Ni Hao, China. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to China promises to be a captivating show, high on optics as well as substance, and is expected to coalesce diplomacy, culture, business, geopolitics and outreach to the Indian diaspora. When PM Modi touches down on the Chinese soil May 14, the Chinese people can hope to see and hear an Indian leader who has a flair for using innovative methods to connect and forge a new narrative of win-win opportunities between the two Asian giants.
Ahead of his trip, PM Modi has struck all the right notes that should endear him to the Chinese leadership and ordinary Chinese people. He has become the first Indian leader and only the second world leader to sign on to Sina Weibo – the Chinese version of microblogging platform twitter. “Hello China! Looking forward to interacting with Chinese friends through Weibo,” said the prime minister in his first post on Sina Weibo. Posting on his official twitter handle, he said: “Looking forward to visiting China from 14-16 May to boost friendship between our 2 ancient civilizations and 2 largest developing nations.” “I am confident my visit will lay the foundation for further enhancing economic co-operation with China in a wide range of sectors.”
The Modi government has already underscored its strategic intent to build harmonious and multi-pronged relations with China by rolling out the red carpet for Chinese president Xi Jinping within months of taking charge last year. And now, it’s time to pay a return visit.
It will be an aesthetically visual feast when the Chinese leader takes PM Modi around his hometown Xian, also the home of the legendary Terracotta Warriors. Mr Modi’s trip to Xian will have echoes of Mr Xi’s trip to Gandhinagar and Ahamedabad in September last year when the Indian leader hosted the Chinese leader to a lavish cultural feast at Sabarmati Ashram before holding talks in the capital Delhi. This time around also, cultural and hometown diplomacy will set the tone for wide-ranging talks between the two leaders in Beijing.
The agenda is expected to be multi-layered, with business and economic issues competing with strategic talks focusing on the boundary question and peace and stability in the Asian hemisphere and beyond. Building trust will be the operative mantra. The two leaders are expected to focus on buttressing mechanisms on maintaining peace and tranquillity along the un-demarcated frontier, which New Delhi has identified as the core priority to ensure friction-free relations with its largest neighbour.
The overarching focus will be on imparting a new dynamism and long-term direction to rapidly expanding economic ties. Bilateral trade has exceeded $70 billion and the two countries are looking to scale it up to $100 billion. But with trade deficit ballooning and becoming increasingly unviable, India is hoping that China will grant the much-needed market access to Indian companies in diverse areas, including IT, pharma and food processing, among others.
Make in India
With Prime Minister Modi determined to make and re-make India into an Asian powerhouse, one can expect the Indian leader to rope in China as a reliable partner in his Make in India mission. China has already responded with enthusiasm, and is looking to pump in around $20 billion investment into India’s infrastructure sector. China has already begun preparatory work on industrial parks in Maharashtra and Gujarat. The preparatory talks have already begun to facilitate Chinese expertise in upgrading Indian railway platforms and network.
Matching hardware & software
Looking ahead, the focus will be more and more on leveraging synergies and complementarities into win-win collaborative ventures. If China has proven strengths in hardware, which can help India in bolstering infrastructure and its manufacturing sector, India is known for its software prowess that can help Chinese companies to become more efficient and competitive. This mutually empowering formula looks set to define the future trajectory of India-China relations.
Cultural diplomacy is set to make this future more appetising – the commingling of yoga and Tai-Chi and enhanced travel and tourism are set to enlarge the constituency for stronger relations between Asia’s emerging powers and provide the much-needed popular resonance to this critical partnership. Bollywood bonding is becoming stronger, with the two countries looking to jointly produce films. PM Modi’s visit to China will also shine forth in his spirited outreach to the Indian community at a stadium in Shanghai – the first time an Indian leader will be addressing expat Indians in China.
Taking a long-range view, cooperation and competition are inextricably woven into the fabric of the burgeoning India-China relationship. Prime Minister Modi has robustly refuted the skewered notion of India and China as rivals, and has provided a mature articulation of the evolving dynamic of this partnership. In an interview with TIME magazine, Mr Modi said memorably: “We cooperate with China at the international stage but we also compete with China when it comes to commerce and trade,” Mr Modi said in an all-encompassing interview ahead of the first anniversary of his government on May 26.
To sum up, one can identify some basic home truths and animating principles that underpin the evolving India-China relationship. First and foremost, the success of China and the success of India are intimately interlinked. Second, the maintenance of peace and tranquillity on the border is a prerequisite to realising the full potential of the relationship. Third, the areas of convergence outweigh areas of differences. Fourth, building better communication and understanding of each other holds the key to the long-term health and vitality of this critical relationship.
A journey of a thousand miles, as a Chinese proverb says, begins with a small step. The two Asian giants have gone beyond inches and are now making rapid strides to clock MILES, what Prime Minister Modi has famously called the Millennium of Exceptional Synergy as they walk hand-in-hand in the unfolding journey of an Asian century. This is, after all, the journey of two and a half billion people and their soaring dreams.
- 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.
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