BEIJING: India-China relations saw high- level engagements in 2015 and the two sides look to 2016 to step up cooperation in counter-terrorism and efforts to resolve their boundary dispute as they moved towards more interactive and less confrontationist relationship.

This year saw a series of high-level visits from both sides, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to Beijing, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s visits to China and Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao’s trip to India.

Signing off the most engaging year in recent history, Northern Area Commander Lt Gen D S Hooda travelled to Beijing this month on an invitation from China. Hooda’s visit was significant as his predecessor Gen BS Jaswal was denied a visa on the ground that Northern Command covered the “disputed” Jammu and Kashmir, which sparked angry reactions from India.

Officials say Gen Hooda’s visit restores military ties between the two countries, removing a major irritant.

Modi’s visit like that of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to India last year focussed more on do-ables while stepping engagement to resolve boundary dispute and measures to deal with issue of incursions.

The Prime Minister’s visit resulted in $22 billion in business-to-business pacts, hotline connection between the two military headquarters and opening of more border points for interaction of local commanders, formation of task force for address widening trade deficit which touched $46 billion and granting of E-visas for Chinese tourists.

Consequently Chinese officials say that there is a steady rise of Chinese investments in India which so far reached about $3 billion with a prospects of more on the way into India’s infrastructure projects. China promises to open more for Indian IT and Pharmaceuticals to improve India’s exports.

During Singh’s visit, the two countries for the fist time agreed to step up anti-terrorism cooperation in the region.

China expressed willingness to crackdown on some of the rebel groups in the North East as part of anti-terror drive.

But the two countries had serious differences over China’s increasing engagement with Pakistan and its $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. India objected to it as it goes through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

The corridor connects China’s Muslim-majority Xinjiang with Pakistan’s strategic Gwadar port and provides it access to the Arabian Sea and facilitates speedier imports of oil from the Middle East.

Differences also remain on China’s ambitious Maritime Silk Road as India has concerns over its impact in the Indian Ocean.

China this year opened a new, “safer” and “more convenient” route for Indians undertaking the arduous Kailash- Manasarovar Yatra in addition to the existing Lipulekh Pass.

The opening of the second route through the Himalayan pass of Nathu La in Sikkim, 4,000 metres above sea level, was officially announced during Modi’s visit to China and will allow more Indians to undertake the pilgrimage.

The new route reduced the pilgrimage time from more than 20 days to about eight and enabled pilgrims to travel the 1,500 km-long route from Nathu La to Kailash by buses.

India and China this year held 18th round of talks in New Delhi to resolve the contentious boundary issue. India asserts that the dispute covered about 4,000 km, while China claims that it was confined to about 2,000 km to the area of Arunachal Pradesh, which it refers as Southern Tibet.

The two sides agreed to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas which was a “pre-requisite” for continued growth of bilateral relations as also to enhance cooperation in key areas, including counter-terrorism, maritime security and civil nuclear energy sector.

Offering highly concessional loans, Japan this year bagged India’s first bullet train project worth $12 billion connecting Mumbai-Ahmedabad, much to chagrin of China which looks to get other routes like Chennai-Delhi and Mumbai-Delhi.

Indian officials say the routes are open for China if it offered matching concessional loans.

Also, India expressed concern over the current round of tensions between the US and China over an American guided- missile destroyer sailing through artificial islands in the South China Sea (SCS) built by Beijing.

China had raised vociferous protests and warned the US against sending naval vessels and military jet to the area.

China has been wary about India’s ‘Act East’ Policy under which New Delhi sought to expand its relations with the South East Asian countries in Beijing’s backyard, specially India’s fast-developing ties with Vietnam and the Philippines.

Beijing opposes India undertaking oil exploration off Vietnam’s coast, asserting that the area falls within the disputed area of the SCS.

India, however, took up Vietnam’s invitation, stating that it is undertaking only a commercial activity which has no bearing on the dispute.

About the freedom of navigation, China has maintained that there is no threat to commercial shipping and civilian overflights but considers naval vessels and military aircraft travelling through the area as violation of its sovereignty.

China claims almost the whole of the resource-rich SCS. Its claim, however, is strongly contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

China is also apprehensive about increasing India-Japan and India-US engagement. It has expressed apprehensions over India’s move to include Japan in India-US Malabar Naval exercises on regular basis during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent visit to India.

Despite such apprehensions shown by China, officials say 2015 will be remembered as year of in-depth Sino-Indian engagements as the dialogue between them to restore relations on all fronts including the military-to-military ties has set the stage for a more interactive and less confrontationist relationship.