A year before the next general elections, it is dawning on the Modi government that it has nothing much to show for the Prime Minister’s extensive travels all over the globe, whence the desperation-tinged diplomatic activity to fashion something out of thin air and that too with the sternest negotiator in the business — China!
The suddenly announced “informal summit” in Wuhan involving Modi and Xi Jinping on April 27-28, is presumably the vehicle that is supposed to get some results that Modi can crow about and Xi can hold up as the kind of transaction the Chinese supremo can extract out of a nettlesome country on its border with pretensions to become a “leading power” (of originally US description)! Except, this coach is likely to turn, as in Cinderella’s case, into a pumpkin ere the clock strikes twelve or, as in this case, when the meeting at Xi’s private resort on East Lake ends with nothing in Modi’s bag!
That absolutely nothing will come out of this summit is hinted at by the prefix “informal” attached to it. It means basically that even though the two governments tried desperately hard to narrow the differences on the numerous outstanding issues in which the two sides have a stake, nothing was able to be worked out, not between the Foreign Offices, nor at the level of the Foreign Ministers, Sushma Swaraj and Wang Yi, or Defence Ministers, Nirmala Sitharaman and General Wei Fenghe. And that it is now left to the principals to conjure up something.
What must particularly bother Modi is that time and again, in the run-up to the 2014 elections, he talked of “business” being in his “blood” which led the Indian people to expect, among lot else, that he’d also be extremely successful in cutting a whole bunch of deals to economically advantage the country. In the last four years the only deal the Prime Minister has managed to finalize is the $12 billion plus contract for 36 Rafale combat aircraft, an outlay for which France had previously promised 126 of these aircraft! This looks like a great deal. For France! So may be the French President Francoise Hollande deserves the award for champion businessman and deal-maker.
The question that arises in the face of such conspicuous failure is why Modi has failed? Perhaps he relied too much on his trademark hugs and embraces to personalize diplomacy to a point where he hoped the opposite numbers, succumbing to the charms of good fellowship, would up and generously agree to whatever Modi had in mind to obtain. The simpletonish premise here is that if you are physically pally with someone that person is somehow duty bound to be nice to you (which is subcontinental kind of thinking). Except, as hard politicians just about every one of them kept to the true north represented by their nations’ interests and succeeded in pulling Modi over to their side rather than going over to Modi’s. This has happened frequently enough to now be a pattern.
Consider this: Trump humoured Modi and gamely accepted his embraces in Washington and then stuck it into India — constricting the H1B visa worm hole through which a generation of Indian Indian techies — economic refugees with technical skills, had squirmed through with their careerist wives to the good life in America, imposing tariffs on imports from India (steel and aluminum), rejecting Delhi’s advice to return to WTO table, and readying legislatively to punish India for dealing with Iran, and for buying arms from Russia. And all this while Modi hoped that by tagging on to the American line, accepting Washington’s advice, he’d get something out of the US.
Or, China and Xi: the Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale — a Mandarin-speaking diplomat — the kind this analyst has always warned as more likely to further China’s interests than India’s — was permitted cravenly to seek approval from Beijing for putting the clamps on the Dalai Lama by preventing the Tibetan exile community from celebrating 60 years of his safe exile in India. This was obviously seen as a sweetener in the hope that this gesture would soften the Chinese attitude and negotiating stance on numerous issues. Messrs Gokhale and others of his China loving ilk should have known that this would only whet Beijing’s appetite, which is exactly what has happened.
Having correctly gauged that Modi was in urgent need of some success in the external realm, the Xi dispensation laid out the agenda. Foreign Minister Wang wants India to sign on along with China as a “guardian of globalism” and jointly work out means and measures to oppose Trump’s protectionist policies. Global trade is, of course, good for India but shouldn’t Modi demand that Xi eliminate the trade deficit of $50 billion in bilateral trade and accord Indian companies in China the same treatment as Chinese firms in India enjoy? And if Beijing fails, to impose harsher but indirect counter-taxes to equalize the economic opportunity, and to keep China out of the RCEP benefits basket unless that happens instead of Delhi always playing the sap and sucker?
