The news trickling in from Brussels that Beijing would relent its stand on the issue of stapled visas, which had recently cast a shadow over Sino-Indian relations, augurs well for the three-day India visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao that commences today. Beijing had reiterated its stand on the issue when it was raised last month after an artiste from Jammu and Kashmir was given a proper visa to visit Guangzhou to perform at the Asian Games ceremony. But the move also suggested that Beijing would eventually change its position on issuing stapled visas to people from Jammu and Kashmir. China maintains that the issue is more administrative than political.
The issue gained momentum when Lt Gen BS Jaswal was issued a stapled visa to visit China to participate in a military exchange programme on the grounds that he commanded an allegedly disputed part of India. This was not acceptable to India. Subsequently, scheduled military exchanges were kept on hold. Now it appears that during Wen's visit, one of the deliverables to the media would be the dispensing of the stapled visa. It will cost China nothing, but will show to the world Beijing's accommodative spirit and help it earn India's goodwill.
Another related development during the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Premier Wen Jiabao could be a declaration on the restoration of defence cooperation and military exchanges between the two countries. The upward swing on the two fronts was given a further impetus during Jiabao's April 2005 India visit in the protocol between the Indian and Chinese governments on the modalities of the implementation of Confidence-Building Measures in military engagements, the line of actual control and the India-China border.
At a time when India's bid for a permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has acquired importance — with all P5 nations, except China, supporting India's nomination — China should recalibrate its stated position. In ‘A Shared Vision for the 21st Century of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of India', signed between Singh and Wen in January 2008, both sides supported a comprehensive reformation of the UNSC. Referring to India's aspiration for a permanent membership, the Chinese side attached "great importance to India's position as a major developing country in international affairs". The statement further mentions. "... the Chinese side understands and supports India's aspiration to play a greater role in the UN, including in the Security Council."
Today, two years later, the situation has perceptively improved in India's favour. In the joint-statement issued after the conclusion of the Russia-China-India trilateral, held in Wuhan, China, on November 14-15 2010, it was mentioned that the three participating nations looked forward to "deepening cooperation with India within the UN Security Council". If India's membership to the UNSC is inevitable, it won't cost China anything to extend its full support and, in turn, earn India's gratitude. Even if India's aspiration remains unfulfilled, Beijing can still bargain for another deal as a quid pro quo for its gesture of being supportive of India's bid.
Finally, the two sides should also make sincere efforts towards taking concrete measures to solve the long-pending border problem. For a long time, both India and China have treated the vexed border dispute as a secondary issue. A great deal of progress has been made in other areas, particularly in bilateral trade that has increased from a meagre $3 billion a decade ago to about $45 billion today. It's expected to rise to $60 billion by the end of the year. There have been regular political interactions, both bilateral and at multilateral fora, at various levels. People-to-people contact has also been on the upswing. The two countries hope to make progress in other sectors. For this, the border dispute should be resolved at the earliest. Though there has been peace and tranquillity on the Indo-China border, with the only exception of the 1987 Sino-Indian skirmish at Sumdorong Chu Valley, the non-settlement of border issue remains an irritant in the bilateral relations.
Though efforts have been made to solve the border dispute, a foolproof solution is still elusive. China has solved land border issues with most countries, including Russia with which it fought a war in 1967. Given the personal rapport between Singh and Wen, and between National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and his Chinese counterpart, their expertise and diplomatic acumen, it's possible to make concrete progress. Both sides must cross the Rubicon before patience wears out.
Rup Narayan Das is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.