As PM Narendra Modi visits China, he must manage the deliverables as well as the expectations. Apart from the visit’s strategic and economic agenda, there are “softer” targets that could help with India’s hard bargaining power. There are several opportunities for pragmatic cooperation with China.
Take climate diplomacy. Modi’s recent pronouncement that India would drive the dynamics of the meeting on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris is welcome. To deliver on this, India will have to work with China. China seems to be making the right moves to consolidate its position in climate diplomacy. India could learn a lesson or two, not just to deal with climate change domestically, but also to play a more critical role in the regional and global agenda. The Sino-Indian partnership in recent years has seen a two-track approach in climate diplomacy, using negotiations under the UNFCCC as well as non-UN led partnerships.
India could also take some tips from how China prepares to be heard in climate discussions. Beijing’s ability to collaborate with NGOs and scientific institutions lends its actions credibility. India should avoid undermining its diplomatic efforts with a non-inclusive process. Both countries face the enormous problem of dealing with various forms of pollution. Both governments are struggling to improve the quality of the environment. This seems to be trumped by a thirst for industrialisation. But the winds of change are beginning to blow in China.
It has tried to reduce the use of coal and engage in the emission trading system, which enables actions to switch to cleaner production systems.
Then there is the question of corporate-social responsibility. China’s harmonious society and circular economy policies form its official development strategy. India could learn from it at a time when its corporate sector is beginning to comply with the new CSR law. India and China could work together to implement CSR systems in such a manner that they become win-win propositions for both the private sector and government. Initiatives such as the Green Finance Task Force set up by the People’s Bank of China seem to influence policy changes towards better CSR.
Yet another area for pragmatic cooperation could be the use and promotion of traditional medicine and knowledge systems. China’s vigorous approach to ensuring formal recognition of its traditional medicines and medical systems is an example for several countries to follow. As elaborated in a recent publication, The Living Tree, there are three areas of cooperation needed between China and India in traditional medicine and knowledge management. These include developing a new model for protection, working on international standardisation and integrating traditional medicine into global public health planning, to achieve the newly crafted but yet to be adopted sustainable development goal on health.
Having served with the China Council on International Cooperation for Environment and Development (CCICED), one of the key lessons I have learnt is that international cooperation must be enhanced for better credibility of actions, and in order to attract global expertise and funding to solve local problems. Over the last 20 years, the CCICED has emerged as a key player in environment and development debates, drawing in multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and the UNDP as well as technology-rich countries such as Norway and international NGOs like the IUCN. The CCICED meets annually and uses inputs from national and international experts to formulate policy and practice recommendations for sustainable development. The time has come for India to join the CCICED to partake in these deliberations as well as to establish such a platform domestically. It could become a “soft” diplomatic platform for development.
The need to reduce trade deficits and remove non-tariff barriers is urgent, but cooperation in the areas identified above is also important. It must not be neglected.
The writer is a visitor at the Minzu University of China under the ‘111’ programme established by the Chinese government and served on the biodiversity task force of the CCICED. Views are personal