Tuesday, May 21, 2013

“Soft” Indian diplomacy proves its worth….

The successful visit of the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to India should be a slap on the face of hardliners, who just a few weeks back, were preaching that India should escalate tensions with the neighbor. Had we gone down that path, we would have got embroiled in an unnecessary spat with a China that even the West fears to engage militarily. Fortunately, the hot heads were kept out of the diplomatic process, and restricted to irrelevant TV shows. If these people had the guts to admit mistakes ever, this would be a good point to start.

There is a huge symbolism in the Chinese Premier making his first international stop in India. He could have gone anywhere he chose. He could have gone to the US, which would have been natural, considering how much trade the two countries share, and the amount of US debt China holds. He would have been given a warm welcome, and even the US would have gloated that it was the first country to be chosen by Li for a visit. He could have gone anywhere in Europe where the sinking economies would have surely rolled out the red carpet, with an eye on the billions and trillions that Li could splurge. Li could have gone to Pakistan, even though that was less likely, considering the terrible reputation of that country, as also the solid control China already exerts on it. Or it could have made a grand “visionary” statement by visiting an African country, sending an emotional “this is the African century” kind of message; at the same time protecting his country’s huge economic interests in the continent. But no, Li chose India. Li came trooping in to India, even if that warranted an almost humiliating withdrawal from a “daggers drawn” position in the Himalayas just a few weeks back. Why, is the question the hardliners will fail to answer.

Oh, of course its for reasons of trade, they’ll argue. But wait a moment and think about this. The “target” for two-way trade between India and China is some $100 billion by 2015. Assuming China has an advantage, its export to India could be $60-70 billion out of this. For a country that exports nearly $1.5 trillion worth of goods every year, this is loose change. It cannot be trade then. Could it be investments that Chinese companies seek to make in this fast growing market? After all, media reports indicate that many of the people traveling with Li are those who can be called “sellers” of Chinese wares. Fair enough. Chinese companies want to expand their presence in India. That’s what bonds countries together. India is bound to be suspect of Chinese investments, but it is satisfying that the neighbor is here paying obeisance to the Indian “economic dynamo” and wooing India to allow it to grow its presence.

Yet another reason could be that China doesn’t want any diplomatic fracas with India at a time when it is already engaged in an eye-for-an-eye push in the South China Sea. Or it wants to keep India out of the US-Japan-Israel grouping and thus nip a growing “surround China” strategy being orchestrated by these countries. If that’s true, India has played its diplomatic cards right, putting pressure where it matters. Again, this has been achieved “softly”, without much noise, especially on Indian TV news channels.

Either way you look at it, the symbolism of the first Chinese visit is enormous. With this visit, China has extended a warm hand of friendship. It would be stupid for India to fall for the “affectionate” rhetoric; but it surely helps that there is peace on the borders. India needs to focus on mending its economy, and pulls hundreds of millions more out of poverty, and anything that helps it do that is welcome. After all, the whole purpose of diplomacy is to protect a country’s larger interest. There is no place for a hot head in diplomacy; only a cool master.

Further, its not as if India has skirted the main issues aside to appease China. It has “strongly” raised the border issue, and the two countries have expressed a willingness to resolve the same through talks. Both countries have shown a maturity that is only possible between two partners who respect each other. This kind of maturity is pretty impossible with Pakistan. But it is with China. India has also forcefully stated that trade and all that is fine, but trade imbalance needs to be sorted out too. And on Brahmaputra and other river waters, China has reassured India that it will take care of our concerns, not doing anything that disturbs the downstream potential of the mighty rivers. Lets be honest here. China has done its bit, even going farther than we could have expected, behaving with the maturity required of a large neighbor. The ball is now in the Indian court. Thankfully, we have a government that understands diplomacy, and not one that behaves as if its brains were located in its loins.

The real truth is that soft diplomacy is the only type of diplomacy that exists. Those who argue for India to take a hardline – meaning that we should force a military conflict with China or Pakistan, or threaten them with adventurism – are plain foolish. The BJP is at the forefront of such demands. Of course, the BJP’s demands are all opportunistic; it would practice nothing but softness when and if it came to power….

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