Eye on China is a weekly bulletin offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom from an Indian interests perspective. This week we focus on the Indian foreign minister’s visit to Beijing, the resilience of China’s tech giants, signs of economic weakness in China while Xi strengthens political education, and the new moves that are shaping the US-China relationship…
I. Jaishankar’s Visit to Beijing
India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar was in Beijing this week, meeting his counterpart Wang Yi and Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan. The MEA readout following the visit was rather detailed. There are five broad points that one can draw from it:
- Both sides continue to view their relationship within the context of “the evolving global situation and the larger rebalancing” which reflects “the rise of India and China as two large developing countries.” The last bit is significant, given that Donald Trump’s administration wants to do away with the WTO recognition of India and China as developing countries.
- The future of the India-China relationship will depend on “mutual sensitivity to each other’s core concerns.”
- New Delhi has taken the opportunity to explain the ramifications of the decision on Kashmir to Beijing. The explanation is that this is an “internal matter.” In addition, it has “no implication for either the external boundaries of India or the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. India was not raising any additional territorial claims.” Therefore, India wants the Chinese side to “base its assessment on realities.”
- Both sides are keen to continue to push for better people-to-people ties, viewing “strong public support in both societies” as critical to exploiting convergences of interests. This was also underscored by Wang Qishan, who wants the two sides to “lay a more solid public opinion foundation” to boost ties. Five MoUs on such cooperation were also signed during the visit. Jaishankar also highlighted these during his speech at the 4th India-China Media Forum.
- The two sides are continuing to prepare for the next informal summit between Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi.
How did Beijing view the visit? The official Chinese readout says Wang told Jaishankar that New Delhi’s decision on Article 370 “will change the current situation in Kashmir and give rise to tensions in the region. The Chinese side opposes any unilateral action that complicates the situation.” He also added that Beijing was “seriously concerned” about the implications of the decision in terms of challenging China’s “sovereign rights and interests.” But it does seem that Beijing realises that there is no practical impact of this change in terms of the territorial dispute between the two sides. Wang himself says that the decision on 370 will not “change the status quo that the Chinese side exercises sovereignty and effective administrative jurisdiction over the territory.”
The official readout from the Chinese side also reflects a broader perspective with regard to the bilateral relationship with India. Furthermore, let’s look at actions. First, on August 15, Chinese and Indian troops held a ceremonial meeting at Indian BPM huts at Daulat Beg Oldie and Chushul-Moldo. Second “closed consultations” will be held by UNSC members later today following a Pakistani letter and Chinese request to discuss the “India Pakistan Question.” It’s interesting that this is how Beijing framed the discussion.
Third, what’s also interesting is that during Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s visit to Beijing, Wang Yi told him that “China will continue to firmly support Pakistan in safeguarding its legitimate rights and uphold fairness for Pakistan in international affairs.” But he’d also added that both “Pakistan and India are China’s friendly neighbors and major developing countries,” calling on them “to prioritise their national development and peace in South Asia.” Keep that last sentence in mind and note that New Delhi and Beijing are not only planning the next informal summit but also Special Representatives talks in September. Reports tell us that Beijing is talking about an “early harvest” in border negotiations and has shared some proposals with New Delhi.
My Bubble: Beijing has been keen to understand New Delhi’s intent behind the 370 moves. It doesn’t see this as fundamentally changing the bilateral territorial dispute with India. The support for Pakistan plays a role in its actions, but there seems to be a bigger picture perspective being adopted. Despite that, be a little cautious about talks of an “early harvest.” It was in 2014 that the ASEAN-China Summit agreed on “the implementation of early harvest measures” on a South China Sea code. What’s transpired since is evident. Finally, the fact that Kashmir will for now not disrupt bilateral Sino-Indian ties doesn’t mean that Beijing won’t leverage it. This piece by Liu Zongyi argues that the decision on Article 370 shows that India is “unqualified for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.” It’s fresh for China to argue about upholding international law. But basically, the signal is that the cost of this bargain, if it was ever on the table, will now be higher.
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