India, China to boost maritime cooperation during PM Modi’s visit

NEW DELHI (TIP): China may allow India access to the Western Pacific Ocean, while India may countenance Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi travels to China in a couple of weeks, the two Asian powers may sign an innocuous-sounding “scientific cooperation” agreement.

In reality, it has deeper significance – first, an acknowledgement that India and China are the big powers in these ocean areas and second, acknowledgment of the growing reach of both countries in what is considered their strategic backyard. There are few details available about the proposed agreement, but sources said this could imply India-China cooperation at a different level.

Any India-China document for cooperation in the oceans will be set up against the strategic vision document on Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region between the US and India signed during US President Barack Obama’s January visit. That particular agreement, whose strategic implications reverberated outside India, had compelled the rest of Asia to sit up and take note of the evolving US-India equation, largely because it set out an “acceptable” code of conduct in the region.

India and China have already agreed to start a maritime cooperation dialogue, as set out in the joint statement when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited India in September. “The two sides decided to hold the first round of maritime cooperation dialogue within this year to exchange views on maritime affairs and security, including anti-piracy, freedom of navigation and cooperation between maritime agencies of both countries.”

The political dialogue between Modi and Xi Jinping will hold greater value. China watchers have predicted a possible breakthrough discussion on resolution of the boundary dispute that continues to be a thorn in bilateral relations.

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While a resolution may be ambitious at this stage, analysts agree that an exchange of maps in the western sector would be a big step forward.

China may also conduct a feasibility study of a high speed railway corridor between Delhi and Chennai. As a start, they will conduct a “pilot project” for a certain part of the route, said sources. Japan is already in the final stages of conducting a feasibility study for a Shinkansen (bullet train) corridor between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, while France has agreed to study upgradation of railway link between Delhi and Chandigarh to a semi-high speed line. With the Modi government focused on reviving the railways as an engine of growth and connectivity in India, China, France and Japan will become big players in this area. China has made a huge success of its own high speed railway system, now the largest in the world.

Modi is expected to begin his trip in South Korea, then to China and ending up in Mongolia. On 14th May, he will accompany Xi Jinping to his hometown in Xian, which holds historical significance particularly with regard to the silk route.

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