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After Masood, time to think larger connect between the India and China

by Priti Prakash | PUBLISHED: Jun 23, 2019, 5:45 am IST

Priti Prakash
Priti Prakash
Out of the three significant issues that majorly dot India China relations, NSG and BRI being the others, UN sanctions on global terrorist Masood Azhar, given a leg up by China lately, can be said to be the start of realizing of the Wuhan spirit on which a lot of indirect capital has been invested by Prime Minister Modi. In that template both leaders, Xi Jinping and Modi recently met at the SCO summit in Biskek and will be meeting soon again at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. Both leaders are aware of their powers as big nations, of not just the region but in the present global structure and are willing to walk the talk.

In this rapidly changing geo political geo economic scenario India China relations are being watched by the world. US China in a tug of war over trade and tariff, Gulf feeling the looming of war as tensions rise in the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and US, North Korea trying hard to convince US of its non nuclear intentions and the EU struggling hard to keep its stock intact, are some of the major touch points which have the potential of pushing the world order to a brink. In such times relations between India and China can be positively leveraged to exemplify peace and growth in the whole region.

“We should make joint efforts to make China-India friendship and cooperation surge forward like the Yangtze river and the Ganges, write a new chapter in the tango between the ‘dragon’ and the ‘elephant’, and enable the ‘Peacock’ and ‘Phoenix’ to fly in unison,” former envoy to India Luo Zhaohui said a couple of months before returning back to his country in May 2019.

Foreign experts have rightly pointed out that our ties with China range from being complex to that of both cooperation as well as competition. Any two large neighboring countries in their relationship is likely to be complex and difficult, as they are likely to have strong opinions on most issues and are unlikely to share identical or similar perspectives on many bilateral or international issues.

At Wuhan after Doklam it was analyzed and India and China independently came to the decision that it was much more important to have a relatively harmonious and balanced relationship between the two most populous states on this globe and that talking to each other was important.

Legacy of boundary issues

Even though India and China have differences of opinion about the boundary between them we do agree that some of these boundary related issues have been left to us by history which makes it incredibly difficult due to the nature of our borders. Interestingly both nations have agreed that even while we attempt to resolve the boundary issue, we shall do our very best at maintaining peace and tranquility on the border. Defence sources say elaborate and fairly successful Standard Operating Procedures have been put into place to ensure that our Armed Forces do not get into situations which will raise temperatures in the relatively cool climes of the India – China boundary. Yet, we have had what we call as “close proximity situations” at Depsang in 2013, at Chumar in 2014 and most recently at Doklam in 2017. Why do such situations take place at all!

Experts believe and there is no denying that better technologies and more importantly better roads available to both sides (the Indian Armed Forces also have better roads on our side of the border as compared to 20 or 25 years ago) have brought the two armed forces closer on this border than ever before in history. In this scenario, if any one of the two sides makes an attempt to change the status quo or a set pattern of behaviour, there is an immediate reaction from the other side. This is exactly what happened in each of these instances in 2013, 2014 and 2017. In each case, the Chinese PLA attempted to change the status quo on our frontier and in each case the Indian Army blocked such an attempt. Once the status quo was resumed, the situation went back to normal, although it may be a new normal.

The inside of the reachout

Since both Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping were keen to bring the bilateral India – China relationship on to an even keel, they agreed to meet at an informal summit at Wuhan. Former Ambassador to China Gautam Bambawale says, ''The idea of an informal summit meant that there was no need for the bells and whistles of a formal state visit but the two leaders could spend a whole lot of time by themselves, talking to each other on any subject they felt was important for a strategic conversation. The offer to have the Summit at Wuhan in central China was made by the Chinese side, since they felt they had the facilities for such a meeting there and because Prime Minister Modi had not visited Wuhan before this event. Eventually, PM Modi and President Xi spent anywhere from 8 to 10 hours communicating with each other on some of the important bilateral, regional and global issues of the day. They also spoke to each other about the history and culture of their respective countries and societies, thereby adding to understanding and trust in each other.'' The meeting was a reiteration of our belief that India and China can talk with one another rather than past each other. That is why the High Level Mechanism to boost such contacts was established and held its first meeting in December 2018 led by the Foreign Ministers of the two countries. The importance of being sensitive to the concerns of the other country was an integral aspect.

Experts on China believe that one of the understandings emanating from the Informal Summit at Wuhan was the fact that although the Governments of India and China have been in close touch over the decades and even though business has boomed over the past few years, the one area of bilateral contact which lacks intensity is people-to-people exchanges. Given the fact that India and China are the two most populous nations on earth, that we are ancient civilizations with our own individual ways of thinking, it is very important to foster greater interaction between our peoples.

China has changed due to the fast paced economic growth she has undergone in last 3 decades. Bollywood films are popular amongst the youth of that country. Rising popularity of Yoga in China comes from its obvious health benefits and enhance understanding amongst ordinary people.

Controlling the rising trade deficit 

According to Ministry of Commerce India's trade deficit with China stood at $53 billion in 2018-19. Such a large and expanding deficit is dictated by the very composition of bilateral trade. When we mainly export primary produce to China while importing every kind of manufactured product including iron and steel, electronic items, power equipment and mobile handsets then we will end up with a trade deficit which will increase over time. Even if we are able to sell more rice, sugar, tea, sapota and mangoes to China it will not bridge the trade gap. Therefore, as Ambassador Bambawale says, that we need to focus not so much on the Balance of Trade in our bilateral payments but on Invisibles.

