With India-China ties showing an upward trajectory during the year, New Delhi shared its vision of India-Pacific with Beijing even as it remains opposed to President Xi Jinping’s signature move — the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Characterising as “unprecedented” the four meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi in one calendar year, diplomatic sources familiar with Sino-Indian ties said in the coming year, the level of engagement would gather pace after the 2nd informal summit between the two Heads of Government in the latter half of 2019.
While India’s understanding on Indo-Pacific was articulated by PM Modi at the Shangri La Dialogue, which was appreciated by countries especially in the ASEAN region, the sources said New Delhi also reached out to Beijing that both Indo-Pacific and the Quad were “dialogue mechanism”.
Acknowledging that while there is no discussion on military with other countries, India is aware that countries in the region tend to look at it differently, a perception the policymakers in the South Block would have to deal with. The thrust of the argument is that both these mechanisms were not to be interpreted as “military construct”.
A measure of New Delhi’s deft diplomatic engagement saw India being part of two trilateral meetings on the sidelines of recent G20 meeting — Russia, India, China and Japan-India-US.
As Beijing prepares for the second BRI Summit next spring, New Delhi feels while the country stood alone by protesting the plan, the narrative now is changing. There are “murmurs” on financial implications of the projects as also about the policy-making not adhering to international rules.
The sources said India’s opposition to the BRI is not just because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passing through Pak-occupied Kashmir, which remains a direct challenge. The other important aspect is China having a different set of rules and regulations as against globally adopted practices.
Of the strategic threat from projects like the Gwadar port in Pakistan, the sources said these have potential of “dual use” — laying of fibre optics and construction of roads — adding to India’s concern.
“Our concern is that after 70 years of Independence and with our industry having adjusted to rules and procedures that are international, now we have a situation where there’s an attempt to create an entirely different set of rules on the ground,” the sources said.
On the balance, the bilateral relations have moved ahead in the positive direction since the Doklam stand-off. In the coming year, China’s promise to import items under agriculture and pharma should be indicators.