OPINION | Will Modi's China Sojourn Cause a New High: Checks and Balances by Amrita Jash
IndraStra Global

OPINION | Will Modi's China Sojourn Cause a New High: Checks and Balances by Amrita Jash

By Amrita Jash

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to China starting May 14, is the most awaited diplomatic entourage. The visit comes at the most opportune time, as it is preceded by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s iconic visit to the land of its “all-weather friend”- Pakistan. For China and Pakistan have elevated their relationship to a new high of “all-weather strategic cooperative partnership”- reinforcing their foreign policy agenda towards each other and reassuring the strength of their long standing friendship to the world at large. This critical move does hold greater implications for India as China-Pakistan nexus is primarily a counterweight against India. In this light, Modi’s forthcoming China visit comes with certain checks and balances.

Setting the Stage:

Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi in New Delhi
PM Modi has already laid the ground of his China visit by offering an olive branch to the Chinese. First, just weeks before his scheduled visit, PM Modi has joined the Chinese social media platform ‘Weibo’ as he stated “Hello China! Looking forward to interacting with Chinese friends through Weibo”. Modi’s move to connect with the Chinese masses is symbolic of extending a hand of friendship to China-  setting a positive tone to the India-China relations behind the rubric of China-Pakistan cordiale. And second, in his recent interview to the Time Magazine Modi said, India and China have learnt from history in dealing with their border dispute and that bilateral ties have reached a stage where they can cooperate at a global level while competing in commerce and trade. To which, the Chinese responded by calling the visit significant “to cement the existing momentum and take the relations to a new high”. Therefore, with these well-calibrated moves, Modi has already given a personal touch to the unfolding visit- subsiding the negative undertone often attached to India-China relations.

High Thinking Versus Low Expectations:

Having been internationally watched, how the dynamic will unfold between Modi and Xi, anticipations and expectations have taken the global floor. Generally, expected to be positive based on the recent evolving trends in India-China bonhomie, but the doubts still remain on Modi’s visit being a ‘breakthrough’ as compared to PM Jawaharlal Nehru’s visit in 1954 -which binded the relationship in the metaphor of “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” and, PM Rajiv Gandhi’s visit in 1988- which broke the stalemate of the cold behavioral dynamics, thereby, providing new impetus to India-China relations. In this context, will Modi’s visit provide a historical breakthrough remains contested.
The ambiguity lies in the imbalances of anticipations and expectations.  The key choke points are: First, undoubtedly, economics will take precedence over politics. As a result, a series of agreements is on the economic card for Modi in terms of advancing trade and investments. But the heavy trade deficit in bilateral trade will act as a pressure point. Second, the resolution of the border dispute will again undergo the rhetorics without any significant achievement. In this case, Modi’s March visit to Arunachal Pradesh might come under the radar- causing a set back. Thirdly, the Pakistan factor, in light of advancement of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the “One Belt, One Road” Initiative will be a critical factor in Modi-Xi talks. As India is yet not on board, Modi is deemed to face significant pressure from the Chinese side on clarifying India’s position. Apart from these critical factors, Indian Ocean and South China Sea will also act as red points in the agenda. While the Tibet factor is most likely to remain neutral provided the blind eye from both parties in order to avoid any circumstantial fall out.

With these existing bottlenecks, it can be anticipated that bilateral will be superseded by multilateral- offering a common ground of action. Whereby, BRICS, climate change, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), India’s membership in UNSC, counter-terrorism, energy and others will form the cornerstone of collaborative actions.

Therefore, in an overall assessment of the likely fall of events, Modi’s China visit as a breakthrough in India-China relations in breaking some protocols is highly questionable. Will Modi’s symbolic gesture be able to reap some Chinese concessions can only be tested with the systemic unfolding of the visit. Thereby, among several checks and balances, PM Modi’s China visit does open a window of opportunity, further adding to the incremental engagement between India and China.