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Manmohan Singh in Bali: Balance sheet

The Russians have been proven right about the Asia-Pacific – intellectually and politically. With the advantage of a detached look, they could see far better than most observers. The latest indication from Bali is that US president Barack Obama decided to kiss and make up with China on the eve of his departure from the Asia-Pacific to back home after the 9-day outing. 

Obama did the right thing seeking out Chinese premier Wen Jiaobao for an unscheduled meeting Saturday at Bali – his second closed-door session with the Chinese leadership in a week. (PM Manmohan Singh got an audience with Obama after nearly an year’s agonising waiting in the ante room.) 
Just the judicious thing to do. Obama sensed he took rhetoric too far. More importantly, he saw the Chinese held their ground and talked back – and there is simply nothing US could do about it. Now, Obama knows best that China is an “indispensable partner” for America’s economic recovery and there is a limit to grandstanding as a world power when influence is so visibly declining in Asia.
More than anything, Wen’s speech at the ASEAN summit in Bali made Obama sit up. Quite obviously, Obama lost the plot. There is nothing he can offer to match Wen’s goodies, which might prompt the ASEAN to break loose from its profound engagement with China and gang up as part of a US-led bloc. Wen also reminded the ASEAN that it will be a very long while before the world economy recovers and the western world emerges from the jungle, if at all, and meanwhile, Asians have solid reasons to hold on together – just as they did during the financial crisis in 1999. 
That leaves the US literally in the Australian outbacks, biting nails in exasperation. The next thing we should expect is for the Australians to do some swift back-pedalling toward China. As an extension of the Anglo-Saxon world into Asia, they are in great dilemma at this historic juncture, with Europe in disarray and America in decline. Where do they go, what should be their new “identity”? Fortunately, they have brain power – and also a roaring economic relationship with China. To my mind, they should follow Professor Hugh White’s sensible advice. 
I’m speechlessly glad that our mandarins read the tea leaves correctly in Bali and told Wen that India’s interests in South China Sea are “purely commercial.” The two words conveyed volumes, as any keen diplomatic observer would agree. 
Essentially, China isn’t bothered about India’s “military modernisation” programme. It doesn’t feel threatened if another lakh Indian soldiers take up position on the border on top of the 40000 today. It also seems to understand know our compulsions to exaggerate the “threat perceptions” so as to justify the massive military expenditure at a time when the economy is on a distinctly downward slide and we face a “resource crunch” very soon. In brief, as China Military put it bluntly, Beijing estimates that this is a superfluous, contrived path and India will realise it on its own.
The “red line” for China will be if ever India were to gang up with the US. The recent moves to accelerate the military ties with Japan and Vietnam and to take basing in Vietnam for the Indian Navy amounted to crossing the “red line”. It is the equivalent of China’s Navy setting up shop in Gwadar or Karachi or Trincomalee. Unacceptable. 
Equally, it is time to introspect what purpose is served by this quaint business of having a “trilateral dialogue” with Japan and US? It is the equivalent of China entering into collective security talks with Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Unnecessary. 
An occasion becomes readily available to assess the Chinese intentions when Wen visits Nepal in December. The Chinese say it is one thing for India to have its legitimate interests in enhancing its cooperation with the countries in the Far East, but it is an entirely different matter if India were to cross the “red line” in the troubled waters of that region. The big question will be: Do the Chinese practice what they preach? 
Wen’s visit will be a clincher. Be sure that our pundits remove their 1962-vintage blinkers and draw the correct conclusions. That may also be an appropriate  occasion to fling back at the CIA analyst the “string of pearls” that she beaded for us to entrap our besotted pundits. My guess is that Wen will steal India’s Buddhist heritage in Lumbini in an outpouring of “soft power” – even as our mandarins struggle to cope with the challenge of setting up the Nalanda University in Bihar – and he will offer an economic package for Nepal that will embarrass India. 

Posted in Diplomacy.

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4 Responses

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  1. Venkat says

    Do the Chinese practice what they preach ?

    A very good question. History has shown that Chinese always practice Salami tactics even with diplomacy. China has crossed the red-line against India many times in the past. Its troops in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir, without consulting India, is a red-line in itself.
    It alleged arming of Pakistan with Nuclear and ballistic missile technology, isn’t it a red-line ?