But there’s no hint that Xi will concede even a millimeter on matters of interest to India, in the main, the expeditious resolution of the border dispute and delineation of the Line of Actual Control as the formal boundary, and the acceptance of ‘One India’ in return for Delhi’s agreeing to the ‘One China’ concept; ‘One India’ to include the boundaries f the erstwhile princely kingdom of Kashmir meaning, ipso facto, Gilgit and Baltistan and the rest of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. And that if Xi does not agree with this, then India would instantly withdraw from its earlier agreed position of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) as part of China — which historically it never was, a fact proven by the Great Ming Unification Record of 1461. (Incidentally, the conclusions of his revealing research into China’s imperial records going as far back as Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and up to the Ming Dynasty ,1368-1644, were conveyed by Professor Hon-shiang Lau, formerly of the University of Hong Kong, in his lecture at the India International Centre on April 11, 2018, among the most enlightening this analyst has ever heard anywhere.) This research makes nonsense of the traditional Chinese claim of Tibet as part of China “since antiquity”, because it shows that “antiquity” means only as far back as the Yuan emperors in the Middle Ages, and then only to strengthen the point the Tibetan govt in exile has been making from the beginning that Tibet was never part of imperial China and was so acknowledged by the Emperors!
Indeed, the Great Unification Records–are documents clearly describing the exact extent of the Chinese Empire, listing all the regions within it, that the dispensation of each emperor prepared anew are clear in identifying Tibet as lying WELL OUTSIDE the Chinese imperial domain.
Shouldn’t Mandarin-speaking Foreign Service officers, who busy themselves with useless work, not be tasked with researching into these documents to buttress India’s case for a rethink on Tibet? (Communist Beijing’s explanation for this is — according to Prof Lau –that, oh, the Qing and successor emperors “had not educated” themselves on Tibet!!! On such historical nonsense are China’s territorial claims based. Shouldn’t Modi bring this up and his government hereafter draw up a legal case to separate Tibet from China?
Because of the wrongheaded orientation of his government from the start — Modi will likely be fobbed of by Xi with some infirm commitment about Beijing perhaps reconsidering its India’s case for membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group — a cartel that I have long argued will restrict India’s freedom for policy maneuver and to exercise leverage in the nonproliferation field for a change instead of always being victimised by the NPT regime; and about declaring Azhar Mahmood a terrorist,and some small understanding that PLA will not start a flareup in Dok La and elsewhere on the LAC that could give the Indian army a bloody nose and sink Modi’s re-election chances. Modi will return happy with this kind of small giveaways that he will then ballyhoo as some great achievement. If the Modi government thinks that the Gagan Shakti kind of military exercise (11,000 sorties, 6 sorties per platform per day) will impress, it should think again. They should recall that in 1958 when a joint air-army exercise was staged in Ambala for a visiting Chinese dignitary who led the PLA in the 1962 War, complete with Hunter aircraft on strafing sorties, the PLA commander coolly turned to ask Nehru if he thought aircraft would be available to the Indian army in the mountains!
That Xi is the hardest negotiator Modi has met is evident from a simple fact: Modi never tried to hug Xi — if he did, he must have done so in secret because there are no pics of this momentous embrace on film. That’s because Modi instinctively understands that Xi is a hard nut to crack, as have been the other foreign leaders he has summitted with, except the Chinese leader is unwilling to give Modi even the satisfaction of a hug that as far as Modi is concerned signals to the Indian masses and media greater understanding and level of intimacy than exists in reality with leaders who push their national interests in extremis, even as Indian PMs are happy with pats on their back, while the country gets it in the neck.
The “informal” Modi-Xi summit is hence a lot of hoo-ha amounting to nothing.