‘Modi can’t be seen in Xi’s company’

April 01, 2022 11:36 IST, Rediff News

‘The MEA, hopefully, made it clear that the Indian PM can’t be seen in Xi Jinping’s company when China has, for all intents and purposes, annexed over 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, and essentially that the Wuhan spirit and the Mamallapuram spirit have turned into vinegar.’

IMAGE: The last time they met in person: Six months before the People’s Liberation Army occupied Indian territory in Eastern Ladakh in April 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Shore temple complex in Mahabalipuram, October 11, 2019. Photograph: @MEAIndia/Twitter

Interview of Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research and author of Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, which analyses Prime Minister Modi’s military policies from 2014, at https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/dr-bharat-karnad-modi-cant-be-seen-in-xis-company/20220401.htm?msclkid=21e0097fb18711ec9ad


“Modi is convinced the army is incapable of recovering the lost territory. The flipside of this view is that diplomacy is the only alternative — something slyly pushed by Jaishankar and the MEA,” Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.

It seems brazen of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to breeze into India after China occupied over 1,000 sq km of Indian territory in Ladakh in 2020. Just prior to his entry to New Delhi, he did not hesitate to criticise India on Kashmir at the OIC meet. Should he have been allowed to come to India?

Visits by foreign ministers are usually scripted affairs. There are no surprises and Wang Yi’s trip stuck to this norm.

However, what was unexpected was that (External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam) Jaishankar and the MEA did not have a hefty public riposte ready once Wang sang his aria on India’s mistreatment of Kashmiri Muslims in J&K at the OIC meet in Islamabad.

  • The MEA should have highlighted China’s ongoing programme of genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and Wang’s hypocrisy and chutzpah in talking of Indian Kashmiris.

It would have rhetorically levelled the field for the diplomatic discussions Wang had with Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

If India and China joined hands and spoke in one voice, Wang Yi said the world would listen to us. Was Wang Yi taking taking Indian support for granted?

Perhaps. More likely he was here, in the main, to plead for Modi’s presence at the 2022 BRICS summit that Beijing is set to host.

Modi and the MEA, hopefully, made it clear that the Indian PM can’t be seen in Xi Jinping’s company when China has, for all intents and purposes, annexed over 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, and essentially that the Wuhan spirit and the Mamallapuram spirit have turned into vinegar.

Why should India and China be on the same page when we have fundamental differences on several issues, the most problematic remaining our border issue?
Propagandists in China are telling India to ‘forgive and forget’. Whatever do they mean by that?

India’s formally repeated stance that normalcy in relations are predicated only on the restoration of the status quo ante implies that New Delhi will choose to ‘forgive and forget’ once China returns all Indian territory and especially restores India’s frontage on the strategic Xinjiang Highway and the Karakoram Pass that is now lost owing to the PLA’s occupation of the Y-Junction in the Depsang Plains.

Instead of seizing this opportunity to have put pressure on China to reverse the land grab as also to show we mean business by stopping the import of several Chinese consumer goods, we have done nothing of the kind. Why is that when dealing with such a belligerent neighbour, India continues to use a soft approach?

The reason apparently is that Prime Minister Modi is convinced the Indian Army is incapable of recovering the lost territory.

The flipside of this view is that diplomacy is the only alternative, something slyly pushed by Jaishankar and the MEA.

Some observers believe that Xi Jinping is isolated and therefore this reaching out. Is this perception correct?

It is hard to read the politics within the Chinese Communist party councils and the corridors of power in Zhongnanhai (where the Chinese Communist leadership lives and works).

But there’s ample evidence to suggest that many powerful sections (in the Chinese Communist party) are upset for different reasons.

The PLA that Xi has assiduously courted, for instance, feels alienated because military solutions to forcibly reunify Taiwan, Aksai Chin and the Sennkaku Island chain have been held in abeyance.

Both India and China have not condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine, but India’s reasons for not doing so are different from that of China. Can you explain to our readers why our support is based on a different paradigm from that of China and will this support in the long run adversely impact our relationship with the US and Europe?

India’s neutrality on Ukraine is motivated principally by three factors.

