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Indian PM Modi, Chinese President Xi sign agreements on Brahmaputra data, rice exports


JUNE 9, 2018

India and China on Saturday signed two bilateral agreements on continuing the sharing of hydrological data on the Brahmaputra river and on expanding rice exports to China.

The agreements were announced after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping met in Qingdao, ahead of Sundays Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet.An MoU between Chinas Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation on provision of hydrological data enables China to share flood season data to India from May 15 to October 15 every year. Data was not shared last year, with China citing landslides in Tibet but coming amid the strained ties during the Doklam stand-off.

China has now pledged to share data with India during the flood season, and to also provide data if the water level exceeds mutually agreed levels during the non-flood season.

A second MoU between Chinas Customs administration and India’s Department of Agriculture on rice exports will enable India to now export non-basmati rice varieties, expanding an earlier 2006 protocol on rice exports.

The agreements follow an understanding reached by both leaders last month. The bilateral between Modi and Xi will be there second meeting in just over a month, following his April 28 and 29 ‘informal’ summit in Wuhan where he held more than 8 hours of talks with Chinas leader for over two days.

Chinas Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui said on Twitter that the meeting will discuss the blueprint of relations going forward and also the consensus reached in Wuhan last month.

Officials said the Modi-Xi meet will give both leaders the chance to assess where ties are following the Wuhan rapprochement. Currently, both sides are working at various levels on taking forward the consensus that Modi and Xi reached on a range of matters, from the strategic guidance they issued to their two militaries to keep peace on the border, to taking forward connectivity projects in third countries, starting in Afghanistan.

Both sides in Wuhan had also dwelt in detail on the trade relationship, with Modi flagging Indias concerns over the widening deficit and calling for China to increase exports of Indian pharmaceuticals, rice and sugar, among other products.

As Modi put it at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore last week. “No other relationship of India has as many layers as our relations with China.”

We are the worlds two most populous countries and among the fastest growing major economies. Our cooperation is expanding. Trade is growing. And, we have displayed maturity and wisdom in managing issues and ensuring a peaceful border, he said.

At the same time, Modi acknowledged the many differences in ties albeit subtly and reading between the lines, his speech was far from being entirely optimistic on relations with China. In fact, Modi’s outlining of his Indo-Pacific vision was more than clear on India’s discomfort with Chinas muscle-flexing, both militarily and economically.

As Modi put it, a common rules-based order for the region must equally apply to all individually as well as to the global commons. Such an order must believe in sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as equality of all nations, irrespective of size and strength. These rules and norms should be based on the consent of all, not on the power of the few. This must be based on faith in dialogue and not dependence on force. It also means that when nations make international commitments, they must uphold them.

Modi also said, “connectivity initiatives must be based on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, consultation, good governance, transparency, viability and sustainability and must empower nations, not place them under impossible debt burden. Again, the target was apparent Chinas Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Xi told Modi at Wuhan that the BRI was purely economic and India should see it that way. Xi will be pushing the BRI at the SCO Summit. As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last week, “The Qingdao summit will lay out new plans to enhance the synergy of development strategies of member states, especially promoting the construction of the Belt and Road to lift regional economic cooperation.

India is expected to be the only country in the Qingdao declaration to not endorse the BRI, as was the case at the recent SCO foreign ministers meet where the final statement awkwardly named the ministers of all countries, barring India, in the part of the statement that named the BRI.

Still, India believes it stands to gain from its membership in a body that provides another platform to keep channels open and ties stable with China and Russia. The security-focused SCO is also likely to issue a declaration in Qingdao on combating terrorism, which India would welcome, particularly if fellow new member Pakistan faces some additional pressure in cracking down on terror outfits on its soil a source of worry not just to India but to other SCO members including China and Russia, and observers such as Afghanistan.