Intro: PM Modi’s art of new diplomacy to engage with foreign nations including China may carry bilateral relations beyond traditional diplomacy, especially in the sectors of energy, economics and can usher the dream of ‘Asian Century’.
Fasting in America and Parikrama in China, Prime Minister Modi perhaps knows how non-political medium can add value to his new diplomatic theorems which India would follow for decades to come. So far, the policy deliberation and symbolic diplomacy of the present government has borne fruit. The energy to lay down the foundation of India’s new diplomacy with small and big powers has transformed India’s foreign policy propositions. With PM Modi’s transmogrifying touch to India’s foreign policy, these underpinning theorems of bi-lateral policy are set to undergo substantial changes.
On the backdrop of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s recently concluded China trip, the Chinese sensitivities over India’s bonhomie with the US once again underline the global contour of India’s distinct yet path-breaking diplomatic detours. Apart from the ‘breakthrough’ in Indo-US Nuclear deal, the joint statement (including the one issued during PM Modi’s visit to US) by both these countries mentioned their concerns over the South China Sea.
Highlights of Sushma’s China Visit
India’s Foreign minister proposed a six-point template to boost India-China ties:
Although, post-Xi Jinping’s visit to India, the bilateral ties have followed a certain trajectory, they also point towards the urgency and China’s cautious reciprocal stand towards India’s foreign policy reverberations in the regional and global context. At this juncture, a variety of approaches to engage can be meld together and these may carry bilateral relations beyond traditional diplomacy, especially energy, economics and ushering the dream of ‘Asian Century’.
The same was reflected when China along with Russia extended their backing for India's inclusion in the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) as well as Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (India applied for a full membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s (SCO’s) Dushanbe Summit in September 2014) besides supporting its aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations.
China considers India as a credible partner in fighting against terrorism and India’s role has also been appreciated by the Chinese. It is noteworthy that SCO, which aims to conduit efforts to eradicate terrorism, has so far proved futile due to conflict of interests within the group members, and as a result SCO could not help China accomplish its concerns over terrorism along its borders. As a result, besides holding talks with top Chinese leadership, the External Affairs Minister was also invited to attend Russia, India, China (RIC) foreign ministers meeting so that the three countries could reach a broader understanding to fight terrorism.
PM Modi's bi-lateral engagements and progression towards making India a smart power has highlighted its strategies vis-à-vis China, in Asia and globally. The academic and overall media deliberations in China endorse one such opinion that Modi is seen to engage with China with multiplicity. This has been validated though the steps taken by the Indian side to reduce mutual tensions and strategic mistrust. While the Indian side is adopting a broader conception of their national interests, which include advancing the common good as a means to drive the bilateral and multilateral policies, the Indian knowledge about Chinese reciprocity still remains unclear. For example, since the change of the government, Indian deliberations have matured to isolate Chinese interest in South Asia. I believe that Chinese have yet to distinguish their doctrinal position on evolving geopolitical realities in the sub-continent. This could be because the Chinese strategic and academic community does not entertain multiple schools of thoughts and let independent strategic opinions prevail. The party doctrines certainly overrule any diversity of opinion in China especially if it perforates the political leadership’s thoughts. This further impacts the foundations of the getting over the trust-deficiency.
Evidently, disagreements between India and China are unavoidable but these should be handled diplomatically and privately. We have to find common ground with China to regulate this underlying competition. Public diplomacy should aim to enlighten the citizens of both countries about the importance of their mutual ties. The present leadership in India need to believe that it is vital to engage not just the governments of other countries but their people as well. So far, India’s China policy has fallen short on this front. Political leaders are responsive to their people, so engaging the public at all levels could bolster India’s ability to influence foreign nations.The objectives of using a smart-soft power approach and rebuilding India’s standing may be meshed perfectly by pursuing tangible and lasting results.
Since Modi’s absence in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Beijing summit in November 2014, the Chinese India watchers have been struggling hard to design Modi’s visit to China. Amidst the speculative set of dates, Chinese are anticipating Modi's most awaited visit to China.
While India reiterates that it welcomes China as a prosperous and friendly neighbour, China should also look at India as an equal stake holder in Asia and its considerations regarding region’s peace, stability and prosperity cannot be overlooked. Hence, top Indian and Chinese officials need to exchange visits and institutionalise their exchanges on major strategic and economic issues. Modi-Xi leadership has the capacity to do what the relationship needs the most, a new strategic concept for the future that is capable of sufficiently embracing both Indian and Chinese realities.
Dr Aravind Yelery (The writer is a visiting Associate Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi)