Doklam resolution: Departure from reluctant foreign policy
There has been consistency in India’s foreign policy — with a steady focus on neighbourhood — since Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose Bhutan for his first foreign visit in June 2014.
Modi is carrying forward the foreign policy of the Vajpayee regime. We all remember that the then NDA Government had strategised ways to tackle China’s imperial designs. In this perspective, Vajpayee’s letter to the then US President had explained the logic of nuclear tests.
After coming to power, Modi worked diligently to neutralise China’s expansionism by further strengthening alliance with the USA and Japan, something that was not possible during Jawaharlal Nehru’s time and even after him during later Congress Governments.
Nehru was confused and driven by a wave of reluctance as it was reflected in India’s diplomacy from 1949 to 1964. On the contrary, Modi has discarded the theory of reluctance. The efforts seem to have yielded positive diplomatic results with the Doklam resolution in India’s favour despite war-mongering rhetorics by the Chinese state media. The Chinese media not merely blamed India for the border face-off but also threatened Delhi with dire consequences. But the Modi Government stuck to its guns, not surrendering to the Dragon’s arm-twisting nostrums.
Europe and Asia watched the 72-day stand-off with bated breath. Many countries liked the way India’s soft diplomacy put China on the back foot.
This was possible due to an emerging triangle in the world politics. India-US-Japan is a new alliance with a common agenda to contain China. The trilateral bonhomie has left China restless; and it is now looking for ways to isolate India in Asia. Keeping this in mind, the Dragon has forayed into Nepal with chequebook diplomacy.
China’s New Strategy in Nepal
Beijing is looking for more say in the internal politics of Nepal as reciprocation of its economic support to the Himalayan state. It provided $1 million towards the country’s local elections in May this year. However, the superficial patchwork has failed to weaken rock-solid relationship between India and Nepal.
Moreover, the new regime in Nepal is not toeing Beijing’s line, thus frustrating China’s manoeuvring. The frequent shift of political baton from one hand to another in Nepal does not augur well for the Nepal-China agreements signed during Olis’ visit to China.
However, the Dragon is unwilling to give up. It has started pumping Chinese currency in the landlocked Himalayan state; something China has done in Sudan earlier.
China thinks making inroads into political decision-making in Nepal is the only way to protect its interests vis-a-vis India. Therefore it is funding various projects in Nepal, which is an important cog in Dragon’s ambitious “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) wheel. Several projects, including Kathmandu Ring Road Phase II, Pokhara International Airport, Gautam Buddha International Airport and the West Seti Hydropower are in the pipeline.
The recent investment of China is huge: almost $317 million for building road and rail, which is many times more than the Indian investment in Nepal.
China is confident that India cannot match Beijing in chequebook diplomacy. However, deciphering Dragon’s game plan, the Modi Government has increased India’s share of economic help to Nepal.
The rail project to connect Tarai area of Nepal is underway. However, rail and road projects are not the only bonding between India and Nepal as the relationship between the two civilisations goes back to thousands years of people-to-people connectivity.
China’s Soft Belly and India
China has a soft belly, and it’s important that India aggressively pursues it. As we all know that the fuel-guzzler Dragon is heavily dependent on oil import — according to figures published by state media, more than 80 per cent of its oil imports travel via the Indian Ocean or Strait of Malacca — it will only shoot itself in the foot by turning the region into a conflict zone.
India is strategically located at the heart of China’s energy lifeline and the “Belt and Road Initiative”, therefore offending India will only push her into the rival camp, creating more problems for the Dragon.
India, along with Japan and other East Asian countries, has the potential to trigger a series of issues in the South China Sea.
The India-US-Japan alliance is active, and in July, India, the US and Japan completed their 10-day Malabar 2017 naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal. Around the same time, the US approved $365 million sale of military transport aircraft to India and a $2-billion deal for surveillance drones.
The US wants India to play a pivotal role in Afghanistan. The recent meeting between the US Defence Secretary and India’s Defence Minister is a crucial step in that direction. The US understands India’s potential in nation-building of the war-torn Afghanistan. India’s humanitarian aid has been highly appreciated by Afghanistan and the world powers. However, India has softly parried US’ push for its military role in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, China-Pakistan joint venture abortively tried to hijack the Afghan issue in 2015, leading to chaos in Afghanistan. While India is working for regional peace, China’s misdemeanour has got a tarter in Japan, which is threatening Chinese dominance in the South China Sea.
The Dragon is active in Pakistan with an aim to bleed India. More than $55 million economic corridor has been developed in Pakistan. In return, China got presence in Gwadar port, which established China as a strong power in the Indian Ocean. Also, the Dragon is pumping a lot of funds to lure rogue states like North Korea.
Therefore, it is imperative that the new alliance — India-US-Japan — should work with more conviction to contain China.
The Communist Party of China enclave is going to take place on October 18, 2017. It is reported that the Dragon is going to take stock of the situation arising after Doklam face-off and the emergence of the new trilateral alliance. There is evidence that Xi Jiping will get more power in the party summit. His offensive foreign policy will get more weight and importance.
India is also gearing up for the next general election scheduled for 2019. As the departure from Nehruvian “reluctant” foreign policy has credited a lot of support for Modi, it is likely the policy is intact in future.
Moreover, Indian diplomacy has been successful to an extent in trying to declare Pakistan a rogue state. India-US joint venture is working on this agenda and some successes
too have come by. Pakistan has been sidelined and declared a “Terroristan” at UNGA.
The surgical strike by India a year ago has sent a strong message to Pakistan and the world community that the Modi Government would not compromise with terrorism.
Next on the platter is India’s pronounced Tibet Policy. If not complete Tibet, Outer Tibet must be declared a buffer zone between India and China. This will automatically resolve many issues India has been facing. It is not straightforward, but consistent efforts and an emerging force of triangle may help in achieving this goal.
(The writer is Head of the Department of Political Science, Central University of Haryana)
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