It was not unexpected that China would yet again come in the way of Indian efforts at the United Nations (UN) to ban Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar, who New Delhi blames as the mastermind of the Pathankot airbase attack in January.
This time, just before the deadline was to end, they moved the UN committee, that is considering a ban on the chief of the Pakistan-based terror outfit JeM, to keep the designation on hold.
That amounts to no surprise though the move coincided with the visit of a Pakistan joint investigation team to India to probe the Pathankot attack and Islamabad admitting to the role of JeM.
This also brings to the fore the state of India-China ties that has slipped into a terrain of lethargy after showing the promise of a jump-start under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi showed exemplary political courage by according a public reception to visiting Chinese president Xi Jinping in September 2014, something no Indian leader dared to do after the 1962 war. Modi displayed exceptional pragmatism when he announced, perhaps symbolically to a group of Japanese journalists first, that India would become a founding member of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The bank is seen as a counter to Japan-dominated, US-influenced lending institutions like Asian Development Bank. India was a founding member of the ADB, too.
But, the promise of turning a new leaf in the ties with China is now teetering because of the lack of new ideas and energy. A set of challenging geopolitical issues has also confounded the situation.
India shares a 3488-km border with China. It has an unsettled boundary with its biggest neighbour and one of the largest trading partner. The bilateral trade was an impressive $71.2 billion in 2015 though the trade deficit was an alarming $51.8 billion.
The UPA government had said cooperation and competition are the two sides of the same coin in the India-China ties. It wanted to build on the convergences and narrow down the difference, as often cited by the then national security adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon.
However, a set of geopolitical realities has changed the familiar narrative in dealing with China. That China is an all-weather ally of Pakistan is a cliche. But the way the China-Pakistan economic ties shaping up of late, including a proposed $46 billion economic corridor that would run through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), and the pace with which two countries are moving on in Afghanistan have brought new dimensions to Indian challenges. The bonhomie in China-Nepal ties is also something New Delhi has to look at beyond the usual foreign office dismissal of ‘not being in the comparison business’.
Prudence, so far, has guided India’s South China Sea policy. But the recent developments, where India is getting more vocal on the issue hasn’t gone down well with Beijing. It would do India a lot of good if it exercises caution in ample amount rather than seen as being led by the US on the issue. The US has no compulsions of geography, unlike India.
The truism that good economic ties ward off political tussle doesn’t apply in disputes involving China. Most countries that have territorial issues with China have Beijing as their top trading partner. The Japan-China trade is as good as Japan-US trade.
So, it calls for a more balanced view on issues like South China sea on India’s part rather than taking any position in the future that would breed more Chinese suspicion. The Russia-China ties are stronger than before, which again affects in India’s maneuverability with Moscow vis-a-vis Beijing.
Addressing the India-China business forum in Shanghai in May last year Prime Minister Modi said, “As two major economies in Asia, the harmonious partnership between India and China is essential for economic development and political stability of the continent.”
Injecting new energy into the ties while understanding each other’s concerns is the only way to realise that vision.
The writer tweets @jayanthjacob