The 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which ensured a second term for Xi Jinping, consolidated his position as the most powerful Chinese leader in decades. It was held a little less than two months after the Chinese president and Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided in their Xiamen meeting to take a forward looking approach beyond the Dokalam episode.
The continuity in Chinese leadership is expected to further the outcome of the Xiamen meet held on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit. Yet, even as the two sides engage in a series of dialogues, all eyes in Delhi are on any aggressive approach to fulfil the ‘Chinese dream’ as espoused by Xi.
Initiatives launched by Xi, including the One Belt One Road (Obor), will certainly gain further momentum in the next few years. Delhi, along with others, will be closely watching the pace of execution of this mega plan, whose end goals still remain unclear.
Obor, coupled with the People’s Liberation Army’s ( PLA) modernisation drive, can be seen as an attempt to shape geopolitics through aggression. Beijing, since 2008, has shown scant respect for a global rules-based order, including international maritime law, and Xi’s second term is unlikely to be an exception. A possible counterbalance will be engagement with Beijing, as well as steps to hedge China by like-minded nations.
Over the past 25 years, India and China have attempted to seek convergences in areas of interest, including WTO and climate change, and to manage differences that include the Sino-Pak axis and disputed boundary with an aim to overcome the effects of the 1962 India-China war.
The approach has worked well, although marked by provocation from Beijing from time to time — whether it be regarding ‘stapled visas’, the refusal of visas to senior Indian Army personnel, or three major transgressions along the Line of Actual Control since 2013 that includes Dokalam, or the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that passes through the Line of Control.
Criticism of India’s ties with the Dalai Lama and the latter’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh have also been sharper in recent years. But to manage the relationship, several bilateral confidence-building measures (CBMs) have been put in place.
Today, India and China have far greater mechanisms than before — BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), RIC (Russia, India, China), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and even the G-20 and East Asia Summit — to engage to build better ties. Economic partnership has witnessed a steady growth. But Chinese firms are yet to take full advantage of opportunities that India is offering.
Come December and India will get a sense of China’s approach towards it when foreign ministerc visits Delhi. This will be a first political visit from China in months, and the first since the PLA attempted to forcibly change the status quo at Dokalam. The message that Wang carries from Xi will be closely monitored. In China, messaging and gestures carry immense significance.
As evident from the 19th Party Congress, the personality cult has made a comeback in China and Xi will loom large in Sino-India relations. He has complete control over all the Chinese State organs of power — from the CPC to the PLA — and its impact will be felt on Beijing’s ties with the US, Japan and India.
Xi’s ‘Hard Power Strategy’ is expected to gain further momentum in his second term, as he feels that China’s time has come to assert itself on the global stage and emerge as the superpower. This is in the backdrop of Xi asserting at the Party Congress that “China can frame a new World Order”.
China may not be able to retreat from its global objectives. Nor can the US, Japan or India afford to concede space to China. Xi also can’t overlook that India is on a growth trajectory and needs necessary space to fulfil its ambitions. It is here that the Chinese president’s wisdom will be tested.