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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

Assess Modi-Xi meet at Brics summit in post-Doklam reality

Coming on the heels of the Doklam standoff, the Xi-Modi meet underscored importance of the Brics vision of the two leaders, and the respective roles of India and China in Asian security

opinion Updated: Sep 08, 2017 13:01 IST
Kapil Kak
Kapil Kak
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping, BRICS summit in Xiamen, China, September 5, 2017
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping, BRICS summit in Xiamen, China, September 5, 2017(AP)

The press briefing by foreign secretary S Jaishankar, on the Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping meeting at Xiamen after the BRICS summit, did not reveal anything substantial. What it did, however, underscore is that India and China are ready to work together to enhance mutual trust and strengthen bilateral relations.

While the countries seemed focused on “constructive and forward-looking” approach with the Astana consensus on not letting differences turn into disputes duly plugged in, the two Asian giants made sure that not too many details of the meeting — the first such apex level interaction following the 73-day standoff at Doklam — were divulged. To be sure, the meeting did reinforce the larger vision of Brics and recent summit deliberations that impact both India and China.

The meeting took place in the backdrop of a long and rough patch of major differences and accompanying tensions within the prevalent power asymmetry that clearly favours China. These include China’s ambitious One Belt One Road project, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, India’s longstanding bid for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group, and the Doklam crisis.

At Doklam, India not only displayed resolute political stamina but exhibited classical attributes of a great power in so dexterously conflating military gumption with strategic restraint. This alone served to compel China to vacate its illegal intrusion there —a development that was unambiguously perceived as a strategic setback for China. While resisting the temptation to gloat, India’s standing as a power of consequence and “security re-assurer” to its immediate and strategic neighbourhood has gathered immense traction. Viewed in the context of China’s belligerent “island-making and occupation” policy in South China Sea having remained uncontested all these months and years by regional powers, including the United States, India’s message to the region and the world has been driven home.

The hour-long Modi-Xi meeting needs to be analysed not only against the background of the Brics summit but also global geopolitical mega trends which the two leaders would have doubtless addressed. The US, under President Donald Trump, is today a very uncertain nation given to too many yo-yos. Its penchant for protectionism can only be countered by India and China acting together through emphasis on globalisation.

A US exit from the Paris agreement on climate change where India, China, France and Germany are embracing new impulses is another big-ticket dimension of congruence. An economically and strategically weakened Russia is piggy-backing on a rising China bent upon projecting its power globally. The two together could cut deals with adverse consequential impact on India. Japan continues to be on a deflationary path and its objective to play a stronger defence role in Asia-Pacific isn’t translating into tangibles. The EU is also raising more questions than it can answer. These developments point to the need for India to play its strategic and foreign policy cards dexterously because a “tri-polar” Asia of the 2020s-2050s (with China and US as other key players) would demand far greater strategic heavy-lifting by it.

The Xiamen Modi-Xi conversations provided a key opportunity for them to follow-up on the Brics joint declaration expressing concerns about the violent activities of Pakistan-based terrorist groups Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Haqqani network among others. Xi came on board here not out of a change of heart or “look-good-globally” impulse, but to put a perceptional stamp of statesmanship on his leadership just prior to the upcoming party congress. And not least due to the pressures of business-centric apex communist party leadership which perceive India’s huge market as far more important than Pakistan and North Korea, seen as diplomatic liabilities.

India’s security and foreign policy wonks also weighed in during months-long negotiations with their Chinese counterparts. Press reports suggest negotiations for the Doklam stand down and likely Brics joint declaration went in tandem. Vladimir Putin (Russia), Michel Temer (Brazil) and Jacob Zuma (South Africa) also played a critical role: During restricted talks, they condemned unequivocally terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and strongly reiterated that all Brics countries are victims of terrorism. This left China with no option but to go along with the joint declaration marking a departure from its stance at the Brics summit in Goa, even as it went along with naming JeM and LeT at the Heart of Asia ministerial meeting at Amritsar in December 2016.

The impact of the transformed Chinese stance on terrorism on the China-Pakistan bilateral remains to be seen. It may be too early for India to pop the bubbly given the depth of the China-Pakistan strategic partnership. Pakistan now faces a “triple whammy” of pressures on its decades-long pursuit of terrorism as a security policy tool. Not surprisingly, Pakistan has condemned the US, China and India in the same breath. There is also no clarity on whether the naming of India- and Afghanistan-centric terrorist groups by Brics marks a change in Beijing’s position of stonewalling the UN Security Council initiatives to name Masood Azhar as a global terrorist. It is more than likely that this issue was discussed during the Modi-Xi meeting. Pyongyang’s testing of a hydrogen bomb — its sixth and most powerful till date — provided a “nuclear weapon gun salute” to the Brics summit, deeply embarrassing China. Modi and Xi would have exchanged perspectives on this key issue as well

In sum, the Xi-Modi meeting underscored importance of the Brics vision of the two leaders, Astana consensus on not letting differences become disputes, their respective roles in Asian security in which peace and tranquillity constitute the pre-requisite.

How the two sides would manage simultaneity of cooperation and competition and yet enhance mutual trust and strengthen bilateral relations on a forward looking and constructive pathway to the future are issues on which the jury is out.

Kapil Kak is a retired air vice marshal and a strategic policy analyst

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Sep 08, 2017 13:01 IST

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