Looking East and Marching West: Where China and India Meet

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Source: Flickr, Russ Neumeier, http://bit.ly/18cAaRq

By Ashlyn Anderson and Lauren Dickey

All eyes are on the meetings this week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both regarded as decisive leaders.

As India “looks east” and China “marches west,” the timing of the meetings between the dragon and elephant powers is particularly auspicious. Although the focus of the meetings will be the forging of grand business schemes, the two leaders will likely highlight other avenues for expanded regional and international cooperation, all while tiptoeing around contentious issues.

India remains wary of China’s political motives, but nonetheless eager to attract Chinese investment to meet its infrastructure needs and narrow the trade deficit. President Xi Jinping is expected to ink a number of investment deals in industrial parks and railways this week. Today, the two leaders also set up a pact to develop Modi’s home state of Gujarat as the sister province to China’s Guangdong province. By drastically stepping up its economic engagement with India—with investment commitments expected to reach $100 billion–China hopes to gain strategic influence at a time when leaders across the globe are making efforts to woo Modi.

The Xi-Modi meetings this week also have the potential to yield action steps for increased cooperation in regional and international multilateral initiatives. While the United States will continue to play a strong security role in the region, Asian countries are increasingly looking to build up their own regional security architecture. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with its focus on security issues from counterterrorism to Afghan stability, has recently put finishing touches on procedures for new members: India, Pakistan, and Iran. With a memorandum for expanding membership now signed, India, a current SCO observer, has since submitted its application for full membership, a move intended to solidify India’s regional coordination through the SCO on security, energy, and economic issues. President Xi delineated a similar vision at the Conference on International and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in May, with China looking to India as a prime partner in developmental initiatives targeted at improving lives and narrowing the wealth gap in Asian societies. For both countries, sustainable regional development and economic cooperation are the foundation for regional security. But India has yet to decide just how much it wants to be involved in multilateral initiatives, including the SCO and CICA, when such bodies are closely steered by Beijing.

While China increasingly views India’s rise as an opportunity, recognizing common interests in the two countries’ economic visions for Asia and beyond, India is carefully balancing its engagement with China and other countries in the region. Although Modi’s development goals for India stand to gain from collaboration with China on its westward-looking projects, such as the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor–a part of China’s larger New Silk Road vision–New Delhi is less enthusiastic about the expansion of Chinese influence in its neighboring countries, economic benefits aside. Plus, as a part of its “Look East” policy, India is actively involved in its own regional development initiatives with its neighbors and the ASEAN countries, such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation.

A key priority for President Xi Jinping during his tour this week is to generate support for the new Maritime Silk Road (MSR), and Modi will likely use the opportunity to express New Delhi’s concerns. While the MSR would undoubtedly increase trade within the region and beyond, China’s strategy could also impinge on New Delhi’s economic role with its neighbors along the route. In Sri Lanka and elsewhere, port cities central to the MSR are seen by Indian strategists as a “string of pearls” intended to contain New Delhi’s regional reach. It is notable that India signed accords this week with Vietnam, one of China’s competitors in the South China Sea, focused on deepening security and energy cooperation just as President Xi visited Sri Lanka and Maldives.

At the multilateral level, if China asserts tight control or leadership of organizations and initiatives, India will be less likely to be an active participant. Indian engagement with China in multilateral organizations is a positive development; at the same time, such cooperation may also be seen as a means to sidestep – or even distract New Delhi from – other concerns such as China’s support to Pakistan, the Sino-Indian border dispute, and China’s influence on India’s periphery. Over the weekend, for instance, more than two hundred PLA soldiers crossed the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh to what India considers its territory, using cranes and bulldozers to build a 1.2 mile road. Indian soldiers challenged the Chinese to withdraw and promptly demolished the PLA’s road building efforts. Already, there is ample evidence that India is taking steps to ensure it does not become subordinated to Beijing’s regional sway, with Modi signing new defense cooperation agreements with Japan and Australia, and signaling greater engagement with neighboring countries.

Still, there is unusual optimism for the Xi-Modi meetings, mostly attributed to the current leadership of both countries. Indeed, President Xi Jinping remarked today in the Hindu, “China-India relations have become one of the most dynamic and promising bilateral [relationships] in the 21st century,” in advance of his trip. This week will provide a preview of what China-India cooperation might look like if the two countries can keep their differences at bay.

