A new high in Sino-Indian ties

The leaderships in New Delhi and Beijing, presently, would do well to concentrate on improving their relations in non-political areas.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attend the Taiji and Yoga event at the Temple of Heaven park in Beijing, China on May 15 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attend the Taiji and Yoga event at the Temple of Heaven park in Beijing, China on May 15
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The recent visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Xian, Beijing and Shanghai reflects a new high in Sino-Indian relations. According to the details available to the media on the talks held between Modi and his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang in Beijing, the two sides have signed a record 24 bilateral agreements. The main agreements are related to education, space cooperation, railway, setting up consulates-general in Chengdu and Chennai and a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on consultative mechanism for cooperation in trade negotiations.
Other accords are about developing China-India think tanks, maritime cooperation and ocean sciences. India and China have concluded four agreements on sister-state and sister-city relations: Karnataka and Sichuan (provinces); Chennai and Chongqing; Hyderabad and Qingdao; and Aurangabad and Dunhuang. An agreement has been signed on setting up a Mahatma Gandhi skill center in Ahmedabad and a broadcast tie-up for India’s official channel Doordarshan and China's state-run CCTV.
Besides, there are agreements on mining and minerals, skill development, tourism and vocational education. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) has signed two MoUs with Yunnan Minzu University and Fudan University on the establishment of a Yoga college and a center for Gandhian and Indian studies respectively.
21 agreements worth $22 billion were signed during Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with top CEOs, including Jack Ma of Alibaba and Lin Min of Xiaomi, in Shanghai, which was followed by a conference of Indian and Chinese CEOs. Funding from Chinese banks ICBC and China Development Bank, Adani Power Company and Jindal Steel and Power accounts for the major part of this deal.
Given the agenda of economic development common to the leaderships in New Delhi and Beijing today, I would not but hope they would implement all these agreements in their true spirit. This would go a long way in bringing India and China as close as they ought to be in the interest of development and peace in the region and the world today.
Presently, the leaderships in New Delhi and Beijing would do well to concentrate on improving their relations in non-political areas. India and China need each other to sustain their own development in the contemporary world. There is no point in New Delhi having undue apprehensions about Chinese companies. Today India ranks sixth in the Chinese export market. The Indian consumer is being increasingly interested in Chinese products. Chinese companies such as smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi are rated very high in India. The slogan of our times is consumer is the king and the Indian leadership cannot deny its own citizens (clients) their own choice. 
China also needs to play its card fairly. Over the last decade or so the volume of Sino-Indian trade has grown to $70 billion, making China India’s biggest trading partner. This trade has been far from balanced. India’s trade deficit with China stands at $44.7 billion. India faces not only Chinese non-tariff barriers on its exports but also “non-economic” pricing of Chinese exports.  Some Chinese products are being exported to India at throwaway prices. This hits Indian industry and forces India to resort to anti-dumping action. Beijing would need to address this deficit by making the Chinese market far less resistant to the entry of Indian pharmaceutical exports and service industries.
It is heartening to learn that during their Beijing meeting, both Modi and Li reiterated their strong commitment to make all efforts to maintain peace and tranquility in their border region and remain sensitive to each other’s interests. They have discussed some of our regional issues and agreed to strengthen mutual trust and manage their differences with maturity. Modi has stressed the need for China to re-consider its approach to some issues that hold the two nations back from realizing the full potential of their partnership. He has sought tangible progress on issues relating to visa policy and trans-border rivers between the two nations. The Indian prime min has also discussed some of the regional concerns and reiterated India’s strong commitment to make all efforts to maintain peace in the border region.
This kind of Sino-Indian dialogue on political issues must go on without letting it adversely affect the development of ties in other areas of the national interest. Some critics see a kind of drive by China for regional hegemony, with its planned road and pipeline network from Central Asia to the Pakistani port of Gwadar as well as in its moves in the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. They argue it constitutes a threat to India’s territorial integrity and to counter it New Delhi could join the United States which has already been pursuing intimate strategic ties with Japan, Australia and India.
I find such fears have little relevance today. Both New Delhi and Beijing are determined now to enhance their strategic and cooperative partnership to a higher level. New Delhi’s relations with Beijing have already improved a lot since India’s then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China in 1988. During the prime ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a mechanism of Special Representatives was established between New Delhi and Beijing to solve the border issue. This has reportedly made a lot of progress in the desired direction.
Meanwhile, there has been other understandings, including the Border Defense Cooperation Agreement, to maintain peace and tranquility along the Sino-Indian border. The communiqué signed after the Modi-Li talks at the Great Hall of the People on Friday, May 15, is to lead to the establishment of a hotline between the two army headquarters and additional points along the frontiers so as to enable local border commanders to hold any crisis-management meetings. 
Besides, my occasional conversations with some of the top personnel in the Indian armed forces confirm the status of India’s military is not what it might have been in 1962. The Indian military machine is far more advanced and integrated now. India is a nuclear weapon state. Beijing is unlikely to use any occasional skirmishes along the LAC to go in for a full-fledged war against India. Also, there is a near consensus across the Sino-Indian strategic community that Beijing and New Delhi have a common evil to fight together: Islamist terrorism, a threat to both secular nations.
The author is a senior Indian journalist based in New Delhi.