India and China are posed for “an orbital jump” in bilateral relations marred by long-time rivalry and distrust. Would they manage? Radio VR is exploring the issue with Dr. Arthur Ding of the National Chengchi University in Taipei and Jagannath P. Pandaof IDSA, New Delhi.
The visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to India is seen as a watershed opening new possibilities for the two neighboring countries. The Chinese media has described the visit as "historic" that would mark the start of "another era". The two countries are expected to sign some 20 cooperation agreements in trade, investment, finance and infrastructure construction.
To quote India's National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the talks between the two leaders may also "open possibilities" for resolving the decades-old border dispute.
"I look forward to an in-depth exchange of views with Indian leaders on our bilateral relations during the visit, and to injecting new vitality into our strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity," Xi said in a signed article published Wednesday.
Indian PM Narendra Modi has coined a new slogan which says: "Inch (India and China) towards Miles (Millennium of Exceptional Synergy)".
So, how good are the chances that the two powers eventually succeed in moving away from historical rivalry and mistrust, and join their efforts to remain on the growth track despite the increasingly challenging global environment?
Says Dr. Arthur Ding, Research Fellow at the China Politics Division at the Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University (NCCU), Taipei:
“Well, at least, there are some factors. The first one is that India has the new leader. And I would say that the Chinese Government decided to take an advantage of this new leader, decided to develop some kind of a new relationship and break away from the past era’s tension. Second is that there is a need for China to improve the relations with India, so that China has a better so-called surrounding environment. So, I think that these two factors are driving the Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit India.
Generally speaking, the Chinese relations with India were not very good, in particular because of the so-called border issue in the past years. India has also complained about China’s support for Pakistan. So, there is a need for Xi Jinping to try to make some effort in this regard.
Talking of expanding cooperation between China and India, what exactly are we referring to? What are the areas of cooperation to be expanded?
Dr. Arthur Ding: I would say the area that we can mostly talk of, are, probably, the economics-related issues. For instance, China has a huge foreign reserve and China has money, and India really needs to develop the infrastructure for its economic development. So, the economic area is, probably, the most important area that both China and India can make efforts in, and, probably, can make some kind of progress. There is no doubt that the economics issue, as far as I can see, is the only sphere that both China and India can make efforts in.
But other than that, we can point to China-India border and the security, because China has been very active in the Indian Ocean. So, in the border and the security area, I don’t think progress will be made, but they will manage this kind of potential tension, so that the tension will not be escalated”.
Jagannath P. Panda, Research Fellow with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, India:
“Xi Jinping is the third Chinese leader to visit India after Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi already met in the BRICS summit in Brazil this year, and this is the first time they are meeting in Asia. So, therefore, that is a very significant visit and, moreover, there is a connotation to it, there is a saying that when China and India shake hands, the whole world watches.
So, therefore, the Chinese President coming to India and meeting the Indian Prime Minister is a highlighted news and attracts a lot of attention.
Dr. Panda, before coming to India Mr. Xi visited the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
Jagannath P. Panda: We shouldn’t be linking the Chinese President’s visit to Sri Lanka and Maldives to India, because Xi Jinping’s visit to India has special connotations and it is different from Xi Jinping’s visit to Sri Lanka and Maldives. But again, if we look at it from a purely strategic point of view, we know that the Chinese are interested to have a better share of involvement in the South Asia.
And, therefore, there are some strategic implications for India and for the rest of the region. When Xi Jinping decided to visit Sri Lanka, then he decided to go to Maldives and then come to India, there is a strategic thing attached to it – that China probably wants a better space, a better opportunity, better involvement in the South Asia. And has the implications for India, as well as for the India-China relations.
Having said that, I think that Xi Jinping’s visit to India has to be seen on its own merit, has to be seen on a special account. It shouldn’t be confused with China-Sri Lanka and China-Maldives visit. Today India-China relations are quite autonomous and independent. China is the number two economy in the world and India is the number three economy in the world. There is a great level of trade and economic engagement happening between the two countries. There is a great scope for greater political interests between the two countries. The two countries are linked to Russia and other emerging countries in the BRICS forum. And there are other forums, like the basic Climate Change grouping where India and China are engaged.
