Business Standard, 24th Oct 13
On the plus side, there was an agreement to enhance cooperation on the border, a move towards sharing more data on river waters, and greater Chinese concern for India’s negative trade balance with China. But India also scuttled a visa agreement, sought by businessmen on both sides, to convey displeasure over Beijing’s continued refusal to grant regular visas to Indians living in Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims.
In the final balance, the Beijing visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made clear that no single issue — not even the border — dominates the agenda between the two Asian giants.
After meeting China’s Premier Li Keqiang, Singh declared: “I believe my visit to China has put our relations on a path of stable and fast growth.”
The showpiece signing, the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), incrementally adds to four earlier agreements signed over the past three decades — the 1993 Agreement on Peace and Tranquillity on the Line of Actual Control (LAC); the 1996 Agreement on Confidence-Building Measures on the LAC; the 2005 Modalities for the Implementation of Confidence Building Measures in the Military Field; and the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs, signed last year.
The BDCA reiterates many of the principles covered in earlier agreements, but additionally formalises a five-layer mechanism for communication between the two sides: First, flag meetings between border personnel on the LAC; second, meetings between senior officers of China’s Military Regions and India’s Army Commands; third, periodic meetings at the ministry level; fourth, meetings of the Working Mechanism (set up last year) between diplomats handling Sino-India relations; and fifth, the apex India-China Annual Defence Dialogue.
Implementing real-time communications on the LAC, the BDCA provides for border meetings in every sector, and for telephone links at various places along the LAC. There will be “mutual consultations” to set up a hotline between the two military headquarters. The Indian and Pakistani armies already have a hotline over which the Directors General of Military Operations (DGMOs) speak every week.
“We decided to encourage and institutionalise greater exchanges between the armed forces of our two countries,” Singh said after the meeting.
Minimising the risk of patrol clashes, the BDCA prohibits patrols from tailing (following) opposing patrols. This has been traditionally done to ascertain that an intruding patrol goes back into its own territory.
Interestingly, in comments to the media on Wednesday, Singh spelt out a strategic framework for Sino-Indian relations. His “strategic vision” was to “realise the full promise of our partnership and maintain the friendliest of relations”.
The “strategic benchmark” would be to maintain peace on the borders and “move forward the negotiations towards a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement to the India-China border question”.
And, perhaps most significantly, the PM said that “strategic reassurance” would dictate that “the relationships pursued by India and China with other countries must not become a source of concern for each other”.
While New Delhi links this to China’s “all-weather friendship” with Pakistan, Beijing would link it with India’s growing partnership with the US.
Indicating that contentious issues were placed on the table, the PM said he raised India’s “interest in continued and expanded cooperation on trans-border rivers and received reassurances from Premier Li.” He did not elaborate what assurances were given. The agreement signed between the two ministries for water resources agreed to provide India with hydrological information on flows in the Brahmaputra (Chinese: Yaluzangbu; Tibetan: Yarlung Tsangpo) from May 15 to October 15. So far, data have been provided from June 1 to October 15 each year.
Singh also tabled the issue of India’s adverse trade balance. “Premier Li was receptive to my concern about the unsustainable trade imbalance between our two countries and we have agreed to explore avenues to bridge this gap.”
“We are taking forward the suggestion made by Premier Li in New Delhi for a Chinese industrial park to act as a magnet for Chinese investment in India,” Singh added.
India and China aim to boost trade to $100 billion a year by 2015. Last year, trade was $66 billion, marginally down from the previous year. While Singh declared “when India and China shake hands, the world takes notice”, China’s media was less effusive. With the Russian and Mongolian prime ministers visiting Beijing along with Singh, online English newspaper, Global Times, headlined these visits as, “China receives three PMs”. The newspaper said China was “underlining an emphasis on peripheral diplomacy in its overall diplomatic strategy against the backdrop of the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific”.