NEW DELHI — As Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Beijing to meet top Chinese leaders, a key focus will be on a border pact. The agreement aims at easing tensions which spiraled earlier this year after alleged incursions by Chinese troops into territory claimed by India. Despite blossoming trade ties, mutual suspicions run deep.
In the days before Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lands in Beijing (October 22), diplomats on both sides have been busy putting finishing touches to a border pact.
Officials are hoping that barring last minute hitches, the agreement will be signed during Singh’s visit.
“Maintenance of peace, tranquility and stability on our border is an important factor in our bilateral ties, and it is expected that this would be an important aspect of the discussions as it is also the fundamental basis on which the rest of our bilateral relationship can proceed and grow,” said India’s Foreign Secretary, Sujatha Singh.
Efforts to reach a border agreement gained momentum following a tense three week standoff between their armies in April. It was triggered by Indian allegations that Chinese troops had trespassed into its territory in the Ladakh region.
Beijing denied any incursion, but there are growing concerns in India about increasing Chinese assertiveness along the border.
Sujit Dutta, a China expert at New Delhi’s Jamia Milia University, said the border pact is aimed at preventing such faceoffs.
“It will enhance, hopefully, certain level of mechanisms on both sides to ensure that what happened earlier this year does not recur. Chinese after all came in 19 kilometers as far as Indian understanding of where the line of actual control is…Chinese troops had transgressed 19 kilometers. That is a lot of transgression, which can recur again, because the line of actual control has not been delineated,” Dutta said.
Efforts to resolve that decades-old border dispute have failed despite numerous rounds of talks.
In New Delhi, suspicions have resurfaced with China upgrading its military infrastructure all along the border. India too has begun scaling up its roads and airports in border areas.
India also worries about China’s close relationship with Pakistan. Prime Minister Singh is expected to raise the latest concern -- Beijing’s plans to sell two nuclear civilian reactors to Islamabad.
Sujit Dutta said it is crucial for the two countries to resolve the boundary dispute so they can focus on other issues. "These can't be solved without being addressed squarely, because they have huge repercussions domestically in India. And public opinion is constantly at it," stated Dutta. "The media focuses on them and with public opinion becoming negative towards China on these matters, doing normal diplomatic and economic work then also becomes difficult. So each sector is integrated."
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said that Beijing will work with India to build mutual strategic trust. Chinese officials say that India and China are the two largest developing countries and emerging economies in the world, and there are great prospects for the two countries to engage in trade and cooperation.
Economic ties will be on the agenda of Singh's trip and he will urge China to increase its investment in India. While trade is booming, India is concerned about a trade deficit of nearly $30 billion. Srikanth Kondapalli is a China expert at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“In terms of trade deficit, there has been only piecemeal efforts done by China in this regard. In terms of investments we have not seen any major flow. $244 million is the Chinese investments in India. Also in infrastructure projects, there have not been any iconic projects unveiled so far,” Kondapalli said.
Despite the challenges, officials in both countries are sounding a positive note, projecting the relationship between the two Asian giants, who fought a war in 1962, as moving in the right direction.