The abruptly-called summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan, China, later this week could turn out to be a clever ruse to showcase Sino-Indian convergence on issues relating to US protectionism.
The Chinese, caught in a piquant situation after the trade restrictions imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese exports to the US are apparently keen to project to US President Donald Trump that they have Indian support.
Modi would have to tread warily to dispel any impression of a hidden agenda with China on this issue. The US is India’s bulwark against any Chinese designs to encroach on Indian territory and India can ill afford to displease the Trump administration, loaded as the US President is with his idiosyncrasies.
Said Lu Kang, the Chinese spokesman, after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit preparatory to Modi’s talks: “We are newly emerging markets as well as developing countries with big population. So we believe the two countries will continue to uphold the globalisation so that it is more inclusive. We have a lot of shared interests, concerns and positions.”
At Wuhan, the two leaders will “exchange views on overarching long-term strategic issues as well as the latest trends of the world so that the world will develop in a more stable way,” Lu said.
The latent message from this is that there would be an undercurrent of agreement on globalisation as opposed to US unilateralism and protectionism.
To a specific question by a journalist whether there would be a joint message related to trade and protectionism, especially against US unilateral protectionism, he said while he cannot make any pre-judgement ahead of the meeting, “It is sure that the two leaders will exchange views on these issues but I believe you will see and hear very positive voices”.
Chinese hopes that India could be on the same page as them were rekindled recently when NITI Aayog Vice Chairman Rajiv Kumar said in his address to the fifth India-China Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) that the world economy was staging a synchronised recovery after a long time but that it was marred and disrupted by unseemly protectionist noises that are coming out from the Atlantic basin from north and America and Europe. This was seen as a thinly veiled attack on US and Western countries' protectionist policies.
How Modi would deal with the issue and steer clear of the seeming Chinese trap remains to be seen but the Prime Minister is no babe in the woods. He has shown in time that he is no pushover on strategic issues.
On his part, Modi would strive to freeze the Chinese claim to Doklam in Bhutan which is China’s way of showing to countries in the region that India cannot shield the tiny once protectorate from Chinese covetous eyes.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which is slated to run through a part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is a major sore point with New Delhi.
While the road is now virtually a fait accompli, India would expect from Beijing concrete assurances that India’s access to the seas for trade and commerce would not be hampered by this Sino-Pak partnership.
With the Ballochis in Pakistan up in arms against the ‘corridor’ and the fact of India’s covert links with the rebels, China is looking for neutralising India on the issue.
Just as the Americans have reacted strongly to a huge trade balance in favour of China, India too has the same issues with Beijing which it needs to sort out.
Besides, the Chinese have been dumping all manner of goods in India, most of them of sub-standard quality, attracting the Indian consumer through cheap pricing. In the process, Indian small and medium industry has suffered grievous damage and thousands of people have been rendered jobless.
Modi and his team justifiably need to take this issue up strongly with the Chinese. One can only hope that the Wuhan Summit would yield
positive results for India and would not be a triumphant Chinese capturing of the Indian mind.