Can Modi’s visit upgrade Sino-Indian ties?

By Hu Zhiyong Source:Global Times Published: 2015-5-11 23:53:01

At the invitation by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will kick off his trip to China on Thursday. This  is his very first state visit to China since Modi's inauguration in May 2014, as well as a return visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to India in September last year.

Ever since Modi assumed office, he has taken the initiative to actively develop India's relationships with Japan, the US, and European countries in no time, in order to promote the country's poor infrastructure construction and economic development. But his diplomatic moves last year have proven that he is a pragmatist, rather than a visionary.

Modi has been busy strengthening India's ties with neighboring countries to compete with China, while trying to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities for economic development created by China, as Beijing is actively carrying forward the "One Belt and One Road" initiative. Modi has also been playing little tricks over border disputes and security issues, hoping to boost his domestic prestige while increasing his leverage in negotiations with China.

Therefore, the ball is in India's court to deepen the bilateral relations. For China, developing friendly cooperation with surrounding countries has always been the foothold of its diplomacy. Fostering close ties with India, China's largest neighbor in South Asia, is of great importance to China's perimeter security and stability.

However, a number of Indian elites deem the rise of Beijing as threat of New Delhi's development, and make comparisons between the two sides in every aspect, which risks dragging the bilateral ties into vicious competition, and severely constraining the further enhancement of Sino-Indian relations.

As a matter of fact, the development of China and India is at different levels with different characteristics, and there is simply no comparison between the two.

Due to historical feud and mutual mistrust that stems from geopolitics, the two sides have never established real strategic trust. Leaders from both China and India should not only strengthen mutual political trust, but also stick to a series of agreed principles and match their rhetoric with action. In light of this, Modi should no longer visit the disputed border region in pursuit of his own political interests, nor should he deliver any remarks that infringe on the consensus on bilateral ties. Meanwhile, the Indian government should completely stop supporting the Dalai Lama, and stop making the Tibetan issue a stumbling block to the Sino-Indian relationship.

When it comes to the economic ties, despite the fact that China has already become India's largest trading partner, India's trade deficit with China keeps rising sharply. New Delhi is reluctant to admit the widening trade gap is its own fault, nor is it willing to examine its own economic structure and the quality of its exports to China. Instead, it has been repeatedly accusing or directing its anger at China.

The Indian government should loosen up on the limits of cross-border trade with China, reduce the trade deficit, improve the efficiency of government administrations, and relax the visa restrictions, in order to attract more Chinese companies to invest in India.

Furthermore, people-to-people and cultural exchanges between the two countries are far from enough. People from both China and India lack the most basic mutual understanding and interactions.

Due to the Indian elites' blind arrogance and confidence in their democracy, and the inferiority of its ordinary people, very few Indians are able to treat Sino-Indian relations accurately, objectively and rationally. Worse, some Indian media have been irresponsibly exaggerating the conflicts between the two sides, adding fuel to the hostility among the public.

Deepening bilateral relations requires concerted efforts of politicians from both sides. Modi should seize the chance of his China visit to enhance bilateral cooperation. 

Increasing dialogues and communications is good for both sides, because only by improving communications can we reduce frictions and misunderstandings. This requires not only enhancement of political mutual trust between leaders, but also more intense people-to-people exchanges, and making the power of the public a driving force for the further development of Sino-Indian ties.

The author is a research fellow with the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

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