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Pocketful Of Posers

India, China do set a rapport, but move warily on key issues

Pocketful Of Posers
Pocketful Of Posers
Dragon's Path

Why was Hu's visit significant?
Seeks to address trust deficit between the two countries through increased political engagement, people-to-people contact, and trans-border connectivity.

Was there any nuclear angle?
Yes. China and India have agreed to cooperate in civil nuclear energy-both bilaterally and multilaterally.

Does this mean China won't play a spoiler in the NSG?
Early days yet. Hu didn't comment on it.

What about the border issue?
Timeframe hazy, but negotiations will accelerate, maps will be exchanged. PM says "no movement of populations".

When UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi called on the Chinese President on Tuesday, November 21, she found an extremely animated Hu Jintao, someone who's famous neither for flamboyance nor loquaciousness. Yet, as the 30-minute interaction progressed, it was obvious the Chinese leader seemed gung-ho on his country's relationship with India. So enthusiastic was the president that when the note-takers timed the interaction, Hu had spoken for 22 minutes (including translation time), leaving Sonia barely eight minutes (including translation time) to speak her part.

Hu's ebullience is perhaps a measure of his satisfaction at the quality of conversations he had had with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier in the day: they met for about three-and-a-half hours, their fifth meeting in 18 months. Indeed, Hu had made it clear that he wanted his visit, only the second by a Chinese president, to be seen as a "new historic beginning" for India and China, signalling to the world their willingness to work together. He also said that the "establishment of strategic partnership with India is a strategic choice exercised by China, (and was) not a political expedient".

When the original programme was drawn up, sources say no one-to-one meeting between Manmohan and Hu was scheduled. The engagement with the Chinese began with a restricted meeting at 11 am in the Deccan Suite of Hyderabad House. The Indian participants were NSA M.K. Narayanan, foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and a few PMO officials. The meeting lasted about 45 minutes, at the end of which everybody exited to the main meeting hall. In an impromptu decision, Manmohan and his Chinese guest stayed back 15 minutes before the delegation-level talks.

Sources say it was during those 15 minutes that the PM raised the border issue. Both the host and the guest acknowledged that an early boundary settlement was a strategic objective. Manmohan emphasised that a solution would advance the relationship and fully substantiate its strategic nature. Resolving not to put artificial deadlines to the process, both leaders agreed that the Guiding Principles, signed between the two countries last year, should be the way to carry the process forward. Accordingly, they would instruct the Special Representatives (SRs) to accelerate and intensify their engagement.

Sources further say the political framework for resolving the border issue is being worked out, that it's the toughest part of the negotiations. "At the end of the process, the maps of both India and China are going to look different," they say. They add that the SRs are targeting "very specific issues" and that New Delhi and Beijing talked about their "respective expectations and approaches".

Sources, however, say a settlement based exclusively on "historical claims" is not going to be possible. They say the PM specifically told the Chinese leader that on the matter of Tawang, the solution "cannot involve the movement of settled population". While Hu heard the PM out, it is not clear what exactly is the import of an accelerated and intensified nature of the proposed interactions between the two SRs. "We have different ideas where the boundary lies," foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said after the talks. The Indo-China joint statement says that it was agreed to "complete the process of exchanging maps, indicating their respective perceptions of the entire alignment of the lac on the basis of already agreed parameters (Guiding Principles), as soon as possible". For those readers looking for a time-frame, it may be pertinent to point out that it took 40 years to settle the dispute over the Indian consulate general property in Shanghai.

At the delegation-level talks, Hu flagged six points of interest: increase of dialogue and consultation at the political level; a win-win economic relationship (Hu said China viewed India's growth as "an opportunity, not a threat"); the importance of enlarging areas of interaction to diversify and deepen the relationship; the importance of people-to-people contact. Hu said China stood for an "early, fair and reasonable solution to the border question". He further added that India and China should work in the area of multilateral cooperation and welcomed India's participation in ASEM (Europe-Asia meeting). Interestingly, he was for promoting "multipolarity and democracy"—and appreciated the PM's statement of last year that India will not be part of "any containment strategy against China". Hu finished his speech saying, "You (Manmohan) said that the world is big enough to accommodate the development aspirations of both India and China. I entirely agree with you."

Sources clarify that the question of seeking Chinese support to the amendments in Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) guidelines was still some distance away, and the Chinese have not been put in the position of having to show their hand as yet. The joint declaration (para 39) specifically says that the "international civil nuclear cooperation should be advanced through innovative and forward-looking approaches, while safeguarding the effectiveness of international non-proliferation principles". But on bilateral energy cooperation, the ground has been set for the respective nuclear energy establishments to work out what sort of cooperation can begin.

After the banquet at Rashtrapati Bhavan in the evening, Manmohan and Hu adjourned for another private interaction. The Chinese president invited the Indian PM to visit China in the coming year, an invitation he accepted. At the end of the visit, say sources, there is a "fairly detailed, action-oriented template" on which to advance relations.

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