Xi Jinping’s Serendipity with India: Expectations of Greater Engagement

Source: Bloomberg
Source: Bloomberg

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s  visit to India is likely to boost economic ties between both the countries. The leadership on either side carefully balanced the scales of tension and engagement, as cold politics and hot economics were negotiated with pragmatism. Amrita Jash gives her take.


Chinese President Xi Jinping finally set his foot in India with his three-day maiden visit starting September 17. The visit came at the most opportune time scheduled in the prologue of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s iconic visit to Japan and his forthcoming visit to the United States.  Xi’s South Asian sojourn to Maldives and Sri Lanka preceded his India visit. These high level visits tend to hold significant implications both at the regional as well as the global level.

Since the twenty-first century is proclaimed to be the ‘Asian Century’, the two players on the pitch are the rising Dragon (China) and an emerging Elephant (India). At this juncture when the whole world is focusing on Asia, it becomes imperative to understand how the two rising Asian giants are interacting with each other. In this context, Xi Jinping’s visit to its civilizational neighbour-India holds great importance. This visit is significant in opening a new chapter in the relations which resonate the landmark set by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing in 1988.

The Xi-Modi cordiale came with profound symbolism as reflected in the departure from normative protocols. On one hand, Gujarat over Delhi, became the welcoming land fashioned in a cultural ensemble of India’s rich heritage and the serenity of Mahatma Gandhi’s “Peace mantra”- thereby giving an ease to the hard politics; on other, the talks were met with serious sovereignty crisis as Chinese PLA transgressed along the Line of Actual Control in Chumar and Demchok areas of Ladakh. This perennial irritant in the Sino-Indian relations since 1962 was seemed to offset the broader aims of the interaction. Here, what is surprising is to note that the leadership on either side carefully balanced the scales of tension and engagement, as cold politics and hot economics were negotiated with pragmatism. The military stand-off failed to stall the talks and this itself clarifies the earnest interest for both China and India to bypass the obstacles and thereby, provide a new momentum to the relations.

The outcome of this proactive diplomacy is reflected in the Joint Statement that laid the foundation stone of the Xi-Modi cordiale. The spirit of cooperation amidst tension is strongly reflected in the Statement which finitely stated: “The leaders agreed to make this developmental partnership a core component of the ‘Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity’. This developmental partnership is conducive not only to the common interests of both sides, but also to stability and prosperity of the region and the world.” These words have set the tone of the positive trajectory of the growth in the Sino-Indian relations. Though the unresolved border problem will act as a catalyst to offset the growth but the relationship is now more tangled in the strings of economics, which gives a broader picture to the relations.

Thereby, this high-level visit by President Xi to India did come with a promising note, which can be assessed in the significant achievements made in the middle of military stand-off. Exemplary to this is the signing of 16 valuable agreements between China and India. Of which, the most important is that of China’s investment of 20 billion USD in India over the next five years in infrastructure and manufacturing sectors, setting up of two industrial parks and to upgrade India’s railway system with high-speed links and assigning of “Strategic Economic Dialogue” to further the economic cooperation in areas of energy, environment, urbanization and others.

There is also a regional dynamic, where the emphasis has been laid on establishing a provincial partnership between Gujarat and Guangdong Province and Sister-City relationships between Mumbai-Shanghai and Ahmedabad-Guangzhou. While on the border issue, both the sides maintained the consensus of upholding the sanctity of the 2005 Agreement on the ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the Boundary’ Question.’ As the Joint Statement posited: “Peace and tranquility on the India-China border areas [is] as an important guarantor for the development and continued growth of bilateral relations. Pending a final resolution of the boundary question, the two sides would continue to make joint efforts to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas.”

In the social and cultural sphere, the meeting proposed to widen the engagement of people-to-people contact and art and cultural exchanges (Buddhist Art, language, social media-movies, television and others) and most importantly, opening up a new route to ‘Kailash Manasarovar Yatra’ (for pilgrimage from both sides), through the Nathula Pass in the Indian state of Sikkim. In his cultural symbolism, Xi honoured Dr Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis’ priceless contribution to China and recited the unfettered writings of Rabindranath Tagore, reviving the spirit of China-India cultural connect. And at the global level, Xi affirmed India cooperation at various sectors, such as: “zero tolerance to terrorism”, integration in space technology, cooperation in civil nuclear energy and above all, a shared interest to play vital roles; India in SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and China’s greater influence in SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation). Though economics took the final command but other areas also seem to take lead in the bilateral relationship.

This interaction presented a different image to the world, taking departure from the practiced protocols. The most important thing to note is, soft power approach took precedence over hard power.

President Xi Jinping’s iconic India visit and his dialogue with Prime Minister Modi both at the bilateral as well as the delegation level did pave some new routes which is likely to shape the future path of the relationship. What is to be watched is how China and India will map the relationship amidst the challenges and how will the relationship impact Asia in particular and the world at large.The relationship seems to have evolved over the zero-sum game to that of a win-win matrix. The need of the hour is to look beyond the immediate gains and rather focus on building a stable long- term relationship upholding the spirit of ‘Panchsheel’.

Amrita Jash is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for East Asian Studies ,Chinese division, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

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