Modi’s Beijing visit could be the ‘opportunity of the century’

Updated - November 16, 2021 05:48 pm IST

Published - February 04, 2015 01:59 am IST - BEIJING:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping. File photo

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping. File photo

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has wrapped up a three-day visit to China on Tuesday, amid expectations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s arrival in May is likely to spur economic ties, and improve the management of differences in the security domain.

Sections of the Chinese media are interpreting Ms. Swaraj’s audience with President Xi Jinping as an exceptional gesture from the Chinese side, signalling the importance Beijing now attaches to ties with India. Global Times , the daily affiliated to the Communist Party of China, quoted an academic from the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences as saying that, “In a rare meeting with a visiting foreign minister, the Chinese President has demonstrated the importance he attaches to Sino-Indian relations.”

With investible funds in the West shrinking, the success of Mr. Modi’s “Make in India” campaign relies heavily on large-scale investments from China to revive the job-creating manufacturing sector. By Tuesday, the Chinese side had strongly signalled that it would follow up on its commitments to investment in India. Chinese official media quoted President Xi as saying after he had met Ms. Swaraj that, “Both sides should grab the opportunity of the century and work together on their development strategies. China and India should continue their cooperation in various fields, including industrial parks and the railway project, to benefit the 2.5 billion people of the two countries and the global economy.”

Observers say that Russia and China’s endorsement of India’s membership of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) was a significant takeaway from Ms. Swaraj’s visit. If accomplished, APEC membership could open the gates for New Delhi’s constructive engagement in the Indo-Pacific theatre, expanding its strategic bandwidth significantly.

Diplomatic sources said that by signing the Joint Communiqué, issued in Beijing at the end of the Russia-India-China (RIC) meeting on Monday, Ms. Swaraj has also reassured her hosts, that rather than pursuing a western-oriented, China-containment policy, India backs new, inclusive security architecture in the Asia-Pacific.

However, the External Affairs Minister’s visit has set the stage for some serious heavy-lifting along a complex geopolitical spectrum.

Hoping to reduce its reliance on the vulnerable Malacca Straits, China is developing deep water ports in the Indian Ocean, which it hopes to connect with the mainland through a string of road and railway corridors as part of its 21st century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) initiative. A diplomat, who did not wish to be named, told The Hindu that the situation leaves the Modi administration no choice but to push for a practical, detailed and hands-on strategic dialogue with China, to ensure that the kernel of sea-based commerce is preserved and expanded, without the militarisation of the Indian Ocean waters, with countries such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives serving as some of the nodes.

The Chinese side has begun to show sensitivity to India’s concerns regarding the MSR. Global Times quoted Chen Fengjun, a Peking University professor, as saying, that “India still has concerns over China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. Given India’s enormous influence in South Asia, especially over countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, it would be wise for China to dispel such doubts during Modi’s visit and show India that the initiative is really meant to benefit both countries.”

Border issue

Regarding the Sino-Indian border row, Xinhua quoted President Xi as saying that “the two sides should patiently control and manage disputes to prevent them from affecting the overall relationship.” He counselled “sincerity and willingness to pursue a gradual and appropriate resolution of disputes.”

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