In China, going beyond optics

In redefining India’s geopolitical relationship, Mr. Modi would have to take a call on balance of power in the Asia-Pacific

May 14, 2015 02:20 am | Updated April 02, 2016 09:56 pm IST

Atul Aneja.

Atul Aneja.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is starting a much anticipated >visit to China , which has already created a flutter on account of his postings on Sina Weibo, the Chinese adaptation of Twitter. In engaging the Chinese people, mostly the youth, directly, Mr. Modi joined the ranks of British Prime Minister David Cameron and the former Australian Premier, Kevin Rudd who had already made their debut in Chinese cyberspace.

Prior to his arrival, the Prime Minister has also >sought to leverage Buddhism , Yoga and Bollywood to connect directly in anticipation of changing Chinese hearts and minds.

Intergrating economies Clearly, optics are high on The Prime Minister’s agenda. So is his >reliance on Soft Power . While Mr. Modi’s social outreach has been largely welcomed, the seasoned Chinese leadership, on course of redefining itself under President Xi Jinping is looking for Mr. Modi’s support on a much larger canvas. Hemmed in by the Asia Pivot or Rebalance strategy of the United States, President Xi has responded with the stunning >Belt and Road initiative . While the establishment of a nuclear and conventional deterrent goes on to counter the presence of nearly 60 per cent of U.S. forces that would be deployed under the Rebalance doctrine of U.S. President Barack Obama, China has turned to a sweeping initiative on the geoeconomic plane to ensure that it prospers. Through the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), the Chinese hope to integrate the economies of Eurasia, with Russians as their core ally. In parallel, the Chinese have embarked on the 21st century Maritime Silk Road, which hopes to establish a string of ports, industrial parks, tourism hubs and smart cities along the coast. These ports, in turn, would be linked by economic corridors which will connect with specific hubs along the SREB.

The Chinese would want Mr. Modi to take a call on the “belt and road” initiative, but that hardly seems to be a major stop on the Prime Minister’s agenda. Diplomatic sources have told The Hindu that the conversation on this topic is expected to commence as “the impact of the two rising countries is felt beyond their immediate neighbourhood”. Despite subscribing to the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) corridor, there is no visible push from New Delhi to push the initiative. For China, the project is significant, because it would carve out a route that would bypass the Malacca Straits — a vulnerable chokepoint that the Americans dominate. The BCIM would also be the key for fostering integrated development of India’s North-East, with Myanmar, Bangladesh and China as partners.

India’s “part containment and part engagement” approach towards China has nevertheless led to the emergence of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), where both countries are founding members. The AIIB is expected to play a major role in the development of infrastructure in Asia, and contribute in the growth of the “one belt one road”. India and China are also central to the emergence of the New Development Bank, steered by the BRICS, and which would have K.V. Kamath as its first head. India and China’s partnership in re-defining the global financial architecture can consolidate if India becomes a member in a future bank that will be formed by countries belonging to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) — an institution that New Delhi could join later this year.

In redefining India’s geopolitical relationship, Mr. Modi would have to take a call on balance of power in the Asia-Pacific. While it is tempting to enmesh in security arrangements that have Japan, Australia and the United States as the major players, a more prudent and bolder course that the Prime Minister can pursue is to propose and push for an integrated dialogue that involves all the major players in the region on a single dialogue platform.

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