India-China Bilateral Under Narendra Modi

10 Jun, 2014    ·   4502

Srikanth Kondapalli analyses the potential trajectory of the India-China bilateral under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership

Srikanth Kondapalli
Srikanth Kondapalli
Distinguished Fellow
As the recently formed government in New Delhi is settling down, the domestic and external policies to be adopted are being worked out. While no specific blue print is available, one can take the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) election manifesto, speeches of the BJP leaders during the election campaign, actions taken over the past two weeks, the president’s address to the Joint Session of the parliament on June 9, and the contextual aspects into considerations to reflect on the new government’s policies. 

First, a common denominator among the aforementioned aspects is Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his team’s domestic rejuvenation agenda. President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the parliament outlines the new government’s agenda for the next 60 months. A majority of the points in this address were taken verbatim from the BJP manifesto. These include enhancing the role of the manufacturing sector, improving infrastructure projects across the country and overall capacity build-up. It is clear, however, that for this to happen, the foreign policy front needs to be re-calibrated for the domestic agenda.

For instance, China had become the global manufacturing hub thanks to its vigorous efforts over the past two decades of reform and opening policies and financial and technical assistance from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and the US. In this regard, if Modi’s efforts are to transform India into a “globally competitive manufacturing hub powered by Skill, Scale and Speed,” he needs active cooperation of all the countries mentioned above. 

Additionally, for setting up “world class investment and industrial regions, particularly along the Dedicated Freight Corridors and Industrial Corridors,” the new government needs Japan and the other countries. Japan, in the recent period, committed nearly $92 billion for the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and had also been exploring the Bangalore-Chennai sector. While clearances on land acquisition, environmental issues, and labour reforms have delayed the project, more thrust could be expected during Modi’s visit to Tokyo next month.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in his meetings with the Indian officials during his recent visit, reiterated China’s interest in setting up industrial zones in five states and Beijing’s participation in railway projects. For Japan, China and the EU countries, the proposed diamond quadrilateral project of high speed trains, the Sagar Mala port project, substantially augmenting electricity generation capacity, the national solar mission, etc. are lucrative and mutually beneficial. Concerns on foreign investments closer to the security establishments of course, prevail in India; and so are anti-dumping duties on solar panels from China. 

There are several commonalities in the new government’s path forward and that of China’s. Both leaderships emphasise on nurturing innovation; urban mission programmes; renewable sources of energy; among others. China’s 12th Five Year Plan outlined these aspects, and both could learn from each other’s experience. 
Second, several items on the Modi government’s domestic agenda could provide for opportunities or even frictions with neighbours in the longer run. The BJP manifesto and the presidential address suggested to building world-class infrastructure, including the “expansion of railways in hilly states and Northeast region, conservation of Himalayan ecology; creating 50 tourist circuits and establishing a Central University of Himalayan Studies.” While China itself had expanded its infrastructure projects towards its peripheries in Tibet and Xinjiang – often intruding into disputed territories between India and Pakistan in the Northern areas – it is suspicious of the dual-use aspects of these initiatives by India.

Third, during the election campaign – such as at Pasighat in February this year when Modi chastised China for its “expansionist mindset” – and subsequently, it is clear that securing the borders will be among the priorities of the new government’s agenda. This is reflected in the appointments of Gen. (Retd) VK Singh, and Kiran Rejiju, among others. The presidential address simply stated that the new government will “strengthen defence preparedness,” but there was no mention of revising the nuclear doctrine as stated earlier by the BJP manifesto. 

Fourth, the BJP-led government clearly identified the Indian neighbourhood as its foreign policy priority. It was reflected in the invitation to the South Asian neighbours to Prime Minister Modi’s swearing-in ceremony, and in his choice of Thimphu for his maiden foreign visit. The presidential address also identified China, Japan, Russia, the US and the EU; but it is clear that India’s relations with the US and Japan are poised to be on the upswing. Specifically on China, the address, while reiterating the “strategic and cooperative partnership” agreement of 2005, stated that the new government “will engage energetically” with Beijing. 

Fifth, the BJP manifesto and the presidential address clearly identified zero tolerance to internal disturbances, including terrorist incidents. While in the foreign policy domain, this issue is mainly directed towards Pakistan, there was also a mention during Foreign Minister Yi’s visit to New Delhi that counter-terrorism efforts between India and China will be furthered. So far, although both India and China have acceded to the UN Security Council resolutions 1267, 1373 and 1540 on counter-terrorism, no effective coordination or cooperation exists between the two nations that identify this issue as number one security challenge.