India-China ties in the Modi era

It remains to be seen how the sum and substance of a complex relationship like this pans out over the months.

Seema Mustafa May 30, 2014
The writer is a consulting editor with The Statesman and writes for several newspapers in India

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to India, while perhaps, inevitable, given the invitation extended to him by the new prime minister of India, did not really break new ground. In fact, by the time the rather tense visiting prime minister left, the bonhomie of the first day when he attended Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oath-taking ceremony, had been overtaken by the clear reluctance of the Indian side to commit beyond a ‘perhaps’, thereby leaving the state of bilateral relations almost as these were before.

Of course, it can be argued that one visit cannot fling open doors, but then the Indian focus remained on terrorism while Nawaz was not able to really go beyond generalities in the brief statement he read out to the media and left for the airport without taking questions. A scheduled press conference never did happen.

This is in marked contrast to the fast moving relations with China, with both countries moving within hours towards high-level visits, people-to-people interactions, with Beijing in particular discarding its customary cautious approach to embrace Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Chinese premier Li Keqiang was amongst the first to congratulate Modi on his victory. And within a couple of days followed it with a phone call in which he conveyed his government’s desire to establish a “robust partnership with the new government for further development of relations between the two nations”. Modi himself said that China was a priority in India’s foreign policy and that he wanted to work closely with Beijing on all issues, including border issues and economic development.

Unlike as it was in the past, when Beijing preferred to watch and wait from the sidelines, this time the attitude is not just positive but positively aggressive in forging new ties. It seems as if the Chinese leadership has got wind of Modi’s disinclination to rush towards Washington, given the visa ban imposed by the US on him, and is moving ahead at full speed.

Of course, as all know, there is always many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip, and more so when India’s relations with countries like Pakistan and China are concerned. It was not so long ago that the Indian media was up in arms about the reported Chinese intrusions into Indian territory, with the same news channels who are celebrating the new steps forward, virtually calling for action in the strident tones that have become peculiar to South Asian media these days.

The significance thus lies, for the moment at least, in not what happens next but the new government’s priorities in foreign policy. Afghanistan is one clear such area, with the vigorous handshake between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Modi at variance with the stiffer Nawaz-Modi meeting. This despite the fact that Karzai is on his way out and Afghanistan will soon have a new president. India and Afghanistan found a meeting ground on terrorism with doors opening for closer cooperation at different levels.

China is clearly a top priority. In fact, India is saying less than China at the moment with Chinese experts hastening to embrace the emerging relationship, and articles in the media there speaking effusively of the shared ‘dreams’ of the two countries. This is a sequel, one must recall, to Modi’s four-day visit to China when he was just the chief minister of Gujarat as a counter to the US refusal to grant him a visa. The red carpet was rolled out for him during that visit and courtesies normally reserved for heads of government extended to him.

But then, long-term relations are not just about the red carpet and courtesy. It remains to be seen how the sum and substance of a complex relationship like this pans out over the months. However, the one positive indicator that there might be a difference in this beginning, as compared to others in the past, is the aggressively friendly approach that Beijing has adopted.

China’s envoy to India, Wei Wei, for instance, wrote an article in a newspaper here saying that both governments “are able and wise enough” to maintain “peace and tranquillity in the border areas” as he identified international platforms for both to work together on.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2014.

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Rex Minor | 8 years ago | Reply

Madam Seema Mustafa is a brilliant writer and has the talent and the ability as well to grasp the situation about the developing moments of History. Her article has laid out the developments in India and the coming relation building exercise for Mr Modi whose major problem is to manage the deterioating domestic situation and the dwindling economic growth. On the international level there are indications that the 3rd WW conflict is very likely to start in Asia, now that both India and Japan encouraged by the USA and backed up by relatively smaller countries including vietnam and phillipines, are preparing to challenge China's further expansion in energy areas to maintain its jigantic growth. .

Rex Minor

Rakib | 8 years ago | Reply

@Newbie: (1947 Muslim Parliamentarian MC Chagai(hope the spelling is write) spoke for it too) His name was Mahommedali Currim Chagla. A brilliant lawyer & kinsman of Jinnah, Chagla was his junior & an acolyte but broke with him on the issue of Partition. There was no Parliament, as we know, in 1947. First Lok Sabha wa in 1952. Besides, he was a judge then & in '48 he became Chief Justice of Bombay High Court. Later, India's ambassador to US, then education minister & foreign minister. But yes it was very much like him to have supported UCC. Ques:Why all those that talk didn't even try to make a rough-draft of it?

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