Over the three months of hectic diplomacy by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that witnessed an effort to re-energize some important relationships
and highlight India’s space for maneuver, has begun to
The efforts will culminate with the meeting in
Washington, DC with President Barack Obama next
week, which is the high water point of these efforts with
Modi having held summits with the leaders of two of the
other power centers of this region, namely Japan and
China. He will then assess first-hand the potential of
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India from
September 17 to 19 — the first by a Chinese president in
eight years — was important. China’s new ambassador in
New Delhi and Chinese official media reports described it
as ‘landmark’ and ‘historic’. There was anticipation that
the meeting between the two leaders, both of whom have
strong mandates and a demonstrated capacity to take
bold initiatives, would move the India-China relationship
forward and add meaningful content to it.
Xi Jinping belied both expectations.
The statements of both leaders, presented after the
delegation talks September 18, contained evidence of
the differences in their respective positions. Modi
placed the border issue, intrusions and ongoing con-
frontation at Chumar in Ladakh and other locations on
top of his list and sought to underscore the need to
ensure such incidents cease as otherwise they would
restrict progress in other fields.
The prime minister stressed the need to resolve the
border dispute ‘as soon as possible.’ In contrast, the
Chinese president referred to the border issue almost at
the very end of his statement and made no mention of an
Modi additionally referred to the issue of stapled visas
for residents of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and
Kashmir and diversion of the Brahmaputra river waters.
Xi did not mention any of these.
India did, however, indirectly acknowledge that the
Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of China, to reciprocate China’s agreeing to open Nathu La in Sikkim for pilgrims traveling to Manasarovar, thereby further implicitly
acknowledging India’s sovereignty over Sikkim.
The joint statement, issued September 19, did list areas
of agreement and cooperation including the railways,
exchange of students, deputing teachers for teaching
Chinese. Included in the areas of cooperation were climate change, food and energy and cooperation on international issues etc.
In his keynote speech at the Indian
Council of World Affairs September 18, Xi
said little that was new. He made quite
clear that there is no change in China’s
position regarding India’s admission to the
United Nations Security Council as a permanent member. He suggested that India
should dovetail its Look East policy with
China’s economic development plans and
emphasized China is willing to help the
economies of South Asia, including India,
and to build connectivity.
It was clear China continues to view
India merely as one country, albeit the
largest, in South Asia. Interesting, though,
was his acknowledgement, perhaps for the
first time in decades by such a high ranking Chinese leader, of the large trust deficit
that exists in India-China relations.
Instead of addressing it, however, the
lengthy intrusion in Chumar — that has
lasted beyond Xi’s visit — has only added
to this distrust.
China’s focus on developing economic
cooperation, ever since Modi took over as
prime minister, has been unwavering. As
Xi prepared for his journey to India, a
steady trickle of managed leaks created the
illusion that China is willing to make huge
investments in India, totaling many billions of dollars.
The figures mentioned ranged between
$100 billion to $400 billion, but at no
stage was there any official comment by
China except, on the eve of the visit, when
the Chinese consul general in Mumbai
was quoted as saying that China would
invest $100 billion.
In the end, China committed only to $20
billion, sizably less than Japan’s investment
promise of $50 billion spread over five
years. Given China’s track record, less than
half the MoUs it has signed can be expected to actually translate into projects.
China is intent on getting India’s
endorsement and participation in its New
Silk Road Economic Belt initiative,
approved at the Third Plenum of the
Chinese Communist Party in November
2013 and intended to facilitate the westward passage of
the Chinese economic juggernaut. This initiative is being
personally steered by Xi.
The project envisages a surface transport link originating in China’s southern Yunnan province and transiting
through Myanmar, Bangladesh, India’s North-East,
Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and via the Central Asian
Republics to Turkey and beyond.
The other economic venture of interest to Beijing is the
Modi’s government stalled both these initiatives, which,
if agreed to, will make the already fragile economies of
India’s North-Eastern states more vulnerable and India’s
northern frontiers more insecure.
The Maritime Economic Silk Route is the other Chinese
initiative of interest to Xi. Before his arrival in India he
had stopped over in the Maldives and Sri Lanka and
secured their full support. Modi withheld endorsement of
this proposal too.
China’s ‘peripheral diplomacy’ (zhoubian) policy
approved in October 2013 is integral to successful
The police detain a Tibetan man during a protest against the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping near the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, September 17. India indirectly acknowledged that the Tibet Autonomous Region is part of China.
Xi and China are testing Modi
The intrusion in Chumar, during and beyond the Chinese president’s visit to India, is unprecedented and has qualitatively changed the tone of the India-China relationship, says Jayadeva Ranade