China's charm offensive for India

India becomes an indispensable partner for China to tide over the economic and political crisis Beijing is facing.
Last Updated : 29 September 2023, 06:15 IST

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At a function commemorating the 74th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, Ma Jia, Chinese chargé d'affaires, remarked that India-China relations need a 'resumption of practical cooperation to deepen its bilateral ties.' Ma’s comments must be contextualised at best at a level of historical legacy and engagements in the recent past at a bilateral and international landscape. India was among the first countries to recognise China and establish diplomatic relations when the West debated who lost China. But, the ties between the two Himalayan neighbours are not so cosy.

Under Xi Jinping's third tenure, China has faced adverse negative press in the international sphere. From the never-ending US-China trade war, continuing Russia's protracted war in Ukraine, and deteriorating cross-strait relations, Beijing feels it imperative to rejig its ties with many capitals in the region and beyond. The recent G7 foreign ministers meeting in Tokyo asked Beijing to press Moscow to stop its aggression in Ukraine, and alleged 'forced assimilation' of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

However, at the same time, 10 days prior, one can read the G20 Summit hosted by New Delhi was a 'successful' summit for China and Russia even if their numero uno were absent. As a platform for economic deliberations, the summit also discussed geopolitical and security issues. New Delhi's adept handling of these conflicting issues with landmark outcomes could not go unnoticed in many capitals — even Beijing.

Ma's statements come in the background of the anniversary of the establishment of Communist China and the 45th year of China's gaige kaifang — the policy of reforms and open door started under Deng Xiaoping's leadership in 1978. Although China had record economic growth since then, the current period does not look so rosy. The headwinds for the Chinese economy have come to the fore, and the party elites and policymakers seem to realise this. Its fierce economic performance and competence also lead to crony capitalism and corruption. Today, many senior party cadre, government danwei (departments and units), and private sectors of the economy are investigated for graft and misgovernance. However, all economic problems do not have a political antidote.

India, therefore, becomes an indispensable partner for China to tide over this crisis. Invoking the bilateral relations as a foundation for realising mutual benefit and creating an ‘Asian Century’, these remarks give a positive opportunity for India and China to deepen engagement and people-to-people contacts, and ensure a 'non-discriminatory business environment’. However, India-China relations alone cannot be just nuanced in economics of scale and trade interaction. It emanates from cultural and sometimes ill-informed political values, too. Thanks to the 2020 Galwan crisis, the general lull of bilateral ties has not been amicable ever since. The creation of a 'new normal in border engagement' definitely will not be accepted by New Delhi to move forward with meaningful solutions. Both countries require incremental steps but steady prioritising of their interests in resolving issues beyond myopic understanding and rhetorical theatrics.

Similarly, with Beijing's brinkmanship vis-à-vis deteriorating cross-strait relations with Taiwan, the stability in the economic landscape seems to be in peril. In addition, the militarisation of the South China Sea has accentuated the uncertain security situation with other Southeast Asian nations. These animosities and mistrust will likely increase if Beijing does not work with countries like India. Further, extrapolating to the bigger picture, China seems to be perturbed by India rallying the developing nations, even though the former's engagement through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is extensive across continents. Xi’s absence in the G20 may have worked in China's interests in the short term. Still, it also shows Beijing's lack of commitment to engage with other nations in issues of the world, particularly with the countries of the Global South in priority areas of 'sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth’.

The chargé d'affaires calling on both countries to 'bring China-India relations back to the track of sound and steady development at an early date’ is a welcome suggestion towards allaying fears and securing the trust of other nations. At the same time, India should not squander the opportunity to work together with China and other countries. For aspiring and emerging powers — India and China will have greater responsibility for an inclusive world order. Competition and co-operation are not zero-sum games, but rivalry and mistrust are. By accusing the West and preaching lofty ideas for alternatives but creating the same hierarchical power structures in different forms cannot absolve India and China. The two cannot afford to repeat one.

Bhim B Subba teaches Political Science at University of Hyderabad, and is Visiting Researcher, Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi. Twitter: @bhimeas

(Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.)

Published 29 September 2023, 06:15 IST

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