Some quick thoughts on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's trip to China.
By: Tanvi Madan
Some quick thoughts on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's trip to China thus far, following the release of the Joint Statement, and Modi’s remarks at the Great Hall of the People, at Tsinghua University, and at a bilateral forum of state and provincial leaders:
1. Candid Modi. In his statement to the media, Modi noted that the bilateral discussions had been “candid, constructive and friendly.” He was definitely more candid in his remarks about Indian concerns than is normal for Indian leaders during China-India summits. While senior Indian policymakers often downplay the bilateral differences during visits (incoming and outgoing) and focus more on cooperative elements, in two speeches and in the joint statement released, Modi mentioned them repeatedly. He talked about the relationship being “complex,” as well as about issues that “trouble smooth development of our relations” and held back the relationship. He urged China to think strategically (and long-term) and “reconsider its approach” on various issues. First and foremost: its approach toward the border, but also visas and trans-border rivers, as well as the region (read China’s relations with Pakistan among others). China’s approach on economic questions was also put on the table, with Modi stating that, in the long-term, the partnership was not sustainable if Indian industry didn’t get better access to the Chinese market. The joint statement acknowledged that the level of the trade imbalance (in China’s favor) was not sustainable either. Modi also made clear that India wants China’s support for a greater role in international institutions. He specifically highlighted that China’s support for a permanent seat for India at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) and Indian membership of export control regimes would be helpful to the relationship (interestingly, he explained India’s desire for UNSC permanent membership as stemming from the same logic as the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank—part of Asia “seeking a bigger voice in global affairs.” In the joint statement, however, China continued just to recognize India’s aspirations for a greater UNSC role. It did though include mention of India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group aspiration.
There was also an overall message from Modi that these issues couldn't be set aside and that progress was necessary: “…if we have to realise the extraordinary potential of our partnership, we must also address the issues that lead to hesitation and doubts, even distrust, in our relationship.”
2. The Border. Modi put the border at the top of the list of such issues, stating “we must try to settle the boundary question quickly.” Seeming to add a parameter to any potential solution, he stated that the two countries should settle this question “in a manner that transforms our relationship and [will] not cause new disruptions.” In the meantime, he noted that the mechanisms managing the border were working fine, but asserted that it was important to clarify the Line of Actual Control since otherwise there was a persisting “shadow of uncertainty.” He noted that he’d proposed a resumption of “the process of clarifying it.” The joint statement stated a desire for enhanced exchanges between the militaries to better communication on the border and an exploration of whether/how to increase trade at the border.
As is wont for Indian leaders in China, Modi didn’t explicitly assert India’s claim to the state of Arunachal Pradesh, but for those of us who read between the lines, he mentioned the number of states India had, referring to “30 pillars comprising the Central Government and all our States”—those 29 states include Arunachal Pradesh.