Discordant notes

Wen Jiabao visit

The post-mortem of the visit of China’s ‘Grandpa Premier’ Wen Jiabao has begun. Our mainstream-opinion makers wear a smirk on their face — ‘Delhi gave it to Beijing’. A former head of R&AW told the western media this was ‘welcome and necessary,’ and he hoped for more of it.

Curiously, the government seems to do fire-fighting — Wen’s visit needs to be assessed in the long-term as ‘part of a process, a continuum,’ etc — and demonstratively dissociating from the ‘raucous’ media debate, stressing the patently obvious that it was ‘unrealistic’ to expect solutions to all problems during a state visit. At the same time, government briefings assert that there were ‘open and frank’ discussions and our ‘deep concerns’ over ‘stapled visa’, terrorism and Kashmir ‘registered’ on the Chinese side ‘very clearly.’ While the government attempted to calm the ‘hype’ in the public debate, it also underlined its capacity to be ‘firm’ with China.

But how did the ‘hype’ happen? The government blames our ‘vibrant’ democracy but, regrettably, sections within the Indian establishment have not helped matters, and often inspired the media campaigns. The Chinese embassy would have discerned what was happening. All it entails is for the Chinese press counsellor to exchange notes with his terribly well-informed Pakistani counterpart in Chanakyapuri to comprehend which reporter or TV anchorperson in Delhi at what point eats out of whose hands in South Block.

Thus, Chinese ambassador Zhang Yan was spot-on by alerting the elites in Delhi on the eve of Wen’s arrival that the relationship is ‘fragile’ and care must be taken not to undermine it. The Sino-Indian relationship is fated to be arguably the most crucial vector of India’s foreign policy through this century and it does deserve mature and rational handling.

There is an extremely painful slice of collective consciousness in our country over the alchemy of Sino-Indian ties, compounded in no small measure by our strategic community’s hopelessly stereotyped notions regarding the world order and their sheer lack of intellectual grasp of what happens ‘when a billion Chinese jump’ — to borrow the title of Jonathan Watt’s fascinating new book.

Wen’s visit took place against the backdrop of signs of Indian diplomacy shifting gear. A certain ‘muscularity’ has appeared reminiscent of the halcyon days circa the mid-2010s when South Block signed on to the ill-fated US-led quadripartite Asian alliance against China and Indian diplomats, casting themselves in a Wilsonian mould, blithely offered in public view to teach Beijing a hard thing or two about the ways of the democratic world.

The ‘hardliners’ in our strategic community are enthralled that that ‘robustness’ has reappeared. A few discordant notes in the run-up to Wen’s visit need to be singled out. First, Delhi conveyed a startling signal at the RIC (Russia-India-China) foreign ministers’ meet in Wuhan last month regarding the Asia-Pacific, shedding its ambivalence on the role of Cold-War era US-led military bloc in any ‘inclusive’ regional security architecture. Even our ‘time-tested’ Russian friends were taken aback.

Kashmir issue

Besides, on the sidelines of the RIC meet, S M Krishna also told his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi that India’s concerns over Kashmir are similar to China’s over Taiwan and Tibet — and we then publicised this highly sensitive demarche as the stuff of grandstanding. Thus, when our draft joint communiqué on Wen’s visit was proposed to the Chinese side and it didn’t contain the usual reaffirmation of our consistent stance on ‘One China’ policy, Beijing drew the appropriate conclusion and didn’t argue. But they wouldn’t have failed to estimate, too, that Delhi was holding a worthless card, after all. Time will tell.

How much deep thinking went into our adventurous enterprise remains unclear, but a salient has appeared in the Sino-Indian discourse linking Kashmir with the Chinese ‘core interests’ over Tibet and Taiwan — something we avoided for five decades.

How we pursue this track will have wide-ranging implications for regional security.
Again, it is an insult to commonsense to be told Karan Singh who heads the foreign policy cell of the ruling party turned down on his own Beijing’s offer to confer its newly-constituted ‘friendship award.’ Plainly put, we snubbed Beijing’s overture.

Finally, Delhi ignored repeated Chinese demarches over the Nobel ceremony in Oslo and kept pretending it was agonising over a decision even after the decision was made.

And all this took place within the space of some three weeks. An uncharacteristic churlishness crept into Indian diplomacy on the eve of a crucial event involving a powerful statesman in the hierarchy in Beijing, despite our abundant crop of China experts.

But why blame experts? Weren’t Karan Singh and Oslo decisions to be ultimately attributed to the highest level of our leadership? Therefore, all those ‘developments of much consequence’ during Wen’s visit — Strategic Economic Dialogue, trade target, political exchanges, green energy, CBSE curriculum, banking facilities — which indeed add up to a critical mass to give renewed thrust to the relationship, nonetheless got overshadowed.

Our Sisyphean syndrome betrays lack of clarity over the meaning of China’s rise. Future convergence is best sought by concentrating on common ground. We can manage our own neighbourhood better if we do not accentuate our differences with China. India’s role as ‘counterweight’ to China is gradually diminishing. We need to be pragmatic that ultimately the two countries will be the driving force for revitalising the world economy.

Comments (+)