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India's liberalised visa agreement with China, which was to be signed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Beijing next week, has been struck off by New Delhi at the last minute as a mark of protest against China issuing stapled visas to two Indian archers from Arunachal Pradesh.
The decision to pull back on the agreement, sources said, was taken at the highest levels with the PMO taking a call that India could not be seen liberalising visa rules when China was going ahead and underlining what it claims as the "disputed status" of Arunachal Pradesh weeks before the PM's visit.
India also lodged a strong diplomatic protest with China over this issue even as preparations were being made for the trip.
The visa agreement was all set for approval at Thursday's Cabinet meeting and was even part of the agenda documents circulated to ministers. However, at the meeting, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon is learnt to have informed the Cabinet that the agreement had been deferred and would not be signed during the visit.
Indian officials have for a while been concerned that China tends to highlight territorial disputes in unpredictable ways just before high-level visits.
The first time this was noticed was in 2006 when the then Chinese ambassador went public claiming Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of China just before then President Hu Jintao's visit to New Delhi.
Earlier this year, the Depsang stand-off surfaced just a month ahead of new Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's first visit to India.
In the latest instance, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh made it a point to assert India's stand in her pre-visit briefing Friday. "Arunachal Pradesh is an integral and inalienable part of India," she reaffirmed while responding to queries on the stapled visas issue.