While provinces have been at the forefront of China’s growth story for over 3 decades, India’s state governments have been coming into their own ever since the 1990’s in the aftermath of economic liberalization as well as the rise of strong regional leaders.
There is a growing body of literature on how Chinese Provinces and Indian states can bridge the gap between both countries. William Antholis in ‘Inside out India and China: Local Politics goes Global’ (2015) makes an interesting comparison of the role being played by Indian States and Chinese provinces in their countries economic progress, while also arguing in favour of a larger role for both in the economic relationship between both countries.
Jabin Jacob in a chapter ‘China’s Provinces and Foreign Policy: Lessons and Implications for India and Its States’ written for ‘Agartala Doctrine: A Proactive North East in Indian Foreign Policy)’ (2016) edited by Subir Bhaumik. Says Jacob (p.263-264) ‘The growing number of exchanges between Indian and Chinese sub-national actors is dominated by trade and commercial interests and Indian envoys in China today, are in fact, savvy enough to court Chinese capital at both the central and provincial levels’.
During the Indian PM’s China in May 2015, a sub-national dialogue, ‘India-China Forum of State/Provincial leaders’, was inaugurated. Speaking about the relevance of states and provinces, the Indian PM stated:
‘..states have a vital role to play in the national development. This is especially true for large and populous countries, with a high degree of geographical, social and economic diversity. It becomes even more relevant, when the constitutional and political systems are federal in structure. These attributes exist in both India and China, the world’s two most populous nations.
During his visit, The Indian PM was also accompanied by Chief Ministers of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis and then Gujarat CM, Anandiben Patel. Both states have subsequently made efforts to cement economic ties as well as enhance people to people linkages.
While PM Modi visited China twice as Chief Minister, a number of Chief Ministers have visited China. A number of CM’s including Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu (April 2015, June 2016), Madhya Pradesh CM, Shivraj Singh Chohan (2011,2016) and Telangana CM, K Chandrashekhar Rao (September 2015). The Bihar CM, Nitish Kumar and Karnataka CM C Siddaramiah have also visited China. Naidu’s visits have been reasonably successful and in October 2016, The Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board (APEDB) signed an agreement with Power China Guizhou Engineering Corporation, Aluminium Corporation of China Limited, and Guizhou Maritime Silk Road International Investment Corporation for jointly develop the mines and industrial park in Andhra Pradesh. This agreement was signed on the sidelines of the fourth India-China Strategic Economic Dialogue. During his visit in June 2016, the AP CM had interacted with these organizations.
Apart from the increasing level of interaction between provincial leaders, There has also been an increase in Sister-City arrangements and sister province between both countries In 2013 an agreement was signed by both countries to develop the concept of sister cities. In October 2013, during Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singhs visit, three metros of India were paired with Chinese cities, they were Delhi-Beijing, Bengaluru-Chengdu and Kolkata-Kunming.
During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in September 2014, an agreement was signed to establish a sister-city relationship between Ahmedabad and Guangzhou, while Gujarat and Guangdong became sister-provinces. During PM Modis visit in 2015, Four agreements were signed on sister-state and sister-city relations between Karnataka and Sichuan province; Chennai and Chongqing; Hyderabad and Qingdao; and Aurangabad and Dunhuang. In June 2016, an agreement was signed between Nagpur and Jinan for establishing a sister city agreement, while in December 2016, a similar agreement was signed between Agra and Chengdu.
There have also been efforts to strengthen people to people ties and cultural links through tourism and culture. The states of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala held roadshows in China for promotion of tourism. Apart from this, both countries have also been trying to utilize Buddhism as a way of strengthening bilateral ties between both countries. In 2011, during his visit to China, the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar addressed a conference on “Buddhism: Mapping Asia’s History and Culture” in Beijing on June 18, 2011 and also spoke in favour of strengthening ties between Bihar and Shandong Province, both possess a strong Buddhist heritage. China has also evinced interest in other Buddhist Circuits in India including that of the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Sister province agreements between China and US have given a boost not just to economic but also political ties between both countries. A strong instance being that of President Xi Jinping and Terry Branstad who till recently was Governor of Iowa (for six terms) and has been appointed as US Ambassador to China by Donald Trump due to his strong rapport with the Chinese President. President Xi met Branstad first in 1985 during a visit to the US, as Hebei and Iowa were sister provinces. In 2012, President Xi again met with Branstad who was governor of Iowa. Since 2013, cities and provinces in China have established six joint working groups involving California, Chicago, Texas and some other regions in the United States.
While there is immense scope exchanges should be based on complementarities. For instance, the Punjab CM visited China and explored the possibility of greater cooperation in the sphere of agriculture with Jiangsu Province. Similarly, based on Buddhism ties can be strengthened between specific states and provinces. While the Provincial level dialogue which has been initiated is a good step it needs to be more well defined, so that exchanges between Indian states and Chinese provinces produce concrete results.
It is also important to ensure, that exchanges between India and China are not restricted to a few select provinces and states and to the economic sphere. There should be tangible outcomes from these exchanges, especially in the context of giving a boost to tourism.
Tridivesh Singh Maini is Assistant Professor with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat.