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The other neighbour

His diplomacy with Pakistan may grab headlines, but PM Modi cannot afford to be complacent on China.

Written by Ram Madhav | Published: June 7, 2014 1:06 am
PM Modi has proved that he understands the external affairs department well enough. (Source: Reuters) PM Modi has proved that he understands the external affairs department well enough. (Source: Reuters)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign relations innings began with a bang with the invitation to heads of the SAARC countries for his swearing-in. The resounding success of that initiative can be gauged from the fact that all but one head of state/ government turned up for the event, making it an international relations coup of sorts.

Through this deft move, PM Modi proved that he understands the external affairs department well enough. He is not all that new to other countries and their leaders. As chief minister and even earlier as a party leader, he had visited several countries, including China, Japan and the US. His home state became a destination for countless world leaders during his stewardship and he regularly rubbed shoulders with the high and mighty from more than a hundred countries during the Vibrant Gujarat summit and other events.

His cabinet colleague and minister for external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, too is no novice to the subject. As leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, she had had the opportunity to interact with a number of senior world leaders, including US President Barack Obama. Her recent visits to Singapore and Sri Lanka as the leader of the BJP showed her grip on foreign affairs. Leaders of those countries fondly remember their association with her even to this day.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s participation in the swearing-in has raised big hopes in the diplomatic circles in both countries. India and Pakistan have had chequered relations from day one. Moreover, the BJP is seen as a hardline party when it comes to relations with Pakistan. Given that scenario, it is natural that a lot of discussion took place on whether Modi and Sharif would kickstart a new era in vexed bilateral ties.

This feverish enthusiasm is understandable. Many Indians have, for several decades, been obsessed with Pakistan. For them, the benchmark of success of our international relations is our relationship with Pakistan. They fail to appreciate that India is miles ahead of its failed western neighbour. They also fail to realise that Sharif is not the right man to deliver anything. As Ayaz Amir pointed out in his latest article in The News, while Manmohan Singh took 10 years to fail, Sharif may need just two years to collapse. Already the all-powerful Pakistan army and the mercenaries of the ISI are baying for his blood. As Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai pointed out, the attack on the Indian consulate in Herat by ISI cronies on the very day of Modi’s swearing-in was more a warning to Sharif than to India.

However, the Modi government should realise that the real foreign policy challenge comes not from Pakistan but from China. India and China have been uneasy neighbours for longer years than India and Pakistan. Unlike Pakistan, China is a big and successful country. On the eve of the visit of China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the Indian government should revisit its China policy. The Indian leadership should understand one basic truth. It hardly matters in China’s context as to how many times our leaders have visited China or vice versa. The notion that diplomacy is all about proximity doesn’t hold any water in China’s context. Nehru to Nixon had good experience of it.

What plagues our foreign policy with regard to China is the utter lack of knowledge about the Himalayan neighbour in our country. With Pakistan, our obsession is security, whereas with China we are overawed by the talk of development there. Ordinary individuals and ministers alike look at China only through the prism of its development and fail to appreciate the complex civilisational traits of that country.

All neighbours are not alike. China is certainly not like any other neighbour. China is not just a country or a government; it is a civilisation. To understand China, our leader should better understand their civilisational behaviour. We should know Sun Tzu’s Art of War; we should study Confucius. China’s policy behaviour is largely shaped by its civilisational experience. Diplomacy, for them, is an art of deception.

In 1954, India and China proclaimed Panchsheel as the basis of our relations. Successive Indian leaders, including A.B. Vajpayee, never missed the opportunity to refer to Panchsheel and “peaceful coexistence” as enshrined in it in bilateral talks. No wonder, if the present leadership is also forced to continue the ritual by MEA mandarins. But we forget that the obituary of Panchsheel was written by Mao in 1962 itself when he told Zhou Enlai that India and China should practise not “peaceful coexistence” but “armed coexistence”.

Another important aspect of China to be borne in mind is that, as in Pakistan, the military plays an important role in China too. The Central Military Commission, the all-powerful body that controls the Chinese military, reports to the Communist Party of China more than to the government of China. While we deal with the government leadership on various bilateral issues we can’t overlook the fact that the view of the military on various cross-border issues is also significant.

The Indian government enjoys one advantage in India-China relations, that of the ignorance of the masses in India about the complexities involved in it. In the case of Pakistan, the people of India are very aware of the sensitivities, forcing government’s options to a limited few. However, in the case of China, no such constraint in the form of popular backlash is going to happen. The very fact that, while there were animated debates over whether Nawaz Sharif should have been invited to the swearing-in ceremony, there is no such commotion with regard to the phone call or proposed visit of the premier of China within the next few months proves this point.
But the government must understand that this popular approval, born of a lack of knowledge, can be dangerous if it decides to take things easy with China.

