Modi’s China Visit: Beijing Remains Unyielding – Analysis ( Source- Eurasia Review / Author- Namrata Hasija)

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Source- Eurasia Review

Author- Namrata Hasija

The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, recently concluded his three-nation tour of China, Mongolia and South Korea. Of the three, the most anticipated was the visit to China, after which both sides have claimed to have achieved ground breaking results. From the Indian point of view there were some important issues that were on the table for discussion, such as the border issue, trade imbalance, water sharing and Chinese investment in India.

The imperative question is what did Prime Minister Modi bring back for India?

A record 45 agreements were signed during the visit, including 24 inter-governmental agreements in outer space, cyberspace, earthquake preparedness, maritime science, smart cities, consular establishment, finance, education, exchanges between political parties, states and provinces, think tanks and so on. In the field of economics, 21 business agreements were signed, worth $22 billion.

Many are applauding the 24 inter-governmental MoUs signed along with deals worth $22 billion between the two countries. The other highlight was Modi’s address to students at the universities in Tsinghua and Fudan. Prime Minister Modi announced electronic visas to Chinese tourists which was applauded by the Chinese.

On closer scrutiny, neither the agreements nor the 41-page Joint Statement yields any fruitful results for India. China just took “note” of India’s aspirations of joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group and its hopes of playing a bigger role in the United Nations Security Council. China did not out rightly voice support for a permanent UNSC seat that India has been pushing for. No plans were announced to rectify the lopsided trade deficit, which currently is in China’s favour. The funding from Chinese banks, such as the Industrial and Commercial Bank of Chin (ICBC) and China Development Bank, for Airtel, Adani Power Company and Jindal Steel and Power accounted for the major part of the agreements, meaning that the deals were signed to finance Indian firms to buy Chinese products.

China has already been pushing to become the major supplier of power and telecommunications equipment to India. Point 17 in the joint statement said: “The leaders noted with appreciation the positive momentum in investment projects as Chinese companies respond to the invitation to ‘Make in India’ and Indian companies expand their presence in China.” However, much depends on whether China would want to manufacture in India as by far it buys raw materials from India and supplies value added goods to India. Thus, the ‘Make in India’ initiative will remain in the back seat with India being a destination for Chinese goods and the trade deficit will remain as it is because nothing in the declaration aims to fulfil prerequisites for the same.

The MoUs that were signed included ones regarding the establishment of consulate generals, and partnering Doordarshan and China Central Television — both would bring in only a minuscule capital inflow into India. There has been no agreement on comprehensive data sharing relating to common rivers, with China denying India’s request to supply information regarding the water flow other than that of the monsoon period.

No forward movement was seen on the border issue which is the main bone of contention between the two. This being said, due credit must be given to the prime minister for being candid and indicating that it is necessary for China to reconsider its approach to realize the full potential of the relationship. Modi said, “I have proposed resuming the process of clarifying the Line of Actual Control. We can do this without prejudice to our positions,” he added for good measure. The joint statement did outline a programme for the annual meetings between their militaries, expand exchanges between the border commanders and start using a military hotline to defuse flare-ups on the border. However, no plan was sketched on how to resolve the problem of the LAC unilaterally declared by China in 1962. Occasional controlling of the flare-ups is not enough as both countries need to resolve the issue.

Chinese officials and media have time and again claimed Arunachal Pradesh as part of China and even advised Prime Minister Modi not to visit the disputed area. However, nothing materialised even after discussion on all these issues by the prime minister. China has given no statements regarding all these sensitive issues even after Modi brought up the subject a couple of times during his discussions with the Chinese leadership.

China has stuck to its old game plan of showcasing a grand welcome, trying to show that its rise is indeed peaceful. However, if Modi’s visit is analysed closely, it is clear that China has neither yielded on any major points, and nor has it agreed to any requests by India. Certainly, many agreements were signed but no major steps were taken to resolve major problem areas even after repeated and open statements by Modi.

China’s stand could be guessed through an article in the Global Times published before Modi’s visit which stated that Modi has been “playing tricks” on the border and security issues to get leverage from China. It reiterated that India must take steps to improve bilateral relations by not encouraging the Dalai Lama, and not making Tibet an issue.

Modi’s visit, therefore, cannot be termed unproductive through any fault of his. Rather, it is the failure of the Chinese to either compromise or yield on important issues, or else, simply brush them under the carpet by pretending they do not exist.

*Namrata Hasija is a Research Associate with Centre for China Analysis and Strategy. She can be contacted at hasija.namrata@gmail.com

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