INDIA has been pursuing its look East policy, initiated by former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao with a vegeance. First was the visit of Presidnet Pratibha Patil to Laos and Cambodia which for long were countries neglected by the UPA government. In Laos, India extended a credit line of $72.55 million to finance two power projects. In Cambodia, President Patil signed two agreements, one to extend a credit line of $15 million for Phase II of the Stung Tassal Water Development Project. The coverage of President Patil’s two-country visit was, to say the least, very poor.
Equally poor was Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to Malaysia and Vietnam. The coverage was bare. The best assessment was made by a columnist Mahendra Ved whose assessment appeared in at least two papers, The Hitavada of Nagpur and The Sentinel of Guwahati. An explanation is called for. The India Abroad News Service (IANS) did better. It noted that Dr Singh’s interview to the Japanese media ahead of his three-day visit was “extensively covered in the newspapers” in Tokya. Asahi Shimbun mentioned the interview on the front page and carried the full report on the back page. The Daily Yomiuri had a full page report entitled ‘Indian Prime Minister’s Visit’, with several advertisements from Indian establishments like The State Bank of India, the Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Japan, (ICCJ).
The Japanese Prime Minister’s statement that his country was facing growing security challenges amid the rise in China’s naval activity, IANS said, “was clearly a major worry”. It was the lead in both The Daily Yomiuri and The Japan Times. As the IANS put it: “That China was a concern both in India and Japan was reflected by the fact that of the five stories on the front page of The Daily Yomiuri, three were on China. India’s new approach towards looking East has something to do with China is beyond questioning. “If the Indian Prime Minister is travelling in the East, the question of India’s relationship with China will inevitably arise, even if he is not visiting China,” said The Telegraph (October 29). It said: “China continues to be Pakistan’s staunch ally and this affects the balance of power in South Asia. China’s claims on Arunachal continues to torment India”.
The paper noted that “to curtail its (China’s) dominance on Asia and elsewhere, countries like Japan and the United States of America are making special deals with India. This is bound to be of some concern in Beijing despite the proverbial Chinese inscrutability”. The paper failed to say that for this China alone is to blame. However, it added: “There is the feeling that Chinese public postures are sometimes too provocative…Mr Singh, if he is sincere about reducing competition between India and China, will have to strive to achieve a major breakthrough fast”. That is a silly thing to say. The responsibility to reduce tensions lies entirely on China-The Times of India ran two editorials, one on October 29 and another on November 1. The first noted that “there was a certain inevitability to the China-India question coming up during Dr Singh’s visit” to the Far East countries. In India, for instance, a certain amount of credence is given to the “string of pearls” theory and any move by China is seen to be made with the intention to encircle and contain India. Again, said the paper, “irritants in the (Sino-Indian) relationship remain” and “New Delhi has not been pleased with Beijing’s hardened stance on Kashmir” but it demanded that “the larger picture must not be forgotten”.
In its second editorial the paper said that “when the credit and debit columns for… Dr Singh’s just-concluded East Asia trip are totted up, it may turn out to be one of the current administrations most significant foreign policy achievements”. “With a combined market of about $1.8 billion people and a total GDP of $2.8 trillion, the India-ASEAN free Trade Agreement signed last year has shown the potential of economic engagement and integration,” the paper added. Also, it said, “the enhancement of defence ties with Malaysia will make it that much easier to safeguard the vital shipping lanes of the Malacca Strait.” The paper didn’t say against whom. By way of advice the paper said that India can no longer afford to delay establishing a bigger presence in one of the leading centres of economic activity in Asia”.
Deccan Herald (November 2) commented on the meeting between Dr Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Hanoi and said that the rhetoric coming out of it “is positive”. The two reportedly agreed to maintain peace and calm along their disputed border and agreed “to be sensitive to each other’s core issues”. The Herald making the point said that “the Sino-India relationship cannot grow beyond a point if (their suspicion of each other) persists”. The Indian Express (October 30) seems more interested in technological development in China and said that “by unveiling the world’s fastest supercomputer – Tianhe-IA (Milky Way)… China has proved that it is now a technology superpower”. As it said, the Tianhe-IA has 1.4 times the horsepower of the current top computer in Tennessee USA. India had earlier been on the top where super computers were concerned, but now, said the paper “China has in one fell swoop overtaken it”. The Hitavada (October 29) took note of the fact that India was tilting more these days towards the United States but reminded what Dr Singh told a Malaysian paper that “India was not tilting towards the only superpower but its foreign policy was an expression of enlightened national interest”. The paper seemed to accept that view. It said: “In a rapidly globalising world order and growing inter-relations and interdependence, national borders are bound to be blurred and new relations are certain to emerge as is happening in several regions and among nations which hitherto would not see eye-to-eye with each other on several strategic, political or economic matters. However, in the changing scenario, India has been insisting that seeking new relations does not necessarily mean the forsaking of old relations… India now has multiple choices… which otherwise were not available in the past because of glitches in the relations of the two countries…”
It is interesting that the media has quietly forgotten Russia when it talks about India’s growing “tilt” towards the United States. That is the best way to avoid embarrassment.