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C3S Dialogue during the Run-up to the Xi-Modi Informal Summit at Wuhan

Image Courtesy: Reuters/MSN

Article No. 025/2018

The following is text of a virtual dialogue conducted by C3S members and researchers. The theme revolved the article “PM Modi to visit China on April 27 and April 28 for informal summit with President Xi Jinping”, MSN, April 22 2018 (vide https://www.msn.com/en-in/news/newsindia/pm-modi-to-visit-china-on-april-27-and-april-28-for-informal-summit-with-president-xi-jinping/ar-AAwbeyv?li=AAggbRN&ocid=SKY2DHP).

Mr. B.S. Raghavan, IAS (Retd.), Patron, C3S 

Former Policy Advisor to UN (FAO), Chief Secretary, State Governments of West Bengal and Tripura, Secretary to the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Government of India

The news of the upcoming summit is a very pleasant surprise.

I welcome it as I am a great believer in building bridges and cementing relations. It is not that I am unaware of the repercussions and ramifications of realpolitik and international power play. I do believe in Ronald Reagan’s oft-quoted mantra: TRUST, BUT VERIFY (This is actually a Russian proverb which Reagan used to his advantage). At the same time, I also want India to behave like country proud of its 10,000 year old civilisation, in a self-confident, proactive manner on the international arena. That was the reason I also welcomed Modi’s sudden decision to attend Nawaz Sharif’s tea party, although he was ridiculed for being naive and impulsive. I hope the Wuhan Summit has some purpose to it. Will it spell the end of the border problem? Is it a replay of Nixon-Mao summit?

So runs my dream: But what am I?

An infant crying in the night;

An infant crying for the light;

And with no language, but the cry.

Behold! I know not anything,

I can but trust that good shall fall,

At last, far off, at last, to all;

And every Winter change to Spring.

(Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam)        

Mr. K.Subramanian, Treasurer, C3S 

Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Government of India

Indeed, it is a good opportunity that both sides should meet and reassess their strategic positions. A lot has changed since the standoff on Doklam. Trump’s tantrums are more in line with Don Quixote’s: unpredictable, incoherent and outwardly heroic. Unfortunately, Trump has nearly destroyed all the structures built earlier over three decades whether in global economics, trade or security and upset the fragile stability or equilibrium. Can we trust the Trump administration in arranging a new matrix in India-US relations? I doubt it.

In this situation, in Asia, India and China have to reassess their roles. It is significant that the initiative has come from the Chinese side with its foreign minister Wang Yi taking the lead. I am not able to predict the position India may take. Clearly, there is need for building new confidence measures. Chinese seem to feel that we are playing the role as a proxy for the US to check the rise of China. Our stand on BRI has also created bad blood among the Chinese giving an impression of confrontation than cooperation. If we are aiming for an Asian Century, it can come only with India-China working in cooperation/harmony.

I don’t attach undue importance to this meeting (Won’t say ‘historic’) or as the beginning of a new chapter in our relations. Chinese players may be testing the waters under the changed global scenario and waiting for our response. Much will depend on how the two sides play their cards.

Sundeep Kumar S., Research Officer, C3S, Ph.D. scholar in International Relations

We have always been discussing and highlighting the areas of divergence between India and China. One believes that while efforts are made by India to maintain the status quo along the LAC, we are also open to increasing cooperation with China on other matters. This can be proved by the recent reinforcements at our borders by our armed forces and the increasing bilateral trade (though one-sided).

The operations involving Chabahar, INSTC and those for stabilizing Afghanistan are other critical issues where India and China could be expected to cooperate at some levels, the rationale being that we have common interests in these areas. I think China identifies that this and the visit of our PM ahead of the SCO summit in Beijing could be important. We must also recall the recent proposal made for a new China-Nepal-India Economic Corridor. One has to see if talks will be held on this. We must also wait and see if the PM will visit Beijing again in June 2018 for the summit which he is scheduled to. If not, then this trip to Beijing could be to compensate his no-show at the SCO summit: an accommodation of scheduling.

As for the lopsided trade numbers, we have got ourselves to blame more than the Chinese, the reasons being our trade basket and weak manufacturing sector. People talk about the Modi government sowing the seeds for improving our manufacturing base. Presuming this is true (one is not passing a judgment on that), it will still take at least another five more years to reap the benefits from it.

On our ties with the U.S, there is a renewed vigour among the policymakers in the U.S. to engage with India in the Indo-Pacific. The U.S. Ambassador to India, Kenneth Juster, mentioned ‘Indo-Pacific’ not less than six times during a 40 minutes address at Carnegie India a few months ago. However, history teaches us that we should never trust the U.S. when it comes to geostrategic cooperation. The current outreach by the Trump administration is no different. Such measures are to create an unfriendly neighbourhood in the region to meet U.S.A’s own interests. The truth is that the U.S does not care about our needs. The U.S has also traditionally had the habit of dumping allies over time. We must remind ourselves that while we cannot choose our neighbours, the U.S will always be an extra-regional power which must not be encouraged excessively because of these reasons.

The QUAD might be necessary to check China in the IOR for our own maritime security. However such cooperation must be limited to specific actions. India must refrain from an overall alignment with the U.S. Not doing so would amount to India aiding U.S.A in fulfilling its own strategic objectives. A balanced approach with no compromise on our own long-term interests is needed for our relations with the U.S in the Indo-Pacific. I also wonder how far our hands are tied when it comes to policy making with the U.S. It raises the question of what are the international and bilateral agreements that will restrict us to independent decision making. We cannot let the U.S coerce us to make decisions which we might not be in favour of.

I am happy that our PM is visiting Beijing as we must increase efforts to identify common interests and work on deepening them while the status quo on our differences is maintained. We must adhere to the ability of compartmentalizing specific issues, which projects diplomatic maturity. While we diverge in the East, we would converge in the West (beyond Pakistan that is).

(All views expressed in this dialogue are the members’ own.)

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