“There is no question of going back, standing still is not an option, so moving forward is the only way ahead.”
This is what Prime Minister Narendra Modi said to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang when they sat for a closed-door meeting at the Great Hall of People Friday and discussed ties between the two countries.
Li is learnt to have said that China and India have had the image of a relationship of “adversaries”, and there was need to project an image of “positive” partnership.
A day earlier, President Xi Jinping, at his meeting with Modi in Xi’an, had quoted Mao: “10,000 years is too long, seize the day, seize the hour.”
Reflecting on conversations over the last two days, Modi, with Li by his side, said he had asked the Chinese leadership to “reconsider” their approach on issues which hold the two countries from realising the full potential of their partnership.
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“I suggested that China should take a strategic and long term view of our relations. I found the Chinese leadership responsive.”
On the border dispute, Modi said he “found sensitivity” on Indian concerns and the Chinese very interested in intensifying confidence building measures.
He went on to reiterate the importance of clarity on the Line of Actual Control — something he had asked Xi almost eight months ago.
He raised the issue of “stapled visas” and sought tangible progress on matters 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.
Hours later, Modi unilaterally announced — while speaking to students at the Tsinghua university where Xi studied engineering — that India had decided to extend “electronic tourist visas to Chinese nationals”.
There had been no word on this after the Modi-Li talks. When he was asked, Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar had said no decision had been taken. This indicated 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 said he had proposed resuming the process of clarifying it. “We can do this without prejudice to our position on the boundary question.” This had been a key Beijing concern.
“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 told The Indian Express that the e-visa announcement was 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”, Modi 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.”
Li, on his part, said: “We don’t deny that there are some disagreements between us, but we have far more common interests… we have sufficient political wisdom to properly manage and handle our disputes and differences so that will not affect the overall growth of bilateral relations.”
He said they also agreed that they needed to “keep up the momentum” of Special Representative talks on the boundary question.
Other than the border issue, Modi and Li discussed “simultaneous re-emergence” of the two countries as two major powers, with “mutual respect” and “sensitivity” for each other’s interests.
In this context, they will make efforts to operationalise the hotline between the two military headquarters, expand exchanges between border commanders, and establish border personnel meeting points in all sectors of the Sino-Indian border.
Modi, who raised the issue of counter-terrorism cooperation without mentioning Pakistan, said: “We both face instability in our shared neighbourhood that can threaten our security and slow down our economies. The spreading tide of extremism and terrorism is a threat we both face; for both, its source is in the same region. We must also deal with the changing character of terrorism that has made it less predictable and more diffuse.”
India also made “incremental progress” on the its bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group as the Chinese side, for the first time, “took note of India’s aspirations to become a member of the NSG, in a bid to strengthen international non-proliferation efforts”. China had opposed the Indo-US nuclear deal from getting NSG waiver in 2008.
The two sides signed 24 agreements after Modi’s talks with Li and found new areas of engagement: enhanced cooperation in vocational training and skill development; initiating cooperation in development of smart cities with identification of GIFT City in India and Shenzhen in China as pilot smart cities for joint demonstration projects; peaceful use of outer space and peaceful use of nuclear energy; public health, medical education and traditional medicine; and, space cooperation.
The pacts they sealed:
* Consulate-General at Chengdu, Chennai
* Sister state and cities tie-ups between Karnataka and Sichuan, Chennai and Chongqing, Hyderabad and Qingdao, Aurangabad and Dunhuang
* Mahatma Gandhi skill centre in Ahmedabad
* ICCR and Yunnan Minzu University to set up a yoga college
* Pact on mining, maritime cooperation and ocean sciences
* MoU on mechanism for cooperation in trade negotiations
* Cooperation between Indian Railways and China National Railways
* MoU on education exchange programme, space cooperation
* China-India think tank forum
* Pact between Doordarshan and China CCTV
* Feasibility study for Delhi-Nagpur high-speed rail
* Station redevelopment planning for Bhubaneswar, Baiyappanahalli (Bengaluru)
* Dialogue mechanism between NITI Ayog and China Development Research Centre