The resumption of military ex-ercises between India and China after a four-year gap is a step in the right direction, but hardly a corrective for four years of turbulent relations. The visit of Chinese defence minister, General Gen Liang Guanglie, has been marked by the military equivalent of sweetness and light on both sides. He has spoken soothingly about reports of Chinese troops in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, insisted Beijing has no interest in a strategic footprint in the Indian Ocean and that there have been no Chinese incursions along the disputed border between the two countries. Ever since Premier Wen Jiabao's state visit to India in 2011, Beijing has bent over backwards to signal that it has no squabbles with New Delhi. It has insisted that its supposed strategic infringements against India are largely fictitious or unimportant. The Indian government has selectively taken the same view.
However, Beijing must know that its present friendliness will only go a small way towards undoing the recent damage done to bilateral relations. There is enough fuzziness regarding border incursions, naval confrontations in the South China Sea and talk of upstream river diversions to say the benefit of the doubt should be in favour of better bilateral relations. But there can be no second opinion about the Beijing's increased references to Arunachal Pradesh as "South Tibet," its stapling visas of Indian Kashmiris and repeated obstruction of Indian ambitions in international fora. Some of this is derivative of long-standing Chinese positions, but no one can say that Beijing has deliberately sought to sour the atmosphere in recent years. This was not expected: the trajectory up to the Chinese surrender of claims on Sikkim was positive. The view was that while the two Asian giants would not be friends, they would agree to not to take positions hostile to each other. That China has tilted aggressively against all its neighbours during the past few years is no source of solace for India.
Non-controversial ministerial visits will not be able to remove the deep suspicion about China that has embedded itself in Indian official circles and public opinion. Beijing must provide an explanation for its past behaviour. There are many theories as to why China behaved the way it did - intra-party battles, rising military influence, a belief the US's decline allows China to flex its muscles. Most such theories indicate that Chinese external adventurism has its origins in domestic problems. If so, India and other Asian nations must assume that China will be a Dr Jekyll-Mr Hyde nation for decades to come. Beijing's worst enemy is its opacity. Otherwise, India must assume that the dark side of China is never far even when its defence minister comes bearing verbal gifts.