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Updated: May 31, 2013 00:08 IST

When the dragon comes calling

Srinath Raghavan
Comment (21)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

The new Chinese leadership wants to reach out to India and New Delhi should make the most of the opportunity to move forward on the strategic and economic fronts

Diplomatic scorecards are notoriously difficult to draw up. The game goes on for too long and the points scored are often incommensurable. Yet the temptation to pronounce an immediate verdict is difficult to resist. Indeed, during the Chinese Premier’s recent visit, the only question that seemed of interest was: who got the better of the other? However, any serious assessment of the visit should focus on questions of continuity and change. After all, India will have to deal with this Chinese leadership for the next decade or so.

Let us start with the big picture. Did Premier Li Keqiang’s decision to visit India on his first official trip abroad indicate anything significant? Many seasoned Indian observers, including former diplomats, have sought to deny this. Premier Li himself insisted that the visit was meant “to demonstrate the high importance the Chinese government attaches to India.” This, in turn, reflects the wider international considerations confronting China.

‘Pivot’ to East Asia

From a strategic standpoint, China faces a worsening situation along its maritime periphery in the East China and South China seas — thanks to its own swaggering style in recent years. The United States has seized the opportunity to announce a “pivot” to East Asia. The Chinese naturally assume that the move is aimed at them. More worrying to Beijing is the new government in Tokyo — under the leadership of Shinzo Abe — that seeks to reinterpret, if not rewrite, Japan’s pacifist Constitution and to invigorate ties with countries like India.

From an economic perspective, too, the situation seems less than sanguine. The U.S. is promoting a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Signed in 2005 by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore, the TPP has drawn the interest of five other countries: Australia, Malaysia, Peru, Vietnam and Japan. The TPP has an ambitious tripartite agenda. It aims at a regular Free Trade Agreement with provisions for protecting intellectual property; at the creation of investor-friendly regulatory frameworks and policies; and at emerging issues, including measures to ensure that state-owned companies “compete fairly” with private companies and do not put the latter at a disadvantage. China regards the TPP as an economic grouping directed at it. Here too, the immediate cause for concern is the position of Japan. Prime Minister Abe has announced his intention to push for Japan’s entry into the TPP and his willingness to take on the strong agriculture lobby that opposes the idea. The Chinese are well aware that a successful TPP may eventually compel China to come to terms with it — just as China had to do with APEC and WTO.

In this context, it not surprising that the Chinese leadership wants to reach out to India. Beijing knows that India is a “swing” power in the present strategic constellation. Its choices could alleviate or exacerbate China’s problems. Premier Li was seeking reassurance as well as reassuring India when he publicly stated that “we are not a threat to each other, nor will we ever contain each other.” China also knows that the TPP will not be welcome to India either. Moreover, the Chinese are keen on expanding economic ties with India, especially by tapping into Indian markets. They also want to begin negotiations with India on a China-India Regional Trading Arrangement (RTA).

All this opens a few windows of opportunity for India. These are unlikely to remain open forever, so it is important that we make the most of them. The government has been quick off the blocks, but more needs to be done.

First, there is the possibility of progress on the boundary negotiations. So far, the Chinese seemed reluctant to follow through on the political parameters agreed upon in 2005. In particular, they were less than happy with the provision which suggested that areas with settled populations would not be up for grabs. When Premier Wen Jiabao visited India in 2010, he openly said that the boundary dispute would take long to settle. The current Chinese leadership appears to have a different stance. Both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li have indicated that they would like to move forward as soon as possible. It is conceivable that they are offering progress on this issue to palliate India. But it would be unwise to prejudge this issue. Besides, any progress, however limited, will be in our interest.

The Chinese have also indicated that they want to strengthen the mechanisms for maintenance of peace and tranquillity along the frontiers. But it is unlikely that they will agree to commence an exercise on clarifying the Line of Actual Control. The Chinese have always insisted that this would be a distraction from the main task of settling the boundary dispute. In any case, given the differences between the two sides’ perceptions of the LAC — especially in the Ladakh sector — such an exercise would be doomed to failure.

Greater market access

Second, there is an opportunity to press for greater market access for Indian firms in China. New Delhi has rightly insisted that further deepening of economic ties will depend on redressing the prevailing imbalance in trade. The Chinese leadership, too, is aware that the current pattern of trade is unsustainable. Premier Li has said that his government will work towards rectifying this situation both by facilitating market access to Indian companies and by encouraging Chinese firms to increase investment in India and expand trade in services.

