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​The Elephant and the Dragon: Let the Asian Century begin with Modi’s China visit!

Thinking Beyond​

Prime Minister Narendra Modi left for China on Wednesday night. We present this exclusive analysis by Anoop Swarup to mark the significance of this tour


Anoop Swarup

Anoop Swarup

The China-India story may take off as a watershed development as Narendra Modi visits China. India and China are strategic rivals with fast growing economies driven by a billion plus population on either side and both aspiring to assert themselves as a dominant power in Asia and the world. Can they rise to make this century as Asia’s as both are engaged in careful geo-political manoeuvring to increase their influence. Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences in an article poses the moot question ahead of Indian Prime Minister’s three day China visit – Can Modi’s visit upgrade Sino-Indian ties? For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, perhaps this would be one of his most difficult foreign jaunts and for sure, it will also be the most meaningful one on many counts. In the last decade and half, an Indian Prime Minister had visited China only thrice – Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2003 and Manmohan Singh in 2008 and 2013 whereas Narendra Modi as Gujarat CM had equalled the number of visits by the two Prime Ministers before him!

It is also not a mere coincidence, that ahead of Modi’s China visit, a state run think tank went on to state that Modi should not visit Arunachal Pradesh to further his political interest and should stop supporting the Dalai Lama. Any good geopolitics has to be based on mutual respect and trust, more so between two feuding neighbours. The issue of real political trust thus will have to be built on a series of strategic principles as is ironically enough brought out in an article by Global Times in China, a publication of the Communist Party of China,

To cap it all it the article says: ‘Modi has also been playing little tricks over border disputes and security issues, hoping to boost his domestic prestige while increasing his leverage in negotiations with China” and the mood of the Chinese can be further judged from the sarcasm “Due to the Indian elites’ blind arrogance and confidence in their democracy, and the inferiority of its ordinary people, very few Indians are able to treat Sino-Indian relations accurately, objectively and rationally. Worse, some Indian media have been irresponsibly exaggerating the conflicts between the two sides, adding fuel to the hostility among the public”. Let us be be a bit apprehensive about the realpolitik as our memories are even now etched with images of Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Sabarmati river front in September 2014, even as Chinese troops’ had brazenly made their incursion into Demchok and Chumar in Ladakh. Incidentally the government did not even acknowledge that the Chinese troops made incursions into Indian territory on the subject in our own Parliament on February 27, 2015.Thus my approach to the visit will be more circumspect and of course with a pinch of salt.

On the geopolitical front India holds its ground on the border related issues and asserts its right to defend its territory despite repeated provocations by the Chinese through incursions and cartographic depictions, with Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory! China has significantly increased its defence budget to USD 136.3 billion which is more than three times that of India at USD 38.2 billion! China also exports arms to Pakistan, making it its top importer. China has plans to sell eight submarines to Pakistan. China continues to prop up India’s arch rival Pakistan and has been supplying not only nuclear reactors but also equipping it with the state-of-the- art nuke enabled missiles. On the strategic front China-Pakistan friendship has risen by USD 46 billion with a network of roads, railways and energy projects under a Pakistan-China Economic corridor. Intelligence suggests that China’s People’s Liberation Army is not only training Pakistan army close to the Indian border but also helping them build state of the art bunkers and defences. Despite India’s serious concerns, the proposed China-Pakistan economic corridor passing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, that President Xi had announced as the trade and transit route from Pakistan’s southern Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea to China’s western Xinjiang will be a sticky thorn. As far as the commanding heights in the Himalayas are concerned the PLA troops have the ability to reach the border in 48 hours and have several airfields in Tibet too. Earlier India had, though belatedly enough, cleared construction of 73 strategic roads along the Indo-China border in addition to the establishment of a Mountain Strike Corps- XVII Corps, specially designed to fight in the mountainous Indo-China border. Needless to recall that China claims more than 35,000 sq miles in the eastern sector of the Himalayas, whereas India firmly rejects this claim and holds that China occupies 38,000 square km of its territory on the Aksai Chin plateau in the west. I may mention that the Chinese social media site Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, was flooded with messages soon after its launch this month asking Narendra Modi to “return” Arunachal Pradesh, that the Chinese claim as South Tibet.

On the other hand let me delve into a bit of recent history, as it is to the credit of Narendra Modi that even as Chief Minister of Gujarat he nurtured affinity with the Chinese.

Wwhen most countries treated him as a persona nongrata for his alleged role in Gujarat riots in 2002, the Chinese had not only endorsed the Gujarat Model but invested carefully in raising Modi’s stature as a global figure in the hope that he will one day be leading a free and democratic India. This again is the enlightened approach in a country’s national interest that India has been proactively lacking in its foreign policy planning and strategic diplomacy.
Coming to Modi’s ‘Make in India’ plan to boost manufacturing and where he draws his inspiration from:

One recalls with distinct nostalgia the visit of the then Chinese Finance Minister to India while I was posted in the North Block more than a decade ago. His eagerness and the earnestness of the Chinese to enter into a comprehensive trade agreement in China’s national interest particularly when the trade deficit was in India’s favour was a revelation. Their aggressive economic stance and the speed of the Free Trade Agreements with the East Asian economies, the ASEAN, the APEC and the Aussies can be an exemplary approach for any country. Likewise the success of the Chinese manufacturing and its export processing zones can be an important case study and a comparison with the failure of our own special economic zones may be an eye-opener for us that may expose the ill-planned and half-cooked approach that our planners and North Block mandarins have. These are the times of economic warfare . While China continues to dump cheaply priced products that flood the Indian markets Indian products are no match even on quality front barring a few exceptions. The trade deficit, now in favour of China, is at an all time high at USD 38 billion up from USD 29 billion. Indeed the Chinese had pledged a 20 billion dollar investment, when Modi and Xi met in September 2014 over the next five years with the setting up of industrial parks. But there is little progress on the ground. Also there is no development on the joint smart city project to be undertaken in India by China.

