Widen the base

As China and India struggle to stabilise their wobbly relationship the latest bump comes from Beijing's protest against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Arunachal Pradesh there is one big missing link. It is the absence of sustained engagement between their political classes.

Bilateral trade may have risen more than fifty-fold over the last ten years, but there is little contact between the leading cadres of the Chinese Communist Party and the Indian political parties. It is in the interest of neither country to have its political class view the other through the distorting prism of media and internet chatter.

The CCP has indeed reached out to both the Congress and the BJP by looking beyond its traditional ties to the CPI and CPM. There is also growing academic exchange between the Chinese think tanks and their Indian counterparts.

Nevertheless, from the perspective of China's expansive international interaction, Beijing's outreach to Indian civil society is rather thin. And Delhi's penetration of China's political universe, in turn, is shockingly shallow.

The Indian communists could have been a natural bridge between the two societies; but their ideological blinkers have prevented them from becoming the interpreters of either the complex Chinese realities to India or Delhi's political sensitivities and domestic compulsions to Beijing.

There is no substitute then for greater contact and communication between the CCP and India's many political parties, especially its younger leaders who can relate to a globalising China far more easily than their elders.

The transformation of India's relationship with the United States began only when Delhi and the Indian American community reached out to the political establishment in the United States. India must do the same with China by breaking out of its current narrow interface with a small section of Chinese bureaucracy.

When Rahul Gandhi traveled to China along with Sonia Gandhi to Beijing in August 2008 to witness the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, he signed an MoU with one of China's rising political stars, Xi Jinping, to promote interaction between the Congress party and the CCP. One has not heard much of a follow-up since then.

Xi Jinping

Talking of the younger generation of political leaders, all eyes are now focused on Xi Jinping, currently the vice president of China and tipped to succeed Hu Jintao as the General Secretary of the CCP and Chairman of the all powerful Central Military Commission. Having completed two full terms, Hu Jintao will step down at the 18th party congress in 2012.

There is some speculation about Xi's political fortunes when he was not promoted to a higher position at a central committee plenary last month. Xi was widely expected to be appointed as a member of the CMC. That decision would have all but confirmed Xi's position as the successor to Hu.

Reading the tea leaves in Beijing has never been easy and it is premature to come to conclusions about Xi's political future. Xi is widely seen as the leader of the 'Princelings' faction (privileged children of the revolutionary veterans) in the CCP.

Xi has also built a reputation for integrity and helped the party clean up many corruption scandals in recent years. Xi demonstrated his efficiency as the organiser of the 2008 Olympics and in governing the coastal states that have driven China towards superpower status.

Xi represents the fifth generation of the CCP leadership that is at once highly educated, more exposed to the world and fully conscious of the grass-roots challenges. He has a doctorate in law and had to work on the factory floor in a remote province when his family was victimised during the Cultural Revolution.

That Delhi has so many problems, some old and some new, with Beijing is the very reason why India should reach out to the new generation of Chinese leaders.

Seychelles again

China's special interest in Seychelles continues. Since President Hu's visit in 2007, China has maintained the momentum in deepening the engagement with the strategically located Indian Ocean state. The latest is a million dollar gift from China to the island state for training and maintenance of defence equipment.

Announcing this at the end of a recent trip to Seychelles, the head of the Chinese delegation, Gen. Qian Lihua said, "We have been providing military assistance to Seychelles. We provide logistics assistance and free education and training in China, which have laid a good foundation for the future development of our bilateral and military-to-military relations."

The writer is Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC

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