Manoj Joahi Summits and hyperbole are not an unusual combination. And so it was in Chennai, where Modi came up with a Chennai Connect, and Xi went a step further and spoke about the need to ‘hold the rudder and steer the course’ of Sino-Indian relations to ‘a 100-year plan’. According to a report in Xinhua, this was broken down in six items. First, said Xi, there was need to ‘correctly view each other’s development and enhance strategic mutual trust’. In other words, they should not allow third parties to distort their views of each other and that the two sides needed to work on reinforcing positive views of each other through policies, joint endeavours and cooperation in global forums. Second, he urged China and India to have ‘timely and effective strategic communication’ which would ‘dispel suspicions and doubts, and properly handle differences and sensitive issues’. Both should ‘prudently deal’ with each other’s core interests and issues that cannot be resolved should be ‘properly managed and controlled’. Direct and frequent meetings like the informal summits were the best way of achieving the goals of item one. India should not allow issues connected to the Sino-Pak relationship to derail the positive tenor of its relations, or get too worked up over the periodic Chinese incursions across the Line of Actual Control, or for that matter use the so-called ‘Tibet card’. Third, and this really flows from the Doklam incident, ‘the two countries should effectively improve military and security exchanges and cooperation’. The Chinese are aware that suspicions of their motives run deep in the military hierarchy in India. They are therefore keen to directly develop professional relations at all levels of the Indian military through exchanges and joint training activity. Fourth, having dealt with the issues that cannot be easily resolved and must be managed to the lowest level of conflict and contention, Xi said, that his country was keen on developing ‘pragmatic cooperation and tightening ties of interests’. This obviously relates to the economic and trade investment issues. In the one clear outcome of the Chennai summit, India and China have created a new economic and trade development mechanism headed by Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to align their economic development strategies and ‘build a partnership in manufacturing industry’. Xi asked the Indian pharma and IT companies, in particular, to invest in China. Fifth, the two sides should buttress their new relationship by greater people-to-people exchanges. China sent abroad 127 million tourists in 2018. A significant number of them being directed towards India could boost many local economies. Sixth, Xi called for India and China to enhance cooperation in international and regional affairs. Besides the United Nations, there was need to step up cooperation in the WTO to protect the interests and rights of developing countries. Xi also saw a positive benefit of Sino-Indian cooperation in multilateral forums like the SCO, Russia-China-India trilateral and called for a ‘China-India plus’ approach of joint cooperation in South, Southeast Asia and Africa. Without mentioning the Belt and Road Initiative, he said such cooperation should lead to better regional connectivity. In addition, the two should help push for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as early as possible. The Chinese view of international relations is largely hierarchical, emphasising relations with powerful and large countries over those of the smaller. For the present, Beijing understands that there is a vast difference between the comprehensive national power (CNP) of India and China, with the latter’s GDP now nearly five times that of India and its military spending at $250 billion, while India’s remains at $55 billion. A country like India has the geographical size, economic potential and the population to match, and even overtake, China in the coming decades. In fact, till 1987, the GDP of both countries was almost equal. Given our common, if disputed border, and India’s salience in the Indian Ocean, Beijing cannot but take India seriously. So, besides managing conflict, it feels compelled to develop ‘pragmatic cooperation’. Prudence demands that the three ‘Cs’ of the relationship-competition, cooperation and conflict-be managed, so as not to affect China’s growth as an economic and military power. This has become all the more important in view of the intensification of the Sino-US competition. So far, Beijing has kept India engaged, without compromising on its support to Pakistan or giving any concession on its border claims. Its one recent gesture-agreeing to naming Masood Azhar in the 1267 Committee came at the last minute, when it became clear that Modi was surging in the May general election. China wants to ensure that the fourth ‘C’-containment-is kept at bay. It does not want India to become a formal part of the US-led system which is now gearing itself to slow down, if not block China’s economic and military growth. It knows well that the US-led system in Asia will only have heft and credibility if India participates in it.
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