It was External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and not Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who went to the airport to receive China’s President Hu Jintao when he arrived in New Delhi on Monday. It seemed to set the tone for what is likely to be a ‘businesslike’ interaction rather than a major ‘path-breaking landmark visit’.
The first visit by a Chinese president in over a decade — since Jiang Zemin’s in 1996 -- was clearly not reason enough for the prime minister to break protocol and go to the airport, as he did during three ‘big-ticket’ visits earlier this year -- those of the Saudi King Abdullah, United States President George W. Bush and Nepalese Prime Minister G.P. Koirala.
Yet, keen to eliminate any semblance of bilateral discord -- briefly created by the statements of Chinese envoy to India, Sun Yuxi who, in a television interview, said China claimed all of Arunachal Pradesh -- the government called Hu’s visit an important one, the “high watermark of the ongoing India-China Friendship year”.
Discussions related to increasing the already flourishing bilateral commercial cooperation between the two countries are likely to dominate the visit.
A Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement is due for signing. No Free Trade Agreement between the two countries is, however, in the offing -- although negotiations on the issue will be initiated.
Among the dozen-odd agreements likely to be signed during Hu's visit, one major political agreement is intended to "flesh out the parameters of the bilateral strategic partnership" between India and China. The scope of such partnership between the two countries has so far remained largely undefined. This agreement will specify areas of additional cooperation, including information and intelligence exchanges to counter terrorism.
Sources close to the Ministry of External Affairs said the border dispute would "certainly" be raised at the discussions Hu holds with Indian leaders, including with Manmohan Singh on Tuesday, but it was unlikely there would be any major movement forward.
"There is peace and tranquility along the border and with the steady chipping away at differences, we have managed to get Sikkim off the table and set up greater defence exchanges between the two countries," said a senior officer.
India will seek greater information-sharing on the flow of rivers like the Sutlej and the Brahmaputra which originate in what India calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. The two countries already exchange such information on flood-
There has been major concern in recent years about the fact that although China can, if it chooses to, control water flows into India there is no comprehensive bilateral agreement on water sharing between the two countries.
China's close cooperation with Pakistan, and the assistance it has provided in building strategic infrastructure links in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir will also be placed on the table.
But it will not be emphasised too much. "We want to add substance to our bilateral relations," said a senior official, not complain about other issues.
India's focus is on "how best to manage the difficult relationship" with China, with which commercial ties are rapidly expanding but political trust is "deficient".
China, a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, has been non-committal on the question of an India-specific waiver by the NSG to permit member countries to begin civilian nuclear commerce with India. India will certainly seek to garner Chinese support on the issue, particularly after the US Senate has given the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation bill a ringing endorsement.