External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to China has created a positive atmosphere. President Xi Jinping met her in an unusual departure from protocol. China joined Russia in recommending India’s membership to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. On its part, India endorsed the launch of the China-led Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific initiative. Swaraj’s high-level delegation included the new Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar, an old China hand, who was also intimately involved with US President Barack Obama’s successful visit to New Delhi. He evidently tackled some of the misgivings that Beijing had. Swaraj and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi have sorted out certain issues, including the modalities for opening a second route for the Kailash-Manasarovar Yatra in Tibet and India’s conditional support to China’s Maritime Silk Route initiative. Beijing, however, must be sensitive to Indian sensibilities about its increasing military presence in the Indian Ocean. Swaraj also raised the issue of resolving the long-standing border dispute, instead of “bequeathing” it to future generations. The National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who is India’s Special Representative on the issue, is expected to go to China later and take the matter further.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit China in a few months, and the Foreign Minister’s visit is a preparatory one, to settle issues and manage agendas. The setting up of the “contact group” that will discuss pending issues and find solutions is a positive move, which may yield results, just as it did before President Obama’s trip. President Xi Jinping’s visit to India soon after the Modi government was sworn in was seen as underwhelming, but now there is fresh impetus for China to build better relations with India. President Obama’s visit and the joint statement issued thereafter caused some concern in Beijing. Indian diplomats are well positioned to ask for an expeditious resolution of the various issues. The mood is right, and the Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit to Beijing may well become an occasion for both the countries to pragmatically build alliances. The engagement between high-level delegations bodes well for the future.