Underwhelming Jinping

Even as the Chinese President left Indian shores, there was a sense of unease that nothing y has really changed between India and China in all these decades. Trade, yes. Suspicion, oh yes. Distrust, most certainly. Same page, definitely not. Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the Chinese first couple on a guided tour of Sabarmati Ashram and the Narmada Riverfront with disarming simplicity of purpose. President Xi Jinping also made the right moves, donned a Khadi jacket, smiled at times, and seemed to enjoy the meal. And yet, his army was marching into the Indian territory even while all this bonhomie was on.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi sitting on a swing along the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad. Pic/PTI
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi sitting on a swing along the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad. Pic/PTI

Clearly the ‘dragon’ and ‘elephant’ in the same room causes too much discomfort to entrenched interest groups. There is a sense of unease in dealing with China that India cannot shake away. President Xi said, “Before the border issue is eventually solved, we should jointly manage and control our disputes in a proper way and maintain peace and tranquillity in the border regions. We should not let the border issue affect our bilateral relations.” That sounds eerily like India-Pakistan statements…where you manage borders… for decades on end, not necessarily resolve issues.

When you have a disputed border, it never really can be pushed on the back burner. It overshadows every aspect of the relationship. It’s the ‘but then’ in any dealing. However, China has mastered the art of territorial aggression as part of its diplomatic policy. China has territorial disputes with over a dozen countries, almost all its neighbours, on land and water, yet without going to war, it has ‘managed’ these disputes. And, without doubt, emerged as the dominant force in Asia.

During President Xi’s visit, if China wanted to give the impression that it was not war-like, that it did not have imperialistic aspirations, then it did little to dispel this notion. China has bully power and it unashamedly uses it. Without being subtle. Here is a country that has blocked Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Wikipedia and Whatsapp. It has no democracy, no freedom of the press. It has very little in common with us even though we share a boundary.

But it has the one thing that we so desperately want. Explosive economic development. Many of us who have the good fortune to travel abroad, especially to South-East Asian countries cannot but feel a twinge of envy when we see clean offices and safe public spaces, air-conditioning that works, strong streams of water from taps, bright lights, efficient public transport system. And they have defeated poverty. Banished into the countryside in some cases and in others, completely removed. There is a growth-based legitimacy to everything in such countries, most specifically the absence of such things like liberty. We have democracy, and take great pride in it. And we have liberty. In some places. For some people.

Quite naturally, the prime focus of the new Indian government is to get the economy back on track. If India has to achieve a high growth rate and make it possible for every Indian to have ‘roti, kapda, makaan’ then we have to learn to do business with those who we might not trust, might not like and maybe who compete unfairly with us.

We need not choose between Japan and China. We don’t need to choose between US, China and Russia. Actually, correction: we don’t have the luxury to choose. We have to work with Pakistan! The rest should be a cakewalk.

As per industry analysts, we need a trillion dollars plus in the remaining half of this decade to build the infrastructure for growth. A major chunk of this will have to come as investment from China and Japan.

China will set up two industrial parks in India, but it’s unlikely that it will open up its markets for Indian goods though it says it will. The Export Import Bank of China signed an agreement with the State Bank of India to extend a $1.8 billion line of credit for projects, including those for importing Chinese products. See what they did there? Similarly, telecom giants have got their elbows in now.

There is trade and investment, rivers and boundaries, rails and ports. China is here on invitation. The incursions are another thing. There, they will be evicted. Hundreds of soldiers don’t enter into another country to build a road without permission, accidentally. This was deliberate and provocative. They don’t expect us to back down. They also expect us to conduct business as usual in other spheres. And we should do exactly that.

There will be probably more flash points on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the coming months because the soldiers have not gone back. We live in interesting times, as the Chinese curse says.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash

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