Statecraft should never be hostage to election campaign rhetoric, as US President Dold Trump is discovering in Afghanistan. Neither can it be influenced by war mongering in irresponsible sections of media, as Prime Minister rendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping have shown in the just concluded BRICS summit at Xiamen. There is simply too much at stake for the two Asian giants not to move on from the Doklam irritant with ‘forward looking and constructive’ intent. For over two months as the armies of the two tions stood eyeball to eyeball in the remote Himalayan plateau, the state-run media in Chi spouted shrill rhetoric and set off adverse reactions in Indian media. Not surprisingly, people in the Northeast can only be dismayed by such bellicose talk, for it is they who have bad historical memories of 1962. The Indo-Chi war was short and sharp, but left behind lasting bitterness and mutual suspicion. The border dispute is far from resolved, so it is disquieting indeed for people of NE States to hear or read about probable Chinese designs to open up fronts in Tawang (or Ladakh) sectors so as to break the standoff in Sikkim sector. Chi and India are nuclear armed, but military experts point out that it is not far-fetched for the two neighbours to engage in limited conventiol war and try to seize each other’s frontier territories as possible bargaining chips for future negotiations. But only residents of frontier areas know what it means to live through war or warlike situations that continue for decades, as it is for residents near the LoC in Kashmir. During the rancorous exchange between Beijing and New Delhi, each sought to remind the other that ‘this is 2017, not 1962’. Fortutely, both tions now seem to have come far from 1962, geo-politically still at odds, but doing more business than ever.
Chi presently enjoys a $ 50 billion trade surplus with India, which will likely get far bigger given the craze for Chi-made smart-phones, laptops, electronics and a wide array of goods. As Chinese companies penetrate deeper into the Indian market and acquire assets here, there are reportedly more Chinese captains of industry and communist party leaders quietly lobbying for India in Beijing. Prime Minister rendra Modi’s detractors have questioned his ‘policy’ of allowing Chi to gain advantage by selling five times more to India than vice versa. However, India has been consistently taking up with Chi issues regarding its protectionist practices, while seeking more access to the Chinese market. However, market observers here believe that the balance can be restored only if more and more Indian entrepreneurs gain knowledge about Chi and its ways, and invest in assets there. For a change, it has been good to see the Indian political leadership taking firm but ratiol stands vis-a-vis Beijing. Foreign Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was forthright in Parliament while defending the country’s position in Doklam, a disputed territory between Chi and Bhutan. There was no way Chi could be allowed to unilaterally change the status quo in Doklam by building a road there, she had argued. That would seriously put Bhutan, India’s steadfast ally, on the defensive — while giving the heights advantage to the Chinese army over the Siliguri chicken neck corridor that connects India’s mainland to its Northeast. Earlier last year, the then Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman replied to demands in Parliament about boycotting Chinese goods by pointing out that India cannot do so as both countries are members of World Trade Organisation (WTO).
In the BRICS summit this month, it was revealing to see Chi make a strong pitch for multilateral trade in the 5-tion bloc. However, it was Chi’s sigture on the BRICS declaration which made headlines, ming as it did Pakistan-based terror groups like Lashkar and Jaish in the same bracket with Taliban and IS. This has been construed as a major diplomatic win for India, even though Russia and Chi have as much reasons to fear Islamic militancy in the Caucasus and Xinjiang regions respectively. The crucial Congress of the Communist Party of Chi is coming up later this year in which President Xi is expected to seal his hold on power with an unprecedented third term. He is simultaneously facing the challenge of a belligerent North Korea provoking the US right in Chi’s backyard. With Chi and India now stressing healthy and stable relations, ‘win-win cooperation’ and peace on the border, it remains to be seen how closer they are willing to engage in the coming days. It will depend much on Beijing addressing New Delhi’s concerns about President Xi’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative that will carve an economic corridor through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. On the whole, strategic encirclement by Chi in the South Asian theatre will remain a worry for India, unless a direction is found for constructive partnership through platforms like BRICS and RCEP.