Appeasement does not work with China

Since the time the Dalai Lama crossed the border at Khenzimane on March 31, 1959 and entered India, the issue of Tibet has been on a perpetual simmer between India and China. In the 60 years since, Tibet remains at the core of tensions at the political and military levels. On the diplomatic front, the complexities surrounding the Tibet issue have emerged once again, with a formal circular being sent to Indian government officials to maintain distance from events related to the Dalai Lama's passage to India.

Following the uproar over the circular, the Ministry of External Affairs clarified that India's position on the Dalai Lama remains consistent – that of him being a revered religious leader who has been accorded all freedom to carry out religious activities in India. What remains significant was MEA's tacit acceptance of issuing and circulating the formal note, given that it did not deny issuing the said directive.

This only goes on to signify the implicit message that India's latest policy tool to 'deal' with China is its attempt to placate Beijing on multiple fronts. Pushing Tibet and the Dalai Lama's events away from the spotlight in Delhi to the quaint and politically uneventful location of Dharamsala appears a part of that larger strategy. Besides, the immediate agenda could be Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Qingdao in June to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, amid other speculations that suggest Modi's official visit to China happening as early as April.

India and its policymakers are hunting for options to repair the Sino-Indian relationship, which experienced its roughest patch since the 1962 war over the Doklam standoff last summer.

The question is, what are the areas that New Delhi seems to have identified, wherein it expects China to hand it a quid pro quo for the 'Tibet relief' that it has provided Beijing? Any outlandish hope of India expecting to be paid back in terms of diplomatic dividends might just be heading for a crash.

For starters, would it be at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) - where it is all too well-known and acknowledged that India's chances of gaining membership remains bleak given China's tenacious objection to it? China is known to have blocked a consensus vote on India's application and is decidedly prepared to scuttle New Delhi's application, even if it has to be the last man standing. China will continue to deny India entry into NSG, at any cost.

Or, is India expecting a quid pro quo in its fight against terrorism, wherein Beijing is officially stonewalling Indian attempts to brand Masood Azhar a global terrorist?

As recently as November 2017, China blocked listing of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief and Pathankot terror attack mastermind Azhar as a global terrorist by the UN under the al-Qaida Sanctions Committee of the Council. This is the second year in succession that China has blocked the resolution.

Get real

Third, and perhaps most significant, is China's Belt and Road Initiative. Is India expecting a quid pro quo over the BRI, especially on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor running through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir?

With the amount of economic and political capital invested by the Xi administration in the BRI project, there is no way that China would relent to Delhi's objections on the CPEC corridor running through PoK since placing Delhi's sovereignty and territorial integrity under strain suits Beijing's South Asia strategy politico-diplomatically and adds pressure on the Indian military in the conventional deterrence equation vis-à-vis a two-front scenario.

China's dealings with the outside world hinge upon three discernible policy stands that essentially constitute the basis of the Chinese Communist Party's claim to legitimacy: namely the so-called unequal treaties from another era, nationalism, and sovereignty.

After all, China has successfully employed its traditional concept and strategy of shi that exploits the strategic configuration of power to its advantage, while maximizing its ability to preserve its own strength. The strategy of shi also advocates engaging the adversary in qi (extraordinary) ways and developing a win-win situation to achieve political and strategic objectives.

Over the past decade and more, China has managed to gradually create a situation where India finds itself gripped, politico-diplomatically and militarily. As Chinese influence and presence inside and around South Asia increases, the hard realities outlined above need to be dealt with pragmatically. India needs a rethink on its policy before it loses leverage far beyond repairable standards. In its aim and ambition to redraw borders and expand its sphere of influence, Beijing inevitably is engaged in a wholesale revision of its foreign policy.

The policy of handing over olive branches to Beijing without any terms and conditions does not constitute prudence. It is time for New Delhi to revisit the theoretical roots of India's strategic thinking and orientation that lie in the Arthashastra and delineate theories of statecraft, diplomacy, strategy, and prerequisites of politics and power in the Realist paradigm.

(The writer is Senior Visiting Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs, Tokyo)

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