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Breakthrough pacts on border,rivers after PM meets top China leaders

Manmohan Singh identified peace and tranquility on the border as the "strategic benchmark".

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday identified peace and tranquility peace and tranquility on the border as the “strategic benchmark”,and not letting relationships with other countries become a source of concern to each other as the “strategic reassurance” on which the progress of the 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 actions eroded the public goodwill for constructive efforts like the liberalized visa agreement,which had to held back at the last minute.

The other concern he raised was about China’s investments in Pakistan occupied Kashmir,and Beijing’s nuclear relationship with Islamabad — which is where the emphasis on strategic reassurance came up.

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

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Li’s observation was that the current period — as the West tries to emerge from a debilitating economic crisis — presented an opportunity to the two countries to shift gears on their relationship. Li had made the same point during his visit to India,and he repeated it in his talks with Singh on Wednesday. 2013,he said,was the “year of harvest” in the relationship.

To that end,the two countries signed a new Border Defense Cooperation Agreement aimed at strengthening existing instruments to ensure “peace,stability and predictability” along the Line of Actual Control.

The agreement envisages more meetings between the two armies,improved procedures and protocols to avoid conflict,and establishing better communication links which could include a hotline between the two headquarters.


Singh laid out a three-point road map to take the relationship forward. The first was building mutual trust — and in this,apart from the border agreement,came another major breakthrough: the agreement on strengthening cooperation on trans-border rivers.

After years of persuasion,the Chinese have agreed to expand the scope of the existing expert-level mechanism from just sharing of hydro logical 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 along the Brahmaputra on the Chinese side.


More importantly,the agreement states that the two sides recognized that trans-border rivers were “assets of immense value to the socio-economic development of all riparian countries”. The recognition of lower riparian rights is a unique gesture,because China has refused to put this down on paper with any other neighboring country.

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

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

The second point in the road map was expanding cooperation,where Singh brought up trade and economic issues. For India,the main concern was addressing the trade imbalance. Li was receptive,and said the Chinese side would soon be firming up plans to set up an industrial park in India that would act as a magnet for Chinese companies to start manufacturing in India.

The Chinese premier pressed for greater focus on improving connectivity between China and South Asia through the Southern Silk Route — essentially quickening the pace on building the BCIM (Bangladesh,China,India,Myanmar) corridor. The two countries agreed to set up a joint study group that will meet in December.


This would also include cooperation in international forums like G20 and BRICS. For the first time,China suggested that the two sides could work together in Afghanistan. Both countries have major investment plans in Afghanistan.

The final aspect of the road map 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 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.


In his statement to the media after delegation-level talks with Premier Li,Singh said,“When India and China shake hands,the world takes notice.”

Li said,“Our two peoples have the wisdom and our two governments have the ability to manage our differences along the border so that it would not affect the overall interests of our bilateral relations.”

First published on: 24-10-2013 at 22:24 IST
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