Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s four-day visit to China is a reiteration of what Beijing watchers have been saying for a while: there’s a subtle, but sure shift from the political grandstanding of over four decades to a sort of quiet pragmatism in Sino-Indian relations. Both Beijing and New Delhi seem determined not to allow mutual concerns and suspicions to come in the way of improving bilateral ties. This is reflected in the unusual absence of rhetoric at the state level of late and a corresponding increase in official visits at different levels between the two countries. The unprecedented joint military exercises between the navies and armies of the two countries, for instance, with their focus on counter-terrorism, are direct spin-offs. So it is no surprise that the document — ‘A Shared Vision for the 21st Century’ — that Mr Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao signed last Monday, boldly underlines the willingness of the two sides to cooperate in the civil nuclear sector.
While it’d be naive to believe this could translate directly into Chinese support for India at the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG), Beijing’s tacit acceptance of the Indo-US nuclear deal is certainly welcome. Never mind if this leaves many of India’s Leftists — who are so critical of the deal — red-faced. Although no one expects the 4,500-kilometre-long border dispute between India and China to disappear overnight, there seems to be new enthusiasm on both sides to acknowledge the status quo on the border. Mr Singh’s statement about finding a “mutually satisfactory” solution to the dispute is obviously in line with the political parameters and guiding principles agreed upon during Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to India in April 2005.
So what if this has to do with the changing geopolitical equations rather than just willingness to overlook each other’s ideological reservations about territorial claims? After all, it is an open secret that China prefers a multipolar world, where it occupies prime position in a unipolar Asia. Not surprisingly, mercantile interests continue to dominate Sino-Indian relations, with bilateral trade expected to edge out the US as India’s largest trading partner soon. Allowing Jet Airways to use Shanghai as a transit hub is another positive step Beijing has taken to open up new horizons of cooperation with New Delhi in the aviation sector.