Will China and India Walk the Diplomatic Talk

                                                                                                IITM CSC Article #74
13 June 2014


Will China and India Walk the Diplomatic Talk

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s two-day visit to India on June 8-9 as President Xi Jinping’s special envoy is indicative of China’s proactive engagement with the new government. It is also emblematic of 2014 being the ‘Year of Friendly Exchanges’ between India and China, with an added commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the “Panchsheel” Agreement of 1954, China is displaying keen interest in working with the Modi government. This is reflected in the statement from China’s Foreign Ministry before the talks, stating that China is “ready to work with India’s new government to bring bilateral ties to a new high”. 

Setting the tone for China’s proactive diplomacy with India, Wang Yi stated: “No country can choose its neighbour, but friendship may be fostered … Certain issues may not be avoided, but innovative answers could be found. One cannot rewrite history, but the future is in our hands.” The high-level talks between Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj was premised on strengthening  cooperation in key areas of trade and investment as bilateral trade has stalled, falling to $65 billion in 2013, with China enjoying a $48 billion surplus, and easing of the longstanding border tensions. The emphasis of the talks was on strengthening the defence ties, expanding the economic cooperation by means of building Chinese industrial corridors or parks in India and also enhancing cooperation to fight terrorism, where China appreciated India’s stand on the recent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang.  Both sides held a shared view on the need to tap the unexplored potential ground for enlarging  economic ties.

This Chinese proactive behaviour to reach out to India is deemed pragmatic and reflects Xi Jinping’s diplomatic and strategic interest in engaging India when international politics is witnessing fast swings both globally and regionally. The rationale behind this interest is strong security challenges that China faces in its own periphery over its heightened maritime disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and with Vietnam, Philippines and other maritime neighbours in the South China Sea and most importantly, United States’ ‘rebalance’ in Asia-Pacific. Engaging an equally competitive and emerging India is in the best interests of China, Modi, who had earlier condemned Beijing for having an ‘expansionist mindset’, has placed China at the apex of India’s foreign policy within the current government’s central goal to revive the Indian economy. With  economics in command, and China being India’s biggest trading partner, the best policy for India is engaging China for greater access to the Chinese market.

Though China and India share a common economic interests,  there are two obstacles that impact the bilateral relations.  The ‘protracted boundary problem’ in the Himalayas remains unresolved even after ‘17 round of border talks’  and is heightened with alleged Chinese incursions in the Indian territory. And second, the contentious Tibet problem which creates perennial Chinese distrust as India hosts the largest Tibetan exile population and The Dalai Lama. China’s resentments was apparent in its denouncement of the presence of Lobsang Sangay, the political head of “Tibetan government in exile” at the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oath ceremony on May 26th in New Delhi. Compounding these sentiments is the recurrent Tibetan protests against China on India’s soil also seen during  Wang Yi’s visit.

With their keen interest, both China and India have set the stage to elevate the bilateral relations to that of an in-depth engagement driven more by consensus than differences. It is now the test of time as to how China and India will take their bilateral relationship to a new high based on their common interests of trade and stability.


Amrita Jash,
Ph.D Research Scholar, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
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