Policy Alert: PM Narendra Modi’s China Visit Draws Reactions in Asia
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid his first visit to China since taking office a year ago. The much anticipated three day trip began May 14 and yielded 26 deals worth $22 billion between the two countries spanning a wide range of industries including renewable energy, power infrastructure, and steel. Prime Minister Modi began his trip in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province and the hometown of Chinese President Xi Jinping, followed by meetings in Beijing and Shanghai. This Policy Alert covers reactions to Modi’s visit from India, China, and South Korea.
Media coverage on Modi’s visit spanned a wide range of topics including addressing the India-China trust deficit, the trip’s emphasis on soft power diplomacy, and Modi’s capacity to expand Sino-Indian ties.
- In a speech delivered at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Modi argued, “We can be more certain of a peaceful and stable future for Asia if India and China cooperate closely. Asia’s voice will be stronger and our nations’ role more influential, if India and China speak in one voice – for all of us and for each other.”
- In a conversation with the media, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said that in Mr. Modi’s visualisation of the relationship with China, “there is no question of going back, but standing still is also not an option. The only way is to move forward.”
- Rather than choosing between the West and China, Atul Aneja, China correspondent for The Hindu, suggested an alternative: ” While it is tempting to enmesh in security arrangements that have Japan, Australia and the United States as the major players, a more prudent and bolder course that the Prime Minister can pursue is to propose and push for an integrated dialogue that involves all the major players in the region on a single dialogue platform.”
- Ram Madhav, the general secretary of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, said: “The greatest impediment in India-China relations is the trust deficit. By engaging with each other swiftly, the two leaders demonstrated that they are determined to address and reduce the trust deficit. “Managing a number of contradictions is the real challenge for the governments. In the given geostrategic and geopolitical situation, enhancing mutual trust and establishing a strong working relationship at various levels right up to the top is of utmost importance, which the two leaders seem to realize.”
- Shiv Sena, a nationalist political party, accused China of pursuing a policy of “hugging from the front and stabbing from behind.” The Sena mouthpiece Saamana wrote, “On one hand they gave a grand welcome to Prime Minister Modi during his visit to China, and on the other, wiped off Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh from India’s map,” referring to China’s state-owned television, CCTV, showing an India map without Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory.
Several editorials took note of Modi’s decision to join Chinese microblog site Weibo the week before his visit and praised Modi’s soft power diplomacy.
- The Hindu commended Modi’s soft power push accompanying his trip to China- leveraging “social media, Bollywood and yoga to reach out to ordinary Chinese citizens.” Modi’s Weibo account recorded 11.2 million hits within a week.
- Nirupama Rao, former Indian ambassador to the United States and Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow at the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, New Delhi, also praised Modi’s soft power push. “Even if it does not move mountains, it will awaken millions of Chinese, the young and educated especially, to an interest in India. We need that awakening. As a leader of the free world, Mr. Modi’s can be a powerful presence in China.”
- “By joining the microblogging site, Weibo, a week before he heads out to China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is persisting with a bold effort to loosen up a relationship that has been in a straitjacket for too long,” wrote C. Raja Mohan, consulting editor on foreign affairs for The Indian Express. Mohan outlined three themes that have emerged out of Modi’s effort to reframe India’s China relationship: widening the basis of engagement with Beijing to expand trade, putting culture at the center of the new engagement with China, and preventing India’s relationships with other countries- namely, the U.S. and Pakistan- from coming in the way of finding common ground with China.
- “In the 12 past months, Mr Modi has travelled to as many as 18 countries, participated in a bunch of multilateral summits and hosted several world leaders at home. He has energised a moribund foreign office, unshackled Indian diplomacy from stiff protocols, and talked up the India Story. He hasn’t really made any major policy turnarounds but his assertive and out-of-the-box approach to diplomacy has made all the difference,” wrote Mayuri Mukherjee in The Pioneer.
Several articles in The Hindu presented Prime Minister Modi as uniquely qualified to shape Sino-Indian relations.
