ONE YEAR OF MODI Chinese Checkers

All the bonhomie and bytes of the Modi visit notwithstanding, the China challenge remains

By Kanwal Siba

modi for his development agenda for India. In his calculations, China has the financial resources, expertise in infrastructure building and need for external markets and project opportunities for its sectoral over-capacities to want to reciprocate. To smoothen conditions, Modi wants to im­prove the political atmosphere. He exhibited unprecedented boldness in speaking publicly in China about the need to re­solve issues relating to the border and Chinese policies in our neighbourhood. By bringing issues hitherto evaded publicly to the forefront of the bilateral agenda he has created pressure for an early resolution, which is an advantage.odi is wooing china economically

But the disadvantage could be that if no pro­gress is made, the policy of delinking politi­cal differences from economic engagement might become more difficult to sustain.

As against the joint statement in Beijing which says that outstanding differences, in­cluding on the boundary question, should not be allowed to come in the way of contin­ued development ofbilateral relations, Modi stressed in his joint press conference with premier Le Keqiang that China needed to “reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realising the full potential of our partnership” and “take a strategic and long-term view of our relations”. He reiterated the importance of clarifying the Line of Actual Control and achieving tangible progress on issues relating to visa policy and trans-border rivers.

In his address at the Tsinghua University, Modi was more
feisty in pointing out that if the two countries “have to realise the extraordinary potential of our relationship, we must als< address the issues that lead to hesitation and doubts, ever distrust, in our relationship”. He called for “deeper strategic communication to build mutual trust and confidence” so as to “ensure that our relationships with other countries do n become a source of concern to each other”. Unusually at h level, he frontally sought China’s support for India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council and membership the Nuclear Suppliers Group. He has now outlined his politi­cal expectations from China in the years ahead. If progress ir meeting them is not achieved in a reasonable time-frame, his economic agenda with China could become more vulnerable.

The joint statement repeats the cliched language on the boundary question, with emphasis still on improved border management. The much touted One Belt One Road (OBOR initiative finds no mention in the joint statement, despite the importance president Xi attaches to it. Indeed, Modi noted pointedly in his address at Tsinghua University that “there are projects we will pursue individually”, which cold-shoulders Of the 24 agreements signed during the visit, only the ones relating to the opening of our respective consulates in Chengdu and Chennai and space cooperation are significant China’s proposal to link the Mausam and Spice Route pro­jects to OBOR. Why Modi mentioned progress in the BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) Economic Corridor in his Tsinghua speech, in addition to its mention in the joint statement, is baffling as the danger of allowing our northeast to drift into China’s economic orbit is self-evident. Significantly, the j oint statement this time contains no reference to maritime cooperation and security in the Asia-Pacific region.

We have again thanked China’s foreign ministry and the government of “the Tibetan Autonomous Region of the Peo­ple’s Republic of China” for facilitating the Kailash Manasa- rover Yatra, despite China’s continued stridency on Arunachal Pradesh. Perhaps this was a quid pro quo for the stronger formulation on terrorism in the joint statement and the sepa- ratejoint statement on climate change that fully meets India’s needs before the December climate change summit in Paris where attempts to isolate India would be made. The reference in the joint statement to the “commonalities” in the approach of the two countries to global arms control and nonprolifera­tion whitewashes China’s historical and current proliferation activities in Pakistan for the dubious recompense of China “noting” our aspirations to join the NSG. That Modi himself announced at the last minute the grant of e-visas to the Chi­nese, without obtaining satisfaction on the stapled visa issue, raises questions about policy making. Of the 24 agreements signed during the visit, only the ones relating to the opening of
our respective consulates in Chengdu and Chennai and space cooperation are significant.

The driving force behind Modi’s wooing of China being economics, the outcome there was of most interest. However, the joint statement largely repeats what was said in Septem­ber 2014 during Xi’s visit about the scope of cooperation and addressing India’s concerns about market access, except that a high-level working group would now look into the latter. Railways sector cooperation and the establishment of two industrial parks have featured prominently during this visit also. The $20 billion figure of Chinese investments in India in the next five years or more — for optical effect — was not men­tioned this time. The 26 “agreements” signed at Shanghai were mostly MOUs with the private sector with no binding value in renewable energy, power, steel and so on. Even financing of pri­vate Indian companies by Chinese banks has been put on the positive ledger. That these MOUs, if and when implemented, are potentially worth $22 billion, is an excusable PR exercise that all countries resort to in order to embellish the economic “success” of visits by their leaders abroad. Will China’s unfet­tered entry into key areas such as renewable energy give them eventually a grip over such sectors at the cost of local industry is a point to consider.

All in all, the China challenge for India remains.

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