| Assistant Professor Lekhanath Pandey of Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Q: What’s the main purpose of President Xi’s upcoming visit to India?
A: Well, China and India are not only the largest countries in Asia. They are the most ancient civilizations and among the largest economies in Asia and have the largest populations in the world. China shares the longest border with India among its five South Asian neighbors. In this context, China and India have cooperation as well as competition. They both consider each other partners and competitors in economic issues and rivals in strategic fronts.
I believe that President Xi Jinping would be more careful in his discussion with his Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The very purpose of this visit is to deepen bilateral relations and understanding. And also this is the continuation of the informal summit between the two leaders in Wuhan of China in 2018, which was aimed to normalize ties after weeks of military standoffs between the two armies in the Doklam Plateau of their Himalayan border.
This visit is held after India scrapped the special autonomous status of its Jammu and Kashmir state earlier this year, which was condemned by both Pakistan and China. However, it’s the matter of fact that there are deep trade relations between China and India. China had almost 63 billion dollar trade surplus with India last year. Since Beijing’s trade ties with the West, especially the United States, have been in disarray since quite long, China wants to have closer economic cooperation with India.
Q: Pakistan's Prime Minister visited China shortly before President Xi’s visit to India. How do you think the Pakistani Prime Minister’s visit will affect Beijing's discussion with India this time?
A: Of course, China-India relations are not as healthy as China-Pakistan relations have. China and Pakistan are at the same page in many regional as well as global issues, including Kashmir and the Belt and Road Initiative, while China and India sound rivals in many geo-strategic topics like in Kashmir and the Belt and Road Project. India has serious reservation on China’s flagship Belt and Road Project over the issue of sovereignty and investment transparency.
Just before President Xi flies to India, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan rushed to visit Beijing. Definitely it can be expected that Prime Minister Khan wants President Xi to take up the Kashmir issue as strongly as possible during his meeting with the Indian Prime Minister.
Definitely, the Chinese leader would take up Islamabad’s concerns with Prime Minister Modi, but I doubt he would be able to take up the issues as strongly as the Pakistani side wants him to do.
Q: Will Indian Prime Minister Modi have a different approach to China this time compared to the Wuhan meeting last year?
A: As I said earlier, this visit is the continuation of the informal Wuhan summit last year. I guess, during this coming summit, the Indian side would seek China’s softer stance on the Kashmir issue and raise concerns on its troubling trade imbalance to China. Also, the Indian side may seek more Chinese investments in India’s infrastructure sector. And the Chinese side will emphasize more economic cooperation as well as try to seek India’s cooperation in the Belt and Road Project.
Q: After India, President Xi will visit Nepal. What does Nepal expect from the visit?
A: No doubt that Nepal’s geo-strategic location is quite important because she lies in between China and India. It can be recalled that Nepal played quite important mediating roles from behind the curtain, when the two countries fought a brief but deadly border war in 1962. Now given Nepal’s limited economic, political and strategic influences, it may have limited role to play in any kind of negotiations between China and India. But of course, Nepal’s role could be important if all three countries agree on any form of trilateral cooperation projects in different sectors. But in my opinion, it is not expected at this moment.