- Amit Baruah, The Hindu‘s editor examined a meeting in 1954 between Jawarhawal Nehru and Mao Zedong, urging present leaderships in the two countries to consider that the founders of both nations had “wished for a future where their mutual rise was a possibility.”
- Jabin Jacob, Assistant Director & Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi, argued, “In fact, despite – or perhaps because of – [Modi’s] differences in world views and how he has gone about understanding China, he is probably the first Prime Minister after Jawaharlal Nehru capable of shaping a unique approach to China.”
Modi’s visit dominated Chinese news coverage on all fronts. The majority of the news coverage expressed hope for continued improvement in Sino-Indian relations and expansion in trade and investment.
- State-run Xinhua news agency asserted that the visit is a “chance for the two Asian neighbors to consolidate trust. The world’s two largest developing countries should become global partners for strategic coordination and jointly strive for a just and equitable international order.”
- Xu Changwen, researcher at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, identified “huge potential” for Sino-Indian cooperation in infrastructure development and power generation. “As big energy consumers, the two countries should deepen their cooperation in new energy, such as wind power and solar power, while exploring ways to work together in the traditional energy sector.”
- A Global Times editorial opined, “It is obvious that the Western elite doesn’t want to see India and China drawing closer to each other, because it will confront their vision for Asia’s future. As rising powers in this region, China and India, as partners or rivals, will make a huge difference to the geopolitical interests of the West.”
- Zhao Gancheng, an expert on South Asian studies at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said deciding how to deal with China is a challenging yet important issue for the Indian government. “The elites in India have reached a consensus that to achieve peaceful development, India has to handle the relationship with China well,” Zhao added.
- “Modi is considered as a state leader with strategic insights. He may become a Nixon-style statesman because of his pragmatism and capacity to resolve major contradictions between China and India and to tackle the common challenges of development,” wrote Liu Zongyi,assistant research fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies
A few editorials cast aspersions on how far Sino-Indian relations could progress, given the differences between the two countries.
- China’s state-owned television station CCTV aired a map of India that excluded Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir while reporting on Modi’s visit. China and India have ongoing territorial disputes over Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
- Hu Zhiyong, research fellow with the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences took a scathing tone to Sino-Indian relations. “Due to the Indian elites’ blind arrogance and confidence in their democracy, and the inferiority of its ordinary people, very few Indians are able to treat Sino-Indian relations accurately, objectively and rationally…Deepening bilateral relations requires concerted efforts of politicians from both sides. Modi should seize the chance of his China visit to enhance bilateral cooperation.”
- Ding Gang, senior editor of the Global Times argued that mistrust between China and India exists because there is “more competition than complementarity” in economic relations. To address this, he posited that “China can make well-planned and targeted industrial transfers in accordance with the development and investment ability of its enterprises and set up production bases in India to make use of its cheaper labor force. China can also invest more in training selected Indian workers.”
Following Modi’s three-day visit to China, Modi passed through Mongolia over the weekend and arrived in Seoul on Monday morning for a two-day visit. Media coverage in South Korea focused on strengthening Indian-Korean relations, although Modi’s trip was overshadowed by media coverage of an overlapping visit by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
- South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Modi agreed to elevate the level of bilateral ties to a “special strategic partnership” and start negotiations to revise a comprehensive economic partnership agreement, which is equivalent to a free trade deal, by June next year. “It is meaningful to make the two countries’ relationship a step closer to each other,” said President Park Geun-hye at the summit. “I hope to see the two countries’ cooperation strengthen not only in economic affairs, but also in politics and national security.”
- The Korea Times regarded Modi’s visit to South Korea as a “welcome development” and suggested “the two countries are highly likely to strengthen their mutually beneficial and complementary partnership. Seoul can find new growth momentum by capitalizing on the huge Indian market – the country as a population of 1.2 billion. New Delhi, for its part, can take inspiration from Seoul’s successful industrialization and modernization.”
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