We need a new China policy in the new world order
There is a clear China-Pakistan coalition and I am not sure if the government’s virtual silence on the matter is due to discretion or ostrich-like ignorancecolumns Updated: Apr 30, 2016 23:21 IST
When the NDA government first issued and then withdrew a visa to Chinese dissident leader Dolkun Isa last month, it was a tangle twice over — and a grim reminder that for India’s symbolic elephant, countering the Chinese dragon is as difficult as embracing it. India-China relations have a chequered history, and the faux-pas only brought into focus the need to calibrate relations with Beijing. It is a conundrum with several equations to be resolved. I would call it the algebra of 21st century geopolitics.
Some of this has its roots in the Bandung conference of 1955, in which China and India warmed up and laid the foundations of the Non-Aligned Movement. That was also the “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” phase of the Nehru era. The subsequent flight of the Dalai Lama in 1959 to India queered the pitch for the two and the bitter fall-out of the 1962 war has left the festering wound of a border dispute.
All of that came back to haunt New Delhi this month, exactly 61 years after the Bandung conference, as if to suggest nothing has changed. But the truth is that a lot has changed while some things have not, and this requires diplomatic jugglery of a kind that the Modi government seems to find difficult.
Isa was invited for a conference at Dharamshala, the abode of the Tibetan government in exile, and you cannot expect Beijing to take kindly to an axis involving a man it calls a terrorist — though to the world he is a pro-democracy leader. Later in the week, Lu Jinghua, a well-known Tiananmen activist, said she was about to board a flight from New York when she was told her Indian visa was off.
India has become a strategic ally of the US, but China is no longer a fellow developing country like it was in the 1950s. From all indications, the Dharamshala conference had some Western blessing, which proves tricky. India needs to revisit the spirit of Bandung to be somewhat non-aligned in the China-US equations. I have reasons to believe New Delhi, instead of maintaining a measured equidistance, is falling between two stools.
This is a pity because a great start was made two years ago.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted President Xi Jinping in 2014 in a visit that began on Modi’s birthday. Eight months later, Modi went to China in a visually inspiring visit that saw him pose with the famous terracotta warriors at Xi’an.
But the Silk Route is decidedly slippery, and here is where hard facts intervene. India, Pakistan, China and the US now form a four-cornered trapezium in geopolitics. China and the US, the US and India, and India and China form separately significant economic alliances. On the other hand, Nepal and Pakistan have never hesitated to cosy up to China.
What last month’s events show is a decisive tilt that China has towards Pakistan. Its special equation with Maoist-tinted Nepal towers like the Everest, and needs no elaboration. The key point is that India’s friendship with the distant US cannot be allowed to spoil its neighbourhood peace. All the more so because the US heads for a tumultuous presidential race in which Donald Trump’s rise as the Republican nominee is a big X factor in international relations.
Current events show India needs to be extra alert — but the kind of pussyfooting about we have witnessed between the South Block, which houses the ministry of external affairs, and the North Block, which houses the finance and home ministries, shows a state of drift.
Tongues are wagging that the flip-flop on Dolkun Isa was to pre-empt any embarrassment that President Pranab Mukherjee may face during his scheduled visit to China this month. Surely, this must have been factored in earlier in the calculations?
Beijing, which blocked India’s attempts to declare Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar as an international terrorist at the UN, describes the issue as a bilateral one between New Delhi and Islamabad. That probably won’t wash if Azhar’s details were compared with those of Isa, but we are evidently constrained.
May I gently remind all that China took Aksai Chin in Kashmir after the 1962 war and in that sense is a part of the Kashmir problem and hence had to act more responsibly. But I am only too aware of China’s famous silence and stubborn action on critical matters. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and his counterpart held border talks this month with claims of progress but Beijing is not even including Aksai Chin there.
Now, shift the focus to Pakistan, where army chief Raheel Sharif has been raising his profile. He accuses India of challenging the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which will partly cover Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The corridor will connect to Pakistan’s Gwadar deep sea port, where Chinese workers are busy building infrastructure facilities. Sharif’s raising the pitch against India can be directly linked to Chinese aid. The $46 billion promised by China is three times the amount Pakistan got as FDI in all of the past decade.
Let us shift attention to the economy. Indian IT companies and traders are active in China, while a host of consumer and mobile phone brands and equipment makers like Huawei are active in India. But there is the persistent complaint of India’s small and medium enterprises being hit by Chinese imports. Tyre manufacturers also want the government to impose an anti-dumping duty on Chinese imports. As a signatory to WTO rules, India cannot ban Chinese goods, commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman rightly told angry MPs last Monday. But on that very day, some electronic items, milk products and some steel products were banned over quality concerns. This can at best be called tinkering.
Why do I get this uneasy feeling that we seem helpless on so many fronts in dealing with the Chinese dragon? There is a clear China-Pakistan coalition and I am not sure if the government’s virtual silence on the matter is due to discretion or ostrich-like ignorance. There is a need for a clear-cut China policy, keeping in mind the Pakistan axis, uncertainties in the US and threats to India’s economic welfare in a multilateral world.
Like I said, this requires an algebraic clarity. Maybe I can pun on myself for relief, and say we need a true “Chinakyaniti” for a new world. Sovereignty is supreme, and a healthy dose of responsible self-interest on the economic front may not be a bad thing after all.