Published On : Fri, May 15th, 2015

Will Modi challenge or pacify the ‘amiable lion’ that Xi calls China?

Prime Minister Modi’s current visit to China is very significant for India in many ways. For business, for resolving of border issues and a shadow boxing championship between two ‘superpowers’ -one obvious and the other aspiring – that will be vying for exerting power over South Asia and the Indian Ocean nations. In fact all of Modi’s foreign visits since he assumed power have been in preparation of this crucial visit as per some foreign relations experts.

Mr Modi’s decision to start his trip in the ancient central city of Xian – some 1,000km (600 miles) from Beijing – is being seen as symbolic of the move to improve relations between India and China.

Mr Xi, who like most Chinese leaders seldom hosts foreign dignitaries outside the capital, issued the invitation while visiting Mr Modi’s home town of Ahmedabad in Gujarat state last year.

After arriving on Thursday, Modi tweeted pictures of himself visiting the Wild Goose Pagoda and the Terracotta Warrior exhibition outside the city, saying he had received a “warm welcome” from dignitaries.

As a BBC analysis of this visit states – “A waking China “is a peaceful, amiable and civilised lion”, says President Xi. But who goes into the lion’s enclosure without armour?”
The challenge for the Indian prime minister is the same as for many other Chinese neighbours: to establish common interest with the amiable lion while hedging against the possibility that its temper turns nasty.

Increasingly confident that its ascendancy is irreversible, China’s new leadership under President Xi has turned its back on the foreign policy maxim that dominated Chinese thinking for three decades – “to bide our time and conceal our capabilities”.

Ties between China and India have long been strained over a border dispute stemming from a short but bitterly fought war between the two countries in 1962. It can be mentioned here that China has border issues with all its neibhours, but many of them have been resolved peacefully, including those with arch rivals Japan, but the Indo-China issues are far from resolved . They are not allowed to get in the way of business though.

The leaders of the world’s two most populous nations are expected to sign deals worth billions of dollars.

The BBC’s Celia Hatton in Beijing says deals on the table include Chinese trains and nuclear power plants to India, and pharmaceuticals and IT services from India to China. Modi will also seek Chinese investment in Indian infrastructure. It is for this reason that some Indian CMs including Maharashtra’s Fadnavis are accompanying him on this visit.

China is India’s biggest trading partner with commerce between the two countries totalling $71bn (£45bn; €62bn) in 2014.

But Indian figures show that its trade deficit with China has spiralled from just $1bn in 2001-02 to more than $38bn in 2014.

Relations are still strained over a long-running border dispute.

Since Modi came to power a year ago he has been making substantial changes to India’s traditional foreign policies, strengthening ties with the US and abandoning his country’s long-standing foreign policy of non-alignment.

Beijing, in turn, has strengthened ties with India’s arch-rival Pakistan, pledging to invest millions of dollars in infrastructure projects there.

As Prime Minister Modi began his three-day visit to China on Thursday, the Chinese state-owned media greeted him with a wrong map of India. The map, aired by the CCTV, excluded Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir from the Indian territory.
To be fair to China, the faux pas – though not a quid pro quo by any stretch of diplomacy – might remind the Chinese regime of the anchor of India’s national broadcaster, Doordarshan, calling President Xi Jinping ‘Eleven Jinping’ in September last year.

India and China have disagreed for decades over which country controls two chunks of the Himalayan territory. China says Arunachal Pradesh is part of China, while India insists China is illegally occupying Aksai Chin, a rocky and largely empty region far to the northwest.

During his 90-minute talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping today, Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised a series of stress points for their countries, including how China issues visas to applicants from Arunachal Pradesh, which it claims as Southern Tibet.

Sources said the PM raised India’s objections to visas being stapled to the passports of Arunachal residents, instead of stamps within.

Sunita Mudliyar