By Tarun Vijay
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s China visit has come at a time when his government is completing his first year in power and global strategic equations are fast rearranging. At a time when India’s economy is gaining strength and global economists are hailing Modi’s one year in power as the best India has had economically, Modi walks in China as the most confident and powerful prime minister to have ever visited. And with President Xi Jinping, considered to be a strong leader moulded in Deng Xiaoping’s school of thought, a courageous march of togetherness seems more possible than ever.
The Nehru years with China were rooted in a mirage and ended in clouds of animosity and suspicion. Indira Gandhi never visited and Rajiv Gandhi did succeed in de-freezing the ties, but could not put them on a strong wicket. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had the statesmanship to show an out-of-box approach, formally accepting the TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region) as China’s integral part and getting Sikkim recognised by the Chinese as Indian state, and institutionalising the mechanism to resolve the border dispute through the appointments of Special Representatives (SRs). Later we signed the important joint document “A Shared Vision for the 21st Century” during Manmohan Singh’s 2008 China visit. Manmohan Singh’s second China visit in 2013 resulted in agreements on keeping border tranquil, exchange of data on trans-border rivers, cooperation for Nalanda University besides establishing sister-city partnerships between Delhi-Beijing, Kolkata-Kunming and Bangalore-Chengdu.
Prime Minister Modi is set to create a new era in India-China relations by focussing more on building trust and inviting Chinese investments. Whatever we say about the growing trade and bilateral exchanges, the fact remains the suspicion level remains high for each other which reflects in the complicated visa norms too. Modi is expected to break the ice and begin a fresh, confident and bold new phase of “vishwas” – the trust that will pave way for future cooperation in an unprecedented manner. Once the trust begins to soar at the people’s level, nothing is impossible, a high Chinese official in Beijing last month told me.
Away from the strict official positioning and stiff collars, Modi can make Chinese people look at India from a refreshingly new angle. Military and economy have always been two essential parts of diplomatic parleys, but this time the Indian prime minister is a leader who has perfected the art of charming.
Modi’s debut on China’s social media Weibo initiative has not gone in vain. When a Hongkong-based Phoenix TV correspondent asked me in an interview about the critical remarks arriving on Modi’s Weibo account, I said that’s welcome as we are a democracy and know how to use this opportunity to explain to critics the correct position. She was surprised that we have no problem with criticism. That’s where India, with its democracy, has the power to overcome hurdles.
On the economic front, Modi will have to do hard talk on balancing the huge trade deficit, which has risen to a whopping $37.8 billion. China’s economy is almost four times the size of India and their official military budget ($119 billion) is three times larger than ours. The huge aid to Pakistan, the new economic corridor linking Gwadar with Xinjiang and the PLA presence in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir concerns our security.
But should it be allowed to impact negatively on our bialtaral ties with a neighbour that is indisputably more important than others? We may choose to remain enveloped in fears or begin a power walk with confidence in our values and sinews. Modi has chosen the latter path.
An India that’s meticulously ensuring growing presence in ASEAN, continuing strengthening economy with long term allies like Japan and the US, building better ties with the Middle East and Israel can happily build a bridge of cordiality and trust with a neighbour with whom we have had civilisational ties dating back to more than two millenniums.
The strategic issues remain high on the radar of both the countries. But once a mechanism of cordiality is well oiled and functioning, the conflict fears can be turned into complementary positions too.
Modi’s India is doing its best to create an atmosphere of walking together in the neighbourhood and in spite of all provocations, India has shown dexterity to keep cool while standing firm on its position with strength. With Modi working to have India move on the World Bank’s ‘Ease to Do Business’ index from number 142 to number 50, and foreign institutional investment for the 12 month period surpassing $47.2 billion, i.e. up 640 percent over the previous 12 month period, it is a different story this time. A billion people talking to another billion people – to walk and dream together.