Xi Jinping in India to "create a better tomorrow" for Asia and humanity
Delhi (AsiaNews) - Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to India began in full pomp, including a 150-dish dinner and a traditional rickshaw ride. He was welcomed in Ahmedabad by India's nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi before moving on to the capital New Delhi.
On their plate, the two leaders have new trade agreements to sign and greater realism to apply their territorial disputes, but they also have a chance to "script history", as Modi himself said.
Currently, China is India's largest trading partner. Bilateral trade exceeded US$ 68.5 billion last year. India can benefit from China's strength in creation of infrastructure and development of the manufacturing sector, whilst India's strength in software can help Chinese companies become more efficient and competitive. Likewise, Modi wants to get Xi to invest in India's railway network, one of the largest in the world, but also one of the least efficient.
New Delhi is also hoping in delocalisation. As labour costs rise in China and the Chinese population gradually ages as a result of the one-child policy, manufacturers might look for new places and India might be ideal.
In India, millions of young people enter the workforce every year and the unemployment rate is high and rising. Over the next few years, it can only worsen as 6.5 million Indians are expected to join the labour force every year until 2030.
In both countries, local media underscored how pragmatism now drives the two parties, and is the main factor at this summit. Such an attitude, which represents a break with decades of hostility, reflects the character of the two leaders. Narendra Modi, who just turned 64, is the first Indian prime minister born after India's independence from Great Britain in 1947. Xi Jinping, 61, is the first Chinese leader born after Mao's takeover in 1949.
Modi's unique friendliness towards China (and its investors) goes back a long way. During his ten-year term of office as chief minister of Gujarat, he succeeded in attracting Chinese capital to the state thanks to a policy of tax cuts and his administration's business-friendly attitude.
Now he plans to do the same for the whole of India even if it means going against his compatriots' deep-rooted mistrust (if not outright hostility) towards China.
In view of this, India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry has asked the home and external affairs ministries to formulate a clear strategy on China and identify the sectors and regions where Chinese investment is perceived as a security threat. The remaining sectors, according to the Commerce Ministry, should be thrown open to Chinese investment in a clear-cut policy.
Similarly, China is an integral part in India's jobs focus. One of the first results has been an agreement to set up an industrial park in Gujarat whilst China is expected to announce two more industrial parks elsewhere in India.
There is a geopolitical factor to take into account. Xi's visit to India comes a few weeks after Modi's trip to Japan, and a few weeks before the Indian Prime Minister travels to the United States.
In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged a sweeping upgrade of economic and security ties with India, offering 50 billion yen (0 million) in infrastructure loans and pledging 3.5 trillion yen (US$ 32 billion) of public and private investment and financing over five years.
The Tokyo summit raised concerns in China. According to Beijing, Japan and especially the United States plan to boost ties with Delhi through large-scale investments and a military build-up that would create a new power hub in Asia to offset China's sphere of influence.
At the same time, "There are two factors pushing India towards China. The idea that we need the US in a unipolar world is out. With China's rise, Russia's resurgence and the global financial crisis, multipolarity has returned to India's foreign policy outlook," said Zorawar Daulet Singh, an expert in the field.
The two countries are still divided by some territorial disputes and political issues. India accuses China of occupying 38,000 square kilometres in Jammu and Kashmir, whilst Beijing lays claim to 90,000 square kilometres of land in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. In 1962, the two fought a war over such issues, which ended with an armistice followed by nearly six decades of sporadic border clashes.
The current summit could at least reduce military and other tensions. Speaking at a briefing in Beijing yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, "Regarding the border issue, the Chinese stance has always been consistent and clear". In fact, "The Sino-Indian borders have been peaceful for a long while and the border issue hasn't affected the development of the Sino-Indian relations. We hope both countries can keep it up to maintain this healthy momentum."
The two nations are divided over India's asylum to the Dalai Lama and his government since 1959, the year when the leader of Tibetan Buddhism fled into exile. Beijing has always criticised New Delhi's decision to accept the Tibetan leader whom it describes as a "wolf in a monk's robes".
For his part, the Dalai Lama gave his blessing to the meeting between Xi and Modi. For the spiritual leader of six million Tibetans, President Xi is "more realistic" and "more open-minded" than his predecessor Hu Jintao was. "So he can learn more things from India," he said, adding, "After all, Sino-Indian relations on the basis on new trust is very important, very essential."