A summit overlooked in the West

By Sumantra Maitra
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, May 7, 2018
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Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) walks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei province, April 28, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

As was expected, international media have recently been focused on the summit between American President Donald Trump and the EU machinery represented by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Attention was also paid to the visit between North and South Korean leaders. However, one important summit has been out of the public eye in the West: the one between India and China.

The recent meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping appealed to the historical significance of these two massive countries. The Panchsheel Agreement, which was the primary document in the post-colonial world to have dealt with major power relations, was revisited. The summit was requested by the Indian prime minister and organized by the Chinese president in the town of Wuhan, a cultural and intellectual center, signifying the importance both sides attached to this personal, face-to-face meeting.

India and China agreed to improve communication between armed forces along their shared border, an ostensible thaw after the regional issues that plagued the powers. Both the president and the prime minister stressed the need for the two countries to talk and deepen mutual trust. Indian officials previously stated that transparency in communication should be key in moving forward. "The China-India relationship should be a stable and developing one, with mutual trust as the foundation," President Xi was quoted in Xinhua. "In the next step, the two countries should make a comprehensive plan for cooperation and further enhance strategic communication."

But Indian efforts at rapprochement come with a different geopolitical reality. India urgently needs foreign investment and a major economic boost from the outside. Indian growth has stalled, and industrial efforts have plateaued. China is the only country capable of large-scale investment in India at a moment's notice, and India knows that. China also remains the biggest trading partner of India, and India remains the largest project market for Chinese companies.

According to a recent article by CNBC, "India's exports to China last year increased 39.1 percent to $16.3 billion," which could grow as China faces trade war prospects with the U.S. and an unreliable EU as a partner, who will throw China under the bus at the first opportunity and turn against Beijing on human rights and other issues. As the U.S. gets protectionist and adversarial, China needs other partners for trade as well as other major markets for goods. India could also benefit from Chinese tourism, as well as cultural exchanges.

This reconciliation is also about geopolitics. With the changing global dynamics, Indian strategic circles have realized that there might be a time when issues might compel India to take sides. Trade is one such issue. New Delhi and Beijing share common ground against protectionism, which hurts the twogrowing economies.

Foreign policy is another aspect. Both China and India are opposed to foreign intervention and the spread of values and norms via military means. It is important to remember not to expect too much from India, as India hasneverjoined any blocs or political alliances since its independence. But India is, to use the terminology of international relations, "hedging its bets." India has beenrealizinglately that the military brinkmanship in the Indian Ocean, as well as not joining China's Belt and Road Initiative, might have been counterproductive.

While the outcome of this rapprochement is still unknown, this is a welcome start. In terms of sheer economic value, it was perhaps more important than all of the other summits that happened in the last two weeks. The size, demographics, industrial capacities and GDPs of the two countries make it so. 

Sumantra Maitra is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


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