Ambiguous news on the Wang front

The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is in India ostensibly to inspect the arrangements for the BRICS summit in Goa later this year. His more immediate task is to explore just how determined the Modi govt is to stick to the line it has taken on the South China Sea dispute, where India has joined with the US and Japan in urging Beijing to respect the Hague verdict rejecting China’s expansive nine dash line claims in the Sea. It is solidifying of the regional opinion around these Big Three that Beijing wishes to thwart.

He met today with the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, whose brief was to see if Beijing would cede ground on its veto to India’s entry into the Nuclear suppliers Group. Considering, the PMO runs the MEA, Swaraj was on short reins, but implicit in her task was freedom accorded her to hint to Wang that some kind of deal was possible — Beijing’s support for India’s NSG membership in return for New Delhi being less strident on the South China Sea (SCS) issue, because surely it cannot entirely disown the principle of freedom of navigation and the UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) that the International Court of Arbitration upheld.

Wang is here to do just the reverse, extract a promise of support on the SCS while yielding less than nothing on the NSG veto but to talk nevertheless, albeit very vaguely, of a “compromise” in the hope that PM Modi — keen on Chinese investment in Indian infrastructure projects in particular and eager for a BRICS summit success, can be suckered into making concessions.

It is this possibility that ought to worry the Indian people the most. Modi sees the BRICS Goa Meet as a means of balancing his overt tilt to America. But this works to China’s advantage because Beijing will ask for India, at a minimum, remaining “neutral” in the SCS dispute while retaining its veto on NSG, because President Xi Jinping will reasonably surmise that Modi is more in need of Chinese have, than he is in need of India’s on SCS — after all Beijing is dealing directly with Washington to muzzle its backing, for a start, to the Philippines.

Time and again, Modi has sprung a surprise, departed from the agreed upon policy line or game plan, even as Foreign Secretary Jaishankar and his colleagues in MEA in attendance have been nonplussed by the prime minister’s usually wrong moves for the wrong reasons. Sushma may not have committed to anything in the way Wang would have liked her to, but what is crucial are the impressions about the “give” in China’s NSG position that she conveys to Modi. If she mistakes Wang’s ambiguous words — and the Chinese interlocuters since Zhouenlai have been masters of ambiguity, as indicating some movement forward, then Modi may jump to conclusion — and whatever happens in the formal talks — will exercise his uniquely personalized diplomacy in Goa in October to offer what Xi wants in the expectation the Chinese President will reciprocate, when actually he will do nothing of the kind.

Playing the Game on Chinese terms is to be at the losing end. It is best, GOI points out that there is really no connection between the two issues — SCS is a global commons matter of universal concern and affecting global trade, NSG membership is only an Indian concern, and the twain don’t meet. Modi could, however, emphasize how there are many states in the SCS region fearful of China which have approached New Delhi for help and assistance and that with a few of them, such as Vietnam, Indian has direct and substantive energy and other economic interests that need to be protected. It is the scale of naval and military effort India may deploy in SCS that can be calibrated to minimize offence to China while requiring Beijing accommodate India on NSG by abstaining from the vote. This is the only deal that won’t imperil India’s strategic options and interests. Should this be made clear to Wang, and China is found agreeable, Modi will have the plank to grandstand in Goa.

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, disarmament, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Japan, nonproliferation, Northeast Asia, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, UN, United States, US., Vietnam. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Ambiguous news on the Wang front

  1. MS says:

    It appears that Indian govt may have laid the cards to the table already if one were to judge by what a leading newspaper carried- India raises NSG and some terrorist name.

    We are happy with a token support in return for support for one of the biggest strategic move by our neighbour. Then, what do we have to give for a solution to the border boundary in the right way. Nothing.

    I do not know, but the chinese, perhaps, know how we will react and respond. They also have a good idea about our self esteem and keep on verifying the same by making tiny moves and seeing our reaction.

  2. Karavali says:

    India should do a deal only if :

    1) Trade Off possible between Indian entry to NSG and Future Chinese Entry to MTCR.

    2) South China Sea vs Kashmir

  3. Nilesh Salunke says:

    Indian hockey team was clobbered…while the Belgians were endlessly sprinting , our boys were gasping and begging for breath ! i did some follow up on your analysis of Indians not eating enough red meat Mr. Karnad . Forget the training , temperament , facilities, etc . Lets understand the basics .70% of Indian girls and women according to Government statistics , suffer from Anemia ! Even the figure of 13 g/dL considered good in Indian women is lower than good threshold for European women ( 15 g/dL ) . When the mother herself is weak…..Maybe the government should leave aside all taboos and start promoting red meat in a big way like they did with Eggs and milk .

  4. MS says:

    Our leaders know everything because they are travelling the world, but sports is not a priority like it should be. Now see, how we treat our players when they come back home. They won’t have money for paying the doctor’s fee just in a case…

    There is a limit to the frustration. Now is the time to let it go and see how the govt cares for them. They should be accorded free healthcare in the best private hospital in the country and given monthly allowance for life. But they do not have a strong voice. They should be absorbed in the Army or Police and given the benefits. But on a large scale not just for the few. And make them officers not soldiers, if we like medals and want the youth to take up sports.

    But we just do not treat our heroes well, Any man or woman who qualifies for the olmypics should be assured something good for life in this country of 1.2 billion people where there is hyper competition for resources for life.

    Any Johnny could hold a mike and ask Deepika Kumari why she is not scoring 10s. What did this Johnny score in academics at school or in sports?

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