India and the new status of Xi Jinping

| | in Oped

While the Modi Government has widened India’s foreign policy, a narrow, academic and West-dominated disclosure seems to be restricting the play of the full potential of the India-China partnership

This article is a continuation of the previous column,  “Welcome, China’s President for life” (April 2) exploring the India-China relationship under the changed conditions of engagement. From the point of view of India, this is an extremely favourable situation.

This is so not only because of the mere practical fact of political stability that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s leadership will usher in the years to come, but also because China’s renewed focus on cultural revival makes it look towards India as its natural ally in the new transformation that is taking place the world over and in which Asiatic resurgence, led by the restoration of close-knit cultural and political cooperation, is the vision that dominates China’s internal apolitical circles.

This puts in perspective the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi’s, recent comment: “The Chinese dragon and Indian elephant must not fight each other but dance with each other. If China and India are united, one plus one is not equal to two but eleven. Despite some tests and difficulties, China-India relationship continues to grow.”

This was further confirmed by Chinese Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Lu Kang’s statement that Wang Yi’s comments represented China’s “basic position” on its relationship with India.

It is unfortunate that only the Indian Government welcomed China’s comments, while a majority of public ‘analysts’ either dismissed them or treated them with suspicion, as usual.

For how long can India continue to harbour a selfish, Western-inspired foreign policy of ‘balance of powers’ by striking utilitarian relationships with nations to balance out competing interests and contain rivals?

It is commendable that China is not even reacting to India’s plans to ‘contain’ it in the Indian Ocean by allying with Japan, the US and Australia, or trying to forge a  Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) replica through the Asia-Africa Economic Corridor or the trade route with Iran and Afghanistan — all being done, like Doklam, to ostensibly put China in its place.

Despite these irritants spawned by a seemingly inconsistent Indian policy on China, the latter, on its part, is trying not to leave any stone unturned to accommodate India. From offering to rename the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to agreeing to grey-list Pakistan in the terror-funding list, China is trying its best to accommodate India while ensuring that its business interests in Pakistan are not disturbed.

India has not yet fully grasped the positive role China’s intervention in Pakistan will play in the  near future.

China’s foreign economic policy seemingly entails making poorer nations indebted to itself  without being a brutal creditor, like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund — this enables China to control these countries as well as achieve its purposes of positive cultural indoctrination in them.

Pakistan is nothing more than one such country. What China did in Sri Lanka and Africa, it is doing in Pakistan. Recent reports, in Swarajya magazine claim that China has been secretly holding talks with the Baloch separatists without involving Pakistan in order to protect its business interests in the region — this shows how much of an ‘equal’ ally Pakistan really is.

Leaked documents of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor also show that China has been interested in controlling the Pakistani media and other cultural centres and conduct surveillance in Pakistani cities — obviously, de-radicalising Pakistan would serve to counter the Muslim separatist threat faced by China in its Xinjiang Province.

Despite China treating Pakistan as nothing more than a convenient strategic ground, India cannot seem to grasp this. It continues to want China to treat Pakistan and India equally — what a travesty of equality that would be!

Despite India’s insistence, the fact that China treats India with utmost respect and as its own equal in power and cultural history, has been India’s luck for decades. But India wants to be treated like Pakistan — a classic instance of how foreign policy stumbles.

The reason why China holds India in high regard despite constant political tensions between the two countries is mainly because of India’s status as a cultural powerhouse and its ancient lineage. This is set to accelerate under Xi’s leadership.

If Xi Jinping remains around for a long time and if India-China relations get back to their true spirit, the vision of Asiatic political resurgence may not seem that distant a dream. On its part, India needs to work out that textbook implementation of theories like the ‘balance of power’ — spawned by a West-dominated discipline of international relations — by forging unfruitful alliances like the Quad, simply egg on China without doing much to actually contain it.

Perhaps, we should take a leaf out of China’s book and attempt to evolve a foreign policy informed more by our own historical and cultural traditions and visionary in nature, based on political statesmanship and not mechanical bureaucratic wisdom.

While the Narendra Modi Government has widened the overall foreign policy, a selfish, narrow, academical and West-dominated approach seems to be restricting the play of the full potential of India-China partnership.

(The writer is with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies  and writes for The Resurgent India Trust)

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