12th December, 2003


Many people read Future Shock by Alfred Toffler, marketed in India in the late 1970’s, with considerable interest. The driving theme of the book is that the changes that have taken place all over the world in the last few decades have far exceeded the account of the previous 200 years. The changes could be seen at the macro level in science, technology, economy, international relations, social order and the people’s lifestyle. Not that the perceptible changes were good for all people. But the fact that change is a way of the world was realized by many to readjust their outlook of life, even if some of the changes were shocking.

Futuristic events are on. Thus, a joint declaration signed between the Governments of India and China in Beijing on June 23, 2003 and also a specific Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.) on resumption of Sikkim – Tibet trade on the historic ‘Silk Route’ across Nathula in East Sikkim which was abandoned after India-China relations deteriorated in 1962. The outcome of this development will be seen in due course first in the geopolitics of a new equation among the nations of the world and, secondly, in the economic, social and, maybe, also in the political realities in Sikkim, the 22nd State of India since its merger in 1975.

The India-China joint declaration is the first of its kind in the history of Sino-Indian relations since the end of World War II (1945) and the formation of the Republic of India (1947), followed by the birth of the People’s Republic of China (1949). India and China have always been known as the two Asian majors and the relations between them are considered crucial as much for Asia as for the world. In the present scenario, marked by stress on economic reform, market-driven economy and global trade, the role of India and China has assumed an added significance on several counts. The two countries account for two-third of theworld’s population. Individually they are large markets while jointly they are the largest in the world. Both the countries are recognized for their growing economy. They complement each other, especially in information technology and computer industry sectors.

China is known to be driven by its ambition to become an economic superpower in the world. Accordingly, an India-China all-weather relation of understanding, friendship and cooperation – all in their economic interest – can be a sound policy for both the countries which have to individually provide for their large populations of over a billion each. Like the U.S., business is business for China. The reality in this regard is to be seen in how the country has progressed and become a major economy of the world mostly by a pragmatic utilization of its huge human resource along the path shown by Mao Zedong.

India and China share a common perspective of a multipolar world, strengthening of the U.N. and right direction for globalization and, more particularly, about an uninhibited people-centric economic development of the two most populous countries of the world. It is in this perspective that one has to see the significance of resumption of border trade between Sikkim and Tibet, even if it would be more symbolic and not much in volume or in value.

The government and people of Sikkim have received the border trade agreement with mixed feelings. The Chief Minister, Shri Pawan Kumar Chamling, has said that his government has been demanding resumption of Sikkim-Tibet trade along the historic ‘Silk Route’ ever since the Sikkim Democratic Front, of which he is the president, came in power in 1994. Accordingly, he sees the agreement as a fulfillment of a longstanding demand of his party and its government. However, Shri Chamling has formed a high-power committee for a detailed study of the enabling facilities, infrastructure, logistics and security that would be needed for starting the trade with a border market to be set up at Changu Lake.

Resumption of trade with Tibet, howsoever symbolic, will definitely open up many opportunities for Sikkim. It is up to the people of Sikkim to avail the opportunities for their economic gains, said Shri Chamling. An alternative road to link Changu with Ranka and Ranipool in East Sikkim is also being considered to avert the disruption of traffic in Gangtok once the trade begins. The Sikkim government has decided to request the Centre to include the State Chief Secretary, in the Joint Action Committee, which will be formed to finalize the details of the border trade. The Chief Minister has also discussed security arrangements for the border trade with his top officials, including the Chief Secretary and the Director- General of Police.

As to the people’s reaction to the border trade arrangement, some leading businessman in Gangtok have spoken with an optimistic note. The common man in Changu-Nathula area may be expecting opportunities of small trade that normally go with any big trade on a long-term basis. However, in view of the known limitations of hill roads in this Himalayan State, especially during the heavy monsoon from May to September, the prospect of any sizeable trade involving heavy transport appears to be doubtful to many. People are yet to be told what would be the trade items from the two sides of the India-China border at Nathula.

Inputs from Ashok Chatterjee, Editor, Gangtok Times, Gangtok


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