India and China seemingly put a lid on their two-year-long catfight. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Hu Jintao agreed to a new border management mechanism and officers of India’s northern command visiting China later this year.
Beijing also accepted New Delhi’s complaints regarding trade barriers for Indian exports. “We have taken care of a large number of minor irritants troubling bilateral relations,” said an Indian official afterwards.
Singh and Hu had a 50-minute meeting the day before the third BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit on Thursday. National security advisor Shivshankar Menon described the talks as “productive, warm and friendly”.
The two sides agreed to set up a working mechanism for consultation and coordination on all border issues. The mechanism had been proposed by China last December and was accepted in principle by Singh.
Menon said the mechanism would “help ensure peace and tranquility” along the border — meaning prevention of military friction. The mechanism will implement the 1993 and 1996 border management agreements. It will also explore other forms of border cooperation. Menon said these could include people-to-people contacts, trade and the movement of mail.
“This shows an innovative approach for a perceived stalemate,” said strategist Rong Ying of the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing. “We had to look for other ways while keeping in mind this is a difficult issue.”
China continued to roll back its earlier Kashmir policy shift.
Menon said a multi-command delegation from the Indian Army would visit China. “It will happen sooner rather than later,” said an official. Menon was categorical that the delegation would include northern command officers. China had refused a visa to a northern command head because his purview included Kashmir.
Singh did not raise the matter of China issuing of stapled visas to Kashmiris but it is understood that Beijing has quietly reversed the policy.
It was pointed out that the bilateral trade imbalance was widened by Chinese barriers to Indian software services, pharmaceuticals and agricultural goods.
“The Chinese did not disagree,” said Menon. Officials said China signaled it would seek to address these issues. Trade was otherwise healthy with the two countries well on the way to achieving their target of $100 billion in two-way trade by year-end. Menon noted that Indian exports to China have risen faster than Chinese exports to India in the past few months.
(Inputs from Reshma Patil)