How a 1983 Discussion Between Beijing and Delhi Informs Indo-China Relations

14 September 2017

Shyam Saran is a diplomat who joined the Indian Foreign Services in 1970, and has served as India’s ambassador to Myanmar, Nepal and Indonesia, as well as a foreign secretary to the Indian government. Saran spent several years in China, during which time he was involved in India’s negotiations with China over the border disputes between the two nations. Negotiations regarding the issue have been ongoing for decades, and were held most recently during a weeks-long standoff between Indian and Chinese forces in Doklam that ended in late August.

In the following extract from his book, How India Sees the World: Kautilya to the 21st Century, Saran recalls an incident from his posting in Beijing in 1983. He recounts how he, along with the ambassador AP Venkateswaran and foreign-relations scholars in China, brought about a discussion between the Chinese leadership and Indira Gandhi, India’s prime minister at the time. Saran notes that the outcome of these talks—or lack thereof—continues to be relevant to China’s stance on border disputes with India in the present day.

In 1983, I was back in Beijing on my second assignment. AP Venkateswaran was the ambassador. I had become friendly with a Chinese scholar, Zhao Weiwen, a senior researcher and a specialist on India with the newly established think tank China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. During one of our many conversations, she suggested that Ambassador Venkateswaran meet with the head of her institute, Professor Ma, who she claimed had direct access to the senior leadership, in particular to Zhao Ziyang, then the Chinese premier. Through her good offices a series of informal and confidential meetings were held through 1984 between Venkateswaran and Ma, at which Zhao Weiwen and I were the only others present.

Shyam Saran  has served as India’s ambassador to Myanmar, Nepal and Indonesia, and as a foreign secretary to the Indian government.

Keywords: china foreign policy indo-china foreign relations