Nearer home, India’s primary focus should be on domestic economy as it is now eher near when it comes to catching up with China. The race between the elephant that may run and the Dragon that already is dancing is the talk of the economists. But let me take a simple comparison to the fore. Presumably even if India grows at an annualised growth rate of 9 percent for next 15 years, its GDP will be just $8 trillion by 2030 when China’s GDP, at an annualized growth rate of six percent, would be almost $24 trillion to reach a China-India Ratio of China India Economy from 5:1 to 3:1, thus China will be much ahead of India as an economic power even in 2030.

Hence we speak of the Asian century, let us take a look at the myth versus the reality as China’s advantage over India over the past half century has been its better success with the human literacy rates, better health care and women’s participation in workforce. Indeed this has catapulted China with a growth rate almost constant at a whopping 10% per annum for close to 30 years since the 1980s. India may have a well-planned and a well-calibrated soft power push by leveraging of the social media, Bollywood and yoga to reach out to the Chinese. Interestingly as mentioned earlier, Sina Weibo, the China’s adaptation of Twitter, known for its largely no-holds-barred caustic remarks, greeted Narendra Modi with a record 11.12 million hits. Before the Prime Minister’s arrival in Xian, Bollywood star Aamir Khan landed in Beijing for the commercial release of the blockbuster PK in Chinese to strike a chord with the Chinese youth. For the Chinese cultural renaissance, with Buddhism at the core, the memory of Xuan Zang or Hieun Tsang — the Chinese monk and traveller who lived in India for 17 years has a lot to contribute to our common Buddhist heritage. Chinese President Xi Jinping shall be visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Xian, the Wild Goose Pagoda, the emblem of Xuan Zang’s epic journey to India. Yes, it is true that Chinese leaders almost never travel outside Beijing to meet senior foreign guests on bilateral visits, but President Xi’s appearance in Xian, in his home province of Shaanxi is being regarded as harbinger for great things to happen remarks Li Li, an India expert at the government-backed China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. The Indian and the Chinese film industries are also coming together in celebration of the Xuan Zang’s China-India connect and an MoU on a film on Xuan Zang is expected to be signed. Already a movie “Kung Fu Yoga” featuringJackie Chan under a joint production is being made.

Let us not forget as the world watches, the Elephant and the Dragon, together as the two billion plus economic giants can forge a future for the whole world. The long march is indeed possible through a strategic give and take on the border, economic synergy, joining hands on the global war against terror, joint endeavours and better investments on, climate change technologies, water resource planning, manpower and skilling to resource the world economic powerhouse. The opportunity is here and now for the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, so that the Asian Century may take shape.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in China, Mongolia and South Korea from May 14 to19. This is his first visit to China as Prime Minister.

This is also  his first to Mongolia but it is a first ever by a Prime Minister of India to Mongolia.

Prime Minister’s visit will begin with his arrival in Xian. Xian is the hometown of President Xi Jinping. The Prime Minister would be having his summit meeting with President Xi in Xian that afternoon. He will be visiting some places of cultural interest in Xian. Some of them are very famous sites which are associated with Chinese history and civilisation.

He would travel from Xian to Beijing late in the evening on 14 May. On the 15th, he would be formally welcomed in Beijing by Premier Li Keqiang. He will be holding talks with the Premier and his delegation. We will also be signing a number of agreements at the conclusion of the talks.

Then the Prime Minister moves on to Shanghai. That is primarily a business stop. He would be having interaction with Chinese CEOs. He is addressing a business gathering.


The Prime Minister’s programme for Mongolia starts on the 17thof May and the first stop for the Prime Minister would be the Gandan Monastery where there would be a gift of the Bodhi Tree sampling to the Chief Abbott of the Monastery. Following that we have the normal talks with the Prime Minister of Mongolia after which there would be the usual signing ceremony of the agreements several of which are going to be signed.

There is a rare honour being bestowed on the Prime Minister because this is for the first time on a holiday the Parliament of Mongolia is going to allow a foreign leader to speak and address the membership there. And of course this will be preceded by a meeting with the Speaker of the Mongolian Parliament.

As far as the agreements with Mongolia are concerned, there would be a cooperation in the field of application of nuclear technology for curing of cancer in the National Cancer Centre of Mongolia for which India is gifting a Bhabhatron. There would be a cooperation in solar and wind energy. And also we are setting up a joint Indo-Mongolian School in Ulan Bator which is a proposal which has been talked about for quite some years now but it has fructified now.


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