China and India see upswing in relations



High-level visits between India and China have never seen such a scale and speed. On Tuesday, India's ministers for external affairs and defense Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman will respectively attend the foreign ministers' and defense ministers' meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Beijing.

But more importantly, the two Indian ministers will get an opportunity to hold parleys with Chinese leaders on bilateral issues, including on the summit meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in Wuhan, Hubei province, on April 27-28, two months before Modi is scheduled to attend the SCO Summit in Qingdao, Shandong province. Such back-to-back visits will be the first in history.

These developments do send positive signals after the border standoff between the Chinese and Indian armies last year. The two sides have since focused on rebuilding mutual trust, with Modi's visit to Xiamen, Fujian province, to attend the BRICS Summit in September breaking the jinx. Yet the ice at the official level started melting only when Rajiv Kumar, vice-chair of India's top planning body, NITI Aayog, visited Beijing on Dec 5 for the third annual dialogue with China's top think tank, Development Research Center of the State Council, China's Cabinet.

This was followed by frequent visits from both sides, including Chinese top diplomats Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi's visits to India, and Indian's Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale's visit to China in February.

Commerce Minister Zhong Shan visited New Delhi last month to hold talks to promote discussions on "China-India free trade area" and India's trade deficit of $51 billion with China in 2017. The spirits seem high because of an unprecedented rise in China-India trade last year, especially because of about 40 percent increase in Indian exports to China.

It was Vice-Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou's visit to New Delhi on April 5-6 to hold talks with India's foreign secretary, which set the tone for the meeting between Xi-Modi in Wuhan.

Since 2014, when Modi became India's prime minister, Xi has visited India twice-on a state visit in September 2014 and to attend the BRICS Summit in 2016, while Modi has visited China thrice-on a state visit in May 2015, and to attend the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in September 2016 and the BRICS Summit in Xiamen in September last year.

Discussions between Indian and Chinese officials on Modi's visit to China began on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which Modi addressed in January, just like Xi had done last year. Much of these had been under the wraps and now reports about the Modi-Xi summit in Wuhan have raised expectations with both sides projecting new initiatives.

India wants China's support for its membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, while China would like to explore India's support for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the China-Nepal-India economic corridor, which are part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Although New Delhi may not be averse to endorsing the China-Nepal-India economic corridor, its negotiations for renaming and remodeling the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, to fully redress India's serious reservations, may prove to be difficult even for the planned close door talks between Modi and Xi.