India-China ties: Forging a new idiom of major powers relations

It’s a transformational moment in the history of India-China relations, marked by an infusion of fresh energy, dynamism and creativity in the way the two neighbours engage with each other. This is the first time the leaders of the two Asian giants have visited each other’s country within nine months, signalling their resolve to proactively cooperate in fashioning an emerging Asian century. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s May 14-16 visit to three cities in China – Xian, Beijing and Shanghai – was unique in many ways and cohered multiple strands of variegated relationship between the two Asian juggernauts that comprise one-third of the world’s population and boast of a collective GDP of over $12 trillion.

Prime Minister Modi’s visit to China consolidated the momentum generated by President Xi Jinping’s maiden visit to India in September 2014. Put together, these twin visits, and initiatives taken during the tenure of the previous government in Delhi, crystallize the emerging alphabet of India-China relations: A for Asia; B for Business; C for Culture; and D for Diplomacy and Development. This new vocabulary and semantics is set to script afresh new pathways of cooperation between the two neighbours, which are often portrayed as rivals and competitors in the Asian hemisphere, but are incrementally forging an ambitious and all-encompassing cooperative partnership straddling diverse areas.

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Modi’s China visit: Can India and China think differently?

In the times of globalization and intertwining economic interests at regional and trans-regional levels, the cooperation and crisis management has become increasingly important for a sustainable domestic as well as external economic development and environment. No one denies the role played by confidence building measures (CBMs) in maintaining peace and tranquility along the border, avoiding conflict, and thus creating a congenial atmosphere for cooperation not only at bilateral level but also at regional and multilateral organizations. CBMs signed between India and China in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and latest Border Defense Cooperation Agreement of 2013 is a pointer as most of the border negotiations have been held under the aegis of these mechanisms. However, the sensitive nature of the border has also called for ‘out of the box’ resolutions, for these have fallen short of finding a solution.
From bilateralism to multilateralism

It is owing to CBMs that India and China have struck some real convergence of interests on issues such as climate change, democratization of international financial institutions through multilateral forums such as Russia-China-India Strategic Triangle, Brazil; Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS); Brazil-South Africa-India-China (BASIC); the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF); East Asian Summits (EAS); G 20 and other multilateral forums such Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

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Five Takeaways Modi should target in China

Many Indian prime ministers have visited abroad in pursuit of national interests, although such visits to China were few and far in between, with five PMs visiting Beijing six times in as many decades. Some of these visits – by Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi and Vajpayee – have been described as “breakthroughs” for recognising Tibet and Taiwan as a part of China, with no reciprocal Chinese statement that Kashmir or Arunachal Pradesh are a part of India.

With PM Modi planning to make a trip to China from May 14-16, the first time an Indian prime minister will be visiting Beijing in the first year of his first term, it is natural – as PM Modi told his Chinese interlocutors – to expect “concrete outcomes” during the visit. For this visit to be successful, India needs to seek several clarifications and positive approvals from China on a host of issues in the realm of bilateral relations and beyond.

During the visit of PM Modi to China, there will be a lot of pressure in both countries to make this visit a “breakthrough’ in the bilateral relations. Such a breakthrough is quite possible if India clearly draws the red, amber and green lines of interactions with China, without falling into the binary trap of whether China is an opportunity or a challenge.

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