The “stapled visa” issue could not be unstapled during the two rounds of talks Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao held here on Wednesday night and Thursday morning but India and China — which reiterated their desire to cooperate and set an ambitious trade target of $100 billion by 2015 — have agreed on a mechanism to address the matter. They also agreed to address the pause in high-level defence exchanges — suspended as a result of the Chinese policy of issuing distinctive visas to Indian citizens domiciled in Jammu and Kashmir — by creating a basis for them to “continue without constraints.”
The main “constraint” is the stapled visa, which India says challenges its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Pending resolution of this issue, therefore, it refused to include in the joint statement issued on Thursday references to Chinese sovereignty in Tibet and ‘One China' that have been part of the past three summit-level declarations.
Briefing journalists, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said the visa issue was raised by Mr. Wen himself, who said China took India's concerns very seriously. “He suggested that officials from both sides should have in-depth consultations so that the issue can be resolved satisfactorily,” Ms. Rao said, adding, “The ball is in their court.''
“It is very significant that that there was no reiteration of India's position on Tibet [in the joint statement],'' senior Indian sources told The Hindu. But officials speaking on the record played down the absence of those boilerplate references. “I don't believe [its exclusion] became a bone of contention, let us put it that way,” observed Ms. Rao.
The reference in the joint statement to deepening bilateral relations on the basis of “sensitivity for each other's concerns” was the eventual compromise, officials said.
Beyond the visa issue, however, the two countries made progress by agreeing to a strategic economic dialogue to enhance macro-economic policy coordination and address challenges in economic development and cooperation. They also opened new areas for cooperation such as maritime security. Despite the pause in defence exchanges at the senior level, India and China agreed to work together in tackling piracy in the Gulf of Aden, where both sides have deployed warships. They also agreed that freedom of navigation should be in line with international laws.
There was forward movement on security cooperation, trans-border rivers and in addressing the imbalance in trade.
On the issue of dams on rivers, China changed its position slightly. Both sides agreed to further discuss India's suggestion for increased cooperation on trans-border river issues over and above the expert level mechanism for the Brahmaputra and the Sutlej.
Delivering a lecture at the Indian Council of World Affairs later, Mr. Wen said China would pursue only those upstream river projects which had a proper scientific foundation and that it would take the interest of people in both the upper and lower riparian regions into consideration. He said the boundary issue was a historical problem and that it would take time to resolve.
According to Indian officials, the two sides deadlocked on persuading Pakistan to abide by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1267, which India interprets to mean that none under the terrorism scanner should be allowed to roam free. China has resisted any addition of terrorist names on the 1267 list in the past. India also drew attention to Chinese nuclear reactors being supplied to Pakistan, but Mr. Wen simply reiterated his country's commitment to non-proliferation, officials said.