Raja Mandala: Fruits of patience

Foreign secretary level talks indicate that New Delhi and Beijing are on their way to resolving differences over India’s NSG membership

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published:February 28, 2017 12:10 am
india china, NSG, india china relations, india china talks, foreign secretary, s jaishankar, india's china policy, C raja mohan column, indian express editorial, indian express columns, inidan express op ed New Delhi: Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar addressing the Implementation and Assessment Group Meeting of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo by Manvender Vashist

Strategic patience is a virtue in statecraft. But it is not about passive and endless waiting. It demands persistent pursuit of one’s goals and seizing the moment when the circumstances turn more favourable. It has certainly come to define India’s recent engagement with China. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar’s conversations in Beijing last week with senior Chinese officials offer the first glimmer of hope that India’s patience might begin to pay off. The downturn in bilateral relations over the last year was marked by China’s decision to block India’s campaign for the membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and putting Pakistan’s Masood Azhar (of the Jaish-e-Mohammed) on the terror list of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Delhi was certainly surprised by the intensity and inflexibility of Beijing’s approach to the two issues.

Although Beijing presented its objections in procedural terms, Delhi knew Beijing’s opposition was political. China’s sense of its own rise and a growing political clout in the multilateral arena seemed to convince Beijing that it was under no obligation to make nice with Delhi. After all, the current power differential between the two nations had become too glaring. China’s GDP is now nearly five times larger than that of India and its defence spending is three times bigger. That Delhi and Beijing are peers has long been an unstated assumption of India’s China policy. But Delhi now had to adapt to the political consequences of growing strategic asymmetry.

China’s opposition at the NSG and the UNSC also challenged another long-standing Indian belief. Delhi had also believed that despite deep differences with Beijing on many bilateral issues like the long and contested Himalayan boundary, there was great room for cooperation between India and China on global issues. But the developments at the two multilateral forums, the NSG and the UNSC, seemed to shatter that proposition. Making matters worse was the fact that Pakistan was a critical factor in China’s calculus at the NSG and the UNSC. Whatever the logic of Beijing’s strategic partnership with Islamabad, India had hoped that China will show some sensitivity to India’s concerns and would stay neutral in the disputes between the South Asian rivals. After the NSG and UNSC episodes it was difficult not to conclude that Beijing’s tilt towards Islamabad was absolute and complete.

Delhi, however, held its nerve and chose to persist with a two-fold approach. One was to continue the campaign for the membership of the NSG and putting Masood Azhar on UNSC’s terror list. The other was to take up China’s opposition at every diplomatic encounter — bilateral and multilateral — with Beijing. Despite repeated collisions with the Chinese wall, Delhi refused to give up. Last week’s positive soundings from the first round of the newly instituted strategic dialogue suggest Delhi’s patience and firm persistence on the two issues might have been worthwhile.

On its part, Beijing signaled its readiness to make the first round of strategic dialogue purposeful and the two sides prepared for a substantive discussion. The level of engagement, the breadth of the issues covered and the depth of discussions underlined the new commitment to limit the recent damage to bilateral relations. Setting the stage for last week’s conversation was the Trump factor that threatens to upend all assumptions on where the world is headed. If Delhi and Beijing had thought Trump’s election rhetoric would be mere posturing, they have been taken aback by the determination of the new president to change America’s course. The Trump discontinuity, Delhi and Beijing know, demands some fresh thinking in both capitals. Facile notions of linear and inevitable rise of China and India must now be tempered by the prospect for extraordinary geopolitical disruption.

As Jaishankar told the press in Beijing, “both India and China have been beneficiaries of a stable and open international system” and underlined the importance of limiting the impact of the current international turbulence on their respective national interests. “One thing that we could do together,” Jaishankar added, was to work for a “more stable, substantive, forward looking India-China relationship which would inject a greater amount of predictability into the international system.”

The positive characterisation of last week’s talks by both sides does not mean the multiple divergences can be bridged any time soon. Some issues like the boundary dispute, trade deficit, and the One Belt, One Road initiative, where the differences between the two sides are too deep, are not amenable to easy or early resolution. But others like India’s NSG membership are not too hard to resolve. The hints from Beijing that China is more open on this question are welcome. So are the continuing talks on international terrorism and the discussion on potential for cooperation in stabilising Afghanistan.

Delhi’s current realism on China is a welcome departure from the past, when India used hide problems in the grandiose rhetoric on global solidarity. Under the new approach, there is no fudging of differences. Nor would Delhi throw up its hands in despair. The Indian emphasis is on perseverance with China that puts self-interest above ideology and seeks common ground wherever possible.

