The Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping meet in Wuhan might make for as great optics as the duo’s Sabarmati Ashram session. However, little has been realised in the India-China bilateral relations — to the satisfaction of both the sides — since the two countries fought a bitter, avoidable war in 1962. Beyond what satisfies diplomats, that is. The foreign mission officials may look back at the Rajiv Gandhi-Deng Xiaoping meet of 1988 with fondness, and yet, the people of India continue to mistrust the Chinese as much as the Chinese Communist Party-backed media is cynical about India. If the Forward Policy of Jawaharlal Nehru was ill-conceived, today there appears fewer reasons for a military confrontation, but there are obvious flaws in both the domestic business and international commerce policy of India today, which contribute to the huge trade deficit between the two countries. If only India had had a leader as reformist as Deng, China would see more benefits in keeping India in good humour. On the domestic front, after pulling out a huge section of the population from a despondent lower middle class to the upper middle class in the 1990s, India lost a decade in socialism once again. In trade, India continues to export iron ore to China, among other importers, while finished goods hardly get the push the industry requires. Despite such a sluggish growth of India, if the crisis in Doklam ended last year, the credit must go as much to China’s realisation that India is a huge market that should not be wasted as to India’s military grit backed by Modi’s political will.
That makes one wonder why China is yet to realise that it chose an awful partner in a failed state like Pakistan, preferring it to India. This country, on the contrary, made the necessary corrections in international partnerships long ago — coinciding with the liberalisation cum globalisation bid of the PV Narasimha Rao-Atal Bihari Vajpayee stretch — looking for options beyond Russia, improving the relations with the United States remarkably and establishing the much-needed diplomatic ties with Israel while buying military hardware from the best in the whole of the West. As wise people, the Chinese must emerge from their mindset of the Qing Dynasty when their nation was referred to as the Middle Kingdom. That is at the core of its expansionist desire, which the entire south-east Asian region complains of. With its designs on Arunachal Pradesh, China most certainly reminds the world of Qing’s era. As Prime Minister Modi recently reiterated in the United Kingdom, like several Indian statesmen in the past, India has never eyed the territory of some other nation. This historical and cultural philosophy of India is something China has been unable to appreciate since the time a truncated Indian Union was formed and the US and Europeans stopped what is referred to as “cutting of the Chinese melon” in books of history.
For China to flourish faster, India need not be contained, Beijing must understand. It certainly understands now that a repeat of 1962 is no more possible. Because of this dichotomous perception of India in Chinese minds, it has substituted war with constant pin-pricks like incursions into the north-western Indian territory and casting of a “string of pearls” around India. Entertaining two dubious allies Pakistan and North Korea, both of which the world is wary of, cannot be a judicious plan for an economic powerhouse that, pundits say, would replace the United States at the top slot in a few decades. Of course, large swathes of north-western China remains underdeveloped, where outsiders are not permitted to venture, but that is a sovereign China’s domestic problem. Modi must drive this sense in Xi that glitch-free bilateral ties between India and China would bring unforeseen prosperity in the region and its people. India can have its own plan to contain China with the help of the US, Japan and several nations of the Asia Pacific, but this mutual containment game, which strains the finances of the fortuitous rivals, is altogether unnecessary.