Recent discussions between Indian and Chinese officials on the way forward in Afghanistan are a welcome sign that both countries are attempting to put a very bad year in bilateral ties behind them, and seek common ground where possible. In Afghanistan, where both China and India see potential for investment and share concerns over the rise of radicalism and terrorism, there are many avenues [रास्ते] for cooperation. The fact that Beijing initiated the special talks by inviting Indian officials who deal with Afghanistan and proposed a “joint development project” encourages the conclusion that China is unwilling to have its options cramped by Pakistan’s reservations about India’s role in Afghanistan. The Ministry of External Affairs says there was broad agreement on trade and economic ties, with Chinese officials reportedly praising India’s measures to welcome investment and facilitate visas for closer business ties. On the issues that dominated the India-China narrative in 2016, particularly India’s bid for Nuclear Suppliers Group membership and to have Masood Azhar designated a global terrorist at the UN, there was little movement. But a new conversation has started, and could yield results by the mid-year deadline. There is a lowering of rhetoric[वक्रपटुता] as well. While China is no longer trotting out[बाहर अक्सर यात्रा] its old line on opposing India’s NSG membership as a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, India has stopped referring to China as the “one country” that is thwarting its ambitions.
New Delhi must prepare for the larger challenge this year that will inevitably[अनिवार्य रूप से] come from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (B&RI, or One Belt, One Road). Through the mega infrastructure and trade project, China has plans in place to reach out to each one of India’s land and maritime neighbours, most of whom have signed up for it. In May, a conference hosted by President Xi Jinping will bring all of India’s neighbourhood to Beijing, with the exception of India. India has decided to not join the B&RI and will not attend even as an observer as the $51-billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor, now an integral part of the B&RI initiative, runs through areas of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. This concerns India’s territorial integrity, and New Delhi needs to find ways to make China more sensitive to its concerns. Both must build on their discussion on the global scenario, which included the need to ‘play down their differences’ in order to manage the global instability created by President Donald Trump’s possible revision of ties with Europe, Russia, and of alliances in the Pacific. His threat of abandoning the “One China” policy, and backing down on it after talks with Mr. Xi, should indicate the dangers of depending on a consistent U.S. policy on other issues in the region for India as well.
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