BRICS Summit and India-China Relations

21 Jul, 2014    ·   4571

Dr Geeta Kochhar analyses the India-China bilateral via the BRICS lens, and identifies potential ways ahead 

The 6th BRICS summit, a conglomerate of world’s top five emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa was held at Fortaleza, Brazil, in July 2014. With heightened expectations, the summit is seen as to have delivered a lot in terms of establishing a Development Bank with an initial investment of $100 billion. This is regarded as a strong counter to the existing financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. However, a major highlight of the summit is the meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Both leaders discussed a wide range of bilateral issues ranging from economic cooperation to fighting terrorism, flagging the need to resolve border issues. The meeting, scheduled for 40 minutes and that lasted 80 minutes, caught the world’s attention. Many commentators place a high note of optimism on the future of bilateral ties. Yet, concerns loom large over whether this meeting will yield any concrete developments in near future. Will the historical border problem be resolved? What cooperative structures will be evolved to reduce trust deficit? More significantly, what are the likely mechanisms for enhancing all-round cooperation and engaging in non-confrontational approach to sustained relations?

The Year 2014
The year 2014 has significant historical benchmarks as the year of 60th anniversary of Panchsheel and the 100th anniversary of Shimla Convention. By revisiting history, it appears the current cooperative initiative of the BRICS Development Bank is a move towards leaving the past behind and charting a new history.  

Modi’s landslide victory in the 2014 Indian general elections created a storm across the globe. Many critics expressed the possibility of India becoming a “Hindu nationalist” state, but acknowledged that development will be India’s priority. China, however, showered praises for Modi as an “old friend” and calling him “India’s Nixon.” China’s position towards India shows a deviation from the past as India centres are increasing and a grand yoga festival was recently organised in Dali, Yunnan Province, to improve India’s image in China. 

Regional Anxiety
China has clinched the second position in the world economy, but it has also created anxiety among neighbouring states. China is seen as a threat and the probability of it becoming hegemonic has escalated in the region, especially with China’s assertiveness projected in territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. With a bottom line agenda of economic development, China cannot afford to engage in a war of words that incite nationalist sentiments within the country, as that will harm its own business interests. 

Alongside, there is a strong wave of a politico-democratic movement called the “Democratic League” of countries (including India, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Philippines and Singapore under the leadership of the US) binding nations in the region, which Prof. Wang Dehua, Vice-President, Shanghai Institute for International Strategic Studies, refers to as the “Asian NATO.” China being a non-democratic country is obviously out of this coalition. However, President Xi Jinping is stressing on a good neighbourhood policy under the rhetoric of “communities of common destinies,” that inevitably requires building alliances with neighbouring states. 

China’s Internal Imperatives 
Modi made sharp statements against China during the election campaign, but still earned Chinese accolades. This pro-India approach can be attributed to two reasons: one, Modi is regarded as a pro-development leader and the Chinese want pure business. The other and more probable reason can be that China’s own security challenges and threat to social stability has lessons in India. 

Internally, tensions in China are mounting, with recent incidents such as the knife attack in Kunming followed by knife attack in Changsha, and a bomb blast in Urumqi in May. Besides, for the past few years, the self-immolations of Tibetan monks, riots in Mongolia, and terrorist attacks in Xinjiang have all increased. The internal social stability meter is showing a red sign and social security faces challenges from various internal and external forces. The Chinese government acknowledges that cross-border terrorism is impacting its stability and has in retaliation ninitiated a “Strike-first” strategy to give a “crushing blow” to terrorism. India, which has dealt with this issue for decades, is more mature to handle such situations and can be a potential information sharing partner for China. 

Future of India-China Relations
India and China are poised to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion. Hence, the focus will remain on bilateral cooperation towards building industrial development parks, enhancing mutual investments, expanding the trade basket, and on regional cooperative projects such as the New Silk Route, BCIM corridor etc. On the border issue, there will be an emphasis on “negotiable resolution” with mechanism to reduce recurrent incidents, but a permanent solution is hard to chart. Regional cooperation will be a highlight, as both countries need energy resources and have concerns for territorial security. India’s greater emphasis on ‘Look East’ and China’s shift towards neighbouring countries entails potential for cooperation. BRICS has given a direction for non-confrontational cooperative strategic partnership that can change the blueprint of bilateral, regional, multilateral as well as global relationship.