New Delhi: Narendra Modi's summit with President Xi Jinping may have disappointed those expecting a dramatic breakthrough on the border dispute with China. But such expectations frankly, are unrealistic. There's no political consensus in India on what a border resolution would imply. Even so the prime minister did urge his Chinese hosts to address issues that held the relationship back:
He asked them to clarify the Line of Actual Control, maintain peace on the border (meaning no incursions), remove irritants like stapled visas to Arunachal residents and show more sincerity on India's concerns that it was seeking to control the flow of the Brahmaputra.
As part of military to military Confidence Building Measures or CBMs, military exchanges will be stepped up as also joint exercises. But it's not clear what the PM told the Chinese about their plans to build a $40 Billion corridor to Pakistan through POK, or whether the Chinese sought his views on the ambitious "One Belt One Road" that would integrate Eurasia through a grid of highways, pipelines and communication nodes. The Chinese want India to join in, Modi is known to have very different views on such developments in India's strategic backyard.
Beyond that, it was also clear the two leaders, meeting for the third time in one year, were trying to create space for the relationship to grow in as many areas as possible. Climate change has been given another shot in the arm, both sides seeking to build on past cooperation.
The door has been opened for direct contacts between Indian states and Chinese provinces, which is clearly driven by the prime minister's conviction that development really lies in the states and state governments must foster policies and environments that foster growth. New consulates in Chennai and Chengdu are expected to help in this process, as also Modi's decision to overrule security concerns and allow e-visas for Chinese tourists.
There was reference to the "skewed" bilateral trade, a euphemism for India's ballooning trade deficit with China now hovering close to the $40 bn mark. The two sides will work together to resolve the obstacles to the export of Indian agricultural commodities; the two sides will also cooperate on issues relating to Indian pharma, IT services and open up new areas in films, healthcare and logistics.
India is expected to tap China's expertise in running high speed and bullet trains but rather than have it built for us, would prefer technology and skills be transferred here. Whether China is willing remains to be seen.
Much has been reported in the media about China's poor response to earlier commitments of investment. About $20 bn was committed when Modi and Xi Jinping met last year. This time the figures are even lower at $10 bn. This may have something to do with India needing to get its own act together in terms of infrastructure but equally, China needs to step up to the plate and deliver.
The substantive part of "Engaging the Dragon" summit is over, with Modi and Xi carving out space at the highest level. Now comes the hard part for both sides, following up on the agreements signed, facilitating policies and cutting through red tape, getting things to move on the ground. After Ni Hao and Namaste, there's a lot of work to be done.
(Surya Gangadharan is a well known strategic, defence and foreign affairs expert. He has worked in several national and international media houses in senior positions)