And in that sense, the US is going to see it as an additional challenge to the American interests in the region…
Jagannath P. Panda: No, I think if you try to look at it from India’s foreign policy’ point of view, I think we do give equal importance to all the four major countries in the world currently – be it the US, be it China, be it Russia or be it Japan. All of these countries have their own merit and their own status and standing in the Indian foreign policy today. Similarly, from the Chinese foreign policy’s point of view, China has a special track relationship with the US, despite their differences with the US.
So, I think that the 21st century foreign policy of countries is based on exclusive bearing and, therefore, I don’t think the US needs to be bothered about India-China cooperation. I think India-China cooperation has been exclusive. It has volatile connotation, it has regional connotation, as well as global connotations and the US shouldn’t read this too much.
Mr. Modi has mentioned what he described as “Miles — millennium of exceptional synergy”.
Jagannath P. Panda: If you look at Modi’s statement, he implied that now the time has come when inches have to be converted into miles. What did he actually mean? Inch means: in – India, ch – China. This means that now relationship has been limited to the bilateral level. India-China relations have been bilaterally-centric so far. Now, the time has come to move it to Miles — to a longer distance. And, therefore, he meant that now the time has come when India and China can expand their cooperation and relationships to the regional level, to cross-regional level, cross-continental level and to the global level.
There is a tremendous scope for the bilateral relations to be expanded from bilateral regime to multilateral regime, from bilateral level to regional and global. Today both India and China are the strong actors in the global governance issues, they are stronger economies today, they are stronger maritime powers, they are stronger political powers. So, their voice, their decisions matter in the global decision making process.
Therefore, Prime Minister Modi was hinting that now the time has come when India and China relations must move forward, from a bilaterally-centric to a globally-centric one.
And in practical terms, what does that mean? What are the practical steps both parties are going to take?
Jagannath P. Panda: If we try to understand India-China relations in the last two decades, on the one hand, the trade and economic relationship has gone up and we have a massive economic engagement between both countries. But, on the other hand, the political and the security issues between the two countries have also become very sensitive. The boundary problem has become more problematic. Then, the Tibetan issue, the arguments have deepened.
Then, there is a whole lot of issues in the border regions. For example, the Chinese activities in the PoK and the emerging conflict over the water sharing dispute. So, all of these issues have affected the bilateral political and security relationship.
Having said that, I think that what you are going to see in the next few years is that India and China will start, probably, a new kind of relationship. And the new kind of relationship will be building a lot of confidence and political trust. And probably, you will see Modi and the Chinese President Xi Jinping signing a lot of agreements, which will be about more confidence-building measures, more confidence-building-centric agreements, in my understanding.
You will equally see a lot of agreements taking place on the economic side, as well as a lot of agreements taking place on the political and security side, which will help both countries to boost confidence in each other. Having said that, there will be challenges, there will be difficult issues coming up.
But, again, as you know, both Prime Minster Modi and President Xi Jinping, they are the strong personalities. They are the pragmatic leaders. They are economy-oriented leaders. So, probably, their personalities will matter a lot. And I would say that in the last decade of India-China relations, it was Hu Jintao and the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh-centric. The next coming decade in India-China relations is going to be Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi-centric. Both these personalities are going to change India-China relations in a big way.
What is the difference between the previous pair of leaders and the Xi-Modi duo?
Jagannath P. Panda: I think that the current leaders are quite pragmatic and versatile. They are strong, they are pragmatic and practical. The previous leaders relied a lot on the institutional mechanisms to sort out the problems, the political and the security differences. And that certainly didn’t work out. But the current leaders, the new leadership, they rely on their personality and the political efforts.
Prime Minister Modi has got an absolute majority in the Indian Parliament, he has got strong support across the nation. Similarly Xi Jinping, he is the strong leader in the Chinese political history. He is the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, he is the top leader of the PLA today, he is the Chairman of the CMC (Central Military Commission), and then, he is one of those leaders who are very confident in the Chinese political will today.
And, therefore, what you will see is a new kind of decision making efforts coming from the both sides. And this decision making approach will be more leadership-centric. The leaders will jump into taking a call and they will take a political call on most of the sensitive issues. Therefore, the new leadership will bring the new leadership issue, their personalities into account. And I think that is going to create a lot of confidence between India and China”.