A FAILED DIPLOMACY
Lackadaisical attitude in foreign policy is worrisome
Bhagwati Prakash Sharma
FOREIGN policy initiatives of India had never been so lacklustre, with almost a defeatist approach after the Independence, as they are today. The country, though could at last get rid of the robotic Foreign Minister SM Krishna, who even lacked the minimum vision to distinguish his speech from the already read lecture of his Portuguese counterpart in UN General Assembly, which he went on reading from the print-out left by the Portuguese minister.
But, the recent ignominious invitation by the new incumbent Salman Khurshid to China, to play an active role into the Indian Ocean region also amounts to demean us and cede our leadership role, in favour of China in this region of exclusive sphere of influence of India and is a shocking surprise to every sensible observer of international relations. Such an invitation to China was altogether unwarranted as China has never waited, nor is waiting for India’s consent to expand its footprint in the south Asian and India ocean regions, traditionally considered to be India’s periphery.
Moreover, due to a decade-long diffidence of India, coupled with undue easing out by us from this traditional strategic role, now, the affairs of South Asia are unfortunately being shaped by the Chinese aspirations, with a bit of targeted prejudice towards us. Indeed, New Delhi’s welcoming of China to play an active role in this region at a time when China is aggressively warning us to be away from South China sea, else face Chinese wrath would undermine the faith of the countries of this region into us. This explicit defeatism by the new foreign minister by using words like, “India will have to accept the new reality of China’s presence in areas it (India) considers exclusive” and that “the real praise of India’s foreign policy will come in being able to combine it’s (India’s) strengths with Chinese, avoiding to target the aspirations of anyone else in the world’’ (i.e. of China) is beyond any justification.
Indeed, China’s rising profile and aspirations in ‘South Asian and Indian Ocean regions’ are no more hidden. It is also no more a secret that their (Chinese) moves are also strategically focused to the prejudice of India. But, what is worrisome is the diminishing role of India and the rapidity of pace with which New Delhi has ceded the strategic space to Beijing in these regions traditionally considered to be India’s periphery, by its withdrawal. Thus, when China is persistently targeting Indian aspirations in this area of exclusive influence of India in the region, an explicit announcement to admit China as an active partner in such words as “ China… would give a right arm to be in the Indian Ocean as comfortably as India is placed in the Indian Ocean…” is most unfortunate and reflects a defeatist approach. Especially, when China has been warning India in very unequivocal terms to keep off the South China sea, with an explicit threat of aggression and retaliation.
Aforesaid statement of invitation to China in this region is bound to ward off the countries of South Asia and Indian Ocean region away from New Delhi and encourage them to seek solace with Beijing, presuming that New Delhi is wishfully flexible for China to subrogate India in this region.
With this easing out by India from its traditional strategic role, now the affairs in the South-Asian and Indian-Ocean regions are being increasingly shaped by the Chinese to fulfill their aspirations, even to the prejudice of India. The hyper-enhanced assertion of China followed by explicit welcome of Chinese by our foreign minister, as right hand in the area, has prompted the countries of these twin regions to play China, off against India. China has already become the largest trade partner of most the countries in the twin regions, including India and has been rapidly subrogating India, targetedly aiming Indian aspirations to emerge as a global player of hyper-significance.
India’s inaction out of such diffidence, to renew the Indo-Bhutan treaty of 1949 in 2004, when it expired and the passiveness, which indirectly supported Maoist uprisings in Nepal, during the tenure of UPA-I, completed under siege of CPM, when the Nepalese affairs were left to the discretion of Sitaram Yechury of CPM, are the two such cases among the legion other examples of foreign policy paralysis.
This time now, when China has neither solicited India’s consent nor is waiting for it, to expand its footprint in these regions, New Delhi’s welcoming of China to play its role was out of place and has led towards decline in the faith of the countries of this reign in us.
Moreover, it is also baseless to presume that it was not for yielding any operating space to China, and was used as a tactical statement to soothe our relations with Chinese. Because, simultaneously the same FM has been describing China as a challenge, even bigger than the trust deficit with the Pakistan, which has amounted to opening of our cards before China, that in true sense we treat them as our rival like a foe. Thus, this posture of arousing Chinese goodwill by declaring China as the right arm was futile to bring Beijing closer to us, due to, side-by-side painting them as a bigger challenge than Pakistan, and our meek admission of assigning a decisive role for China in these twin regions has prompted the countries from these regions to seek greater solace with China. Such a dichotomy of inviting China to partner, wield their influence in our periphery and also extend the right hand in the sphere of our influence and simultaneously describing them as a challenge bigger than Pakistan within a month is difficult to find a precedence in international relations and foreign policy strategy.
