‘THE SECOND MODI-XI JINPING SUMMIT’

JAYADEVA RANADE, President, CCAS   April 2015

  

 
In mid-May this year Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping for their second summit within a year. With this Modi has clearly indicated a desire to improve ties with China. Countries around the world will closely watch this meeting between a decisive, nationalist and pragmatic Modi and Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong whose vision for China is encapsulated in the muscular ‘China Dream’. 
Modi goes to China after enhancing border patrols and initiating steps to strengthen India’s border defence infrastructure. He has given Indo-US relations an unambiguous orientation and potentially more enduring footing. He has consolidated links with Japan and Vietnam and will have concluded successful engagements with France, Germany and Canada, all of which include economic, hi-tech or defence-related agreements.
Receiving Modi will be a self-confident Chinese leadership buoyed by the successful launch of the New Development Bank (formerly the BRICS Development Bank), the Contingency Reserve Arrangement and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Particularly gladdening for Beijing has been that so far 46 countries, including advanced nations and close allies of the US like UK, Australia and potentially Japan, have disregarded US advice and queued to join the AIIB. The financial institutions complement Xi Jinping’s twin economic initiatives of the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Route -- popularly referred to as the ‘One Road, One Belt’ – that the Chinese President has elevated to national strategy.
Preparatory groundwork for the ‘One Road, One Belt’ was laid with the ‘Conference on Peripheral Diplomacy’ held in Beijing in late October 2013, which hinted that China would attempt to alter existing power relationships that have defined the Asia-Pacific region’s geo-strategic environment. For the first time in the history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Beijing designated neighbours as “friends” and “enemy”, promised huge fiscal and other benefits to “friends” and articulated the concept of Beijing-led security alliances. This was reiterated by Xi Jinping, albeit less directly, at the ‘Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs’ in Beijing in November 2014. Relevant for India is Beijing’s identification so far of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Turkey as “friends”. 
As on the occasion of his visit last September, India should anticipate another definite push for endorsement of these twin economic initiatives being steered personally by Xi Jinping. Their acceptance would put at serious risk the fragile economies of India’s vulnerable north eastern states. 
Pertinent too is Beijing’s bid to upgrade its international standing by getting Washington to accept its formulation of a “New Type of Great Power Relations”. Raised by Chinese President Xi Jinping in meetings with US President Barack Obama first in June 2013, and later in July and November 2014, the formula states: (i) major powers should have no conflict or confrontation, should emphasize dialogue and should treat each other’s strategic intentions objectively; (ii) they should have mutual respect, including for each other’s core interests and major concerns; and (iii) they should conduct mutually beneficial cooperation, abandon the zero-sum game mentality and advance areas of mutual interest. Significant is the consistent emphasis on respect for “each other’s core interests”, which points to China’s abiding ambition to dominate the South China Sea and Asia-Pacific region.
Xi Jinping’s focus on China’s “rejuvenation” and emphasis on “core interest” rules out any compromises on issues concerning the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and has contributed to a decisively assertive foreign policy. Relevant is Xi Jinping’s speech at a Politburo ‘study’ session on January 28, 2013, where he asserted: “China will never … give up our legitimate rights and will never sacrifice our national core interests. No country should presume that we will engage in trade involving our core interests or that we will swallow the ‘bitter fruit’ of harming our sovereignty, security or development interests”. The 18th Party Congress document adopted in November 2012 also, for the first time, emphasized that there will be “no compromises” on issues concerning “national sovereignty and security of core interests”. This has been reiterated at regular intervals by senior Chinese Party and military officials. 
Leading Chinese strategists close to Xi Jinping endorse this while advocating a tougher, more direct stance on settling outstanding issues with neighbours. They insist these should not be temporarily set aside on the ground that they could strain relations. These views were reflected in at least two high-level, closed-door conferences chaired by Dai Bingguo, till recently State Councillor and China’s Special Representative for talks with India, in Beijing late last year.
For there to be meaningful forward movement in the India-China relationship, five main issues require to be addressed during Prime Minister Modi’s upcoming visit to China. These are: (i) the disputed border; (ii) the unprovoked intrusions, including road construction inside Indian territory, by Chinese troops; (iii) plans for diversion of the Brahmaputra River to the north; (iv) Chinese activities in PoK and the close Sino-Pakistan relationship which is essentially strategic and defence-related and impinges directly on India’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity; and (v) the immense trade deficit disadvantageous to India. 
The first three are particularly emotionally-charged issues as they impact on the country’s sovereignty, national pride and future. Another is China’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea. Any attempt to gloss over these would have consequences.
Beijing has already prior to the visit, through an unusual number of articles in its official media and comments by officials -- including diplomats in the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi -- stated its position on the border issue. These statements reveal no hint of flexibility in China’s position, with China putting the onus on coming up with “innovative” and “out-of-the-box” thinking on India. Since September 2014, China has sought to keep the focus on the eastern sector -- comprising the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh -- highlighting that this is the biggest problem. This was repeated on April 9, 2015, by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hu Chunying who said: "There is a huge dispute in the eastern border of China-India border. This is undeniable fact." 
