Xi Jinping’s Indian yatra

By S. M. Hali

Xi Jinping, in his first visit to India (17-19 September 2014) as China’s President, tried to reach out to the Indians and extend an olive branch as part of his policy of ensuring peace in the region and taking China’s neighbours along in its march to progress. Narendra Modi, the new Indian Prime Minister has a special relationship with China. Despite his country’s longstanding animosity, rivalry and bellicosity to browbeat China, as Chief Minister of the Indian province of Gujarat, much of Modi’s economic and commercial successes, which were showcased in his election campaign, were due to China’s largesse and economic investment. Modi also struck a special chord with the Chinese President during the BRICS Summit at Brazil in July this year.

Modi was upbeat that the historic visit of President XI Jinping will push the bitterness of the 1962 thrashing Nehru’s troops received at the hands of the Chinese during India’s Himalayan blunder and the rash actions of successive Indian governments to rankle the Chinese including providing asylum to the Tibetan dissident Dalai Lama, behind and make a fresh beginning. Unfortunately either Modi himself, caught in the intricate web of the Sangh Parivar, its militant arm the RSS of which he has been an active worker and its political wing the BJP, whose government he now heads, fell prey to old Chanakyan machinations of guile and duplicity or some other extremist Indian group tried to sabotage the apparent bonhomie and camaraderie that had raised expectations of breaking point in relationships.

Indian Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman concluded meetings with her Chinese counterpart Gao Hucheng at Beijing in August this year. On her return to Delhi, she briefed the Indian media raising expectations about large-scale Chinese investments in India which could be announced during Xi’s visit.

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President Xi was granted the highest protocol possible by his Indian hosts and Narendra Modi tried to cash in on his personal rapport with the Chinese President, besides presenting the usual splendor of traditional Indian fanfare, which impresses western guests to the Sub-Continent. Modi took a bigger leap toward regional diplomacy and city and state partnerships by hosting the Chinese President at his home province of Gujarat and the city of Ahmadabad. Xi and the Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan participated whole heartedly in the Sabarmati River boat ride, demonstrating geniality by squatting at Mahatma Gandhi’s floor, trying his hand at charkha, humming with Indian students and taking pleasure in swinging along with his spouse on a jhoola. The last event gave rise to a new term “Jhoola Diplomacy” by Indian media and critics of Modi while taking a jibe at him when reality fell short of the Indian expectations.

Being a Pakistani, this scribe would perhaps feel a pang of envy that the Presidential visit to Pakistan did not materialize at this juncture while India got the opportunity to host the Chinese President in a grand manner. The truth is that every Pakistani knows the depth and strength of Sino-Pak relations, which are not mutually exclusive and either country making overtures to a third country will never affect the special bonds China and Pakistan enjoy.

Indian penchant for running with the hare and hunting with the hounds is not new. During the Cold War era, Nehru, one of the main architects of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), went on to amass weapons of mass destruction from the Soviet Union and bully its weaker neighbours to establish Indian hegemony.

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The event of 9/11 may have propelled Pakistan into the dubious status of a front line state and the most non-NATO ally but it has paid dearly for its involvement in the war on terror and continues to suffer. India on the other hand, cozied up to US, promising to look after US interests in post-2014 Afghanistan as well act as a bulwark at the behest of the US against perceived Chinese expansion of influence in the region.

Modi too, is not a babe in the wood. His tainted track record of being an RSS activist and supposed mastermind of the massacre of over 2000 Muslims in the 2002 Gujarat riots, belligerent stance during the 2014 elections campaign and deliberate bellicosity against Pakistan belie his pretensions to be a peacenik. He definitely has the overarching desire to bring about development and progress in India which cannot be begrudged. However, in this effort, he has tried to play off one economic rival against the other and reap the benefits himself.  His recent visit to Japan prior to Xi Jinping’s arrival in India and securing over 35 billion dollars of investment was meant to nudge the Chinese to invest a far greater amount. Indian media went to the extent of misquoting the Chinese Consul General at Mumbai hinting China’s investment of “over 100 billion dollars” in India. Alas India played too many speculative wild cards, suggesting China wanted to weaken the appeal of a commercial axis between its Western and Eastern big neighbors which are trying to sidestep China; Xi Jinping wanted to preempt any chance of a defense alliance between those two and other supposed rivals in Asia; and that Xi was dropping hints of a border agreement along the model agreement signed in 2004 by Hu Jintao on the Chinese northern boundary, with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Perhaps to up the ante, during Xi’s visit, India dispatched 1500 soldiers to Southern Ladakh at the Sino-Indian border, claiming a threat from China. To make matters worse, scores of Tibetans were made to stage a vociferous protest outside Hyderabad House, the venue for the bilateral talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.China has already invested 15 billion dollars on infrastructure in Tibet, an integral part of China in 20 years, and committed further 15 billion, developing road, rail and air-links, attracting over 12 million tourists.

Finally, during Xi’s visit, a last nail was driven by the State TV Doordarshan, when an anchor presented the Chinese President as “Eleven Jinping”: apparently erroneously reading Xi’s name as the roman figure “XI”.

For the time being India will have to live with the $30 billion dollars commitment by the Chinese delegation in constructing a fast train corridor, and a new strategic road and two industrial parks in Gujarat and Maharashtra. But India needs to stop playing Chanakyan games and believe in the good intentions of its Chinese neighbour if it wants a greater role in the 21stCentury which belongs to Asia.