New Delhi: India is working on clinching a “high level" visit from China in the course of this year in a bid to stabilize ties rocked by the Doklam crisis, two people familiar with the development said.
The aim is to “reset" relations, one of the two people said.
It was to this end that foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale visited Beijing last month where the two sides agreed on a calendar of interactions at different levels that could lead up to the high-level visit.
Analysts said there could be a link between the calendar of engagements being drawn up and a reported letter from the Indian foreign ministry to the cabinet secretary asking Indian leaders and officials to stay away from engagements marking 60 years of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s residence in India. News of the letter was first reported by the Indian Express on 2 March.
The two people cited above did not say what they meant by a “high level" visit -- Chinese president Xi Jinping came to India on a bilateral visit in 2014 as did premier Li Keqiang in 2013. Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook a bilateral visit to China in 2015.
In the weeks ahead, Indian and Chinese officials are expected to exchange information on transborder rivers. The framework, agreed in 2008 and renewed in 2013, aims to help India prepare for floods as well as keep New Delhi informed of any plans by Beijing to build dams that would affect the flow of water in shared rivers. The two sides did not meet last year -- a failure attributed to tensions over the 70-day military standoff at Doklam in Bhutan.
Besides this, officials from both sides are expected to meet for the India-China Strategic and Economic dialogue.
Modi and Xi are likely to meet on the sidelines of the G20 meet in Argentina besides the Brics leaders’ meet in South Africa. Modi is also expected to travel to China for the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting.
Given India’s intent to “stabilise" ties with China, India is unlikely to want the schedule of events planned with Beijing to be upset by meetings between Indian leaders or officials and the Dalai Lama, whom China considers a separatist. Beijing has been sensitive about his stay in India since his flight from Tibet in 1959.
According to former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, the developments taken together, looked like “India has not been able to find a via media on how to handle the Dalai Lama as a pressure point."
An Indian foreign ministry statement on Gokhale’s meetings in China last month said the two countries had agreed on “the need to expedite various dialogue mechanisms in order to promote multifaceted cooperation across diverse fields of India-China engagement."
India and China also “noted the need to build on the convergences between India and China and address differences on the basis of mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s concerns, interests and aspirations," the statement added.
Another former diplomat said India was making a mistake if it thought that accommodating Chinese concerns would result in stabilisation of ties.
“India has been so far consistent in its position that the Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader and doesn’t have a political role," said former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh. “Dilution of India’s position will not bring it any likely political dividends," he added.