NEW DELHI: Every journalist covering foreign policy and defence knows that news of infiltration and incursions from across the borders cannot be independently verified. And over the years the media houses have decided to accept this news and publish it as given, often thereby participating in the larger political game that all governments invariably play. And there were two pointers indicating that New Delhi did not want to stretch out the red carpet beyond a point, and despite the warm handshakes and the photo-ops another message was being carefully sent out through the media and had not gone totally unnoticed by the Chinese, always sensitive to the small print in any situation.

It was of some interest to note that during Chinese President Xi Jinpings visit to India the news of Chinese incursions appeared regularly, with almost daily updates, in all sections of the media. Television anchors screamed themselves hoarse about these incursions amounting to an ‘act of war’ even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was escorting President Xi around the medieval gardens of Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat.

Given the fact that there are no two centres of power in this government, it can be safely assumed that the military ‘takeaways’ about the Chinese intrusions in Indian territory were cleared by the top echelons of the government despite knowing fully well that this would dwarf the visit considerably in the eyes of the television channels. Perhaps inspite of, as President Xi’s meetings became secondary to the intrusions with ‘experts’ on television recalling the uneasy relations between India and China, and harping on a past that has been marked by war and a deficit of trust.

A journalist in China or India can never say in real terms whether the incursions have happened, by either side. And hence the Indian claims really raise two issues, both not very positive for the new relations that are being forged. One, the incursions took place and this begs the question why? Why did the Chinese military become so aggressive at a time when their President was in India to work out the contours of a complex relationship? And if the incursions had not really taken place, and the Indian ‘leaks’ to the media were exaggerated then this also raises the question why did this government want to jeopardise a visit at the initial stage? Was it brinkmanship, as it certainly was not sound diplomacy.

The second issue was Tibet and the usual demonstrations that take place when a Chinese dignitary is visiting India. The activists are usually whisked away from a point furthest to the target venue. This time they were allowed within just a few metres of Hyderabad House, again a small but significant development in the chequered history of demonstrations in New Delhi that the police allows and prevents as per political signals.

President Xi also did not walk the extra mile, and despite the successful visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Japan that is investing $ 35 billion in India, did not even try to compete. The promised $100 billion---or at least so Indian ‘sources’ had been claiming---was whittled down to $20 billion in is a clear signal that for China strategy and trade are closely tied together, and the last cannot be independent of the first.

The media as always first hyped the visit beyond all expectations and then trashed it to a point where a viewer of the television channels did not know whether the country was going to war with China, or settling into eternal peace. President Xi had made the necessary gestures, of cancelling his Pakistan leg of the tour because of the political uncertainty there, and of starting his visit from Gujarat on PM Modi’s birthday. However, the gestures were nipped in the bud as it were by the intrusions into Chumar in Ladakh region, that observers here all insist could not have been without the Chinese President’s knowledge. If so, was President Xi sending out a message that China and not in India is in control of this bilateral relationship?

All in all a visit where the covers are only now coming off. The chemistry was stilted, the atmospherics militaristic, with President Xi and PM Modi unable really to take bilateral relations between the two Asian neighbours to a new plane in any concrete fashion. The suspicions in fact have multiplied, the promised investment by China reduced, and the boundary issue remains as ‘vexed’ as before, if not more given the active and large scale incursions by Chinese troops and civilians into Ladakh this time.