April 21, 2010

The PM is making a hash of relations with China

Let go
The PM is making a hash of relations with China, writes N.V.Subramanian.

19 April 2010: Prime minister Manmohan Singh has a few things to learn about China from his envoy to Beijing, who gave a remarkable interview to a Delhi daily some days ago which displayed robust commonsense. This writer in one of his commentaries ("Dealing with the Chinese," 7 April 2010) argued that the Chinese understood the language of hard pragmatism and mistrusted the emotionalism of Jawaharlal Nehru.

A day after the commentary, the envoy's newspaper interview was published coincidentally making the same points, and one other, also made by this writer. Which is that if the Chinese are explained the advantages of joint action, any joint action -- the benefits to them and the benefits to the partnering party, in clear transparent terms -- the Chinese are likely to get on to the deal.

This obviously means that India, as the potential partnering party to any project, must be bold about the project, understand completely the advantages to it and to China and the disadvantages, and discuss it with a mindset which is prepared for any outcome, including failure. In other words, bilateral dealings with China should take aspects of business negotiations, without entirely losing sight of the politics on both sides.

But Manmohan Singh has inherited the worst of Nehru's preachy demeanour in dealing with China, ignoring the fact that the Chinese come from a great civilization and are justifiably proud of it. In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington in November last year, the PM said that as opposed to China, India had chosen democratic values such as "respect for the fundamental human rights, the respect for the rule of law, respect for multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious rights".

None of this is ill-founded. But should Manmohan Singh be making these statements? What is the idea? That the world should know? But the world does know. The Council on Foreign Relations knows. Washington knows. London knows. So does Moscow. Even Beijing knows. So if everybody who should know knows, what is the value in making a known thing known again? None.

But there is a huge repercussive effect of it. Beijing is alerted to another preachy Indian prime minister, and the alertness raises it to the next level of anger and suspicion: That Manmohan Singh deep down is playing the game of the West to unravel China using the democracy sledgehammer. Whether or not it is true -- it is untrue -- China automatically seizes on the Dalai Lama issue, links it to Arunachal Pradesh, and the paranoia travels all the way to Pakistan and deepens its evil relationship with Islamabad.

Without perhaps knowing it, Manmohan Singh gratuitously nettled China again at the conclusion of his recent foreign tour, saying to reporters, "Unlike China's rise, the rise of India does not cause any apprehensions. The world takes a benign view of India. They want us to succeed. We should take advantage of it. The benign mood cannot last." If the world wants India to succeed, does it mean it wants China to fail? Not true. But the PM's spin puts it that way.

And there is the second fudge that the world wants India to succeed. It would be more accurate to say that the world is indifferent to India. This indifference is not restricted to India. It is central to state power relations, which are interests' and not friendship-driven. Flowing out of that is a harsh fact that ultimately every nation charts its own destiny and no nation makes another a great power. If India has risen in world ranking, it is no thanks to the world or Indian governments, but the entrepreneurial genius of its people.

All of these facts get obscured in Manmohan Singh's construction of India's rise, where the world and the United States are alleged to have played key roles. And, therefore, to prop this rise, because it is unIndian and unreal in the PM's eyes, the world and the US in particular have to be propitiated further, and if this is assisted by showing down China, well, why not do it? But rather than assist, it cripples India's case, because China is too important for the world and the US to antagonize, and not unexpectedly, Beijing battens down its hatches against Delhi, unless its need is irrepressible, as on carbon politics in Copenhagen. Manmohan Singh is not making the assignment of his Beijing envoy any easier.

Does it mean China should not be spoken against when it is merited? No. But the PM should not be doing the talking, not at least in public, nor his cabinet ministers. There are other ways of manipulating opinion on China, if it comes to that, and the government hardly needs a primer on that. But in the government's dealings with China, it should be upfront, lead by securing common interests, and it ought to give a miss to bhai-bhai, friendship and other pre-1962 sentimentality. You cannot have the foreign minister, S.M.Krishna, one week seeking China's assistance to make India a UN Security Council veto power and because it politely refuses have the PM rubbish Beijing days later. In the first place, Krishna's pitch was misbegotten; and in his (vengeful?) take on China, the PM may have made it all worse.

The government has to get a hold on its China policy, or rather, commence making one. A good idea would be to call over our Beijing envoy for consultations and appraise the entire spread of contentious bilateral relations issue by issue. Foreign policy-making is in a mess after Pranab Mukherjee moved to the finance ministry and the PM took charge of it with Krishna as a nominal foreign minister. India needs a hard-headed politician cum brilliant salesman cum capital deal-maker (not the IPL-Cochin kind) as foreign minister, and in the Union cabinet, this writer can only think of Kamal Nath who makes the grade and who remains grossly underutilized presently. But that is only if the PM lets go.

N.V.Subramanian is Editor, www.NewsInsight.net, and writes internationally on strategic affairs. He has authored two novels, University of Love (Writers Workshop, Calcutta) and Courtesan of Storms (Har-Anand, Delhi). Email: envysub@gmail.com.

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