While no specific policy vis-a-vis India had been mentioned in the just concluded 18th Communist Party congress at Beijing, it appears that for the next five years certain broad policy prescriptions outlined in the work report could have implications for India.
In the change of guard, none of the seven politburo standing committee members have visited India in recent times; nor is there any evidence that any of them have extensively dealt with Indian affairs. More often than not in the last six decades, China's leaders addressed India related issues â€” if they ever did when they were firmly ensconced. This may well be the case for the new leadership in China now.
This is in sharp contrast to the Indian prime minister's posture when a new government is formed. For instance, current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was categorical when he took charge a second time in mid-2009. Thanking the then-President for his speech to Parliament, Singh stated that he would further "strategic partnership" with China, even as he mentioned that he would protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country a euphemism for standing ready on the unresolved border with China.
The 18th party congress work report did not contain anything close to the 2005 agreement between India and China on "strategic partnership and cooperation". Nevertheless, the work report was categorical in its resolve of "responding to China's core security needs" and "uphold[ing] China's sovereignty". Evidently, these are related to China's positions on Tibet, Taiwan (and possibly South China Sea in the 2009 revisions), but with implications for the territorial dispute in Arunachal Pradesh â€” often dubbed in official Chinese reports as "southern Tibet".
In the run-up to becoming the Communist Party chief, Xi Jinping gradually took over the highest policy institutions on Tibet. In 2010, he took over the Tibet Forum Meetings and toured Tibet in November that year extensively, meeting party cadres, military generals and paramilitary personnel. Xi took charge of the Central Tibetan Work Committee from Jia Qinglin in July 2011.
Against the backdrop of the continuing protests by the Tibetans â€” reflected in over 70 self-immolations Xi is likely to continue the 'strike hard' policy on the Tibetans, while at the same time emphasising, as the new chief of the Central Military Commission, military modernisation in the region.
These two measures, in addition to the intransigence in resolving the Tibet issue, could impact India in terms of Tibetan radicalisation and insecurity in the trans-Himalayan region while military modernisation in Tibet could enhance the costs of war on India.
On the other hand, Xi is known to the commercial sections in Fujian, Zhejiang and Shanghai (where he served as party secretary) as Mr Do It, meaning his obsession with successfully completing projects. This trait could augur well for expansion in business opportunities with India at a time when Singh has suggested the need for $1 trillion investment in infrastructure projects.
Xi Jinping, who visited India nearly two decades ago as the party chief of Fujian Province, and also met the then visiting President Pratibha Patil in 2010, is likely to continue emphasising enhancing trade with India.
During his ten year stint, bilateral trade could possibly reach over $200 billion from $72 billion in 2011. Expanding trade with India is expected to create stakes and leverages for China in Indian political and commercial circles. Building such ties will be crucial in overcoming the negativity for China in the Indian context.
The second ranking leader Li Keqiang is expected to replace Wen Jiabao as the premier next March when the new parliament is convened. Li met former foreign minister S M Krishna at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit meeting in early 2012. Li is likely to further the Western Development Campaign with more investments and dual-use infrastructure projects in Tibet and adjoining areas.
Specifically, even as China persuades India to welcome its controversial high-speed railway project, Li is expected to unveil larger programmes on expanding the Karakoram Highway, the railway project connecting Xinjiang with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and beyond. China is also searching for bases abroad in Somalia,
Yemen, Oman and Pakistan. Li's mentor President Hu Jintao took keen interest in the civil-military use infrastructure projects in the disputed territories of Kashmir.
In its overall posture towards global events, the party congress reiterated its position that the leadership will follow an independent foreign policy. Some in India could see this position as providing opportunities to bandwagon with Beijing specifically at the UN on issues such as Iran, Syria and climate change proposals. Both India and China have adopted such an attitude for mutual benefit in the past; this will possibly continue in the next five years.
However, the current concerns in Beijing mainly revolve around the "rebalancing" strategy of the US. In Hu Jintao's second tenure, China moved away from Deng Xiaoping's principle of "taoguang yanghui" (keep a low profile) to that of progressively challenging US primacy in the Asia-Pacific region, even as Beijing was engaged with it in mutually beneficial relations.
Against this backdrop, a risen China is looking for allies and friends in the international system. And keeping that in mind, if China wants to guide India away from getting closer to the US, India must tread very carefully.
The writer is a professor of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.