A New Relationship Era Between Two Asian Giants

President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping concluded his two-day informal summit with Modi on Saturday, October 12, 2019. The duo held discussions on wide-ranging issues and exhumed confidence in strengthening bilateral ties between the two nations at Mamallapuram near Chennai. Now, the hotly debated point is will the summit result in any positive outcome for India? History stands testimonial to the fact that in spite of Indian efforts to improve relationships with China, the Chinese have always tried to belittle  India in the UN and preferred Pakistan over India. Against the backdrop of the USA-China trade war, the President Xi Jinping trip is being viewed as an attempt to explore opportunities for more significant concessions for Chinese products in India.

Why the doubt?

India and China, the two Asian giants, have nothing in common other than a population of over a billion. Just as two swords cannot be contained in one sheath, the same is the case with India and China. Both vie for supremacy in Asia and are engaged in a tug of war for being a global leader. Both view each other with suspicion and China, a close ally of India’s bête noire Pakistan, openly sides with Pakistan in the UN and other international forums and seldom misses an opportunity to belittle India. Ignoring international efforts to clamp down on cross-border terrorism, China’s repeated attempts to block Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar’s designation as a global terrorist is just a pointer in this direction.

Critics of the summit say one of the big disappointments of Wuhan Summit has been the reluctance of China to take tangible steps to ease non-tariff barriers for the entry of Indian IT and pharmaceuticals as well as Indian agriculture exports into the Chinese market to address the massive trade imbalance. Indian companies remain sceptical of the recent agreement on traditional medicine and expressed apprehensions over policy changes on the ground levels.

In such a scenario, political and economic observers in India are puzzled if Xi Jinping’s informal summit with Modi and discussions on broad-ranging issues will translate into any positive gain for India.

According to political observers, President Xi Jinping’s trip is an attempt to explore opportunities for more significant concessions to Chinese products in the Indian market, due to the USA-China trade war. On the conclusion of his two-day informal summit with Modi on Saturday October 12, 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to evolve a broad-based economic mechanism to bridge India’s swelling trade deficit with China and vowed to strengthen defence cooperation while negotiating disputative issues pragmatically with sensitivity to each other’s core concerns.

The critiques said that after two informal summits, both sides have not made progress in resolving their key outstanding differences, such as the boundary dispute on the Doklam plateau near the India-China-Bhutan tri-junction, the trade deficit, and China’s support for Pakistan at the UN over the Kashmir dispute. The only silver lining appears to be Xi’s suggestion to Modi that “differences should not weaken the overall situation of bilateral cooperation and differences that could not be resolved should be appropriately managed.”

According to political observers, summits should be followed by outcomes to instil confidence in the relationship. From Wuhan to Chennai, it appears they are moving in the right direction, but tangible results have not been experienced so far. 

Xi invited Modi to visit China in 2020 for a third summit to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. The two leaders agreed to make it memorable by holding 70 events in India and China, with several high-level visits in the works. In spite of the bonhomie shown by the two leaders, there are numerous pitfalls, and the road ahead for India and China is long and topsy turvy. Will all these exercises result in a great and fruitful relationship between the two nations, time can only tell.