Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit China before he completes his first year in office on May 26, in what many see as part of a delicate diplomatic tightrope walk by New Delhi to counterbalance perceptions of a pro-US tilt during President Barack Obama’s tour.
Beijing has reacted sharply to a common strategic vision by India and United States in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, although New Delhi said the move was not aimed at containing China with which it is trying to improve ties.
A senior diplomat said Modi made it clear during talks with Obama at Hyderabad House last weekend that India has all along pursued an independent foreign policy and would not allow any “third power” to forge a common front against China.
The Prime Minister apparently conveyed his government’s concerns about the chronic Sino-Indian border dispute and the need to protect the country’s security interests. But at the same time, he outlined India’s commitment to cooperate with Beijing on economic and global issues — such as investment, trade, infrastructure development and climate change.
Modi’s maiden visit to China as Prime Minister will be in line with his multi-alignment approach, which is much the same as the American policy to pursue robust trade ties with Beijing and cooperation to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
He will be returning a favour to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who visited India last September and invited him to his country. Xi has promised a hard-to-ignore $20 billion investment. Trade between the two giant economies has risen 30 fold since 2000.
“The tour dates will be finalised by March. President Xi is keen to host him in his hometown Xian. PM Modi has expressed his desire to take part in the Mansarovar Yatra through the Nathu La route before travelling to Beijing,” said the senior diplomat.
The high-level visit will be preceded by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s trip to China from January 31 to February 3. She will hold bilateral talks with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and do the groundwork for Modi’s visit.
National security adviser Ajit Doval, who is India’s special representative for boundary talks, is expected to fly next to meet his counterpart, state councillor Yang Jiechi, in March for talks to resolve the vexed border dispute.
If not a major breakthrough, Doval could push for small steps such as exchange of maps of the western sector (Aksai Chin) — showing a clearly demarcated border — to halt frequent face-offs between Indian and Chinese armies.
The trips are aimed at offsetting Chinese concerns over the India-US Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region. Officials said it would be a “strategic misinterpretation” to perceive this document as a Japan-Australia-US-India alliance against China.
“PM Modi told President Obama that since ASEAN countries were comfortable with New Delhi, and the US with Japan and Australia, the two could join hands for maritime security in the region,” said the diplomat.
Analysts have cautioned that proximity to the US would send Pakistan into a tighter embrace with Beijing.
Home minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday talked of the heartburn the growing closeness between India and the US has caused in the neighbourhood. “But India wishes good relations with its neighbours, be it China or Pakistan,” he said in Kanpur, underscoring the government’s attempt to counterbalance its neighbourly ties. “China and Pakistan shouldn’t be worried,” he added.