Love thy neighbour

chineseprime minister Wen Jiabao's four-day visit to India from April 9-12, 2005 opened hitherto unexplored vistas of friendship between the two nations, albeit driven by economic and strategic considerations. The world's most populous nations established the India-China Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity, a giant step for improving bilateral relations. The partnership comprises several agreements over a wide range of issues, including border disputes, data sharing on rivers, economic cooperation, sanitary and phytosanitary issues in the trade of specific commodities, aviation and energy security.

Averting disaster Among the pacts signed was a Memorandum of Understanding (mou) for the provision of hydrological data on river Sutlej, known as river Langqen Zangbo to the Chinese, to control floods and mitigate other disasters. The agreement was inked by J H Narayan, secretary, Union Ministry of Water Resources, and Wu Dawei, China's vice foreign minister. It requires China to build a hydrological station on it's side of the river at its expense before the 2006 flood season. India will bear the station's operating cost as well as the cost of the information provided by China, which will be made available to it by the beginning of the 2006 flood season. The two nations also agreed to cooperate in sharing flood-season hydrological data of other trans-boundary rivers, like the Parlung Zangbo and Lohit/Zayu Qu.

In 2000, flash floods caused large-scale destruction in downstream river Sutlej in Himachal Pradesh (hp) and downstream of river Brahmaputra in Arunachal Pradesh. Subsequent talks on the issue between the two nations only led to an agreement concerning river Brahmaputra. But this mou comes as a huge relief to nearly 60 villages of hp, which even last year faced the threat of flash floods from a swelling artificial reservoir created by a landslide on river Parechu in Tibet. China has now agreed to release water accumulated in this reservoir in a controlled manner as soon as the conditions permit.

Bilateral trade boost On the economic front, both nations decided to expand cooperation in trade and investment. Union commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath said: "China is poised to become India's largest trading partner in two or three years if the rapid growth in bilateral trade seen lately is maintained.' The goal is to surpass the bilateral trade target of us$20 billion by 2008 from the present us$12 billion. For this, a ministerial-level group of the two sides will meet within the next six months to consider the recommendations of a joint study group on removing existing trade barriers in goods and services. The ministerial group will coordinate the implementation of the recommendations and work towards removing investment obstacles in their respective countries.

Among the study group's suggestions is the creation of a regional trading arrangement between the two nations. In view of this, the prime ministers of both the nations decided to constitute a joint task force to examine the feasibility and benefits of such an arrangement and suggest its content too. The two countries also signed two protocols to facilitate India's export of grapes and bitter gourd to China. The protocols put in place regulatory mechanisms and detailed procedural aspects, including certification and labelling requirements. Further, India and China agreed to constitute a joint working group to expedite the implementation of a mou signed in January 2002 on the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

Other gains On the multilateral front, the two countries agreed to work together in the World Trade Organization to reduce disparities between developed and developing nations. Nath and Bo Xilai, China's commerce minister, agreed to strongly oppose attempts to divide developing countries by categorising India and China, along with South Africa and Brazil, as advanced developing nations.

The visit also crystallised the decision to establish a joint steering committee, comprising the science and technology ministers of both countries, to increase cooperation in the field. Initiating consultations for providing mutual recognition to academic certificates and degrees will be on the committee's task-list. Another gain from Wen Jiabao's call on India was a mou to liberalise air links between the neighbours, who also agreed to encourage petroleum and natural gas survey and exploration in developing nations.