India, China vow to deepen bilateral ties with focus on trade

Nepal's President Bidhya Devi Bhandari shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony at the airport in Kathmandu on Saturday. Xi is making the first state visit by a Chinese leader to Nepal in 23 years following his two days of talks in India. (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2019

India, China vow to deepen bilateral ties with focus on trade

  • The two-day summit took place in the ancient temple city of Mamallapuram

NEW DELHI: At the end of their second informal summit in southern India on Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said they would deepen their bilateral engagement and work toward a rules-based and inclusive international order. 

The leaders also agreed to set up a “high-level economic and trade dialogue mechanism with the objective of achieving enhanced trade and commercial relations, as well as to better balance trade between the two countries.”

The two-day summit took place in the ancient temple city of Mamallapuram, a UNESCO world heritage site close to Chennai, the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The meeting will “add great momentum to India-China relations. This will benefit the people of our nations and the world,” Modi tweeted after the summit.

The first meeting between the two leaders was in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year, where they held six rounds of talks, in addition to some delegation-level discussions.

The summit, whose date was announced just two days prior to the meet, came on the backdrop of the recent tensions between India and Pakistan over New Delhi’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s autonomous status on Aug. 5. 

Beijing supported Pakistan in raising India’s action in Kashmir at the UN General Assembly and criticized New Delhi’s unilateral actions in Kashmir. Xi’s visit to India came just two days after his meeting with Pakistan’s high-level delegation led by Imran Khan in Beijing.

Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale told the media after the summit that the Kashmir “issue was not raised and discussed and India-China relations are not predicated to a single issue.”

Gokhale said that Xi apprised Modi of Khan’s visit to Beijing earlier this week.

A statement issued by the Indian Foreign Ministry after the summit said that both the leaders “evaluated the direction of bilateral relations in a positive light and discussed how India-China bilateral interaction can be deepened to reflect the growing role of both countries on the global stage.”

Trade seems to be the focal point of discussions between the two leaders, with the high-level ministerial level mechanism aimed at reducing trade gaps between the two neighbors.

According to India’s Commerce Ministry, India’s exports to China amounted to $13.33 billion in 2018, compared to imports of $76.38 billion.

“The mechanism will be led by the Indian finance minister and Chinese vice president ... the discussion will be on how to balance trade, how trade deficit will be addressed,” Gokhale added.

To take the bilateral relations to a new height, both the leaders “decided to designate 2020 as Year of India-China Cultural and People-to-People Exchanges and agreed that the 70th anniversary of the establishment of India-China “relations in 2020 will be fully utilized to deepen exchanges at all levels.”

International affairs expert Harsh V. Pant, of New Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF), termed the summit as “quite underwhelming.”

“The Wuhan summit was far more substantive, at least on paper, than the Chennai one and this reflects reality of relationship at the ground. It is a very, very difficult relationship,” Pant said.

“The summitry of this kind is good between the two large neighbors where two leaders can exchange views. However, I don’t think it alters the reality at the ground,” he said.

Pant said that two major takeaways were “the discussion on trade and radicalization. Apart from this the talks were really generic.”

In the last summit “there were some proposals of India and China cooperating in some third countries, like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and all, but this time there was no such talk. This is the reality of Sino-India relationship today. For all the theater the reality is something different.”

Pant, however, welcomes the regular interactions with the top leadership of both the nations.

Manoj Kewalramani, a fellow at Bangalore-based think-tank the Takshashila Institution, said that the meet was “high on optics and there were hardly any tangible outcomes.”

However, he said that “high-level engagement has managed to instill some sense of stability in the bilateral relationship. Unlike the past summit few substantives issues have been discussed in the delegation level talks this time. Both sides emphasize peace at the disputed boundary and work together amid the changes underway in the international political and trading order.”


