Losing face and its awful consequences

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?

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US.. Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Losing face and its awful consequences

  1. Bob Debilder says:

    I will admit I was so damn proud and happy when i got news that we were inviting those people. Now I feel shame and embarrassment on an entirely new level. They made us look like complete ch*tiyas.

  2. Edelbert Badwar says:

    According to some reports the visa denial was largely procedure related.Even then the conference in Dharamshala went ahead with many Uyghur and Chinese dissidents taking part.I do not agrre that the Modi govt. has bent backwards.

  3. &^%$#@! says:

    Where will it end? In total disaster obviously. What can one say about a PM who debases his Nation’s prestige by continually behaving in this absurd manner:


  4. &^%$#! says:

    Is there a possibility that the MHA withdrew the visa(s) as a knee jerk reaction to a possible Chinese responses of “outing” the connections between the said conference and certain western entities have the unprecedented official favor and support of the powers-that-be in the current Indian dispensation? In any case, alleged story has been “outed”, and at least some of the alleged relations named by Mohan Guruswamy in:


    which has not been challenged. Most people in India were not remotely aware of the material stated in Guruswamy’s article, till it came out. In fact, if one looks closely, Karnad’s article on foreign think tanks:


    is a tour-de-force that takes issue of State sponsored interference by foreign think tanks as mentioned in Guruswamy’s article to an entirely different plane. IMHO, the two articles somewhat complement each other.

  5. andy says:

    Somehow in the Chinese way of doing things,to teach a lesson is seemingly more important than outright victory.The 1962 war with India was ostensibly to teach Nehru a lesson for his forward policy, which was duly accomplished ,but what was more perplexing was that with the Indian Army on the run & whole of northeast India ripe for the taking ,they declared an unilateral cease fire & withdrew back to the positions before the war.This shows their mission was not to capture Indian territory but to heap a humiliation on the Nation as a whole & Nehru in particular, which they did,Nehru never recovered trom this defeat & died a broken man,Indians still suffer from the psychological trauma of the defeat,which reflects in pussyfooting whenever mounting a challenge to China is the imparative.

    Modi seems to be no different, as evidenced by the downsizing of the China specific mountain strike corp within a few days of his China sojourn & still not having transferred the Brahmos missiles to Vietnam after committing to do so.Just running around in circles won’t get us anywhere ,least of all with China .All the cards that India has up its sleeve now need to be brought out including the potent Tibetan freedom struggle,support for the rebels in the restive Xinjiang province as also Brahmos missiles transfer to the south China Sea littoral States.If theres one thing the Chinese respect it’s a strong willed opponent.Can’t afford to look weak kneed in front of them, because basically they are bullies.The best way to stop a bully is to poke him in the eye.For this to happen our politicians will have to muster up a lot of courage & not start prostrating at the first sign of Chinese saber rattling. But they can’t even stick to granting a visa to to DOLKUN ISSA leave alone any other more potent measures.

    • I have a different take. Any kind of humbling of exuberant PM assuming this was all a case of policy decisions driven by PMO will be good for India rather than bad. Modesty is better than hubris which can get us in more troubling situations. Confidence backed by substance is needed rather than one man driven ‘breakthroughs’. Like the Rafael deal & LSA. Personal ego has no place in national interest. Let India/PM not approach world leaders with gift baskets.

      Institutional memory, thorough review of pros and cons of decisions being taken by bureaucratic institutions, transparency about lobbying by self interest groups is needed.

      Take for example the news doing rounds about PM visiting Vatican for coronation of Mother Teresa and possible invitation to the catholic Pope. Who got this into PMs agenda? Why no discussion on Pros and cons of this decision. There was also a photo tweeted by PM getting a cheque from notorious Mr Yohannan of Gospel For Asia from 10/40 window joshua project fame. Why this cosying with evangelists? Whoes interest does it serve?http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/february/lawsuit-gospel-for-asia-misused-donations-gfa-kp-yohannan.html

    • Bob Debilder says:

      China didn’t stop because they didn’t want all that territory. They stopped because Kennedy threatened to nuke China off the face of the planet. After ’62, US-India defense/security cooperation spiked up massively (although much of it was covert), including intelligence sharing in regards to China with the CIA and allowing flights of US spy planes over China from Indian airbases in the East and Northeast.

