In recent years, a number of Indian states, including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, have been pro-actively reaching out to Chinese provinces with an eye on attracting foreign direct investment (FDI).
The India-China Forum of State Provincial Leaders, which was inaugurated in May 2015 during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s China visit, was initiated with an eye on promoting robust links between Chinese provinces and Indian states. Chief ministers of various states, cutting across party lines, have been visiting China, and there have been efforts on both sides to explore new opportunities and look at unexplored states/provinces.
On the Indian side, efforts are looking beyond the usual destinations – Guangzhou, Shanghai, while the Chinese side has been looking beyond Maharashtra, Gujarat and southern Indian states.
China has sought to strengthen its linkages with West Bengal, with a number of Chinese companies present at the Bengal Global Business Summit on January 16-17, 2018 . Out of the 30 companies, 10 visiting India for the first time were from Jiangsu, Shandong and Yunnan. The Chinese consulate in Kolkata worked closely as one of the partner countries of the West Bengal state government.
China has also extended an invitation to Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Minister, on more than one occasion to visit China. She was due to visit in June 2017, but this did not materialize.
Commenting on the China’s outreach to West Bengal and the possible China visit of the Banerjee, Ma Zhanwu, the Chinese Consul General in Kolkata said:
“My consulate is happy to work with the Bengal government to find the appropriate time for her to travel. Even though the details of her tour are not yet worked out, there are possibilities of meeting with investors and businesses.”
The Chinese consulate in Kolkata has also been trying to effectively utilize soft power for the building of linkages with West Bengal. It played an important role in the Kolkata International Festival for instance, and also facilitated exchange visits to China for tennis players, students and teachers from West Bengal.
Links between West Bengal and China
Efforts towards strengthening ties between West Bengal and China, who share historical linkages, have been going on for a while. The capital of West Bengal and Kunming the capital of Yunnan agreed to establish sister city status during the visit to China of then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, in October 2013. There is also a direct flight from Kolkata to Kunming.
Interactions between intellectuals from Kolkata and Kunming have been going on for nearly two decades in connection with the Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar corridor (BCIM). The ambitious 3,000-kilometre corridor seeks to connect Kolkata with Kunming, and will pass through India’s North Eastern states, Bangladesh and Myanmar. In 2015, China proposed high-speed rail connectivity between Kunming and Kolkata at the Greater Mekong Sub region meet (GMS). Li Ji Ming, vice-secretary of Yunnan provincial government said of the project:
“We are in favor of it. The high speed corridor would help the economies of Myanmar and Bangladesh as well.”
Given the tensions between the two countries, and differences over the One Belt One Road project, further progress on BCIM and connectivity between West Bengal and Yunnan, may seem a far cry.
The Chinese Consulate’s pro-active outreach toward West Bengal is with one eye on further expanding its presence in India, especially other states in eastern India such as Bihar, Odisha, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. In 2016, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister, Raman Singh visited China, and took part in the 10th China (Henan) International Investment Trade Fair at Zhengzhou, and urged potential investors to explore opportunities in Chattisgarh.
China’s outreach toward West Bengal and other eastern Indian states should be welcomed, as it will help enhance bilateral ties between both countries at a time when there are serious strains. Chinese investment in eastern India will also help in addressing the problem of skewed growth in India, which is a key developmental challenge.
The central government should encourage interactions between eastern Indian states and Chinese provinces. The ability to draw investment from China will also depend upon the ability of state governments to create an investment friendly environment. It is also important for the states to have a competitive as well as collaborative spirit.
Interactions between Indian states and Chinese provinces are likely to be a win-win for both sides, but it is important that these linkages have clear objectives and are based on clear synergies.
It remains to be seen whether China’s outreach toward eastern India gains momentum, and how it will be impacted in the case of tensions between the two countries.
Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India.