The Modi government’s announcement that the Dalai Lama will travel to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh in March 2017 has infuriated Beijing. Tibet is one of the most sensitive international problems that Beijing wants to put a lid on. Despite its growing economic and military strength, China today has several weaknesses which Indian policymakers can exploit.
It is high time New Delhi established new and more meaningful diplomatic paradigms both within and outside of the realm of Sino-Indian dialogue. It needs to empower itself for responding effectively to Beijing’s continuing adherence to hard-hitting diplomacy. China’s sustained cold-play on propositions with direct bearing on India’s national security and its international prestige have stood out like a sore thumb for too long.
Beijing’s professed strategic intransigence on the Dalai Lama’s statements and movements inside India and unceasing negation of long-standing Indian sentiments are not without a context or rationale. This has been brought out lucidly by Robert Blackwill and Jennifer Harris in their latest work, War by Other Means, in which the authors analyse the intricacies of Chinese strategies premised on the theory of geo-economics as the preferred pathway to deal with China-Pakistan-India triangular relations. Significantly, the authors highlight that, “China and Pakistan have valued each other as a strategic hedge against India”.
India’s Prime Ministers, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi, have had to forge meaningful ties with China amid an ambient ‘Third World’ interplay of forces. But the Chinese have rarely responded with matching emotion or aspiration.
New Delhi, with a certain measure of optimism rationally ingrained in its extant ‘Beijing calculus’, had diligently scheduled meetings between the National Security Advisers of India and China, Ajit Doval and Yang Jiechi, in Hyderabad on November 4 and in Beijing between Joint Secretary (Disarmament) A S Gill and his Chinese counterpart Wang Qun on October 31, days before the crucial Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting in Vienna on November 11. But these moves made little impact on Beijing’s incredulously crafted cold play strategy to block India’s entry into NSG and resist its campaign to get Maulana Masood Azhar, the Pakistani master mind behind a series of terror attacks in India.
In its own craftiness to keep India eternally at bay within the UN fold in securing its paramount security interests, China is certainly not behaving like a responsible member of the UN Security Council as one of its five permanent members. What is equally dismaying is the tactical silence of Russia, the US, France and Britain—each maintains friendly ties with India—over the blatant Chinese efforts to defend Pakistan’s terror export against India.
Despite a degree of reactive ambivalence in its positioning, New Delhi must realise that Beijing’s excessive protectiveness in espousing the cause of Pakistan each time India’s entry into the NSG or the designation of Masood Azhar as “terrorist” crops up is indicative of latent geo-economics connotations linked to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) paradigm.
In many ways China’s totalitarian government is akin to Pakistan’s. The close links between the two countries are therefore not surprising. With the CPEC and One Belt, One Road (OBOR) projects, Pakistan has become China’s vassal state. Beijing is gradually replacing the US as Islamabad’s principal rent-payer.
India has reasons to be frustrated at China’s open defence of Pakistan’s blatant campaigns to destabilise India through terrorism. This was reflected in the comments of India’s Permanent Representative to UN, Syed Akbaruddin, when he said in New York that, “while our collective conscience is ravaged everyday by terrorists in some region or the other, the Security Council gives itself nine months to consider whether to sanction leaders of organisations, it has itself designated as terrorist entities”.
Akbaruddin had a point when he lamented the snail-paced and “never-ending carousel of discussions” on UNSC reforms. As he pointed out, the UN’s inability to respond to humanitarian situations, terror threats and peacekeeping vulnerabilities during this year itself was part of the price that was being paid for the international community’s lack of progress on the critical issue of UNSC reforms.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has embarked on a calibrated policy on China. It is time to ratchet it up. The Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang should be widely hailed and Free Tibet activists should be allowed to voice their protests. Closer links with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and South Korea, all of whom have disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea, should form part of India’s new China strategy.
Mohan Das Menon
Former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat