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Asia’s strategic triangle

The PM’s visit to Japan sent the right signals to China

Written by T P Sreenivasan | Published: June 14, 2013 12:42 am

The PM’s visit to Japan sent the right signals to China

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tokyo within a week of Prime Minister Li’s visit to India was a coincidence,but it turned out to be a Kautilyan masterstroke. The handshake across the Himalayas,as Li characterised his visit,was aimed at creating a facade of friendliness,without any fundamental change in China’s quest for global domination. The agenda was Chinese,happily gobbled up by India for its own reasons. The visit to Tokyo was marked by a new strategic consensus between Japan and India,following a rediscovery of common interests. For Japan,it also marked the new politics and economics of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The biggest lie in the China-India statement is that the two countries are neither rivals nor competitors,but partners. It seeks to alter the meaning of the three English words. If there is no rivalry or competition with India,why is China frittering away valuable resources to wean South Asian countries from India’s sphere of influence? Why has the door for border skirmishes been left open by an unsettled international boundary? Japan and India have no bilateral issues. Both have to handle Chinese territorial claims. Both have vital interests in South East Asia and Africa. As Japan begins to focus on Asia and India looks east,much can be done by the two in third countries. The democratic underpinnings of the two countries should also be a bond.

The excitement over the desire to increase trade between India and China to $100 billion should be confined to the Chinese consumer industry. Balanced trade is a mirage. China has no interest except in our raw materials and Chinese products do more harm than good to our economy. As for Chinese investment in our infrastructure,it will have strings attached. Japan has a long history of development assistance to India and trade,though not large,has not been lopsided. Japan has a stake in developing the mineral sector in India. The Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor has great potential. The automobile industry in India can also grow with higher Japanese investment.

Civil nuclear cooperation is envisaged with both China and Japan. Problems exist in both cases. China had opposed the Nuclear Suppliers Group exemption for India till the last moment. It is not likely to enter into nuclear cooperation with India,given its commitment to give Pakistan an edge over India in the nuclear area. Japan would like India to sign the NPT and CTBT as a precondition for nuclear cooperation. But both India and Japan are optimistic about evolving a formula that will facilitate nuclear trade.

The Chinese promise to settle the border issue should be taken with a large pinch of salt. The Ladakh developments indicate a hardening rather than a softening of the Chinese position on the border. A Line of Actual Control is meaningless if the two sides cannot fortify their positions on their sides. It is amazing that our own commentators have accepted the Neville Maxwell theory that suggests India is responsible for the Chinese action. Japan shares with India the anxiety over Chinese territorial claims,given Beijings new assertions in the South China Sea. Abe has been speaking of a security diamond,touching Japan,India,Australia and the US island of Hawaii. Vietnam may well add another angle.

The stark contrast between China and Japan on our quest for permanent membership of the UN Security Council is most striking. India and Japan have been on the same page on this issue since 1979. China’s opposition to Indian entry is no less strident than its views on Japan,but China tends to sugar-coat it’s formulation on India. Recognising India’s aspirations to play a greater role in the UNSC does not acknowledge even our candidature for permanent membership.

The Chinese media reaction to the Japan visit gave away the Chinese game. The Japanese were called “petty burglars” for attempting to win over India and it was asserted that Japan would never be able to reduce Chinese influence in Asia. Having advised India not to forsake neighbours for the sake of distant friends,China had no qualms in deriding Japan-India friendship.

Many see a new warmth in India-China relations. Much has been made of Li’s India connection and his newspaper diplomacy. But what has been accomplished is in accordance with the Chinese agenda and the message is that we should lower our guard against the Chinese threat and scale down our defence preparedness. China characterised the immediate resolution of the Ladakh crisis as a miracle,no matter who ignited the crisis. Defence Minister A.K. Antony was right when he responded that no miracles are possible in India-China relations.

The Japan visit was a befitting sequel to the euphoria about a new phase in Sino-Indian relations,which came close on the heels of the despondency in Ladakh. The Japan card was well played. Together with our refusal to reiterate the One China policy and the PM’s assertion that settlement of the border issue is essential for normalising relations,it gave the right signal to the Chinese. It was India’s turn to teach the Chinese a lesson or two.

The writer,former ambassador of India and governor for India of the IAEA,is executive vice-chairman,Kerala State Higher Education Council

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