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Chinese President Xi Jingping’s India Visit : Impact on Bilateral Relations   

September 22, 2014

Notwithstanding the enduring image of Chinese President Xi Jingping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi swinging together at the banks of River Sabarmati in Ahmedabad, the intricacies involved in India-China relationship demand translation of such apparent bonhomie into stable, deep-rooted bilateral relations at the level.

Jinping and Modi met for the second time in less than 100 days, yet Jinping’s visit to India was only the third such visit by a Chinese President since 1996. This does suggest a welcome thaw in the relationship at the political level, but much more is needed to take the relationship to the desired level of trust and openness between the two neighbours not at ease with each other.

Chinese President Xi Jingping’s India Visit

 

Incursions Marred Jinping-Modi Bonhomie

Much is being written about the dubious timing of the Chinese army’s incursion in Ladakh at the time of Jinping’s visit. Though India has protested such frequent incursions time and again, what baffles strategists is the fact that such intrusions coincided with the visit of the Chinese President, and as one analyst pointed out, could it be possible without the knowledge of the political bosses in China? Some analysts have even attributed such adventures of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to its increasing clout over the political establishment in China!

Jinping on his part dismissed such incursions as insignificant as they “do not have a large impact on the bilateral relationship”, when Modi raised India’s “serious concerns” on the issue with him.

Complex Nature of India-China Relations

India-China relationship is involves a multi-lateral process. Consider Jinping’s visit at the backdrop of Modi’s recent tour of Japan and President Pranab Mukherjee’s trip to Vietnam. Both these countries have uneasy relations with the Dragon. India too resents Beijing’s Pak fixation and its activities in the PoK, its visa policy with regard to Arunachal Pradesh, and the frequent incursions of its army into Indian territory. Like Japan and Vietnam, India too is considerably wary of China’s perceived aggression in the Indian Ocean region.

Positive Changes in India-China Relationship

Yet, there has been a marked change in China’s approach towards India under Jinping. His recent positive gestures such as showing his eagerness to visit India soon after becoming the President; his invitation to Modi – the first time to an Indian Prime Minister – to attend the next Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing this November; his choice of Gujarat – Modi’s home state – to start his India tour; and his perceptible willingness to resolve the boundary dispute( “China has the determination to work with India through friendly consultation to settle the boundary question at an early date”) – are welcome moves to build up a more congenial atmosphere for mutual cooperation. Another positive signal was Jinping’s decision to cancel his earlier scheduled visit to Islamabad from New Delhi in view of the political turmoil in Pakistan.

But economic considerations alone cannot be the reason for China’s sudden change of heart with respect to India. This hypothesis is amply substantiated by the fact that Beijing committed investment of only about $20 billion in India over the next five years instead of an expected $100 billion. This is much lower than the Japanese commitment of $35 billion in five years even.

India’s Growing Clout in Asia-Pacific Region

One cannot overlook the fact that this was the first time since 1962, that a Chinese President visited India but not Pakistan. Does it reflect the new emerging geo-politics of the region? In this light, can we attribute Jinping’s visit to India’s growing strategic importance?

A Japanese newspaper has gone to the extent of describing Modi’s visit to Tokyo as the real “game-changer” as it increased Modi’s bargaining power with China and also cemented the “idea of India as a Pacific power” – a desired outcome of India’s “Look-East” policy that New Delhi had initiated in the early 1990s. India’s fresh proactive approach towards international diplomacy too seems being weighed heavily in China’s mind. The upgraded “special” strategic partnership between India and Japan could be one factor but also consider India’s renewed efforts to cosy up with Bhutan and Nepal – the two crucial buffer nations along the contested Indo-China borders. Besides, the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent visit to New Delhi also marked India’s growing involvement in the Asia-Pacific region.

With India also playing an assertive role at BRICS, where it presides over the BRICS Bank, and in G-20 nations means that China can no longer ignore India’s significance in International politics.

China: Insisting on Limited US Role

Yet, what could be the role of India in China’s scheme of things? Jinping has a vision of regional order that questions the legitimacy of “third-party” (read American) involvement in the region. In this regard Jinping did call for “mutual non-interference in internal affairs” at the Shanghai summit of the 26-nation Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia in May last year.

A Pakistani newspaper, Express Tribune, in its comment has touched the issue stating that Jinping’s India visit “will force a fundamental reappraisal of policy on the United States insofar as its new strategic shift is concerned.”

Areas of Mutual Agreement

What are the major takeaways for India from Jinping’s visit?

Definitely one such area is civil nuclear energy cooperation where in China has shown a keen interest after Australian offer of uranium sale to India and Japanese consideration of a nuclear deal to sell nuclear plants and components to India.

Both the countries also agreed on specific steps to enhance cooperation in upgrading India’s railways sector – that like Japan, China too is eyeing keenly.

Besides, the ‘Five-year Trade and Economic Development Plan’ signed during the visit seeks to reduce the bilateral trade imbalance and strengthen investment cooperation by among other things, granting a greater market access to Indian products in pharmaceuticals, handicrafts, textile, gems and jewellery, bovine meat, oil meals, basmati and non-basmati rice, fruits and vegetables.

Some other significant takeaways are:

  1. Thrust on people-to-people contacts, culture, tourism and art
  2. Opening of a new route through Nathu La to Kailash Mansarovar
  3. Setting up of two Chinese industrial parks in Maharashtra and Gujarat
  4. Sister city pact between Guangzhou and Ahmedabad for closer cooperation between local authorities

While the takeaways bode well for a lasting Sino-India cooperation, what is more important is China’s recognition of India as a considerable ally. This indeed is the biggest takeaway from Jinping’s visit.

WBDP20.09.2014

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

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