India And China Looking For A Better Future
Suddenly the India-China skyline is aglow. Depsang incident of April/May last year vanished from the memory of those who were shouting hoarse last year. The Indian scene too has undergone a sea change. The general elections have thrown up a Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Narendra Modi. He was not an unknown commodity in Beijing. He had made several trips to China as the Chief Minister of Gujarat and shown his acumen for development and several Chinese companies had set their shop in that state and found the experience business like and congenial. The Chinese are naturally stimulated and enthused.
As if the Chinese were waiting for the change to happen in New Delhi, within days of Modi taking over as the Prime Minister, received a surprise call from his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang on May 29, who congratulated him on his victory and “conveyed the Chinese government’s desire to establish robust partnership with the new government of India for further development of relations between the two nations.” Modi’s reaction was equally encouraging. “Noting that China was always a priority in India’s foreign policy”, he underlined his government’s resolve “to utilize the full potential of our Strategic and Cooperative Partnership with China and his keenness to work closely with the Chinese leadership to deal with any outstanding issues in our bilateral relations by proceeding from the strategic perspective of our developmental goals and long-term benefits to our peoples,” said the official statement on the talks. He welcomed greater economic engagement between the two countries.” Premier Li was happy to extend him an invitation from his President Xi Jinping to visit China. Significantly this was the first call that Prime Minister received from a foreign Head of Government after taking over as Prime Minister. President Obama had called him earlier but before he took oath of office on May 16.
Then came another surprise. The Chinese Foreign Minister Weng Yiannounced his visit to New Delhi, not as foreign minister but as a Special Envoy of his President which invested his visit greater importance. His June visit in the word of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was “cordial and useful, comprehensive covering all important issues, substantive and productive”.
To remove any impression that her words were mere rhetoric, she said it was “cordial” because Yi said that the new Indian government had injected new vitality into an ancient civilization” and that “China was ready to engage the new Government”. Explaining the “useful” aspect of the visit, Mrs. Swaraj said among other things it provided opportunities “for engagement during the course of the year at high levels – both in terms of bilateral visits to each other’s country and meetings on the margins of various multilateral/ plurilateral meetings that leaders from both our countries are likely to participate.” Elaborating why the visit was “comprehensive and substantive” she said China is a neighbour sharing a long border with India, and it was a major focus of our bilateral relations, besides being a major economy and India has significant bilateral economic relations with it. External Affairs Minister stressed New Delhi’s determination to add new content and substance to the relationship, while respecting the “sensitivities and aspirations of each other” as “an essential for expansion of bilateral relations”.
Discussing the “productive” aspect she said “the intensive nature of these discussions as well as the cordial atmosphere in which these were discussed in our view this was a very productive beginning but as the Chinese saying goes the journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step and that step was taken today between the new Government of India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chinese Government.”
On top of these developments the BRICS summit in Brazil was waiting to provide the two governments a golden opportunity to take their relations to new heights. The meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Summit at Fortaleza on July 15 was an opportunity which the two leaders utilised not only to forge mutually beneficial partnership, but also to serve as catalyst of opportunities for all round prosperity. What grabbed the headline was the spontaneous invitation extended by President Xi to Prime Minister Modi to the APEC Summit being held in Beijing in November. He called upon New Delhi to deepen its engagements with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) too. These are the two organisations India was keen for quite some time to join as full member. The likely visit of President Xi to India later this year, holds out a promise of greater partnership both at the political and economic levels between the two countries. The most significant was the emphasis on both sides “on the need to find a solution to the Boundary Question”. The Xhinua quoting Mr.
Xi calling for a “negotiated solution to the border issues at an early date” is quite significant in that it underlines the Chinese Government’s seriousness to see this problem out of the way and old bonhomie in the bilateral relations to return.
The prospects of enhanced Chinese investments in India’s economic development particularly in the infrastructure sector have great potential to give a boost to their relations in the coming years. Chinese President’s promise to resolve the imbalance in the trade between the two countries and to break the impasse on the boundary question would set an example for the entire world both on the south–south cooperation and conflict resolution by peaceful means among neighbours. While India is keen on Chinese investments in India, China too has a more than three trillion dollars corpus waiting to be deployed and it is in the mutual interest of the two counties to work out arrangements which would benefit both. India was appreciative of Mr. Xi welcoming India to join its initiative to set up a new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a founding member. These are not symbolic or ceremonial statement which countries normally make on such occasions but hard evidence of the developing confidence between the two neighbours after the new government taking over in New Delhi.
The invitation to attend the APEC summit in November cannot be dismissed as a routine or made out of courtesy. In the political circles it is being considered as a ‘political statement’ by the Chinese leadership at the highest level with far reaching strategic implications. It signifies a new sense of partnership and confidence between India and China and tribute to Mr. Modi personally so soon after his take over in New Delhi.
The invitation cannot be seen in isolation. It is a signal to the strategic community that the two countries are ready to cooperate in the regional and global politics. China is anxious to forge an Asian concert as distinct from the one dominated by the West. As it is India and China are already partner in BASIC and RIC and China wishes to increase this area of partnership by India’s presence in APEC and SCO. Chinese anxiety in this regard must be seen in the context of US pivot in Asia.
There is already a log jam in East China Sea over the ownership of the Senkako/Diaoyu islets and China is not oblivious of the developing relations between India and Japan, which are poised to leapfrog in the near future with the impending visit of Mr. Modi to Tokyo. China would be anxious to see that the Prime Minister did not get into too tight an embrace in Tokyo.
Political aspects apart the trigger for Sino-Indian relations in the future is going to be the economic and commercial cooperation. The annual trade which presently stands at US $ 65 billion, is by any standard a modest one and there is a great potential to take it further to $100 billion mark. Mr. Modi in his election campaign while calling for rejuvenation of the economic relations with China had said that he looked towards China as a viable source of cooperation for achieving the “Indian dream”. Already India and China have signed a MOU for establishing joint industrial parks, providing for more coherent framework for Chinese investments in India. China has already agreed for greater access to Indian products in its market to achieve a better balance in their bilateral trade. There is scope for greater access to the Chinese market for Indian pharmaceuticals and IT exports and one hopes it will be realised soon.
When all is said, there are certainly areas of concern between the two. The most important is the border question issues. Implicit in this is the periodic reports of intrusions/incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which some time do get nasty, causing public concern, as it happened in 2013. While there are mechanisms in place to resolve such incidents, these cannot be substitute for a permanent solution. With new urgency being injected into the need for resolving the border question, as is apparent from the Modi-Xi talks in Brazil, this intractable problem should get out of the way. If that happens other wrinkles would look minor and easy to iron out. The talks between the Special Representatives of the two countries have clocked 17 rounds with little apparent results. To put the Sino-Indian relations back to the old pedestal, the leisurely manner of talks, as it is happening now, will not do. These need a push at the highest level in the spirit of give and take. No agreement of this nature can be one-sided. It should look to be a balanced one taking care of the vital interests of both.
By Avtar Singh Bhasin