17 Jun 2009
With India scoring a diplomatic victory over China at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) board meeting by having a grant approval for the $2.9 billion India plan just a day before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Chinese President Hu, new foreign minister SM Krishna has began making a mark in his new office. It’s global news that China had blocked a consensus in ADB because the grant to India included watershed development projects worth $60 million in Arunachal Pradesh.
Finally, the US helped win the grant for us with its majority votes. But the home work to have the member nations understand India’s position was a meticulously handled operation by foreign secretary Menon and his team. Before that, just having been sworn in, SM Krishna had impressed all by his cool and deft handling of Pakistan and China’s abrasiveness while Manmohan went on a cool trip to China and Russia. Significant developments on our strategic front were overshadowed by domestic no-events.
A new entrant into the realm of diplomacy and foreign affairs, Krishna has certainly a long innings to play and with a mature and old China hand in foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, he won’t have much problem in dealing with tougher issues. The first major challenge he faces in the form of bringing about a paradigm shift in foreign policy’s vision for the next 20 years. India 2010 to 2030 will be a completely changed land in terms of military strength, economic parameters and domestic political equations. So will be China, our immediate neighbour and a major strategic concern which never leaves a chance to offend Indian sensitivities at the most inopportune time.
With such neighbourly compulsions, the next decade would see India engaging with China more than any other nation, notwithstanding the democratic cooperation with the US. China has travelled a long way outsmarting India in manufacturing, economic growth, infrastructure building and military strength. While India has shrunk to almost half in the last 100 years, China has doubled geographically too. Recently in a poll conducted by the government-controlled Global Times, 90% of the Chinese people have been reported as thinking India as the biggest threat to China and a majority of them didn’t approve of strong friendly ties with us. It's quite strange. First it's India and not China that’s the aggrieved party, China has taken a large chunk of our land in Kashmir illegally and also accepted unashamedly a "gift" of the "theft" by Pakistan. It attacked us in 1962 and still lays claim to Arunachal Pradesh. Logically, it’s Indians who must feel aggrieved and oppose any friendly ties with the offending neighbour, which has been making unfriendly noises hurting Indian sentiments that includes opposing an India grant at ADB, voicing disapproval of President Pratibha Patil’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh and keeping a studied silence over fake Chinese drugs marketed in Africa as "made in India".
But the level of ignorance about China in India is simply baffling. More than Pakistan, it should have been China on our radar of engagement knowing it more than any other nation. The naiveties of India’s so-called Sinologists is best expressed in projecting it in the fossilized terminology of the 60s and refusing to recognize that both countries have travelled hundreds of miles in different directions since then. China is no more a Mao-land, it has converted into a resurgent market economy where youngsters are yearning to learn American slang and speak English with a New York school’s pronunciation. India doesn’t appear with any recognizable significance on their radar — theirs is a westward journey with a determination to conquer the west. Their poverty-struck villages, simmering unrest in certain quarters and a rising urge for democracy and more liberal policies are here but they are feeble graphs and the strong streak of nationalism overpowers weaknesses of a totalitarian state apparatus.
India too is not the Nehruvian model of a fake socialism but a fast-moving economy determined to become a super power. The next 20 years are too important for both of us. China would like to move ahead of the US in economic and military strength and India must revitalize its core sectors with democratic values and supremacy in hardware. Our principal rival remains China and not the US. China would like these years to be peaceful, without any military adventurism to gain time for consolidating its economic and fire power. But definitely the rising power levels have added to its arrogance which India must watch cautiously.
This is exactly the transition period for India’s foreign policy, especially in its outlook to Pakistan, Afghanistan and China. India must not become a partner in the US game in this region which is, at present more Pakistan-centric and has ignored Indian concerns. Every US dollar given to Pakistan under the cover of "controlling Taliban", is turned into a missile on Indian interests. Though India is a major player in the Af-Pak region, the perception is that it is playing second fiddle to the US. This has to be corrected with direct links with Afghan tribal leaders and an operational policy for Pakistan held Kashmir and NWFP. Krishna will also have to revitalize and make assertive policy towards Chinese links with Pakistan’s extremist organizations like Jammat-e-Islami and tribal leaders of Gilgit and Baltistan.
If there is a new China and a new India emerging on the world horizon, let there be a new approach towards each other — and that requires more understanding and information exchanges. Not only that Indians must get Chinese reports from Indian correspondents but there has to be a methodical approach towards Track II citizens diplomacy towards China. Already Indian companies are finding it lucrative to have their work stations and factories established in remote townships of China and Indian students get easy access to Chinese medical and engineering colleges. Learning Chinese and visiting China on vacations, instead of Malaysia or London and Europe must be encouraged and Chinese youth should be invited by Indian organizations for interaction and dialogue.
With changing economic poles and Asian giants withstanding recession, China is waiting for the opportune time through following hedging strategy without a clear mandate for any global player. It must continue to resist American presence in the region, as the strong US ties with Thailand and Singapore and a fear of its ability to block gateways to China’s trade route. Through Southeast Asia makes it uneasy. Growing Indian presence in this Mekong region, often symbolized by the phrase Ganga-Mekong cooperation is also looked with suspicion by Beijing, taking it as a part of Tokyo-Washington-Delhi arc of democratic cooperation.
SM Krishna will have to talk tough with Pakistan a small nuclear irritant compared with China and make South Block focused more on Chinese front.