By Ananth Krishnan | India Today
BEIJING, China, 16 May 2015
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Beijing laid out a new agenda for India’s ties with its biggest neighbour, calling on China to “reconsider its approach” on thorny issues such as the boundary question.
Modi and Premier Li Keqiang in a joint statement on Friday called for expanded defence ties including increasing the number border personnel meeting points, closer economic cooperation especially on railways, and through the setting up of a state leaders’ forum a greater role for states and provinces in ties usually decided by Delhi and Beijing.
Among 24 agreements was the decision to open a new Indian consulate in Chengdu in Sichuan province — a first in western China in a province bordering Tibet — while China would open its first consulate in south India in Chennai.
Modi also announced that the electronic or e-visa facility would be extended for Chinese tourists, in a possible fillip to boosting so far minuscule tourist inflows: less than 2 lakh Chinese tourists and businesspeople travel to India annually, out of 100 million Chinese who travel overseas.
In tune with the Prime Minister’s declaration of a commitment “to set a new direction” in relations, both sides released a joint statement that was devoid of a lot of the phrasing that has characterised India-China diplomacy for more than a decade.
Most striking was the omission of the usual reference to Panchsheel, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence that Jawaharlal Nehru and former leader Zhou Enlai championed. Only last September, when President Xi visited India, the joint statement, in keeping with the past, declared the Panchsheel as the basis for their strategic partnership.
Official sources told India Today the message was that it was time for both sides to look forward; there was no need to reiterate on every occasion past accomplishments that had become, in some sense, as much historical baggage as they were a sense of achievement.
As Modi put it to his counterpart Li Keqiang, “in India-China relations, there is no question of going back. Standing still is not an option and only way is to move forward.”
Modi told reporters he had “stressed the need for China to reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realising full potential of our partnership”. This included the boundary dispute, sources said.
Modi repeated his calls for resumption of the stalled process to clarify differing perceptions in the undefined Line of Actual Control. In an address on Friday afternoon in Beijing’s elite Tsinghua university Modi said he had proposed doing so because “a shadow of uncertainty always hangs over the sensitive areas of the border region”.
Clarifying the LAC could be done “without prejudice to our position on the boundary question”, he said. China, for its part, has been less than enthusiastic on account of its concern that the process would impinge on on-going negotiations.Officials have said there was no need to clarify LAC claim-lines as this was part of the on-going process of negotiating a framework to settle the dispute.
Among the main takeaways was an agreement to expand the number of border personnel meeting points. Currently there are four such points in Bum La and Kibithu Damai in the eastern sector, Nathu La in Sikkim, and Chushul in the west. To stress deepening defence ties, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission — the second ranked PLA leader after Xi, who heads the CMC — will visit India this year, while both sides pledged to operationalise a long-proposed hotline between military headquarters.
Modi will on Saturday conclude his visit in Shanghai, where investment deals between Indian and Chinese companies worth several billion dollars will be announced, followed by the setting up of a Gandhian studies institute at Fudan University and a reception hosted by the Indian community.
Among the 24 agreements signed between Modi and Li on Friday:
New Consulates: India to set up in Chengdu; China in Chennai, to boost trade and people-to-people linkages.
Skills development: China, which trains 13 million in vocational education annually compared to 1 million in India, will work as knowledge partner in setting up skill development institute in Ahmedabad/Gandhinagar
Railways Action Plan: Speed-raising on Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysuru route and high-speed rail cooperation on Delhi-Nagpur or Delhi-Chennai route.
Space cooperation: For first time, specific programmes for two sides including lunar and deep-space exploration and piggy-back launching.
Television stations: Doordarshan and China’s State broadcaster CCTV will promote coproduction and exchange of programmes.
State leaders’ forum: To enable independent provincial-level interactions, forum at state and city level to push mutual investment.
Centre for Gandhian and Indian Studies: Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) will support centre in Shanghai’s Fudan University to boost Indian studies in China
Yoga college: ICCR will help set up first ever Yoga college in southwestern Yunnan province.