Learning to not fantasise
With improving ties with China, Modi’s firmness to keep Pakistan at bay outlines India’s hard-line approach
If the deportment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit is any indication of India's future direction of diplomacy in today's complex world scenario, I would say that we are witnessing a mature shift after an infantilism of five years. Without naming Pakistan and its supreme friend China, India urged nations to shed their narrow perspective and hold those responsible for promoting terror accountable. When Modi warned the nations participating at SCO summit in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek saying terrorism could singe people and countries anywhere and at any time, therefore, humanitarian forces should come out and forge a united front against the sponsors, his suggestion not only got a formal nod but received genuine open support. India also underlined the need for an open, rules-based and non-discriminatory trading system.
It was an important statement against the backdrop of the US-China trade war. Calling spade a spade in the presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan shows India means business and there will be less hugging episodes in coming days. Good that Modi is learning to keep away from fantasising and focusing on artfulness.
Despite having seven opportunities in Bishkek when Modi could have interacted with Imran Khan, he avoided him completely and only once shook hands with him formally. At the same time, Modi had an extremely fruitful meeting with Xi on the sidelines of SCO summit and also invited Chinese President for a bilateral informal summit in India, which is supposed to be held at Varanasi, the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Modi, on 11-12 October this year. A few weeks ago, China advised India to have talks with Pakistan. During his meeting with Xi in Bishkek, Modi made it clear to him with due emphasis that any dialogue with Pakistan is not possible at this time as the process was derailed by Islamabad and now it needs to create an atmosphere free of terror first.
After an interaction at Bishkek and before an informal 'Wuhan-2' at Varanasi, Modi will have one more meeting with Xi in Japan during G-20 Meet. The frequency of Modi-Xi interactions generates a solid hope that a better synopsis of regional cooperation, development and stability will be written in future. It also engenders an assurance for improved global understanding in times to come. India has an exceptional role in shaping the new world order. India will require a sincere and steady approach while negotiating with China, Russia and USA – therefore positive symptoms in Modi's makeover, at least in the area of international affinity shown in SCO summit.
If the composure and the keenness to reset India-China and India-Pakistan relations after a period of one-on-one tension between our three countries remain intact, a personal synergy between Modi and Xi has the potential to give a jumbo shape to region's prosperity after Varanasi engagement. After his reelection with such a thumping majority, Modi has acquired a position where he can take any steps he wants to improve bilateral relations with neighbouring countries. He can address the underlying issues that defy speedy solutions and prevent strategic shift. China and Pakistan are not unaware of the fact that their resistance in reciprocating New Delhi's gestures would be counter-productive to their own interests as India is in a better position than them with the United States and other powerful democracies in Europe and Asia.
The outcome of Wuhan-2 at Varanasi will have far-reaching effects for China as it has begun to feel unprecedented heat on trade and other issues from Washington. Backed into a corner by the major superpower and seeking to consolidate his domestic position, Xi must realise the need to smoothen relations with India. I am of firm opinion that any government in India would be in favour of having good relations with China, and even with Pakistan. But to make it possible both these countries need to change their habits of out-crying.
Indian government certainly prefers more placid relations with Beijing. It will require China to make corrections in its rhetoric, explore common grounds, improve dialogue and re-sensitise to India's interests. The blessedness of 'Wuhan-2' depends on the overarching question of who will be Asia's alpha in years to come. China will have to relook dimensions of its longstanding friendship with Pakistan. Before spending time at the banks of Ganges in Varanasi, Xi will have to make up his mind to respond to the unresolved border disputes and sizable asymmetries with India.
Though I do not endorse Narendra Modi's innuendo of India's extra friendly approach towards China by maintaining official distance from the Tibetan government-in-exile when he did not invite Dalai Lama for his oath-taking ceremony after becoming PM for a second term; I am sure, Xi will have to face India's concerns over Tibet during the informal talks with Modi while sailing on the holy water in Varanasi. Belt and Road Initiative, any repeat of Masood Azahar type incidents and issues related to Nuclear Suppliers Group is something that will require cautious handling from both sides.
There could be other issues too, such as economic strategy for the Indo-Pacific, the reintroduction of a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, cybersecurity threats, 2+2 summitry, and skyrocketing arms sales, China-Pakistan economic corridor, China's unnecessary claim on Arunachal Pradesh, presence of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean, and so on. All of these questions will expect answers in Varanasi in October.
Recalibration of India's China and Pakistan policy is not going to be a cakewalk for Modi despite his 'ThreeNotThree' victory in recent general elections. During electioneering, he had exploited Pakistan-China angle to such a hilt that it won't be easy for him to now sell any fairy tales in support of taking a U-turn. An environment to infuse positive sentiments among Indian masses can be built only if China and Pakistan equip Indian PM with required logics.
For this, India needs China to take a more balanced approach towards Pakistan and show greater appreciation for New Delhi's core interests. An outright accommodation by the Indian government is unattainable as people of India have given a strong mandate to Modi this time to tell Islamabad where to get off and to out-compete Beijing in South Asia. Modi will never like to play younger brother and why will Xi take off grandmaster's red belt? Despite all the hiccups, Varanasi can prove a classic moment where Xi and Modi could open a new door in Sino-India relationship. It does not take a thousand men to open a door. But, yes, it takes an entire generation to keep it open. Wuhan and Varanasi spirit will be meaningful only when people-to-people intercommunication reaches to its preeminent.
(The author is Editor & CEO of News Views India and a national office bearer of Congress. Views expressed are strictly personal)