India, China and an opportunity

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:31 pm IST

Published - February 07, 2015 12:29 am IST

Keeping up the momentum in India-China relations, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj came back from her three-day visit to China with several deliverables — including a new Chinese openness in seeing India take up permanent membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Previously, the Chinese had linked SCO membership with a greater role for Beijing in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Ms. Swaraj, during her first visit to China as External Affairs Minister, built on the three meetings Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had with Chinese President Xi Jinping. She also called on the Chinese President, a rare opportunity for any visiting Foreign Minister. Clearance for the early operationalisation of a new route to Kailash Mansarovar and a decision to hold a session of talks between the Special Representatives tasked by the two sides to resolve the boundary dispute, are other takeaways. Her trip was also part of preparations for Mr. Modi’s visit later in the year. As reported in the Chinese media, President Xi himself has set the agenda for taking bilateral ties to a new level by suggesting that the two countries seize the “opportunity of the century” by combining their development strategies. With a slowing economy and sluggish European recovery, China may be focussing on the Indian market. It also appears willing to invest, following Prime Minister Modi’s “Make in India” call.

It is in such a scenario of contact and consultation that “strong leaders” such as Mr. Modi and Mr. Xi can think about making some hard decisions when it comes to the decades-old boundary dispute that keeps surfacing during major bilateral visits. So far, the coalition nature of Indian governments has been seen as a major obstacle to the give-and-take, compromise approach on the border question. Today, Mr. Modi is in the happy situation where he can take a political call on issues, rising above intra-coalition pressures. In 2005, the Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the Boundary Question signed by the two countries had raised hopes for an eventual settlement, but those have been belied. It would also seem that President Barack Obama’s successful visit to India around Republic Day has not dampened Beijing’s willingness to take relations with Delhi to the next level. Interestingly, India while talking to the U.S. and its other allies in the Asia-Pacific about safety in the sea-lanes, has agreed to set up a “consultation mechanism” on Asia-Pacific affairs with China and Russia. India’s diplomatic success lies in keeping several balls in the air at the same time.

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