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India China relations — The significance of Modi-Xi Meet


On April 28, 2018, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan were seen walking together along a sidewalk on the shores of the enchanting East Lake, a large freshwater lake in Wuhan city, also the largest urban lake in China. And this “relaxed and friendly”, in a bright and sunny atmosphere, meeting between the two leaders was publicized as an “Informal Summit”.

modi-xi at east lake

According to the government, Mr Modi and Mr Xi exchanged their views on major issues of bilateral and global importance and that they shared the view that, in the middle of current global uncertainties, peaceful, stable and balanced relations between India and China will be beneficial for the world. Even Pakistan.

They later enjoyed freshly prepared Chinese tea, and had a boat ride — the ride that was claimed to be a symbol of “peace, prosperity and development”.

After pondering over this for few hours, I did realize that the boat ride does represent something. Though still not sure about “peace, prosperity and development”, what I figured out is that it represents the bond of Asian heritage between the two nations sending out a message that they can get along together instead of holding grudge and antipathy against each other. That the two giants do not represent conflict but cooperation. That both of them together assert the vision of the Asian century. 

modi xi and china tea

My mind was full of optimism until realism started to knock the door shouting “Hey, diplomacy is not all about sipping tea and riding boat!”. Anyway, if an hour-long boat ride can solve the itchy issues between two global giants competing for their dominance, I don’t think there can be a better way than this.

The bilateral relations between the two Asian giants bilaterally is not too bad, it’s just “not good”. The dragon knows how to bully someone with one hand and do business with the other. There is a red carpet for one-way business while their communist red flag in someone else’s territory over which they have no sovereignty. But Mr Modi himself is a good businessman who knows how to keep unnecessary emotions out from his business — which presently is India’s business.

First and foremost concern that both countries share is to continue to expand their country’s economy and not letting it go haggard. In other words, they would like to maintain their pace of economic growth, if not accelerate it. It is India again which has to do a lot of hard-work of persuasion. To combat the massive trade imbalance with China which clearly has an upper hand with a huge trade surplus. If statistics are to be analyzed, India's imports ($61 billion) from China were six times its exports ($10 billion) in 2016-17. In the April-January period of 2017-18, India’s exports to China were $10.3 billion against imports of $63.2 billion leaving a trade gap of $52.9 billion. China has promised to reduce the same but India should not be content with the empty hopes.

Like the west, It is India’s large market that is luring the dragon. Chinese make affordable goods that are always in high demand in countries like India. Whatever bad they say about Chinese products, but it is the Chinese who make “everything” affordable.

Indians, especially kids, are already mesmerized by Chinese Kung-fu films and its most decorated superstar Jackie Chan. And, Chinese foods are available at every nooks and corner of the country. Notwithstanding all this exposure, there is very little cultural exchange happens between India and China, even when both countries being rich in culture. Now China, too, has begun to embrace Bollywood films like 3 idiots, Dangal and Aamir Khan. the government must remind Chinese that India is not just about Bollywood. Any efforts in further widening cultural exchange programmes and opening more tourist opportunities should be welcomed in both countries.

India does acknowledge the growing power disparity with China and recognizes it as a “superpower”. But, at the same time, consider the dragon largely irresponsible. When it acts according to whim. When the dragon invades its neighbour territory claiming it as its own. A Hindi term “dadagiri” can appropriately be utilized for China’s intimidating behaviour which means treating everyone as an inferior by those in a higher position.

While India needs China’s aid in certain things such as taming Pakistan based jihadist organizations, getting membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) — that China is blocking for a long time. India also wants China as a mutual trading partner not just playing the role of an importer but exporter too. Business or trade with the Chinese is here to stay, but it cannot go further. For security concerns the possibility of cooperation in defence is negligible.

During the standoff between Indian and Chinese armed forces at Dokalam, Chinese media which has tight control of the state was issuing “daily warning” to India. The governments at both sides got involved in a war of words. But, the two powers have behaved extremely well. It is the immunity of Modi and Xi that de-escalated tensions and settled the struggle peacefully. However, it is yet to be fully solved.

The border issue is not going to be solved between the two countries. The reason for this is China’s deliberate intentions for the same. By keeping the so-called border issues alive, China can invoke that any time to bully a state. It is actually an undeclared part of its foreign policy.

The last word

Both India and China are giants in terms of economy and population and certain other parameters, for that matters. On the global stage, China's military (PLA) is now increasingly flexing its muscles, unlike the Indian counterpart. The simultaneous emergence of the two countries as major global power could have caused far ugly consequences in the region as a result of the power struggle. It is perhaps the great Asian wisdom and the teachings of Buddha, that both India and China share, has prevented it so far.

Nevertheless, both countries know that they cannot be an “ally”, in its true sense, they can cooperate for their respective country’s economic growth and development. So when Modi and Xi met, it wasn't just meeting between two men but meeting of 1.25 billion Indians and 1.41 billion Chinese — about one-third of the world's population. They might have their differences, but they share the same goal — to make their economy grow and make their countrymen prosper. India-China relation is a fine example of conflict and cooperation at the same time.

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