25 June 2016

Our China policy stumbles into cul-de-sac

The frantic diplomatic bid by India to secure membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group – with both our honourable president and honourable prime minister throwing their hats into the ring as crisis managers – is turning out to be a morality play. Today’s remarks by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson must come as a reality check to the South Block, especially External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. (Hindu)

Equally, the Chinese daily Global Times has written not less than three op-eds in the past one week period alone, alerting New Delhi that it is totally misreading the situation. (here, here and here)

The government has only itself to blame if South Block was living in a fool’s paradise as recently as two weeks ago. (See my article in Rediff.com titled India’s NSG debate: No more spin, please)

How come such delusionary assessment of the lay of the diplomatic arena? The answer is simple – the “unipolar predicament” that some of our policymakers suffer from inhibit them from making rational judgment. Our strategists have been pursuing a US-centric foreign policy predicated on the funny notion that Washington is committed to make India a great power. Whereas, the NSG issue exposes that the US, although still a superpower, lacks any such divine powers in the contemporary world situation, as our strategists naively presupposed.

Of course, we can ask why, then, President Barack Obama put this strange thought of India’s NSG membership into the Indian head in the first instance in 2010. According to Ambassador T. P. Sreenivasan who would know the inner track, Obama made the proposal “as though it was a concession to India, in his bid to win various contracts (with India), including nuclear supplies. Perhaps, he was aware that a decision on the NSG was not in his hands, but promised to take up the matter with the others just to win some goodwill in the process”. (Hindu)

Simply put, Obama had nothing to lose and everything to gain by setting on fire the megalomaniacal Indian mind. The US attitude today is passive – although there are people in our country who still would prefer to think that Washington is “pushing” India’s case with other NSG members. (Hindu)

The heart of the matter is that the US too faces a predicament on the NSG issue insofar as by “pushing” India’s case, it would be not only undermining a non-proliferation regime it founded in 1975 while creating the NSG, but also triggering downstream consequences for the entire non-proliferation agenda by discriminating against the other non-NPT nuclear weapon states – Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.

Not only that, the Iran nuclear deal, which is Obama’s finest presidential legacy, also becomes overnight discriminatory towards Tehran. Simply put, the onus is on the US to restructure the NSG architecture first before it “pushes” the case for India’s accommodation.
It beats my imagination how all this elementary truth went beyond the understanding of the professionals in South Block. Instead, they chose to make the NSG issue the stuff of some more China-bashing. The stunning part is that today we need China’s help and understanding and yet we also have pundits who advocate that to punish Beijing, we should flood China’s neighborhood in the South China Sea with BrahMos missiles.

Let us not blithely overlook what a nasty attitude toward China’s core interests in the South China Sea our policymakers had taken through the past one-year period and more, and how we all but began bandwagoning with the US’ rebalance strategy in Asia that aims at “containment” of China.

The South Block even funded an international conference in New Delhi earlier this year on the topic of regional connectivity where we openly criticised a prestigious Chinese project that is widely regarded as an initiative of President Xi Jinping — One Belt One Road.
Would you believe if I were to tell you that right now, an Indian naval group is loitering in the troubled waters of the South China Sea and the East China Sea on an incomprehensible mission lasting a month and a half for no rhyme or reason other than to simply annoy Beijing? (National Interest)

Suffice it to say, when Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar travelled incognito to Beijing on June 16-17, he would have been self-conscious that he was wearing sackcloth and ashes. The trajectory of South Block’s China policy since January last year (when the famous Joint Vision Statement on Asia-Pacific was issued by PM Modi and Obama) has been appalling, and as the NSG saga underscores, it has proved to be an unmitigated disaster for the national interests.

Indeed, there should be some serious stocktaking by the political leadership as to how Indian diplomacy could have goofed up so badly on the single most consequential relationship in our country’s foreign policies – Sino-Indian normalization. Even India’s best friends probably feel aghast how this kind of abrasive China policy could have been pursued by India. This is how President Vladimir Putin commented on the NSG issue in reply to a question at a press conference in St, Petersburg on June 17:

· “Of course, we (Moscow and Beijing) must discuss issues such as these (India’s NSG membership). We discuss all issues very openly. Our Chinese friends and we have no secrets from each other. We make it our general rule to always discuss things openly, all cards on the table… Of course, we must take everyone’s concerns into account because if we do not do so in a timely fashion, otherwise we would not solve problems but only create new ones. Can we resolve problems in this way? I think that we can, provided we are careful in our actions and work to reach agreement with each other”.

Now, that is sound advice – “be careful in our actions and work to reach agreement with each other”. But it is a deceptively simple advice to practice unless we shed the hubris toward our neighboring countries — be it toward China or Pakistan and Nepal.

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