In the last two days alone, Chinese President Xi Jinping has called India an ancient, magic, enchanting, and beautiful land. And Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reciprocated with syrupy adjectives, reminding visiting journalists how ancient Chinese technology was responsible for sugar being called cheeni in India.

The pictures of the two leaders’ bonhomie on Wednesday went even further. By the time you get to the sight of Modi and Xi sitting on a swing by the Sabarmati, most would imagine that India and China are steadfast allies who support each other through thick and thin.

Which is why it might be worth pointing out that we don’t actually like each other very much, and that Indians and Chinese people have very different intentions for the bilateral relationship. And it’s not just about the trade deficit and the border disputes. Ordinary Indians and Chinese people simply aren’t sure whether they like each other.

Surveys conducted by the Pew Research’s Global Attitudes Project made this point evident. The favourability ratings of both Indians and Chinese towards each other barely goes over the 30% mark. That might seem like a reasonable amount, except for the fact that the United States – which one would at least expect to be given short shrift in China – getting more than 50% favourable ratings by those surveyed in both countries.

The survey also looked closer at what sort of relationship Indians are hoping to have with China, and again, the results show little of the gushing optimism that has drenched the Modi-Xi meeting in Ahmedabad, on the Indian prime minister’s birthday, no less.

Very few Indians even want to acknowledge that China is a major economic power or that it is important to have strong ties with it. Only about 21% of Indians would want China to be more of a partner with us. And, understandably considering its past with the country, one in two Indians consider China a major threat.

This worry is reflected in the editorial coverage from either side as well. The Indian commentary has focused on ensuring India is not “strangled by China’s bear hug” and calling on Modi to stand firm on national security concerns. (The Hindu, of course, called it a “historic opportunity”).

Over in China, however, the commentary has been much more about what further relations between the two countries will mean for the rest of the world. Global Times writes of the enormous strategic value that Sino-Indian cooperation has for India (not China) and insists that such a relationship cannot replace the bilateral connection New Delhi has with any other country.
“The friendship between these two big neighbors will constitute a fundamental condition for other diplomatic endeavors, especially true for India today. The better China-India relations develop, the more advantages and initiatives India can have when dealing with the US and Japan,” the Chinese daily wrote in an editorial.

A columnist writing in China Daily, meanwhile, called on New Delhi not to fall for attempts from other local players to use India as a counterbalancing weight against Beijing. “Regional actors having strained ties with China are also keen on seeing India play a strategically counterbalancing role," it said. "Similar examples are found in South Asia when Pakistan and Bangladesh repeatedly refer to close ties with China in veiled efforts to irk India. Both countries need to ignore efforts by others to create misunderstanding and strategic mistrust.”

Nevertheless, the closer ties between the two countries has raised hackles with a third nation that shares borders with both: Pakistan. An editorial in the country’s biggest financial daily makes it very clear what Pakistan thinks about Xi’s India visit, especially after he decided to put off an expected appearance in Islamabad.

“Xi's India visit (and not coming to Pakistan) should not come as a rude shock to Pakistani public," said the Business Recorder. "China and India fought a border war long ago, but they now have deep and mutual economic stakes. India's biggest trading partner is China. The two countries were recently described by the Chinese foreign minister as "natural partners."
There's a lesson for Pakistan: look inwards and constructively engage with your neighbours. Through the visit postponement, President Xi may be advising Pakistanis the same.”