China’s President, Xi Jinping, has undertaken a historic visit to India which many believe will change the direction of the relations between the two countries . The visit — the first by Mr Xi Jinping to India, which started on September 17, will give a new impetus to the multi-dimensional relations between Asia’s two great powers.
A heavy agenda has been set for Mr Xi as he arrived in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat, Mr Modi’s home state of which he (Mr Modi) was chief minister for more than a decade. Breaking from protocol, the Indian prime minister himself received the Chinese leader in Ahmedabad on a day that was also the prime minister’s 64th birthday.
During the course of his visit, Mr Xi Jinping launched one of the two industrial parks focused on building power equipment, in Gujarat — a state that has made giant strides in raising its growth rate under Modi’s leadership. The other park in Maharashtra would mainly focus on auto sector development. A major component of the growing economic ties between the two countries is the Chinese involvement in the laying of railway tracks in India which has one of the biggest railway networks in the world. China will help lay new fast tracks for more modern trains in India. The measure shows China’s new emphasis on making investment in infrastructure projects and resources in the South Asia region in order to utilise its vast export surpluses — a policy that would help feed China’s industrial machine.
China hopes to invest billions of dollars in the modernisation of the Indian Railways. Both countries will sign an agreement that will pave the way for Chinese participation in the new rail tracks, automated signalling for faster trains as well as modern stations that the Indian railway system — worn out and clumsy —desperately needs. Beijing is also considering investing another $50b in building ports and roads in India — all part of an ambitious infrastructure development programme. Mr Modi, the Indian prime minister, has declared the project a top priority that is likely to boost economic growth.
The visit has also a lot of symbolism as the Chinese president is keen to revive the ancient silk route trade that connected China to India and Europe and in which the ports of Gujarat figured very prominently. But Gujarat was also an important opium trade hub in the 19th century when large quantities of opium were exported to China from Malwa (Madhya Pradesh ) in India through the ports of Gujarat and Bombay.
The new China silk route project aims to develop a trading network that would help establish enduring trade and commercial links between China, India and other Indian ocean and Pacific region countries like Thailand, Malayasia, Singapore and Indonesia.
The phenomenal jump in the size and quantum of investment by China, however, will not mask or camouflage the issues that still haunt the policymakers in the two countries. Three issues stand out: the unresolved border dispute that has also caused border incursions from time to time. Sooner or later, the two countries would have to address this issue in order to remain focused on promoting economic, political and cultural ties.
The South China Sea disputes over the many small islands have made relations sour between China and many countries like the Phillippines, Vietnam, Thailand as well as India. China is showing extreme caution so that these disputes don’t spin out of control and force a policy of confrontation that could involve the use of force. Because it wants to focus on economic consolidation it has no time or stamina to create a situation where its prowess as a great power would be used to intimidate or bully regional countries — a situation that would be exploited by the United States.
Then there is the old story of the Dalai Lama who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed insurrection and took shelter in India. But this is no longer coming in the way of the two countries forging a solid and sustainable relationship. Despite the territorial disputes, however, both China and India have a robust trading relationship that has seen the volume of the two-way trade exceeding $65 billion. Although the balance of trade is substantially in favour of China, undoubtedly the two economies have benefited tremendously from the growing trade links.
A more strategic dimension of the relations between the two countries is whether and to what extent India could be used by the United States in its policy of ‘pivot to the East’ that is primarily intended to contain the influence of China — political, military and economic. The visit of the Chinese president that will profoundly change the politico-economic and military landscape of South Asia and result in the advent of a new era — one that will force a fundamental reappraisal of policy on the United States insofar as its new strategic shift is concerned. But whether the statesmen of China and India relentlessly pursue the policy of increased and expanding cooperation bypassing the many hazards that lie ahead remains to be seen. For India, which has recently signed a civil nuclear technology deal with Australia, the ‘look East ‘policy is paying dividends
The lesson for Pakistani rulers is that Islamabad’s strong and robust relations with China will not weigh heavily with Chinese policymakers in their determination to strike a strategic relationship with India. As China and India launch collective endeavours to reduce poverty and improve the living conditions of one-third of humanity, China will not be obstructed by its close relations with Pakistan. Foreign policy that is predicated upon notions of ‘importance ‘ or convergence of views on a few transient issues, will never be long lasting. For a foreign policy to be sustainable and beneficial, it has to be based on hard realities. No hard reality is more appealing than the interests of the masses. A policy rooted and anchored in the abiding interests of the people would work and deliver and help in bringing prosperity and stability. Rather than being overwhelmed by the achievements of the visit of the Chinese leader to India — its arch-rival, Pakistan, must also seek to normalise and deepen its relations with India so that in the course of time a China-India-Pakistan-Iran trade bloc could become a reality that would usher in a new dawn of immense opportunities for the poor people of the region.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2014.
Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.