Will Xi Jinping’s visit thaw Indo-China relations?

Will Xi Jinping’s visit thaw Indo-China relations
Will Xi Jinping’s visit thaw Indo-China relations?

Will Xi Jinping’s visit thaw Indo-China relations

Chinese President Xi Jinping comes calling to India in the third week of September. Hailed as a much important maiden visit, it will see the two countries sign agreements in the fields of trade, services, railway and tourism. Of this, foremost is Chinese investment in industrial parks in India. An MoU on this was signed between the two countries during Commerce Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to China in the last week of June. She had gone there as part of Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s delegation. Beijing is keen to expand its manufacturing base in India by setting up industrial parks for which a delegation comprising leading Chinese investors and industrialists visited Delhi, Gujarat and Mumbai recently. According to official sources, announcements regarding quantum of investments and other issues will be made during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit.

Interestingly, under the Manmohan Singh government, Chinese authorities tried their best to set up industrial parks. But the more they tried to push the case, the more it received a setback. Partly, because of security concerns about Chinese companies, efforts to establish parks were stalled earlier – this is an argument offered by diplomats who once handed MEA’s China desk. But the rule of the game has changed under the Modi government, and this is what is propping up the Chinese to start their equipment making base in India.

Exploring avenues for cooperation

Besides, an agreement on cooperation in railways will also be signed in the course of Jinping’s two-day visit. Significantly, soon after assuming power at the Centre, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced launching of high-speed trains in the country. In his government’s maiden budget, introduced in parliament on July 10, a proposal for starting high-speed trains in the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor was formally submitted before the parliament.

In fact, the government’s plan is to have in place a network of high-speed train lines connecting the major metropolitan cities of India. The Chinese want to tap this growing sector by providing technology and managerial experience. Its keenness in this regard can be marked by the fact that just weeks before President Jinping’s high-profile visit, a 22-member Chinese delegation headed by the Deputy Administrator of the National Railway Administration visited India and held talks with top officials of the Central Railways in Mumbai. If sources are to be believed, during the meeting with railway officials, the Chinese delegation had discussed cooperation in raising speed of trains on existing routes, training of personnel handling trains and stations. Significantly, across Asia, it is China, after Japan which has an expertise of running bullet trains at the speed of 300 km per hour. Sources say China is ready to avail high-speed rail technology and its handling at a competitive price to India.

Then tourism is another area which will see India and China signing an agreement during the Chinese President’s visit. Significantly, India is adopting innovative way to improve two-way tourism. It has emphasised on religious tourism to push the growth of the sector. During Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with Chinese President Jinping on the sidelines of BRICS summit in Brazil, the former had referred to the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra and possibilities of China providing an additional route that could make this travel much easier for the Indian pilgrims. Modi is said to have told the Chinese President that should this opportunity arise through an additional route, number of religious tourists to China would swell. Also, the two nations want increase in normal tourists flow to each other side.

While China bound Indians’ numbers have swelled manifold, Chinese tourists arrival in India is still tepid. In 2013, over 97 million Chinese visited foreign countries, 18 per cent more than 2012. Of them, India received only a tiny fraction. According to data from the Ministry of Tourism, 160,000 Chinese visited India in 2013, around 60,000 more than 2012 when only 100,000 had landed in India. Strict visa norms are cited as one of the key reasons of the not-so-enthusiastic response among Chinese tourists towards India. During the Chinese President’s visit, such issues will at the centre of move to promote tourism between India and China.

Along with this, New Delhi will push the case of opening of Chinese market for India’s IT and pharmaceuticals – the two sectors which have not yet found encouraging response from Beijing. However, at the meeting in Brazil, President Jinping had himself “acknowledged that there were possibilities of enhanced trade in services from India,” MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said. It sounds good. If he is to be believed, China has of late shown inclination to warm up to India.

Incursions – a testing point

Some experts attribute this change in the Chinese attitude to Prime Minister Modi-led government’s apparent assertiveness towards China. It was evident when Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay was invited for Modi’s swearing-in and Kiren Rijiju, a Lok Sabha member from Arunachal Pradesh was included in the National Democratic Alliance government’s cabinet as a Minister of State for Home. But then, PLA troops’ incursions into the Ladakh region have not stopped. In the course of meeting between Modi and Jinping, incursions will be top issue to be broached by India. Incursions do “tend to undermine a relationship when we are focused on reviving historical ties, enhancing our economic ties and working together in international forum as the two developing countries,” sources say.

Besides, issues likely to figure during forthcoming meeting are ONGC’s bid to explore the South China Sea for gas and oil in the backyard of Vietnam. China has laid a blanket sovereign claim over the 1.4 million square miles long South China Sea and hence, has protested against India’s bid. New Delhi’s stand is clear that the South China Sea is an international water sea lane and any dispute over it should be resolved “through peaceful measures in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law.”

Breaking ground

India has also maintained that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea should not be impeded. In any case, the proof of the pudding is in the eating; India will have to keep a watch on its neighbourhood wherein China is pumping in money to expand its area of influence. For the moment, however, it is clear that the Modi government is ready to remove frictions in the two countries ties. Signals to this were made when at the just-concluded BRICS summit, India, to the dismay of pro-West hawks, allowed China to take away BRICS bank without creating any whimpering sound. Then Modi readily accepted the Chinese President’s invitation to visit Beijing to attend APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting, taking place on November 10-11.