New Delhi (Sputnik) — India and China are looking to infuse some vigor into their torpid relationship this weekend when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Chinese President Xi Jinping. Both countries are trying to downplay the efforts by declaring it an "informal" meeting but global leaders and strategists have been closely monitoring every development since Sunday when the foreign ministers of the two countries sat down in Beijing to thrash out the agenda for the meeting.
Sputnik spoke to Professor Bali R Deepak of the Center for Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, on the development.
Sputnik: After almost a year-long spell of aggressive posturing at the border, Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping are meeting this weekend. Do you see this as the Modi government's reversal of course on its relations with Beijing, after apparently realizing that its hard line on China was not working?
Prof. Bali R Deepak: First of all, it is a much-needed rebalancing of the relations from both the sides, for both have experienced two years of turbulence in their relations culminating in the 73-day long Doklam standoff. The confrontation not only harmed the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two, but also resulted in a sort of vicious cold war mentality of a zero-sum game. It appears that both have realized the futility of such a confrontation for many reasons.
Prof. Bali R Deepak: Firstly, both are important engines of global economic growth and have initiated various development strategies to uplift the living standards of their populations, a prolonged confrontation would vitiate the peaceful surrounding for executing such strategies; the confrontation would not only impact the bilateral security environment but also the regional as well global one.
Moreover, it is going to be a heart-to-heart talk between the two leaders where one and all issues pertaining to bilateral, regional and global interests will be on board. As I have argued all along that only a strong political will would result in the resolution of the border issue, and since both Prime Minister Modi and President Xi are strong-willed leaders, it remains to be seen if they can reach a milestone; if yes, it will be a game changer for future engagement as well as Modi's political future in India.
Secondly, it's the ongoing confrontational approach between the US and China.
Sputnik: How do you see this development in the backdrop of the Modi government preparing for the general elections?
Prof. Bali R Deepak: Many analysts are of the view that since the ruling party in India is in election mode, a breakthrough with China may strengthen it's voter constituency. It may if there is a breakthrough as regards the border issue. Increased amount of investment or imports from China to India may not necessarily augur well for Prime Minister Modi, as his party and Hindu nationalist forces have been crying foul over the "made in China" products sold in India, which in turn has projected Modi as a strongman standing up against a stronger China and enhanced his political capital. If the summit proves to be a damp squib, it will provide enough ammo to the opposition parties for Modi's capitulation.
Prof. Bali R Deepak: The China-US trade war is more than just a trade war. The US has realized that the so-called "free ride" by China has not only resulted in the unchanged ideological foundations of China but has also created a China that has emerged as a sole challenger to US hegemony. The US imposition of tariffs on China and a 7-year ban on China's telecom giant ZTE should be seen in this light. This is not only directed towards the "Made in China 2025" but also towards the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation, therefore is going to be a protracted contest. The Trump administration signing the travel law with Taiwan, and agreeing to a summit with North Korea should be seen in this light. Therefore, China's confrontation with India would be tantamount to getting besieged from all the sides, and would certainly not augur well for China's security as well as economic interests.
China's long-term strategic contest would be with the US rather than India, and no one knows that better than Beijing. A protracted confrontation with India will also push India closer to the US as regards its security, and India which so far has been exercising strategic autonomy in its foreign policy may be forced to align its security interests more closely with the US, a configuration which Beijing certainly may not like to see. Moreover, in the backdrop of the Sino-US trade war, there could be immense opportunities for India's exports, especially agricultural products including soybeans and other competitive products from India's IT and pharma industries, the same may be given greater market access, and there may be some consensus on this too.
Prof. Bali R Deepak: As regards the impact of reset or rebalancing in our neighborhood, I don't think it will have much impact, rather smaller neighbors would like to see a better rapprochement between India and China so as they could get the best from both. I believe there is going to be a consensus as regards stabilizing the security environment whether overland or maritime.
Sputnik: Can we now see India softening its approach toward the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as well?
Prof. Bali R Deepak: As far as the BRI is concerned, we must agree that we are part of it as the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation (BCIM) is one of the economic corridors of the BRI, India is part of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which is one of the important Banks supporting the Chinese Initiative. India and China may reach some consensus on China-Nepal-India, a new economic corridor proposed by China recently. India has been fine with the corridors as long as they are multilateral and do not impinge on its national sovereignty. India has recently promised to extend a railway line to Kathmandu, and so has China. No harm would be done if these connectivity initiatives are docked, thus enabling millions of landlocked people to reap the benefits of these initiatives.
The views and opinions expressed by Prof. Bali R Deepak in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the position of Sputnik.