Issue :   
January 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         January 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:Jan' 2018


India, China at loggerheads

Rajeev Sharma

The 15th RIC (Russia- India-China) foreign ministers' trilateral was held in New Delhi on 11 December, 2017 where I (India) and C (China) were at loggerheads with each other on at least two major counts: terrorism and OBOR (One Belt One Road) now known as Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The two major sticking points between India and China were as follows:
1. India wanted the RIC meet to have a deep focus on the issue of terrorism and name and shame Pakistan, like the BRICS Declaration in China did earlier this year. India was emboldened by the outcome of the Xiamen BRICS summit in

China Pakistan Economic Corridor China on the issue of terrorism, but China was not enthused. China maintained that while terror issue was important, there were many other issues like connectivity (read BRI) which RIC needed to urgently focus on.
2. China wanted RIC to discuss BRI at length and also its mention in the Joint Statement but India was not willing for the same unless China addressed its concerns over the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) route, about which the Chinese ambassador in India hinted that China is willing to change its route and even rename CPEC if India were to come on board. As of now, there is no official word if the Chinese proposal has formally been extended to India and the response of India thereof.
Though the RIC meet took place in the midst of high-voltage Gujarat assembly polls when the entire focus of the Narendra Modi government was focused on domestic political issues, the significance of this multilateral international event was enormous. Russia has been quite pro-active in mediating between India and China within the RIC framework and wants to strengthen the RIC mechanism. As part of its strategy, Russia is playing its own game and one can expect Russia to push its recent proposal of expanding the scope of RIC by adding a defence ministers' level dialogue to the

Narendra Modi current practice of RIC meetings at the foreign ministers' level since 2002. India would not mind it but China has already rejected the Russian proposal. However, this time China can be more accommodating if the December 11 meeting takes off smoothly. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi had a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi where he conveyed a personal message from President Xi Jinping who has just started his second five-year tenure and has emerged much stronger internally. CPEC and BRI were discussed in this meeting. It remains to be seen whether China comes up with a specific formula officially to persuade India to join BRI.
A China-India convergence first at the RIC meeting and then in the Chinese foreign ministers' bilateral meeting with Modi could have prepared a positive climate for the December20-21 meeting of their Special Representatives in New Delhi, but the meeting didn't produce any magical results.

Dalai Lama India is likely to soften towards China in next few months as the Modi government would like to cool off its relations with a giant neighbour like China and avoid fresh bout of tensions with China as the Modi government wants to focus solely on the next general elections, due before May 2019. It is even more so now that the BJP has survived a scare in the Gujarat assembly polls and managed a narrow win. For this purpose, the Modi government would be desirous of having better relations with China so that it can have a deep focus on domestic issues.
The current period is ideal for China and India to improve relations. The Indian government's perception is that China may well spring a surprise and come up with an out-of-the-box idea to break ice between the two sides. The Indian government's determination stems from the recent reversals which China has suffered with its three contiguous neighbours –Pakistan, Nepal and Myanmar all of which also share boundary with India too – which have recently cancelled Chinese infra projects worth $20 billion. The cancelled Chinese projects are summarized below.
Pakistan: $14 bn Diamer-Bhasha dam for tough financial conditions; Nepal: $2.5 bn hydel project for financial bungling; Myanmar: $3.6 bn hydel power project on the ground that it doesn't want to build big dams.
As far as the RIC format is concerned, here is a country-wise breakup of the three member countries in terms of their priorities and possible strategies.


India is keen on giving a further fillip to the RIC mechanism to counterbalance its growing synergy with the United States and Japan and project its neutral and nonaligned foreign policy. RIC provides yet another multilateral forum to India to improve its bilateral ties with China.


Xi Jinping Of all the three members, Russia is the keenest that the RIC mechanism should take wings but China and India have not acted as per Russian expectations because of their own bilateral problems. Russia has been hemmed in by the Western sanctions and is very keen to have the two Asian giants, China and India, by its side to counterbalance the West.
RIC is an ideal platform for Russia to wriggle out of the tightening Western strait-jacket. Earlier this year, Russia had proposed widening the scope of the RIC mechanism by adding a defence minister-level annual dialogue format but China had rejected the idea as it was peeved with India over the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh and the Doklam issue. Russia is expected to push this proposal once again at the RIC foreign ministers' trilateral on December 11.


China has signaled its willingness to re-engage with India by agreeing to participate in the RIC foreign ministers' trilateral after it refused its participation in this event in April 2017 to showcase its anger over Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh. Now, China wants to mollycoddle India over the OBOR/BRI project and wants India to participate in this mega project. China made a strong pitch for the BRI at the December 11 meeting though it is yet to officially come up with a new proposal of changing the CPEC route and even renaming it to address Indian concerns as the current route of CPEC passes through Pakistan- Occupied Kashmir, a red rag for the Modi government.