Deplorable Indian Diplomacy against China : Then and Now
There were years when the Chanakya Neeti was considered as the ‘Principles of Diplomatic Supremacy’ in the ancient times but not anymore. India after its independence had been following the delusional diplomatic principles of Nehru on two fronts…firstly trying to steer away from the bipolar world of USSR or USA dominance to the Non-Alignment and secondly staying amidst the developing nations as a block without any transformative policies. The result is before us. India has hardly had any audible voice on the international fora for major period of its existence. The Non-Aligned group has vanished in thin air. Warsaw nations have disintegrated. NATO too is losing its intensity. Russia has been cut to its size. Among all these uncertainties, only one nation is rapidly emerging at the horizon…China. This erstwhile poor nation has become an economic power. Its military might is fast transforming to challenge the American Supremacy and the world at large. Its money power is extending its clouts among hundred-odd nations in almost all continents. Some nations have already succumbed to the Chinese debt-trap and more are heading towards it. Many past champions of democracy & Human Rights are increasingly finding their voices becoming more and more feeble against the worst violator, the Chinese. Fewer States have courage to raise voice against the Chinese bully whose recent bio warfare agent Corona virus has decimated the human lives and the global economy. In short, money has become the today’s might. China gave a damn to its criticism and expansionist designs. Its hegemony has been increasing on exponential basis.
Post-independence amidst the cold war, Nehru failed to adapt to the new bipolar world order. His repeated mistakes started showing on his dealings on Kashmir and he also grossly underestimated the threat emanating from the next door, China. Immediately after Chinese independence, there was a scope for Nehru to formalise the Indo-Tibetan/Chinese border but we missed out. His Lopsided vision forfeited India of the permanent UNSC seat first in 1950 proposed by the USSR and later in 1955 offered by USA. Nehru turned down the offer with his then famous words “Not at the cost of my friend China”. Little he knew that the same ‘friend China’ will back-stab the Indian nation in the coming years. The much fancied Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in the post-colonial era were of little consequence as India found itself standing alone, unprepared and unmindful of the Chinese designs of 1959 onwards. Nehru’s reluctance to invest in upgrading the military power saw the nation helpless first in 1959 when Tibet was annexed by China and his feeble sympathy for Tibet culminated in to 1962 Chinese aggression. The much fancied “Panchsheel accord” cherished by Nehru, were conveniently thrown to the winds by an apparently weaker Chinese. Even then, no major shift in the foreign policy take place. Only the military was strengthened to a million force but the NAM rhetoric continued in which the cause of Vietnam and Palestine further angered the Americans and the Europe. The other fancied idea of Nehru of trying to be the champion of the cause of the Developing nations too led India nowhere.
Was it Nehru alone in these Diplomatic foleys? Not really. He was heading the ministry of foreign affairs, having top level diplomats but unable to convince the minister with any better viable options and we faced its consequences in 1962. He alone cannot be held accountable for the reversals. The next full time PM Shastri did well to appoint a full time foreign minister for the first time but the policy-inertia of the past decades continued. The busy looking Ministry of External Affairs had hardly any idea of transforming Indian policies. Thanks to the Pakistani atrocities on Bangladeshi citizen that Indira Gandhi made the first policy shift in signing a 20 yr accord with USSR in August 1971 of “Peace, friendship and cooperation” to safeguard the northern border from any Chinese misadventure. The contemporary foreign minister Swaran Singh must be complimented for the same. That single accord provided India the requisite strength to conclusively alter the course of Dec 71 war against Pakistan, liberating Bangladesh. It also brought India in to the eyes of the world as emerging regional power but subsequent policy paralysis failed to propel the nation as worthy of any consequence. We hardly existed for the rest of the world.
After the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, India was left to fend for itself. Amidst the immense economic hardship, India was seen by the US and Europe sitting in the Soviet bloc since 80s unworthy of attention. It made the Indian diplomacy look trivial. However, the turnaround came up with the economic liberalisation of 1991 and for the very first time, licence raj of decades were partly done away and the huge Indian market was opened up. It attracted the world economic powers and economic revival of India started. With it also came the foreign investments and technological innovations. Indigenous R&D and manufacturing looked up. Foreign currency reserve started growing. Some diplomatic turn also started taking shape on the Indo-China relations. The frosty relations started melting slowly in the 1990s through various agreements of “Peace and Tranquillity” but the basic question of the border dispute remains unaddressed. This suited the Chinese to transgress into any Indian territories terming it ‘disputed’ and throwing the agreements to the winds. Their unilateral disregard to the bilateral agreements have become a habitual tool for “Salami Slicing” esp after their economic revival and military modernisation. The Chinese also helped Pakistan in running their anti-India campaigns. China also help the Maoist insurgents in the North-east states. All these traditionally kept India pre-occupied on both fronts as well as internally, unable to challenge the Chinese in any way.
In the UPA era of 2004-14, Indian diplomacy had some very credible works by engaging with USA for the 123 Agreement signed on 18 Aug 2008 and signing India-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA on 02 Feb 2009. Manmohan Singh Govt with Pranab Mukherji as the foreign minister must be complimented for the same. However, the same combination of PM Manmohan Singh and his three foreign minister also saw diplomatic failure in handling Nepal that drifted away to the Chinese fold. Even Modi govt could not rectify it with his ‘neighbour first’ policies. Nepal continues drifting away, firmly getting in to the Chinese lap.
