May 18, 2013

After border row, China PM visits India for stronger ties

The India-China border dispute is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon but Chinese premier Li Keqiang’s three-day visit to India beginning Sunday is likely to give impetus to bilateral and trade ties. Hours after his arrival at 3.20pm on Sunday here in his first foreign tour as the Chinese premier, Li will hold a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Singh will also host a dinner for Li.
The Communist Party of China’s decision to send Li to India before Pakistan, though not unusual, also means that Beijing is trying to signal that it is not trying to pick fights with all its neighbours — despite the recent border incident in Ladakh, analysts told HT.The crux: China’s Asia hand is weak without India.

“China is more concerned about stability in the region than it was a few years ago, principally the ramifications of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Pakistan’s internal security problems, and the risks of broader conflict in South Asia if these issues are not addressed,” Andrew Small, heading the Asia programme at the US-based German Marshall Fund, said.
Small added that Beijing was keen on supporting increased trade and economic linkages in the region. “Second, China needs to make sure it isn’t picking fights with all its major neighbours at once. There are enough troubles for Beijing in northeast and southeast Asia without further complications to its west.” According to experts, India and China have to coexist. “…I believe China and India have no choice but to coexist and develop peacefully together for their national interests on both sides despite some differences and even disputes,” professor Du Youkang, director of the Center for South Asian Studies, Fudan University, Shanghai, who has served both in India and Pakistan as a diplomat, said.
While border issue is set to figure in discussions, Li’s visit would also firm up the roadmap for managing and building on the relationship that has the elements of both competition and cooperation. External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said, “We need to carefully nurture our growing partnership, which is significant not only in the bilateral dimension but also increasingly has a global nature.”
According to Ely Ratner, deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Security Programme at the Center for a New American Security, Beijing has been trying for many years to strike a better balance between India and Pakistan. “But it is notable that Xi Jinping’s first visit abroad as president was to Russia and now Li Keqiang’s to India.  China does appear to be looking west for strategic alternatives to its increasingly deteriorating external environment in East Asia,” Ratner said. 

Other than Ratner, who said he did not see a real alignment of common interests and values in the diplomatic relations between China and India, the experts were mostly bullish on India-China relationship.