Madhav is a member of the Central Executive, RSS, and the author of ‘Uneasy Neighbours: India and China after Fifty Years of the War’

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More From Ram Madhav
  1. I
    Jun 7, 2014 at 4:35 am
    On the dot. No one in this world trusts Chinese govt, including its own people. They are currently picking quarrels over their immediate small neighbours (territorial and resource grabbing) and they would not hesitate to poison the world food supply or drinking water if they feel they want to do it.China will implode one day, but till then we need to be watchful and constantly double check as often as possible.
    1. O
      Jun 7, 2014 at 7:13 am
      Madahav writes very sensibly. People like me, who have witnessed China's stabbing us in the back in 1962, realise that we can never be friends with them, nor let down our guard. Also, the new generation is used to cheap Chinese goods, and has cares little about Chinas animosity to India and to other neighbours. WE can do business, but no control to China for either our Defence sector, nor our Infrastructure. After all we don't want our ports, airports, railways and Defence production sector being owned by China. Modi's b est friends the Ambanis and Adanis are all enamoured of China, have imported Chinese equipment at cheap loans, but we cannot give up our independence by getting influenced by the crooks of capitalism
      1. A
        adal singh
        Jun 7, 2014 at 8:35 am
        China believe in power of army. It is an expansionist country. Chinese leadership believe in shrewd diplomacy & their words can't be trusted. Right from Nehru toManmohan India has always been looser when dealing with China on table & warboth. So in a hurry to improve relations with this neighbour we must be cautious.This will be a test for new governments diplomacy.
        1. S
          Sid Harth
          Jun 6, 2014 at 9:05 pm
          Thanks Ram Madhav. Shows a deep study of six thousand year-old Chinese culture. I bet, Mohan Bhagwat couldn't do it better.Judging from various media articles, editorials and paid news-inserts, PM Modi seriously needs some foreign policy lessons. Now that Madhav joined the fray, I feel justified in adding my own 'fog.'start quote...A reading list for Prime Minister Narendra ModiHere are three books that Modi should read to help set an agenda for himself and the country for the next five yearsChandrahas ChoudhuryEnd quote...I shall not bore Madhav with details but he can throw some punches at Chandrahas, for being 'uppity.'However, the readers didn't like the very idea that Modi needs any 'bookish' knowledge in shaping India's foreign policy. For instance:1. Tejpal • 34 minutes agoIndia should evolve its own set of regulatory laws for media that “must” be India centric and India friendly. Most of them are pro West traitors printing news worthless or harmful for India or its ppl.2. Anirban Deb • 3 hours agoI thought this “intellectual” writer would have bothered taking a civics lesson or two about India before preaching to the PM on what his atude to the job and ideas for the job should be. If he had, he would realise that the President of India and not the PM is the first citizen. So may I recommend that the author first reads up secondary school civics before he pretends he knows what the PM of the world’s largest and most complex democracy should read. On his specific “recommendations”, first of all, I am sure Modi understands far more practically than the author that the Indian tax code needs reform to close loops and simplification to widen the tax base – he has after all been CM of the most dynamic state in India, and one with an enviable record of getting Government to work well and within it’s means. It would be better for the author to go and look for back editions of the various planning commission reports, media reports, etc if this is news to him.Secondly, It is the author’s bigoted opinion that there is a “large brigade” that wants to see India become a Hindu nation. In that case Togadiya and not Narendra Modi would have been the PM today. I would recommend that the author read up some good books on how to avoid confirmation bias. For this third issue, whatever the merits or de merits of how homouality is treated in India, I am reasonably sure that India as a Country faces far more immediate and existential problems than to carter to feel good vanity projects for pretend intellectuals on bloomberg. Off course, if he is as much of an intellectual as he pretends to be, the author could at least have bothered to quote some statistics on how many times article 377 has actually been used against homouals in India, and in what context. I suspect either that he does not know, or has consciously avoided doing so, because he would then have to admit that there is actually no epidemic of cution of homouals in India and that advising the PM to spend time on a non existent problem is neither intellectually smart nor a good use of the PMs time.Dear Madhav, start cracking your whip, people are so ignorant....and I am Sid Harth
          1. D
            Darius Siniet
            Jun 7, 2014 at 2:08 pm
            China, indeed, is a complex phenomenon. It is run by a coterie of individuals accountable to none. While on one hand this group has brought immense wealth and a mive rise in the living standards of ordinary Chinese on the other hand this group has a free hand running China. As such it is impossible to gauge the level of support among ordinary Chinese for the ruling dispensation. Now, with enormous increases in its military, it is trodding on the toes of its neighbors. In reality this would mean that this same small coterie of individuals would now decide on the fate of peoples outside China. Much like imperial an. Mao's comment about "armed co-existence" would truly reflect the nature of its relationship with India. China, by conquering Tibet, seeks to sever all India's civilizational links with Tibet, which, in reality, was culturally and religiously, far closer to India than Han China. It seeks to completely Sinoize Tibet; indeed a new word has been coined "Tibetan Chinese". The Chinese occupation of Tibet will determine its relationship with India.
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