Agenda Set: Two Cheers for Modiji’s China Visit

Agenda Set: Two Cheers for Modiji’s China Visit

by May 7, 2018 0 comments

Two Cheers for Modiji's China VisitAlthough the results of the Wuhan Summit are yet to be announced, our PM, Narendra Modi, definitely set the agenda.

Even his worst critics will give Prime Minister Narendra Modi at least two cheers for his recent diplomatic achievement in lifting the India-China relationship above the common bitterness prevalent till the other day to a higher, summit-level engagement that lays out a calibrated action plan to serve the set objective of normalising relations between the two Asian giants. This is statesmanship of the highest order. That the summit was deliberately kept ‘informal’ was a part of statesmanship. The chances of success of this unprecedented initiative will depend on whether the two leaders have measured each other’s intention — explicit or otherwise — correctly.

Chinese President Xi Jinping understood that his guest is not a namby-pamby idealist as was Jawaharlal Nehru when the then Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai, descended on New Delhi suddenly in the early 1960s. At that moment, there was intense tension in the relationship between the two Asian neighbours. And the Indian leader was sadly under the miasma of China, convinced that it will not wage a war to grab more of Indian territory. President Xi, on the other hand, got a taste of the present Indian Prime Minister over Doklam. That Modi is not vulnerable to pressure when dealing with an adversary was what Doklam demonstrated. If necessary, he would have been ready for a tit-for-tat and he knew exactly how far his rival would go. Thus, Doklam was a tipping point in India-China relations, enabling both parties to measure each other correctly. India now has strong backing from US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Earlier, China’s hegemonist plans in the South Sea as also elsewhere had driven South-East Asian nations to build economic and political relationship with the India-US-Japan-Australia linkage to counter Chinese pressure.

After the Indian refusal to participate in Chinese sponsored One Belt One Road conference as a protest against China’s policies and New Delhi’s strategic/defence deals with US-Japan, it must have been clear to President Xi that he was dealing with a rival who will not yield to pressure tactics but is perfectly amenable to rational discussion. Indian critics of Modi, who bemoaned the absence of reference to Doklam in the Wuhan talks, should have remembered that the tipping point was not under discussion. The future course of action was. What Modi and Xi discussed will not be known at present. In fact, many Asian nations will be watching with concern and interest whether Beijing will pursue a hegemonic or a peaceful path in South and South-East Asia. India will be watching for moderation in China’s policies in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries where India has deep interests. The decision of the two Governments to aid Afghanistan to withstand terrorist attacks and aid economic development is one such welcome outcome of the Wuhan summit.

But it must be asked whether Beijing will be giving up on its policy of edging out India from Nepal; Modi has indicated that India is going to defend its interests in Nepal with all its might — his telling Nepal’s new Government that if it prefers China to India in financing its hydro-electric project, India will not buy the power generated by it. Many analysts would have noted a sudden turn round in President Xi’s handling of North Korea, which has been making threats to destroy US and Japan with nuclear-tipped missiles and which provoked Trump to say that he has firepower enough to wipe out North Korea even before Kim Jong-un’s first missile reaches its destination. Only China could tame Kim and Xi did so after the North Korean dictator was asked to rush to Beijing in a special train. Events since then have lowered significantly the 30-year tension between the Koreas, no doubt a welcome development in a world full of strife and faith-based wars.

A declaration came on the part of Kim that he will discontinue nuclear tests to enable, perhaps, Trump to come to the peace zone between the two Koreas to meet with the North’s ‘Great Leader’ is a message from President Xi now that the ruling establishment in Beijing has confirmed him as President of China for life. The Chinese President would now project his new image of a peacemaker with the whole of his country behind him for the immediate future. He could not do so with India-China tension building up to a point of no-return and is therefore likely to want to do his best to de-escalate it. We can watch for the progress towards that in the coming months. It is Indian territory that the Chinese are occupying, his guest from India might have tried to put across to him. Which means it is in China’s interest to demonstrate progress in negotiations on the border. We can wait and watch whether that will take place.

Modi is just about a year from a General Election in India where most analysts give him another five-year term. So, the time to strike a deal and strengthen stability across the Asian continent is now for both President Xi and Prime Minister Modi. The problem remains with an unstable Pakistan where fundamentalist forces, its Army as also the civil administration are in a constant battle for power. Unfortunately, this criticality also coincides with the rise of international terrorism from Pakistani soil. Beijing has to assure international opinion that it is against terror yet it has to support Pakistan’s terror chiefs like Hafiz Saeed because the civilian government in Islamabad cannot afford to try him despite the US Administration demanding it and withholding its annual two billion dollar aid to the Pakistan military.

China has chosen a Janus-faced policy on Hafiz. On the one hand, it is supporting his ‘freedom’ while on the other assuring everybody that it is against terror. Again, we will have to watch for any sign of a change in policy after the exchange of views between the Chinese and Indian leaders in Wuhan. Modi has to convince his people in an election year that the tango with Xi has been worth the while for peace and stability and to work towards making the 21st century an Asian century. Equally important for him is to take tangible steps to bridge the widening trade gap in China’s favour, thanks to the cheap inflow Chinese goods which have flooded the Indian market and dealt a huge blow to small Indian enterprises.

But it looks like Modi’s China visit has started bearing some fruit. China has exempted import tariffs for 28 drugs, including all cancer drugs, from 1 May. According to the National Cancer Institute, the market for antineoplastic drugs used to fight tumours in China exceeds 120 billion Yuan (about 19.1 billion US Dollars).

(The writer is a political commentator and a former BJP Rajya Sabha MP)

Writer: Balbir Punj

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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