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Hype aside, China failed to capitalise on Xi’s Delhi visit

By EMN Updated: Sep 23, 2014 11:33 pm

Kanwal Sibal

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]resident Xi Jinping’s visit to India produced less than the expected results, despite favourable conditions for a “re-set” of India-China relations being in place.
Prime Minister Modi, well-received in China as Gujarat’s chief minister when the West was boycotting him, admires China’s economic achievements. He is interested in leveraging its strength in infrastructure building and manufacturing, as well as its financial resources, to achieve his development goals for India.
Modi’s diplomatic gestures towards China on becoming prime minister included receiving the Chinese foreign minister before any other foreign dignitary, and having an long conversation with the Chinese premier thereafter.
He had broken the ice with Xi Jinping during the BRICS summit in Brazil.
Our vice-president went to China to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Panchsheel Agreement, despite bitter Indian memories associated with this accord.Emulating Abe’s personal gestures to him during his Japan visit, he received Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad and gave him unprecedented personal attention in an informal setting, and that too on his birthday.
From China’s side, by sending his foreign minister to India with a message for Modi, Xi Jinping wanted to get ahead in the diplomatic race to engage the new Indian prime minister.
At the personal level, Xi’s decision to visit Ahmedabad and play the public relations game of a sympathetic Chinese leader in the setting Modi had prepared was intended to strike a chord with the Indian public.
To hype their president’s visit, the Chinese side spoke of investing $100 billion in India, surpassing the $33.5 billion figure Abe committed during Modi’s Japan visit.
Xi’s visit has been an opportunity missed to break fresh ground in India-China ties. Modi’s pragmatic approach towards China, driven by economics, has not been seized by China to give a new direction to bilateral ties.
The provocation in Ladakh has been damaging. By staging a provocation at the time of a high level visit, China plays a double game of reaching out to India, while applying pressure to remind India of its vulnerability and the likely cost of challenging China’s interests.
The incident in Chumar, which involves unprecedentedly high levels of troops on both sides, reflects China’s belief it can brow-beat India at any time.
A visit intended to bolster economic engagement went off course because the Ladakh incident brought security issues upfront and compelled Modi to raise the border issue with Xi Jinping.
It is commendable that, in his joint press conference with Xi, Modi spoke about “our serious concern over repeated incidents along the border” and asked that the understanding to maintain peace and tranquility on the border “should be strictly observed”. His call to resume the stalled process of clarifying the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was timely because China’s unwillingness to do so provokes these periodic incidents.
Critics contend that asking for LAC clarification is pointless, as this has to be a first step towards a border settlement in any case.
Modi’s mentioning “India’s concerns relating to China’s visa policy and Trans Border Rivers”, while standing alongside Xi Jinping, also deserves appreciation.
India’s willingness to endorse China’s Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor has been puzzling, as it risks propelling our northeast into China’s orbit. Modi has added a caveat by declaring “our efforts to rebuild physical connectivity in the region would also require a peaceful, stable and cooperative environment”.
While the joint statement mentions the decision to hold the first round of maritime cooperation dialogue within this year, there is no reference to another of Xi’s proposals: the Maritime Silk Road, which is the new name of the “string of pearls” strategy – burdened now with a negative geo-political connotation.
If these are laudatory changes in substance and tone introduced by Modi, the reference to civilian nuclear cooperation with China to “bolster our broader cooperation on energy security” is baffling.
Besides not needing such cooperation with China, by opening doors for it, even in theory, we are indirectly endorsing China’s NSG-violative nuclear cooperation with Pakistan.
Any calculation that this will guarantee us China’s support in the NSG would be erroneous.
As a condition for opening Nathu La for the Mansarovar Yatra, we seem to have yielded to China’s cajolement to indirectly accord recognition once again to the Tibetan Autonomous Region being an integral part of China through an awkward and peculiar formulation.
Why should the “Indian side” have specifically “appreciated the support and cooperation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the local government of the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China” to open up the Nathu La route, as if a reference simply to “the Chinese side” would not have been enough.
On the economic side, the $100 billion mirage vanishing, China will merely “endeavour to realise” an investment of $20 billion in India in the next 5 years, in various industrial and infrastructure development projects.
Almost all the “agreements” signed during the visit, including on railway cooperation, are non-binding MOUs.
China has agreed, however, to cooperate “on pharmaceutical supervision including registration, speedier phyto-sanitary negotiations on agro-products for two-way trade, stronger links between Indian IT companies and Chinese enterprises”, which is a positive development – but it remains to be seen if this commitment is honoured.
All in all, this visit could have produced better results. China has let itself down by missing a major opportunity provided by Modi to increase trust and transparency of intentions in its dealings with India.

The writer is a former
Foreign Secretary.

By EMN Updated: Sep 23, 2014 11:33:54 pm