GRACIOUS HOSPITALITY: Chinese President Xi Jinping (second right) and his wife Peng Liyuan (right) pose for photo with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur after their meeting in Beijing on October 23 (PANG XINGLEI)
October 22 might be one of the busiest days for the Protocol Department of China's Foreign Ministry as three prime ministers of neighboring countries—Russia, Mongolia and India—started their visits to China on the same day. Despite the arrangement described by the Foreign Ministry as coincidental, observers claimed the intensive visits of the three foreign heads of government, along with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang's recent trips to Central Asia and Southeast Asia, highlighted China's thriving diplomacy with its neighbors.
For the 81-year-old Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the latest trip to Beijing would possibly be the last for him in visiting China as India's government head. However, with nine agreements signed on not only economic cooperation, but also cultural exchanges as well as border security, it will surely contribute to his China legacy.
Lan Jianxue, a research fellow on South Asian studies at China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), said top Chinese and Indian leaders have already had many formal and informal meetings earlier this year. Apart from the consideration of its domestic schedule, Singh's latest trip to Beijing within the year itself shows the importance the two countries attach to each other and the continued warming of bilateral ties.
"What is worthy of noting is that it is the first time since 1954 that the Chinese premier and Indian prime minister have visited each other in the same year," said Lan. Premier Li paid a visit to New Delhi in May, the first leg of his foreign trip after taking office in March.
Progress on border issue
Indian media can now feel more relaxed after the signing of the China-India Border Defense Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), which confirmed the practice and experience of such issues in law. Before Singh's China trip, what concerned Indian media most was undoubtedly the border question.
The BDCA, among the nine agreements reached during talks between the two governments, was top of the list. It is seen as an important step between the two Asian giants. The agreement includes regular joint military exercises, periodic meetings between the officers and clarification on doubtful activities.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying remarked that signing the agreement reflected the will and resolution of both sides for a friendly and cooperative relationship. "This is of great significance for friendship and trust between both sides as well as for peace and stability on the border," Hua said.
Both Chinese and Indian observers believe it is a landmark deal that will help build mutual trust between the two countries. They agree a peaceful border will translate into better relations in other areas.
Lan said that border disputes could be seen as one of the core issues between the two countries, while the BDCA bears important implications for bilateral ties. It is helpful for both sides to manage and control emergent incidents and maintain peace and stability in the border regions.
"The agreement would help reduce instances of stand-off between defense forces from either side such as the 'tent confrontation' in April," Lan told Beijing Review.
Sun Shihai, a senior scholar on South Asia studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), noted that it is the first time the two sides have signed a border issue agreement in "cooperation."
"It is so positive. Neither side wants the border issue to affect overall bilateral relations," Sun said.
Dipankar Banerjee, an Indian expert on strategic affairs, was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying, "It was a very significant step taken by the two heads of government in furthering India-China relations. Our talks on the settlement of border issues between special representatives remain ongoing; patrols from both sides crossing boundaries sometimes create tension along the line of actual control. I expect that this border defense cooperation agreement would definitely help reduce such tensions in future."