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Prime Minister Modi’s Visit to China May2015: Reality Check

Paper No. 5925                                 Dated 06-May-2015

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Indian Prime Ministers visits to China right from Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi, Vajpayee and Dr Man Mohan Singh have yielded no tangible gains from China on India’s vital national interests. PM Modi should be alive to this reality as he heads for China for his first visit as Prime Minister.

PM Modi should also be alive to the fact that while he may have had successful visits to China as Chief Minister of Gujarat, the same template does not attend his visit to China as Prime Minister of India. As Chief Minister of Gujarat, his visits to China were economic-centric to attract Chinese economic investments in Gujarat.

PM Modi’s visit to China is totally in a different context even though the economic determinant may be strong.  As Prime Minister of India, Modi carries a heavy baggage to China of China’s undelivered commitments on peace on the frontiers despite a number of Chinese dictated Boundary Agreements to maintain peace on the borders. PM Modi carries the heavy baggage of China’s duplicitous approaches to Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh.

PM Modi also carries the baggage of China’s calibrated resistance to any boundary settlement and boundary demarcation. China will persist in using this dispute as a continuing strategic pressure point against India. Therefore there should be no efforts or attempts by India to move on this issue. It can stay pended for some more years. India of 2015 is not the India of 962.

PM Modi as he sits in Beijing’s Great Hall with Chinese leaders for discussion of vexatious China-India issues, he cannot be oblivious to the fact that having come on an overwhelming electoral mandate last year for bold and decisive leadership, he cannot be seen by the Indian public as capitulating to Chinese pressures for compromises on border disputes.

PM Modi while in Beijing cannot be oblivious to the reality that no Indian Prime Minister can remain in a state of “Severe Disconnect” with Indian public opinion’s strong reservations on Chinese protestations for peace. The Indian public opinion harbours a severe “Strategic Distrust” of China born of the seared psyche of China’s treacherous military invasion of India in 1962.

China’s unremitting underwriting of Pakistan’s military might as evident more markedly from Chinese President’s recent visit to Pakistan adds to the ‘Strategic Distrust’ of the Indian public opinion in China. The same should dominate Indian official thinking.

PM Modi should also not be unaware that his each and every action and pronouncement in meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing will be intensely scrutinised in Indo Pacific/Asian capitals where India recently had commenced tentative moves to checkmate China’s encircling of India.

PM Modi should also be aware that in case of ‘deliverables’ in China-India relations, it is not India on whose shoulders the onus should rest. The onus for ‘deliverables’ in the China-India equation lies squarely on the shoulders of China ,overall, and more so during the forthcoming visit of the Indian Prime Minister.

More importantly, PM Modi and his delegation should exercise extreme reticence in their pronouncements on issues which bedevil China-India relations, mostly arising from duplicitous interpretations of China. Effusiveness in photo-op s opportunities might be welcome but effusiveness in Indian public pronouncements would end up in walking into a Chinese minefield.

China would strongly try to extract from PM Modi some reassuring statements on the Tibet issue and surely discussions will veer around to the Dalai Lama succession issue. PM Modi should desist from any statements on the Tibet issue. India has already said more than should have been said on Tibet in the past.

Concluding it needs to be asserted that PM Modi proceeds to China backed by a strong electoral mandate hoping for some strong and decisive leadership when it comes to India’s disputes with its adversarial neighbours. PM Modi should go with confidence and firm in the belief that at this juncture it is China that is strategically cornered and that PM Modi’s bold and decisive leadership is not only domestically endorsed but also internationally endorsed.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at