Editorial

Caution and optimism

In the last two decades, the diplomatic emphasis in India-China relations has been on working on a strong economic relationship that would whittle down the strategic differences and feeling of adversarial relations that have piled up over time. The >three-day visit to China by Prime Minister Narendra Modi stayed true to that script, but clearly built on the bonhomie generated during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s >India visit in September 2014. If the emphasis during that visit was on building a “closer developmental partnership”, the reciprocal visit by Mr. Modi has been all about enhancing that relationship, mostly relating to trade and economics. This is evident in the joint statement issued after bilateral talks between Mr. Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. The statement also seeks to address some of the concerns over the nature of the economic relationship. The magnitude of two-way trade has risen to $71 billion, but there has been a corresponding rise in the trade deficit. The statement suggests that both countries are cognisant of this deficit and are taking steps to address this, over and above those decided during Mr. Xi’s visit. The signing of 26 agreements detailing commercial investments worth $22 billion between companies also signifies the growing economic ties. The joint statement on climate change that reiterated the principles of “equity and common but differentiated responsibilities” to address issues of climate change and reiterated support for the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol, was also timely. This would clear some doubts about China’s position following its joint communiqué with the U.S. on cuts in emission levels.

That said, the strategic distance remains: the joint statement and also Mr. Modi’s remarks during the visit recognise this fact. The boundary dispute finds mention in the joint statement; while progress in talks has been glacial ever since they began, there is the assurance that both sides will seek to maintain peace at the border as they work towards a solution. Mr. Modi’s delegation gave no indication that India is keen to participate in China’s ambitious “one belt, one road” initiative; the joint statement limited the reference to cooperation on the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor. This suggests a degree of caution on India’s part over China’s role in India’s near and extended neighbourhood. Yet, Mr. Modi struck all the right notes in his speech engagement at Tsinghua University, suggesting the need to overcome strategic differences even while acknowledging the complexities as India seeks to build concomitant ties with other world powers. It is to be hoped that this emphasis, and ongoing engagement between the two leaderships at the highest levels would build further momentum to truly realise a strong India-China partnership for the 21st century.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 9:05:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/caution-and-optimism/article7216727.ece

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