The informal summit will consider bridging differences in bilateral approaches to regional and global outlook.
The second informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of China Xi Jinping is to be held at the UNESCO heritage site of Mahabalipuram. It was once a thriving seaport in eastern India and an important trading point reaching out to all the countries of East and South East Asia. In around seventh century it became part of the Pallava Empire, but lost its importance in recent times but is still as significant and historic as Wuhan was.
India and China, undoubtedly, are in search for better bilateral cooperation and are also ambitious of assuming the responsibilities to lead the world’s affairs. There is no denying that differences in terms of their approaches to bilateral relations exist and sometimes these become serious, especially when China in particular has some rigid posturing on a number of pertinent important issues including its claims on Arunachal Pradesh. At the diplomatic level, both India and China have to be extra cautious in maintaining bilateral sensitivities. The informal summit will consider bridging the differences in the bilateral approaches to both regional and global outlook in the emerging dynamics of geopolitics.
While China has been protesting India’s valid and legal claim over Arunachal Pradesh, it has overlooked India’s protests on CPEC running through areas illegally ceded to China by Pakistan and also through Indian territory illegally occupied by Pakistan. China’s support for Pakistan, its involvement in CPEC, its support for terror suspects and its vociferous anti-India stand and statements after the 5 August Parliament resolution of abrogation of Article 370 are no secrets. More importantly, Beijing has protested the creation of two Union Territories, J&K and Ladakh, though it is none of its business as these are strictly internal matters of India and New Delhi has convinced the rest of the world with regard to its intent and fundamental goals.
As the Chinese leader is getting ready to set his foot on one of the largest democracies of the world, India, the ground under his feet in Hong Kong seems to be slipping, posing a serious threat to the power brokers in Beijing. The Chinese capital witnessed huge celebrations on the 70 years of Communist Party’s hold over the land and people of China. The event held at the infamous Tiananmen Square showcased China’s military might by parading new generation tanks, powerful DF-41 nuclear ICBM strategic missiles, supersonic drone and other deadly war machines. This was an attempt to demonstrate China’s power trajectory.
The ongoing trade war between US and China and the rising concern in the US strategic community over the not so peaceful ascendancy of China as the second largest economy of the world and Xi’s assertion that “there is no force that can shake the foundation of this great nation” are issues of greater importance for New Delhi to ponder over. How India can leverage its economic interest and enhance its export to make export import ratio a win-win situation shall also form a major part of the debate during the second informal summit at Mahabalipuram.
The US continues to be the leader in investments in science and technology (about $500 billion) and innovations (US issued the 10 millionth patent recently). China is fast catching up with the US, with about $420 billion investment in science and technology. Though this in itself is not an immediate cause of worry for the US and the rest of the world, the increase in dual use technology and the raised number of warheads are a cause of concern for the global community. More importantly, Chinese regimes in the past have never shied away from lending a helping hand to the country in India’s immediate neighbourhood in their nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
China’s defence based science and technology programme is more likely to reshape and enhance its strategic nuclear capabilities. The recently paraded DF-41 nuclear capable ICBM is said to have a range covering the western border of the United States. China’s weaponisation of space and strides in cyber warfare are a cause of concern for countries in Indo-Pacific and Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in the immediate neighbourhood of India. Whether or not India is able to bring these issues to the table and articulate the larger concerns for global peace and stability remains a question.
Modi-Xi Jinping meeting assumes greater importance in the present geopolitical setting in the region. The US-China trade war itself is unlikely to result in any tangible benefits to Indian industry or the troubled manufacturing sector. India will have to pursue an independent robust trade policy in the region and do a good amount of rethinking as far as its policy towards its regional partners are concerned.
New Delhi will have to put forward its best diplomatic foot while convincing Xi Jinping that New Delhi’s stand on J&K is non-negotiable and India cannot allow CPEC to pass through Pakistan occupied Indian territory. But New Delhi should have no second thoughts in cooperating with China on trade and other important global issues like global warming and carbon footprint audit.
China’s priorities are primarily focused towards winning the race for global supremacy in competition with the US. With South China Sea firmly under its control, China is strategising to exercise greater control over the evolving Indo-Pacific economic zone where the US had powerful allies and military presence. The idea of Quad is a counter strategic move where India is playing a seminal role. The world is increasingly recognising the importance of India’s growing economic and strategic clout. Even China has accepted India’s right to be part of Quad but is likely to keep a keen watch on the proceedings. It is mainly to reflect rule based security architecture and mobilise China to adhere the norms and international law.
Unlike the first informal meeting that took place about 70 days after the Doklam standoff, the second one is happening in a fairly events-free background.
Both leaders have a responsibility towards their respective citizens to keep the region free from flashpoints, power struggle games and arms race in order to address the real problems in the path of ensuring peace and progress. The rest of the world in general and India’s immediate neighbourhood in particular will keep watching the developments on the Sino-Indian front. There is no way other than to build synergy by understanding each others’ perceptions and converge on the areas of larger regional and global importance.
Professor Arvind Kumar teaches Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal. Seshadri Chari is a political commentator and strategic analyst.