China mulls its options as Hong Kong descends into chaos

Updated 44 min 27 sec ago

China mulls its options as Hong Kong descends into chaos

  • Actions in the semi-autonomous territory were ‘slipping into the abyss of terrorism’
  • ‘When necessary, the People’s Armed Police Force and the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison will back you up’
BEIJING: A sharp escalation of violence in Hong Kong is once again raising the question of how China’s central government will respond: Will it intervene, or allow the chaos to persist?
The Liaison Office, which represents mainland authorities in Hong Kong, said Wednesday that actions in the semi-autonomous territory were “slipping into the abyss of terrorism.” It pointed out that a man was set on fire Monday during an argument with demonstrators, leaving him in critical condition.
On the same day, a police officer shot a protester who was then taken to a hospital, also in critical condition.
The unabating tumult, now in its sixth month, may give China’s ruling Communist Party the justification it needs to take more direct action, analysts said.
“Beijing is hoping that the Hong Kong community will start blaming the protesters and support the restoration of order,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.
The central government must wait for the right moment to step in, Cabestan said, adding that if China acts before public opinion is fully on its side, it could exacerbate existing discontent.
While the movement began peacefully in June to oppose a now-withdrawn extradition bill, it has been increasingly defined by smaller groups of hard-core demonstrators bent on sowing chaos. Their actions, which have included setting cars on fire and smashing storefronts, have alienated many residents.
The Liaison Office described the act of setting the man on fire as “flagrant terrorism,” and pledged support for Hong Kong authorities taking measures to curb “various illegal acts of violence and acts of terrorism.”
Whereas Chinese authorities previously called the demonstrators “rioters” with behavior “close to terrorism,” they are now calling them “murderers” and tying them more explicitly to terrorism. This label may presage more severe enforcement measures and impact how demonstrators are ultimately prosecuted.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 under the framework of “one country, two systems,” a policy that promises Hong Kong certain democratic rights not granted to the mainland. But the arrests of pro-democracy activists and booksellers in recent years have raised fears among Hong Kong residents that Beijing is encroaching on the city’s freedoms.
During a key meeting of the party’s Central Committee at the end of October, Chinese leaders proposed establishing and strengthening the “legal system and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security” in special administrative regions like Hong Kong and Macao.
A meeting summary from China’s official Xinhua news agency did not elaborate on what this would entail, but Chinese officials have variously pointed to Article 14, Article 18 and Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution.
Article 14 allows the Hong Kong-based garrison of the Chinese military to help with public order maintenance at the request of the local government. Article 18 states that national laws may be applied in Hong Kong if China’s ceremonial parliament decides that the region is in a “state of emergency” that endangers national unity or security.
“When necessary, the People’s Armed Police Force and the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison will back you up,” the nationalistic Global Times said in an editorial Monday, addressing the Hong Kong police.
Zhang Xiaoming, head of the Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said over the weekend that Hong Kong has yet to fulfill Article 23, which stipulates that the city will “enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion” against the central government. These laws should also ban the theft of state secrets and prevent foreign political organizations from conducting political activities in Hong Kong. Beijing has repeatedly accused foreign forces of fomenting the unrest.
Proposing new national security legislation is likely to further inflame the protests, though China may not be opposed to that, said Joseph Cheng, a pro-democracy advocate and retired City University of Hong Kong political scientist.
China has made it clear that it intends to maintain a hard line politically, refusing to make any concessions to protesters while pushing ahead with unpopular security legislation, Cheng said.
A further concern is that Beijing might order the postponement of Hong Kong’s local assembly elections scheduled for Nov. 24, freezing in place the current pro-China makeup of the body and avoiding possible embarrassment for the administration of Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Although Lam has been criticized for a lack of leadership and her inflexibility, she has faithfully carried out Beijing’s will. During meetings last week in Shanghai and Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed support for her work.
At least for now, the central government appears to be leaving enforcement to local authorities, said Ben Bland, a research fellow at Australia’s Lowy Institute and author of “Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow.”
This approach allows the party to keep the issue tied to Hong Kong, as opposed to one that requires intervention at a higher level, Bland said, adding that while Beijing has several options for cracking down on the protests, each carries its own risks and could aggravate tensions.
As protesters’ tactics have become increasingly extreme, crippling regular operations in the city and plunging various districts into mayhem, Hong Kong’s government has shifted its focus toward the violence and away from the democratic reforms the movement intended to advocate.
“We all feel very depressed because we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Cheng said.