| Christopher Bodeen |
BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to India this week highlights subtle shifts in the regional power dynamic that are bringing warmer ties between the two Asian giants, challenging China’s traditional relationship with Pakistan, and opening a new chapter in Beijing’s ongoing competition for influence with arch-rival Japan.
Xi is due in New Delhi on Wednesday for a three-day visit focused on trade, investment and the resolution of decades-old border disputes. With the world’s second-largest economy and a proven track record at building highways, railways, and industrial zones, China has much to offer India as it seeks to upgrade its creaky infrastructure.
The visit is the latest sign of easing suspicions between the two huge countries — which between them have 2.6 billion people — dating from a month-long border war in 1962 that left around 2,000 soldiers dead. That conflict ended in a standoff with both sides accusing the other of occupying its territory.
Xi’s visit “will definitely enhance the bilateral political mutual trust,” Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao told reporters in Beijing last week.
While ties have been steadily growing for years, they’ve been given a major boost under new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who’s signalled he wishes to pursue a more vigorous foreign policy. Xi is the first Chinese head of state to visit in eight years, while the country’s prime minister, Li Keqiang, made India his first overseas visit shortly after taking office last year.
“Good relations with India are a key part of China’s regional strategy and Xi’s visit creates the opportunity for direct face-to-face communication on the problems that still exist, such as the border issue,” said Zhao Gancheng, Director of the Asia-Pacific Center of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.
Modi spoke repeatedly to top Chinese officials in the first weeks of his administration, and during a recent visit to India, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi described the new relationship as “the emerging tip of a massive buried treasure.”
There’s certainly plenty of room for growth. China may be India’s biggest trading partner, but commerce between them dropped to an anaemic $65 billion last year, with China exporting $48 billion more goods than it imported. For Modi, boosting trade and foreign investment is critical to making good on his campaign promise of creating jobs for the 13 million young Indians entering the labour market each year.
China also has a strong vested interested in preventing India from drawing too close to the West and especially to Japan, which has enthusiastically courted Modi’s government.
Recently, Modi paid a five-day visit to Japan, bringing home pledges of billions of dollars in aid and investment and an agreement to strengthen their economic and security ties. Modi has emphasised the value of their shared commitment to democracy in contrast to China’s one-party authoritarian communist system.
In light of that visit, Xi is expected to make investment pledges matching or exceeding the $35 billion Modi received in Japan — a sign of how Modi has been able to leverage the rivalry between China and Japan to maximise gains for India.
“China, I think, is conscious that we have a good equation with Japan,” said Jayadev Ranade, president of the New Delhi-based think tank Center for China Analysis and Strategy.
Both sides have said the border disputes shouldn’t impede relations and recent years have brought regular consultations between both their diplomats and troops on either side high along the Himalayan frontier.