Rediff.com's Editor-in-chief Nikhil Lakshman, who is traveling with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the BRICS summit in the Chinese town of Sanya, offers an insight into what the Indian delegation can expect during the visit
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 13th meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in the Chinese resort of Sanya on Wednesday may prove fortunate for the India-China relationship.
After perhaps the worst 18 months in recent India-China relations -- marked by constant acrimony and bizarre provocations on the Chinese side like issuing stapled visas for residents of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir -- India and China appear set to move the association between Asia's biggest nations forward.
Sources in Delhi confirmed that India and China will resume their defence relationship -- which the Indian government had put on pause after the Chinese denied a visa to Lieutenant General B S Jaswal, then the Indian Army's Northern Army commander last summer -- later this year.
Routine military exchanges -- flag meetings between Indian and Chinese officers at the Line of Actual Control and meetings with Indian Army and People's Liberation Army commanders at the LOAC --the sources revealed, have continued through this suspension of defence exchanges.
The India-China border too, the sources added, has continued to remain calm, through the winter and spring.
Also on the anvil is a fresh initiative -- an economic dialogue within the next two months which, among other things, may discuss ways to address the imbalance in India-China trade, and open up Chinese markets to Indian pharmaceuticals and information technology services.
Speaking on board Air India 001, the special aircraft ferrying the prime minister and his delegation to the BRICS summit in Sanya, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma revealed that the Chinese have promised that they would provide access to Chinese government contracts to Indian pharmaceutical and IT industries.
Asked if the Chinese issue of normal visas to four Kashmiri journalists traveling as part of the media delegation accompanying Dr Singh meant that Beijing had abandoned its provocative gesture of issuing stapled visas to J&K residents, the sources in Delhi confirmed some movement on the visas issue after Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to New Delhi last December, but said the Indian government would prefer to wait and watch if a genuine shift in Chinese policy had occurred.
"In any case, the stapled visa issue is not the be all and end all of the India-China relationship," one source added.
Interestingly, on March 15, speaking at a conference in Islamabad, China's Ambassador to Pakistan Liu Jian reportedly confirmed that the policy of issuing stapled visas to residents of Jammu and Kashmir' will continue.
Sources said Dr Singh's meeting with Hu will cover almost the entire spectrum of the bilateral relationship. "We will review where we are and how to take it forward," the sources said.
"Both of us are watching the situation in North Africa and West Asia carefully," the sources added, "both of us import a lot of oil from those regions and have big economic stakes there.
Last month, the China Daily newspaper revealed that the Indian and Chinese sides were speaking to each other more frequently, a view confirmed by the sources who pointed out that the political exchanges have been "good", especially at the United Nations where India and China consulted each other on the vote on the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 on Libya.
Asked if the Chinese had raised the Dalai Lama's recent decision to step down and likely anoint a successor from the Tibetan community based in India, the sources said that though the Chinese foreign ministry and media had denounced His Holiness's action as a 'charade' and a 'trick', Beijing has not mentioned it in any of its exchanges with New Delhi.
"Tibet or the Dalai Lama did not come up for discussion even during Premier Wen's visit last December," the sources added.
Dr Singh will also meet with the other BRICS Heads of State during his three-day stay in Sanya. After he meets with President Hu on Wednesday afternoon, the prime minister will meet Russian President Dmitri Medvedev later that day.
Describing the India-Russia relationship as "very ambitious," the sources highlighted its strategic value over the last 55 years, "irrespective of context, whether the world is a bipolar one or an unipolar one."
The sources felt the India-Russian relationship had not achieved its full potential, possibly hinting that India is looking at hiking its oil imports from Russia ahead of OPEC's June 11 meeting in Vienna which may take a decision on raising petroleum prices.
Dr Singh will meet with the leader of another huge exporter of natural resources on Thursday. Dilma Rouseff is Brazil's first lady president and proving to be quite a contrast to her mentor Lula, who led Brazil from Latin American giant to a major player on the world stage in the first decade of the new century. Rouseff is beginning to abandon the leftist ideological positions that were the hallmark of Lula's foreign policy, setting a more pragmatic course for her country.
South Africa joins the BRIC fold in Sanya, and Commerce Minister Sharma angrily denied that India was not in the loop when Chinese President Hu issued the invitation to President Jacob Zuma asking Pretoria to join Beijing, Brasilla, Moscow and New Delhi in Sanya.
Writing on his blog on Rediff.com, former diplomat and columnist M K Bhadrakumar felt that India was taken by surprise by the Chinese invitation to South Africa, which, he felt, was meant to undermine the emerging India-United States cooperation in South Africa.
South African analyst Sanusha Naidu also felt that China's BRIC invite was a 'strategically-timed diplomatic master-stroke,' Beiking being the only one who backed Pretoria's membership of BRIC.
The decision to invite South Africa, Sharma asserted, had been taken at the 2010 BRIC summit in Brasilla, and had been ratified by each member since.
Jim O'Neill, the Goldman Sachs chief economist who originally conceived the Brazil-Russia-China-India formation ten years ago, had felt that South Africa did not have the economic credentials to be part of BRIC. Sharma, on the other hand, felt that Africa could not be excluded from the BRIC process, and it was not up to Goldman Sachs to determine who would or not be part of BRIC.