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3-on-3 with Kanti Bajpai: China is on Modi’s mind

08 Apr 3-on-3 with Kanti Bajpai: China is on Modi’s mind

The SIIA spoke to Dr. Kanti Bajpai, Vice Dean (Research) and Wilmar Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS. He shares his views on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East policy, the implications for relations between India and China, and what to expect from Mr. Modi’s official visit to China next month. Dr. Bajpai was at the SIIA on Wednesday, 8 April for an evening seminar on “Modi’s Act East Policy: Towards a New Equilibrium in Asia”.

A transcript of the video is below.

Q: Under Modi’s leadership, can we expect India to carve out a greater regional role for itself?

Dr. Bajpai: I think Modi already has done a part of that and I think that’s his ambition. His biggest constraint is going to be, you know, domestic capacity. So, he’s got a lot on his mind domestically, especially economically, and to some extent socially as well.

And, I think the countries in the region, especially Southeast Asia, are looking for India to play a big role and he is keen to do it. What’s most on his mind is China, of course. So playing a regional role really means dealing with China – both engaging China and, of course, containing China.

Q: What do China’s Maritime Silk Road plans mean for India’s strategic interests in the Indian Ocean?

Dr. Bajpai: I think it could potentially mean a lot of collaboration with China and other states in the Indian Ocean region. India has its own kind of Maritime Silk Road idea called Mausam – which means weather- but it is configured around the reach of the monsoon where it extends from Southern Africa to Australia and beyond.

And the Chinese have indicated, you know, that they would like to meld the two. So, I think potentially it could be reconciled. But, let’s face it, there is a certain amount of competitiveness there as well.

And, India is at a cusp. It has to see whether it wants to go along with it or whether it wants to kind of check and balance against the Chinese. I suspect India will go forward with it hoping that being part of it means it can check Chinese power from within, and also take advantage of the enterprise.

Q: What can we expect from Modi’s visit to China in May 2015?

Dr. Bajpai: Well, you know, one of the interesting things about Modi is that, unlike any Indian leader, he has been to China four times before he was elected as Prime Minister. And then he  has met Xi Jinping five times already since he became Prime Minister at various forums and then of course he hosted him in India. So, this will be his sixth meeting, the first time in China, as Prime Minister.

So, I think it is going to be an important meeting, building on earlier meetings. Clearly, the older issues will be on the table, especially border conflict, and I think India wants quicker movement there. But a lot of it will be economic – the Silk Road idea, the new development bank, the AIIB, as well. And getting China on board India’s economic journey, which is to say trade and investment. There is a big trade deficit that India will be looking for better market access to China, and also looking for that 20 billion dollars that Xi Jinping promised to actually come through, especially in the infrastructure area. So, I think it will be a rich agenda.

And, there will be some “bonne-amie” (French). I mean, President Xi Jinping is going to take him to Xi’an, and also you know, I think have some more down time with him to repay Modi for taking him to Gujarat. So, I think it will be a pretty successful visit.

There will be some hard moments too over the possibility of border conflict. Right now, again, there has been some incursions by Chinese troops into the Ladakh area. No doubt there will be some India incursions as well. So, I think there will be other things to talk about that are not so positive.