Trump’s policies bring Beijing, Delhi closer together

By Lin Minwang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/23 20:58:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Bilateral ties with India have taken on a new gloss, as both sides have noted. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold an informal meeting in the Chinese city of Wuhan from Friday to Saturday, according to the latest Chinese media reports. Hua Chunying, spokeswoman at the Chinese foreign ministry, said at a press briefing days ago that "China and India share extensive common interests and enjoy promising prospects for bilateral cooperation."

Both countries long to develop this new look into a more stable situation. India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman are now on their visit to China. They are expected to talk to their Chinese counterparts on diplomatic and security issues, demonstrating that both sides are bidding to bring bilateral relations back on track following last year's Doklam standoff.

In February the Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued an internal circular letter to all government officials asking them to "avoid participation in any event that may require the presence of the Dalai Lama," ahead of celebrations scheduled for late March in New Delhi. Then they demanded the commemoration activity be held outside the capital city. The move drew criticism from some Indians and consequently the Ministry of External Affairs released a statement claiming India's position on the Dalai Lama has not changed.

However, a year ago, despite China's protest India allowed the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang in South Tibet of China, called "Arunachal Pradesh" in India. At that time Kiren Rijiju, union minister of State for Home Affairs of India, made a high-profile announcement that China was interfering in India's internal affairs.

Thus it is obvious that the Narendra Modi administration is gradually adjusting its China policy. The adjustment has come as a result of China's efforts to safeguard its own interests and its display of goodwill toward India.

The Doklam standoff was a turning point. In 2016, China and India were at odds on a slew of issues such as India's bidding for the membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and listing Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. India retaliated by stirring trouble with the sensitive border and Tibetan issues.

But the policy was censured by people of insight. "India is losing an opportunity with China," "New Delhi had tilted too far towards the US, been too aggressive with China" and other commentaries with a similar tone often hit the headlines.

After former Indian ambassador to China Vijay Keshav Gokhale took over as foreign secretary, New Delhi changed the tone of its China policy.

Washington's behavior also prompted the Modi government to adjust policy. In a strategy on South Asia released last August, US President Donald Trump displayed his intention to help India and contain Pakistan. But the White House wanted New Delhi to play a more proactive role in Afghanistan and even dispatch troops to the war-torn country: a heavy burden for India. Trump's fickleness in trade and visa policies brought India and China closer.

The Indian government has entered a stage of strategic adjustment toward China. We await the outcome. China may well become a topic in the upcoming general election.

But no matter how much the Indian government adjusts its China policy, Sino-Indian relations will improve even as differences and contradictions remain. Having a correct expectation of India is what we Chinese need so as not to be disappointed by our engagement with the country. Indian diplomacy traditionally has tended to seek benefits from multiple parties rather than taking sides.

Warmth and goodwill are also necessary for China's India policy. As Xi said in a speech about India, "we must not focus our attention only on our differences and forget about our friendship and cooperation." 

The author is a research fellow at the institute of international studies, Fudan University.


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