Even as the government keeps the pressure on this issue, it should get its own act together for attracting investment from China. To be sure, New Delhi has expressed interest in Chinese investment, particularly in infrastructure. But it hasn’t put its money where its mouth is. Take the case of China Light and Power (CLP), which has invested in a 1320 MW power plant in Jhajjar, Haryana. This is India’s largest foreign direct investment in this sector. The plant was commissioned ahead of schedule in 2012. Since then, it has languished for the lack of coal supplies from Coal India Limited. The CLP’s position is fast becoming untenable, but the government has not been responsive. This can scarcely be encouraging to other Chinese firms contemplating investment in India.

Regional issues

Bilateral matters apart, the two sides also seem poised to work together on regional issues like Afghanistan. Interestingly, it was China which suggested earlier this year that they begin a dialogue on Afghanistan. Both countries are concerned about the situation in Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal in 2014. Instability in Afghanistan is bound to impact on existing and proposed investments of India and China in that country. China has already made a successful bid for the copper mines in Anyak and is keen to acquire stakes in extraction of other natural resources.

In talking to India, China’s interest may simply be to secure support for its increasing presence in Afghanistan. But there seems to be more in play here. Beijing is evidently not confident that Pakistan will be able to secure Chinese interests in Afghanistan after the western forces pull out. This is not to suggest that China’s strategic relationship with Pakistan is weakening. Indeed, Premier Li has had a rather good visit to Pakistan. Yet Pakistan’s ability to deliver in Afghanistan, especially if the security situation markedly worsens, is open to question.

The simple fact is that the main outlet for any resources to flow into China will be through the north of Afghanistan. Pakistan and its proxies have no influence in these parts. Conversely, the groups whose writ runs in these areas have a good relationship with India. At any rate, if Afghanistan descends into something like a civil war, Pakistan cannot be of much help to China. It is in Beijing’s own interest, therefore, to ensure that Pakistan doesn’t stir the pot too vigorously after 2014.

So, the present strategic conjuncture presents interesting possibilities for India. New Delhi should neglect the naysayers and press ahead with engaging China on all fronts.

(The writer is Senior Fellow at Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi)

More In: Lead | Opinion

In his comments on this article, Larry.P has rightly highlighted the
several problems posed by China directly (dam across Brahmaputra,
opposing UNSC seat for India, though India was instrumental in
championing the cause of China in spite of an alternative offer of the
seat to India by big powers)or by strengthening the hands of countries
posing a threat to India. Any sense of euphoria arising out of new hand
of friendship should not give birth to complacency. The mistakes of the
past be not repeated. What do our satellites do? We proclaim that India
is a leader in remote sensing. Could we not sense the Chinese move at
the earliest with all technologies in our command? We should not go
into hibernation. Have we learnt anything from the great Chanakya?

from:  kaliappan
Posted on: Jun 1, 2013 at 05:01 IST

Thoughtful article. Being under pressure on many other fronts, China is trying to court India. But, India must be careful in its approach. It has to gauge the seriousness and sincerity of China's gestures. India needs to emphasis on concrete results on bilateral trade and border issues. Only then India can take true advantage of favourable climate. China's target would be to pay lip service to better Indo-China results without making too much changes in the ground situation. India needs to guard against this. India's engagement with China must be objective and purposeful.

from:  Mukut Ray
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 23:45 IST

China is a 6000 year old, not just a culture but a Tahzeeb. Their ethos calls for friendship, goodwill and cooperation with all, especially neighbors. China's spectacular rise as an economic and industrial power is a mere foot note in the history of this great Tahzeeb. China lives by it's own wisdom, they don't need anybody's cooperation but they want everybody's cooperation.
One thing most of the world can learn from China is that their leaders have a profession, for instance president Xi Jinping is a chemical engineer and former president Hu Jintao is an Electrical Engineer. Most of their lives they made a living with their profession and top offices are service, not a profession.

from:  Tipu Qaimkhani
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 22:49 IST

Whatever is said and done on China, India based on past experience must be cautious in its approach and business like in dealings. Trade balancing is vital. China's stance to join India in world affairs is dismal. Based on these blow hot blow cold experiences, India should be on eternal vigil until (2062) all people are reasonably empowered as is in China.

from:  Vyas K Susarla
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 17:41 IST

