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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Has India under Modi Finally Found A China Policy ?

Anyone who has visited this blog before or just takes a cursory glance at my previous posts would know that I am not really a fan of Narendra Modi. Some have gone on to say that I have a pathological hatred of Modi. What I know is that till now Modi hasn't really given me much reason to applaud him, although since assuming premiership he hasn't given me much reason to criticize him either. Before elections, one of the dangers I saw, in case of Modi becoming PM, was the threat to India's foreign policy. Leave alone experience, maturity and global recognition of statesmanship such as that commanded by Ex-Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and some others, Modi appeared as a complete stranger to the power corridors of Delhi.

Further, his devotion to an organisation known for its archaic values and worldview presented a rather bleak and eerie picture of the future of India's foreign policy. Fortunately, by inviting heads of Saarc countries in his swearing-in ceremony, Modi gave a very clear signal that India's foreign policy  was finally out of coma, his visits to Japan and renewal of ties with South-East Asian countries and especially engagement with China declared the new Indian government's resolve to take more proactive role in world politics.

One of the reasons of Sino-Indian relationship remaining unchanged can be attributed to successive Indian governments as well as diplomats and policy-makers unwillingness to move beyond '62. As the former US Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill eloquently puts it-
 "There's no better way to empty a drawing room of Indian strategists in New Delhi than to start talking about this idea (containing China)"  [source]
What it implies is that Indian officials have never been interested in "containing China", not least in a campaign under US leadership, desiring best possible relationship with China (perhaps pursuing Nehru's vision of India and China,two giants of resurgent Asia, leading the world), but at the same time viewing Chinese suspiciously, the feeling being mutual. The very act of helping Pakistan covertly and overtly in all its wars against India and developing nuclear weapons for it (or helping it develop) cannot be viewed as friendly gestures by India. Then while India has been reluctant to join with US to "contain China" the latter has been creating its presence in India's neighborhood, which may also be called containment as the term for Chinese bases close to India are collectively called String of Pearls. Sino-Indian relationship is by its nature unique.



Not only are China and India the two most populous countries in the world possessing formidable military capabilities,  they are also biggest emerging economies hungry for access to energy resources which also implies need of geostrategic advantages in specific regions of the world. Both China and India are heavily dependent on foreign energy sources.  Decades of India's dormant or non-existent China policy has undoubtedly provided China a huge lead in energy sector but India can salvage some of it if Modi's strategy remains consistent.The border disputes, China's claim over Arunachal Pradesh are mostly vulnerable spots that the Chinese have been able to exploit to extract concessions from India in other fields and forms. As a shift in balance of power takes place in Asia, the interests of both the nations are bound to overlap, if not conflict.

It is interesting to note that while Modi has consistently extended olive branch to China, even as he made a high profile visit to Japan and the Indian President visiting Vietnam,making bigger deals with both these countries as compared to investment Chinese Premiere brought him during his recent visit to India. Further, both Japan and Vietnam are freshly at odds with China over territorial disputes, including offshore natural gas exploration. Finally, launching Project Mausam, seen largely as aimed at countering the Chinese "Maritime Silk Road",makes it clear that India was engaging with the dragon.  Yet, none of these had any effect on the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping's planned visit to India. I don't think even the incursion/stand off between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh were triggered in reaction to Modi's East-Asia policy.

Chinese foreign policies have always been ruthlessly pragmatic, devoid of any sentimentality whatsoever. China's economic reforms may have sidelined Mao's doctrine, the idea of perpetual revolution has perhaps reincarnated as perpetual confrontation with external actors to keep the Chinese society from stagnating. The PLA certainly seems to be interested in zero-sum game only, whether it is Japan,Taiwan,Vietnam, India or even the US, Chinese military hasn't budged an inch from its claim in any of its disputes,even if it hasn't resorted to firing a single shot.  


India's foreign policy has in essence been what Shashi Tharoor has been reported to have described described as altruistic and it has worked in India's favour, in at least keeping the country relatively insulated to Cold War politics, unlike Pakistan which became a client state of the US. On the other hand, Communist China attaches very little value to moral high-ground,its policies are based on aggressive pragmatism and the first lesson pragmatism has taught it, is that its options are not confined to perimeters of boolean logic. The other state actor needn't be seen purely in terms of being an ally or a foe, it can be both or neither depending  on the immediate circumstance. Post every Sino-Indian meet,leaders, analysts,strategists here have always presumed that an understanding reached on a particular issue or burgeoning trade between the two countries also implies that there is an unsaid understanding between India and China on all outstanding issues. Consequently, China reiterating its claim over Arunachal Pradesh, escalating border dispute or voting against India in UN is seen as breach of trust because Indian leaders see them through prism of sentimentality.    



However, it seems Modi government has not only understood China's pragmatic approach quite well but has in fact made the first move by making his first official visit to countries like Bhutan and Nepal which lately had been drifting towards China and then visiting Japan and Modi developing personal rapport with Shinz┼Ź Abe. President Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Vietnam, announcing $100 million export credit in defense deals and energy ties, just a couple of days prior to Chinese Premier's visit was a clear message to China that India is going to pursue its foreign policy independently and without limiting itself by heeding to China's concerns. Xi Jinping too visited India's SAARC neighbours, Sri Lanka and Maldives and has apparently asked military to be prepared for a regional war.

But an armed conflict involving PLA and another sovereign nation (India,Japan,Vietnam) seems highly unlikely given the fact that it has to focus on its economy which is after all the end that all of the Communist state's policies are directed towards. If Modi's policies have lead Xi Jinping and Chinese leadership to abandon zero-sum game approach and adopt probing technique, Modi fanboys have no clue how big an achievement that would be in place of the jingoistic orgy they are indulging in. For people like me, it would be the first time that India has a coherent China policy and if the policy remains consistent and takes step for fast-tracking development of Indian Navy's blue water capabilities and strengthening relationship with countries like South Korea,Thailand,Indonesia, Australia and other nations concerned with Chinese expansionism  Modi would have earned respect even from his detractors.

Note: I had posted on India's lack of China policy in, Engaging The Red Dragon  in 2009, I do recommend you to check it out ;)

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