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Modi’s visit to China- Not a Zero sum game; By Cmde R. S. Vasan IN (Retd.)

C3S Paper No. 0112/ 2015


A lot is still being written and discussed in the print and visual media about the outcomes of the PM’s visit to East Asia in general and China in particular. Despite many reservations about the visit, it is easy to conclude that there are many take always and perhaps it is indeed a new beginning in the bilateral relations.The full text of the joint statement is available at http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=121755.The main takeaways in terms of key areas are covered in the succeeding paragraphs.

Border Talks

There was never any expectation that the vexed border issue would be resolved with the meeting of the two strong leaders. Some kite flying prior to the visit speculated that the two strong leaders perhaps have the ability to think out of the box and resolve the issue.  That expectation remained so in the realm of speculations. The ground realities are indeed very different. That despite eighteen Secretaries level meetings in the last fifty years, not much has been achieved in terms of concrete progress does have a narrative.  At best these meetings have served the purpose of keeping the dialogue lines open without achieving much. Much of this has been attributed to the Chinese who have avoided defining the LAC and have also not shared their perceptions of the border though India has shared such data with the Chinese. On the Indian side, the public perception is shaped by the lack of transparency since the debacle of 1962. The Henderson Brooks- Bhagat report still remains classified and so the truth is shrouded behind the veil of secrecy.

However, it is clear that both sides have to now have meaningful discussions in a transparent manner without the past baggage. To say the least, early resolution will not be easy with the complexities involved on both sides. The depiction of a distorted Indian map by the state media during the visit only added to the ire of India.  The map excluded Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir from the map. This only reinforced the belief that the border issue would not be resolved in a hurry. It is not known if India which is always prompt in pulling up those who show an incorrect map reacted this time with an official protest.

However, Chinese leadership would have taken note of the public utterances of Modi who was candid and hinted that there is a need to look at the issue afresh as it is a major irritant and an impediment in the bilateral relations of the two Asian powers. While there is nothing new in the assertions about resolving this in a time bound manner, the manner in which the point was put across has been received well by both Chinese and Indian observers.

Trade and Economic Relations

The willingness of the Chinese to invest in India was quite clear by the number of agreements /MoUs(21 agreements) signed during the visit. The commitment of about 21 billion US Dollars has been welcomed by the Government and the people who are looking for increased investments in the infrastructure and related sectors.  However, the Government will need to have instruments in place to see that there are no delays in translating   the commitments to work on ground in a time bound manner.  Apparently, the announcements during the visit of Xi Jinping for setting up of industrial parks in Gujarat and Maharashtra in India during his last visit in September 2014 are yet to take off. Unless the intent is matched by action on the ground, India will find it hard to attract investments from other countries who are closely observing India which has all the intentions to move in a trajectory that will take it on a fast track of development.  It is pertinent to note that during the last leg of the visit, South Korea has also committed investments to the tune of 10 billion dollars. The agreement to promote the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) for regional development holds promise for availability of additional funding for such projects.

People to People Contact and Cultural relations

The constant reference to Buddhism and commonality in the cultural roots of the two civilizations has found takers on both sides of Himalaya. The efforts to increase people to people contact by granting e-visa despite some reservations from the security establishment will do a lot of good to bringing more people from China. There were no reciprocal announcements about any such facility being extended by the Chinese side. However, the Chinese side agreed to the opening of an alternate route for pilgrims from India to visit Manasarovar thus meeting an outstanding request from the Indian side. The enthusiasm with the proposal for observing the International Yoga day on 21st June was accepted augurs well for cultural relations between the two countries particularly as there is a lot of interest around the world including China in understanding Yoga as a contributory practice to good living. The India-China Cultural Exchange Initiative envisaged the annual exchange of 200 youths from each side in the second half of 2015.

The joint statement issued in September 2014 did mention that year 2015 would be the visit India year and the next year, 2016 would be the Visit China year. From this point of view, the e- visa would provide a major fillip to bridge the gap in people to people contact form the two countries. The Chinese people are traveling a lot more around the world in large groups and the removal of this one major hurdle will bring the two nations closer as there would be greater opportunities for visits and interactions.  However, simultaneously, there is a need to ensure that the facilities for the tourists from around the world including China are ramped up on top priority.  In many of the tourist destinations, even now the facilities are woefully inadequate and the tourists go back with negative opinions about the way we administer our tourist places which are endowed with historical and cultural imprints of an ancient civilization.

Consulate in Chennai

The outstanding demand for setting up of a Consulate in Chennai and a reciprocal one in Chengdu has been met by the declaration to that effect. Chennai which has been labeled as the Detroit of India and an investment destination will witness lot more interest from the Chinese companies whose efforts would now be channeled by the Chinese Consulate in Chennai. The clearing of the political climate with the acquittal of Jayalalithaa may also help in having a clearer road map for investments from China. The establishment of sister city relations between Chennai and Chongqing would also bring the two cities to work together

New Avenues

Under this heading there is mention of cooperation in a planned manner between 2015-2020 in areas of Satellite Remote Sensing, Space-Based meteorology, Space Science, Lunar and Deep Space Exploration, Satellite Navigation, Space Components, Piggy-back Launching Services, and Education and Training. The peaceful use of outer space and nuclear energy are new frontiers which will bring the scientists of the two nations together.

Think Tank initiative

It is also interesting to note that there is a mention of establishing an India China Think Tank forum (ICTTF) which will meet annually in India and China.  As is widely known, the Think Tank Forum China is active for the last three years and this year’s edition would be held again in Kunming from 12-13th June 2015. There is also a BCIM dialogue planned on 14th June 2015. So the ICTTF between China and India would provide a forum for the academia and analysts from both sides to rub shoulders and engage in meaningful discussions.

In conclusion, it can be safely said that the visit of Modi is a success and has brought a refreshing change in the bilateral relations of the two Asian powers. There is a need to build on the atmosphere of good will and trust to take the levels to higher levels of cooperation and engagement that would benefit both the countries and the world in the Asian century. The biggest challenge continues to be the early resolution of the border issue which has vitiated the bilateral relations for decades and has the potential to derail the relations again if not handled deftly by both sides.

(Commodore R.S Vasan IN (Retd) is Director, C3S and Head Strategy and Security Studies, Center for Asia Studies. Email: director.c3s@gmail.com , rsvasan2010@gmail.com)

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