Both governments working on a hotline between the Prime Ministers
India and China are working towards stacking up more confidence building measures (CBMs) during a period of frequent consultations that could lead to the first-ever back-to-back visits by the two Prime Ministers in coming months.
Both sides, according to informed sources, are currently finalising details of a visit by the new Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, to New Delhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to visit Beijing later this year, possibly in June.
Mr. Li’s India trip may even be the new Premier’s first ever overseas visit if mutually convenient dates are worked out for next month. Dr. Singh had his maiden meeting with the new Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of last month’s Durban BRICS summit.
A CBM with high symbolic value that both governments are working over is a hotline between the two Prime Ministers. This could add to the several CBMs announced or implemented last year in the maritime and land domains.
The year also saw the resumption of military exchanges, an agreement on joint military exercises and the holding of a dialogue on counter-terrorism. This marked considerable improvement in bilateral atmospherics as compared to recent years when both countries suspended military exchanges and withdrew from border talks.
Chinese officials are particularly keen to use Mr. Li’s visit to send a positive signal to India that the new leadership wants to take the ties to “a higher level,” as Mr. Li told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a telephonic conversation shortly after taking over last month. Dr. Singh was one of the first leaders Mr. Li spoke to after he was appointed Premier on March 15 following the session of the National People’s Congress, or Parliament.
This would send a strong message, sources said, on how the new leadership in Beijing, which took over in March following a once-in-ten year leadership change, viewed relations with India as a priority. Mr. Li is also the second-ranked member of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, which is headed by the Chinese President.
To send that message, they have made the point that they are prepared to overlook the usual factor of reciprocity that determines diplomatic visits — the Indian Prime Minister is actually due first in China according to protocol, following the former Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to New Delhi in 2010.
China’s keenness to push bilateral relations comes amid increasing challenges faced by Beijing from its eastern neighbours, with persistent tensions with Japan over the disputed East China Sea, continuing strains with Vietnam and the Philippines over the South China Sea, and recent complications on the Korean peninsula following an escalation of threats from North Korea.
Mr. Xi extended an invitation to Dr. Singh, which he accepted, following their first meeting last month on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in Durban.
India and China have stepped up engagement in the lead-up to the visits by the two Prime Ministers in the hope, sources said, of achieving concrete outcomes during the two visits that would signal a significant boosting of ties on various fronts, from defence ties to increasing coordination on regional challenges.
Indian Ambassador to China S. Jaishankar will reach New Delhi on Sunday for consultations to lay the groundwork for the visit of Mr. Li.
India and China on Friday also concluded two-day consultations on counter-terrorism and their officials will meet in Beijing on April 18 for the first-ever consultations on Afghanistan, with Joint Secretary for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran Yash Sinha travelling to the Chinese capital. Visits by Defence Minister A.K. Antony and National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon are also on the cards, as is a resumption in defence exercises which are set to be held in China later this year after a five-year gap.