Modi and Jinping Can Provide A New Type of “Great Power” Relationship Between India and China


Narendra Modi shaking hands with the Chinese President Xi Jinping

The First India China think Tank’s Forum, which is one of the outcomes of Prime Minister Modi’s visit to China in May 2015, was held in New Delhi recently. One of the themes of discussion during this forum was titled, “Towards a New Type of Great Power relations between India and China”.

While the Indian side highlighted the divergences in the India China Relations, the Chinese side (represented by China’s Academy of Social Sciences) wanted to place the convergences first and mentioned that India should be patient. Moreover, they indicated that China classified the nations into three categories for developing relations as Traditional, Emerging powers and Major Countries in the region. They emphasised that for China, India is an important country and expressed their desire to develop the bilateral relationship further.

The Chinese delegation also talked of perceptions and misperceptions in the bilateral relations and suggested that the misperceptions can be overcome by strategic communication. This interaction was an example of a mature way of dealing between two big countries as both sides laid their cards on the table.

Whole world is in a state of flux at the moment. Mr Trump winning the US Presidential elections has brought a sense of uncertainty in the international relations. His professed policy of softer approach towards Russia, tougher stance on China prior to the election results, rethinking on the US Rebalancing towards Asia, and his speaking to Ms Tsai Ingwen, President of Taiwan, post his election have conveyed a policy shift in Washington that is likely post the 10 January 2017 inauguration of the new US President.

Pakistan Prime Minister’s envoy waiting for a long time to meet the transition team is also indicative of Mr Trump’s shift in policy towards Pakistan. Imminent exit of Britain (BREXIT) from European Union has placed the future of Europe under a question mark. Russia’s questionable role in the US Presidential elections and her muscle flexing in Syria, Ukraine and Crimea is another factor throwing international relations into a disarray. ISIS – Syria conflict has brought in an uncertainty for the future of West Asia.

China’s actions in East and South China Seas and her reaction to the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on the South China Sea dispute is an important factor shaping up the international relations.

When Xi Jinping came to power in 2013 and visited the United States, he spoke of a “new type of great power relationship”. However, Chinese have modified it to say that it is a” New type of Major Country Relationship”. There are three tenets that President Xi enumerated with respect to this concept. First one was no conflict and no confrontation. All disputes are to be resolved through dialogue and communication treating each other’s strategic intentions objectively.

The second was mutual respect, including for each other’s core interests and major concerns and lastly, mutually beneficial cooperation, by abandoning the zero-sum game mentality and advancing areas of mutual interest. One needs to analyse this concept in the context of milieu highlighted above.

Though Mr Xi Jinping propounded the “New Type of Great Power Relationship” in the context of China US Relations, the same can be extended to India China Relations if it is seen in the light of New Type of Major Country Relationship. At the moment, the divergences in the India China Relationship are more than the convergences.

The divergences are boundary dispute in which there is peace at strategic level and differences at the tactical level, China’s assistance to Pakistan in all spheres, China’s apprehension on her wrongly perceived Indian support to Tibetan Cause, competitive interest in India’s neighbourhood and in South East Asia, competition between India and China for the natural resources, bilateral competition in Indian Ocean Region and also in providing disaster relief, China’s ambivalent stance on India’s membership in UN Security Council and the latter’s membership in the Nuclear suppliers Group, construction of dams on the Brahmaputra River, trade imbalance in favour of China and China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative.

The list of convergences include India’s participation in Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the New Development Bank of BRICS, bilateral cooperation in climate change discussions and in World Trade Organization, anti-piracy operations, cooperation for energy in some projects and defence cooperation.

The state of flux in the world explained above gives the right opportunity to India and China to work towards overcoming the divergences and strengthening the convergences in their relationship, if they want to make this century a truly an Asian one. However, China’s recent behavior raises doubts in one’s mind.

The recent incident that occurred on 15 December 2016 in South China Sea where a Chinese Navy PRC DALANG III-Class ship (ASR-510) launched a small boat and retrieved the Unmanned Underwater Vessel (UUV) of USA. The UUV was grabbed when the USA naval ship USNS Bowditch was about to recover it. It is also accentuated by the fact that the incident took place 50 Nautical Miles North West of Subic Bay off the Philippines (See map).

50 Nautical Miles North West of Subic Bay off the Philippines

China’s reaction to the Permanent Court of Arbitration verdict on South China Sea delivered on 12 July 2016, did not show her in good light. While China’s behaviour in these incidents are questionable what takes the cake is her opposition to India’s efforts to get the known terrorists banned.

This particular issue is beyond comprehension and unless China feels that Pakistan is more important to her than vice versa China’s stand on this issue is not justifiable. Such behaviour on China’s part has been visible since the Spy Plane incident in 2001 when a Chinese F7 fighter crashed killing the pilot Wang Wei when he was trying to interdict a USA’s E2C Hawkeye spy plane over the Hainan Island. This kind of a behaviour by China can be attributed to two reasons. One is the insecurity caused by the Century of Humiliation due to which China feels wronged and wants to correct it.

Second, China feels she is the new kid on the block and she has arrived on the international arena. On both counts, her strategic behaviour does not behove of a mature major power. She has also not been taking responsibility in resolving the International Issues to fulfil her responsibility as a major power. On the contrary, India has accepted the verdict of the PCA that went in favour of Bangladesh, and has been playing a major role in the UN Peacekeeping and in other international fora. Her behaviour has been in keeping with that of the mature and major power.

However, President Xi Jinping has shown that he is capable of taking tough decisions by launching the anti-corruption campaign and the biggest military reforms ever undertaken by China.

Similarly, Prime Minister Modi has shown that he is capable of taking difficult decisions by the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes and by choosing an Army Chief who is junior to two other equally capable, if not better, Lieutenant Generals. These two leaders are in the correct position to ensure that India and China work towards a New Type of Major Country Relationship between India and China. The question is, will they do so?

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