Some of us were hoping against hope that Prime Minister would gird up his courage and formally invite Japan to participate in the annual Malabar naval exercise involving the Indian and the US Navies to be conducted later this year, and to join in its planning. It was not to be, he buckled under pressure from MEA, which has always been extraordinarily careful not give offence to China, even as the Zhongnanhai (the Chinese policy complex) has never cared about India’s concerns and interests when announcing a slate of military aid and development assistance projects, in the Northern Areas — Gilgit, Hunza, and Baltistan, part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu & Kashmir occupied by Pakistan since 1947 and hence very much a territory India has claimed, but as I repeatedly said, never made a fuss about.
This is a repeat occurrence because the Congress party coalition govt had similarly invited Japanese naval planners some years back to partake of the Malabar Exercise planning, thought better of it, and at the last possible moment rescinded the entire planning exercise, after the US and Japanese naval officers were already in town! That such lily-livered decision would ensue from Narendra Modi as well, is something of a shock.
But by now it is clear Modi heeds bureaucratic advice even when it goes against the national interest. On this occasion, rather than exercise his own judgement and sense of realpolitik, and over-rule the MEA and make a big show of welcoming Japan into the grouping of Malabar naval powers, a day before flying off to Xian, which would have sent a powerful message to Xi that this is not anymore the India of Manmohan Singh. Instead, Modi has once again proved that he simply doesn’t have the gumption to stand up to Beijing. He will undoubtedly receive a warmer embrace from Xi and a noisier welcome.
The MEA’s action of calling in the Chinese ambassador yesterday to protest Chinese Karakoram Highway project passing through the Northern Areas, was obviously an afterthought to still the expected criticism of the decision to keep Japan out of Malabar. Japanese Admirals who, uncharacteristically, have often publicly voiced their frustration with India in various forums during their visits to New Delhi, will now have an extra reason to feel let down. The Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe, who has invested much political capital in courting India will begin to worry about this investment turning bad. Modi may well permit the Japanese navy officers to join in the tripartite Malabar planning scheduled for sometime in July. But by then, India and Modi will have missed the stage and the occasion to make a strong statement. Besides, such restraint will confirm India’s standing to ASEAN states, and even Australia, as a country that cannot be relied on when the going gets tough.
As stated in the preceding blog, weak geostrategics and the strategic vision deficiency of the country is a deadly combination. It will keep India tethered to smallness of endeavor and aspiration, and provide proof of India as a fairly inconsequential power.
The odds-on bet is that Modi will return, as his predecessors did after their sessions of kowtow in Beijing, with nothing much to show for his forbearance and supposed tactfulness in not upsetting China, except some small favours that the Chinese Emperor has always bestowed on weak states that accept China’s supremacy.