      • andy says:

        I am unable to upload the link but from an article in the IBtimes it’s clear that there was no overt or covert threat of nuclear attack by the USA to China in 1962 that stopped the war,although the USA had started helping Indian troops by Air dropping arms & supplies using C130 aircraft, it’s more probable that the Chinese had overextended their supply lines & their objective of teaching India a lesson had been accomplished.

        In’ MAY 1963′,according to a report in the press trust of India,Kennedy & his senior military aides including defense secretary Robert McNamara floated the Idea of using nuclear weapons against China IF IT LAUNCHED ANOTHER ATTACK on India-as part of the White House goal to prevent the spread of communism.

        In a book called ‘Listening in:the secret White House recordings of John.F.Kennedy’ written by Ted Widmer & Caroline Kennedy ( the President’s daughter) Kennedy declared at a meeting in the Oval Office with defense aides,including McNamara & Chairman of the joint cheifs of staff General Maxwell Taylor ,”I don’t think there’s any doubt that this country (USA)is determined that we couldn’t permit the Chinese to defeat the Indians,if we would ,we might as well get out of South Korea & Vietnam’.

        McNamara answered his boss by clearly advocating the use of nuclear weapons against China.

        But all this happened a few months after the unilateral withdrawal of Chinese troops.

  6. Chicagodesi says:

    Why can’t this be seen as a gesture to China that remember we can do this but won’t. I feel this is all what India wanted to say China for blocking the UN resolution against Azhar.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      In real life, there is no place for half measures and empty posturing. Not by serious entities at least.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      We already host the world’s most prominent freedom fighting icon in India.

      Either we should have managed the visa issue better (discreetly) or we should have held our stand. How can the PMO not control the bloody press.

      Imports like Rao Inderjit Singh have already made one royal mess. Then these visa rollbacks. How can the govt. allow itself to look like a bunch of ghoshnaveer amateurs. I am already fearing the next US visit.

      Governance inside India is working very well but who the hell is in in-charge in dealings with foreigners. Doesn’t anybody in the whole Sanghi structure have the responsibility to look towards outside.

    • chicagodesi@ — And China, you suppose, will be impressed by this?

  7. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    The rate at which both US and China are throwing their weight around inside and outside India, respectively, I am afraid my long held fear seems to be crawling out of its hole.

    They are tag teaming while our efforts at serving Indian interests is gradually getting reduced to a mullah ki daud between Washingaton and Beijing.

    • &^%$#@! says:


    • May be those writing in this blog think the same way. One of the main themes explored in my book — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ is that the US-China condominium — the G-2, is what India has to oppose with all its might as it will always accord priority to preserving and advancing their joint interest of dominating the intl system and preventing India from rising, and only secondarily to deciding who’s numero uno. The solution for India lies along the lines adumbrated in my writings, namely, to be relentlessly disruptive using any and all means in every region and forum to make the situation as fraught for the US as for China. The strategy, should Delhi have the wit and will for it –which’s doubtful, is to implement the earthy tactics elucidated by US President Lyndon Johnson and piss and keep pissing from the outside into the cosy Sino-US tent, and as a hard-bitten game spoiler make life miserable for the G-2, frustrate their every plan for systemic stability.

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        “To put China’s ownership of U.S. debt in perspective, its holding of $1.2 trillion is even larger than the amount owned by American households.

        U.S. citizens hold only about $959 billion in U.S. debt, according to the Federal Reserve.

