Modi’s gifts from China

Prime Minister Modi’s visit to China has evoked much speculation about what it will mean for India. Mr Modi is known to have the no-nonsense management style of a chief executive. So, from the point of view of management theory, how does his China foray score, and how could he build further upon it?

How the outcome of any negotiation is viewed depends on the expectations of the home audience on the one hand, and the complexity of the deal, on the other. A good rule is to separate the various elements of the deal into the relatively easy, the more difficult, and the truly complex. If one can record quick wins on the easier items and some significant movement in the next category, then an overall success can be registered even if there is only a hint of progress — or a display of goodwill — on the truly complex issues.

This formula is particularly apt for India-China negotiations, since we have lived with a long history of sterile Sino-Indian meetings that produced no results — only anodyne statements. A shrewd politician like Mr Modi would also know that each issue matters differentially to his various constituencies, and that part of any negotiation is to convey messages — particularly on difficult issues —which hint at future lines of progress.

The Prime Minister himself had been careful not to talk up the visit before it happened. But a few months ago in Beijing, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj hinted that “an out-of-the-box” solution to the border dispute might be on the horizon. That did arouse much speculation at the time, but with no such talk since then, it is probably safe to conclude that overall public expectations of the visit were generally realistic.

Mr Modi began his journey in Xian, a city replete with a history of pilgrimage and travel. So a good place to start was tourism. Of the total 50 million Chinese outbound tourists each year, India gets a minuscule 100,000. Tourism is an industry that earns foreign exchange and has a high employment multiplier, so an ambitious tourism target would align with the government’s development agenda. The announcement that e-visas will be applicable to Chinese tourists is thus a good step forward. Perhaps further liberalization to the visa-on-arrival list could follow, with similar reciprocity for Indian tourists to China.

The other measures on think-tank dialogues, visits at provincial levels, education, youth and military exchanges are aimed at bridging the yawning knowledge gap between the countries, and so to be welcomed. One wishes that — in this momentum —business and conference visas for Chinese nationals are also simplified, to be issued within 48 hours. It is a shame that Chinese academic visitors to India have such difficulty getting visas to attend conferences in India, as many Indian think-tanks will attest. India appears unwelcoming in international academic circles, where in most disciplines today Indian and Chinese scholars feature.

Our pilgrims should have safer and improved facilities to travel to Mount Kailas and Lake Manasarovar, so the announcement that Nathu La will be ready this year is most welcome. The next step could be the re-opening of the ancient route to Kailas from Demchok in Ladakh. That would enable Indian pilgrims to acclimatize to high altitudes in Indian territory.

The announcement on joint TV collaboration and production of documentaries on epic historical figures is a step forward, but also an opportunity missed. Everyone loves Bollywood, and the Chinese are no exception. But China has a restrictive ceiling on the total number of foreign films that it can import into their country. The reason —presumably — is to avoid the ‘baneful influence’ of Hollywood. It would have been difficult to lift the ceiling only for India, so Modi could pursue this issue by seeking an exemption for all BRICS countries. This would permit Russian, Brazilian and South African films to enter along with ours. Overall, one could award a good 80 per cent score on these relatively easy people-to-people contact areas.

Indian business has not penetrated the Chinese market deeply, partly since it lacks understanding of local markets and the cultural nuances of doing business in China. So the announcement of task forces to study particular business areas and undertake the granular ‘last-mile’ work to reduce the trade deficit is a significant step forward. Mr Modi should follow up by persuading India’s Government departments and businesses to jointly create the support systems to aid entry into China, such as interpretation and translation bureaus, legal and verification services etc. The Chinese could offer generous scholarships towards the study of their language and culture. Mr Modi has made a strong pitch for ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’ to Chinese CEOs. In practical terms, this must translate on the ground into a non-discriminatory and transparent security clearance system for Chinese investments so that some of China’s $4 trillion stock of investible funds flows into the areas of India’s greatest needs — infrastructure, transportation and energy.

The issue of cross-boundary rivers such as the Brahmaputra is more complex, and here progress has been minimal. That this a matter of concern to India has been signaled forcefully. Here, the Prime Minister could suggest a practical step, taking the cue from the experience of the lower riparian countries of the Mekong. These countries persuaded China to receive their inspection team of hydraulic engineers to visit upstream Chinese hydro-electric projects. Similar confidence-building measures on trans-Himalayan projects would contribute greatly to reduce anxiety on water availability — a life-and-death matter for India.

The issue of terrorism has been squarely addressed, and the clear mention of ‘cross-border terrorism’ in the joint statement is a new and encouraging development. Terrorism is an area where China, India and Pakistan are all victims, but in tackling the root causes, China will insist that Pakistan not be isolated. A way forward could be for China to assuage India’s sovereignty concerns on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor whilst ensuring that India too benefits from the improved connectivity across the Karakorum. It is in both China’s and India’s interest to see Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbourhood.

The Prime Minister has been forthright that China must be mindful of India’s core sensitivities, and an acknowledgement of this sentiment can be found in the tone of the joint statement, where the language appears less filled with the usual anodyne phrases loved by diplomats. That the border issue cannot be delayed much further if there is to be full-throated cooperation has also been conveyed. India’s silence on China’s pet project—‘One Belt and One Road’ — is perhaps more tactical and in the nature of a nudge to China to evoke its reciprocal acknowledgement of Indian concerns. Perhaps China — with other pressing problems to its east—will be more inclined now to heed this message.

An out-of-the-box solution to the border was always a hope rather than an expectation. But on a tricky wicket, the PM has batted with verve and assurance. Overall, 75 per cent it is.


  • India and China signed a record 24 agreements in key sectors:
  • Protocol for setting up Consulates-General at Chengdu and Chennai
  • An action plan between the Indian Railways and China National Railways on enhancing cooperation in the railway sector
  • MoU on education exchange programme and ‘Space Cooperation Outline’
  • Developing China India thinktanks, maritime cooperation and ocean sciences.
  • Four agreements were signed on sister-state and sister-city relations between Karnataka and Sichuan province; Chennai and Chongqing; Hyderabad and Qingdao; and Aurangabad and Dunhuang.
  • An agreement on setting up a Mahatma Gandhi skill centre in Ahmedabad was also signed besides a broadcast tie-up for Doordarshan and China's state-run CCTV.
  • Agreements on education exchange programme, on mining and minerals, skill development, tourism and vocational education also figured on the list.
  • MoUs were signed between ICCR and Chinese universities on the establishment of a Yoga college and centre for Gandhian and Indian studies

Ravi Bhoothalingam is an independent director on several corporate boards and Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

( Source : dc )
Next Story