Expecting a possible reset of ties between India and China in the wake of the ‘informal summit’ in Wuhan (April 27-28) between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, but the outcome is uncertain. The Wuhan city was possibly chosen by Mr. Xi to showcase China’s progress. As Mr. Xi proceeds towards his next goal, ‘Made in China 2025’, he may also have wanted to demonstrate the wide gulf that seems to separate his programme from Mr. Modi’s own struggles to make a success of India’s ‘Make in India’ programme.
• India clearly viewed this ‘informal summit’ as a trust-building exercise, hoping to quietly sort out problems that existed between the two countries, including the vexed border issue.
• Mr. Modi used the occasion to convey his ideas on what was needed to be achieved, viz. a shared vision, a shared thought process, a shared resolve, a strong relationship and better communication, between the two countries.
• He further emphasised the importance of a global leadership role for both nations — two major powers linked by history across more than two millennia.
• He provided his vision of the Five Principles defining the relationship: Soch (thought), Sampark (contact), Sahyog (cooperation), Sankalp (determination) and Sapne (dreams).
• Both sides also reiterated the need to cooperate on counter-terrorism, and to strengthen the dialogue mechanism to deal with contentious issues and concerns.
• Both have agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and tranquillity in all areas of the India-China border.
• One outcome was to have more such summits, alongside an agreement between the leaders for provision of greater ‘strategic communications’ at the highest level.
• Another was the opportunity it provided to give ‘strategic guidance’ to the respective militaries to build trust and understanding for ‘prudent management of differences with mutual sensitivity’.
• A third was the agreement between India and China to work together jointly on an economic project in Afghanistan, with details to be worked out through diplomatic channels.
• On the border issue, the summit appears to have reinforced the validity of the April 2005 Document on ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the Boundary Question’, which was signed in the presence of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
• This document happens to be one of the very few that implicitly acknowledges India’s claims to certain ‘disputed’ areas in the Arunachal sector of the India-China border. Ever since signing on to the ‘Political Parameters and Guiding Principles’ in 2005, China has been trying to reinterpret the contents of the document.
• If the informal summit, as claimed by the Indian side, has endorsed adherence to the letter and spirit of the 2005 Agreement, it marks an important milestone in the settlement of the border issue.
• China is at a pivotal moment, having embarked on preparations for a pole position in the global sweepstakes.
• China currently has a vital role to play in the maintenance of peace in the Korean Peninsula, and in ensuring that the forthcoming Trump-Kim Jong-un talks are not jeopardised.
• The China-Russia equation today is much stronger than previously. China may be feared in East and South Asia, but no country here has the capacity to challenge China.
• It has established new equations in West Asia, including with Iran. In the South Asian neighbourhood, China is positioning itself as an alternative to India.
• Behind the rubric of a looming trade war between the U.S. and China — which is, without doubt, one of China’s major concerns — is China’s unstated struggle to redefine the rules governing economic and power relations worldwide.
• At a time when the U.S. is busy lining up the vast majority of Western democracies to checkmate China’s advance, the latter is equally anxious to build support in its favour in Asia and elsewhere to counter the U.S.
• No manifest concessions appear to have been made by China. The Doklam issue (which was not discussed at the summit) remains unresolved, with China still in the driving seat.
• There are no indications that China has softened its attitude vis-à-vis India’s position in Arunachal Pradesh, or that it will refrain from accusing India of further transgressions here.
• China’s penetration of India’s neighbourhood is set to continue, with special emphasis on countries such as Nepal and the Maldives.
• China again has not conceded anything with reference to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The Way Ahead
• Meanwhile, India should be concerned about Beijing’s defence budget for 2018. This is being increased by 8.1% over that of the previous year, and is in keeping with the decision of the Chinese 19th Party Congress (October 2017) to build a world class military.
• Mr. Li is on record that China would now focus on building strong naval and air defenses, bolstered by the infusion of high technology. This can only further encourage China to expand its activities in the Indian Ocean region.