The Chinese never fail to surprise. There was a natural trepidation that they may cold shoulder External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj when she sets foot in Beijing for bilateral talks and also to take part in the trilateral parleys with China and Russia. It was felt that the Indo-US bonhomie as reflected by President Obama’s much-heralded visit may sour India’s pitch with China.
However, Chinese president Xi Jinping broke protocol to see Ms Swaraj when normal practice dictates that he open his doors only to his counterparts leaving foreign ministers to be met by their counterparts.
That was the first pleasant surprise followed by Xi’s effusive expressions of goodwill and the formal conveying of his invitation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi through Sushma Swaraj to visit China and also break bread with him in his village as he had done in Modi’s birthplace in Gujarat.
The Chinese are apparently salivating at the prospect of a quantum jump in trade and investment with India as bilaterally agreed upon on his India visit. Shrewd as they are, they see merit in showing their closeness with India to charm this country into not getting too close to the Americans whose strategic relationship with India could jeopardize their business and military interests. In Modi’s ‘Make in India’ campaign the Chinese see the potential for huge investments at a time when the Chinese economy is slowing down and European economies are under strain.
The icing on the cake for Sushma was the trilateral meeting with China and Russia in which both countries endorsed India’s efforts to take up membership of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) which could open the gates for India’s constructive engagement in the Indo-Pacific theatre.
Sushma Swaraj’s assurance to the hosts that rather than pursuing a western-oriented China containment policy India will back a new inclusive security architecture in Asia-Pacific will be music to Chinese ears.