The best assessment of the outcome of Narendra Modi's visit to China has been made by the Prime Minister himself. Twice on Friday, he referred to the inability of the two countries to fulfil their potential because of mistrust between them.
This time around,
there was no reference to the 2005 formulation that the SinoIndian
relationship was a “strategic and cooperative partnership“. The tone and
substance of the joint statement, which usually reflects areas of
agreement, was modest. Not surprisingly, it spoke of the “imperative of
forging strategic trust“.
In his media statement in Beijing on
Friday, Modi said he had, in his official talks, “stressed the need for
China to reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back
from realising full potential of our partnership“. Later, in a speech
at Tsinghua University, after outlining his plans and policies for India
and the potential of the China-India political and economic
partnership, Modi again emphasised the need to “address the issues that
lead to hesitation and doubts, even distrust, in our relationship“.
Such candour is not unusual in talks between government heads, but
Modi's insistent public references probably left the Chinese bemused.
For too long they have gone on with the cynical claim that China's ties
with Pakistan are not aimed at India, or that the border dispute is left
over from history and is best left for later generations to handle. The
simple fact is that Sino-Indian relations are now far too important to
be allowed to fester for decades, as they have.
that the Chinese leadership was “responsive“ to him, but it is clear
that they hesitated to act on his points. In his press remarks and
Tsinghua speech, Modi spoke of the need to clarify the Line of Actual
Control as a means of maintaining peace and tranquillity on the LAC, as
well as the need for progress on the stapled visa policy. But the joint
statement is silent on both issues.
In the same vein, there
subjects that the Chinese would have liked to have seen in the joint
statement, but they are not there. Tibet and one China are old hat, but
Beijing would have wanted a favourable reference to President Xi
Jinping's favourite scheme the One Belt One Road initiative that seeks
to build overland and maritime connectivity in Central Asia and the
Indian Ocean Region.
The reference to the border dispute in the
joint statement is anodyne. Both sides seem adamant in wanting to get
an “LAC plus“ settlement.
But there has clearly been forward
movement in the economic and peopleto-people ties. Investments could
come in railways and industrial parks, new consulates will be opened in
Chengdu and Chennai, initiatives to encourage province-to-province and
business-tobusiness relations will get a fillip through Indian e-visas.
As of now, many of the plans are on paper, but there is a logic to
closer India-China economic ties that cannot be ignored.
Still, as Modi pointed out, at present there is a self-limiting
trajectory to the relations. At its heart is a dark area of mistrust,
which is actually growing. In the 1962-2000 period, it was primarily
related to the memories of the war and China's backing of Pakistan, to
the extent of altering the strategic equations in South Asia by giving
them nuclear weapons and missiles.
But after 1988 China and
able to keep aside the problems, maintain peace on a disputed 4,000 km
border, build important economic relations and develop convergence on a
host of global governance issues.
Till the end of the Cold
War, with the Soviets on their side, India effectively balanced China.
Our GDPs and levels of technology were roughly the same. But in the
2000s things have changed rapidly and today China's GDP is five times
that of India; Russia is drifting towards China.After 2008 China has
come to be seen as a world power, bringing in its wake enormous
turbulence in the world order.
Yet, the Sino-Indian border
dispute continues to fester and the China-Pakistan relationship seems
even more solid, with little change in Islamabad's hostility towards
India or China's military commitment, the latest to the provision of
submarines capable of firing ballistic missiles.Layered upon this are
newer areas generating mistrust China's naval activity in the Indian
Ocean and the nature of relations with India's close neighbours,
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
So it is not surprising that
India, feeling the ground shifting beneath its feet, is furiously
modernising its military and racing to build its border infrastructure.
It is reaching out to democracies like the US and Japan to maintain a
balance of power, and this, in turn, following the logic of great power
competition, is scaring China.
In part the mistrust is
fostered by a difficulty in understanding how the Chinese system
functions. But rising China, instead of becoming more open and
democratic, remains opaque, determined to create an authoritarian
universe in its governance system, internet, media and international
But conflict is not inevitable. India and China have
themselves shown how it is possible to manage disputes. However, it
requires a pragmatic ability to confront festering issues and resolve
them. By being unusually forthright in his speeches in Beijing, that is
what Modi was trying to tell China.
Times of India May 18, 2015