        Other large foreign holders of U.S. debt include Japan, which owns $912 billion; the United Kingdom, which owns $347 billion; Brazil, which holds $211 billion; Taiwan, which holds $153 billion; and Hong Kong, which owns $122 billion.”
        Source link : ‘http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/moneymatters/ss/How-Much-US-Debt-Does-China-Own.htm


        For those Indians who cry ‘its the economy, stupid’ when in fact they don’t have a spine (or clue).

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        latest : ‘http://ticdata.treasury.gov/Publish/mfh.txt

        For Feb 2016 end (in billions of dollars)
        1) China, Mainland – 1252.3
        2) Japan – 1133.1
        3) Carib Bkg Ctrs – 361.1
        4) Oil Exporters – 281
        5) Ireland – 255.5
        6) Brazil – 247.3
        7) United Kingdom – 236.5
        8) Switzerland – 236.2
        9) Luxembourg – 208.8
        10) Hong Kong – 201.7
        11) Taiwan – 182.7
        12) Belgium – 143
        13) India – 118.8

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        Basically also why China gets to ‘steal’ military stuff and India fails to likewise ‘steal’ the same stuff.

      • &^%$#@! says:

        China also has the balls to “steal” stuff and has a very competent external and counter intelligence agency. China also has a very talented and large cadre of scientific and technical manpower who are respected and wanted in their own country, who know how to use the so-called “stolen” stuff. In contrast, India has none of these!

      • (*&^%$# says:


  8. &^%$#@! says:

    I suppose that for all his efforts, “someone” will be granted his boyhood dream of getting a Green Card and opening a grocery store in NJ. But the sting is in the scorpions tail. They’ll possibly get Behara or someone like him as the local DA, and have some Khalistani or Islamist group to rack up the bogus Godhra matter. Those who betray their own are often betrayed in turn.

  9. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:


    Yes China has balls to ‘steal’ stuff. Those trillions in held in US debt prove it. But this is more serious than just inability of Indians to actually steal stuff or to be able to use ‘stolen’ stuff. Our R&D capacity is more than enough to be able to use ‘stolen’ stuff. The know hows and know whys have been imparted in Arihant also and they have been acknowledged.

    This plea that the Chinese simply ‘steal’ stuff is only to hoodwink people with strong need to believe.

    Here for example is a list of 108 such ‘stolen’ stuff put up by some ‘random’ Indian (approx. breakup GERMAN = 8, ISRAELI = 5, FRENCH=4, AMERICAN = 26, RUSSIAN = 58)

    Coincidently somebody in the USNI site thought of the same ideas at nearly the same time ‘https://news.usni.org/2015/10/27/chinas-military-built-with-cloned-weapons

    Coincidence? 😛

    But still, even if it is, it is a bit too much of yet other coincidence that nothing changes in designing, production, vendor management, sales, distribution and after sales in at least 5 weapons supplying nations, despite 108+ thefts (the gent failed to mention the W-87 and W-88 ‘thefts’).

    On top of that how come nobody other than the Chinese get to ‘steal’. Surely even within the weapons supplying nations these nations would be more than willing to actually steal stuff off the others.

    Still another thing that bothers me is, how come the british, italians and spanish have nothing of note that is worth ‘stealing’ by the chinese. Makes things a bit too ‘comfortable’ for my Indian ears.

    Anyhow nothing to doubt the superior chinese ability to ‘steal’ and make the ‘stolen’ work for itself. There are things we can learn from them.

  10. &^%$#@! says:

    This statement from:
    was recently brought to my attention. Specifically, “[i] ndia is strictly observing the principle of “reprocess to reuse” whereby reprocessing of the spent fuel and commissioning of fast reactors are being synchronized to preclude any build-up of a plutonium stockpile.”. Does this imply that India has for all practical purposes signed the FMCT?

  11. Venkat says:

    There are some positions like NSA that need to be independent of political leadership. This provides much needed consistency and any ch age of direction needs to be managed carefully.
    Look at US or Europeans , they keep their national interest supreme irrespective of politcal party that comes to power, case point US support to Pakistan for the last few decades.

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