notes on the problems each country faces in modernising its forces, share mutual intentions of non-aggression and non-hostile behaviour, and take another small step towards building confidence. Talks at high military levels are a necessary complement to exchanges at high civilian levels at this stage of improving Sino-Indian relations.