The first China-India secretary level strategic dialogue begins this Wednesday in Beijing. India’s foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will sit with his Chinese counterpart Zhang Yesui. India’s Foreign Office terms this as the first strategic meeting between these two countries. Similar meetings were held when Shyam Saran, Shiv Shankar Menon, Sujatha Singh, Nirupama Roy and Ranjan Mathai were foreign secretary. However, at those times, relations between the countries were far more tolerant than the critical phase that exists now. Modi government can thus justify their claim of this being the first strategic dialogue. Also, the priority this time is on a different level. No joint communiqué or statement will be published, but there will likely be fruitful negotiations to discard stagnant bilateral relations.
India and China have very opposite concepts of foreign relations. As India follows a democratic system where people’s vote is the only way to form a government, political leaders often have to appease public emotion. On the other hand, China’s foreign policy prefers minimal rhetoric. Their policy is to say less, work more and only speak when it is necessary.
There are several complex issues between China and India including border issues which are not to be solved easily. The Tibet, Ladakh, Sikkim and Arunachal border disputes are extremely convoluted. But the two countries moved forward considerably when they pushed aside those issues and worked with common economic interest and trade relations. That trend stopped in its tracks when Modi came to power and created an exclusive strategic relationship with the US and formed a quartet coalition with Japan, Australia and United States. At the same time, they hindered the implementation of China’s top priority CPEC project. All the while China blocked India’s attempt to get nuclear technology suppliers membership and permanent membership of the UN Security Council, which fueled the feud further. China also vetoed India’s proposal to include Masood Azhar on the list of international terrorists.
Now both sides are trying to come to terms with the situation after the series of conflicting actions and reactions. It will be interesting to see how these two Asian giants will adapt and move forward. Beijing will not show any favorable reaction if India’s coalition with the US causes a security threat to China. India already authorized the seventh US Navy fleet to dock in Gujarat for maintenance, resting, and replenishment of energy and supplies. With this move, the US can keep an eye on Chinese activities in the Arabian Sea, including the Gwadar Port, the starting point of CPEC.
On the other hand, Pakistan has allowed China to take a position in their maritime boundary for CPEC security. Quantitative concessions of such strategic and counter strategic measures can be discussed. China may offer infrastructure investment in India. The Global Times indicated that Beijing might also propose free trade and investment protection agreements. Some of the border dispute issues which will not be hard to settle might also be part of agenda. Both countries might show tolerance regarding NSG membership and CPEC for the counterpart. Delhi’s position on establishing peace in Afghanistan might also be a focal point of discussion. However, at the same time in Moscow, another conference on Afghanistan will be held with six nations including these two.
Even with the distinct gap in economic and military capacity between China and India, they are two emerging powers in the world. If forces outside Asia adopts any policy to bring chaos in the region, it will not be good for either party. India can’t go far if they create hostile rivalry with China. On the other side, China will not be successful in their New Silk Road plan if the hostility with India isn’t cleared. How far both countries realize this fact will be clear after this pivotal strategic dialogue.