The writer is director, Carnegie India, Delhi and consulting editor on foreign affairs for ‘The Indian Express’

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    Aryanji
    Feb 28, 2017 at 5:27 am
    China is one country we Aryans are not able to immigrate. Shri Jaishankar aryanJI has taken the right step. Soon we will be able to slowly SKREW China too like we skrewed south asia.
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      K SHESHU
      Feb 28, 2017 at 2:20 pm
      The talks may depart from the ' way' anytime
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        zizek
        Feb 28, 2017 at 7:23 am
        If that seemed funny to you, then certainly your sense of humor is pathetic!
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          aravind
          Feb 28, 2017 at 8:04 am
          Just how long Chinese economy can sustain exporting and ballooning trade balance with other countries? The US, who encouraged Chinese factories, has now found themselves in soup. The Europeans will soon become the next; it is a question of cycle effects. History is clear that authoritarian structures always burst under their own weight and pressure.
          Reply
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            aravind
            Feb 28, 2017 at 8:04 am
            Just how long Chinese economy can sustain exporting and ballooning trade balance with other countries? The US, who encouraged Chinese factories, has now found themselves in soup. The Europeans will soon become the next; it is a question of cycle effects. History is clear that authoritarian structures always burst under their own weight and pressure.
            Reply
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              blogger3110
              Feb 28, 2017 at 3:39 pm
              China can never be trusted it's long-term goals don't change but blows hot or cold time to timedia should not expect that China will change if it does it's deluding itself
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                Sajal Liza
                Mar 3, 2017 at 8:09 am
                There are so many rounds of talks held between the two countries to persuade China for the consent of Indian admission into NSG. In fact, Indian efforts are viewed as propaa against Chinese. This has also been clear by the Chinese spokesman that it is entirely wrong to view that ONLY China is obstructing India. China exclaims that it is not the only country to block India’s entry into the nuclear group which are Austria, Brazil, Ireland, New Zealand and Turkey are opposed to India’s bid too.
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                  kumar
                  Feb 28, 2017 at 6:56 am
                  Positive hints were not because of India's patience. We keep patience even with stan. It is because of Trump in the China shop.
                  Reply
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                    Antony
                    Feb 28, 2017 at 12:37 pm
                    we have to shed the slave mentality and build a strong military to counter china. chinese respect only strength! unfortunately modi govt has not realized the situation and following the same congress policy on china. There is no substantial increase in defence budget to buy capital weapon platforms for the armed forces shows that the govt is not serious about the defence of the country when china openly allied with stan and there is a fair chance of two front war!
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                      Gurvinder
                      Feb 28, 2017 at 4:49 pm
                      As of now there does not seem to be any chance of asymmetry changing. Russia, an old ally of India, too is changing stance
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                        Shivaji Gokhale
                        Feb 28, 2017 at 3:45 am
                        India is not yet using it's cards well, especially the Taiwan card and the Tibet card. We must make clever attempts at forging closer ties with Taiwan. We must use our federal structure to achieve this. Individual states of India must start developing closer ties with Taiwan, rather than the central government. As for Tibet, we must start looking for the successor to the Dalai Lama inside India and keep the aspirations of common Tibetans alive. We cannot afford to lose these two cards.
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                          Pramod
                          Feb 28, 2017 at 11:25 am
                          Sorry to say this. However, from the comments it appears that no one has read this article carefully. Please read again. China"s GDP is five times that of India and its potion almost equal to India. It means that its per capita income is five times that of India and China is five times richer than India . It is a number two global power, next only to the USA. India simply cannot match its defence budget. We still live in 1962. In a span of more than five decades, China has outpaced India in all respects. These are hard facts which simply cannot be refuted, though they are unpalatable. Consequently, china enjoys veto power in UN Security Council, while India doesn't. Though it doesn't mean that we should tow Chinese line or be their satellite, it does mean that relations between China and India are bound to be asymmetrical. Our diplomacy towards China has to factor in theses hard and harsh realities.
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                            David
                            Feb 28, 2017 at 1:10 am
                            China is not as powerful as made up to be.lt;br/gt;China'seconomic model is not sustainable and China realizes it.
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                              Giri
                              Feb 28, 2017 at 8:51 am
                              It seems unduly naive and optimistic to expect the cynical China to mend its ways and atude toward India anytime soon. It is so much in bed with the stani army and its evil child ISI, it is inconceivable that it would change its atude to the jihadism and export of terror by stan even though the latter affects its own border areas.
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                                Sohail
                                Feb 28, 2017 at 5:50 am
                                You are really funny. Write for Kapil Sharma show.
                                Reply
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                                  Thimma Reddy
                                  Feb 28, 2017 at 10:40 am
                                  Total gibberish conclusion . China Would never walk the talk. We Indians are fools , when some one shows a lolly we think he is our best friend and keep dreaming until he stabs you on your back .
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