When you turn to this page to read the story, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao would have landed in India. His visit has been billed as this year's most important event for the Chinese leadership. The extraordinary billing reflects both India and China's desire to go out of their way to signal a deeper cooperative engagement, thereby dispelling the notion of an inevitability of conflict between the two Asian giants. The message: the world is big enough to accommodate their respective aspirations. The desire to convey this message stems from an awareness that if the parallel rise of both nations leads to sharpening of differences, there could be negative consequences for Asia and the world.
Sources say New Delhi will be looking to take forward what the Vajpayee government had achieved: China had then recognised Sikkim as part of India. New Delhi hopes to build upon this and impart a certain momentum to other aspects of Sino-Indian bilateral relations.
A key indicator will be the enunciation of a set of eight or nine guiding principles on the boundary issue. These have been evolved over a number of meetings between specially-designated special representatives (SRs). The text of the principles is almost ready, save some clarifications. Even this is expected to happen at the time the SRs meet during Wen's visit.
The principles under discussion, it's learnt, consider well-marked geographical features, historical and legal factors and the security interests of the two nations. And also, importantly, the actual situation in the border areas. Once these are accepted by both sides and enunciated, the stage will be set to arrive at a framework for settlement. It will only be then that the SRs will turn to make adjustments on the ground.
The process involving the SRs is moving parallel to the exercise of clarifying the Line of Actual Control at the joint working group (JWG) level. The clarification is aimed at understanding each other's perception of where the LAC lies on the ground. This stage involves discussions of maps on a mutually-agreed scale and culminates in an exchange of the maps.
Sources say the two separate processes—the SR and JWG—are bound to overlap. The JWG process has led to the clarification of the middle sector, an easy task, with not many divergences in the perception. The expectation was that a similar exercise could be conducted for the western and eastern sectors, too. But when the JWG met to discuss the western sector two and a half years ago and the Indian side presented its perception of the LAC there, the Chinese claimed that New Delhi was enlarging the areas of differences. That stalled the progress. It was the same story at last month's JWG meet in Beijing; it adjourned with no dates for the next meeting. The expectation now is that the announcement of political principles could well give the JWG process an impetus and create conditions for the SRs to look at what adjustments are necessary on the ground to arrive at a settlement.
Expected during Wen's visit is a joint statement on strategic congruence and cooperation including global trade issues. MoUs are also being readied on a liberalised civil aviation policy, a mechanism for financial dialogue as well as customs cooperation.
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