Chinese think-tanks expect Narendra Modi to be India’s Prime Minister once again and there are indications that Beijing may be preparing a major package settlement to offer to the new Indian government not long after.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has already said his country was preparing for another ‘Wuhan type summit’ between the two leaders, suggesting Beijing expects Modi to be back at the helm.
He has even insisted that India’s refusal to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) conference in Beijing this month will not affect the upswing of Sino-Indian ties post-Wuhan.
With much progress achieved in reaching a consensus on positions in the central sector of the Sino-Indian border but differences persisting in the Western and Eastern sectors, China is expected to revive its old offers of a blanket swap — India accepts China’s position in Aksai Chin and China accepts Arunachal Pradesh as part of India with the present Line of Actual Control (LAC) being the final border between the two countries.
This package deal was offered by Zhou Enlai to Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960 and many believe Nehru’s refusal to accept the swap upset Mao and led to the 1962 war.
Zhou had asked Nehru to forfeit the claim over Aksai Chin, while China would give up its claim over Arunachal Pradesh in return.
Dai Bingguo, former State Councillor, has said the same deal was offered to Foreign Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1979; and the last time it was offered was during Rajiv Gandhi’s meeting with Deng Xiaoping in 1988. Needless to say, the package was not accepted.
In 1988, Deng Xiaoping had told Rajiv Gandhi that it would be best to put off resolution of the dispute “for future generations to resolve”.
But the present Chinese leadership feels the festering border dispute needs to be settled to create an atmosphere for a qualitative change in Sino-Indian relations, which, many believe, will be the defining relationship of an Asian century. “Three decades have passed since Deng said that to Gandhi but we don’t think it can be left for future generations anymore,” said a former Chinese ambassador who headed missions in South Asia.
China also realises it cannot militarily change the status quo on the border in view of India’s growing military strength — so keeping the border issue live as a pressure point is slowly ceasing to be effective.
“China has bigger priorities in its relations with India — it wants India to join the BRI at any cost, it wants unfettered access to the big Indian market, it wants Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation (BCIM) to work and a settlement of the Kashmir problem that will end the Indian objections to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It even wants to work with India and Pakistan to bring stability to Afghanistan. Resolution of the border dispute that may lead to change of control over some bit of territory is a small price to pay for Beijing,” said a top Chinese expert on South Asia. But he was unwilling to be named because of lack of authorisation to speak to media.
Some Chinese experts , available for interaction during a recent BRI conference, suggested that the huge Indian market ‘could be the next big boost for Chinese manufacturing’ and the surge in China’s outbound investment, caused by rising labour costs at home, could really make Modi’s “Make in India” happen. “It is a win-win scenario for both countries,” one expert said.
In a January report, state-run Global Times said Modi’s weakness in creating jobs can only be addressed by Chinese investments, even suggesting China stands to gain if Modi was ‘in better control ‘ of his country.