[Foreign Ministers Jaishankar & Wang Yi]
The Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, having joined with Pakistan in berating India on Kashmir at the conclave of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called by Islamabad, which he attended as an observer, breezed into New Delhi for a pow-wow with the Indian government, confident that he’d be able to convince the Narendra Modi regime to overlook that little matter of the Chinese annexing some 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh. And secondarily, to firm up Sino-Indian solidarity on Ukraine owing to “similar if not identical” views. “If China and India spoke with one voice,” he told the Press, “the whole world will listen. If China and India joined hands, the whole world will pay attention.”
Errors In Strategy And Thinking
Rather than using the God-sent opportunity to pay Beijing back in the same coin and use Wang’s OIC provocation as a prompt for slinging the highly merited charges of “genocide” of Uyghur Muslims by China and thereby establishing equivalence between the Chinese foreign minister’s raking up mistreatment of Kashmiri Muslims and New Delhi’s siding with the Uyghurs for use as negotiating leverage in the future, the Ministry of External Affairs, as expected fluffed it.
“We reject the uncalled reference to India”, the MEA spokesman whimpered before pointing out the obvious that Kashmir was a domestic Indian issue and Wang had no business bringing it up. Is the Narendra Modi regime under the impression that this slight tap on the wrist is going to make the hardboiled straight shooters at Zhongnanhai rear up in fear of what New Delhi might do next?
Apparently, it is not just the MEA which believes this Indian non-response will have a salutary effect on the Chinese. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh too thinks the Modi government did right by not even acknowledging Wang’s straight right to India’s chin. Ram Madhav, who is a member of the central executive council of the RSS and a former national general secretary of the BJP, in an op-ed, not only failed to notice the missed chance of hitting back at China, he congratulated Jaishankar & Co. for sticking by neutrality on Ukraine, and on insisting that normal relations will only be on the basis of restoration of the status quo ante in eastern Ladakh. He explained such policies as being “as much about principles as about interests”.
This proved, once again, that neither the Indian government nor the ideologues of the party in power have the faintest idea about “principles” – which, incidentally, are distinguished by their absence in international affairs, and even less about “national interests”. If the Modi regime and the BJP were wise about the world, they would have throttled the unhindered flow of Chinese consumer goods to India at the first sign of Chinese hostilities on the Galwan in 2020.
The Modi government, perhaps, realizing the foreign policy boo-boo it had made with Wang belatedly appears to have leaked the story about an airborne “insertion” exercise involving 600 paratroopers in the Silguri Corridor being timed to coincide with the Chinese foreign minister’s visit, but to send what message? In 1958, a Chinese military delegation visited Ambala to observe a military exercise which featured waves of attacking aircraft paving the way for Indian infantry. Unimpressed, the Chinese delegation head while referring to the display of airborne firepower as impressive, asked the Indian army chief in attendance if aircraft would be available for ground operations in the mountains? Four years later, the Chinese supplied the answer!
What China’s ‘Three Point-Approach’ Asks Of India
But, to get back to Wang, why was he hopeful of India joining hands with China considering the disputed border in Ladakh is live with 1 lakh troops on either side of the Line of Actual Control and the possibility of military hostilities at any time? Apparently, for two reasons. The Chinese government believed that owing to the fairly relentless pressure from the US and the West to side against Russia in the Ukrainian crisis, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sufficiently softened to welcome this Wang overture, confident New Delhi would perceive the situation the way it does — of two Asian powers standing with Russia being better than only one of them doing so and then exclusively facing the sanctions music for supporting Moscow. And because, as in the past, the Indian government, he believed, could be bamboozled into compromising on its stated position on the border in Ladakh by vague promises of peace but, as always, on Chinese terms, which Wang, this time around, revealed as his “three point-approach”.
This approach is: Negotiating with “a long term vision” without the border dispute colouring India’s attitude; A “China-India-plus” initiative for joint projects in South Asia – which is a plea to not hinder Beijing’s realisation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as part of its larger Belt and Road Initiative; and Cooperating with each other in multilateral fora.
The first point requires India to forget about the Chinese grab of a vast expanse of Indian territory.
The second is an attempt to dilute opposition to CPEC and permit the Western Provinces of China – Tibet and Xinjiang, in particular, to have all-year, all-weather access to the warm water port of Gwadar on the Baluch coast, thus lessening the pressure on Chinese trade that otherwise has to negotiate the Indian-controlled Malacca bottleneck.
The third makes virtue of necessity because without a commonality of views and of policies on multilateral issues (trade, climate, etc.) the two countries would find themselves unable adequately to resist the US and the West, which seem intent on obtaining progress at the expense of India’s and China’s national interests.
Fortunately, Jaishankar and Modi’s national security adviser Ajit Doval, despite Wang’s sweet-talking the latter (“China does not pursue the so-called ‘unipolar Asia’ and respects India’s traditional role in the region)”, held their ground at least for once.
Switching From Wang To Lavrov
The question is, with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov visiting New Delhi later this week, will the Indian government be deft enough to keep relations with Russia on track (setting up a rupee-ruble payments track, etc.), but point out the need for urgency by President Vladimir Putin to somehow bring closure to his mismanaged military invasion in Ukraine before it takes a toll, among other things, on India and Indian relations with Russia? At the same time, India needs to remind Lavrov about just how slippery and opportunistic China is as a strategic partner and why the long term threat it poses to both the countries should not be forgotten or underplayed for any reason.
Published in BloombergQuint.com, March 29, 2022 in my ‘Realpolitik’ column, at https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/india-is-not-pumping-the-brakes-hard-enough-on-china