This article is too optimistic, in my opinion, as it only looks at the
potential positive aspects that could arise from a greater China-India
Co-operation....however, the article fails to address the
inconsistencies that arise from the assurances given by China in the
past, and their following actions, a classic example being the 1962
Indo-Sino War. Also allowing Chinese investments in India is not such
as wise idea, as this would pose an advantage for the Chinese in the
case of a future war, as they would be able to know the inside-out of
the infrastructure in India which they would've built....China's
attempts to gain an advantage in this area, can be seen in the way
CHinese hacker's in the PLA consistenly try to hack into critical
websites of the nation, in an attempt to steal secrets.....

from:  Subhash
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 17:06 IST

I'd suggest India following what China does with India's neighbors.
Engage with neighbors of China with whom it has differences. Just the
way it irritates us by helping Pak while repeating that they are
neutral on Kashmir issue, India should engage with countries like
Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and still say it has nothing to do with acting
against China's interests. We may want to maintain peace, but when it
is not reciprocated, ii is futile continuing the same policy. It is
better to keep a watch on them even when you continue engaging them.
Just observe what they have been doing in PoK, aggressive
infrastructure development. It does no good to believe them blindly.

from:  Ravindra
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 16:58 IST

India is going through a political crisis and china knows it well.From
one end its pressing Government of india through incursions and then
taking its army back through a series of talk.Then talking of mutual
understanding in various issues ranging from Afghanistan to trade
benefits.The new leadership of china wants india to be inclined
towards china as in asia there a common understanding building against
china.
India should remain firm in building good relations with old friends
and keeping its enemies close. But china is too dangerous to handle.we
can't trust him. Let him sail alone his ship.

from:  Arvind Kumar
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 16:55 IST

India and China are the most populous countries in the world. If they establish very friendly
Ties, that will be a boon to the world at large. India was always eager to maintain cordial
Relationship with our neighbor, and Panditji tried his best on this direction. He was very
Sad, when differences arose. The present prime minister of China has taken a positive
Approach and that is heartwarming. Prior to his departure to India recently, he in his
Message to the visiting students from our country expressed his desire to maintain the best
Relationship with India and that is a silver lining in the horizon. If the two countries become
Closer, both stand to gain, and it is not proper to doubt the move from the other side.

from:  C p Chandra das
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 16:24 IST

When the Dragon comes calling, we should indeed be wary as the most
people from Africa, Asia, and Latin America now feel. Juan Pablo
Cardenal and Heiberto Arauajo in their latest work (2013) say: not
only do they not feel that they are benefitting but furthermore China
is surprisingly not always welcome despite its enormous deployment of
resources. This negative perception of the new employer is fed by the
disastrous working conditions which are the common denominator in
Chinese projects, the meagre transfer of technology and knowledge to
the local populations, and the general conviction that China is there
only for its own gain. This feeling is shared even by those who are
not directly affected by these projects. Talking to academics,
politicians, journalists, trade union representatives and NGOs, the
sense of disappointments caused on occasions by China’s expansion
became even more evident.

from:  s subramanyan
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 14:07 IST

China is very clever at using India for its purpose and when it comes to reply back on the intrusions across the LAC in Ladakh, his soft words tell it all. It is hiding the evil intentions from India. When China is in need of something from India, it immediately starts talk. I haven’t seen a cunning friend and neighbor like China. When India has friends like China, there is no need to have enemies. China itself fulfills that requirement also. So the lesson is that, keeping the friendship with China in a separate pot, India should make strategies and relationships with other countries very cautiously.

from:  Manish Kumar
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 12:00 IST

Heralding his first visit to INdia with an aggresive show in Ladakh is
not the way to poceed for better political and trqade relations.RIght
form the beginning China ahs been getting it wrong. Yet, India will play
the game by the rules and it is left to China to en sure that its
harmonious growth is real and susbtantial and is not accompanied with
measures to confront neighbouring nations.

from:  s subramanyan
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 10:56 IST

India and China are neighbors and two big and powerful nations of Asia.
They are also two most populous nations on the globe and for a peaceful
world the relationship between India and China must be matured if not
cooperating, both countries must realize that the aggression is not
helpful in improving ties of relations. they both have a big population
to feed,educate,develop and protect and so they both have massive needs
for resources and rights to look for and to secure the energy and other
things needed. though in this practical world idealism can only be
mutual but in the interest of humanity it should be given a chance
while protecting national interests.

