SOURCE: The Tribune
THE 10 hours of tête-à-tête between PM Modi and Xi Jinping have been a watershed in Sino-India ties that have oscillated between polite indifference and barely-concealed animus since the thaw exactly three decades back. Since then, Modi has also jetted to Russia for a similar but shorter conversation with Vladimir Putin, but it was the overflowing Sino-India bucket list that needed greater attention.
New Delhi has taken care not to be seen as cosseting the Dalai Lama or vigorously endorsing the US position on the South China Sea while Beijing has reciprocated with promises of greater market access to Indian goods and services. And now an Indian Army delegation will cross over to China to carry forward the Wuhan spirit that, among other postulates, promised a less fractious border.
The need to lower political temperatures suits both regimes. Xi welcomed a respite from Indian activism with the US in the South China Sea after Trump initiated a trade war while the North Korean situation remains fluid. With one-third of its total trade deficit accounted for by China alone, India realises that the recent offer of market access is of symbolic value when viewed against complete Chinese incalcitrance since this problem ballooned. The ties are now poised for a break-out moment when both need to shed long-held notions and apprehensions about each other to move to the next level of partnership.
More than any other vector, a smooth trajectory of Sino-Indian military relationship is necessary to increase the domestic constituency for improved ties because in addition to the residual animus of the 1962 War, anti-China sentiment has been used to score domestic political points. For the first time after the Cultural Revolution, China too resorted to rabid anti-India outpouring during the Doklam standoff. The military bonhomie, denoting that both sides have agreed to turn the page on the recent acrimony, should set the stage for “clarification” of the border, a step that would eliminate confusion about overlapping claims on a dozen patches of the LAC leading to confrontation between patrols. India needs to harness the current thaw for visible progress on the border question.