Border pact opens Sino-Indian trade gateway

Written by PranabDhalSamanta | Beijing | Updated: Oct 24 2013, 14:09pm hrs
Manmohan SinghWhen India and China shake hands, the world notices: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with China's President Xi Jinping before their meeting in Beijing on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday said tranquillity on the border as the strategic benchmark and not letting relationships with other countries become a source of concern to each other as a strategic reassurance were the key factors on which progress of India-China relationship would depend.

Singh underlined this by first raising the issue of stapled visas to archers from Arunachal Pradesh, conveying to his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang that such acts erode public goodwill for constructive efforts like the liberalised visa agreement that had to held back at the last minute.

The other concern he raised was about Chinas investments in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and its nuclear relationship with Pakistan, which is where the emphasis on strategic reassurance came up.

The two broad assertions, to which Singh said Li had agreed, were put out as essential markers by the PM to realise the full potential of what his counterpart had called the strategic window in the partnership.

Lis reading was that the current period presented an opportunity to both countries to shift gears as the West was trying to emerge from a debilitating economic crisis, a point he had made during his India visit. Repeating it on Wednesday in his talks with Singh, he said 2013 was the year of harvest in the relationship.

To that end, the two countries signed on to a new Border Defence Cooperation Agreement aimed at strengthening existing instruments to ensure peace, stability and predictability along the Line of Actual Control. This envisages more meetings between the armies of the two nations, improved procedures and protocols to avoid conflict as well as establishing better communication links which could include a hotline between the two headquarters.

Singh, in fact, laid out a three-point map to take the relationship forward. The first of these was building mutual trust. And in this, apart from the border agreement, was another major breakthrough the agreement on strengthening cooperation on trans-border rivers.

After years of persuasion, the Chinese agreed to expand the scope of existing expert-level mechanism from just sharing of hydrological data to exchange views on other issues of mutual interests. This would mean that India can now discuss its concerns about hydro-electric projects planned upstream on the Brahmaputra on the Chinese side.

More importantly, the agreement states that the two sides recognised that trans-border rivers are assets of immense value to the socio-economic development of all riparian countries. This recognition of lower riparian rights is a unique gesture because China has refused putting this down on paper with any other neighbour.

In fact, negotiations on this agreement went down to the wire with the final Chinese approvals coming in just hours before the PMs flight touched down in Beijing.

At first, China was not keen but it is reliably learnt that Singh asked his officials to make another effort at achieving an agreement on this just before he left Delhi. It may be recalled that this was among the main issues he raised with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their first meeting on the margins of the BRICS summit at Durban earlier this year.

The second point in the roadmap was expanding cooperation, where Singh brought up trade and economic issues.

For India, the main concern was addressing the trade imbalance, on which Li was quite receptive and said the Chinese side would soon be firming up its plans on setting up an industrial park in India that would act as a magnet for Chinese companies to start manufacturing in India.

On his part, the Chinese Premier pressed for greater focus on improving connectivity between China and South Asia through the Southern Silk Route, which essentially steps up the pace on building the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) corridor. The two countries finally agreed to set up a joint study group that would meet in December. This would also include cooperation in international forums like G20 and BRICS.

For the first time, the Chinese side also suggested that the two sides can work together in Afghanistan. This is significant, given that both India and China have major investment plans in that country.

The final aspect of the roadmap was deepening cooperation through better people-to-people contacts. This translated into a host of cultural activities starting with celebrations around the 60th year of the Panchsheel accord next year, agreements on building city-to-city cooperation between Delhi-Beijing, Bangalore-Chengdu and Kolkata-Kunming, as well as through the Nalanda University project.