Informal Xi-Modi meeting heralds new chapter in Sino-Indian relations

By Long Xingchun Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/26 19:08:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Chinese President Xi Jinping will have an informal meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday and Saturday in Wuhan, Hubei Province. Modi's visit to China, especially the informal meeting with Xi, is obviously not solely aimed at preparing for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in June. As Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou pointed out, when the two leaders meet, they will have strategic communication on the most profound and unprecedented changes the world has seen in a century and thoroughly exchange views on the overall, long-term, stra­tegic issues of China-India relations.

From June to August last year, a 72-day military standoff happened between Chinese and Indian troops in Doklam, and was close to war. It dragged Sino-Indian relations down to their lowest level since the 1962 Sino-Indian border War. Obviously, the Doklam standoff did not happen all of a sudden, but was the result of the accumulation of mistrust between the two countries.

India was discontented with and worried about China. When India applied for permanent membership of the UN Security Council, China's attitude toward it was the most passive of the five current permanent members. India's membership bid to the Nuclear Suppliers Group was also opposed by China on the grounds that New Delhi is not a signatory to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty or the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Although there are other countries who also opposed India's application, it ascribed its failure to China's obstruction. After these disputes, the Indian government and media considered China hostile.

China also has many doubts about India. While the Indian government promised not to support Tibetan separatism, it has harbored separatists over a long period of time and tacitly approved them engaging in activities that jeopardize China's interests in India. In recent years, India has drawn close to the US and Japan, cooperating with the US over Washington's rebalance to Asia-Pacific strategy and is even possibly setting up an Asian version of NATO together with the US and Japan to contain China. India is not only firmly opposed to the Belt and Road initiative, but also warned South Asian countries such as Sri Lanka to reject it.

Conflicts between China and India have kept accumulating, which exposed the fragility of Sino-Indian relations and prompted both sides to recognize that confrontation between China and India does not fit their interests. Disputes must be controlled.

India is a big country with a population of 1.3 billion, yet one third live below the poverty line, which brings an urgent need for development. While India has aspirations of pursuing major power status, it lacks the national strength. Maintaining strategic confrontation against China, India will lose out on Chinese investment and will have to invest more limited resources into its military, hindering its economic growth.

During the Xi-Modi meeting, China should let India know that Beijing does not define New Delhi as an opponent, nor seek to hinder its development. The purpose of cooperation between China and South Asian countries is not to besiege India. China encourages India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir conflict in a peaceful way. China should convince India that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is economic cooperation and does not influence China's neutrality. Resolving border disputes is not an urgent task of the two countries. Beijing and New Delhi should jointly maintain peace and stability in border areas.

Likewise, India should never use Tibet as a bargaining chip. India should let China believe that it will never take part in an Asian version of NATO or the Indo-Pacific strategy aimed at opposing China.

In 1987, the Sino-Indian skirmish broke out. In 1988, then Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi visited former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, which normalized Sino-Indian relations. The two nations later maintained 30 years of stable development.

The Xi-Modi meeting in 2018 following the 2017 Doklam standoff will without doubt promote mutual trust and reciprocity between the two countries, and will be a cornerstone of a stable long-term relationship between China and India.

The author is a research fellow at The Charhar Institute and director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University.

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