For India, it’s not either US or China, but both

For India, it’s not either US or China, but both

By M.D. Nalapat | 16 May, 2015
Modi and Xi’s interactions give promise of eliminating barriers created through a wilful mutual incomprehension of motives by the bureaucracy on both sides.

Henry Kissinger was given the credit for the 1970s thaw between the United States and China by the simple method of ensuring that the history of that relationship post-1971 got written either by himself or by those dependent on him for information about the process. Neither National Security Adviser Ajit Doval or Foreign Secretary Subramanian Jaishankar, who have accompanied the Prime Minister to China, are likely to pen post-retirement tomes giving themselves, rather than Modi, the credit for what is on track to being a comprehensive re-engineering of the Sino-Indian relationship. Although for the record, the relationship between the two countries was warm during 1953-57, in reality this was because of Jawaharlal Nehru's surrender of crucial security and other interests during that period, an error Modi is not expected to repeat. Nor is he likely to make unilateral Vajpayee-style concessions to President Xi Jinping or to Premier Li Keqiang.

The relationship has become transactional, and to get, there must be "give". The interaction between Modi and Xi gives promise of eliminating from a relationship spanning a third of the globe's population several of the barriers created through an often wilful mutual incomprehension of motives by the bureaucracy on both sides, with consequent mistrust and stasis in policy. Early into his dozen years in office as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi understood the immensity of the China opportunity, which policymakers in Delhi had been ignoring out of a concentration on the China "threat". Certainly there are weighty matters on which there are disagreements between the two neighbours, but there exist as well several ways in which a harmonious relationship will be of benefit to both sides. Such paths have remained unexplored thus far because of the veto exercised by our security agencies, who have been trained by Washington, London and Paris to suspect anything Chinese even as these capitals fight each other to attract PRC investment and tourists.

In several ways a harmonious relationship will be of benefit to both sides. Such paths have remained unexplored due to the veto exercised by our security agencies, trained by Washington, London and Paris to suspect anything Chinese.

For India's many Sinophobes, it is the robust manner in which Beijing has boosted Islamabad's missile and space programme that causes irritation, a negativism they fail to transmit when talking about the US, which has over the years been even more generous to Pakistan than China has been, and which continues to lavish treasure on that military-dominated state. And so, co-existing with wails from the Ministry of Commerce about the monstrous trade deficit this country has with China, the Ministry of Home Affairs has to date ensured that all but a trickle of Chinese tourists are kept out of India, in a world where around a hundred million citizens of the People's Republic of China (PRC) ventured beyond the boundaries of their country last year. Had China-specific tourist trails been allowed to be developed and visitors to that country welcomed with the same alacrity shown by the US, the UK and France, our trade deficit could have been reduced by at least a few billion euros. And if Chinese investment in infrastructure and manufacturing were permitted rather than — in effect — banned, it would have been Indian rather than Chinese nationals working in Chinese factories located in India and the Indian state which got the taxes levied on such units.

However, economic logic plays an insignificant part in the thinking of our security agencies, which continue to use Nehruvian cosmology to define and describe a world that has changed in a manner incomprehensible to them.

There are apologists for China who warn against closer ties with the US, seeking a return to what passed off as "non-alignment", but which was, in practice, Moscow-centric. Those wedded to US strategic interests rail against any accommodation with Beijing, unmindful of the fact that it is the "China card" which has been a primary motivator of Washington's slight tilt towards Delhi. The reality is that the Indian national interest mandates a robust — and cordial — relationship with both superpowers. India and the US need to work together, including in Asia, to ensure that the continent escapes domination by China, a country which from economic irrelevance has become the primary engine of growth in Asia.

In like fashion, China and India need to concert in certain situations in order to protect Asia from overlordship by NATO. That military alliance has inserted itself in the western and southern reaches of the continent, and wherever it has been active, chaos and suffering have been the most visible outcomes. NATO is straining to gain traction in Asia, and it is in the common interest of Beijing and Delhi to prevent this. India needs to act in a manner which enhances the autonomy of countries smaller than itself, China and the US, the way to achieve such a result would be to tango with both of them, rather than with one against the other.

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