Last week, Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to India was high on drama and low on substance, at least that’s how it appears. Jinping’s visit to India was only the third such visit by a Chinese President since 1996. This does suggest a welcome thaw in the relationship at the political level, but much more is needed to take the relationship to the desired level of trust and openness between the two neighbors who are not at ease with each other. In a series of firsts, Prime Minister Narendra Modi received Xi at Ahmedabad, which signifies the onset of regional diplomacy in India. Possibly for the first time, agreements were signed at the regional (Gujarat state) level on sister cities, sister states and development related issues. Unlike his predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan have shown remarkable flexibility and were at ease during the Sabarmati River side events. It is said that both Jiang and Hu were very stiff during their interactions not only with domestic actors but with foreign leaders as well. During the Sabarmati trip, Xi displayed flexibility by squatting at the Mahatma’s floor, trying his hand at charkha, sitting along with Peng on a jhoola, etc. But all said and done, some happenings are just too big to ignore.
Takeaways from the visit
Definitely one area of significance is civil nuclear energy cooperation where in China has shown a keen interest after the Australian offer of uranium sale to India and Japanese consideration of a nuclear deal to sell nuclear plants and components to India.
Both the countries also agreed on specific steps to enhance cooperation in upgrading India’s railways sector – that like Japan, China too is eyeing keenly.
Besides this, the ‘Five-year Trade and Economic Development Plan’ signed during the visit seeks to reduce the bilateral trade imbalance and strengthen investment cooperation among other things, granting a greater market access to Indian products in pharmaceuticals, handicrafts, textile, bovine meat, oil meals, basmati and non-basmati rice, fruits and vegetables.
Some other significant takeaways are:
- Thrust on people-to-people contacts, culture, tourism and art.
- Opening of a new route through Nathu La to Kailash Mansarovar.
- Proposed investment of $20 billion over next five years in setting up of two Chinese industrial parks in Maharashtra and Gujarat.
- Sister city pact between Guangzhou and Ahmedabad for closer cooperation between local authorities.
But Everything that glitters is not GOLD
Just when it appeared that bilateral relations are improving between the two sides, the ghosts of the past paid a visit and disturbed the bubbling bonhomie between the two neighbors. The reason for this derailing was the intrusion on Sept 18th; of 1000 PLA soldiers in Southern Ladakh, one of the two contested regions along the Sino-Indian border. The troops were bringing heavy equipment and claiming to build a “provisional road”. This was known at the end of the afternoon, just an hour before the banquet that Modi had called in the honor of his guest. Therefore, while 1500 Indian soldiers were dispatched on the spot, Modi asked Xi to get his troops away – Xi acquiesced. However till Friday the 19th, the Chinese troops were still holding ground. They eventually retreated – but dispatched a small group of 35 men to pitch tents: when this was reported in Delhi, whatever confidence was subsiding in the visiting party evaporated.
It would be really hard to explain what to conclude out of this visit. Contrary to the expected $100 billion Chinese investment in India, President Xi offered just a token of $20 billion, much less than $35 billion that Japan committed to India just few days ahead of Xi visit. The major spoilsport was Chinese troop’s intrusion and the conspicuous timing of it; just during the time of the meeting. The indication that the visit didn’t yield what was desired can be derived from the fact that both leaders ended the talks on separate communiqués. A hard to miss outcome was that there was a lack of agreement between the two sides. Yet, not to forget, persistence and optimism have been the characteristics of this relationship since its inception and if the emerging personal chemistry between the two leaders of two rising Asian countries is something to go by, as well wishers we can only hope that – thoda time lagega but ache din aane wale hai.
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