FORTALEZA: They shook hands warmly, smiled, talked about “inter-connected dreams” and agreed to chart “a new and ambitious agenda” for galvanising strategic partnership between India and China. The maiden meeting between India’s newly-elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping July 14 on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Fortaleza has set the stage for a multi-pronged acceleration of India-China ties in the days to come.
The much-anticipated meeting has also set the stage for the Chinese president’s visit to India in September this year, possibly before Prime Minister Modi heads to the US to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and meet US President Barack Obama at the White House September 30.
The meeting lasted for an hour and twenty minutes, much beyond the time allotted for it, and signified the importance the two leaders attached to pitching bilateral relations onto a higher trajectory.
Resolving Boundary Issue
The two leaders agreed on an amicable settlement to their decades-long border dispute, saying successfully resolving the vexatious issue would set an example for the world on peaceful conflict resolution. In a tweet, Mr Modi termed the meeting as “very fruitful”. “The Prime Minister stressed the importance of strengthening mutual trust and confidence, and maintaining peace and tranquillity on the border,” said the statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office. “The prime minister stressed the importance of strengthening mutual trust and confidence, maintaining peace and tranquility on the border and respecting each other’s core interests and concerns, including in their shared neighbourhood, for realising the full potential of the relationship,” Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson of India’s ministry of external affairs, told Indian journalists in the balmy Brazilian port city, which is hosting the sixth BRICS summit of emerging powers.
The Long-range View
Taking a long-range view, Mr Modi spoke about major economic transformation the two countries are undergoing and stressed on “enormous opportunities to forge mutually beneficial partnerships and reinforce each other’s economic development.” This way, the two countries, the prime minister stressed,” could serve as engines of Asian and global prosperity.”
The Chinese president struck an upbeat note about the future trajectory of the India-China relationship and underlined the need to create the right conditions and shared Modi’s views on “building a high degree of engagement and familiarity between the two countries, to harness the full potential of their relationship.” “He reaffirmed a keen desire to work with Prime Minister Modi to make progress across the full spectrum of the relationship,” said Syed Akbaruddin.
Significantly, Xi Jinping also backed a greater role for India in the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at which India is currently an observer.
The substantive meeting reinforced the emerging template in the India-China relationship with the imperatives of economic relationship triumphing over complex issues like the boundary dispute that remains at the heart of off-and-on tensions between the two Asian giants. Prime Minister Modi raised India’s concerns over the ballooning trade deficit, estimated to be over 30 billion USD, and found in the Chinese president a receptive interlocutor willing to address India’s concerns. The Chinese president assured the Indian leader of allowing Indian service exports to China and scale up investments in India through industrial parks. India-China bilateral trade is estimated to be over $65 billion, but the massive trade deficit has caused anxiety about the sustainability of the economic relationship if this pattern of trade deficit persisted.
President Xi did acknowledge that for trade ties to be sustainable, there needs to be a much more balanced approach to trade,” said Indian foreign office spokesman. “He acknowledged that there were possibilities of enhanced trade in services from India, possibilities of expansion of Indian exports and Chinese tourism to India as being areas of opportunities for deficit to be reduced.” The two leading Asian economies have set the target of scaling up bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015.
In yet another signal about China’s desire to seek robust relations with India, China’s Xi invited Prime Minister Modi to attend the APEC summit China will host in November this year. India is currently an observer in the 21-nation APEC. By all accounts, 2014 promises to be yet another unique year in India-China relations that will see the two-way visits by the leaders of the two countries. Last year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited India, followed by the visit of the then Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh to India. “Prime Minister Modi expressed hope that President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to India this year was an opportunity to chart a new and ambitious agenda for the strategic partnership between India and China. He expressed appreciation for the invitation to him to visit Chin and looked forward to an early visit,” said the spokesperson of India’s foreign office.
Juggling strong relations with China and Japan simultaneously will be a major diplomatic challenge for Prime Minister Modi, who sees both countries as potentil partners in India’s ongoing journey of economic transformation and national development. Given Mr Modi’s record as a pragmatic development-oriented business-friendly leader, he is unlikely to resort to any containment geopolitics, but will likely pursue stronger relations with China, Japan and the US in pursuit of a pluri-lateral foreign policy or multi-alignment that will cohere and advance India’s developmental aspirations.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, a portal and e-magazine-journal focused on international affairs, emerging powers and the India Story. He is in Fortaleza to report and analyse the sixth BRICS summit for India Writes Network)
– Note to editors newspapers/publications: If you wish to publish this article or portions of it, you are free to do so, with appropriate credit to: India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.