    Chinese never seem to understand carrots. India allowed its entire power and telecom industry to be in the stranglehold of Chinese companies and India got nothing in return. China never has any intention of becoming a true friend. Chinese national interests would not be compromised by their support to India. But they still persist with 1960′s mindset of showing India its place, preventing India rise, and preventing India from becoming a long term economic rival. It would do well for India to remember Chinese antagonistic attitudes and mindset, when dealing with them.

    India should never give up all its cards, and should hold it close to its chest, and should never abandon its quest for true friends, it should keep the Chinese guessing. Clearly playing to the gallery for China’s benefit has not brought any benefits to India, a lesson India would do well to remember.

  2. sujit chitale says

    I have not understood if this article was objective evaluation of what India and China are upto in their spheres of interest or it was meant to deliver a threat to India if they cross this so called Red Line.

    If you believe that China has not taken seriously or is not perturbed of having another lakh soldiers on its Indian border, then you are pretty wrong. Modernisation programs in Tibet are not for improviing standard of living in Tibet but are clearly meant for better martial control over Tibet and far western regions of China. Their approach into Karakoram range via negotiations with Pakistan are essentially directed towards securing Chinese lifeline, the Karakorum High Way, even if India seizes a chance to reclaim the territory she shows as its own for many decades.

    China very well knows that becoming a Super Power in 2050 depends also on securing its borders with not only India, with whom it has longest border in south and west but also keeping South China sea countries under its influence.

    As far as India is concerned this very comfort zone must be denied to Chinese in order to have even reasonable negotiation power with Chinese in future.

    Indian overtures to have strong presence around Straits of Melacca or South China sea is essential. Current state of affairs in Pakistan have already led to capitulation of Pakistan in giving up rights in Karakorum. It will not be long when one can see Chinese vessels picking up oil cargo from Gwadar coming out of Iran. We as Indians can not openly prevent this from happening but we must ensure that Chinese know that India does have reach to its so called back yard, the South China sea, if they have a reach in our back yard called as Arabian Sea.

    China understands this pretty well and therefore has already raised the pitch of their propaganda about Indian presence in South China sea.

    But threat, veiled or open, commercial interest, profitable or just meeting the costs, india has to keep going on its South China sea mission. Win trust of nations feeling equally threatened from rise of China while simultaneously building up military presence along the Indo Chinese border, keeping neighbours like Myanmar, Nepal, Bangla Desh, Sri Lanka in good taste, are all essential parts of strategy directed towards 2050 and beyond. I would also add a permanent seat in UN and right of veto as part of this engagement.

    If China is taking note of it then I believe we are on the right path and we should forget about this so called Red Line and go ahead drawing our own Blue Line as and when it is doable, profitable.

    It is now a defining factor for foreign policy of India to shift its focus from finding its place in a single Super Power era into a Chinese dominated regional super power era.

    To my understanding India in many years is on right path regarding her foreign policy, although results of all these small small actions would not be realised untill 2040 or later. India is now able take advantage of changing international power scenario and balance US, EU and China and this crossing of Red lines must continue with finnese of Bismark of old.

  3. tick says

    The big question will be: Do the Chinese practice what they preach?

    when the economy is on a distinctly downward slide and we face a “resource crunch” very soon.

    As a true diplomat, Mr Bhadra kumar has conveyed a subtle but potent warning to China on Nepal. 2012 is going to be an interesting year.

    Indian growth story need not slow down if the reforms towards Free Enterprise- Market Economy model with jettisoning of subsidies is implemented. The political will to do is likely to be mustered for it will take Indian growth rate well past that of China for several decades ahead. Those who bet on bad performance of a contender are actually responding in a wishful thinking manner, which is merely a variant of panic mode.

    Even US economy is not as bad as it seems. An increase in US growth rate by mere 1 percent, i.e. 2-2.5 present to 3-3.5 would suffice to take the economy out of doldrums. The manufacturing sector is rapidly pulling up out of downslide and corporate philosophies have mostly moved away from financially engineered profits to substantive gains. This course correction is a heartening development evident in all major enterprises within US.

  4. sudhanshu sekhar panda says

    The Chinese are focussed and don’t budge from their stated policy when it comes to national interest.As govt.changes India’s stand changes.The old leaders of India simply have no clue when it comes to international politics.Every PM in India thinks he will be remebred as a Mahatma Gandhi or a Nehru.Nobody stuck his or her own position like India Gandhi.With confused PM like Manmohan Singh supported by two of the worst Ministers like S.Krishna and AK Antony ,soon even Nepal,Maldives will threaten India

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