Diffusing border tensions
Modi should take up border issue with Chinese President at G-20 summit to ensure interaction on sensitive matters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi who will be attending the G-20 summit at Humburg in Germany on July 7 and 8, has got a good opportunity to meet the Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss the tensions at the India-China border on the Sikkim side. After a long time, the Chinese media is reminding India of taking lessons from the 1962 war as if the situation is heading in that direction. The Indian army chief has gone to Sikkim on a two-day visit, and the preparations on both sides do not augur well for the future of India- China relations.
Indian Prime Minister is just back from his significant meeting with the US President Donald Trump and he will be in Humburg after his visit to Israel. PM has a heavy agenda at the G-20 summit and he has an excellent relationship with the host country Chancellor Angela Merkel. Though the bilateral meetings at such summits are fixed only close to the meeting days, it should be in the interests of the Indian PM to have a full-scale bilateral meeting with the Chinese President to discuss the latest situation at the Sikkim border. There are issues on which both the Governments have concerns and these issues cannot be decided at the army level. The situation needs high-level political intervention. Taking into account Narendra Modi's rapport with the Chinese President, it is better that the discussions become free and frank, and India clears any doubts the Chinese leadership may have about the intentions and motives of India, behind its strategic relationship with the USA and the extent of bonhomie evident at the Washington meeting on June 26.
The reality is that China is worried at the Indian moves in the neighbouring countries where China is also trying to expand its influence; and right now, China is concerned that India has become an ally in the US global strategy to encircle China. The joint statement of Modi-Trump on June 26 seems to have given that impression to China. Latest Chinese activities on the border seem to have originated in the assessment that India should be given some pinpricks to show that it is dealing with a powerful country like China. Prime Minister Modi has to make use of his diplomatic skills to assure the Chinese President that India has great faith in dealing with China bilaterally, and its relationship with the other countries, including USA, is not meant in any way to needle China. There might be differences on issues and that should not affect the status quo on the border which has been there for so long. This understanding can be arrived at only at the highest political level and that is why this bilateral meeting at the G-20 summit is so politically urgent for India.
The Group of 20 is made up of 19 countries and the European Union. The countries are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the USA. Counter terrorism and the economic reforms are expected to dominate the discussions and Chancellor Merkel as the organiser of the summit, as the G-20 president for the current year, is expected to talk tough with the US President Donald Trump on the issues of climate change and immigration. There are reports that Merkel has already taken endorsement of her position from the European Union members and the US President is expected to face joint attack by the European countries to be spearheaded by Angela Merkel and the French President Macron. Prime Minister Modi is in favour of the German and the European position on climate change, but taking into account his present relationship with the US president, it is not clear what position he will finally take at the summit on the climate change issue, if there is a concerted attack on the US decision of withdrawal from the Paris agreement and strict immigration laws including selective travel ban imposed by the Trump administration.
The G-20 summit will begin with a two-hour leaders retreat on July 7 morning, and then the discussions will start on counter-terrorism. This theme goes well with Prime Minister Modi's thrust area, and it is expected that he will contribute in a significant manner in the discussions for drawing up a global strategy to counter terrorism. The summit will also include four working sessions on growth and trade, climate and energy as well as sustainable development and labour related issues. The finance side of the G-20 summit will hold discussions on issues like fiscal and monetary reforms, climate finance and green finance. Indian Prime Minister is expected to deal at length on the GST roll out from July 1 in the country, which he will claim as the most significant economic reform in India in the recent years, and he will explain how this will transform the climate of Indian business.
However, the highlight of the summit is expected to be the confrontation between Europe led by Germany and the US by Donald Trump, on the issue of climate change agreement and financing the green energy. Merkel has set the tone by declaring that whoever believes the problems of this world can be solved by isolationism and protectionism is making a tremendous error. In fact, Merkel is under pressure before the general elections in September this year to take a more confrontationist position against the USA. The German people are so agitated at the remarks of the US president on Germany and German products like cars that the Social Democratic Party, the opponent of Merkel is exploiting the sentiment in poll campaigns that Merkel is not strong enough to deal with the US president. As a result, the German Chancellor is expected to take a strong anti-US position at the summit and this will be reflected in the joint statement. Now the big issue is, will the US agree to be a part of that statement?
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)