Beijing has also deftly avoided mention of the 14,380 square miles (approx. 37,244 sq kms) of territory under its forcible occupation in the Aksai China area of Ladakh in an attempt to place it outside the scope of discussion. This was indirectly indicated in the composition of the delegation led (Feb 27-Mar 2, 2015) by General Zhang Youxia, Director of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s General Armaments Department (GAD) and one of the few at this level with actual battle experience. He has publicly favoured a tough stance by China on territorial issues, though in the context of the maritime disputes in the South China Sea. The delegation included Lt General Zhang Hongzhe, Deputy Commander of the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), Lt General Zhou Yaning, Deputy Commander Second Artillery (or China’s strategic missile force) and, pertinently, Lt General Shi Xiangyuan, Deputy Commander of the Chengdu Military Region which exercises direct operational control over a major portion of the India-China border except for the western, or Ladakh, sector. This latter is under the operational jurisdiction of the Lanzhou Military Region. 
Articles in the official Chinese media simultaneously injected a note of realism and said that resolution of the border issue may not be possible during Modi’s visit in May. On February 26, 2015, China’s official media instead suggested that “identifying the lines of control on each side will be a key step to facilitating the long-stalled process of bringing the disputes to a peaceful resolution. In that case, border standoffs between India and China, such as the one in September last year which started before Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to India, should be avoided, helping create a friendly atmosphere to further deepen bilateral ties”.
This was endorsed by Prime Minister Modi in his interview with the Hindustan Times on April 9, 2015, when he said: “In so far as the border is concerned, the most important point right now is that peace and tranquillity must not be disturbed. That would create conditions for us to arrive at a mutually-acceptable solution. This is a complicated and old problem and needs to be addressed with care and with deliberation”. 
Obviating intrusions by Chinese troops would certainly be a major first step towards addressing the issue of absent trust and improving India-China relations. As negotiators settle down to discuss the proposed “lines of control”, however, it would be prudent to keep in mind that in the context of the western sector i.e. Ladakh, where the maximum number of intrusions have been taking place, Beijing is likely to approach it as a potential basis for a future settlement. 
The eastern sector where China claims the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh, and particularly Tawang, will be a difficult sticking point. When the Chinese for the first time officially raised their claim on Tawang in September 2005, they had cited the sentiments of the Tibetan people as a principal reason for raising the claim. This will be reiterated especially at this juncture when China is giving high priority to avoiding a situation of “twin Dalai Lamas” and is insistent that he reincarnates inside China. The prospect that the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation could potentially be ‘discovered’ at Tawang is unnerving for Beijing. China can be expected to subject India to severe pressure on the issue of the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation and presence of the Tibetan administration.
For India it will be essential to discuss the issues of China’s expanded territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, reiterated unequivocally in the context of stapled visas by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in June 2014. Discussions should include Beijing’s unwavering pressure on international financial institutions, like the ADB, compelling them not to give financial assistance to development projects in Arunachal Pradesh and not even referring to these states by name in their reports. If such a line to limit patrolling is to be discussed then China will need to give up this stance as otherwise it will cite this as evidence to further bolster its claim in future.  
The ambit and independence of the AIIB, which India joined in October 2014, could well figure in these discussions.
The Shaksgam Valley, which is almost 5,180 sq kms, or 1,930 square miles, of territory ceded illegally and unilaterally by Pakistan to China in 1963 is another issue that needs to be discussed in the context of the border negotiations and the Sino-Pak relationship. The presence of Chinese military and civil personnel and defence-related infrastructure construction activities in Pakistan’s northern areas as well as the Gilgit-Baltistan region, impinge directly on India’s security and sovereignty. In event of future conflict, Chinese presence could hamper India’s military planning and actions. 
Selective encouragement of Chinese participation in identified, non-sensitive sectors would be of mutual advantage. These will, of course, be on the agenda and include a range of issues such as Chinese investments in India, investment in Indian infrastructure and the manufacturing sector, cooperation in ‘green’ energy and the climate sector etc. 
A high priority on China’s agenda would be to prevent India from drawing too close to the US and Japan. An early indicator are the remarks recently of China’s Ambassador to India, who said the Chinese people are courteous and would give a warm welcome to India’s Prime Minister. This could have also been intended to partially address lingering apprehension in New Delhi that Beijing may plan some action to embarrass the visiting Indian dignitary.
While Beijing will undoubtedly highlight all agreements, it can be anticipated that it would try and portray Beijing’s ‘flexibility’. Beijing can be anticipated to push for an agreement, or positive statement, on discussions on the proposed “line of control”. China might also express support for India’s bid for a seat in the UNSC – thus further isolating Japan while secure in the knowledge that none of the UNSC’s permanent members really want reform! Both will be held up as achievements for Prime Minister Modi and Beijing’s ‘accommodative’ policy.
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(The author is a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India and is President of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy. The views expressed are personal.)
 
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