From Xi’an to Ahmedabad and Wuhan to Mamallapuram, Modi and Xi have started a trend of informal bilateral meets to provide stopgaps in a perpetually ‘at odds’ relationship.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming informal summit is taking place in an ancient temple town called Tamil Nadu. The choice of Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram is culturally significant. Not just India but has historical links that it has shared with China for over 2000 years.
But the choice is more significant that comes across. So, the cultural significance is no coincidence and it being the center-theme of these talks is neither. The meet today and tomorrow between the heads of the world’s two most populated countries is not just one of sheer festivities and friendliness. India and China share a perpetual love-hate relationship, which inadvertently inclines more towards the wrong end.
Regional Significance of the 2nd Modi-Xi Informal Summit
The trend of informal summits first convened between the two countries in Wuhan, China back in April 2018. In Wuhan, Modi also exchanged views with Xi on significant bilateral and global issues. Back then the overriding issues were Doklam where India and China had indulged in aggression in 2017. This time the volatile region on the table is Kashmir.
Since India’s abrogation of Article 370 which revoked Kashmir’s autonomy, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has only found one true foreign friend with the ability to influence. China has supported Pakistan and even took the Kashmir issue to the UN Security Council. However, much to Khan’s dismay, India has shown undeterred confidence in its stand.
Imran’s China Visit and Indo-Chinese Press Statements on Kashmir
Ahead of the Modi-Xi Summit, Imran Khan also flew to Beijing. Khan hoped to reignite Kashmir seeing the upcoming meet as an opportune moment. Consequently, on 8th October, China issued a statement. It said that Kashmir Issue should be resolved bilaterally by India and Pakistan as per the UN charter, UNSC resolutions. It also urged the two nations to consolidate mutual trust, and safeguard peace and safety in the valley.
China’s stated its position on Kashmir as “clear and consistent”. But China said that it is also closely watching the development and supported Pakistan’s core interests. India was quick to retaliate, reiterating that Kashmir is its internal issue. Furthermore, India won’t entertain any third-party comment. Moreover, Beijing is well aware of New Delhi’s position.
China’s own Interests in Kashmir and recent negativity in bilateral relations
Furthermore, China itself has a keen interest in Kashmir where it has illegitimately occupied the Aksai Chin region and now China is building the economic corridor that passes through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. However, India is a vehement opposer of the corridor which inarguably makes India’s territorial border more vulnerable to future intrusion.
Furthermore, there have been a number of negative developments that haven’t helped the Indo-China bilateral relations. Recently the Indian embassy in Beijing was denied the space for Gandhi Jayanti celebrations. But this was due to conflicting dates with China’s 70th-anniversary celebrations.
As per media reports, Xi and PM Modi will discuss new security measures along the unsettled border.
China has also protested the Indian Army’s ‘Him Vijay’ exercise currently taking place in Arunachal Pradesh. It is also wary of the XVII Corps or Mountain Strike Corps which it sees as acts of aggression. However, it sees the steps as a fair deterrent against Chinese military tactics in the region.
Regional Impact: Consolidating Economic Power
President Xi Jinping’s meet with Indian PM Modi is not a stand-alone visit. On his south Asian trip, Xi will also travel to Nepal where BRI projects are ongoing. Furthermore, China is building a railway line connecting it with Nepal. Consequently, this would strength China’s plan of reviving the ‘silk route’. On the other hand. India’s historically close relations with Nepal have been unsteady.
RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) is a proposed Free Trade Agreement that eliminates most tariffs and also non-tariff barriers. It is between 10 ASEAN member countries. It also includes 6 other nations India, China, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea. Cumulatively, these 16 nations account for $50 trillion of the Global GDP and a population of 3.5 billion people.
Shaping the future of the Indian market
RCEP’s aim is to boost trade among the countries, especially to attract foreign direct investment. It could facilitate MSMEs in India. Furthermore, it will also complement the “Act East Policy” formulated by the Indian government. The move might improve bilateral ties providing a bigger market opportunity. Especially for Indian service sectors such as IT industry, healthcare facilities, and educational services.
However, along with it come many challenges that have kept India skeptic till now. NITI Aayog held that India reported a widening in trade deficit with the ASEAN countries and South Korea and Japan. Moreover, if India becomes a member of RCEP. It could lose a large number of its customs revenues collected by the import duties.
But experts opine that the flow of cheap Chinese products and dumping strategy is not beneficial. It could harm the Indian domestic market in a similar way to the US. Also, China is already enjoying a $ 60 billion trade surplus with India. Moreover, India is under considerable pressure from RCEP countries. RCEP wants India to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers by at least 80% on its trade products.
Providing Stopgaps and Mending Old Rifts
India and China are late entrants on the World Geopolitical and Economic landscape. Likewise, Asia too has been a late entrant but today holds a formidable share on the global economic market. However, for the rest of the world, India and China are the two biggest markets to please their corporations. They are also the key to future influence in the geopolitics of Asia.
In Mamallapuram, the Modi-Xi Summit is expected to take another baby step. A step towards repairing of old ties, building new ones and keeping issues that can bite at bay.