Addressing the Mongolian Parliament on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described Asia as a region of ancient wisdom that is expected to lead the world in the 21st century.
He qualified his remark by saying this is also a region that lives on the uneasy edge of uncertainty, of unsettled questions, of unresolved disputes and unforgotten memories.
His central message to the State Great Hural of Mongolia was no different from what he confidently told his Chinese counterpart a day ago – settle disputes amicably and jointly move ahead.
Four days into a historic visit to East Asia with Seoul waiting eagerly to do business with India, Modi has shown confidence, sincerity and vision in his interactions with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and the Mongolian leadership.
If reports of the meetings in Xian are anything to go by, Xi and Modi have developed a personal bond, with both deciding to lay bilateral and multilateral concerns across the table. And they are prepared to make genuine efforts to resolve them.
Apparently, Modi made it clear to Xi and Li that he is willing to look at Chinese investment in India, provided the growing trade deficit is bridged. Last year, India exported $18 billion of largely raw materials, with imports from China touching $54 billion.
This led to a trade deficit of $36 billion, up from $31 billion in 2013-2014.
Like his trip to Beijing in November 2011 as the Gujarat chief minister, Modi was absolutely candid in articulating India’s security concerns vis-à-vis the long-pending boundary dispute, Chinese infrastructure activities in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the largely India-focussed all weather relationship with Pakistan.
It is understood that this was done without causing any offence or umbrage to the Chinese leadership and with the genuine intention of improving bilateral ties with Beijing.
“Unlike the past, where India-China ties were screened from the public, PM Modi brought all issues upfront so that the two countries become genuine strategic partners, not just on paper. President Xi and Premier Li have indicated that China also wants to move in the same direction,” said a top Indian diplomat from Beijing.
While resolving the India-China border issue has huge historical baggage, Modi urged the Chinese leadership to at least clarify the 3,488-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) so that chances of an accident between two of the world’s biggest militaries are reduced to a minimum.
Besides, he made it clear that India, like China, is equally entitled to build infrastructure and roads along the border for better communications and response.
The last-minute internal decision to extend e-visas to Chinese tourists has been interpreted in Beijing as a measure of Modi’s confidence in the bilateral relationship.
“The presence of President Xi, China’s top Communist Party leader, in a Buddhist temple in Xian with PM Modi shows the level of trust the two strong leaders share. President Xi’s acceptance of an equally strong Indian leader with no deference to diplomacy and protocol reflects in their body chemistry. And this bodes well for the relationship,” said an Indian delegate.