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Shifting the goal post?

Shifting the goal post?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has completed one year in office. I give him full marks for his insatiable thirst of touring foreign lands. Our prime minister has spent more than 14 percent of his tenure on foreign soil. When Modi returns from his trip to China, Mongolia and South Korea, he will have travelled to 18 different countries, in toto spending 52 days outside India. The Ministry of External Affairs is now preparing for Modi’s next set of foreign tours to Bangladesh, Russia, Turkmenistan, Turkey and Singapore before the year is out.

In Modi, we have a prime minister, who tweets about the warm welcome he received in China. After arriving at the ancient city of Xi’an, Modi visited the Terracotta Army museum, where thousands of lifelike ceramic soldiers guard the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who died over 2,200 years ago. Trailed by photographers, Modi, in cool, irreverent, dark glasses, wandered among the rows of life-size soldiers without cracking a smile. Prime Minister Modi’s projection of himself as a tough-guy was met with delight from many of his admirers back home. Modi also viewed the sacred Buddhist temple, where, 13 centuries ago, monks from India translated scriptures into Chinese. After talks in Xi’an, Chinese President Xi Jinping accompanied Modi to the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, where a seventh-century monk stored some Buddhist texts and relics from India.

How many Indian prime ministers have tweeted pictures of themselves like Modi <g data-gr-id="82">did,</g> while visiting the Wild Goose Pagoda?  One is not sure as to how this is a new beginning in Indo-China relations. As a result, I think some rhetorical questions are in order: What if no meaningful outcome was achieved on China’s claim to more than 34,000 square miles of Arunachal Pradesh and ‘illegally occupation’ of the Aksai Chin region? It must be noted that our prime minister has achieved his stated goal of setting up a Yoga College in China, in creating sister-cities and think tank forums between India and China and signing agreements in the areas of space, ocean and earthquake science. However, what about China’s $46 billion investment into Pakistan, including areas in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir? Although the Indian delegation did sign various investment agreements worth $22 billion, one could be lead to thinking that Modi has merely taken India’s top billionaires on a picnic to a communist country.

China is India’s biggest trading partner with commerce between the two nations totalling $71 billion. However, India’s trade deficit with China has spiralled from just $1bn in 2001-02 to more than $38bn in 2014.  China must take a serious note of this fact. A trade imbalance of 300 percent is a core area of concern and this deficit can only come down if China allows Indian companies, especially those in the Information Technology and Pharmaceuticals sectors, greater market access. Unfortunately, the Chinese government has repeatedly denied market access to such Indian companies. Modi’s determination to finalise $10 billion worth of investment to build Chinese style mega industrial parks in India seems fair. It is, however, hard to swallow the fact that our government has diluted the procedures behind providing security clearances to such foreign investments. Just last week the Union Home Ministry had announced that in order to support its “Make in India” initiative, security clearances for investments will now be given within 30 days. The earlier time limit was 90 days. Owing to historical geopolitical and strategic reasons, Indian governments in the past had used a policy of clearing Chinese investments after careful scrutiny by security and intelligence agencies. Chinese investors, however, want an absolute assurance from India that their investments will not be subject to any government scrutiny.

Only one year before Modi took oath as prime minister, the Indian government had announced the formation of the Mountain Strike Corps (MSC), a 90,000-strong Army battalion, which was specifically tasked with preventing Chinese intrusions across our borders, at a cost of Rs 64,478 crore. However, just three weeks ahead of the Modi’s visit to China the Defence Ministry had reduced the sanctioned strength of MSC by half. The official reason given was a severe shortage of funds. Just days before the prime minister’s visit to China, BJP President Amit Shah cancelled his scheduled meeting with the Dalai Lama. I sincerely hope such acts do not mean that New Delhi is re-shifting its goal post on the matter. Stapled visas to people from Arunachal Pradesh continues to be a major issue of concern and nothing was done to resolve it during Modi’s visit. When the Chinese President visited India last year, Indian Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju was told not to attend the banquet hosted by Prime Minister Narendra <g data-gr-id="87">Modi .</g> This was because the junior minister hails from Arunachal Pradesh. China’s plan to build multiple dams on the Brahmaputra and its impact on Assam remains an open issue even today. Repeated Chinese incursion into Indian Territory, including Ladakh, has always remained a source of major flash points. The nation is eagerly waiting to hear about the discussions Modi had with China on these issues.

Ulan Bator does not usually figure on the itinerary of most world leaders. Modi, however, has made a trip to the Mongolian capital before reaching out to South Korea. No Indian prime minister has ever visited the country before. So, why has Modi gone there? Is it to pass on a subtle message to China? Mongolia and China have always had complicated relations. Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, conquered all of China in 1279 and established the Yuan Dynasty. In 1368, the Chinese under the Ming Dynasty successfully expelled the Mongols from China and in 1388, sacked the Mongol capital at Karakorum. China has been very active in India’s periphery. Modi has now decided to play on their periphery. The prime minister will want to convey the message that India has an all-encompassing foreign policy. With Mongolia, it’s more of a geostrategic and neo- economic play. It is good that Modi is trying to build on that aspect. Both India and China carry heavy historical baggage. Carrying this baggage, some may argue, is not representative of mature leadership. In the midst of all this, however, the fundamental interests of our country must not be compromised.

 The author is Editor and CEO of News Views India
Pankaj Sharma

Pankaj Sharma

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