Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
The informal summit between India Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the scenic city of Wuhan on 28 and 29 April appears to be more poetic than pragmatic. It seems to have been designed to locate the position of Indo-China relation in the broad canvass of international politics. At a time when the relations between the two Asian giants remain bogged down in a complex stalemate, it will be too early to assess the extent of achievement of such an engagement.
If the media coverage of summit meeting between the two leaders is any indication, no significant way appears to have been discovered to breach the barriers blocking the growth of collaborative spirit between these two countries whose combined population is 2.6 billion. The changing security and strategic dynamics of Asia has been building pressure on the two Asian giants to agree on overarching principles for framing the strategic and economic partnership in the 21st century. But whether the summit afforded any chance to frame these formulations remains a public curiosity.
During the summit the two leaders informed the press that they had discussions on diverse areas of economic cooperation and explored ways to give impetus to economic relation with a view to fostering people to people relation. The leaders of the two countries are understood to have explored possibilities to expand collaboration on agriculture, technology, energy and tourism development. Understandably, one of the key areas of discussion between the top leaders must have been the prolonged stalemate over the border. It can be surmised from the press briefing of Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale that the two leaders had agreed to issue strategic directives designed to improve communication, trust and understanding between the militaries of the two countries.
During the summit the two leaders are said to have accepted terrorism to be a major threat to security agreeing consequently to fight against terrorism in all its form and manifestation. Terrorism is one of the greatest concerns of India and a point of reference for alluding to Pakistan as a sponsor of terrorism. China has always been strident in its opposition to terrorism but is reluctant to share India’s perception that Pakistan has been functioning as a hub of state sponsored terrorism. In recent years, China and Pakistan are deepening their collaboration in diverse areas. The two countries have been linked by China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which has given opportunity to gain access to each other’s markets and promote export trade. However, since a portion of CPEC passes through Pakistan occupied Kashmir over which India, too, has a territorial claim, China Indian relation remains loaded with animosity.
In the just concluded summit meeting, Indian Prime Minister Modi discreetly avoided mention of major issues that have been hindering the progress in fostering cooperation and understanding. China and India share a long border and have dispute over the sovereignty of 90,000 square kilometres of the territory. So long as the two countries do not develop wider understanding and trust sharing same strategic and security sensitivities in the context of shifting global alignment of forces, it will be difficult for them to evolve a frame of cooperation. After a period of multi-polarity, the world appears to be again settling down on bi-polar international order.
The US and other major powers of Western Europe are regrouping under the leadership of the US. The US is also trying to bring Japan, Australia, India and itself under what is being referred to as Indo-Pacific Quad. As an emerging power of Asia, China is cautiously watching these developments and is trying to enlist as many countries as possible in its flagship project called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which is being pushed as a tool for promoting connectivity and common prosperity. Many Central Asian, Southeast Asian and South Asian countries have endorsed their participation in the BRI and some of them have already entered into the collaborative endeavours on mutually profitable terms.
Western powers and the US are criticising China’s BRI as a debt trap for poorer countries of Asia. India has refused to be part of it on the ground that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor has been taken through disputed territory which is under occupation of Pakistan but India has claimed its sovereignty over it. India also feels that China is trying to expand its strategic influence in smaller Asian countries by circumscribing her sphere of influence. Nepal has endorsed BRI and is eager to receive the Chinese assistance to expand railway, road connectivity and cooperation in tapping energy, initiating modernisation of agriculture and promoting manufacturing industries.
In such a situation, Indian Prime Minister Modi paid an informal visit to China prior to his official visit to Nepal which is going to have certain implications for Nepal-India relations irrespective of whether the proposed connectivity and cross Himalayan transport and transit agreements signed between Nepal and China figured in the discussion at Wuhan or not .
China and India are going through a difficult period of transition to build mutually beneficial relation after the Doklam stand-off last year. They also share bitterness over the lack of progress on resolving the border dispute festering for more than six decades. But it should be understood that all countries should leave behind the past to embrace the present. Bitterness of past memory inhibits progress. It also deprives opportunity to improve ties and plan prosperity on mutually beneficial term.
India is a country which is rich in culture, language and civilisation values. But it is not likely to make much out of it if it fails to forge collaboration with neighbours. No country can live nor can they grow in isolation. Many countries of this area have already entered the BRI agreement and hope that India too will follow it. Isolation breeds suspicion while collaboration helps build collective basis for development. It is hoped that India understands this and seeks collaborative participation with China in the days to come.
The western powers have the tendency to win allies and use them in a proxy war. In India’s case the US and the West European powers hope of using it to contain China and Russia. This is a scheme which will push India into conflict not with India’s enemies but with the enemies of the western powers. This is an indulgence which India cannot afford. The path of collaboration with China is the only way to resolve the border issue, achieve stability and safeguard peace and tranquillity in this region.