BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to India this month was the perfect opportunity to watch the "dance of the dragon with the elephant."
This visit was extremely important to both nations. China, in the face of its difficult diplomatic predicament in the South China Sea and the East China Sea as well as the enormous pressure from America's "Rebalancing of the Asia-Pacific region," wants to block any deepening alliance between America, Japan and India. This explains why last year Chinese Premier Li Keqiang chose India for his first foreign visit and why China very publicly praised Narendra Modi's arrival as India's prime minister.
With Modi looking to transform India's economic development, learning from China's experience over the past two decades in building its infrastructure and manufacturing industry is key. India needs massive external funding and technological expertise. There are currently only two countries capable of satisfying India's requirements: Japan and China.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited India in June and told the local press that there was a huge potential for the development of trade, investment and personnel exchange between the two countries. President Xi's visit confirmed this. Over the next five years China plans to invest $20 billion in India. Still, this is less than the $35 billion Japan has promised. Indeed, Japan has been a big investor in India since 2000, pouring in $16 billion compared to China's mere $500 million.
But looked at another way, Japan's investment in India over the next five years will double whereas China's will increase by 40 times.
The first step of China's investment in India has been launched. During Xi's visit, he announced deals establishing two Chinese industrial parks in Gujarat, Modi's home turf, and in Maharashtra, India's most developed region. Meanwhile, Gujarat and Mumbai have also signed friendship agreements with China's booming southern province of Guangdong and with the city of Shanghai. Local level exchanges of the two sides are in full swing.
Helping India to upgrade its railway system with high-speed links makes up the most important element of cooperation between the two parties. China has great strength in this sector and now rivals Japan.
And to meet the needs of large-scale cooperation, language talents will be needed. So in the next five years China will train some 1,500 Indians to become Chinese teachers locally while at the same time dispatching 500 Chinese teachers to India.
A new air
It is clear that India's new government is much more welcoming than others over the past decade, and Xi's visit shows the progress of the Sino-India relations on certain sensitive issues. For instance, China has decided to open a new route at the Nathu La mountain pass in the Himalayas connecting India and China. This will be an important route for India's Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims to Tibet. The route goes past sensitive military sites, and China had previously refused to open it up.
Meanwhile, the two states will also carry out bilateral cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear energy, including working consultations between the China Atomic Energy Authority and the Atomic Energy Commission of India. According to the Indian press, China intends to sell the new generation APC1000 nuclear reactor to India. While the implementation of the U.S.-India and Japan-India civil nuclear deals seem to be blocked, it would certainly awe the world if China and India reached a substantial agreement on this matter.
Nonetheless, despite progress, major differences remain that plague the bilateral relationship, keeping that dragon-elephant dance a delicate one.
First of all, there is the issue of border disputes. In recent years, friction at the Sino-Indian border have increased and confrontations are frequent. Last May, on the eve of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to India, there was the "tent confrontation" that lasted 21 days. During President Xi's visit this time there was another face-off on the western border of the two countries. Though it's hard to judge which party was in the wrong, the attitudes of both seem to be hardening on the issue.
The unresolved border issue thus became one of the main topics of Xi's Sept. 17-19 visit. At the joint press conference, both leaders expressed their desire to resolve the issue, but nothing of substance appears to have emerged from the summit.
The second issue is that of Tibet. Lately certain sectors of Indian public opinion have advocated playing "the Tibet card" against China, and when Modi was sworn in he invited the so-called Tibetan government-in-exile’s "prime minister" to the ceremony. It is believed that China made clear to India its absolute discontent about this gesture.
As early as 1954, China had already clearly defined, along with India, the "Tibet status" issue. In addition, ever since then-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China in 1988 all joint documents resulting from high-ranking official visits have always contained a statement on India's Tibet policy. Yet the situation has changed in the last few years. "Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of the People's Republic of China," Modi said during his recent meeting with Xi. "India doesn't allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China political activities in India." But no relevant text was seen in the two parties' final joint statement.
Finally, unlike the other two small countries, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, which President Xi also visited on this trip, India did not show great interest in the "21st Century Marine Silk Road" initiative China is vigorously promoting.
In the end, there is sincere and large-scale Sino-India cooperation, but there also remains a profound shortage of trust that prevents the "dance of the dragon and elephant" from getting into full swing.