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China on Modi

, July 4, 2014, 2 Comments

China & Modi-MarketExpress-inNarendra Modi was being widely discussed in China in the week before the election results were announced in India. Several Chinese scholars and researchers I met in Shanghai were curious to find out the prospects of Modi in the elections. Many among these were confident of Modi becoming India’s new Prime Minister.

Modi was one of the main reasons for the interest in China in the latest Indian elections. Another point of interest was the use of electronic voting machines. Some Chinese students wanted to know what they looked like and why was NOTA an option.

Narendra Modi is hardly unknown in China. China knows him better than most of the rest of the world, particularly the West. He is among the most well travelled of the Indian Chief Ministers and politicians to the Middle Kingdom and has visited China several times. The CPC has invited him to the country showing the willingness of the Chinese political establishment to engage him. Modi is known in China as a leader with a strong pro-business orientation. He is also sometimes described as a Hindu nationalist by the media and the strategic experts.

The Chinese interest in Modi is evident from the closeness with which his campaign speeches were followed. The occasional hard nationalistic posturings in these speeches did not go unnoticed. But what has really made the Chinese ponder deep is the mention in the BJP manifesto of the possibility of revisiting India’s nuclear doctrine. The Chinese curiosity in this regard is natural. India’s nuclear plans and their applications have major strategic implications for China.

One of the expectations in China, following Modi’s victory, would be a more rational posture on the bilateral trade relations. Chinese experts point to the inevitability of the trade deficit being raised in every discussion with their Indian counterparts, including think tanks and Track II dialogues. There is disappointment over the non-acceptance of the structural features and comparative advantages of the two economies in producing this rather natural deficit. The Chinese expect Modi to adopt a more pragmatic posture on the issue of deficit given his sound knowledge of trade and business.

Business is the strongest glue binding China’s engagement with the rest of the world. Modi is on a good wicket in this respect. The Chinese expect Modi to facilitate stronger business ties with India. Other than the trade deficit, they expect Modi to be more positive and pragmatic on potential Chinese investments in India. The Chinese interest in investing in India’s infrastructure is well known. Chinese businesses would expect Modi to discontinue the preference that the earlier government had shown for inviting non-Chinese investments, particularly Japanese, in building infrastructure in India, particularly the Northeast.

A couple of other factors influence the Chinese impressions of Modi. Modi is considered capable of emulating for India several achievements of China. Like many other countries, the Chinese often consider the state of Gujarat as India’s Guangzhou province. Modi’s powerful economic vision and efficient business administration is expected to produce more Guangzhou’s in India. These robust economic prospects are viewed enthusiastically by China. India is one of China’s most important final demand markets. Greater economic prosperity in India is expected to generate greater demand for Chinese products from both Indian consumers and producers.

China also believes it accepted Modi much before the West did. While several Western countries refused to give a visa to Modi, China never created a fuss and was always happy to welcome Modi. In this respect, it is justified in thinking that it extended friendship to Modi well before the rest of the world did. Indeed, the US reluctance to officially lift the embargo on Modi even during the run-up to the elections shows the failure on part of its agencies to anticipate the political change in India. Modi is unlikely to forget the humiliating treatment by the US. The US, in hindsight, might consider its move to be a strategic blunder if Modi decides to engage China from the firm footing of it being his old ally.

The overall US strategic discomfort might increase further with China, Russia and India now coming to be led by decisive and assertive leaders. Together, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi can be a handful for the US. They are unlikely to compromise strategic autonomy and bend backwards for accommodating the US. Modi is homegrown and not trained in the US and Western institutions. This is in sharp contrast to several movers and shakers in the previous government, including the Prime Minister. US agencies and experts had far greater strategic familiarity with the previous government and were more comfortable in dealing with it than they would be with Modi and most of his team. China has every reason to rejoice at Modi’s victory.

The author is Head (Partnership & Programme) and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. He can be reached at Views are personal.

  • P V Rajeev

    Will there be a change in China’s approach to Modi now that he has become PM. Earlier he was just a regional leader.

  • Shamik Bandyopadhyay

    To be a powerful nation, India has to make it’s neighbors brothers. No country can sustain politically if the relations with neighbors are sticky. Need of relation with West is unquestionable but secondary.