There will be a sweet and sour flavour to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s three-day visit to China. The high note will be the signing of the first protocol over the contested Sino-Indian border in eight years. However, Indian officials said they would raise the recent stapled visas issued to Arunachali sportswomen.
The border defence cooperation agreement will be the main accomplishment of the visit. This will be the fourth confidence-building agreement signed by the two countries since 1993 and will attempt to quieten a border that has seen renewed tensions since 2009. The diplomatic code phrase is that this is about ensuring “peace and tranquility” along the border.
It will lay down new ground rules about patrolling, including handling face-to-face confrontations and incidents like the Chinese intrusion in the Depsang sector. Sources said despite media portrayals otherwise, India’s 4,000-km-long border with its northern neighbour was among its most peaceful despite being largely undemarcated. “This is not a hot border,” the source said, noting that no shot had been fired since 1975.
The source said New Delhi had handled the Depsang intrusion “very well” and “without fuss.” The Chinese had withdrawn after three weeks -- in comparison, in 1986, a similar incident in Arunachal Pradesh had taken six years to resolve.
“There will be instances where we will have face-offs until we settle the boundary issue,” the official said. “But we will handle them. This is where the BDCA will help.”
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson echoed the sentiments saying, “Pending the final settlement...joint effort should be made to maintain peace and tranquillity in border areas.”
Indian officials say working out border protocols is important as both sides are upgrading border infrastructure, deploying more soldiers and better weapons, making the chances of a “mistake” greater.
However, the Chinese embassy’s issuance of stapled visas to two Arunachali archers heading to a sports event in China served as a reminder how continuing sources of friction could colour public opinion.
Privately, Indian officials say stapling was a concession by Beijing -- in the past, China had declared Arunachali were “Chinese citizens” and did not need a visa at all. But neither could be accepted by New Delhi.
Singh will be holding back-to-back meetings with the Chinese leadership, including a meal with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He will also hold talks on the strategic neighbourhood, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how to bolster trade and investment between the two countries.
Singh, in an interview to Chinese media, said he had sought for the past nine years to put bilateral ties on a stable growth plan. “There are a lot of things we have to discuss,” the PM said after he landed in Beijing.
Video: PM Manmohan Singh reaches Beijing for a 3-day visit