Over A Cup of Brewing Tea
Organiser   09-May-2018

Prime Minister Modi broke new diplomatic grounds by taking Sino-Indian detente very unexpectedly on an informal course to promote cooperation and handle differences peacefully between the two countries 


Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in April last week. This "informal summit" between the two leaders has a great significance in the backdrop of recent tensions between India and China. The visit is also exceptional in the sense that Modi is scheduled to go to China again in June this year to participate in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Qingdao. It is usually uncommon for Indian leaders to visit China twice in such a quick succession.

This was Modi’s fourth visit to China since he became India’s Prime Minister and a second bilateral visit. His first bilateral visit to China took place in 2015, followed by a visit to Hangzhou for the G-20 Summit in 2016 and the BRICS Summit in Xiamen in 2017. However, increasing interaction is yet to translate into better cooperation.

On Indo-China cooperation, PM Modi listed five elements — “thought, communication, cooperation, dream and commitment” — and explained how these can become the strength for world peace, stability and prosperity. Xi said the two countries’ influence in the world, and in the region, is steadily on the rise. He added, “Looking ahead, we see vast space and a bright future for China-India cooperation.”

Modi and Xi decided to maintain peaceful, stable and balanced relations. They have decided to “handle differences” through peaceful discussions. Modi and Xi spoke about the importance of maintaining peace in all areas along the India-China border. In order to ensure peace in the region, they have agreed to strengthen communication in the management of border affairs.

Recognising the common threat posed by terrorism, PM Modi and Xi committed to cooperate on efforts in countering the menace in all its forms and manifestations. Both the countries would also work on a “joint economic project” in Afghanistan.

The two leaders have agreed to jointly contribute in facilitating sustainable solutions for global challenges including climate change, sustainable development, and food security.India and China will push forward in areas of bilateral trade and investment, and continue to promote their cultural and people-to-people exchanges. The two leaders have decided to hold more “informal summits” in the future — Modi has invited Xi to India next year — to engage is “direct, free and candid exchange of views”.

Modi and Xi decided to maintain peaceful, stable and balanced relations. They have decided to “handle differences” This thaw follows months of public standoff between India and China as well as a military stand-off which stretched to over 73-days. All through 2016 to 2017, ties were quite low as China took an anti-India position, whether it was membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, or stopping the UN sanctions against Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar. Delhi reciprocated by playing the Tibet card. Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama was allowed to visit Arunachal for a week in April last year and hold prayers at the Tawang monastery. The Dalai Lama has always been regarded by China as an enemy, a dangerous separatist in  monk’s robes. Despite China’s loud protests, Delhi gave a green signal for the visit. China had repeatedly warned against the visit, and later said it had affected ties with India.

China claims the entire Arunachal as its territory and regards the Tawang monastery as a part of South Tibet.

Even though Modi will be travelling to China for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit on June 9-10, the Indian leadership took the bold decision to make another earlier visit for the summit. The idea of an informal meeting is not to have a set agenda and engage in a free-flowing conversation between the two leaders.

There is a feeling in New Delhi that China has not demonstrated any reciprocal efforts to pacify India. On the contrary, China has engaged in additional efforts to boost its military forces in the Doklam area, as well as in other areas along the disputed Sino-Indian border. Construction of a new road and military posts (at least two) in Shaksgam Valley, north of Siachen Glacier, in the past few months also raises concerns. Shaksgam Valley is located in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and was ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963, although India does not acknowledge this and treats the Valley as part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

There is thus considerable doubt in India about the summit. Any progress on the bilateral front will be judged on whether Beijing shows some sensitivity to Indian concerns on the BRI and CPEC, on India’s NSG bid, and on terrorism. China’s rising influence and growing footprint in South Asia and Indian Ocean are of concern to India and China has not acted to reassure India about China’s long-term intentions.

China appears to believe that India has agreed to the Wuhan summit because New Delhi has recognised the follies of the so-called Indo-Pacific partnership with the United States and Japan and the ill-effects of that strategy on Sino-Indian relations. India hasn’t shown any compromise in its stance on crucial issues.  For instance, on the BRI, India holds that the so-called ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ violates India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Indeed, Sushma Swaraj reiterated this at the SCO Foreign Minister’s meeting and states: “Connectivity with SCO countries is India’s priority.  We want connectivity to pave the way for cooperation and trust between our societies. For this, respect for sovereignty is essential.  Inclusivity, transparency and sustainability are imperative. India has cooperated extensively with the international community for enhanced connectivity.” India has once again refused to endorse the BRI.

All of this, suggest that not much should be expected out of the informal summit. Indeed, beyond some general and temporary stabilisation of ties.

(The writer is a J&K based strategic and political analyst)