Intro: During Modi’s upcoming China visit, the joint efforts of India and China can be more strategic in nature and could play a critical role in strengthening their ties beyond commercial ties.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s upcoming visit to China is all set to catch more media eyes than what Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India gained about eight months ago. As important as what China can do for India or vice versa in terms of political and economic engagements, are what they can contribute jointly on issues of energy security and climate change.
Energy and climate are the two key public policy arenas in today’s world order. Paying attention to these critical aspects in bilateral negotiations will have a long-term positive role in strengthening relations between India and China.
Energy has been a key element that has influenced Sino-Indian bilateral relations in the past. Energy rivalry between the two countries often led to political frictions both within Asia and abroad. It has also played an undeniable role in shaping their respective overseas relations with energy-rich countries. However, unlike the previous years, energy as a foreign policy element is now increasingly becoming a factor of cooperation that strengthens the bilateral ties between the two, under the Modi – Xi leadership.
There are three specific points to be highlighted here. First, while a complete absence of competition between India and China can be ruled out, the years ahead are likely to witness less fierce scramble for securing overseas sources by the two unlike in the last decade. Instead, there could be more occasions of cooperation in overseas commercial operations. With the experience of jointly working in Myanmar, Syria and in Sudan, new projects are being explored by India and China as possible future partnership opportunities. The joint communiqué signed by India, China and Russia highlighting the importance of oil and natural gas exploration is one such instance of future joint platforms.
Second, while the relevance of oil and gas resources in the energy security perspective has not diminished yet, the increasing role of renewable energy sources demands more attention from policymakers. The need to reduce energy-related emissions due to fossil fuel use and the increasing demand for decentralising energy supply domestically helps create focus on renewable energy in both countries. Various high-level business and political delegations have so far stressed the importance of cooperation between the two nations on the renewable and clean energy front. As China has made notable progress on the renewable energy front, this gives greater opportunity for India to learn from the design architecture of the Chinese renewable energy industry and its growth. India and China will also benefit from possible trade of renewable energy equipment that could cater to the expansion of the domestic renewable energy industry in India.
Third, civil nuclear energy cooperation with China has been often discussed as a potential arena of cooperation between the two. While, it may be too ambitious to expect a civilian nuclear collaboration with China in the immediate future, possibilities of such collaboration cannot be ruled out. Once the existing Indian concerns regarding China’s ongoing support to Pakistan on nuclear and infrastructure development are cleared, the two countries will be in a better position to discuss possible elements of collaboration.
Energy security and climate change considerations are two sides of the same coin. Climate change as a policy element has hardly been a point of contention between India and China. Both on the foreign policy and the domestic political front, the climate change agendas of these two large economies have gained significant attention. Domestically, India and China have elaborate climate change agendas to help them meet their climate mitigation goals in tandem with their respective economic development objectives. Despite the differences in the greenhouse gas emission levels of the two countries, the challenges they face are similar in nature and are what bring them together in global climate negotiations.
India and China are active partners in some of the influential climate alliances in global climate negotiation platforms. The BASIC group (a bloc of large newly-industrialized countries) that formed a climate alliance in the year 2009 has India and China as key members. The Like Minded group of Developing Countries (LMDC) is another group of countries that was formed primarily with less developing economies in order to voice their demands in global climate negotiations. Apart from these specific negotiation groups, New Delhi and Beijing have made remarkable steps in building bilateral cooperation on the climate front. Recognising the fact that climate change and adverse effects are the common threat to humankind the two countries reached agreement for collaboration on the climate front in 2009.
Under the Modi government, India’s commitment to climate mitigation has received special attention from the policy perspective. Renaming the Ministry of Environment and Forests to include the mention of ‘climate change’ indicates the government’s commitment to climate change mitigation. The visit of Indian Prime Minister to China should help form stronger ties on the climate front.
Balancing energy security goals with the climate change mitigation agenda is a challenging task for India and China, given their domestic disparities in terms of economic development and the need for cleaner fuel. Emissions due to the use of fossil fuels are a critical concern. Hence, increasing the renewable energy share and adding other non-conventional energy sources in the national energy mix are critical for both economies in this context, and collaboration is of great relevance.
China has been interested in investing in India renewable industry including wind, solar and hydro power plants. If the questions about trade restrictions and other politico-legal matters are addressed, the collaboration between the two will take them both to new heights.
With regard to collaboration on the petroleum front, India-China engagement will not be limited to energy exploration. Rather, the joint efforts of these countries can be more strategic in nature and could play a critical role in strengthening their ties beyond commercial ties. India-China-Russia trilateral partnership in energy and possible close collaboration in ensuring security in the energy transport routes from the Persian Gulf will be of interest to both India and China.
With regard to climate change, India and China will remain close allies that can protect the developing world’s interests. The decision made by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries to form a steering committee and place concerns of developing economies before the UN climate change conference later this year, is one such recent initiative where India and China played key roles together. New Delhi and Beijing are also set to lead other climate initiatives that include BASIC and LMDC countries which will have great influence in the global climate negotiations.
The fact that the energy and climate domains have several opportunities for collaboration itself demands greater attention by policymakers during the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to China.
Nanda Kumar Janardhanan (The writer is South Asia Regional Coordinator- Research and Operations Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, New Delhi)