View from China

Modi and Sino-Indian Relations

25 Jun, 2014    ·   4526

Siwei Liu outlines the opportunities and challenges for the bilateral relationship

Recently, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a very useful and timely India trip, during which he not only held talks with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj but also met with the newly- elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee. Doubtlessly, Wang’s visit – viewed as the first foreign power to establish direct contact in a bilateral format with Modi’s government – has a great significant for present-day Sino–India relations. The current Sino-India relationship is heading towards a critical juncture at which both nations should seize the opportunity and take some creative and pragmatic measures to improve bilateral relations. However, meanwhile, both countries should keep calm and remain level-headed to get a better understanding of bilateral relations that remain full of challenges and uncertainness – and avoid negative impacts of possible frustrations resulting from the gap between reality and high expectations.

Potential New Opportunities
Indeed, Wang’s visit created a warm and friendly atmosphere for Sino-India bilateral interaction, in which the both sides recognised it was necessary to mark a fresh beginning in the ties, with mutual respect and common national interests. Just as related analyses argued, Wang’s India trip helped a great deal in not only re-establishing a connection between the two governments, but also paved the way for more intensive interaction between both nations at the highest levels in the future – including Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India visit later this year and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s possible China visit in the next couple of months.

Although it is premature to draw conclusions on Modi’s policy towards China, given the current positive interactions between two sides, people of both countries have reasons to believe that new opportunities for promoting Sino-India relations are coming. Economically, there is a high likelihood that the two sides will take some measures to solve the trade deficit issue that has troubled the bilateral ties for many years. Security-wise too there are potential opportunities for cooperation between the two nations. Actually, although in the recent years, the Sino-India security relations have witnessed upheavals, related cooperation measures such as counter-terrorism and joint military exercises were still held occasionally. With China and India both adjusting their understanding on security and starting to pay more attention on non-traditional security threats (NST), there will be more opportunities for both nations to cooperate in the security sector, especially on the NSTs. Moreover, given the current positive interaction between the highest levels of both nations, it is possible to create a golden opportunity for the two sides to increase people-to-people linkages and mutual cultural communication – that always need a harmonious and friendly interactive environment led by the governments.

Potential Challenges
Simultaneously, Sino-India bilateral relations face various challenges. In the recent years, the bilateral has been troubled by some negative factors from competitions and disputes, particularly in the security domain. For instance, although both countries openly declared that improving their security relations were necessary, and took measures such as increasing military–military communications, traditional security issues such as over-securitisation of the border issue –  especially a border standoff between the two countries’ militaries in 2013 – increased the tension between Beijing and New Delhi. Additionally, the securitisation of increasing NTS issues ranging from economic and environmental threats, terrorism and non-proliferation, to issues of identity and culture also occasionally complicated the bilateral interactions. This brings not only increasing cooperation, but also a series of competition or disputes for the bilateral.

Competitions and disputes between China and India cannot be resolved overnight, and the two nations might face many challenges in future. For example, the uncertainty from the changing geopolitics in the Asia pacific region may leads the two towards increased geopolitical competition. Even in economic relations, always viewed as the most likely sector to be improved upon, the two nations also have to deal with various challenges such as the potential energy competition, and trade deficit. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that although Wang’s India visit created a warm and friendly atmosphere for the bilateral, it also increases the risk of both nations possibly experiencing emotional turmoil, derived from the actual interactive outcomes failed to attain current hope.

The Way Forward
In the recent years, the Sino- India relationship has moved in different tracks, both positive and negative. There is no doubt that Wang’s India visit in June opened the window for new bilateral relations. The both nations should use this opportunity to promote the relationship and maintain a good balance between their various cooperations and competitions in the coming years by:

a. Creating a good psychological environment for both sides’ interactions with mutual respect and appreciation, and simultaneously keeping calm and remain rational to understand and current bilateral relations and refrain from the possible psychological gap between reality and expectation.
b. Intensifying and perfecting related-regime construction. It will be helpful to promote the two nations’ cooperation and also useful to manage future disputes in a timely manner.
c. Strengthening people-to-people linkages and mutual culture communication. Given how this is absolutely important for promoting bilateral relations, it should figure in the priority list of both countries’ policy agenda.