NEW DELHI – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s upcoming visit to India will include his first meetings with India’s new government, including Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and, more important, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But the trip is about more than getting acquainted. The leaders of both countries will be taking one another’s measure, and their conclusions will determine how the relationship between the world’s two most populous countries evolves.
In some ways, the bilateral relationship is already moving in a positive direction, especially on the economic front. But, as trade imbalances favoring China become apparent, India is growing increasingly frustrated. Wang, an establishment figure well versed in Indian affairs, will make every effort to downplay these imbalances and promote deeper ties.
A far more formidable challenge will be resolving the dispute over the countries’ Himalayan frontier – the world’s longest unsettled land border. Indeed, “special representatives” from the two countries have already met 17 times to settle the issue, but have made precious little progress, not least because of Chinese concerns about the restive border provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang.
As if the conflict were not already complicated enough, China has adopted an increasingly assertive stance in the area, including several incursions into disputed territory. For example, last year, Chinese troops established a temporary camp in Ladakh’s Depsang valley, leading to a high-stakes standoff with India. As long as the “line of actual control” remains undefined, tensions will continue to escalate – raising serious risks for both countries.