Masood, Modi, and Wuhan-2
China watchers in India are bound to remain confused on its softened stance. Is this a tactic born out of strategic compulsions?
Reasons could be many. It could be because good sense prevailed in China's Xi Jingping or because America's Donald Trump twisted his arms or because the majority of United Nations Security Council members compelled China to alter its stance or because the general feeling of most of the countries in the world was in favour of declaring Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist; the outcome will certainly open more vide, transparent and smooth corridor for improving India-China relations, irrespective of whichever set of political coalition comes to power in India three weeks from now.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shows no symptoms of passion to deal with UN declaration (which came after a decade of India's first formal demand before the UN) for the inclusion of Masood in the global list of banned terrorists. During the election season, he obviously left no stone unturned to take exclusive credit of UN steps by completely side-lining the fact that it was, in fact, the Congress-led UPA government which submitted a formal request to the UN in 2009 for a global ban on Masood.
How could Modi's impulse to paint all the signboards with his own name and colour allow him to not take a huge political advantage of declaration about Masood, especially at the time of general elections when he and his party is facing quite a rough political weather across the country? All the indicators have made it clear that the days of clear majority for Bhartiya Janata Party are over long back and despite getting the status of the single largest party in the next Lok Sabha, it will not be a smooth ride for Modi to Raisina Hills this time as his alliance partners are not in a position to win the number of seats that would be required to fill the shortage. Therefore, Modi is using every opportunity to make a claim in his election rallies about how he ensured that China falls in line and does not put any technical hurdle in the UN this time.
After 'fixing Pakistan single-handedly', Modi's rhetoric about 'China's surrender' is the new tune of his election rallies. He is not one who waits for his supporters to sing a song to praise his heroism. He takes the command of this responsibility also in his own hands. No matter how lubber it will look. So, he is busy telling the country that had he been not at the helm of the affairs, Masood saga wouldn't have taken this turn.
Modi or no Modi, China was to slacken its stand on Masood in UN this time. It was evident to me when I visited Beijing in early March when China's National People's Congress held its session at the Great Hall of the People. The politicians, the scholars, the researchers, the journalists—everyone gave me a clear hint that Xi Jingping does not want to be perceived as someone siding with terrorism and if India could provide sufficient grounds against Masood, China may not pursue its technical hold in the UN anymore. Few scholars expressed their apprehensions about the timing of UN's dates to decide the matter and told me that elections in India would be at its peak by then and any alteration in China's stand could be misread. That was the only hitch in Chinese mind that President Xi must not be seen as making a gesture that can help Prime Minister Modi in the middle of a high decibel election in India.
Anyway, China's recent gesture has raised its goodwill among the Indian masses. The more Modi tries to extract mileage out of this, greater are the chances that this goodwill will increase subtly. The line Modi is taking will ultimately harm him politically. He has developed a narrative that because of his very 'personal' relationship with American leadership and his networking with other countries, China had to succumb. But what about the cancellation of waiver to India by US imposing economic sanctions on Iran? Modi's failure on this front will prove to be counter-productive. In that case, his 'special friendship' with Trump may emerge as China's treasured foreign policy resource in India.
China watchers in India are bound to remain confused on its softened facet. Is there really any change in China's policy or it is only a tactic born out of strategic compulsions? Multilateral negotiations frequently involve complex quid pro quos. China is known to wait and play long games. Why then has it chosen to allow the global terrorist listing of Masood Azhar at this juncture? We have to wait for some more time to get real answers to these questions.
Chinese establishment has been preparing for a Wuhan-like summit in India for President Xi. An advanced delegation from China was to visit India in March end for having preparation meetings so that Xi could pay a visit at the time of monsoon session of Indian Parliament. But as it became clearer that the repeat of Modi government after elections is not an absolute certainty, Chinese postponed 'Wuhan-2 in India' for the winters of this year.
In any case, after Modi's election rhetoric about 'China's surrender' before him, it would not be the right time for President Xi to come for 'Wuhan-2' and endorse Modi's line on Masood episode, especially if Modi manages to head the NDA coalition government in the Centre at the end of this month. In a contrary scenario also, when the Opposition coalition forms the next government, China would prefer not to go ahead immediately in the direction of developing an 'informal diplomatic chemistry' with Indian Prime Minister. Chinese would first asses the 'mindset' of India's new PM, the prospects of the longevity of his being there and the strength and the mood of the Opposition.
Be there any government in India with any person heading it, the new level of Indo-China relationship will depend on Xi Jingping's degree of love towards Pakistan. After all, there is a history of rough relationship between China and India. While the border dispute has been the most extensive challenge, China's opposition to India's bid for permanent membership of the UNSC also has been an ascending point in the relationship of our two countries. China had vehemently opposed India's entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
China's neutrality in Masood's case has the potential to nullify the impact of his strong statements in favour of Pakistan on the Indian mind to a large extent. With this action, China has taken a major antagonistic issue off the table. China now has space for positive manoeuvring with India. This step has created goodwill for both the sides to work on the differences and build on the concurrences. Despite the fact that several issues will remain to be solved, China and India have got a chance to use the political capital from Masood listing to work together. It is important that more than any individual, India as a nation should benefit from this development.
(The author is Editor & CEO of News Views India and a national office bearer of the Congress party. Views expressed are strictly personal)