I. Hotline, Kashmir & Trade
Let’s begin with Northern Army Commander Lt. General Ranbir Singh’s five-day visit to China. Beijing, Chengdu, Urumqi and Shanghai. The army says that “during the talks with the Chinese military officials, the delegation discussed a host of issues including border area management, improved bilateral military ties and defence cooperation activities.” The one big outcome that appears to have come out of the visit was the announcement by the new COAS Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane that the proposal for a hotline between India’s DGMO and China’s chief of Western Theatre Command “has been accepted and procedural aspects have been ironed out.” General Naravane, meanwhile, also spoke about the army’s “rebalancing” this week. “At one point of time, the focus was more towards the western front (Pakistan). We think, now, that both western and northern fronts are equally important and it is in that context, rebalancing is taking place,” he said.
The third time since August, the Kashmir issue was raised at the United Nations Security Council last week. And as expected, India and China subsequently traded barbs. On Wednesday, China sought a closed-door meeting on Kashmir, while the UNSC members were meeting to talk about an issue pertaining to Mali. What transpired at the meeting is a matter of contention between Beijing and New Delhi. India’s MEA says an “effort was made by Pakistan through a UNSC member to misuse the forum. Overwhelmingly, members said it was not a forum for this…The matter, if at all, should be discussed bilaterally was what members said. China should reflect on this global consensus and refrain from taking such action in future.”
Beijing’s story, however, is a bit different. On Friday, the Kashmir issue dominated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ daily press interaction. Geng Shuang said: “the majority of the UNSC members expressed concerns over the current situation in Kashmir. They also called on relevant parties to exercise restraint and seek early deescalation.” To be fair though, he couldn’t or chose not to name any one member that expressed these concerns. The other statement from Geng that’s worth noting is this: “I shall stress that the issue between India and Pakistan has all along been on the agenda of the UNSC, and the Security Council should continue to pay attention to Kashmir in light of new developments.” In other words, expect more Chinese pushback at the UNSC at Pakistan’s behest on Kashmir. Meanwhile, there was also a comment by Geng on UNSC reform, with India’s membership being discussed by Sergei Lavrov this week in New Delhi. Geng said there were “major differences” among parties on UNSC reform. China wants to “find a package solution that accommodates the interests and concerns of all parties.”
Data from China’s General Administration of Customs of China (GACC) shed light on bilateral trade in 2019. The data projected total trade in RMB-Yuan terms registering a marginal increase of 1.6% year on year, but in dollar terms it was down by about $3 billion. Chinese exports in dollar terms to India last year amounted to $74.72 billion as compared to $76.87 in 2018. India’s exports to China amounted to $17.95 billion against $18.83 billion last year. In the face of slacking trade, the trade deficit also declined from $58.04 in 2018 to $56.77 billion. While there is talk of the need for “new solutions,” little’s been done. In fact, there has been no reported movement forward in the mechanism that was to bring together Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and China’s Vice Premier Hu Chunhua.
A few other India-China stories that are worth nothing. First, Indian Express reports that India’s five-year-long solar power push has come at a cost. The value of solar photovoltaic cells and modules imported since 2014 adds up to $12.93 billion, with an estimated 85% of this equipment being imported from primarily China and Vietnam and Malaysia. Second, China’s Great Wall Motor is set to buy General Motors’ Talegaon plant for an estimated $250-$300 million. Third, India’s health ministry has issued a travel advisory to people visiting China, amid the outbreak of a new virus in Wuhan. The ministry says that even though the mode of transmission of the novel coronavirus is unclear as of now, those visiting China are advised to avoid travel to farms, live animal markets or where animals are slaughtered, and refrain consuming raw or under-cooked meat.
Finally, there’s the Huawei saga. The Chinese telecommunications giant has partnered with Bharti Airtel for 5G trials in Bengaluru and with Vodafone Idea in Delhi. Also worth mentioning is BSNL’s application in partnership with ZTE. Of course, one will have to see how things develop going forward. But again concerns are being expressed publicly. For instance, ThePrint, quoting unidentified sources, reports that all three arms of the Indian armed forces have expressed concerns over the involvement of Chinese firms in the Indian 5G ecosystem. Meanwhile, Niti Aayog member VK Saraswat has argued that the decision to allow Chinese companies makes India “vulnerable.”
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