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Roundtable Discussion on ‘Modi-Xi Informal Summit 2019: An Analysis’

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The Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) organized a Roundtable Discussion on the theme ‘Modi-Xi Informal Summit 2019: An Analysis’. The event held at C3S on October 24, 2019. It was chaired by Asma Masood, Research Officer, C3S.

This meeting drew discussions that revolved around the Modi-Xi Informal Summit which took place between the 10th-13th of October at Mamallapuram. Prof. Suryanarayan, Former Director, Centre for South and South East Asian Studies, University of Madras, Chennai, President, C3S gave his take on what the summit meant for Sino-Indian ties. The trade deficit between the two countries is an issue of great importance, taking into account India had a $57.4 billion deficit with China in 2018. The speaker expressed hope that the Chinese government will ease the current restrictions on Indian pharmaceuticals, thereby decreasing India’s trade deficit. While he remains sceptical that the summit in particular would bring short-term gains to the two countries, a follow-up to the Wuhan summit last April was imperative to support the path to better relations.

On the tourism sector, political analysts forecast that China is likely to ease visa restrictions for Indian nationals, with India doing so, on the opposite side of the spectrum. This could significantly boost tourism in India, with China being the largest tourist sender globally: accounting for over 149 million tourists in 2018. However, India has not benefited from the recent growth in Chinese tourist numbers, welcoming less than 250,000 tourists in 2017. The collective opinion of the discussants remained that it would be hard to see any short-term impacts of the summit. Mr. Sivaraman IAS (Retd.), Former Revenue Secretary GOI, ED IMF and Adviser UN SC CTC, Vice-President, C3S pointed out that having informal, agenda-less summits could potentially break obstinacy within bureaucrats at both ends.

Both parties at the Informal Summit agreed to maintain tranquillity until a mutual border agreement is met. This move certainly eases freedom of discussion between both countries moving forward, ensuring more fruitful outcomes in future summits. While it is important to acknowledge the Indian perspective of the issue, learning from Chinese philosophy, and thus bringing in an analysis of the Chinese perspective of the summit is critical.

Mr. Rajaram Investor and Director, Voice Snap Services Pvt. Ltd, Chennai, Member, C3S, expressed his belief that China is wary of India’s current leanings to the US and the West’s principles. With the current Indian government being discrete to previous governments, China hopes to forge closer ties with India, to prevent significant Western influence in the region. While joint-ventures in both countries are unlikely at the present, increased trade and stronger, consentient ties are likely to be enjoyed by the two in the future.

Mr. Sivaraman also pointed out that there is the potential for India’s economy to grow at much higher rates in the next 4-5 years while India can take advantage of China’s economic slowdown. China’s GDP growth is slated at 6% for 2019, but is likely to be significantly lesser than the Chinese government’s estimates. Hence India has much to gain from China’s export slowdown.

With the global economy plotting a never-before seen path in rather peaceful times, it is only a matter of time before the two Asian behemoths warm up ties for mutual benefit and development.

Mr. Sridharan, Computer Scientist, Member, C3S views that the informal summit should not end at this point. There should be more of meetings for forwarding soft and hard power diplomacy. This informal summit was seen as revolving around trade. However Mr. Sridharan expressed scepticism about the Belt and Road Initiative. The output has not been positive, compared to the projections aimed for by China in terms of economic and trade growth during the initial stages of BRI. China needs to rethink its support to Pakistan. At the end, hyper national security will be for China not for India.

Mr. K. Subramanian, Former Joint Secretary (Retd.), Ministry of Finance, Government of India, Treasurer, C3S stated that India’s security dimension needs to be improved in terms of the railway sector especially signalling and servers. India can invest more in the railway sector. As India still lags behind in terms of technologies, the country can learn from China about advances made in signalling, etc.

In conclusion, the discussants agreed that India has to be more competitive in nature. India’s economy growth rates and trade should not only rise but be sustained.

(The views expressed by discussants are their own.)

(The report has been compiled by Pratosh Menon, Intern, C3S and Situ Kumari, Research Officer, C3S.)

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