Vote result won’t hurt Modi’s bid to boost ties

By Long Xingchun | Global Times

ON THE WEB, 16 April 2019

In India’s multi-phase general election that kicked off on Thursday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is confronting a potent challenge from the Indian National Congress. It is hard to say if the BJP will gain absolute majority as it did in the last election. The results are likely to be determined by domestic factors. Groups and classes in India harbor different sentiments and views about Modi’s performance.

In terms of diplomacy, Modi has drawn global attention to India during the past five years. In Chinese society, which used to be relatively less interested in India, Modi’s popularity and influence has surpassed those of previous Indian leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India. In spite of several ups and downs, Beijing-New Delhi ties have made remarkable progress in the past five years.

During the last general election in 2014, Modi found wide coverage in Chinese media. After taking office, Modi opened an account on China’s social media and communicated directly with Chinese netizens, which brought him closer to the people of the country. Because of Modi, Chinese media has expanded its coverage of India and Chinese society is paying much more attention to this neighboring country than ever before.

Modi has clearly recognized the significance of China and its relations with India.

President Xi Jinping paid a visit to India in September 2014. Although Modi has made only one official visit to China during his term, he visited the country several times to attend summits, such as the 2016 G20 Hangzhou summit, the 2017 BRICS Xiamen summit, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit 2018 in Qingdao and the 2018 India-China informal summit in Wuhan.

Modi has built good personal relations with Xi, which has laid the foundation for the development of bilateral relations and resolving disputes.

Previously, the Indian government believed bilateral economic cooperation cannot be promoted with conflicts between the two sides. Modi did away with such conventional thinking and actively promoted China-India economic cooperation. Bilateral trade has increased from $70 billion in 2014 to $95.54 billion in 2018. People-to-people contacts between the two countries have also increased.

It is noteworthy that although the US and Japan objected, India joined the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, becoming the largest recipient of loans and biggest beneficiary of the institution.

Historical disputes and new contradictions do exist between the two countries. Nonetheless, the Modi administration still adheres to the policy of non-alignment, despite the US’ attempt to rope in New Delhi to support its strategy of containing China. It has enhanced cooperation with the US while fending off domestic pressure to align with Washington’s policy to contain China.

Be as it may, the existing problems between China and India should not be ignored. The Modi administration blamed its failure to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group on China and accused Beijing of blocking its bid to blacklist Jaish-e-Mohammad militant leader Masood Azhar in the UN, which has fanned anti-China sentiment in India and dented bilateral ties.

Rather than bringing tensions out into the open, New Delhi should have communicated with Beijing and listed its demand. However, the Modi administration even arranged several visits for the Dalai Lama to South Tibet and invited him to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, Indian president’s residence, leading many to argue that India is “playing the Tibet card.”

The Doklam standoff in 2017 between the Indian troops and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is worth mentioning. It is still uncertain whether it was the Modi government’s decision or the army’s own deeds. Unlike the recent India-Pakistan conflicts in which Modi responded directly, he himself didn’t make any comments against China during the standoff in spite of several high-ranking officials’ hostile remarks against China. This reserved space for the two sides to resolve disputes diplomatically. After the Doklam standoff, China-India relations were anticipated to plunge. However, with the two leaders’ efforts, bilateral ties were back to normal. Particularly in April 2018, President Xi and Modi discussed the strategic and long-term aspects of bilateral ties in an informal summit in the Chinese city of Wuhan, entirely restoring normalcy to relations.

China recognizes India’s rise and its development potential, and attaches great importance to bilateral relations. The development of China-India relations should be partly attributed to the Modi administration’s efforts and India’s awareness of China’s significance and the fact that Beijing can bring opportunities rather than threats. Therefore, regardless of the election results, China-India relations will keep developing in the future no matter which party is at the helm of affairs.

About the author

The author is a senior research fellow with The Charhar Institute and director of the Center for Indian Studies at China West Normal University.

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