There is no denying that India-China trade has grown substantially over the years. But trade imbalance remains a thorny issue. The Modi-Xi talks in Mahabalipuram are over. Officially, the talks have been a success, and will pave the way to better understanding, more trade and stronger ties. The vexatious topic of abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir was not discussed

There is no denying that India-China trade has grown substantially over the years. China is, today, the largest trade partner for India (see chart) with total trade close to $100 billion. But there is a trade imbalance – with China exporting more to India than India to China. Both countries want to redress this situation.

At the same time, as the Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong recently stated, in the first half of the year, the trade deficit with India had already fallen by 13.5% year-on-year, pointing to the way this imbalance could be eased.

The Chinese envoy also pointed to the tremendous appeal that Chinese audiences have for Indian movies.

"We should broaden our vision and take more holistic measures such as increasing mutual investments, encouraging Indian companies to participate in China International Import Expo, upgrading Nathula border trade port to make the pie of cooperation even bigger and gradually reduce trade imbalance in the process of cooperation and development of the two countries," he added.

Moreover, he also pointed how more than 1,000 Chinese companies have increased their investment in industrial parks, e-commerce and other areas in India, with a total investment of $8 billion and 2,00,000 local jobs created.

"Chinese mobile phone brands such as Xiaomi, VIVO and OPPO have been well-established in the Indian market. Indian companies are also actively expanding the Chinese market, with a cumulative investment of nearly $1 billion in China. According to Indian statistics, more than two-thirds of Indian companies investing in China are making steady profits," he said.

Discordant Notes

But watchers of Sino-India relations are not entirely convinced.

They point out how, just last fortnight, there was news about the government of India issuing a notification to all Indian universities not to enter into any agreement for exchange programmes with the institutions in China without prior clearance from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Implementation of MoUs that Indian universities have already have already entered into with their Chinese counterparts have been put on hold till the MEA and MHA provide clearances.

This communication was sent out to all vice-chancellors of all government and private colleges. It is believed that many Indian institutes have signed agreements or MoUs with Chinese universities for exchange programmes relating to both students and faculty and for the opening of Chinese language centres too. In Mumbai, such language centres have been functioning for several years at the University of Bombay and the Somaiya group of education institutes.

Education administrators say that such a notification is quite unusual. Moreover, it comes after India and China signed an MoU for educational exchanges during Prime Minister Modi's visit to Beijing in 2015.

It must also be noted that just in October this year China approved teaching of MBBS courses (the course for certification as allopathy doctors) in English in 45 colleges. This was in view of a surge in medical education enrolments from India with Chinese medical education centres. At present, 21,000 of the 23,000 Indian students in China are there to study medicine.

This is because of two reasons. Chinese colleges have a higher standard of education with better teachers – often sourced from around the world. They offer better facilities too – better labs, excellent libraries, better audio-visual aids and better hospitals. But the second major reason is that a five-year course in China, along with residence, is likely to cost Indian students a total of under Rs.15 lakh. This is significantly lower than the fees Indian private medical colleges charge – there is a paucity of government college seats – where just the capitation fee is often in excess of Rs.1 crore. Moreover, these private colleges have neither the facilities nor even teachers.

In fact, cheaper educational courses – in India or overseas -- will eventually translate into lower medicare costs in India, because students expect to recover the investments they have made on their studies. Higher medical education costs invariably translate into higher medicare costs, hence higher medical insurance costs as well.

India has to deal with this issue for the benefit of medicare as well as India-China relations. One does not know if this was discussed at the Modi-Xi meet.

5-G Telecommunications

The other irritant is the unwillingness on the part of India to take a stand on allowing Huawei to introduce 5-G in India. After all, it is the leading player in this space in the world. It is also a much cheaper option than the solutions offered by the West. A short 6- minute video on 5-G is also quite enlightening because it shows how security concerns may be hyped up.