Beijing is allied with Islamabad, and Delhi responds by supporting the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government. China and India—two nuclear powers—are proud and litigious neighbors.
When Xi Jin Ping shook Narendra Modi’s hand, the two statesmen did not suffer any nationalistic tremors, or at least they hid them well. If not because of the lack of humidity in Ahmedabad, the lack of tensions was due to a new climate that—along with a massive dose of prudence—they want to establish between the two countries. The Chinese guest was received in Modi’s electoral city on his 64th birthday.
The hopes were, therefore, right for imagining the prevalence of interests over military deployments, the economy over ideology, and discussion over propaganda. Xi led a delegation of managers, attracted by the acceleration that Modi’s recent election has imposed on the business sphere. The media revealed that 24 contracts worth $3.4 billion were signed on the first day.
The agreements involve Chinese supplies for agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, and the construction of infrastructure. China can offer India “railway diplomacy,” experience from the most extensive network of high-speed trains in the world, technical capacities that rival Japan’s. It’s a layer of frosting on an already rich cake: China has been India’s primary commercial partner for many years.
In any case, the Indian deficit has reached $40 billion (over an exchange of 70; the analogous value was 1 in 2002) and has aggravated the chronic trade gap of its balance of payments. The imbalance is only one of the problems striking the two countries, and surely among the least serious. In reality, Xi and Modi are trying to heal more than 50 years of conflict. They know that propagating them isn’t good for either country; they can even cultivate a communal vision, which is unsettling for the West: combining productive capacities with services in English would be like pairing the world’s factory and office. To do so, they need to put their hostilities aside, but it won’t be easy. Modi recently strengthened ties with Japan, Australia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, countries that fear China’s anticipated expansion toward the southern oceans. Symmetrically and symbolically, Xi arrived in India after visiting Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
As a result of history and geography, the two countries are tied to India, but politics and the economy led them into China’s orbit. Beijing has reinvigorated an ambition of a “maritime silk road,” to use the ports it’s building with the Pakistani, Bengalese, and Burmese governments. Behind the name’s suggestion, Delhi fears a “string of pearls” composed of military bases and not commercial docks. It’s afraid of being suffocated in the very ocean that bears its name. Ultimately, unresolved questions remain, highlighted on the roof of the world at 8,000 meters.
Since 1962, the “highest theater of war in the world” hasn’t lacked trespasses, reciprocal accusations, and territorial revenge. Beijing is allied with Islamabad, and Delhi responds by supporting the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government. China and India—two nuclear powers—are proud and litigious neighbors. Xi has written that he shares Modi’s expression that “the countries are two bodies with one spirit,” even if the last time a Chinese president visited India was 8 years ago. Therefore, it’s possible that a new phase is underway, under the sign of pragmatism.
The differences can’t be erased, but they are neglected. They are a launching point, not arrival. Discriminating ideology has totally vanished. Modi is an example of the right and therefore represents—like De Gaulle, Nixon, Kissinger, and Andreotti—the ideal partner for China.