The more China puts pressure on India over the Tibetan protests, the more it harms bilateral relations
First, the Chinese prime minister issued a veiled threat. Then Beijing’s equivalent of the NSA ‘briefed’ his Indian counterpart. Then they woke up the Indian ambassador at 2am to ‘brief’ her. And now Yang Jiechi, China’s foreign minister ‘briefed’ his Indian counterpart. It is normal for top leaders to talk to each other on the telephone. But when reports of such conversations are released to the public through the media, it is not merely a business-like conversation on the issues at hand. It’s a signal.
It’s boring to read these reports. China briefs India, India reiterates that Tibet is a part of China, China asks India to prevent the Dalai clique from engaging in politics, India responds that this has always been the way, and so on.
In this case, the UPA government has bent over backwards to accomodate China’s demands. It prevented Tibetans from protesting peacefully. And now, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee felt the need to publicly warn the Dalai Lama from engaging in “any political activity that can adversely affect the relations between India and China” (linkthanks Ajit Joshi). Given that from China’s perspective the Dalai Lama’s mere presence adversely affects bilateral relations, Mr Mukherjee’s warning is absurd. It too is a signal.
It is a signal that makes it plain that India is succumbing to China’s armtwisting. Now, it may well be that Beijing believes that treating bilateral relations with such disdain is somehow alright. That is a profound mistake. India will remain China’s neighbour even after the Olympics. Beijing’s hamfisted approach has already caused damage to bilateral relations. Even if the episode does not get worse, it has become much more difficult for any Indian government—even a spineless one as this—to make any substantive moves on bilateral issues.
China would do well to understand that both sides have vested interests in stability of bilateral relations, and spare Indian officials these repeated ‘briefings’. Beijing should understand that if relations turn worse on account of its graceless handling of relations with India in the wake of the Tibetan protests, it has only itself to blame.