Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pranab Mukherjee’s primary job in Beijing was to smooth over a ruffled India-China relationship

Viewed from Beijing, the recent past of Sino-Indian relations has been somewhat disconcerting. In January 2015 in New Delhi, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed on a “Joint Strategic Vision for Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean” that now has the two sides discussing basing protocols and joint naval patrols.
Later, the Indian PM visited China and publicly called out Beijing “to reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realising the full potential of our partnership”, bluntly pinning the blame for the state of Sino-Indian relations on China. In recent months, New Delhi demanded that Beijing end its hold on declaring Masood Azhar a global terrorist. Then, it insistently urged China to support its application for full membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
The ultimate poke-in-the-eye was the international conference, subsequently called off, involving a cross-section of Chinese dissidents, convened in, of all places, Dharamshala, the seat of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government-in-exile.
It is not surprising, then, that the primary objective of President Pranab Mukherjee’s four day visit to China last week was to calm the roiled atmosphere and reassure Beijing that New Delhi not only values its relationship with China but seeks to enhance them. In the parlance of modern international relations this is called “strategic communications”, and it is something the seasoned Mukherjee excels in.
The key to Mukherjee’s visit were his several conversations on Thursday afternoon with Chinese supremo Xi Jinping, whose powers vie with those of the emperors of yore. It was just last month, that Xi appeared in military fatigues and added the title of Supreme Commander of the PLA to his existing ones as the general secretary of the Communist Party, head of state and chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Not all issues can be taken up frontally in diplomacy. Some meet a straight bat, others are cut through the slips or swept through to fine leg or simply blocked; shrewd diplomacy means you don’t slog the ball to the boundary. So some of the more tangled issues were discussed directly by foreign secretary Jaishankar in his call-on the foreign minister Wang Yi.
In the official readout the old perennial, the border dispute, was treated with the routine promise of fair and equitable resolution. But the key was the reiteration by both sides in the official talks of their decision to keep a firm hold on their respective militaries and prevent border confrontations such as those that occurred in Depsang in 2013 and Chumur in 2014.
Mukherjee did not pitch his Masood Azhar ball straight; he spun it by seeking Chinese support in the context of the bilateral and global cooperation between the two countries in the fight against terrorism. And so, the Chinese agreed that terrorism was indeed a global menace and expressed their willingness to “enhance cooperation, including in the UN”.
On the NSG issue, where China can blackball the Indian application of membership, Mukherjee did not kowtow. Instead, he sought Chinese cooperation in the context of India and China’s developmental partnership and climate change. India faced an acute energy shortage and nuclear energy had a key role in Indian plans. But this required a “predictable environment” in which civil nuclear trade could take place and so, New Delhi expected Beijing to play a “positive and facilitative role”.
Our ties with China involve four c’s – competition, cooperation, conflict and containment. We need to become more competitive and cooperative and less inclined to conflict or put up containment strategies against each other. India needs to carefully strategise ways and means of tapping Chinese investments and linking up to their supply chains to promote our manufacturing ambitions. At the same time we need to be able to deter China from acting against our interests.
Times of India May 31, 2016

No comments: