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22 July, 2014

Xi, Modi cosying up to each other

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

China-India relations appear set to enter a new stage, overcoming the mutual distrust left behind by the 1962 border war and presumed rivalry.

Both countries have new helmsmen who are ready to work together. Xi Jinping became president last year, and has a 10-year term under the succession formula the Communist Party of China has lately evolved.

Having secured a comfortable majority in the lower house of Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an assured term of five years. Given the demoralised state of the opposition, as of now, he can reasonably look forward to a second term.  

Modi’s electoral victory led to a race by foreign leaders to woo him. Xi had an advantage over US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin since Modi had been to China and was an admirer of its development. Although he made some harsh remarks on China during the election campaign, the Chinese reckoned that economic considerations would temper his hard nationalist line.

The China Daily, which often takes an ultranationalist position, wrote that Modi’s preoccupation with development, which echoes China’s own experiences and development philosophy, had inspired unprecedented optimism in the country over India’s growth potential.

“Western rhetoric about China and India,” it added, “is seldom free from a conception that the two countries are rivals, as if the two were destined to stand against each other. But the fact that Beijing and New Delhi have, by and large, managed their differences well over the decades is proof they do not have to be.”

Modi’s first month in office saw an exchange of high-level visits. Xi sent his Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, to New Delhi with a message in which he spelt out his vision of India-China relations. Noting that the two countries’ dreams of building their strength and improving the condition of their peoples had a lot of commonalities, he said they should make an in-depth convergence of their development strategy, support each other with their respective strengths, build a close development partnership and hold hands to realise peaceful, cooperative and inclusive development.

Pre-scheduled visits to China by India’s Vice-President, Hamid Ansari, and Army chief, Gen Bikram Singh, came in quick succession thereafter.

Xi told Ansari that India, as an important strategic partner, is a priority for Chinese diplomacy. Three agreements negotiated while the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in power were signed during Ansari’s visit. One of them envisages setting up industrial parks in India for Chinese investors.

Gen Bikram Singh’s discussions in China covered regional security and other issues of common concern. Although the border dispute which precipitated the 1962 war remains unresolved, the two countries have been holding joint military exercises since 2007. Last week Xi and Modi had their first meeting when they were in Brazil for the BRICS summit. What might have ended up as a meeting on the sidelines of the summit turned into an 80-minute exchange of ideas.

Xi reiterated his perception that, judging by bilateral, regional and global perspectives, China and India are longlasting strategic and cooperative partners rather than rivals. The Chinese news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying: “If the two countries speak in one voice, the whole world will listen attentively. If the two countries join hand in hand, the whole world will watch closely.”

In response, Modi said he was willing to maintain close and good working relations with Xi.

The Xinhua account indicates that Xi repeatedly used the term “strategic” while talking of China-India relations. The term was first used in the joint declaration issued by Prime Ministers Wen Jiabao and Manmohan Singh in 2005. In it they said the incremental improvement in the relations between the two countries had acquired a global and strategic character and they had, therefore, agreed to establish a strategic and cooperative partnership for peace and prosperity.

Wen’s successor, Li Keqiang, chose India for his first foreign visit as prime minister last October. He and Manmohan Singh signed an agreement establishing a framework to manage any situation that may emerge in the disputed border region. This has cleared the way for the two countries to proceed confidently with measures to improve bilateral relations.

The benefits to be expected from increased economic cooperation are a major factor that is bringing the two countries closer together. The recent decision to hold a joint anti-terrorism exercise later this year shows they are aware of the need to extend cooperation to other areas as well. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 22, 2014

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