There have been passionate debates about how did the recent summit meeting between Nepal's two big neighbours end up. The first China visit of Narendra Modi as the prime minister of India has been hailed by some as a major departure from the past while some have chosen to look the other way.
In what he claimed to be a ‘candid’ discussion, the Indian PM urged China to think strategically and reconsider its approach on border issues adding that the border dispute was holding back their relationship. Ironically, however, while the Chinese side vowed to find a ‘political solution’ the state owned CCTV news channel showed an Indian map with Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir left out. This perfectly gives the true gist of Modi’s visit contrary to what many commentators saw. Unlike what they claimed, it was much ado about nothing and had elements of an ordinary diplomatic visit: flowery statements, vows to resolve border issues and agreements claiming to boost trade and cooperation. The incumbent outspoken and forthcoming Indian prime minister’s visit was nothing different than that of his impuissant and low profile predecessor, Manmohan Singh.
What makes the visit even disappointing is that many in India had expected the headstrong Modi to take a strong stand against China on contentious bilateral issues. To begin with, the 41-paragraph joint statement is devoid of any concrete decisions on key issues including settlement of the all-important boundary dispute and the issue of stapled visa. While Modi was quick to announce that Chinese tourists were now eligible to receive electronic visa on arrival in India contrary to what his foreign secretary had said hours before the statement, the Chinese side chose not to touch upon the issue. Much to the surprise of many, Modi showed signs that he was keen on taking a more soft approach towards China. This was reflected in many instances in his speech, the most prominent being reference to Tibet as a part of China. But his Chinese counterpart did neither mention "the Indian states" of Arunachal Pradesh or Jammu nor Kashmir during talks of border disputes.
The trade agreement worth $22 billion signed between the two countries is also nothing to write home about. China had last month signed a more than two-times bigger deal with its long time ally and India's traditional enemy, Pakistan. The agreement does not pave way for Indian industries but instead involves unequal deals like allowing Indian firms being financed by Chinese state-owned banks to buy only Chinese equipments. This will worsen India’s already massive trade deficit with China, which at $48 billion is increasing every day. The trade agreement will also do little to boost China’s meagre investment in India, which totals just 1% of China’s annual bilateral trade surplus.
China’s hostile attitude was amply reflected in an article on the Chinese daily Global Times published on the eve of the Indian PM’s visit. Written by a Chinese Assistant Professor, the article mentioned that Modi has been “playing little tricks over border disputes and security issues and the ball was in India's court to deepen the bilateral relations. The writer also suggested that Modi should no longer visit the disputed border region in pursuit of his own political interests, nor should he deliver any remarks that infringe on the consensus on bilateral ties.