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Chinesetakeaway: Sushma in Beijing

Swaraj signalled India’s determination to intensify the engagement with China on a pragmatic basis.

Written by C. Raja Mohan
Updated: February 4, 2015 12:38:17 am
Sushma Swaraj, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping wait for the arrival of Indian delegation members before starting a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. (AP Photo) Sushma Swaraj, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping wait for the arrival of Indian delegation members before starting a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015. (AP Photo)

Those in New Delhi who worried that Prime Minister Narendra Modi might be provoking China by drawing too close to US President Barack Obama last month have reasons to be reassured this week as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj concludes a very successful visit to Beijing. On her first trip to Beijing as India’s top diplomat, Swaraj signalled India’s determination to intensify the engagement with China on a pragmatic basis.

Contrary to the fears in Delhi, the Chinese leadership had no desire to quiz Swaraj on what India was up to with America. That is not how big boys deal with each other. Whatever concerns that the Chinese leaders might have on the future of India’s relations with America, their focus for now is on down-playing contradictions with India and finding common ground between Beijing and Delhi. For, China has enough problems in Asia, especially in its East Asian frontyard. Nor have China’s differences with America become irreconcilable. Not yet.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was quite calm in responding to questions from reporters about Obama’s visit to India. “India has its relationship with the US; we have our own,” Wang said. “As a good friend of India,” Wang added, “We want India to make friends everywhere.”

Wang underlined Beijing’s strong commitment to expand the cooperative engagement with the Modi government. Much in the manner that Washington values a purposeful regime in Delhi that is capable of doing deals, Beijing too is eager to advance on a wide range of issues with the Modi government.

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President Xi Jinping, who received Swaraj, expressed satisfaction at the progress in ties since he came to India last September. If Modi hosted Xi in home state Gujarat, the Chinese president wants to show Modi his home town Xian, which is also the ancient capital of China.

The warm welcome to Swaraj in China should help India look beyond the proposition that Delhi can simultaneously improve its relations with both Washington and Beijing. It suggests that expanding the relationship with one improves Delhi’s chances with the other.

With neither America nor China asking India to choose between them, the Modi government is in a good position to strengthen its cooperation with both and boost India’s comprehensive national power. It is India’s strategic community that must learn to discard the traditional binaries in its foreign policy discourse — either America or China and alignment versus non-alignment.


There is no reason, too, for India to maintain equal distance from the world’s two greatest powers. There will be some issues on which India will be closer to America — for example, on how to reduce tensions in the South China Sea. On others, like non-intervention in the internal affairs of third countries, Delhi would like to sit in Beijing’s corner.

India’s expanding engagement with China and the United States does not mean they will evolve either symmetrically or at the same pace. For example, on the economic front, China could be the preferred partner in some sectors like physical infrastructure development. The US partnership is critical for the development of India’s knowledge-based industries.

On security issues, America is a distant power with which India has no direct disputes. China, on the other hand, is a large neighbour whose power is growing rapidly. India has big problems with China, including a long and contested boundary. India’s security partnership with America flows naturally from the logic of geopolitics. But how far Delhi might go with Washington would depend on its assessment of the security threats from Beijing.


In Beijing, Swaraj pressed the right buttons when she outlined a six-point framework to rejuvenate Sino-Indian relations. She called for an “action-oriented approach that can broaden the base of bilateral engagement, deepen convergence on regional and global issues, develop new areas of cooperation, expand strategic communication and build an Asian Century”.

The key word here is “action-oriented”. Swaraj is saying Delhi is ready to go beyond the Indian diplomatic tradition that privileged rhetoric over substance, especially towards China.

Swaraj promised to address Chinese concerns about doing business in India and, at the same time, demanded greater market access in China for Indian goods. She called for more contact and communication between the peoples of the two countries and the promotion of tourism.

She also hinted at the prospects for the two sides exploring “out-of-the-box” solutions to the long-pending territorial dispute. With strong leaders at the helm in both capitals, Swaraj was suggesting, it was time to make bold moves. She was telling her Chinese hosts that Delhi is eager to ensure that Modi’s proposed visit to China, most likely in May, is an “outcome-oriented” one.

The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi and a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express

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First published on: 04-02-2015 at 12:38:13 am
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