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Expectations from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India Visit

September 5, 2014

Much is expected of the ensuing India visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping both on strategic and economic fronts. Indian Commerce Minister Nirmala Seetharaman visited Beijing at the same time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Japan. India expects Jinping’s visit to pave the way for major Chinese investments in the country, while also hoping China to facilitate Indian IT services exports by removing the barriers. Border dispute between the two countries too are expected to figure in the summit meet.

Expectations from Chinese President Xi Jinping's India Visit

China High on India’s Agenda

There is no doubt that China is crucial to the Modi government’s foreign policy. Vice President Hamid Ansari had visited Beijing in June this year (Seetharaman had accompanied Ansari to China then too). At that time both countries had signed a Memorandum of Understanding on facilitating Chinese industrial parks in India in a bid to address the issue of India’s mounting trade deficit with China that stood at a whopping $36.22 billion in 2013-14. (That things are on a fast track is evident since a Chinese delegation has already visited India to study the location of the first such park and it is expected that Chinese truck and bus manufacturing company Foton could be one of the investors at the proposed park at Chakan in Maharashtra, that would signal the automobile giant’s entry into India).

Besides, even Modi and Jinping have already met once — on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Brazil earlier this year. Then both leaders had deliberated on contentious issues that come in the way of building up a healthy Sino-Indian relationship such as India’s presence in the oil blocks in South China sea, and the Dragon’s support to a railway project in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. To respect the territorial integrity of India is an issue that Modi would need to reassert with Jinping.

The instant rapport that the two leaders developed in Brazil had not gone unnoticed and should pave the way for a better understanding of mutual concerns. The Chinese media had already hailed the Modi-Jinping bonhomie as a “good start in building mutual trust and will help usher in a new era with huge economic potential”. Jinping’s gesture then to extend an invitation for the first time to an Indian Prime Minster, to attend the next Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing this November, too has gone down well with India. Now, reports that Jinping may also visit Modi’s home state Gujarat during his trip bodes well for the existing camaraderie between the two leaders.

Jinping’s Pro-Active Approach

Much to the credit of Jinping, it was he who after taking over as Chinese President in March last year, took a personal initiative to express his eagerness to visit India to meet the country’s new ruling dispensation, whichever it could be, much before the Indian elections. The Chinese President’s gesture did signal Beijing’s intent to take forward ties with India and his request was reportedly conveyed to India during the 17th round of boundary talks in New Delhi in February this year. Modi, after becoming the PM, reciprocated by extending an invitation to Jinping through the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang when the latter telephoned Modi to congratulate him on taking over as India’s PM in May this year.

The India-China-Japan Triangle

So far so good! But following Modi’s Tokyo visit and given its political dynamics, an important question is now being raised over the implications of Modi’s back to back meetings with two arch rivals Shinzo Abe and Xi Jinping.
Does it mean that Modi would be required to indulge into great balancing act more so after the Prime Minister’s remarks in Tokyo condemning ‘expansionist’ bent of some countries which “encroach” upon seas of others ( China has a maritime dispute with Japan!), was interpreted in the Western media as a regrouping of India and Japan to counter “a rising China”.

Indeed, even as the Chinese foreign ministry sought to downplay the issue on grounds that China was “not sure what he (Modi) was referring to, the Chinese media did react sharply to the Indian PM’s statement and the state-run tabloid, Global Times, in an editorial commented that Modi “embraces some nationalist sentiments against China”.
Besides, even Modi’s “train-diplomacy” with Japan too needs a careful scrutiny since China too, like Japan, is trying to hard sell its high speed trains to India.

Narendra Modi’s Diplomatic Approach towards China and Japan

Modi though needs to do some diplomatic jugglery on India’s positioning vis-à-vis China and Japan. This is an issue that needs to be tackled deftly given the complexity of the relationships between the three Asian giants.

Hence, despite his criticism of the ‘expansionist’ designs of some countries, he also emphasised the need to build on the common interests of India, Japan and China, “to convert ours into an Asian Century by working together”.

Yet the intricacies of being drawn to a Japan-India- China triangle are far more complex than this. Refer to China’s glee at Modi’s postponement of his earlier scheduled visit to Japan right before the BRICS summit because of the “budget session” of Indian Parliament where the government was to present its very first budget after coming to power.

The same Chinese state tabloid now alludes to that move stating “Modi snubbed Japan’s right before the BRICS summit, demonstrating that the Modi government actually gives priority to China in its foreign policy.”
Both India and Japan share a historical dispute with China. Yet, what is important is the thaw in the Sino-Indian relationship in recent times, particularly after the change in guard in both the countries. But can New Delhi afford to cement a relationship with Beijing – that shares a 3000 kilometer long border with New Delhi – at the expense of Tokyo?

What is interesting would be to see how business interest would now shape the destiny of Sino-Indian as well as Japan-India relationship. For the moment, as Seetharaman said, it is encouraging that the Chinese are engaging with us, “which is very welcome”.


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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of

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