One, the reality of the Indian military’s dependence on Russian hardware and spares and servicing support.

Two, the fact that Russia has been more forthcoming in assisting in high-technology projects (nuclear-powered submarines, for instance) and in providing frontline weapons systems than the US and the West.

And three, the geopolitics of maintaining India’s profitable status as an ‘indispensable State’ to both Russia and US and the West.

IMAGE: External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in New Delhi, March 25, 2022. Photograph: PTI Photo

Did Wang Yi come to India in the hope of creating a wedge between India and the US?

Wang couldn’t drive a wedge if he tried. India and the US are mindful of why they need each other — to deal with the menace of China!

Should Prime Minister Modi attend the BRICS and RIC summit?

Yes. Because the economic and trade thrust of BRICS in particular aside, it affords India the opportunity, I have argued in my last (2018) book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition to use the sidelines to sound out Brazil, Russia and South Africa with the aim of forming a loose and informal security coalition BRIS.

BRIS together with the modified Quadrilateral or ‘Mod Quad’ of India-Japan-Australia — a group of Southeast Asian nations or Quadrilateral minus the US — I have argued, would be able to ring fence China better than any other security arrangement.

The Mod Quad because the US has once again proved in Ukraine — its willingness to fight to the last Ukrainian — just how unreliable and untrustworthy it is as an ally and strategic partner.

India is playing host to several foreign dignitaries including the Russian foreign minister, the UK foreign secretary, the Mexican foreign minister… What is this indicative of?

Maybe because more countries are beginning to appreciate how important India is to the global correlation of forces and for a stable international system.

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.
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23 Responses to ‘Modi can’t be seen in Xi’s company’

  1. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Wonderful interview kudos to Dr Karnad. Interestingly, even today PM Imran again praised the Indian foreign policy and how it is conducted. Do you believe that Pakistan (and for that matter other actors in the subcontinent) can/should pursue India-like independent foreign policy as a principle ? Will India accept countries like Bhutan , Nepal ,Maldives , Sri Lanka or Bangladesh doing independent India-style foreign policy?

  2. Amit says:


    Your criticisms of the EAM seem to be rooted in personal animus and past history – sounds unconvincing. He’s been doing a good job frankly. Your comment about Mr. Modi not having confidence in the Indian military to retake the 1000 sq. Km makes more sense. India can’t get into a war of attrition with China, and it’s unlikely India can do a blitzkrieg with China.

    Regarding your comments about BRIS – understand your logic about the geography of BIS/Ocean lanes and how that can contain China, potentially. But why bring Russia into the mix – its a declining great power, does not have the capability to project power in the Indian Ocean, and is likely going to decline economically after its botched Ukrainian operation. The only thing I can see Russia bring to the table is it’s naval and military technology. But what will it get out of it? Power projection in the Indo-Atlantic to contain China? Even if it wanted to do this, it’s unlikely, especially more so after the Ukraine war, as China has more levers to pull over it.

    Also, your mod quad idea – why would two great powers, US and China, allow middle powers to form coalitions without them or to contain them respectively? The most important strategic interest for the US is East Asia, and it will do what it needs to to contain China there. So the US won’t be a bystander in any coalition to contain China. That’s not how a great power behaves. Additionally, even if such a coalition were to form, China can put a lot more pressure since none is a great power in the coalition. What you are suggesting is more feasible when India becomes a great power. But that’s at least 15 years away if all goes well.

    So why fantasise about groupings that are not realistic?

    • Amit@ — With China, we seem to have made it a habit to miss oportunities for leveling the playing field — opportunities over the years that, as I gace detailed, have cost India plenty. There’s less animus than frustration with Jaishankar — whose father was my colleague in the 1st NSAB and whom I respected until he seconded Indian interests to the US’, which culminated in the civilian nuclear deal negotiated by Jaishankar. The BRIS and Mod Quad groupings are doable and will more actively serve India’s interests than the Quad, say, whose central pillar is the US. Dependence on the US — see where that’s got NATO. Or Ukraine. Have worked out the details in my 2018 book — Staggering Forward. Can’t keep arguing in in depth in every post.

