Nothing is more degrading in the Chinese mindview and cultural outlook than to lose face to a foreigner or in, international affairs, to a foreign country. By the same token to induce loss of face in an adversary is the ultimate triumph as token of acknowledgement by the rival of one’s superior status. Beijing managed to do just this, compel New Delhi to back down on the issue of visas to political dissidents which, as stated in an earlier post, does not fall within the purview of Interpol’s red corner notice. The BJP government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has still not realized the magnitude of disaster it has brought on with its rank kowtow to China.
The question is how did this happen? The scapegoating of Home Ministry by MEA for this entirely avoidable self-inflicted diplomatic and political self-goal and injury is laughable were the consequences not so far reaching. So,let’s deconstruct this GOI decision because, make no mistake, this was largely a PMO decision.
Is it even conceivable that the matter of visas to the Uyghur dissident Dolkun Isa and the two human rights campaigners from HongKong was thought up independently by MEA? No. So this was an exclusively PMO initiative and apparently NSA Ajit Doval’s brainwave. If the MEA is implicated it is to the extent of Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar okaying such a move by PMO. It is reasonable to assume that the Indian Ambassador in Beijing, Vijay Gokhale, who unlike Jaishankar is a China specialist and Mandarin speaker and, who senior intel officers claim would have approved of such a move in case he was consulted by the FS.
So the responsibility is squarely Doval’s who has no expertise re: China, but who was quick to assume the responsibility that other NSAs, such as Shivshankar Menon, have for, say, negotiating a border resolution despite his being a neophyte in the field, and has now created this quite enormous mess. Wasn’t he aware of Chinese sensitivities and, if he was, and still proceeded, seeing the Isa visa as a symbolic retaliation against China’s unending provocations, was he then prepared to weather the inevitable storm? Let’s presume he was. So far so fine. So how and why did GOI do an about turn and hugely compound the problem by withdrawing the visas to Isa, et al under Chinese pressure?
Did Doval get PM’s assent for the Isa invite? Likely. But Modi cannot be expected to weigh any decision without being informed of the pros and cons, in which case Doval’s articulation of the +ives and -ves was crucial. Whether he did or not, once the decision was made, Modi has to own it. That is our scheme of things, every decision, especially those that blow up in New Delhi’s face, is ultimately PM’s responsibility. However, having made the decision — however it got made — to resile from it, and cravenly to buckle under the weight of Beijing’s indignation was far, far worse. Who is responsible for that?
Considering the flow of events so far — assuming this is what actually transpired — once China reacted badly to the Isa visa issue and it became an international cause celebre, it was, in all probability, Modi alone who decided to cut his losses and protect his hot line to the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, whose promises of investment in infrastructure, etc he is relying on. This way out was the prudent thing to do, Modi perhaps thought, than to bask in the the momentary glow of cocking a snook at Beijing. Except being obviously ignorant of the importance of “face” and particularly of “saving” it in the Chinese universe, his hurried decision to make amends and keep Isa and other “troublemakers” out has amounted in effect to handing China an enormous political victory, and India a substantive reduction in its value. Next time Modi meets Xi just watch how much more puffed up and pro-consular the latter will be in his attitude for slapping down the former — leader of the “Western kingdom” as India is depicted in Chinese legends and lore. The hurt to India’s reputation will, like radioactive fallout, spread outwards through Asia.
May be the Indian government and politicians are so used to compromising national honour, this is another small incident — who cares. But this loss of face will matter. Beijing now knows that India can be badgered, bullied, and threatened into falling in line and compelled to follow its line. This is only the latest in the series of foreign policy downs and downs characterized by New Delhi’s bowing to China’s warnings one day, doing things to please the US the next. Messrs Modi & Doval seem to alight on ever newer and more novel ways for India to debase itself. Where will it end?