Republished from Indo-Pacific Review

3 Takeaways From Obama’s India Trip

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Source: Flickr, John Haslam, http://bit.ly/1D6qZ2L

By Hemal Shah

This week, President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to preside as the chief guest at India’s annual Republic Day celebrations. What does this mean for U.S.-India relations? Coming on the heels of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s successful visit to the U.S. last September, Obama’s latest trip to New Delhi reiterates the intention of friendship on both sides. Marked by drift and disagreement less than a year ago, ties between the world’s largest democracy and the world’s oldest democracy are now on the upswing.

So what was achieved on this visit? Three signs show growing optimism for this partnership.

First, Obama’s visit was marked by strong symbolism. He is not only the first U.S. president to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day – a grand celebration of India’s democratic constitution and military might – but also the only U.S. president to visit India twice. Obama even moved the date of his State of the Union address just so he could accept Modi’s invitation. Breaking from New Delhi’s obsolete foreign policy of nonalignment, Modi’s invitation to Obama signals that India is unafraid to show that a closer U.S.-India partnership is in India’s national interest. Dismissing protocol, Modi received Obama at the airport with a warm bear hug. Both leaders announced a string of agreements, jointly addressed the Indian masses on national radio (another first time for a U.S. president visiting India), and engaged with top business leaders. Finally, the signing of the Delhi Declaration of Friendship clearly highlighted their common goals and commitments.

Second, Obama and Modi reportedly broke the seven-year-old impasse on a civil nuclear deal. In 2008, former President George W. Bush and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh created a landmark in U.S.-India ties by signing a civil nuclear deal that paved the way for India to buy nuclear reactors to produce fuel. With this in hand, India became the only country with nuclear weapons that wasn’t party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to be allowed to access civilian nuclear technology from other countries. However, India’s passage of a liability law in 2010 compromised the deal by calling for foreign suppliers to shoulder all risks from potential accidents. Ending this logjam, both the U.S. and India agreed to float the notion of an insurance pool to cover liabilities, leaving the decision with partner companies to share risks.

Third, Obama and Modi renewed the U.S.-India defense framework agreement for another 10 years. For the first time since its inception in 2012, the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative is set to become fully operational with four distinct projects – including unmanned Raven drones, equipment for C-130 transport planes, and military gear – selected for codevelopment and coproduction. In the past, India complained about America’s failure to reliably supply technology parts on time and the U.S. was wary of India’s close defense relationship with Russia. However, last year, America surpassed Russia as India’s largest arms supplier. The scale of the initiative’s projects outlined above may be modest, but they will mark a concrete start to lead on to codeveloping more high-end weapons, such as jet engines.

Obama and Modi also set goals to increase two-way trade from $100 billion to $500 billion in the coming decade. Obama ended the trip by pledging to invest a total of $4 billion in India to further business ties, including $2 billion to develop the country’s renewable energy sector. In a veiled reference to rising Chinese aggression, both sides also agreed to beef up maritime security in the South China Sea.

Symbolism makes for a great start, and the potential break to the impasse on defense and civil nuclear energy cooperation is commendable. But now comes the tough part – actually following through. The U.S. and India may have identified distinct projects for codevelopment in defense. But India still needs to fix its corrupt procurement process and lengthy bureaucratic procedures. New Delhi also needs to invest more into research and development to modernize its defense industry in order to attract serious foreign capital if it desires joint development of high-end weapons to replace its Russian-supplied Soviet-era equipment. Both sides have characterized the nuclear deal as “done,” but no one has seen the fine print that will operationalize the agreement to prove it is any different from the short-lived glory of 2008. India’s local component requirements, and tough land acquisition and labor laws, stand in the way of the U.S. supplying solar energy panels or setting up factories to produce them as part of bolstering India’s renewable energy capacity. Moreover, Americans are wary of India’s policy flip-flop on investment rules and consequent economic slowdown under the previous government.

Last year, the Indians bet on Modi to revive the economy by awarding him the biggest electoral mandate in three decades of Indian history. Now he has his work cut out for him. His economic messaging shows that he wants the U.S. to be a part of his reform plan and vision for India. With economic growth starting to pick up at 6.3 percent, and the IMF predicting that India will beat China’s growth by next year, Obama is also betting on Modi’s ability to build a stronger India and forge a deeper strategic partnership with the U.S. One hopes that the symbolism from this visit matches the promises made. The world will be watching closely as these democratic giants take the leap forward, together. 

Republished from U.S. News and World Report.