Spinoff Tourism sector

Another area which is untouched and untapped between the dragon and the elephant is tourism. Working towards attracting more Chinese tourists to India can be an unimaginably lucrative situation. This will prove to be a less herculean task as compared with selling more pharmaceuticals or software in the Chinese market that invite huge non tariff barriers. A public-private effort by India can result in up to 1.5 million Chinese tourists visiting our country by 2020.

Our Buddhist trail will be attractive but so too will our beaches, our mountain resorts, our temples and other historical sites. We must focus our efforts in this direction. For this we should undertake a massive marketing effort in China to ensure that our message of Incredible India goes down from the metropolitan cities to the Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities where the real heft of Chinese tourism abroad comes. The results will be quick and very obvious. They will not merely help us meet our tourism targets but will provide employment to large numbers of our countrymen and women, while balancing out our trade deficit. It will have the additional spinoff that understanding of the other country will be enhanced amongst our peoples.

Tapping Education market

As per a study of the Pune Plan of Action on India China Relations, Indian Universities have the potential to attract more Chinese students. What we only need to do is to provide these potential students a rationale and a value proposition of why they should study in India rather than in the United States, the UK, Australia or Canada. That value proposition can be to do their Bachelors degree in India, learn fluent English in the process and then at the Master’s level, the student will have a good shot at relatively easy admission into and study at Universities in any of the western countries. Once again we will need to market this well and we shall be surprised at the interest we can generate amongst the Chinese youth. I suspect that the new private Universities in India may be able to pull in many more Chinese students in a 3 year perspective due to their cleaner premises, better catering facilities and good faculty and curricula.

International Solar Alliance

Amongst international and global issues there are many where India and China do see eye to eye and on which we work together. In the context of the stellar work done by the BASIC countries of India, China, Brazil and South Africa in the context of climate change negotiations. Today, India must devote some energy and persuasion to convincing China to become a member of the International Solar Alliance or ISA. There is little doubt that this will be a win-win proposition as China will benefit from becoming a member and the ISA will gain from China’s membership. Now that Japan and Saudi Arabia have joined this international organization, China is very likely to follow suit if we devote some attention and time to them, according to a report of the Pune based think tank.

Railways, a good idea

On the economic side, India and China can work together on modernizing one of our railway stations. All those who have travelled in China have been impressed by the nature and state of her infrastructure including her railway stations. Many Indians have admiringly stated that, Chinese railway stations look and feel like airports. Since India is working on modernizing her railway stations surely there can be some way we can include China in this effort. We shall have to work on and perfect a financial model which works for both countries and for the firms from both nations involved in this work. If we are able to build and finalize such a model we will indeed be in business, say experts.

Water and trans-boundary rivers

The subject of trans-boundary rivers is one which has received considerable attention in both India and China. The Brahmaputra, in particular, and Chinese dam building and other construction on that river is a matter of great concern in the lower riparian countries such as India and Bangladesh. Recent experience is that China, although very cagey on this subject, and all the while playing up the fact that they are cooperating even though it is not mandatory for them to do so, has indeed worked with India in several instances particularly when a blockage of the main body of that river in Tibet is likely to burst and cause potential havoc downstream in India. Chinese and Indian authorities have stayed awake through the night in certain recent cases exchanging data and information on the flood level and in projecting when the flood peak is likely to reach the populated and settled areas in India. In some cases such warnings and continuous monitoring of the situation has enabled the affected areas in India to either evacuate those segments of its population living in the low lying areas which were likely to be submerged or helped them in putting out a more general alert. Such recent cooperation has been under the radar but needs to be acknowledged adequately. It provides hope that trans boundary rivers could become an area of cooperation rather than one of contention.

The sense overall is that an India – China relationship on relatively even keel, will not and does not restrict our diplomatic space with the rest of the world. In fact, it enhances the scope for India to do more with Russia as well as the United States, with Japan as well as Europe and ASEAN. The only challenge is internal, whether we shall have the bandwidth to be able to expand our interaction with all our partners.

As China rises and India grows to reclaim their earlier positions on the world stage as two of the largest economies and most important countries, there will indeed be some contention between these two powers. There will also be plenty of space and room for cooperation amongst the two of us. That while there will remain some areas of competition between India and China, cooperation will be the dominant theme between us.

China experts say, ''While it is going to be one of the most important relationships of the 21st Century there is very little doubt that both countries and their Governments will have to navigate incredibly difficult waters as they move ahead on their respective paths of regaining their historical, pre-eminent places in the world order. Predictably, there will indeed be ups and downs in this bilateral relationship, but it will also be immensely important for each of our nations to work hard at ensuring a balanced but forward looking approach to our ties. Only such greater interaction and the resultant understanding will provide the basis for a better relationship between us and make each of us more sensitive to the other.'' There's a huge world out there for cooperation.

Tags: #India China relations #Political Blog #India China trade #India Tourism #Clickty Click Blog
Priti Prakash
Priti Prakash

Political Commentator, Interviewer, moderator and Foreign Correspondent. With more than 15 years in journalism and experience of both print and electronic medium, she is Editor FacenFacts, news website and Managing Director, Dream Press Consultants Ltd