New Delhi: India-China relations have run into rough weather once again with tensions between the two militaries along the disputed border in Ladakh.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s familiarity and regular engagement with Beijing over the years is expected come handy as New Delhi seeks to calm the situation.
While Modi has visited China nine times since he was serving as the chief minister of Gujarat (four times as CM, five times as PM), and met President Xi Jinping several times in his last six years as PM, Jaishankar was India’s envoy to China and knows Beijing’s ways well.
Modi’s relationship with China
Modi is known as an old China hand who has visited that country more than any Indian politician so far, and has even developed ties with the Communist Party of China.
As CM of Gujarat, Modi was invited as a guest of the CPC to visit China in November 2011, when he was “accorded unprecedented importance and highest level of protocol”, which was seen as “going beyond the established norms”. He was accompanied by a high-level business and official delegation, and the visit was called a “grand success”.
Jaishankar was India’s ambassador to China at the time.
As a result, in 2014, when Modi became PM, there were high expectations that he would give a new turn to the India-China relationship, and even “silence” the issues over the Line of Actual Control” once and for all.
Four months after Modi came to power in May 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping made his first bilateral visit to India in September, and scenes of bonhomie between the two — sitting on a swing beside the Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad — became memorable moments for both countries. However, there were tensions at the border between the countries at the time.
“Modi, no stranger to China, having visited multiple times as Gujarat chief minister — has repeatedly stated that he wants to do business with China (literally). Chinese policymakers, on their part, had welcomed his coming to power,” wrote Tanvi Madan, senior fellow at Brookings Institution, in a blog.
It is also true that under Prime Minister Modi, a new practice of so-called “informal” summits began, with reciprocation from China. The practice began after the 2017 Doklam stand-off, so that the leaders could have a better understanding of issues facing both countries.
Both informal summits so far, in Wuhan in 2018 and Mamallapuram (near Chennai) in 2019, helped Modi and Xi better understand each other in terms of what is Xi’s vision for the ‘Chinese dream’ or what is Modi’s ‘New India’, according to Gautam Bambawale, former Indian envoy to China, Pakistan and Bhutan.
Modi has visited China five times as PM, while President Xi has visited India three times since 2014. Modi last visited China in June 2018 to participate in the 18th summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
Jaishankar espoused ‘stable, mature’ relationship
Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar has time and again indicated how India should follow the Chinese model of addressing “legacy” issues and then become a superpower.
“We are in that journey (like China) from a civilisational society to a modern state… The difference between us is that they look at a problem and start thinking how to solve the problems… That is a systematic mindset. Those who solve it quickly are being rewarded,” he had said, defending some of the Modi government’s controversial decisions, such as the scrapping of Article 370 and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Jaishankar had also said the relationship between India and China is “very stable” and “very mature”.
“Where we differ (with China), we have mechanisms and, in a way, a sort of ethos of handling it. And frankly, it’s not a relationship that has given cause for anxiety to the world for many, many years,” he had said during his address to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in September last year.
When Xi and Modi had their last informal summit last October in Chennai, both had vowed to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas and also continue working on additional confidence-building measures.
“There is a deep understanding of each other, that’s true. But do we trust each other is the main question. At the end of the day, our motivations don’t match and that’s why we see these border clashes taking place,” said Phunchok Stobdan, veteran diplomat and expert on India-China relations.
“This is the reason why China and Russia, despite having issues, could solve the border issue but China and India cannot. Now is the time to talk, and talk only on the boundary question,” he added.