Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping | Graham Crouch/Bloomberg
File photo of Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping | Graham Crouch | Bloomberg
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If Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to China last year to meet President Xi Jinping in Wuhan arrested the growing rift in bilateral relations after the Doklam crisis, the respite has been limited and temporary. While the two leaders have successfully managed to avoid another flare-up along the Himalayan frontiers, neither Beijing nor New Delhi has been able to halt the growing divergences that characterise many aspects of the broader relationship.

The informal meeting between Xi Jinping and Modi in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu has been announced, planned and scheduled — all informally, of course — but it is still not clear whether it will take place at all. The confirmation is yet to come. It is also not clear which side threw in the showstopper.

But the mere fact that the meeting between two heads of government is still hanging in the air so close to its scheduled date already tells us more about the state of India-China relations than what any official communique can or could have.


Also read: After Kashmir, Modi and Xi could struggle to recreate ‘Wuhan spirit’ in Mamallapuram


Little for Xi to take home

Even if Xi turns up in Mamallapuram this weekend, other than the sublime temples and media spectacle, he will have little to take back with him.

President Xi has failed to enlist India in his favourite and most ambitious enterprises: New Delhi steadfastly remains outside the Belt and Road Initiative, is likely to limit the role of Chinese telecom equipment manufacturers in its 5G network rollout, and is the leading holdout in a big regional free trade arrangement. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar put it as succinctly as possible in a media briefing marking the 100 days of the second Modi government last month: “BRI rethink, the answer is no.” He reiterated this at last week’s World Economic Forum event in New Delhi.

Similarly, even if the US government weren’t pressing New Delhi to keep Huawei out of its 5G network rollout, influential voices within the country’s own security and political establishment have been vocal about avoiding building a pervasive network using equipment manufactured by an opaque country with a history of offensive cyber operations and whose adversarial posture is increasingly open for all to see.

India remains on the fence on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed free trade agreement that includes most of the Indo-Pacific economies. One of the biggest reasons for this is the concern that such an agreement will allow Chinese manufacturers greater access to the Indian market while Indian manufacturers and services exporters will continue to face hurdles selling to China. As I’ve argued elsewhere, China’s information control and internet censorship regime is effectively a non-tariff barrier.


Also read: As Chennai readies for Modi-Xi meet, ancient Chinese links to Tamil Nadu surface


Him Vijay, raising the red flag

If the prospects for even modest success on his desired agenda are dim, Xi Jinping is scheduled to arrive in India at a time when the Indian Army is taking its new mountain combat capability through the paces in Arunachal Pradesh. Of course, the exercise “Him Vijay” is taking place 100 km from the Chinese boundary, but it’s pretty obvious that the Red Team in this exercise is the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In any case, Arunachal Pradesh is a red rag to our red neighbour.

Little wonder that the Chinese side raised this issue during a preparatory meeting last week.

Returning past favours during visits

I do not know if New Delhi did it intentionally, but it is a good idea to raise Xi’s costs of participating in the informal summit. If Xi comes to Mamallapuram despite the small picking and some provocation, he will send a “costly signal” of the value China attaches to its relations with India. Such a signal is the necessary condition for New Delhi to be more accommodating of Beijing’s positions in political and trade negotiations. If he does not come, then it follows that New Delhi should maintain hardline positions, and that China’s indulgence of Pakistan and its recent diplomatic activities over Kashmir are the primary indicators of its India policy.

As for military activities during official visits, China should be the last to complain. In 1992, Beijing tested a megaton nuclear weapon when then-President R. Venkataraman was on the first ever visit by an Indian president to China. In 2007, China conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) test when its foreign minister Li Zhaoxing was on an official visit to India. More recently, in 2014, the PLA carried out incursions in Chumar and Demchok even as Xi was swinging with Modi in a jhoola in Ahmedabad. If China claims its pattern of effrontery during high-level visits is innocent, then well, so is the Indian Army’s exercise, Him Vijay.

It is in India’s interests to have stable, amicable and mutually prosperous relations with China — yet, they cannot be achieved for the asking. Cooperation has to evolve. The Mamallapuram summit is a good indicator of how well we are doing on that front, whether it happens or not.

The author is the director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent centre for research and education in public policy. Views are personal.

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8 Comments Share Your Views

8 COMMENTS

  1. If this is true , then why every day 100s of Banladeshi’s cross border & enter India. Why illegal immigrants feel afraid of being sent back to Bangladesh , after all they are being sent to a better country?????
    Pl stop printing one sided stories.

  2. Enquiry committee panel in case of Sexual Harrasment charged against CJI Ranjan Gogoi was headed and presided by Justice S. Bobde not by CJI Ranajan Gogoi himself, he was present there as an accused as it is well known principle of natural justice and Dictum that Audi Alteram Partem :- No one should convicted unheard. I.e. equal opportunity of getting heard should be provided before conviction.

    Please stop misleading people.

  3. We have many issues to be settled with China. Its blind support to Pakistan with clear anti-india stand, stalling entry into NSG, CPEC through our territory in J&K , apart from unwillingness to settle border dispute will always be sore points. We are running over USD 60 billion trade deficit with them year after year and doing them a great favor. China is not taking any step to reduce this deficit and preventing export of our services, pharma and other products. We have accommodated Chinese interests many times in the past without any quid pro quo from China. Huwaei cannot be allowed without NSG entry and border settlement. Politically, both Xi and Modi are in a position to take a call on border settlement anytime, It is Chinese reluctance which is holding up the issue.. However, it is important for Xi and Modi to meet and keep communication going . Every meeting need not result into any agreement. In fact, the whole purpose of such meeting is to meet without much protocols and discuss without any specific agenda. This should continue on regular basis.

  4. I would really wish India was more free market economy and had established SEZs to fully take advantage of it’s demographic divident

    • why create some SEZs? Convert the entire country into SEZ by removing or reducing taxes, reforming labor laws, business friendly policies etc so that we can be as competitive as Chinese in the wold market. Who has 56 inches chest for this decision?

  5. The two countries have a lot to talk about. A new equilibrium, some call it a Modus Vivendi, that allows Asia to create space for there great powers, including Japan. Of the three, India has the most forbidding HDI challenges. We have to look ahead at least fifty years, with special concern for what role the US will be playing in the region.

  6. Bertil Lintner concludes his recent book ‘China’s India War’ stating very emphatically, “Col. Stuart Kenny at the Australian Defence College in Canberra points out, there is indeed a New Great Game [between China and India] ‘founded on historic mistrust and current competition’. It has to do with border disputes in the Himalayas, the competition for influence in Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar, cross border insurgencies, the sharing of water resources, and strategic rivalries in the Indian Ocean.” (Lintner, B., 2018: 275; Oxford University Press).

    Given this background, India should insist: (1) on building greater trust and reducing territorial ambitions, unambiguously stating India’s own capabilities in countering China’s influence if it crosses a threshold; (2) remind China, that while it may be a security council member (by some quirk of fate), its popularity amongst the public in World’s major counties (which includes the US, Canada and Sweden) has plummeted (refer this week’s Pew Research report), and therefore, China is taking a risk when throwing stones at India while living in a glass house.

    As far as the US is concerned, whether it is Republicans or Democrats, China will be dealt with keeping their national interest on top. The US is unlikely to allow China a free pass as far as trade is concerned. China has reached its peak as far as milking its capacity is concerned, and India should use this opportunity to become very selective when allowing China to exploit the Indian market place. First trust, then trade. Jai Hind.

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