When Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Monday at the Great Hall of People in a closed-door meeting, he told him that when it comes to the relations between India and China, “There is no question of going back, standing still is not an option, so moving forward is the only way ahead.”
Li is learnt to have said that the two countries have had the image of a relationship of “adversaries”, and they need to project the image of “positive” partnership. A day earlier, Chinese President Xi Jinping had quoted Mao and told Modi in Xi’an that “10,000 years is too long, seize the day, seize the hour”,
Reflecting on these conversations over the last two days, Modi — with Li by his side — said on Friday that he has asked the Chinese leadership to “reconsider” its approach on issues that hold the two countries from realising the full potential of their partnership.
“I suggested that China should take a strategic and long-term view of our relations. I found the Chinese leadership responsive,” he said.
Modi even said that on the border dispute, he “found sensitivity” to India’s concerns on the issue, and Chinese interest in further intensifying confidence-boosting measures. And he went on to reiterate the importance of clarification of Line of Actual Control — something he had asked Xi almost eight months ago.
In this context, he raised the issue of “stapled visas” and sought tangible progress on issues relating to visa policy and trans-border rivers.
“We agreed that as we move ahead, we should be sensitive to each other’s interests; strengthen mutual trust and confidence; continue to manage our difference with maturity; and seek solutions to outstanding issues,” he said.
And, hours later, he unilaterally announced — while speaking to students at the Tsinghua University where Xi studied engineering — that India has decided to extend “electronic tourist visas to Chinese nationals”. While there was no word about this decision after the PM-Li talks, foreign secretary S Jaishankar — when asked — had said that no decision had been taken. This clearly means that Modi took the decision on his own, despite objections from the security establishment on rolling out this facility.
While addressing the students, Modi said, “The solution we choose (to the boundary dispute) should do more than settle the boundary question. It should do so in a manner that transforms our relationship and not cause new disruptions.”
He also said that he had proposed resuming the process of clarifying it. “We can do this without prejudice to our position on the boundary question,” he said, which has been a key concern from Beijing’s point of view.
“We should think of creative solutions to issues that have become irritants — from visa policies to trans-border rivers. Sometimes, small steps can have a deep impact on how our people see each other,” he told the students.
Sources said that the e-visa announcement is a step in that direction.
“If we have to realise the extraordinary potential of our partnership, we must also address the issues that lead to hesitation and doubts, even distrust, in our relationship,” he said.
Stressing that they must try to settle the boundary question “quickly”, he said, “We both recognise that this is history’s legacy. Resolving it is our shared responsibility to the future. We must move ahead with new purpose and determination.”