Difficult partners

The prime ministerial visit is an opportunity to inject more realism in ties with Russia,China.

Published: October 21, 2013 3:31:59 am

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s five-day visit to Russia and China is among his last opportunities to salvage and firm up a foreign policy legacy. Having invested political capital in recasting India’s relations with its neighbours as well as with global powers,Singh must use this chance to deepen India’s engagement with the two countries. Moscow is a longstanding defence and strategic partner for India,but Beijing continues to be an enduring challenge. Far too often,Delhi has demonstrated a tendency to overlook the problems and focus,instead,on high-minded rhetoric. The prime minister should use this visit to inject some realism into India’s dealings with both countries.

Bilateral trade between India and Russia remains stuck at around $10 billion,though it has begun to show signs of growth of late. While trade between India and China has grown to a more robust $70 billion,the balance of trade is heavily in Beijing’s favour. It is critical for India to find a way to overcome the obstacles on both fronts. The PM must also use his time in Moscow to find a solution to the problems thrown up by the nuclear liability law,so that the construction of Kudankulam 3 and 4 can begin. Such a solution should also be broad enough to facilitate the participation of the US and France in India’s nuclear sector,not just the Russians. It would be a bonus if Singh returned with the official sanction for a direct gas pipeline from Russia that can run parallel to the proposed TAPI pipeline. Notwithstanding South Block’s scepticism about the project,its economic and energy benefits for India are significant.

India’s problems with China on the border continue to pose a challenge. New confidence-building measures to preserve peace on the border — most dramatically violated by China’s incursions into Ladakh’s Depsang valley this summer — such as the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement,are welcome. But these are not enough to cope with the shift in the military balance of power in China’s favour on the long and contested border. Even as he works with the Chinese leadership to revive the South Silk Road that can boost India’s landlocked Northeast by creating an economic corridor,the PM must also firmly drive home the costs of China’s nuclear partnership with Pakistan. Delhi’s reluctance to call Beijing’s disregard for its core interests by its name has been self-defeating. India must also recognise that both Moscow and Beijing seek to rope it in for tactical support against the West,particularly the US. Delhi must resist being drawn into such rote anti-Western positions. Russia and Beijing have a way of cutting deals with America,and India would do well to be wary of tailing them on global issues.

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