Inch Towards Miles Modi’s Red Diplomacy
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs released a document titled “The Long View: The ABCD of India China Relationship” on the eve of the Chinese President’s visit. It spelled out A for Asia, B for Business, C for Culture, and D for Diplomacy and Development. This is the emerging alphabet of multi-faceted engagement between the two Asian powers which are forging a new vocabulary and semantics to script new pathways of cooperation and to reconfigure the evolving world order.
It was the third time that a Chinese president had visited India. Xi Jinping has promised to redefine Indo-China relationship. He was visiting an India that for the first time in 25 years has given a clear mandate to a single party. He met with a prime minister, Narendra Modi, who is known both for his hardline nationalist stance on foreign policy issues and a geo-economic sagacity. Both China and India have described President Xi Jinping’s visit as a defining moment in ties, whose trajectory would have a major impact across the globe. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called President Xi’s visit as the commencement of “Millennium of Exceptional Synergy.” Modi had said the meetings with the visiting President are “INCH towards MILES.” He elaborated on the acronyms by saying that INCH stood for India-China, while MILES meant Millennium of Exceptional Synergy.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman stressed that China and India were two important pillars in the world and two important emerging markets as well as two civilizations. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Mr. Xi’s “historic visit” would have global implications. Modi on his part commented, “India and China are bound by history, connected by culture, and inspired by rich traditions. Together they can create a bright future for the entire mankind. The arithmetic and chemistry of our relations convince me that together we can script history and create a better tomorrow for all of mankind.”
Will this visit ensure that the two powers eventually succeed in moving away from historical rivalry and mistrust, and join their efforts to remain on the growth track despite the increasingly challenging global environment? Generally speaking, the Chinese relations with India have not been good, in particular because of the so-called border issue in the past years. The biggest issue is the disputed 3,380-kilometre border in the Himalayas, where China and India lay claim to territory that the other holds. India is also wary of China’s support for Pakistan and its military bases in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Despite these stark differences and the bitter legacy of the 1962 war which bequeathed to both nations the world’s longest unresolved border dispute, the two nations are moving towards each other in a wary embrace. Though there have been no clashes on the border in decades, both the countries tend to bristle at each other’s alleged provocations.
China looks askance at India for having given refuge to the Dalai Lama and his followers since 1959, and his maintaining a Tibetan government in exile on Indian soil, though New Delhi fully recognizes Beijing’s sovereignty over Tibet and did not allow Tibetan protestors to disrupt the Chinese leaders’ visits. However, PM Modi has aligned his government with those critical of China’s territorial claims in the South China and East China Seas and signalled his determination to prioritise India’s relations with Japan and Australia, as well as with countries in India’s immediate neighbourhood.
While India decided to make the Chinese Premier’s visit a red letter day, the Chinese too spared no effort to make the presidential visit a success. President Xi’s gesture in turning up at Modi’s home town for his birthday is unusual, especially since he had already had to adjust his dates to arrive after President Pranab Mukherjee’s return from a trip to Vietnam. He has also gladdened Indian hearts by taking Islamabad off his South Asian itinerary because of the political troubles there.
The strengthening of Indo-China relations means that almost 35 per cent of the world’s people will come closer. Economic co-operation between the two nation’s means that lives of almost 35 per cent of the world’s population undergoes qualitative changes. Just before leaving for India, Xi wrote in an editorial that a combination of China as the world’s factory and India as the world’s back office will drive global economic growth. The economic context was made somewhat explicit when Xi announced on the eve of his visit that China intended to invest $100 billion in India over the next five years. This was clearly aimed at upstaging the Japanese investment plans of some $37 billion in India in the coming years. Both the countries signed nearly 20 agreements, which focused on cooperation in infrastructure, energy and water. The Chinese also stressed their ability to complete mega projects more cheaply and speedily than anybody else. However, behind the rosy prospects on the economic front, there lurked reservations about each other’s strategic intentions. Why are the two leaders so eager to project the impression of good relations when the reality is different? There is growing hostility towards China which is seen by many as an outright enemy, mostly because of the border. Despite India importing Chinese power plants, businessmen grumble that spare parts and maintenance are hard to get. Most Chinese, meanwhile, show almost no interest in India, dismissing its prospects of becoming a powerful economy. The reason the leaders of the two countries sound so eager to promote close ties is mostly because third parties are watching.
The stand-off in Demchok where Chinese nomads had pitched their tents with the active help by the PLA was called off before the Chinese delegation left India. Whether this was one step towards better relationship is something which only time will tell.