Just recently, Indian Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi wrapped up a visit to China, the fourth since he assumes office. Indian media has projected Modi’s informal visit to Wuhan China as an indication of Sino-Indian rapprochement. One hopes this is true, as both countries are important engines of economic growth, economic globalisation and make positive contributions toward peace and development.
In 24 hours, both have six rounds of meetings and the agenda includes trade, strategic military relations, tourism and other regional issues. However, there were no agreements or announcements following the joint statement. Chinese vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou stated that china will not stress on India joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure project, as India has reservations on CPEC, which is a flagship project of BRI. President Xi and PM Modi took a long walk along the side of the Wuhan East Lake, followed by a boat ride and lunch together.
The Prime Minister was accompanied by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and Indian Ambassador to China Gautam Bambawale. His Counterpart Xi led a high-powered delegation which included Member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, Ding Xuexiang, Member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Yang Jiechi and State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi. Adding to that, President Xi took PM Modi on personal tour of a major museum in Wuhan and Modi presented a gift to Xi Jinping the paintings of Chinese artist Xu Beihong who taught in Visva Bharati University in West Bengal.
An editorial published by a state-owned online Chinese daily stated that the best part of the informal meeting was that it came with no baggage, only expectations. It further added that ‘heart-to-heart communication’ showed their ‘opened mutual chemistry’ which, in turn, will be helpful in enhancing the mutual trust between New Delhi and Beijing, paving the way for the establishment of close bilateral ties in the long-run. Another Chinese daily reported ahead of Modi’s visit that China will continue to persuade India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir conflict through bilateral peace talks.
An editorial published by a state-owned online Chinese daily stated that the best part of the ‘informal’ meeting was that it came with ‘no baggage, only expectations’
China is also attempting to convince India that CPEC is just for economic cooperation, and does not influence China’s impartiality with regards to Kashmir. Having said that, this informal visit, broadly taken as an attempt to reset bilateral relations and rebuild trust, follows an extended period of diplomatic distancing between the two neighbouring nuclear powers.
An op-ed in China Daily stated that two leaders focused on many key issues, specifically global governance and shared international challenges. The international edition of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily stated in a front-page commentary piece ‘two great countries ought to have great cooperation’, and showed a large picture of the two leaders shaking hands.
China and India recently locked horns during the Doklam dispute. This 72-day military standoff was the result of the increasing mistrust between the two countries. Modi and Xi emphasised the need for greater cooperation. For this reason, cross border movement was encouraged. At the Wuhan, informal summit, both leaders agreed to undertake joint economic and developmental projects in war-torn Afghanistan, which lies in China and India’s backyard.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Foreign Secretary Gokhale — considered the architect of Sino-Indian rapprochement — commented during the press briefing that Beijing has repeatedly blocked New Delhi’s bid to designate Jaish-e-Muhammad Chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist in the UN. Similarly, India’s membership bid to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was also opposed by Beijing. The reason for this was that India has not signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This issue also came under discussion between Xi and Modi.
Theoretical analysis of the relationship between China and India can make for a captivating case study due to its strategic complexity. It involves an intricate web of interests, ranging from tough stands on the unmarked boundaries issue to recognition of Tibet by India as part of China.
Other relevant issues include the search for energy resources, increasing bilateral trade, perceptions of encirclement and increased cooperation on international forums as well as different domestic political systems. Hyper-realists claim that due to the unsettled boundary issues, the forecasts of perfection in China-India relations are unlikely, but both have reasons to join hands in the field of investment, trade, energy resources, counter terrorism and development in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, liberals forecast that the incentive for economic development will push India and China towards peace. Today, China and India are one of the world’s biggest — if not the biggest — trading partners. Trade between the two countries has already touched $88 billion; and the target is $100 billion in 2018. Pragmatists add another dimension and said that prospects of China-India relations are not a case of conflict or cooperation, but conflict and cooperation.
The geopolitics of Sino-Indian relations are marked by different strategies, including Chinese cooperation with Pakistan, India’s ‘look east’ policy, the struggle for influence in the Indian ocean, China’s string of pearls strategy.
Despite all this Sino-Indian cooperation is paving the way for a unipolar to multipolar world. Both are the world’s two most populated countries. They have consistently achieved the world‘s highest annual GDP growth rates over the past decade. Furthermore, both their economies were the most resilient in the world in the face of the 2008 global recession.
In conclusion; territorial disputes, regional geopolitics, and economic competition, catalysed by misperceptions, will ensure that Sino-India relations will remain competitive in nature. However, the high cost of war, growing economic interaction, and the imperative for peaceful economic development will also help keep the level and nature of competition at a pragmatic level.
The writer is a PhD candidate at the School of Politics and International Relations, QAU
Published in Daily Times, May 3rd 2018.