When in a corner, show teeth

A chastened but sanctimoniously aggressive dragon

Qin Gang, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, made some eminently reasonable and sensible points yesterday. The Asian Development Bank’s approval of a loan package to India—which includes financing of a project in India’s Arunachal Pradesh state (which China calls ‘Southern Tibet’ and claims as its own)—he said, “can neither change the existence of immense territorial disputes between China and India, nor China’s fundamental position on its border issues with India…On China-India border issues, China always believes that the two sides should seek for a fair and equitable solution acceptable to both through bilateral negotiation.” (via Indrani Bagchi’s Globespotting blog)

In other words, ADB’s approval of a loan doesn’t change the positions of India and China with respect to the territorial dispute, and that bilateral negotiations (not multilateral economic fora like the ADB) are the place to sort the issue out.

So who were those unreasonable and insensible people who thought otherwise? None other than the representatives of the People’s Republic of China. None of their counterparts on ADB’s governing board agreed. Diplomacy being the art it is, it was left to Mr Qin to sound as if it was someone else who was flagrantly violating the norms of conduct at multilateral economic institutions.

The Chinese foreign ministry, however, does not stop at that. Mr Qin goes on the offensive. The ADB, he warns, “should not intervene in the political affairs of its members. The adoption of the document has not only dealt a severe blow to its own reputation but also undermines the interests of its members. The Chinese Government strongly urges the ADB to take effective measures to eliminate the terrible impact thereof.”

China’s entire approach to the ADB loan issue signals a dangerous portent for Asia. It would perhaps have been understandable if China had limited its protest to a symbolic pro forma objection. To transform the ADB as a forum to push its position in a bilateral dispute is an entirely different matter—and one that has serious implications for its relations with its East Asian neighbours, with whom it has unsettled disputes too. A charitable explanation is that it couldn’t back down without losing face once it had fired the first salvo. If you feel less charitable, you will see fresh signs of a deliberate strategy to flex its economic muscles for purely political ends. When zero-sum games are pursued at positive-sum arenas, the latter quickly become the former.

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4 Responses to When in a corner, show teeth

  1. Primary Red 21st June 2009 at 01:56 #

    How come the Indian media and blogosphere is silent on the revolution in Iran?

    Do Indians not believe that Iranians deserve the same freedoms and democracy that we enjoy?

    Why are we mute in face of grotesque tyrannies? In Iran? In Burma?

    While realism in world affairs is a practical approach most of the time, there are moments in history when realism is cowardice. When the monks rebelled in Rangoon, India looked away. When the young marched in Tehran, the Indian Prime Minister was with Ahmadinejad in Yekaterinberg

    What do we stand for any more?

  2. Udayan 21st June 2009 at 06:40 #

    @primary,

    ..history has shown that there is no gratitude in international relations, only ingratitude.

    In any case, we don’t know for sure that Mousavi has a genuine case. The Western media is not an unbiased neutral party here. So all these ‘colour’ revolutions leave me unimpressed.

    Heck, we didn’t bother about revolutions in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Burma, Maldives and Balochistan. We must stand for something…what, I don’t know.

  3. Shaan 23rd June 2009 at 05:27 #

    Chinese make good gymnasts!

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