Let there be more trade and commerce: President

Prez-China-Speech-Reuters President Pranab Mukherjee delivers a speech at a reception in Beijing, China | Reuters

President Mukherjee has called for greater cooperation between India and China in economic and commercial sectors. Speaking at the India-China Business Forum in Guangzhou on Wednesday, on the second day of his four-day state visit to China, the president banked on history to impress upon the audience the need for the two countries to work together. “This historic city (Guangzhou) has been an important port of call for Indian business,” he said. “It is here that we find the ancient foundations of the thriving trade and economic ties that exist between India and China today.”

Mukherjee’s China visit comes at a time when Sino India relations has hit an all-time low following China's attempts to scuttle India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. On Tuesday, at a reception given by the Indian community in Guangzhou, Mukherjee had passionately recalled how India had always wanted China to be a part of the WTO, of which it was a founding member. “How could we have a WTO without China?” he asked. “India and China are the most advanced emerging economies in the world.”

Diplomatic circles believe that Mukherjee's visit would help thaw the ice that has set in between India and China, and help pave the way for a fruitful meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the upcoming G20 summit to be held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, in early September. It will be the first time China will be hosting a G20 summit.

Of the many issues that plague Sino-India relations, trade imbalance and border disputes are the major irritants. “We are a young nation… and China’s economic achievements are a source of inspiration for us,” Mukherjee said at the business meet in Guangzhou. “Stepping up our two-way trade and investment flow will be of mutual benefit to both our nations.”

The Indo China trade is today valued at $71 billion. And, the trade balance is heavily tilted in favour of China, majorly because China is the world’s factory and India is no match when it comes to availability of cheap labour. IT, Pharma, agro products and IT related services form the backbone of India’s trade with China. Mukherjee said he wanted a greater market for Indian products in China.

The President touched upon India's steady growth rate of 7.6 per cent, and said India cannot grow in isolation, a thought he carried forward from the previous evening. “The world is too close today,” he had said. “And India and China are the biggest consumers of the internet and mobile phones that have brought people closer.”

Clearly, India has an eye on a part of the huge investment-$100 billion at the last count-China is making worldwide. “India, today, presents a promising demographic scenario,” he said. “The average age of its population will reach 29 by 2020.” The president urged China to be part of the India growth story and make use of the various programmes launched by the Modi government such as Skill India, Start up India and Digital India.

That is easier said than done, given the trust deficit that exists between both the countries. India’s growing closeness to the US has clearly upset the Chinese, so has India’s decision to partner Japan in the Malabar naval exercise to be held off the Okinawa coast.

President Mukherjee’s visit is expected to calm nerves and smoothen ruffled feathers. Foreign ministry sources are expecting the Chinese to take a leader of Mukherjee’s stature seriously. If the first leg of Mukherjee’s first presidential visit to China is anything to go by, he means business. He draws inspiration from history, points at a future of possibilities and reminds everyone of a present being underutilised, and above all, extends a hand of friendship that takes one a great amount of willpower to refuse. He has taken with him heads of some of the top educational institutions in India, and they are expected to forge partnerships with top Chinese institutes and Universities.

Currently, India is not among the top 10 countries for study for Chinese students and if that changes, that itself will be a big step towards better understanding between both the countries.

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