None of the 13 agreements signed between India and China on Tuesday may appear very substantive. But together they point to an undercurrent of what a senior Foreign Ministry official called “the maturing of the bilateral India-China relationship”.
The two fastest-growing world economies and immediate neighbours have achieved a “comfort level” between themselves, despite persisting areas of difference like the boundary dispute or the Sino-Pak “all-weather friendship”. They will concentrate on the areas of agreement such as “building trust through trade”, said a senior official involved in the talks.
Positioning the two Asian giants as partners, not only in building their bilateral relationship, but also in the regional and global arena, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh emphasised the need to remove the impression of rivalry between them. “There is enough space for the two countries to develop together in a mutually supportive manner while remaining sensitive to each other’s concerns and aspirations, as befits good neighbours and partners for mutual benefit,” Singh said in a statement after his talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Stressing the importance of the developing relationship, Singh added: “President Hu and I have agreed that the positive development of India-China relations in recent years must be made irreversible.”
Manoranjan Mohanty, co-chairperson, Institute of Chinese Studies noted that Hu had said his visit was aimed at providing substance, adding specifics to the relationship. According to Mohanty, three very important points emerged from the Joint Declaration.
"The facilitation of investment, through an FTA (Free Trade Area agreement) by 2007; the agreement on science and technology, particularly in the area of civil nuclear co-operation, and the opening of consulates are all crucial," he said. India already has agreements on civil nuclear cooperation with the US and Russia. "The opening of consulates - in Kolkata and Guangzhou - is very important as it gives China access to Northeast India and India to Southeast China."
"This agreement is important both for India's 'look east' and China's 'look west' policies," added Mohanty.
Describing the tone of the declaration as "cool and confident", he said, "The two countries will strengthen not only bilateral relations but go beyond to establish a fair and equitable global order. Despite there being no dramatic announcement, the overall process of expanding co-operation is very important."
A different view was provided by Bharat Karnad, research professor of National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research.
"Nothing very extraordinary has come out of the visit," he said. "It was a sign of things to come when other ministers, but not the prime minister himself, went to the airport (to receive Hu) on Monday," Karnad noted.
Asked about China's role at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), where it has so far been "lukewarm at best" to India's aspirations, Karnad said the clause — about a civil nuclear cooperation between the two countries — in the joint declaration "does not mean that China will facilitate a consensus at the NSG in India's favour. In fact, it will probably not".
"Faced with the India-US deal, the Chinese are trying to cover their flanks by agreeing on co-operation in the nuclear field," Karnad said. "It is a political manouevre because other than uranium China has nothing to give India whereas India can offer China its advanced technology."
Karnad was equally sceptical about efforts to hasten a resolution of the boundary dispute, calling it "mere lip service". "It is a Chinese characteristic of negotiation. They regard time as their ally. It has been a historical Chinese tactic to wear out the opponent," he said, adding, "the status quo will stay".
Former ambassador to China CV Ranganathan, on the other hand, lauded the progress in the dialogue. "Although no ground-breaking announcement has been made, the good thing is that in recent years such joint statements have become programmes for action to keep up the high level of momentum in our relations in various fields," Ranganathan said. "India and China have, at the very least, reaffirmed their commitment to deepen and diversify relations."