The new Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, should instead of welcoming China as an active player in the Indian Ocean and South Asian regions, rather think of a strategy to retain our traditional role and should also plan strategic response for a more active role in the countries in China’s periphery. Indeed India has now begun to display subtle gestures to play in Chinese periphery comprising interalia, the South East Asia, but it is lacking speed and consistency.
Here, it should also not be ignored that, in Latin America and Africa as well, Beijing is now the most active player and has begun to endeavour to displace the US and European influence, from the Latin America and Africa respectively. Latin America, which had been considered the exclusive periphery of the US, has now even begun to fortify against the US and have forged a new group termed as the ‘Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC)’. It is for the first time in the 100 years’ history of Americas that all the 33 nations of Americas, barring the US and Canada have held a 2-day summit, sidelining Canada and the US, just to counter the US influence and improve their regional ties. Almost more than a dozen countries are having the governments, inclined to the new global left, emerged out of the populist civil society movement, constituting the World Social Forum. The Chinese Communist Party is also being reported to have participated in the World Social Forum meets, wherein, almost more than 1.3 lakh left inclined activists meet every year to explore alternatives to strengthen pro-left movements and install left inclined regimes of the new global left world over.
China has taken an early cue from this new reality, and has taken initiatives to forge closer ties with the Latin American and Caribbean nations. China has forged very close ties and has become largest trade partner of Latin American block with currency swaps and other agreements of economic cooperation. In Africa also, China is now the largest player with respect to trade and infra-structure development. Now, it has acquired the same role and place in the South Asia and Indian Ocean regions as well, replacing India.
It is strange that why India is turning increasingly passive in cultivating a strong bond of —diplomatic, economic and development focused—relationships, required to have been forged with South Asia, Indian ocean region, Latin America and Africa. It is high time for India to come out of its diplomatic diffidence and begin to have active engagement to cultivate strong bond of bilateral, plurilateral and multilateral relations including participation in the economic and developmental affairs across the geopolitical and economic blocks.
Whether it is Kashmir problem or cross border Jihadi terrorism of Pakistan and the other problems of international relations or there may be high stakes of commitments on economic or environmental issues, it is the numerical support which determines the negotiating power on all the multi-lateral or plurilateral fora.
But, ignoring this vital need of cultivating, close and multi-dimensional relationship with various geo-political and economic groupings, India has unduly locked its trade, economic and diplomatic focus upon China by elevating it (China) to the status of our largest trade partner, the source of most of the technological hardware and even of finance. The government’s decision to promote corporates to borrow through Yuan (Chinese currency) denominated bonds, coupled with inviting the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China was nonetheless than rendering India paralytically dependent upon China with a precariously high trade deficit which is highest with any single country.
This abject surrender of economic interests in the hope of bartering peace with China is altogether futile, as China is doing all that it can do to provoke unwarranted conflict by its aggressive postures. The number of border incursions by the Chinese soldiers has increased from 180 in 2011 to over 400 in the first 9 months of 2012 alone. Intrusion into, and assertion of their domain into Indian territory, dismantling of Indian demarcations on Bharat-Tibet border with direct confrontation with Indian Army men, destroying of patrol huts of the Indian forces and frequent face off with Indian soldiers, regular and frequent painting of words ‘China’ in side the Indian territory are now routine provocative acts. All these are being denied in the meetings of joint mechanism and flag meetings are another angle of their psychological warfare.
Recent face offs of PLA soldiers with Indian Army in Sikkim are even more strange, when China in 2003 has accepted Sikkim as part of India, when the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited China. All these reports are reaching to the Cabinet Committee on Security and the PMO as well. Recently the Indian Army has reported 99 sightings of Chinese Drones, between January to August this year. Top security brass of India (of the army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police) is also battling with a mysterious threat from Chinese side these days, arising from tennis ball sized unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Neither the ground based radar of the Indian Army could detect these, nor could the spectrum analyzer detect their signals.
In view of all such incidents, India should come out of this defeatist approach and clearly tell China to stop all such hostilities or else we should stop this liberal trade access, whereby we are incurring a hefty trade deficit of $56 billion, in a total bilateral trade of $80 billion, which is soon likely cross above $100 billion. It is a most strange example that whom the Foreign Minister is declaring as the security challenge of the first order, bigger than the trust deficit with Pakistan, is being given the trade preference of first order, at the cost of sustaining balanced trade relations with other countries and blocks. If we divert this trade to other nations, we may cultivate much closer cooperation with equally warm reciprocity from them.