‘Reports of Modi declining Xi invite wrong’ (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT New Delhi | 22nd Nov 2014
Senior officials are surprised at reports in both the Chinese as well as Indian media that Prime Minister Narendra Modi declined a personal invitation from President Xi Jinping to attend the just-concluded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Beijing. An official pointed out that "there was no invite from President Xi to PM Modi to attend the APEC meeting", despite India not being a part of the 21-member group, which includes Russia, China, Japan, the United States and even Indonesia. Instead, "the invite was to attend a pre-APEC meeting, to which countries such as Tajikistan, Pakistan, Mongolia and Laos were invited", besides India. This meeting, according to the officials queried, "had no connection with APEC whatsoever" and was held "principally to rally support for the Chinese proposal of a New Silk Road and a Maritime Silk Road". It was therefore "misleading to claim that Prime Minister Modi had declined an invite to APEC, when in fact such an invite never existed". In view of the global heft of India, "clearly the Prime Minister of India can go to an APEC meeting only after our country becomes a full member". At present, India does not even have observer status within the grouping.
Officials spoken to hoped that "President Xi would take the initiative to get India included in APEC". They were confident that such an initiative would get the support of Russia, Australia, the US and Japan "as these countries are close friends of India". Asked about the Chinese proposal for a New Silk Road, these officials pointed out that such a highway would pass through "some of the most unstable and disturbed areas of Pakistan", and that therefore "security on such a road would be difficult to assure". As for the Maritime Silk Road, the Indian side was awaiting "more details of the proposal" before taking a decision on participation. The pre-APEC meeting, to which Prime Minister Modi was invited, discussed various ways in which China and the participating countries could enhance their economic linkage. It was pointed out that India favoured "full freedom of navigation within the region, and has itself adopted such a policy all across the Indian Ocean". Hence, any efforts to restrict freedom of navigation in the South China Seas would be a "matter of concern".
Senior officials pointed out that there was "sound logic" in India becoming a full member of APEC, as geopolitically, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean formed a single strategic entity, with common interests and facing the same threats. "India, as in the case of Indonesia, naturally belongs to such a grouping, because of its huge coastline", an official pointed out, adding that "in case the Chinese seem hesitant to initiate the entry of India into APEC, discussions may take place with the US, Japan and Australia" so as to ensure that these littoral countries sponsor India's membership. "Prime Minister Modi is very conscious of the need to ensure that both the dignity of India as well as national interest be protected at all times, hence the view that the Head of Government in India can attend an APEC meeting only if this country is made a full member". He added that he was hopeful that such a decision would "soon get taken by the organisation, in view of India's importance as both a maritime power as well as a security and economic partner".
"Prime Minister Modi believes in quiet diplomacy, even though this may not generate the same level of approval of television anchors as high-decibel moves", a senior official said, pointing out that it was precisely such diplomacy which worked to resolve the standoff created by PLA incursions into Indian territory during the 17-19 September state visit of President Xi Jinping to India. Both during the evening of 17 September as well as on 18 September, Prime Minister Modi "pointed out (to President Xi) what was taking place on the border, and made it clear that such activity by the PLA would damage the prospects for close cooperation" between India and China. The official added that "President Xi was surprised (by the PLA moves) and promised to ensure that the matter got resolved by the restoration of the status quo". A senior colleague added that "President Xi kept his word by ensuring a PLA withdrawal within days of returning to Beijing". This step "showed that President Xi was sincere about better ties with India and that he would work to ensure that irritants in the relationship got eliminated". Thus far, the PLA's obsession with testing the patience of India has been a major obstacle to the development of a comprehensive economic and security partnership with China, in a context where both seek faster economic development and security from religious extremism. "Had Prime Minister Modi resorted to high-decibel rather than quiet diplomacy, the border standoff may not have been resolved so soon", an official added, stating that "silent but effective diplomacy is the Prime Minister's style".
The officials pointed out that The Sunday Guardian report of 14 September (Xi to Abe, $35 billion is peanuts) on the extent of potential Chinese investment in India was "broadly accurate", adding that on 26 November, "a hundred-member delegation of top Chinese businesspersons including Jack Ma is coming to India to discuss investment possibilities". In the view of an official, "the target of $100 billion of inward investment and $100 billion in loans to Indian companies was realistic", given the size of India's market and need for finance. He pointed out that "already agreements have been worked out with SBI and ICICI for co-financing" and that "more are to follow". A colleague pointed out that now, Chinese tourists were given visas "within 48 hours" and that tour groups in India needed to connect with their Chinese counterparts to ensure a potential annual flow of 2 million Chinese tourists into India.
Overall, the view was that President Xi Jinping was "a man of his word" and that he was succeeding in gaining control of the military and ensuring that in future PLA adventurism would not be an obstacle to a comprehensive economic relationship between India and China that would boost growth in both. "In this context, the trust and chemistry between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi will play an important role", a senior official claimed.