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Be bold, not paranoid

Why Prime Minister Modi should ignore Arun Shourie’s advice as he sets out for Beijing

Written by Sudheendra Kulkarni |
Updated: May 8, 2015 12:13:42 am
Narendra Modi, Narendra Modi China visit, modi china visit, india china ties, PM Narendra Modi should go to Beijing with a bold approach, as behoves a self-confident India, and seek ambitious outcomes that are mutually beneficial.

How can one not admire Arun Shourie’s incisive intellect? He is peerless among India’s public intellectuals. Yet, my longstanding respect for Shourie must not stand in the way of my countering his unbalanced advice to Narendra Modi as the latter readies for his maiden prime ministerial visit to Beijing this month. His advice is a clear prescription for failure. It is completely antithetical to what Modi told Chinese President Xi Jinping last year: “India and China are two bodies with one soul.” Modi deserves to be applauded for speaking a profound civilisational truth. It helps us understand that the current differences and disputes are relatively minor and can be overcome in the light of this truth.

There is another truth — China is already a global power, set to overtake the US, first economically and later in strategic strength.China is also our largest neighbour. As former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee would say, one can change history but not geography. Peaceful ties with neighbours must be a central objective of India’s agenda for national rejuvenation. Sound management of relations with China, when it is rising as the most powerful nation, must be top priority in our foreign policy.

How India perceives China, and how we think China perceives India, is of the utmost importance. Shourie is wrong on both counts. He alludes to China as an “adversary who rains evil” on India. Suggesting Modi also thinks so, he claims the “greatest common factor” in “each of the PM’s visits abroad has been one: China”. If at all an Indian PM has this kind of “China focus”, it can only be termed as “paranoia”. It would reflect poorly on a rising power like India if its leaders were paranoid about another great and rising nation in its neighbourhood.

Shourie goes on to say, “as we are not able to equal China’s acquisition of influence, yes, we must seek common ground with all countries that are apprehensive of China today”. This is unmistakably advice for India to become junior partner in a US-led strategy for the containment of China, which neoconservatives in America have been urging. It’s a dangerous strategy, which could give birth to a new edition of the Cold War. This delusional strategy is doomed to fail because China simply cannot be contained — just as India cannot be contained. The rise of China and India will be the two defining trends of the emerging global order in the 21st century.

What adds to the flaw in Shourie’s advice is this: on the one hand, he says “the Chinese establishment feels that Indians are docile people who will always be doing somebody’s bidding”; on the other, he suggests that India become a docile instrument in the American neocons’ plan to bring anti-China countries together. How will this benefit India? Far from stopping China’s rise, it will only make the Chinese view India with suspicion. This will be heightened if India, as suggested by Shourie, blocks Chinese investment in its infrastructure projects while welcoming investment from other counties.

Both countries should heed an old Chinese saying — “Close neighbours are better than distant relatives”. Chinese leaders should know that for India to trust them, they must stop unfriendly acts such as disturbing the tranquility along the disputed border. Our leaders should know that China — and the world — would respect India more if we resisted its unfriendly acts on our own strength instead of becoming part of an anti-China axis with undependable “distant relatives” such as the US, Japan or Australia. An agreement on achieving irreversible peace along the border and clarification of the LAC are what Modi and Xi should achieve in Beijing. Reducing the trust deficit between the two countries, it could become an important step towards the settlement of the border dispute on the basis of mutual compromise.

Shourie is wrong in saying that China perceives India as a “potential nuisance — one that must be kept busy in South Asia, and it has a willing instrument in Pakistan”. He is equally erroneous in concluding that “in part, Pakistan is a problem because of China”. Pakistan is a problem for India principally because of its sponsorship of terrorism. There is no evidence that China, also facing the threat of Islamist terrorism and separatism, is goading Islamabad to use terror against India. If anything, a new opportunity has presented itself to India and China to cooperate in containing religious extremism and terrorism, bringing in Pakistan as a partner, since the latter is both a source and a victim of this menace. The governments of India, Pakistan and China should work towards a trilateral summit to discuss issues of common interest. If the foreign ministers of China, Japan and South Korea — each of them has problems with the other — could meet in March and agree to hold a three-way summit, why not a trilateral dialogue involving India, Pakistan and China?

Contrary to Shourie’s claim, it is not China that is keeping India busy in South Asia. It is we who have chosen to remain busy by consistently failing to sort out our issues with our neighbours. Who is preventing India from playing a bigger role in Asian and global affairs? It is our own lack of farsightedness and internal political unity. Look how misplaced criticism of Modi’s “frequent” foreign trips made him skip the 60th anniversary of the Bandung Conference. In 1955, Jawaharlal Nehru and Zhou Enlai played a key role in evolving the Bandung spirit, which signified Afro-Asian solidarity. In 2015, with Modi absent, Xi Jinping became the star of the show in Indonesia.

Modi should go to Beijing with a bold approach, as behoves a self-confident India, and seek ambitious outcomes that are mutually beneficial. I have just returned from a 12-day tour of China and seen that Modi is viewed as a strong leader with whom Xi, another strong leader, can have a constructive dialogue for broadening and deepening India-China cooperation. China does not view India as a “potential nuisance” but as a potential partner. Civilisational China knows the strengths of civilisational India. Communist China knows, deep down, the strengths of democratic India. It is now up to us to build this partnership on the principle of equality, mutual respect and awareness of our common responsibility towards mankind.

The writer was an aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee

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