Diplomacy, it would seem, is quite a different ball game from the rather heated sentiments on the ground. And the visit of the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has proved that. He went to great lengths to say that he wished to use his overseas visit as a leader of his country to increase mutual trust with India, to intensify cooperation and to be able to better face the future. Given the turbulence and animosity that has until recently defined the policy exchange between the countries, such broadly defined goals could easily be dismissed as unduly hopeful. But by stressing the importance of a mutually strategic partnership in his public statements and by facilitating eight new agreements to be signed between the two countries, Mr Li does seem to have walked his talk of greater harmony between the two countries.
China’s recent incursion in Ladakh’s Dabsang plateau was considered surprising enough. But the Chinese premier does not seem to have made too much of it barring saying that there are differences between the two Asian giants. There were some worries that Mr Li would use the Chinese encroachment as a negotiating tool with India, but that does not seem to have been the case with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh describing his interactions with the Chinese leader as a “meeting of minds”. He took pains to say that their discussions were wide-ranging and also candid. Far from being a climb down, however, India’s position seems strengthened by the fact that Mr Singh had at the very outset stressed that without peace and tranquility on the border, the very foundation of bilateral ties would come into question. By insisting that China share more information about the future dams it hopes to construct on the Brahmaputra, the UPA 2 government has demonstrated a resolve in its dealings with China, which many of its detractors were until recently claiming it sorely lacked. External affairs minister Salman Khurshid had raised many eyebrows when he had suggested that the incursion in Daulat Beg Oldi should not come in the way of improving diplomatic ties. In retrospect, however, it would seem that Mr Khurshid’s visit to China earlier this month was instrumental in enabling a dialogue between the two nations, which takes into account the local and global politics of both neighbours.
By firmly shifting the focus to commonalities that both growing economies share, the joint statement released by the two governments appears to suggest that India cannot wish away the importance of its second largest trading partner. Economy and incursions apart, the two sides are also said to have discussed issues like Tibet and the Himalayan ecosystem. Realism is perhaps a far better foundation than sentiment, something that India has realised maybe a little belatedly when dealing with China.