SOURCE: Hindustan Times
India will seek to ‘recalibrate’ ties with China and build on commonalities after a difficult year. But this will not happen at the cost of India’s “core concerns,” and it will stick to its stated position on Beijing’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has no intention of signing on to it.
“We will deepen the areas of convergence. But we will continue to hold on to our core interests and positions,” a senior government official said on condition of anonymity. This will also include India maintaining its opposition to the multi-billion dollar BRI, which aims to link Asia and Europe with a slew of infrastructure projects.
New Delhi believes that while the India-China relationship will continue to include elements of both cooperation and competition, it is time to work on “commonalities” in the relationship and build on it, rather than focus on the differences.
This is particularly true because of the stress that the relationship has gone through in the past year. Friction over the Dalai Lama’s Arunachal Pradesh visit, the 73-day military standoff on Bhutan’s Doklam plateau, India’s opposition to the BRI, China’s opposition to India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and its role in preventing Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar’s blacklisting by the United Nations has widened the trust deficit between the two countries.
Over the past few months, there has been a conscious ‘recalibration’.
Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale visited Beijing earlier this year. India, in an advisory issued by the cabinet secretary, asked senior ministers and political leaders to stay away from events meant to mark the Dalai Lama’s 60th year in exile as a ‘signal’ to China that it respected Beijing’s sensitivities and core interests. The Chinese foreign ministry has spoken of how the “Chinese dragon and Indian elephant” must not fight, but dance with each other. On March 22, a meeting of the working mechanism on Consultation and Coordination for India-China Border Affairs emphasised the importance of maintaining ‘”peace and tranquillity” in border areas.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is slated to visit China and, as reported by HT on March 17, may have an informal summit with President Xi Jinping. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman too will visit Beijing in April.
But despite the intensive engagement, India will not agree to what is currently China’s top diplomatic priority — the BRI.
Unveiled last year, the BRI is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature global initiative. Last May, India stayed away from inauguration of the Belt and Road Forum. It then flagged its objection to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – a part of the BRI – as ignoring its “‘core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Delhi had emphasised that connectivity projects must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid an “unsustainable debt burden,” strike a balance with ecological preservation, have transparent assessments of project costs, and involve skill and technology transfers. The suggestion was that the BRI did not meet this set of parameters.
Over the past year, China has continued to push for India’s inclusion in the project. But Delhi believes that its arguments and concerns on the BRI have gained traction in this period among a range of countries, which now see greater risks in the project.