Chinese checkers


Two suitors from the east, China and Japan, are increasingly wooing Modi’s India
Article Date: 
Jun 12 2014, 2049

The New Delhi visit of Chinese foreign minister and special envoy Wang Yi inside two weeks of Narendra Modi taking over should be considered significant. Such promptness on part of Beijing to send a top-ranking ambassador in an effort to build bridges with a new Indian regime is a refreshing change from the usual frostiness that has marked bilateral ties between the two Asian giants. Yi’s visit turned out to be two pronged; one, a resolve to move towards a final settlement of the border dispute between the countries and two, to chart out an economic plan of action for two large trading partners who also happen to be among the fastest growing economies in the world. The 4,056-km-long line of actual control (LoAC) that traverses five states, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh from the Indian side, is considered a de facto border between the two sides. Yet memories of the 1962 border scrap, which went in China’s favour, tends to cast the occasional cloud over business ties between the two countries. Yet, in choosing to visit Modi and describing him as an ‘old friend’, China has transcended the usual niceties. Could it be meant to assume that Beijing has blinked first, recognising in Modi a strong leader, in contrast to a waffling, pussyfooting Manmohan Singh? While it may be premature to arrive at a definite conclusion, there is little doubt that Beijing is better acquainted with Modi than it is with any other Indian politician. As chief minister, he made three trips to China and at his swearing-in, the official media there recalled one of his business trips to that country where the Gujarat government’s presentation in mandarin came in as a pleasant surprise. But Modi, showing early signs of diplomatic finesse, is not putting all his eggs in one basket. He has accepted in principle the invitation of Japanese premier Shinzo Abe to visit Tokyo in July, earlier than his planned visit to China. Abe, like Modi, is regarded as a hardliner on protecting national interests and is currently in the midst of an aggressive anti-China campaign. What it does is that it puts Modi in a fine position to pick and choose his moves. Since 1962, China has hinted at a quid pro quo: recognise Chinese rights over Aksai Chin, one of the most inhospitable terrains in the world situated in Jammu and Kashmir and a deal can be worked out on Arunachal Pradesh. In a democracy, any deal can be seen as a bad compromise, not a small worry for Jawaharlal Nehru when he dealt with Chou En-lai back in the turbulent 1950s. The new prime minister could settle a long-standing dispute while keeping his relations with Tokyo on an even keel. Modi has spoken on the old Buddhist links between India and Japan, a cultural cross connect he also made in his conversation with Chinese president Xi Jinping last week. Looks like India’s Look East policy is finally coming around.

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