Tepid response

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna’s just concluded visit to China and talks with senior leaders including Wen Jiabao in Beijing have not yielded any major results, except for the signing of an agreement to set up a hotline between the prime ministers of the two countries. Even the decision on the hotline had been taken months ago and it was only formally signed into implementation now. Though it is inconceivable that an emergency situation will arise which will demand direct and immediate interaction between the top executives, keeping communication channels ready and open between the two countries at the highest levels is welcome. No major breakthrough was expected and the visit was only a part of the continuing interaction and the efforts going on at different levels to discuss and find a solution to contentious bilateral issues.

Some issues of immediate concern to India were raised by the minister, without any forward movement in Chinese positions on them. India’s unhappiness with the issuance by the Chinese embassy of stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir and concern over China undertaking a number of development and infrastructure projects in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) were conveyed to Beijing. But the Chinese responses have not allayed India’s concerns. Couched in diplomatic language, they only reiterated known positions on these issues, with the Chinese maintaining that the visa issue is a matter of ongoing discussions and the presence in PoK is without prejudice to the bilateral dispute between India and Pakistan. Similarly, Beijing did not go beyond its general position that it was in favour of a bigger role for India in the UN and the world, in the context of India’s claim for a permanent seat in the Security Council.

What the visit and its unremarkable outcome underline is the need for continuing contact between the two countries. There are areas of co-operation, as in the case of climate change negotiations where common interests and positions are involved. Bilateral trade and business relations are thriving and are set to increase further. Keeping differences from widening further is itself an achievement in the case of countries which have a major border dispute to resolve. Since there is a mechanism for negotiations and it is working, it is necessary to wait for slow and steady progress. Patience and continuing contacts are of vital importance for both countries.

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