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Modi’s China visit: Can India and China think differently? By Prof. B. R. Deepak

C3S Paper No. 0109/ 2015

In the times of globalization and intertwining economic interests at regional and trans-regional levels, the cooperation and crisis management has become increasingly important for a sustainable domestic as well as external economic development and environment. No one denies the role played by confidence building measures (CBMs) in maintaining peace and tranquility along the border, avoiding conflict, and thus creating a congenial atmosphere for cooperation not only at bilateral level but also at regional and multilateral organizations. CBMs signed between India and China in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and latest Border Defense Cooperation Agreement of 2013 is a pointer as most of the border negotiations have been held under the aegis of these mechanisms. However, the sensitive nature of the border has also called for ‘out of the box’ resolutions, for these have fallen short of finding a solution.

From border to more complex issues

It was argued by most of the Indian and Chinese scholars that if there is an issue between India and China, it is the border issue. Padma Bhushan Prof. Ji Xianlin called it a ‘dark cloud’ shadowing the brilliance of two great civilizations. However, six decades down the independence, we have been overshadowed by more complex issues such as Sino-Pak entente, China’s involvement in the POK, maritime security in the Indo-Pacific, and many more non-traditional security issues including the trade deficit and trans-border rivers. As far as the border is concerned, it has acquired complexity as both India and China has made fait accompli of the border, China in the western sector and India in the eastern sector especially when the issue is being discussed at the special representative level. In such a situation forget about the resolution, even defining the LAC could be a herculean task. The onus is on the Chinese side, if they want to have normal diplomatic and economic relations with India, it should be China in a hurry to resolve the issue not India, for it cast a negative shadow on China’s image in India, and we cannot expect to have normal and robust economic engagement which is necessary for developing and sustaining economies on both side of the Himalayas.  China has to take India on board for realizing the Asian Century, and also for rewriting the rules of global political architecture.

India an opportunity for China and vice versa

At the outset India needs a new and realistic farsighted foreign policy strategy that transcends conventional approaches. Conventional thinking has argued that we must not open for China be it the border regions or maritime domain. But did we succeed in preventing China making forays in our neighborhood? If not it’s better to be the part of value chain rather than being a moot spectator from outside. Today, China is our largest trading partner in goods, albeit there are issues pertaining to the trade deficit and market access to some of the Indian companies in China. While market access to the Indian company is well argued, the issue of Chinese investment in India has been seen with much skepticism and caution, but there are clear dividends. For example Chinese investment in telecom sector in India has successfully universalized mobile phone connectivity in India with affordable rates. It is not because of Nokia and Ericson, but because of the tough competition these companies received from Chinese telecom giants like Huawei and ZTE. Similarly, if India would like to build state of the art express ways, high speed railways, renewable energy capacity, even commercial ports and ship building with Chinese expertise, capital and competitive prices should be welcome.

‘Belt and Road’ initiative of China

So far India has maintained silence towards joining the initiative, for such initiatives have been construed as part of ‘strategic encirclement’ of India by security analysts and has clubbed with China’s similar but smaller initiatives such as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the prospective Trans-Himalayan Economic Zone of Cooperation with Nepal and Bhutan, and the BCIM Economic Corridor that connects India’s northeast to China’s southwest, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Here again, if India tend to benefit from Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank’s (AIIB)  membership, it will also benefit from Chinese initiative as an insider rather than remaining outside the supply chain, notwithstanding the fact that projects along the ‘Belt and Road’ could be selected on case by case. China is apprehensive of the US-Japan-India alliance, therefore, it is keen to take India on board and sees ‘Make in India’ , ‘Act East Policy’ and even project ‘Mausam’ as complementary to Chinese initiative.

The Chinese understands India’s predicament and anxiety, nevertheless, are also open to the idea of establishing a new mechanism under the aegis of ‘Belt and Road’ initiative where all possible issues pertaining to the cooperation could be discussed. Secondly, in the face of soaring maritime ambitions of both the countries and their forays in Indo-Pacific, it is essential that both initiate a substantive maritime dialogue, which has remained a non starter even if the same was advocated in 2012. It is better if more such mechanisms are initiated between India and China so that trust is built which certainly will prove beneficial for finding solutions to various bilateral problems. For example between China and ASEAN there are over 1000 flights per week with an annual flow of around 5 million people. Can we think of such an economic integration and flow of people between us!

Can China support India’s UN bid?

From Indian perspective while India could participate in Chinese ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, and be a partner in bilateral economic development, why cannot China show greater magnanimity to India’s aspirations for a permanent membership to the UN Security Council? India has supported China’s case in the UN over 30 times, and even after the 1962 war. China’s support for India will create enormous goodwill for China in India and the bilateral relations could touch a new high, albeit everyone knows that the membership may never happen anytime sooner! However, we would be insensitive towards China’s Japanese sensitivities if India pushes its case together with Japan, in turn we may not get that support.

Wider people to people exchanges

More and wider people to people contacts and a relaxed visa regime not only for tourists and business people but also for students and academicians is need of the hour. The media to media relations that have generally been neglected need to be strengthened and direct access to news channels in either country is another possibility. In this regard, India needs to increase its reporters’ strength in China with the knowledge of Chinese, so as the Indian public get more and objective news stories about different aspects of China.

From bilateralism to multilateralism

It is owing to CBMs that India and China have struck some real convergence of interests on issues such as climate change, democratization of international financial institutions through multilateral forums such as Russia-China-India Strategic Triangle, Brazil; Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS); Brazil-South Africa-India-China (BASIC); the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF); East Asian Summits (EAS); G 20 and other multilateral forums such Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). India and China have also initiated dialogue on terrorism and Afghanistan. The multilateral cooperation has been used to strengthen the bilateral relations by both the countries, and both are working towards raising the level of bilateral relationship with the hope of creating larger stakes in each other’s economic systems through complementarities and interdependence. Since everyone talks about the strikingly similar dynamics of Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping, we will have to wait and watch if they can think differently and change the dynamics of India-China relations.

B R Deepak is Professor of Chinese and China Studies at the Centre of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi. The views are solely his own. 

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