It was actually Chinese President Hu Jintao who raised the issue of India's candidature for a permanent place at the United Nations Security Council. In restricted talks, before the one-on-one discussions he held with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Hu raised the matter "positively," official sources said, and expressed support for India's initiative.
An appreciative Singh, during his farewell call on Hu late on Tuesday, accepted an invitation to visit China, and will launch the annual summit-level meetings between India and China with a trip there in 2007.
The first visit by a Chinese president to India in a decade was full of similar small detail, the sources said, with a conscious decision to avoid "grandstanding," of the kind Hu will receive during his next stop, in Pakistan, where he will be accorded a public reception at Lahore Fort, among other things.
In fact, during this visit, which also saw Hu travel to Agra and Mumbai, the emphasis was on "taking small positive steps in an incremental process at building the relationship," an official said, and to address the "deficit of trust" between them.
Hu maintained that China entering into a strategic partnership with India was "not a matter of political expediency," but a reality that transcended the merely bilateral to more global contours. There was need, he said, to manage the simultaneous development of both countries, cooperatively, not competitively, as partners.
There was a strong consensus that the boundary issue needed a fair resolution, the sources said, and the joint declaration outlines this as a "strategic objective." While India appears in no hurry to push a package deal through, there is recognition that the boundary dispute limits the full scope and flowering of the strategic relationship.
"Like old baggage, it has to be shed," a senior official said.
Accepting the Indian proposal of a 'ten-pronged strategy,' including annual summits, opening of new consulates, hotlines between the Foreign Ministers (a Chinese proposal), improved business linkages, transborder linkages (including trading posts at Bum La and Lipulekh) and more people-to-people contacts to provide the requisite push to take the relationship forward comprehensively in an "irreversible" manner, China agreed cooperation had to be sustained and intensified.
Not only will a feasibility study on the effectiveness of a Regional Trading Area agreement be ready by February 2007, setting a 'conservative' bilateral trade target of 40 billion dollars by 2010 is indicative that there is "great optimism" on that front. The issue of the trade imbalance, however, will have to be addressed, with India needing to diversify its exports to China beyond iron ore, which comprises over half of India's exports.
Until September 2006, Chinese companies have completed projects worth 1.4 billion dollars and have bagged a total of 6.9 billion dollars worth of projects in this country, contrary to suggestions that there was discrimination against Chinese companies, the sources said.
Officials are also relieved that China, for the first time, accepted the proposal for an expert-level mechanism to more intensively address cooperation and interaction on common rivers like the Sutlej (Langqen Zangbo), Brahmaputra (Yarlung Zangbo), its tributary the Parlung Zangbo and the Lohit (Zayu Qu).
Conceding that the relationship was a "difficult one", and "if negatives were allowed to dominate, the relationship would go nowhere," there appeared a sense of quiet satisfaction, even accomplishment as Hu left for Mumbai for Islamabad on Thursday, of a solid foundation having been laid.