With Hu Jintao slated to hand over the presidency to incumbent Xi Jinping next week, India has started the process of engaging the Chinese new leadership. Defence minister AK Antony is all set to visit Beijing in May. Other top dignitaries, including PM Manmohan Singh and foreign minister Salman Khurshid, will follow the suit later in the year.
Top government sources said S Jaishanker — Indian ambassador to China — is in Delhi to firm up the future bilateral agenda with new leadership in Beijing as well as fix the dates of Antony’s visit to Beijing. Antony was invited by China’s defence minister Gen Liang Guanglie last September, but will be hosted by the new defence minister.
It is understood that Liang’s successor will be General Chang Wanquam, the former head of general armaments department in the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA). During his visit, Antony is expected to call on Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
Both countries appear keen to engage each other and sort out all outstanding issues including the border dispute. New Delhi hopes for a more constructive relationship under Xi Jinping who is seen to have enough political muscle to push the bilateral relations forward. As the crucial portfolio of internal security will be under his control, Xi is being seen as possibly the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, given the authority he will wield.
With the US “rebalance to Asia” remaining poorly defined and Washington desiring to cut deals with the Taliban before its pull out from Afghanistan, New Delhi and China see a convergence on some security issues post-the US 2014 pull-out: the both fear extremist forces based in Afghanistan - Pakistan will try and expand their activities in both Xinjiang and Kashmir. India is keen to engage China to avoid conflict over the Indian Ocean or over water sharing and dam-building regarding rivers traversing their common border.
Sources said while Antony is expected to propose more confidence-building measures between the forces of the two countries, the political direction to the bilateral ties will be given by PM Manmohan Singh when he visits China to meet the new Chinese leadership. Antony is scheduled to visit Australia after his China visit.