Indian officials acknowledged that the latest pact is a marginal improvement on the three earlier agreements but were at pains to explain that the BDCA would in no way impinge upon India's belated efforts to build and improve infrastructure all along the Line of Actual Control. India is building 75 strategic roads, laying important railway lines and constructing operational assets in the difficult terrain on the China frontier to support the raising of a new Mountain Strike Corps and improving airfields for the Indian Air Force. None of these projects are likely to be completed earlier than 2018.
In that context, Indian military officers, not wanting to be identified, admitted that the BDCA may have bought them more time without compromising on basic security requirements. They had in fact feared a more "binding" BDCA that would have further restricted their right to handle the situation on ground as they deemed fit. The “limit of patrolling” imposed on the Indian Army troops deployed along the more sensitive areas of the LAC has also thankfully remained unchanged, they added. "At least now we know that the higher leadership will immediately come into play if another crisis like Depsang arises," one of them told The Diplomat.
The fine print of the BDCA notwithstanding, the Indian prime minister, perhaps on his last visit to China in his current tenure, was accorded special treatment by the Chinese leadership. President Xi Jingping and Premier Li Keqiang both hosted banquets for him. More markedly, former Premier Wen Jiabao, who stepped down earlier this year, hosted a lunch for his "old" friend Singh. This was a major change from established norms in China where retired leaders strictly stay out of the public. Li personally showed Singh around the historic Forbidden City. Singh also addressed the Central Party School, an honor rarely bestowed on visiting dignitary and outlined the future road map of Sino-India relationship.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Singh, mindful of domestic concerns that New Delhi repeatedly succumbs to Chinese pressure on various fronts, repeatedly stressed the need for a peaceful border and eventually an honorable settlement. He also flagged India’s concerns on continuing Chinese assistance to India’s South Asia rival Pakistan and the unfavorable trade balance.
As the Indian prime minister said: “We agreed that peace and tranquility on our borders must remain the foundation for growth in the India-China relationship, even as we move forward the negotiations towards a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement to the India-China Boundary Question. This will be our strategic benchmark… as large neighbours following independent foreign policies, the relationships pursued by India and China with other countries must not become a source of concern for each other. This will be our strategic reassurance.”
Beijing did not react on oblique Indian references to its “all-weather” friendship with Pakistan, and nor did it give back any strategic reassurances, but it was clear China wants to keep up continuous engagement with India lest New Delhi forms a closer compact with the U.S., Australia and Japan. If India is wise enough it will continue to strike the right balance in its relationship with Beijing and not succumb to its charm offensive even as it pursues an independent foreign policy.
Nitin A. Gokhale is Security & Strategic Affairs Editor with Indian Boradcaster NDTV.