Though an agreement to resolve the border issue is not on the cards as yet

An agreement to resolve the border issue is not on the cards but sources here expect Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to explain to his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh why the Depsang incident took place, when the two leaders closet themselves for talks a few hours after the second-ranking Chinese leader’s arrival here on Sunday.

Indian diplomats and experts have offered different explanations for the three-week Chinese encampment on a desolate but strategic plateau in eastern Ladakh. But they are mystified about the timing because the Chinese incursion took place barely a fortnight after Chinese President Xi Jinpeng held his first-ever meeting with Dr. Singh towards the end of March.

Protocol goes

At that meeting, Mr. Xi offered to dispense with the trappings of protocol. Although it was Dr. Singh’s turn to visit Beijing, the Chinese President mentioned that Mr. Li wanted to make India his first overseas destination as Premier asked if India would agree to the proposal. Barely had India accepted the Chinese President’s offer and no sooner had External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid announced plans to make a preparatory visit to Beijing than the Depsang incursion by Chinese troops took place.

Official sources as well as strategic experts, who counsel the government, admit the Depsang incident has cast a “pretty big shadow” on the visit. It was handled maturely based on earlier mechanisms and agreements, but it was a complete surprise and resolution took longer than it should have.

A Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official here said that while the Depsang incident had brought the border issue upfront on the India-China agenda, they were unwilling to hazard a guess about concrete outcome of the Manmohan Singh-Li Keqiang meeting. Asked about the China-proposed Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA), MEA’s Joint Secretary (East Asia) Gautam Bambawale said: “That is a subject which is being discussed between the two governments and it will continue to be discussed including during this visit. So, we will have to wait and see.”

“Right now I cannot say anything because it is a work in progress. We are negotiating it with the Chinese and they are negotiating it with us. So, I think I will have to say just say these words and stop there,” he added.

Commercial pacts

The Chinese want to project their economic ties. On their request, Indian chambers of commerce are holding an interaction with Mr. Li in the financial hub of Mumbai where some firms will also sign commercial agreements on the sidelines.

But from the point of view of symbolism, Mr. Li’s visit to Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) office in Mumbai will be on a par with his interaction with the chambers of commerce. India has been striving to get its IT and pharmaceutical firms a greater foothold in the Chinese market. But TCS has been an exception. Instead of complaining about procedures, it carved out a special business model for China which is different from its approach to western markets, including the United States.

“I think they have been successful in getting contracts in China. That is one of the reasons he is visiting TCS,” said Mr. Bambawale. “I think we will continue to press on market access in China for Indian companies, whether it is in the pharmaceuticals sector [or] whether it is in the IT sector. We hope to see results very soon,” he added.

Water issue

After border and trade, water is likely to be the third major issue on the agenda from India’s perspective. A bit unusually, Dr. Singh put forward the proposal for a river construction monitoring mechanism in his first meeting with the Chinese President.

Although Beijing is aware of New Delhi’s concern over the increase in construction projects on the Chinese portion of the Brahmaputra, it has maintained that exchange of hydrographic data is adequate. India will continue to ask for such a mechanism to dampen its disquiet against the background of a not-so-satisfying Chinese record of tackling disagreements over shared rivers.

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