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India’s China policy needs a reset

The Indian columnists have begun openly writing what some of us at least might have secretly suspected all along for the past one week – and didn’t want to say publicly. The great all-world Buddhist enclave in Delhi this week which ship-wrecked the India-China border talks between Special Representatives Shiv Shankar Menon of India and Dai Bingguo of China was, after all, a government-of-India affair. 

Now, hold on to your chair if I say something more: The Buddhist meet was actually the brainchild of India’s spymasters. Now, take a deep, long breath, but don’t gasp: MEA was the spymasters’s comrade-in-arms, the enterprise’s co-sponsor. 
Can you comprehend the gravity of the stupidity? India has delegated Lord Buddha to the spooks and small-time bureaucrats. It is sacrilege. Millions of Buddhist followers of Sri Lanka, Thailand, South Korea and Japan will be horrified. Panditji, if I recall correctly, once wrote that Buddha was the “finest flower” of the Indian civilisation. He indeed used words to that effect. What depravity we have come to now that we celebrate the 2600th anniversary of Buddha’s ‘Enlightenment’ in this fashion under the patronage of spooks!   
But, other issues also arise. First, I can’t comprehend the agenda in the minds of our spymasters and China hands. If it is to juxtappose Buddhism with China – like US did in the cold war era by pitting socialism against Islam – it isn’t going to work. China is actually claiming the Buddhist heritage with greater elan than India. Its Lumbini project in Nepal will put India to shame. With all these years of exclusive friendship with Nepal, Delhi failed to anticipate that there could be some day a Himalayan puncture to its pretensions as the inheritor of Buddha’s legacy. More so, now even Amartya Sen seems exasperated with the muddle-headed way we are going about putting up the Nalanda University in Bihar.
Second, conceivably, the ill-fated enterprise was launched with PMO’s knowledge and concurrence. After all, President Pratibha Patil and PM Manmohan Singh were invited to the inaugural ceremony. Now, that brings us to Menon. Was he in the loop? It must be one of the macabre jokes of India’s diplomatic history if he was party to sabotaging his own talks with Dai. I fervently hope he stuck to file work and insisted on being kept in the dark. 
Third, it is now onward virtually impossible for us to whip up anti-China propaganda and then claim India is a free society and the government has nothing to do with the cacophony. Perhaps, Beijing never quite believed the government’s protestation all along, but now onward the stance would only look plain dissimulation. In short, we ‘lost’ the much-needed cloud cover for staging anti-China propaganda.
If a popular TV channel tomorrow features another high-pitch bout of China-bashing, Beijing might even suspect that the anchorperson is in the secret pay of the spooks. In short, it is a ‘systemic’ loss, since propaganda has its proper uses in diplomacy against adversarial powers and it needs to be handled in a sophisticated way. Debasing propaganda with crudity is simply appalling.   
Fourth, even if a minor point, it was inappropriate to have dragged Dalai Lama into this ‘spookish’ venture. He wouldn’t probably like to be known in this way. Patil and Manmohan Singh did the right thing by dissociating when they got wind of the state of play. But, Dalai Lama being an excessively polite man, probably didn’t want to embarrass his hosts. Do not overplay the ‘Dalai Lama card’.
Finally, all this brings us to a huge issue: ‘What is our China policy?’ This ridiculous mishap wouldn’t have occured if we indeed had a China policy. I think it is time to rescue it from our spooks and  ‘China hands’. China is a rising power, which the world community takes very, very seriously – including the United States, by the way. In particular, China will ever remain India’s next-door neighbour  and India has many serious, intractable disputes to settle with that country. 
India shouldn’t trivialise its relationship with China, because this relationship is going to be in the very first circle of India’s foreign policy for many decades to come. Do away with this roller-coaster ride passing for India’s celebrated ‘competitition-cum-cooperation’ policy toward China. There is indeed sufficient space available for India and China to live side by side, to get rid of their curse of poverty and to develop. 
What India needs is a predictable normalisation with China, which would give clarity to the country’s external environment and help it focus on the core issues of growth and development. It should be a continuous process.  
So, what do we do now to clean up the debris? PM should use the ‘hot line’ he has with Beijing to good purpose. There is need to put a call through to Wen Jiabao and get the SRs’ meeting back on track. Good that Beijing didn’t over-react to the insult. Rescue the China policy from the ‘China hands’ in the Indian establishment. Ask the spooks to stick to their job and not to pretend they have become the CIA. 

