CHUMMY IN CHENNAI

In a rare moment in history, there’s palpable bonhomie between the leaderships of India and China; and a history of war notwithstanding. Chinese president Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Xi Jinping met for another round of discussions in a locale rich with remnants of history – Mahabalipuram on the southern coast of India overlooking the Bay of Bengal. That they listened to each other with considerable interest was in itself a positive sign, even though situations have conspired to create the necessary conditions for this.

On his part, Xi Jinping expressed his desire that the dance of China and India on the regional stage should continue – meaning they should keep cooperating with each other and find new ways to promote this friendship. Time and tide waits for none. Xi has been given powers equal to Mao by the Chinese Communist Party to take the nation’s progress forward. Modi, after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, emerged as the undisputed leader of India. History thrusts upon the two a bigger responsibility to shape things in ways as would benefit the Asian region and their countries in more meaningful ways. Dhoti-clad Modi was down-to-earth in the way he handled Xi. Significantly, Kashmir was kept outside of discussions despite the brotherly ties China has with Pakistan. It showed China wanted to act positively in promoting its ties with India at this juncture. The good tidings are there for all to see.

Issues, however, remain. Like the huge trade imbalance between the two countries. A trade deficit of the order of $57 billion against a business of around $95 billion is no small matter. This amounts to a gross one-way traffic of sorts, with China present everywhere in Indian markets and India hardly anywhere in China. Two key areas seeking presence in China are India’s IT and pharmaceutical sectors – in both of which India still maintains the upper hand. Beyond the bonhomie, such matters should find better attention at the bilateral level. Xi has expressed a willingness to do the needful.

Indian diplomacy acted reasonably well in recent times. India’s closer ties with the US are an eyesore for China. It cannot afford to antagonize India at this time, as it would mean giving more scope to the US to engage India, even against China. The Modi-Trump show in the US was there for all to see. Xi also has his eyes set firmly on his ambitious Belt and Road initiative, in which India could put a spoke or two. India too has its bargaining chips.

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