With Modi govt assuming power in 2014, a new chapter started in the Indian diplomacy with neighbour first and look east policies. India acquired new identity at the numerous international fora, be it ASEAN, SCO, BRICS, G-7/8 or G-20. Indian diplomacy under Modi also did well to garner closure ties with Europe, Israel and many of the Islamic States too…something eluding for decades. It is only this period when Indian voice and sensitivities are taken care of…be it at the UN or other international fora. The world witnessed some fine foreys of Indian diplomacy by evacuating Indian nationals and other civilians at risk from the war-torn and disaster-hit nations. Every NRIs and PIOs must have thoroughly cherished the golden period of 2014-2019 when any type of assistance in India or abroad, was just a twitter post away.
Modi govt was diplomatically well off in their initial 5 yrs in dealing with the Chinese …by boosting bilateral economic ties for mutual benefits although with the trade imbalance that could have been dealt with. The informal “Wuhan Spirit and Chennai Connect” were doing fine to resolve other standing bilateral issues. Year 2019 is historical in a sense for the Indian Diplomacy when one of its own stalwart diplomat, Dr Jaishankar took over the MEA. There was clear euphoria and high expectations from him. All looked rosy till Pangong encroachment came to light and the Galwan incident took place on 15/16 Jun 2020. Till that time Modi govt was somewhat convinced that the Ladakh-Standoff too will be resolved amicably just like Doklam standoff of 2017 or Naku-La of 2019. BUT, that was not to be. Indian diplomacy under Modi somewhere seriously erred in its calculations on China that cannot be trusted upon. It is also a fact that Modi govt could not overcome the hurdles created by China either in seeking actions against the terrorists in Pakistan or Indian aspirations of joining NSG and UNSC as permanent member.
China is rampantly using its economic might to buy-off nations by making them fall into their debt trap. Today nearly half a dozen of the nations all over the world are already under heavy Chinese debt, unable to repay and over 100-odd of them needing more Chinese easy-looking investments which compel them to favour at the various international fora. This is the reason that not enough nations dared to speak to initiate transparent investigation against the Wuhan Virus pandemic that in all likelihood came out from Wuhan Bio warfare Lab. This is also the possible reason why China, the worst violator of Human Rights, has been elected in to the Human Rights panel as late as in 2020.
It is high time that India, the largest democracy in the world, creates a Parliamentary panel of Foreign Affairs which can take-up all issues of democratic and human rights around the world for discussion and pass resolutions as when required. This proposal must be put-up by the MEA to the Cabinet Committee and the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs at the earliest. The Indian diplomacy could gain a lot of voice with it. India has surely been lagging in Diplomatic countermeasures while dealing with China esp in the aftermath of the military escalation in eastern Ladakh. The half-hearted diplomatic actions are difficult to justify. While China misses no opportunity to name and shame India or even warn India of severe consequences of our countermeasures, India has not taken enough credible Diplomatic retaliatory steps that was expected of it.
There is saying that Diplomacy is never Offensive but in the modern times, there are many exceptions to the age-old traditions. Many of us feel India has been lagging behind while dealing with China. There are plethora of issues that need to be dealt with firm diplomacy. Some of these steps are enumerated in the box opposite. When China disregards Indian sovereignty at will, what stops us from reviewing, if not discarding the ‘One China Policy’ esp after the present standoff at Ladakh? Following many of the past dealings with Taiwan, why India is shying away from recognising the tiny nation? There are several such questions among our nationals. It is also understood that the Chinese will not like it but that is where the Diplomats prevail upon by handling it skilfully but firmly.
Diplomatic Countermeasures expected against China
- Denounce ‘One China’ Policy unless China reciprocates.
- Recognise Taiwan and establish full diplomatic ties
- Engage with Tibetan Govt in exile and explore getting them ‘Recognised’ by the like-minded nations.
- Drag China to answer Human Rights violations against Uyghurs, Tibetans and Hong Kong at all possible fora.
- Pass resolution in Indian Parliament declaring China an illegal occupant of Tibet and according them ‘Right to Freedom’.
- Also pass a resolution to liberate all occupied parts of India.
- Declare the South China Sea as international Maritime waters.
- Take lead in forming a Security Alliance of Quad Group, extend the membership to the other regional players like Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.
- Explore forming a military alliance block of India, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Bhutan and Nepal (if possible), to counter any external aggression.
The above description amply highlights the successes and failures of the Indian Diplomacy against the Chinese since independence. There is no doubt that our Diplomacy has had some very credible achievements in the past, in the patches though. However, many of the Diplomatic dealings against the Chinese have been far from satisfaction esp those pertaining to China in the aftermath of Galwan violence. It was hoped that the combination of a seasoned diplomat Dr Jaishankar as EAM and a fearless Modi as PM will rectify the mistakes of the past decades. Clearly it may be too much to expect all these to happen in few years. Any strong measure against the dragon could be fraught with annoying them. However, how long should India bother for the sensitivities of the Chinese while they themselves care little for the Indian causes. It may be time to take the bull by horn.