      • Amit says:


        After reading your book and articles on Indian nuclear policy blunders, I can understand your frustration with the Subramanyams. But the way I look at things, every leader makes mistakes. Can’t get everything right. I have watched our EAM deal with US, European and Australian diplomats, Politicians and think tanks. He does remarkably well in representing India’s views, certainly better than his predecessor and almost all EAMs I can think off. He has done quite well so far in handling the Ukraine crisis. I support your views on India’s nuclear testing and NFU policy. It’s interesting to note that our EAM has a PhD in nuclear policy, but I’m not clear on his views on India’s nuclear policy.

        I’ll keep an open mind about your BRIS and mod quad ideas, since I haven’t read your book ‘staggering forward’. But it would be great if you could cover some of the potential objections to this strategy in your articles too, as then they would be more convincing.

        Regarding the US, it has pretty much agreed to India playing the role of a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region. Since it’s second core strategic interest is the Gulf, which is also a theatre to contain China, Indian and US interests are completely aligned here. It also plays into the Indian Monroe doctrine that you have articulated.

        But regarding US reliability in fighting India’s wars, I would say that the US also cannot rely on India in East Asia. So it’s gone for AUKUS for military deterrence and response if needed in the East/South China sea. The Quad exists more to shape the geopolitics and deterrence in the region than for military action. The way I see it, India is not ‘depending’ on the US in the Indo-Pacific. It will not enter a US led military response in the East Asia, though it could provide some naval support in the Indian Ocean, as it’s in India’s interests also to keep the PLA occupied in East Asia.

        However, I do see the US potentially helping India militarily in the Indian Ocean since the US also has a core strategic interest in the Gulf region (if matters come to a head with China). That’s just realpolitik. The US will defend its interests in the Gulf, along with India preferably, as it has a core strategic interest there. In the Himalaya, India has to handle China and Pak on its own, and that is also realpolitik.

      • manofsan says:

        Prof Karnad, why would Japan and Australia trust India over America, unreliable though it may be? I think Japan and Australia would rather unhappily remain with the (unreliable( devil they know, rather than the devil they don’t know. Also, what is your take on the revelation that China is coming to the Solomons? Is it just a minimal security presence that China seeks, or is it looking to build a full-blown military base there, to counter AUKUS?

      • ‘Coz it’s a more organic coalition of in-theatre countries with more individually and collectively at stake.

      • Amit says:


        Because Taiwan has the latest semiconductor manufacturing tech (5nm) and US chip companies rely on Taiwan for foundries (early part of the value chain), US interests are rock solid in Taiwan. If China gets aggressive on Taiwan, you can expect the US to defend its interests there. This is independent of providing security to Taiwan against Chinese aggression.

        However, this is changing and in the future as semiconductor mfg moves back to the US and Europe, Taiwan’s usefulness to the US could reduce. So perhaps in the future US may have less interest in defending Taiwan. But right now, the US is dead serious about Chinese military aggression in Taiwan.

        In fact the Taiwanese have been clever in ensuring that the US remains invested there by developing the latest SC tech in Taiwan which the US does not have. No other power in East Asia will defend Taiwan like the US as long as this is true. None of them come close to matching Chinese economic and military power, and all are compromised by having a significant interest in maintaining economic ties with China.

        The balance of power in East Asia is a game between the US and China primarily, not amongst the middle powers and China as you seem to suggest.

      • Your assumption of US-China duopolistic model is questionable, does not fit the historical trend.

      • Amit says:

        If the US does not defend Taiwan, it risks losing significant global power and reputation. That along with serious tech implications imply that it is unlikely to happen. But the US has made serious policy blunders in the past. So it is possible that the US blunders again. But if that happens, I doubt the middle powers can do much to contain China. Not in East Asia at least.

      • US has lost what little creds it had before Ukraine. You seem too awed by China. It is more handleable than you think.

      • Amit says:

        Well, I’m not sure it is awe Professor, as much as considering it a serious threat. Doesn’t hurt to take a great power seriously.

