BEIJING | 20th Jul 2014
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping "bonded together" in their first meeting at the Fortaleza BRICS summit, say individuals cognizant of the thinking of the new Chinese administration. President Xi Jinping is also General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chairperson of the Central Military Commission (CMC). They say that the new leader recognises that "India is not just a South Asian but a global power", and that China "will soon" publicly join the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council (France, UK, US and Russia) in backing India for this exclusive club, most likely during Xi's forthcoming visit to New Delhi this year. All this forms part of what is termed the "India Initiative" of the new Chinese leadership.
When asked about the delay in backing India when the other four permanent members of the UNSC had already expressed support, a senior observer said that "the US, France and UK are just giving lip service to wanting India as a permanent Security Council member". He asked why, if the three NATO powers were serious about India joining, they did not "ensure a vote in the Security Council and later the General Assembly on the issue?" He added that President Xi sees India as an equal.
An associate claimed that "the US has privately indicated that it will never schedule a UNSC vote on Indian membership so long as it knows that its proposal to include Japan as a permanent member will be subject to veto, while France is not comfortable sharing its privileged position in the UN with Germany but is hesitant to schedule a vote for Delhi ahead of one for Berlin". His colleague added that "the US perception is that for India, words are enough to keep them happy, and that actions are not needed". He said that in the case of China, "our actions will match our words, which is why Beijing welcomes Modi as PM, as he is super practical and appreciates others who are".
According to observers with access to policymaking, it was "at the request of President Xi" that India became the first country to be visited by Chinese Prime Minister Li Kequian soon after taking charge last year, and to the "unprecedented" flurry of completed and planned high-level visits from Beijing (since Xi took charge of the CCP). "In the past, Vietnam or Thailand received many more visits by high Chinese officials than India", said a key aide involved in working out policy options for the CCP. According to an associate, it is clear to the new leadership in China that "participation by India is vital for the commercial and diplomatic success of key initiatives" such as the New Silk Road, the Maritime Silk Road and the Trans-Himalayan Alliance. He noted that "Prime Minister Modi takes decisions looking only at India's self-interest and not the commands of other countries" (meaning the US). These experts welcomed the 30 June 2014 agreement in Beijing to set up industrial parks in India for Chinese companies, pointing out that "it makes more sense for India to manufacture Chinese equipment in India than to import entire kits from China because investment into your country from ours is banned".
When asked about the $35 billion trade gap in China's favour, an aide pointed out that "97 million Chinese tourists spent hundreds of billions last year, but India only welcomed 43,000 because of visa and infrastructure problems". He wondered why India was not following the example of the US and France in making it easier for Chinese tourists to enter the country. About other possibilities for reducing the trade deficit, he pointed out that "Indian teachers coming to China could use their English-language skills to meet the immense Chinese demand for learning a language mastered by tens of millions in India". Another point made was that "the Indian side has given a list of about 40 items that merit fast-track entry into the (Chinese) market, and this list is being considered. Expect good news by the time (President) Xi arrives in Delhi."
Key aides in the policymaking process said that on the border issue, the new leadership in Beijing favours a "full and final settlement" but that in between, "what is needed is to ensure mechanisms which prevent border incidents from taking place". They said that given a constant upgrade of ties between Beijing and Delhi, a mutually agreed settlement of the border issue is possible "even during the period in office of Modi and Xi", but for this to happen, "public opinion in both countries must see for themselves that partnership brings prosperity to both sides and that neither country is the enemy of the other".
Interestingly, the India Initiative launched by Beijing has its origin not in China's Foreign Ministry or in the economic ministries, but in the President's Secretariat itself. "President Xi wants to create better connectivity between India and China so as to boost trade, investment and visits," a senior observer mentioned. According to him, "The Chinese leadership is delighted by Narendra Modi taking over as PM because both Xi and Modi are strong, patriotic and practical leaders seeking for ways to make their countries recapture the high position both had centuries ago." He added that "this is possible only if both countries work together".
A senior interlocutor added that "while President Jiang never mentioned India in policy conversations, focusing almost always on the US and Europe, President Xi brings up India often, and stresses the need for close ties". He said that Beijing "was watching" India's plans for increasing connectivity between Delhi and Jakarta, Bangkok and Nyaypidaw and "welcomed such moves because (Beijing was) confident in the sincerity and independence of the new leadership" in Delhi. "Very soon India will be welcomed as a full member of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation)", he predicted.
According to these sources, the meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi during the BRICS summit in Brazil "went very well" and that "the Chinese side appreciated the (Indian) PM's agreeing to make Shanghai the headquarters of the BRICS Development Bank even though some (Indian) officials were against this". They added that "the PM's suggestion that India should get the Presidentship was accepted immediately" by the Chinese side, which also wants a "leading role" for India in the proposed Asian Infrastructure Development Bank (AIDB), while they would like the headquarters of the new entity to be Beijing, given China's massive financial contribution to the corpus of the bank. They added however that "pride of place will be given to Indian citizens in running the AIDB just like in the BRICS Bank". It was pointed out that in contrast, "in both the World Bank and the IMF, NATO alliance partners dominated although most of the funds now come from outside". They were agreed that "the goodwill and understanding towards China by Prime Minister Modi and the policy of President Xi for a close partnership with India are the two factors pushing the (Sino-Indian) relationship forward".
A senior interlocutor said that "the Prime Minister was direct and clear in his discussions with the BRICS leaders, focussing on win-win areas that all sides could agree on and making many practical suggestions". He added that "this straight talk made a big impression on the Chinese delegation", including apparently on President Xi himself, who, according to him, is looking forward to "closely working with Prime Minister Modi on global issues".
As another sign of the "principle of equality" between China and India embodied in the India Initiative, the sources pointed out that President Xi publicly invited Prime Minister Modi to attend the forthcoming APEC summit falling due in November. It was pointed out that APEC comprises the world's biggest economies and that this gesture (by Xi) shows his respect for the PM and his desire to "involve India in what is the fastest-developing region in the world".
The APEC invite was highlighted as an example of Beijing's "action-oriented" diplomacy towards India, in contrast to what was claimed to be Washington's "words-oriented" policy towards India.
"Will President Obama agree to schedule a vote this year on India becoming a permanent member of the UNSC? If so, China will not disappoint India", a source claimed, adding that "now it is for the US to match words with action".
If Prime Minister Modi is able to persuade US President Barack Obama to schedule an early vote in the UNSC and the General Assembly on permanent membership for India, he may succeed where all his predecessors have failed, in getting a confirmed seat for India at the highest table of international diplomacy.
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