China-India relations

In a shifting world, India and China must look closer at ties that bind

Neeta Lal says despite the current rancour in the air, Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit presents a good opportunity to focus on shared goals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 August, 2016, 3:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 August, 2016, 5:40pm

Strain and drift appear to define the mood in the run-up to Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s (王毅) visit to New Delhi.

There’s rancour in India over recent incursions by the People’s Liberation Army in a contentious Himalayan region that is a legacy of their brief 1962 war and continues to bedevil the bilateral relationship.

Moreover, India is still smarting over China stalling its bid to join the 48-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group in June on the grounds that it is a not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Also rankling is Beijing’s decision to put on “technical hold” a ban sought by India at the UN on Pakistan-based militant Masood Azhar, responsible for a slew of terror attacks in India.

India’s visa U-turn on Chinese dissidents a sign of its lightweight diplomacy

Both actions, India feels, are calculated to thwart its rise. New Delhi retaliated by issuing visas to Uygur separatist leaders to attend a conference of Chinese dissidents in Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama. Though the visas were later withdrawn, Delhi’s action left Beijing seething. The expulsions of three India-based Xinhua journalists following “concerns” flagged by Indian intelligence added to the bilateral dissonance.

China obliquely hinted last month that it could well side with Pakistan in the Kashmir dispute if relations with Delhi deteriorate further. This Sino-Pakistan linkage has led New Delhi to see a greater conjoined threat to its security.

Increased cosiness with Pakistan has seen Beijing decide to invest US$46 billion in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. In contrast, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has yet to endorse President Xi Jinping’s ( 習近平 ) pet “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure programme that will pass through Pakistan as well as the troubled Kashmir region.

To secure regional interests, India is looking increasingly to the US, its largest weapons supplier in recent years and whose “pivot to Asia” policy gels well with Delhi’s “Look East” initiative for Southeast Asia. But policy watchers feel Modi is too shrewd to let India be used by the US mainly to contain China.

Modi’s China policy seems to be working on two levels; while it is subtly disapproving of Beijing at the global level, a constructive bilateral agenda is simultaneously at work, resulting in Chinese foreign direct investment to India more than doubling, to over US$2 billion since Modi came to power.

Observers point out that Modi and Xi are too goal-driven and focused on national interest to risk jeopardising bilateral ties. They also realise that China and India’s combined resources and talents can power regional and global economic growth.

Wang’s visit can be a good sounding board to assess just how vital it is to eschew petty rivalries and focus on convergences.

Neeta Lal is a New Delhi-based senior journalist