        But I’m curious about your earlier comment – ‘Your assumption of US-China duopolistic model is questionable, does not fit the historical trend.’ Are there historical examples of middle power coalitions successfully containing China (when China was also a great power)? As far as I know, China has been a regional hegemon in East Asia for much of its history.

      • By and large, that’s all China will be.

  3. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    @Professor Karnad- “The MEA, hopefully, made it clear that the Indian PM can’t be seen in Xi Jinping’s company when China has, for all intents and purposes, annexed over 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, and essentially that the Wuhan spirit and the Mamallapuram spirit have turned into vinegar.’

    Should Prime Minister Modi attend the BRICS and RIC summit?


    Modi should make it clear to the Chinese that neither he will attend the BRICS summit nor send any Indian delegation to it unless China restores the pre 2020 border clash position at the border.

    Talks with other nation heads in BRICS can be held separately through personal visit or a virtual session. There is no need to visit China for it.

    Btw, what’s your take on the protocol violation? I am referring to Doval and Wang Yi’s meeting.

  4. Ayush says:

    PLA’s autonomy is seriously unnerving our sec establishment.CMC senior vice chairman Gen Xu Qiliang now commands unprecedented power.He has done it with massive purges of the top brass.He has hand picked all the new three/four stars.Such is his control over the PLA that he does not even listen to his supposed master Xi.Back in Nov, Biden had made a personal request to Xi to arrange a meeting between Xu and Lloyd austin.Lmao, this was the sixth time US had requested a meeting but was again mercilessly denied by Xu.Xi had reportedly nodded yes.
    Besides, a pla misadventure at LAC is extremely unlikely.Why? -IAF can carpet bomb the G209 highway following the Ukraine model of targeting enemy supply lines.cruise will blanket their comm nodes.Also our shaurya missiles with a 1 ton deep penetration warhead can easily knock out their command and control centers.

    Russia has already forfeited its supposed great power status in Ukraine.Our sec establishment is having a hearty laugh watching their performance.R&AWs cutting edge listening stations(built with cia-mossad help) have been able to intercept their unencrypted comms without any effort!Ukrainians are playing heavy metal music on the frequencies.Sometimes they even say “it’s better to desert than become fertilizer”.

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @Ayush- The longer the war continues, weaker would be Putin’s position.

      CIA has failed spectacularly in both of its last predictions. Last year in 2021, Yankees were saying that Afghan armed forces would be able to stall Taliban’s March to Kabul for at least six months. Kabul fell to Taliban without any fight/resistance whatsoever.

      The American intelligence then predicted that Ukraine would fall within days of a Russian attack. The war is already in its second month now.

      Nothing would happen at the LAC now in the near future. China needs Modi to visit them for the BRICS summit.

      Modi should play a masterstroke here. If talks would have solved the border issues with Pakistan and China, the problems would have been resolved long time back.

      Modi should say that listen folks, let’s just earmark the present positions as the permanent border. Let’s recognize the status quo and make no more claims/counterclaims on lands anymore.

      India can start buying oil from Iran and Russia using Rupee, Rouble, Yuan etc (Non Dollar and EU currencies) Let’s see what the Yankees can do against this India, Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran grouping.

  5. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Dear Dr Karnad Gen Bajwa has recently proposed a trilateral India-Pakistan-China for the region on the lines of the existing Russia-India-China trilateral. I would personally like to extend this by integrating both these two concepts and bring together an arrangement called the contiguous nuclear powers of East(CNPE). I would love your views on this proposed idea of mine.

  6. Debanjan Banerjee says:

    Dear Dr Karnad what are your thoughts about the US regime change operations in Sri Lanka and Pakistan ?

    • In SL and Pakistan, the crises are mostly internally generated.

      • Ayush says:

        I do not understand why all Indian “strategic experts” are saying that US credibility has been damaged in ukraine.They had no written obligation to defend ukraine.Their objective was to “demilitarize” Russia, have by and large achieved that by exhausting their priceless standoff PGM arsenal,shooting down dozens of Su-34/35 and decapitating the Russian mil leadership from top to bottom.They are inches close to manufacturing an artificial default etc.They have secured their European flank and can now go all out in indopqc region.

      • Too US-optimistic.

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