[Still no doubts, Mr Modi?]
One cannot but admire how smoothly and with what relish the supremo-for-life, Xi Jinping, and his Zhongnanhai are playing Modi, aided and abetted by the Çhina-wallahs — the Mandarin-speaking section of the country’s diplomatic corps headed by foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale. This mini-summit on the sidelines of the SCO meet in Chingdao was supposedly to further the “Wuhan” agenda. Chingdao confirmed what was evident after Wuhan — the last one-on-one meet by the East Lake-side — that Delhi is being taken for a ride.
At Wuhan, so at Chingdao, if Prime Minister Modi raised any troubling issues — unbalanced and unequal trade, and the matter of the de facto Chinese recognition of Pakistan’s claims on Gilgit-Baltistan and, by extension, on all of Jammu & Kashmir in contravention of Beijing’s commitment vide the 1963 Ayub Khan-Zhouenlai agreement. The territorial compromise Pakistan made was to cede certain parts of the Aksai Chin under Islamabad’s control to China pending formal and final solution for the dispute over the erstwhile “princely kingdom” of Kashmir. So, no final Kashmir solution in sight, and, legally, there should be no Chinese projects, such as the Belt Road Initiative-China-Pakistan Corridor and a Division strong PLA force present in Baltistan ostensibly to safeguard the CPEC construction. The final Chingdao statement says nothing about any of these issues other than the stock, tiresome, reference to continuing with the Special Representative-level talks to resolve the border dispute which has not moved an inch at any level over the last 70 years. The Baltistan-BRI issue, for example, was raised by MEA in talks leading up to Chingdao but was contemptuously swatted away by Beijing. The important thing to note is Modi did not raise hell about the lack of movement on ANY of these issues of concern to India.
So, what has the Prime Minister come away with? Well, if truth be told, with crumbs. Consider the Chinese giveaways — permission for India to sell short-grained “sticky rice” grown in Assam and the Indian northeast, a promise to release hydrographic data for Yarlung-Tsangpo River that becomes the Brahmaputra at the great bend before entering Arunachal Pradesh — part of which China claims as “southern Tibet” — this data becoming necessary because of the mighty civil works China has already built and is continuing to build to divert this river northwards to supply its water-starved provinces, all the while assuring Delhi — starting from when there were no dams and hydroelectric projects whatsoever — that it would act as a responsible upper riparian state mindful of the lower riparian countries — India and Bangladesh. And, mind you, this promise of hydrographic data is as per a previous accord Beijing did not respect and according to which it had to periodically pass on this data, but did not. The water flow in the Brahmaputra has reduced and will reduce once the Chinese network of dams and civil works is fully realized by more than 30%, endangering downstream riverine Indian and Bangladeshi economies. Incidentally, an upper riparian state hindering the flow of life-giving water can, under international law, be a cause for war. The reason Delhi is letting Beijing have its ways is, presumably, to not weaken its case in the west. India’s constructions on the upper western rivers passing through Indian Kashmir but allotted Pakistan per the Indus Water Treaty are a point of contention, and if Delhi protests Chinese constructions upstream of Brahmaputra then it’d weaken the Indian case regarding the dams/hydroelectric plants (Baglihar, Kishanganga, etc.) built in Kashmir on the Jhelum. The difference between the eastern and western scenarios that Delhi has insufficiently emphasized is the fact that China makes no bones about their constructions stopping and diverting the Brahmaputra water even as Delhi claims its dams in Kashmir in no way obstruct the flow in the Jhelum or deplete the water available to Pakistan. So, where was the need for Modi not to talk to Xi in terms of cease and desist?
The main political concession the PM has been able to extract from Xi — and it is no big deal really but important for Modi — who finds the political ground slipping from underneath him and needs this visit no doubt conveniently scheduled in the month or so before the May 2019 general elections are due, so the latter can crow about his successful diplomacy. That’s how desperate Modi seems now that he espies his chances for a second term dimming.
If Modi wanted to really impress the Indian people and show them that he’d take no guff from China or anybody else, he could have begun by doing several things this analyst has long been recommending: (1) stop talking about it and start delivering strategically empowering Brahmos cruise missiles to any and all Southeast Asian countries that evince an interest in it, especially Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and anybody else. It will bottle up the Chinese South Sea Fleet faster, and more effectively, than almost any other single action this country can take, and crank up the production of the Brahmos by transferring its production technology to several private sector companies, (2) launch regular FONOPs (freedom of navigation patrols by strong Indian navy flotillas through the “narrow seas” deliberately created by the synthetic islands that China has built on a central verge in the South China Sea, (3) join the littoral and island states in this region to construct air and naval bases that the IAF and IN assets can use to mark an Indian presence in China’s backyard to counter the Chinese military presence west of the Malacca Strait in the Indian Ocean.
Except, Modi has shown no stomach for such hard measures but rather a penchant for talking incessantly about “peaceful” ventures WITH China! In the PM’s mind positioning India as a vishwa guru” and being fobbed off by China with small, piddling, concessions, and relying on the infirm US, which is too frightened of an affray with China to credibly fight India’s fight with the same entity, serves India’s interest. How this is so should be explained by Modi and his PMO — Doval and this lot of “national security advisers”.