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A Dragon and an Elephant

It’s in the global interest that India and China, where a quarter of world population resides, are friends. Meanwhile, Chinese president Xi Jinping has become a de facto monarch.

‘The Chinese dragon and Indian elephant must not fight but dance together,’ said the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi while discussing Beijing’s foreign policy’s ‘new era’ where, apart from other things, the two biggest countries in Asia and neighbours — India and China — he implored, should shed inhibitions and suspicions to manage differences and strengthen bilateral ties.

A quarter of the world population resides in these two countries, are seen as adversaries, competing to retain their dominance in the region. China’s growing investment in various infrastructure projects in Nepal—now has a China-friendly CPN-UML government with KP Oli as the prime minister—and Sri Lanka. Also, China’s strategic partnership with Pakistan, particularly, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Last not the least, South China Morning Post reported, ‘As Beijing continues to expand its presence in the strategically important archipelago and beyond, rival New Delhi is pondering its options.’ All these add up to China’s effort to contain Indian influence amongst SAARC nations.

China has time and again blocked India’s initiative at various international forums like India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group or for that matter to list terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the United Nations. The 73-day Doklam standoff had also marred the relations between the two neighbours. China is increasing its military presence in Doklam region of Himalayas as was recently pointed out by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman. And, increasingly, with India’s growing bonhomie with the US, some commentators are of the view that India is taking up the role of junior partner of America to contain China. This has only added to the tension between the two countries.

India’s support to Dalai Lama and his cause has been a constant source of annoyance to China. In April last year, when India made sure that Dalai Lama travels to Arunachal Pradesh, China objected. Lama’s visit to “disputed parts of Arunachal Pradesh” causing “serious damage” to the bilateral ties warned China, even issued a threat, of taking all “necessary measures.”

All said and done, this year suddenly, India is more receptive of Chinese concerns as Wang Yi claims in his presser, “Despite certain tests and difficulties, Sino-Indian relations continue to grow.” Something seem to have changed between the two, as government of India has instructed politician and bureaucrats alike not to attend functions that are being organised to mark the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight to India.

The conciliatory note followed by India towards China is recognition of the fact that Pakistan will feature in the ‘grey list’ of the Financial Action Task Force — a global money laundering watchdog —from June this year. This wouldn’t have been possible had China, along with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, not withdrawn their support to Pakistan. This development is not entirely a diplomatic triumph for India, but is indicative of, diplomats concede, China’s growing frustration with Pakistan over providing safe havens to terror outfits. After all, after it invested heavily in Pakistan, stakes are high for China, and no economic activity is possible until these terror outfits are subdued.

China is changing, and is committed to end sole dominance of the US. Even Donald Trump, despite having dubbed China as ‘most significant foes’, ‘rigging the game’, ‘currency manipulator’ and what not, had to eat his words. Last year in October, The Economist put the Chinese President Xi Jinping on the cover, describing him ‘the world’s most powerful man’ and that ‘Xi Jinping has more clout than Donald Trump. The world should be wary.’ There was also a qualification in the article, ‘Do not expect Mr Xi to change China, or the world, for the better.’

These apprehensions were not unfounded. Last week, in a ceremonial meeting, China’s constitution was amended by an overwhelming support, to pave the way for Xi to remain in power indefinitely. It’s seen as one of the most controversial political developments in modern Chinese history. Xi is now the undisputed leader of the world’s largest authoritarian state. He has already initiated bold steps within the government to give greater control to the Communist Party — he’s also the general secretary — in what is described as the “CPC leadership system”.
After having taken ‘ferocious’ steps against more than 1.5 million cadres that included top rank functionaries in the party, government and army, Xi has strengthened the grip of the party over government. In a live-streamed address to officials all over the country in January, Xi Jinping made it amply clear: “The decisions and plans laid out by the party’s central leadership should be implemented to the letter by all party organisations…listen to the party’s instructions and fulfil their responsibilities at all times and under all circumstances”.

Xi is “a de facto monarch”, says political commentator Cary Huang in South China Morning Post, and added, “History has shown that many political leaders who sought lifelong service have not managed to realise their vision … some have been deposed … others have been assassinated by political enemies”.

India and China both have powerful leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Xi, respectively. Both the leaders over the past few years have consolidated their hold on the polity. China is expected to overtake the US as the largest economy of the world in 15 years. The Indian economy is expected to overtake British and French economies this year to become the fifth largest in the world; it is likely to reach the third largest slot in 15 years, next only to China and the US. Given this scenario, it’s in global interest that India and China mend their relationship and try to be friends.