By Rajeev Sharma
INDIA STANDS UP TO CHINA
What started off on November 3, carried on as the Sino-Indian bilateral relations continued a south-ward trajectory. The newest, and more serious, irritant between the two Asian behemoths pertained to the 15th Special Representatives’ Dialogue that was scheduled to begin in New Delhi on November 28 but got cancelled. India played hard ball with China and refused to bow down to “unacceptable” conditions of the Chinese for holding the SR-level dialogue and as a result the event has now been postponed indefinitely. This is the first time ever when the SR-level dialogue between India and China has been put off.
Beijing wanted India to scrap a Buddhist conference that was scheduled to be held in New Delhi around the same time because Dalai Lama was to attend the event. The world knows about China’s hyper sensitivity about the Dalai Lama, the supreme spiritual leader of the Tibetans worldwide and India is too well aware of this. Despite this knowledge, India refused to rebuff the Dalai Lama at China’s bidding. India flatly rejected the Chinese condition even if it meant that the SR-level dialogue were to be sacrificed at this point of time. However, at the same time, India is giving a high priority to maintaining good relations with China which is the largest trade partner of India with annual bilateral trade having already crossed the $ 60 billion mark. Tellingly, the MEA has refrained from issuing any official statement on the controversy and has not even put on record the postponement of the SR-level dialogue between China’s Vice Minister Dai Bingguo and India’s National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon.
This is a significant development in the regional politics which has international ramifications. India is already bugged over China’s alleged sins of omission and commission with regard to China’s Kashmir policy, the most serious of which is the continued presence of Chinese troops in Pakistan-administered Kashmir for about a year. It will have to be seen how China responds to the latest pro-activism in India’s diplomacy with China.
INDIA QUIET ON EGYPTIAN CRISIS
Makers and practitioners of India’s foreign policy need to be more pro-active in international affairs if India has genuine ambitions to become a global player. Days pass by when countries having friendly ties with New Delhi face domestic turbulence and no statement emanates from the Ministry of External Affairs. The recent examples are Syria and Egypt and there is no reaction from the MEA, not even the usual rhetoric of resolving all issues peacefully. The situation in these two countries is such that major powers are actively engaged in the power play and nobody has accused them of interfering in the domestic affairs of these countries. But India is quiet. Perhaps the Manmohan Singh government is too bogged down with its own problems. But this passivity or nonchalance or simply lack of interest is not the hallmark of a nation of 1.2 billion people with a trillion dollar economy that has ambitions of becoming a major power in foreseeable future.
Egypt is a case in point. Egypt is in the throes of the Arab Spring as Cairo’s Tahrir Square has once again emerged as epicenter of more mass protests and violent demonstrations. With at least 33 people killed in violent clashes in Tahrir Square, Egypt is witnessing Season 2 of the “February 12 Revolution”, the day this year when Hosni Mubarak was forced out of the presidency, an office that he had seized in 1981 after the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat.
Egypt’s present crisis started building up on November 18 when scores of thousands of protestors converged at Tahrir Square to carry on with the unfinished business. The reason is that though the mass protests managed to see the back of Mubarak, there was hardly any regime change at the ground level. The military, which ruled the roost during the Mubarak era, had now come to run the country overtly. The latest round of groundswell of people’s anger is against the transitional military government as the lot of the common man in Egypt has remained unchanged. The fresh protests have yielded a significant result: the Egyptian cabinet has offered its resignation to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) which is yet to announce its decision on the resignation offer. The timing of the latest crisis in Egypt was significant as the Arab state was just one week away from the scheduled parliamentary elections. The SCAF has eventually gone ahead with the polls as scheduled.
The Muslim Brotherhood, a major Salafist political force in Egypt, has already unilaterally announced its decision to keep off from the protests. This is because it’s Freedom and Justice Party is expected to do well in the polls. The Egyptian military, much like the Myanmar military regime, has already put in place constitutional safeguards for the military leaders, one of the reasons why the lot of the man on the street hasn’t changed in Egypt since February. But MB is not unjustified in trying to create more political space for itself in Egypt through the ballot rather than frittering it all away through violent demonstrations. One hopes that the Indian foreign policy makers rise from their slumber and take note of the developments in Egypt.