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9 Responses

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  1. arthurborges says

    It’s really funny to read some of the comments here.

    Asoka says India is a Superpower that can ignore China: I don’t know how you ignore a country with shared borders. The he wants India to finance the US deficit, which is a generous thought until the US tells you the rupee is artificially manipulated so that you have to revalue it. That means you bought US Treasury bonds at, say, 33 rupees per dollar and cash them in at, say, 25 rupees per dollar (plus near-zero interest on your investment). Note too that the last time I saw the figures, Washington was bashing China about an “artificially manipulated” foreign exchange rate at a time when Japan held even more US Treasurys. Now I understand the (privately-owned

  2. shoestring shayne says

    India and China could be brothers, with similar history backgoround and present developing country status, by helping each other. The two countries should respect each other’s difference and work on commone interest – development. Talk no nosense. Western countires respect you only when your country is stronger and your people happier and when your contries richer.

  3. Asoka says

    India is the Superpower of the world, while China is just aspiring to be a regional power. India should not even pay attention to China. Our Superpowerhood will take care of China.

    Instead we should turn our attention to Europe. The budgetary crisis in US presents the Indian government a golden opportunity to help the US out. By lending our trillions of dollars of foreign reserves we could finance the US government directly, preventing the budget cutsof its military, get the US off the addiction of Chinese money, bringing our alliances closer in the effort to contain China, thus making the Indian dream of dominating the vast expanse of our extended neighborhood from the gulf of Aden to the port of Vladivostok a reality within our life time . This will be a win/win situation for all, except China.

  4. Marc Gunn says

    He is right. To antagonize them has led to further antagonization of Indian interests, and fuels hysteria. Even the BBC has acknowledged Indian china-bashing and accusations of encroachment on the border when none occurred. The chinese have successfully resolved nearly all their land disputes with neighbors except India. (Note: maritime disputes still exist.) The problems with negotiating in good faith with any democracy is the hard-choices required to compromise will be pummeled by hard-liners as appeasement and appearing weak. Yet the hard-line approach ultimately makes things worse unless one country is vastly superior to the other. Throughout most of history there is not such discrepancy and everyone lives with compromise, but democracies are relatively new (and good!) and gridlock often occurs resulting in no progress in negotiations. Just look at the USA and their fiscal woes.

  5. Batao Na says

    What a lame article specially when Paresh Baruha is being openly sheltered in Yunnan and all these years all sorts of groups in NE were indirectly aided by China but it is direct and blatent now.

    Why exactly we should prevent Dalai Lama from public appearences ? China has galls to write to Government of WB asking CM and Governer should not attend meeting where Dalai Lama is speaker.

    Your article smells of old policy of appeasement and subservience.
    India China conflict is not about Dalai Lama , Mao went to War in 1962 becuase aim was to cut Cha-Cha short who was flying high dreaming of being world leader and the war settled the issue in 1962 on who should be leader in Asia.
    Cut to 2011 , China is ahead of India and India is catching up so they again want to settle the issue on who should be the superpower.

  6. bunran says

    Dear Bhadakumar

    Your thinking matches with Prem Chand Jha, who always warns against agnotising China. Remember China was severly defeated by Japanese for the reasons which are again comming up. China is even challenging US leave aside India and other smaller nations. Think how this change happened and what should we do?

  7. ANAND RM says

    It seems u have translated some XINHUA blogs. India should adopt an aggressive policy to counter, China’s encirclement. Its the time to change our ‘Look East Policy’ to ‘Act East Policy’ .

  8. Vishwanath R says

    Dear Mr. Bhadrakumar,

    Should Indian decisions now be based on what China thinks? What about Sino work in Kashmir? what about the Coco Islands? What about support for Maoists? What about warning “not to enter South China Sea”.

    Get up. Your generation of subservience is long over. What you give you get back. This is what is happening with China. Your generation always spoke from a position of weakness. This still clouds your thought process. Request you humby to ‘smell the coffee’


  9. R S Chakravarti says

    Why blame India when the problem is China’s Tibet policy, including their attitude to the Dalai Lama?

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