Foreign policy is not about whining. To my mind, a policy of cribbing and complaining about what other countries are doing is actually a non-policy. Just like voters junked the ‘India shining’ slogan in 2004, the ‘India whining’ school of diplomacy should be given short shrift.
An influential and influenced body of strategic thinkers would like us to believe that the Chinese are engaged in the very successful task of undercutting India in South Asia.
After all, aren’t they engaged in building the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka? Aren’t they building roads in Tibet? Don’t they want to sign a friendship treaty with Nepal? What about their growing influence in Bangladesh?
If it was Southeast Asia 10 years ago, it’s South Asia today. The fear-mongers would have us believe that Chinese influence is chipping away at India’s stature in our immediate neighbourhood at an alarming rate.
Back then, it was about China’s role in Myanmar and in Cambodia and Laos. Influenced from outside, India’s response was the uninspiring Mekong Ganga Cooperation initiative, which seems to have encountered a natural death.
Let’s look at Myanmar. India, like it or not, remains important in Myanmar. Each time the military junta misbehaves — and that’s pretty often — the West turns to India (and China) in an effort to reason with the generals. That’s because India has continued its engagement with the generals in Myanmar notwithstanding China’s obvious advantages.
But, in my view, India’s new foreign policy model has to be Afghanistan. Since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001, India has contributed $1.2 billion towards Afghanistan’s development; constructing among other things the Zaranj-Delaram highway and the Pul-e-Khumri-Kabul power transmission line.
I will leave the many successes of India’s Afghanistan policy to South Block spokespersons to explain, but the larger point is that India is a major player in Afghanistan. Its counsel is sought and its word carries weight in Kabul.
Unlike whining about what others were doing, India has systematically gone about the task of carving a role for itself in Afghanistan. Delhi’s Afghan profile hasn’t been the result of words, but actions.
India is right in the middle of any international discussion on Afghanistan, a position that it has earned for itself by proactively pursuing a pro-Afghan policy.
Here’s the bottom line: you can’t prevent other countries, big or small, from cooperating with each other. So, rather than worry about what China is doing, India must go ahead and do what it has to do.
China’s strategic posture towards India, reflected in Beijing’s decision to create problems inside the Nuclear Suppliers Group last year, cannot be ignored. It was a posture that was corrected, but not before a lot of pressure was applied.
Today, China is India’s largest trading partner. Trade between the two countries crossed $50 billion in 2008. Both countries have a vested interest in keeping their relations on an even keel at a time when the rest of the world is gripped by a severe economic recession.
Notwithstanding our outstanding border dispute with China, there hasn’t been a single fatality on either side since the mid-1970s. That’s an achievement in itself because of the fundamental disagreements on the border and the Line of Actual Control between the two sides.
Our political systems are starkly different; there’s little in common between how the Indian and Chinese media operate. Language, of course, is a major barrier but as contacts between the two peoples grow, this barrier will be bridged.
In any case, the Indian establishment remains extremely wary about China. It’s unlikely that such a view is going to change in a hurry, given the strength of the national security view within government structures.
For those worried about the ghosts of 1962 here’s a message. There is nothing in common between India’s defence preparedness in 1962 and 2009. We are a country armed to the teeth and can take care of ourselves.
Let’s show confidence in dealing with China; not remain fearful of engagement. For long, the discourse has been dominated by what the Chinese were doing to our economy, now it’s moved to what they are doing in South Asia.
As a nation, we need to stop whining and stop talking about China as a threat. If China is really a threat, then we need to talk less about it and strengthen ourselves more.