from:  Anurag
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 10:11 IST

Asia has three super powers viz. India, China and Japan. China does not
share a good relation with Japan and cannot afford to have strained
relationship with India. US is also trying to beset China by adopting
various strategies. China cannot depend upon Pakistan and North Korea
rather it left with the option to use the help of India. Thus India is
in the hot seat to take advantage of this situation in its favour and it
is in the favour of whole region to have peace and stability.

from:  Akshay Dhadda
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 10:08 IST

Is writer living in some fairy land? China is just dilly dallying on
border issues so that it can keep on gobbling land bit by bit and it is
happening with all neighbours of china.

from:  Mir aslam
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 09:46 IST

Trust-but-verify.Remember 1962?

from:  Vishnu Shaarma
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 08:07 IST

Any understanding with other powers need not be construed as signal for
a unidirectional policy perspective. We need to have a strategic
planning. China has been moving ahead strengthening ties with India's
neighbours, rather aggressively. India must anticipate and be prepared
for policy shifts in future. Statecraft involves diplomacy and
diplomacy is strengthened by contingency plans(like trumps).Contingency
plans be based on continuous inputs from the relevant sources/agencies.
Effective coordination is the domain of leadership to overcome policy
paralysis. Hence the emerging opportunities/ configurations be grabbed.

from:  kaliappan
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 06:28 IST

The writer conveniently glosses over all points of concern for India, in his difference-anxiety ridden haste to pander to China. Will he have the courage to ask the Chinese: (1) is their issuance of stapled visas for the residents of the Indian states of J&K and Arunachal Pradesh not an affront to India's sovereignty? (2) Is their support of Pakistan's military by passing nuclear bomb and missile blueprints a friendly act to India? (3) Is their support of the JF-series of fighter aircraft with Pakistan not a danger to Indian security? (4) Is their not ratifying the McMahon line as the border not a threat to India? (5) Is their damning up the Brahmaputra not an economic threat to India? (6) Is their occupation of Aksai Chin a friendly act? (7) Is their opposition of India for the UN security council not a hostile act? (8) Have they recognized Sikkim as Indian? (9) Why do they intrude on Indian lands from J&K all the way to AP? (10) Their Naxelite and Maoist support is friendly??

from:  Larry P
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 03:31 IST

This is timely advice for India to leverage its position with China. The reality is that a) on the economic front,China has lost markets in the US and Europe for good and must build up new markets and b)their silly posturing has threatened virtually every Country in the region and hence needs someone who will listen. Much is made of the US push to isolate China, but this is hardly on top of the US agenda. The consensus in the West is that China has performed miracles to become a major player but staying there will require deft handling of internal and external threats. The real threat to China will come from within, when two factors will determine their position in the next decade. Firstly, how China deals with freeing up control of the Communist party and secondly, how they deal with ethnic and cultural differences of the Uighurs and Tibetans. In short, the new stance by Premier Li is signs of realism in China that things are going to get tough and India can help them deal with this.

from:  Sridhar
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 03:25 IST

I am all for engaging China in 'all fronts' as long as India engages
with countries like Japan, Vietnam, Philippines or the USA in the 'all
fronts' too. Premier Li K. has failed to explain the reasons for
Chinese intrusions across the LAC in Ladakh so close to his visits, he
may utter soothing words but contradictory actions like this only
raise the suspicions about China's real intentions. Talking to China
is fine but India should hedge its bet well by building strong ties
the countries who are also troubled by China's recent muscular
territorial policies, India cannot allow China to push it around or
sustain a huge trade deficit that just goes bigger every year.

from:  Suvojit Dutta
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 02:27 IST

Peace is needed and India should do everything possible to maintain peace without giving up its core interests. But, carry a big stick to deter potential agressors.

from:  Krishna
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 02:19 IST

Very well informed narrative of current Indo-Sino relationship.
Unlike Indo-Pak, Indo-Sino relationship had matured to give more importance to matters such as economic progress, more importance than border disputes.
The balance of trade, which is heavily inclined in China's favour needs to be addresses soon as it is also impacting our foreign reserves.
Secondly, its very right to consider India as swing power. Its support or opposition can cause strategic difference to China's handling of TPP, Japan, South China issues etc.
But India must not allow itself to be played in China's hand and be very careful in deciding its future stakes,

from:  Prashant Kaushik
Posted on: May 31, 2013 at 01:02 IST
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