When Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in India for a four-day visit on Monday, it will mark the high point of the ongoing India-China Friendship Year.
The first visit by a Chinese president in 10 years is symbolically significant, as it comes at a time when India-China cooperation is at a historic high and the two Asian giants want to assure each other that they are partners and not competitors.
However, the distrust that has marked the two countries’ modern history will hardly be absent.
At the top of Hu’s agenda will be trade. Bilateral trade is set to cross the $20-billion mark soon, and the two countries are likely to discuss a free-trade agreement (FTA) or a regional trade agreement (RTA). However, it is early days yet for such an agreement to be formalised.
Alka Acharya, assistant professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), says an RTA is more likely in the near future. “The negotiations and the institutional arrangements for an FTA will take some time to be put in place. Something along the lines of China joining SAARC is more feasible in the short term,” she adds.
India is likely to bring up the issue of the diversification of its exports to China, which currently comprise mainly iron ore and other primary products.
China, for its part, will seek the liberalisation of visa norms for its businessmen; at present India limits business visas for the Chinese to 320,000 annually.
The other main issue on the agenda is the border dispute –– a reminder that though economic cooperation is increasing, issues of strategic concern have remained unresolved. While the two countries have mostly let sleeping dogs lie, the Chinese ambassador's untimely remarks re-stating the Chinese claim on Arunachal Pradesh in the run-up to the Hu visit have not gone down well with security watchers in India.
Brahma Chellaney, well-known foreign affairs analyst, warns that Hu is a hardliner who made his name in the Chinese Communist Party as the martial-law administrator in Tibet.
"Beijing may try to adopt a tougher stance on the border disputes with India, and the presence of the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile in Dharamsala," he says.
However, other China watchers point out that China has lately committed itself to the 'three major tasks' of modernisation, national reunification, and safeguarding world peace.
China would, therefore, be unlikely to take a confrontational stance on the border dispute with a country with which it has growing trade relations, especially after New Delhi has taken pains to accommodate the Chinese claim over Tibet.
Moreover, at this juncture, China is seeking greater respect in the international arena — as was evident at the recent African summit in Beijing earlier this month — and is actively seeking partners to bring about multipolarity and multilateralism in international relations.
Since the China visit of then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee in June 2003, the two countries have appointed Special Representatives for a boundary settlement, who have held eight rounds of talks so far.
Yet Hu's visit is unlikely to result in an agreement - not the least because any compromise on either side will need consensus at home - and the talks will be along the lines of reaffirming the commitment to find a solution.
Leaders of the two countries are also likely to discuss the India-US nuclear deal, as China is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
India would, then, bring up the issue of Sino-Pakistan nuclear cooperation and re-apprise China of its concerns. Security experts are also expecting the announcement of more joint military exercises.
In all, some 12 agreements pertaining to a range of issues including health, sports and trade are likely to be signed.
In sum, the visit is unlikely to lead to any historic agreements, although the two countries will reaffirm their commitment to further bilateral ties.