Amid Distrust, China Extends ‘Handshake’ to India

On his first foreign trip as Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang was in New Delhi today, where he met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Xinhua ran a sanguine report on Li’s talking points and the “great importance” that China’s new leadership has attached to furthering bilateral ties with India:

In his meeting with Singh, Premier Li said China and India are important neighbors and partners by nature.

He noted that remarkable advancement has been made in bilateral ties, political mutual trust deepened, fruitful results made in the cooperation of every field, and people-to-people exchanges constantly expanded.p China and India have made satisfactory coordination and cooperation on major regional and international affairs, and achieved positive progress on border negotiations, Li added.

[…]Li said choosing India as the first leg of his maiden overseas tour as Chinese premier demonstrated the sincerity of China’s new leadership and the great importance that it attaches to developing ties with India.

China is willing to join efforts with India to seize the opportunities to deepen cooperation and let the two peoples benefit from the development of the China-India ties, Li said.

[Source]

After their talks, the two leaders signed numerous agreements on trade and resources. The Times of India reports:

To enhance trade, both the sides decided to set up three working groups under the Joint Economic Group. The three groups are Services Trade Promotion Working Group, Economic And Trade Planning Cooperation Group and Trade Statistical Analysis Group.

[…]In 2012, bilateral trade between the two countries was $66 billion, a decline from over the $74 billion mark in 2011. The two countries have set a target of $100 billion by 2015 for bilateral trade.

[…]Another pact was signed between the two sides under which China will provide information of water level, discharge and rainfall twice a day from June 1st to October 15th each year in respect of three hydrological stations on the mainstream Brahmaputra river.

[…]An agreement was also signed between Export Inspection Council of India (EIC) and AQSIQ on trade and safety of feed and feed ingredients.

[Source]

Last month, the long disputed and heavily militarized border between Tibet and the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh came into attention as Chinese soldiers set up camp in northern India, hundreds of miles from the disputed region. During today’s talks, the border dispute was identified as an impediment to a healthy and productive bilateral relationship. From Reuters:

The number two in the Chinese leadership offered New Delhi a “handshake across the Himalayas” and said the world’s most populous nations could become a new engine for the global economy if they could avoid friction on the militarized border.

“Both sides believe that we need to improve the various border-related mechanisms that we have put into place and make them more efficient. We need to appropriately manage and resolve our differences,” Li said at a joint news conference with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

[…]Among the measures being looked at to reduce the risk of confrontation is allowing higher level meetings between regional military commanders, an Indian official said.

[Source]

Despite Li’s extension of a pan-Himalayan “handshake,” the New York Times reports on Indian concerns that China may have gained more from the talks, and mentions unease over China’s damming plans for the Brahmaputra River:

[…]Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said that India had so far gotten little of value out of the visit, including no reassurance about the border.

“My assessment is that China has gained more from these meetings than India,” he said. “The Chinese side conceded nothing.”

[…]The two sides discussed India’s growing alarm over China’s plans to build a series of dams on the Brahmaputra River, which flows into India’s northeast provinces.

India has repeatedly asked China to provide more information about its plans and the effects they will have on India, but China has so far resisted. In a statement, Mr. Li said China was willing to “strengthen communication” with India over its dam developments.

[Source]

Meanwhile, Australian think-tank the Lowy Institue for International Policy recently released a study surveying the Indian public on their global outlook. China and Pakistan — whose longtime strategic partnership has been warming over recent years — were both identified as security threats by large portions of respondents. The Hindu reports:

Not surprisingly, Indians see Pakistan and China as the biggest foreign threats to their nation. Only nine per cent of Indians believe China does not pose a threat, while 84 per cent believe it does, with 60 per cent identifying it as a major threat. Seventy per cent of the respondents agreed that China’s aim is to dominate Asia. The responses were roughly equal, however, between those who believed that India should join with other countries to limit China’s influence (65 per cent), and those who believed India should cooperate with China to play a leading role in the world together (64 per cent). In fact, some Indians clearly hold both views at once, an interesting sign of the tensions or indeed duality within Indian foreign policy expectations.

From all those who had identified China as a threat, over 80 per cent agreed that threat was for the following reasons: China possesses nuclear weapons, it was competing with India for resources in other countries, it was strengthening its relations with other countries in the Indian Ocean Region, and it was claiming sovereignty on parts of India’s territory. Only a slightly smaller number believed that the threat was because of China’s stronger military, its bigger economy, its military assistance to Pakistan, and because it does not “show respect” to India.

[Source]

The Wall Street Journal’s look at the Lowy report shows the same anxieties, but also mentions a public desire for India to increase cooperation with China:

The survey revealed that – like its government – Indians are perhaps unclear about how to respond to China’s growing power. About two-thirds of respondents said India should ally with other nations to limit China’s influence.

A similar portion of those interviewed also said India should cooperate with China to play a leading role in the world. Two-thirds of respondents said they would like relations with China to strengthen.

And there was some admiration for the way China does things. Just under half of those surveyed thought that India could learn from the way the Chinese government functions.

[Source]

Another point of contention in the Sino-Indian relationship deals with the Tibet question. India has provided refuge for the exiled Central Tibetan Administration since the Dalai Lama fled Chinese-controlled Tibet in 1959. While Tibet protests were suppressed in the lead-up to the New Delhi talks, The Hindu reports on the bilaterally strategic decision to leave the “T-word” out of the joint Li-Singh statement:

India’s decision to once again avoid reaffirming its commitment to a ‘One China policy’ has raised eyebrows in Beijing but Indian officials are playing down the omission of “Tibet” from the joint statement issued after talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

[…]The first time India dropped the reference to ‘One China policy’ was during Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit in 2010. India made the point then that Kashmir was as much a core concern of India’s as Tibet was to China, and that China’s policies of issuing stapled visas and carrying out projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir violated this core concern.

This is the point that Indian officials sought to make again. “If they had insisted on Tibet, then [we] would have asked for something else [Kashmir] to be included,” an official said, pointing out that there were enough indirect references in the joint statement to make good the exclusion of the T-word.

[Source]

China is currently India’s largest trading partner. Premier Li is set to depart India for Pakistan on Wednesday, followed by visits to Switzerland and Germany.