Forward-Backward Dilemma: Shadow of 370 on Modi-Xi Meet
One of the most anticipated political meetings is between India’s Prime Minister and President of China Xi Jinping. This will probably happen next month. China has openly taken a tough stance on Kashmir since 5th August. In such a scenario, this meeting will hold extra importance as the two countries prepare to meet, especially after the Howdy Modi event. SAWM member Smita Sharma writes about this upcoming meeting between the two top leaders of the neighboring countries.
Hyderabad: Chinese saying goes, “A long journey can be covered only by taking one step at a time.” However despite the many steps taken so far, the distance to bridge the trust deficit between New Delhi and Beijing seems to have hardly changed. And the next step will be taken as Prime Minister Modi welcomes President Xi Jinping for the second informal summit in October following up on the Wuhan spirit of last year.
The two top leaders have already met twice this year along sidelines of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) Summit in Bishkek and G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan.
As India and China prepare for the crucial October meeting , Trump admin pressure on Modi government to not give green signal to security clearance for 5G trials of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, deadline to complete RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) negotiations with ASEAN amid trade concerns about Beijing, BCIM (Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar) economic corridor agreed upon in Wuhan and Indian change in heart now to keep China out of the North-Eastern purview with a push to Japanese investments instead in the region, are among important issues to discuss.
Kashmir To Be Key
But differences which have sharpened post-Abrogation of Article 370 and reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir will be at the heart of the dialogue. “There is an understanding, certainly on our part that India and China have to get along to realise the Asian century. We have issues of difference with China including a boundary dispute. Our effort is to sit down and solve it,” said External Affairs Minister Dr.S Jaishankar during an interaction at the Valdai Club in Moscow recently, just days ahead of the visit of PM Modi to Vladivostok as Chief Guest at the Eastern Economic Forum.
Indications are that instead of the Prime Minister’s constituency of Varanasi ,a coastal town in Tamil Nadu could host President Xi Jinping for the informal meeting. However speculation remains if the summit could be derailed last minute as a fallout of Sino-India differences emerging out of the situation in Kashmir.
Beijing has taken a tough stance publicly on the Kashmir issue since the Modi government’s historic announcement on 5th of August, casting a shadow on the upcoming talks. This despite Jaishankar’s visit to Beijing soon after the announcement to placate apprehensions of any impact of the ‘internal’ move on external borders.
Jaishankar had assured his interlocutors that the legislative measures to exercise greater administrative control over Ladakh would have no implications for India’s external boundaries or the Line of Actual Control with China.
The Chinese foreign office spokesperson in its sharp criticism had called the Indian action as unacceptable and one that undermined ‘China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally changing its domestic law.’
Soon after Jaishankar’s visit though China pushed for Kashmir being discussed at the United Nations Security Council at behest of its all weather friend Pakistan and was granted a closed door consultation instead of an open formal one proposed by it.
Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently gave Delhi a miss as he traveled to Islamabad and met with the Pakistani political and military leadership. This while he was expected to be in Delhi for the 22nd round of boundary talks between India-China SRs (special representatives) with NSA Ajit Doval.
Officially New Delhi maintains that the current dates for SR talks (last held in November last year in Chengdu) were not announced so there is no question of postponement, but sources claim otherwise.
With LoC Hot, The Need for A Calm LAC
For New Delhi a priority in talks would be to ensure the LAC remains calm as it takes on Pakistan on the international stage amid increased ceasefire violations and bloodshed along the Line Of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB).
China has been edgy with Ladakh declared a Union Territory and Home Minister Amit Shah’s reference to Aksai Chin and PoK as being ‘inseparable and integral’ part of India in parliament.
Last week’s scuffle between Indian and Chinese soldiers on the bank of the Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh leading to a day long standoff was resolved swiftly through talks between the two militaries. But intrusions in the run up to Xi’s visit cannot be ruled out given patterns of the past.
In August of 2017, it was in the same lake area where Indian Army claimed it foiled a Chinese incursion with both sides hurling stones at each other. The video of the incident went viral on social media amid the 73 day Doklam stand-off that led to the Wuhan Summit in an effort to defuse tensions and reset bilateral ties.
Earlier In 2014, ahead of Xi Jinping’s first visit to India as President, PLA attempting to build a road into Chumar and and the first time ever visit by a Chinese Song-class attack submarine into the distant waters of Colombo thronged headlines. Similarly in April 2013 immediately preceding the first visit to India of then Chinese premier Li Keqiang PLA intrusion in Depsang Plains in Ladakh blew up into a full fledged standoff.
Past incursions have signalled Beijing’s ability to assert pressure on India along the 4000 kilometres long border including disputed areas , at a time and place of its own choosing.
This as New Delhi moved closer to align with the US and Japan on its Indo-Pacific strategy vis a vis ‘rebalancing’ China. The recent bonhomie between Modi-Putin in Vladivostok would also not be lost on Xi as Russia looks to a rebalance in Asia.
“As far as Russia is concerned, the growing need to revive its Eurasian stakes has complicated the notion of strategic convergence with China whose Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) overlaps in the former’s traditional sphere of influence. Even in the context of the Indo-Pacific, Russia is playing its cards deftly as it re-examines its ties with various actors like ASEAN in the region,” argues Carl Johnson, a research fellow at the Centre For Air Power Studies , Delhi in a recent article in The Diplomat.
“Containment is part of your history, it is not part of mine. You have to get over that cold war mindset. That era is gone. You are in a multipolar era,” replied External Affairs Minister Dr.S Jaishankar to a question by a Russian journalist in Valdai Club whether the Indo-Pacific is a concept to ‘contain’ China.
Regardless of India’s message to allay containment theories, for Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese Dream’, Pakistan remains the tool it uses to limit India to South Asia. As Prime Minister Modi heads to address the United Nations General Assembly in the next few days, the IndiaPakistan rhetoric is expected to ratchet up further when Pakistani PM Imran Khan raises the Kashmir bogey in New York.
And China with its billions of dollars of investment in CPEC (ChinaPak Economic Corridor) that it calls the crown of BRI (Belts and Roads Initiative) , will continue batting for the generals in Rawalpindi.
“As the Chashma deal demonstrated, recent years have also seen a renewed impetus to press ahead with sensitive projects that in the time of Jiang Zemin, or in the early years of Hu Jintao, might have prompted pause on Beijing’s part. Now, from dam building in Kashmir to assuming operational control of Gwadar port, China is willing to act despite the reaction it will elicit in India,” wrote Andrew Small in his book The China Pakistan Axis first published in 2015.
The ebbs and flows in its bilateral ties with New Delhi, Pakistan’s utility as a balancer, potential spoiler, and standing counterpoint to India’s ambitions has never gone away,” Small further added.
At Stake The Wuhan Gains
The challenge will be to ensure the India-China relationship moves ahead on paths of convergence despite the long Kashmir shadow and divergence on Pakistan and cross border terrorism. But expect no major breakthroughs as Modi and Xi meet in the next few weeks. Preventing a downslide in ties will be priority.
And at stake will be the gains made from the Wuhan talks including a reduction in trade deficit in the past year. As the Chinese proverb goes, “He who hopes for a good year starts planning in spring”. Except this autumn will decide what is sown and ploughed in Sino-India ties for a renewed spring.