New potential for boosting China-India relations
Strong leadership has become the trend especially among major powers. Strong leaders, however, have to contend with external realities that often become deterministic in molding the outcomes of their initiatives.
The shrinking global leadership of the United States because of President Donald Trump's "America First" policy and the Brexit crisis in Europe have prompted emerging economies－especially China－to play a leading role in redressing major global challenges. And now that he has established his Party leadership and synergized Party-State affairs at home, President Xi Jinping should focus on building constructive partnerships with rapidly emerging economies. This will be one of the prerequisites for maximizing outcomes from China's unprecedented leverages.
Never before has China been so resourceful. This not only underwrites China's enthusiasm for playing its historic global role but also explains why the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October and the National People's Congress now have endorsed Xi's leadership anew. That the NPC has approved new agencies, such as the National Supervisory Commission and the international development cooperation agency, to support the Belt and Road Initiative shows the leadership's governance will enhance. There can be questions on specific contours and components of Xi's vision but there is little doubt about its transformative potential and power. But this has also raised expectations that will have to be fulfilled.
As regards India, there is an increasing internalization of its growing asymmetry with China. Multilateral forums have been especially useful for addressing it. Given that the media don't raise exceptions for bilateral breakthroughs, the environment of ease at such forums helps enhance mutual understanding. This was the case during the Donglang (Doklam) border standoff when a series of multilateral meetings in run-up to the 2017 BRICS Summit in Xiamen, East China's Fujian province, facilitated China-India dialogue at various levels resulting in a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will visit Beijing in April, just two months before 2018 Shanghai Cooperation Summit in Qingdao, East China's Shandong province, which will be attended by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India is also keen to host President Xi again, who paid a state visit to India in September 2014 and again in October 2016 to attend the BRICS Summit.
The bilateral trade volume, which hovered around $70 billion a year for a decade, made an impressive leap of 18 percent growth in 2017 reaching $84.45 billion. And nearly 40 percent of growth in India's exports has raised hopes of addressing its big trade deficit with China. In this backdrop, 2018 may see an accelerated pace in reviving several old initiatives and starting new ones. This should facilitate the flow of China's already contracted investments into "Make in India" that had become dormant given the nature of bilateral interactions during last two years.
The author is professor with Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.