C3S Paper No. 0113/ 2015
It was quiet a poignant moment when a tough looking and saffron clad Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stoically reciprocated the red salute given by the young pioneer girl with a bouquet of fresh flowers during the Xian airport reception. In different ways this set the tone for his recent official visit to China from 14 to 16 May 2015.
How public opinion is formed and managed in a modern democracy, especially under the use and application of a variety of social media, is an interesting topic for research. After reading the ‘Joint Statement’ between India and China heads of government, Prime Minister Modi and Premier Li Keqiang, issued on 15 May 2015, it seemed that this study would be a much more complicated topic for any research purpose. Under normal circumstances one must take such a document as a vital guideline for managing relations between two neighbouring countries. Even though this document was referred in passé by many a knowledgeable commentators and media institutions including some of the reputed newspapers in India, it was felt that many of them not even bothered to read or analyse the same in any meaningful way.
This recent visit by the Indian P. M to China produced a very mixed type of response from the public and media in India. This coverall document contains a variety of topics ranging from mundane confidence building measures between neighbouring countries to cooperation in the field of piggy-back launching technology in space. If one takes a closer look at this document and the substantial progress made in the field of economic cooperation one can safely conclude that this visit cannot be categorised in one of those routine state visits by a neighbouring head of state. One such manifest reason was summarised by the Chinese daily, ‘Global Times’, dated 15 May 2015, “it is obvious that the Western elite doesn’t want to see India and China drawing closer to each other, because it will confront their vision for Asia’s future. As rising powers in this region, China and India, as partners or rivals, will make a huge difference to the geopolitical interests of the West. It will be a long-term test for China and India to get rid of distractions imposed by the West and stick to a path which can benefit the national interest of both countries.”
From an Indian view point, this visit by P. M Modi was vastly different from such previous state visits. Firstly, he does not carry the baggage of border problem and the resultant 1962 war in many different ways. Modi was born after India became a Republic. During this visit at various places it was felt that Modi wanted to substantially follow in the footsteps of Jawaharlal Nehru at least in his actions and mannerisms, whose legacy he wants to burry in the foothills of Himalayas. At another level, he is one Prime Minister who became the leader of India with full majority in the lower house of Indian parliament after late Rajiv Gandhi.
Before Modi started his journey to the three nations in East Asia, China, Mongolia and South Korea, he amply made it clear that this journey is meant to connect with Asia in the new context. Clarifying this aspect he reiterated to the Chinese media just before the start of his three nation tour that, “the 21st century is the century of Asia, a century where we can fight for freedom. China and India should join hands and cooperate closely to promote world peace and stability which is what the times demand of us.”
For Modi this was a historical mission to connect with India’s past and to some extend his own, as well as the civilisational linkages between India and China. Xuanzang, the famous Buddhist monk, traveller and translator of ancient texts started his epic journey from present day Xian and travelled through Modi’s ancestral village, during his famous sojourn in India. Modi started his travel to China from Xian. Chinese President and Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping considers Xian as his native town. The reception accorded to Modi is considered to be a rare diplomatic honour for visiting dignitary.
Modi is certainly one Indian leader who interacted with Chinese leadership over a long period of time and who knew what he was expecting from them. At one level this visit has produced substantial results. According to Chinese Ambassador in India, Le Yucheng, he expected, “the business agreements signed would come to no less than US $10 billion.” This was supposed to be a bold figure. However, a total 24 inter-governmental agreements were signed. The topics covered in these agreements ranged from outer space, cyberspace, earthquake preparedness, maritime science, smart city, consular establishment, finance, education, exchanges between political parties, states and provinces, think tanks etc. During this visit twenty one business agreements worth US $22 billion were also signed.
On economic side a lot of good results has been produced, how both sides can achieve all these committed business tasks will be the real issue. Can Modi push this relationship to such a dynamic level, that is the issue one has to wait and watch. On the strategic level the picture is much more complicated. In order to understand this one need to know much more about the strategic thinking process of Modi and his new leadership group. Seemingly, a large section of our power elite is stuck in the outdated ‘balance of power’ era. For a country with India’s size, one can never expect any single partner to give a foolproof security guarantee. Further, India is a declared nuclear weapon state, therefore, it has to defend itself. Apparently, Modi understands this, which maybe one reason for the added stress on his ‘Make in India’ campaign.
On the whole Indian leadership need to develop a new outlook on security that features mutual trust and reciprocity, based on equality and cooperation. The emerging scenario in Afghanistan and adjoining areas are a common concern for both India and China. Here one should not be looking for making a united front to fight surviving ‘Taliban’, including both good and bad ones, rather to reach a common understanding and forge strategies to protect the interests of all concerned nations. Our ultimate goal is to ensure the safety of all people in India and abroad.
(The writer is an Honorary Fellow at Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi)