Sunday Levity: Two papal emissaries to China

They didn’t do too well

No, not quite laughing matter, but amusing nevertheless. Here are some excerpts from Harry Gelber’s readable account of China’s relations with the (western) World, from 1100 BC to the present:

One Christian embassy was entrusted to the Franciscan, John de Plano Carpini, a provincial of his order at Cologne. He set out in mid-April 1245, a mere eighteen years after Ghengis (sic) Khan’s death, carrying a letter from Pope Innocent IV. Carpini must have been a very brave man. He set out in his sixties, unfit, without knowledge of Asian languages and with no idea what his reception might be. Perhaps he would just have his head cut off by the first Mongol patrol he met? In the event he was hustled through Asia for weeks on horseback, to his total exhaustion, and arrived at the Mongol centre of Karakorum in time to witness the coronation of the new Great Khan, Guyuk, another of Ghengis’s grandsons. He delivered his letter and returned in 1247 with the Mongol response. Guyuk simply said:

‘… Thou, who art the great Pope, together with all the princes, come in person to serve us. At that time I shall make known all (our) commands…Now you should say with a sincere heart: “I will submit and serve you.” …If you do not observe God’s command, and if you ignore my command, I shall know you as my enemy. Likewise I shall make you understand…”

***

The empire continued to see itself as the centre of the civilised world, to which properly brought-up foreigners should pay tribute. The reception ceremonies which lay at the core of Chinese diplomacy, with everyone kow-towing in the presence of the emperor, remained more or less unchanged until the nineteenth century.

In 1687, five French fathers arrived and one of them managed to cure the (Manchu emperor) Kangxi of malarial fever by using quinine. In 1692 came an edict of toleration that allowed the Jesuits to build churches. When the Jesuits ran into trouble it was not with the Chinese but with other Christian missionaries. For instance, they claimed that it was entirely justifiable for missionaries in China to adopt any prudent adaptation to Chinese customs in order to advance the faith. That aroused strong opposition from Dominicans and Franciscans as well as groups in France itself.

That created serious trouble, for the emperor insisted, as he was bound to do, on respect for the traditional Chinese homage to Confucius and the rites of ancestor worship. He demanded that the missionaries regard these as civil and not religious ceremonies, and that Christian converts should continue to practise them. The Jesuits were willing to accept that, but the Dominicans and Franciscans were not. The disputation was sent to Rome. Pope Clement XI sent out Bishop Maillard de Tournon, to investigate. He arrived in 1705 and was granted several meetings with Kangxi which ended in total disagreement. The issue, as the Church saw it, had ultimately to do with papal supremacy in matters of religion. From that point of view, the Jesuit willingness to accept Kangxi’s opinions amounted to a critical weakening of the fundamental claims of Catholic Christianity. In 1715 came a papal bull banning the strategy of accommodation and Maillard forbade Catholic missionaries, on pain of excommunication, to obey the emperor in this matter. But there was no possibility that the emperor could tolerate that.

Kangxi’s response was to therefore expel anyone who did not sign a paper accepting his view. The emperor had Maillard imprisoned in Macao, where he died in 1707 (sic).[Harry G Gelber/The Dragon and the Foreign Devils, pp74-75 and 120-122]

Related Links: Kerry Brown’s review at the Asian Review of Books

Command vs Cell

India’s new Integrated Space Cell

The good news is that the Indian government finally moved its feet on setting up a defence organisation for affairs in space. But there’s a distinct pusillanimity, lack of ambition, embarrassment or perhaps, bureaucratic consideration in what it decided to call the outfit. Instead of calling it an aerospace command that strategists have been advocating, the government has decided to call it an Integrated Space Cell (ISC). Setting up a Command would have given it a weighty profile—commands are headed by officers of the rank of Lieutenant-General or equivalent. A cell, on the other hand, can be commanded by anyone.

It is baffling that the report announcing the setting up of the ISC should mention that it has been so constituted to counter China’s plans for the militarisation of space. While China is an important consideration, it is by no means the only consideration. It may well be that the UPA government is attempting to counter criticism that it has been soft on China, but it was wholly unnecessary to exclusively cite it by name. Somebody messed up the messaging.

The unwarranted bravado in the messaging is met with an unwarranted downscaling of the new organisation. Setting up an outfit called a ‘cell’ suggests a tentative approach to a strategic issue. Unless the ISC is provided the resources, capabilities and bureaucratic heft, it is unlikely to be really effective. It remains to be seen whether the ISC is a command that is called a cell out of political correctness, or is, after all, a mere cell.

Related Link: Adityanjee’s article in Pragati on strategy and space.

The days of cross-border firing are here again

The two-many-Musharrafs problem has gotten much worse.

Rajinder Puri’s analysis is to the point:

Benazir’s assassination, Musharraf’s loss of power and Pakistan’s post-election scene reduced terrorist attacks to some extent. Meanwhile, the Pakistan army sought peace with terrorist outfits. Result: terrorism is deflected to India. And the cease-fire violation by the Pakistan army suggests that the old army-jihaadi nexus is back in business. It matters little if Pakistan’s military chief General Kayani is in control or not, or whether it is the Pakistan army or only certain elements in it that collude with terrorism. The end result is the same. For India, it is a question of survival. Whether hapless or complicit, the Pakistan government’s inability to deliver on terror is unacceptable. The Pakistan army’s role is intolerable. [Outlook]

He goes on to recommend that:

On Tuesday May 20 the Indo-Pakistan peace dialogue will resume. Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee will be interacting with his counterpart. The Indian government might ask the Pakistanis bluntly which endgame they are aspiring for: Gilani’s, Musharraf’s or the army’s. Unless that is clear, peace talks will be a waste of time.

But because there are so many players in Pakistan, with various alignments of interests, just talking to the hapless Pakistani foreign minister won’t be of much use.

More importantly, it is necessary for the Indian government to quickly determine the particular actors responsible for the violation of the ceasefire and ‘discourage’ them. [See C Raja Mohan’s op-ed]

A few hundred good men

Can India’s foreign policy get anywhere with fewer than 600 men and women running the show?

Two op-eds, one by Stanley Weiss in the International Herald-Tribune (linkthanks Adityanjee) and another by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express (linkthanks Sameer Wagle) deal with India’s lacklustre foreign policy. Mr Weiss writes about India’s neighbouring countries, for the international audience and has nothing really for those who are aware of Lax Indica. Dr Mehta’s piece, on the other hand, presents an important—often overlooked angle—to the discourse over why India’s foreign policy is the way it is.

It’s got to do with capacity. The Indian Foreign Service has only around 600 officers in total—and they not only man the foreign ministry desks in New Delhi and over 162 missions and embassies around the world, but also handle such administrative tasks such issuing passports at regional passport offices. India’s engagement with the external world has intensified manifold over the last 20 years: yet the primary task of shaping this engagement is left to such a small number of people.

But merely increasing the cadre strength of the IFS is not the solution. The bigger point is that foreign policy is too important (and certainly too big) to be left to professional diplomats alone. In Dr Mehta’s words India lacks the ability to “draw in from a wider pool that would allow it to think strategically rather than merely diplomatically.” And it lacks this ability because of a certain hollowness in the academia and the intellectual space. Apart from a handful of ‘premier’ think tanks, there are few institutions that produce thought leadership on foreign policy issues.

While analysing India’s foreign policy, most commentators—including this one—are guilty of focussing only on intentions. It is common enough to complain that India could have done better in this case or shown more backbone in that one. That’s the flashy end of foreign policy analysis. Worrying about organisation structure, staff strength, training and collaboration with minds outside government looks mundane in comparison. Dr Mehta does well to remind us of the importance of the latter. Just why is it important? In Essence of Decision, a seminal work on explaining how governments make decisions, Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow describe three models of analysis. Their “Organisational Process” model suggests that government policies are primarly the result of bureaucratic output (and not the unmodulated action of a unitary actor).

To the extent that foreign policy is determined by the people in the foreign ministry (and their interactions with those outside it) restructuring the bureaucracy is likely to yield better results. It must, though, be accompanied by a change in the organisational culture—one that seeks, respects and uses outside expertise. This much is for the government to do. But raising think-tanks and academic departments is something that civil society is arguably better placed to accomplish. The government will remain the main actor, but there is something Indian citizens and corporates can do to make India’s foreign policy more credible. Mr Weiss, the author of the IHT article, heads an impressive organisation called Business Executives for National Security, a “a nationwide (US), non-partisan organization, is the primary channel through which senior business executives can help enhance the nation’s security.”

There’s nothing like it in India.

Surely you’re joking, Mr Mukherjee! (Beijing’s thanks edition)

China called in the Indian ambassador to say thank you…at 2 am

Replying to a question in parliament, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee stated that that business of the Chinese government waking up Ms Nirupama Rao at an ungodly hour was to express its “appreciation at the prompt action taken by the (Indian) government” in apprehending Tibetan protestors who had tried to enter the Chinese embassy in New Delhi.

Diplomats lie for their country in foreign capitals. Mr Mukherjee lies for another country in his own capital. No amount of concern for maintaining good relations with China demands this kind of cravenness.

Would you spare us the briefings!

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.

These Americans are crazy

Sometimes not doing the honour is the more astute thing to do

The US government—long used to ignoring public opinion in Pakistan—may have completely lost the plot. It became wildly unpopular in the Pakistani media a few days ago, when senior state department officials visited Islamabad before the government was formed, and were seen to be interfering with the political process.

And now, they’ve gone and inducted General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani into the United States Army Command and General Staff College’s International Hall of Fame. This “honors those officers of United States allies’ militaries who have attained the highest command positions in their national service component or within their nation’s armed forces”.

That’s just what General Kayani needs to strengthen his own position among his colleagues in the Pakistani army establishment. It is also exactly the thing that he needs to be painted as being beholden to the United States—a fat lot of good that will do to him: in the eyes of the newly elected dispensation, with the increasingly influential media and with the people.

And the US government thinks that such an outcome is good for them?

Doing it at ungodly hours

China’s unfriendliness is revealing

A sign of the nature of a relationship between countries is the manner in which they officially communicate displeasure. So when the Chinese government calls in the Indian ambassador at 2am, to hand her details of plans by Tibetan protesters to disrupt the movement of the Olympic torch in India, you know what the Chinese think about the nature of bilateral relationship. China might have reason to be angry. That it chose to be demonstrate unfriendliness reveals that it believes the proper way to handle India is through overreaction and bullying.

India responded by cancelling Commerce Minister Kamal Nath’s trip to China. The unwritten rules of the game would have suggested tit-for-tat: that the Chinese ambassador be summoned at 2am and handed some inane document. (But where’s the joy is having to meet a Chinese diplomat at 2am? Asking Mr Kamal Nath to cancel his tickets was easier. In any case, the Chinese ambassador, expecting to be called in at an ungodly hour, must have spent the night in his suit, waiting for the call that didn’t come. Not calling him, arguably, was more punishing than calling him in)

China has escalated its diplomatic offensive. The first round was when Premier Wen Jiabao issued a disguised warning. In the second round, the disguise has come off. But it’s a bad move: as the UPA government’s decision to call off Kamal Nath’s trip shows, bullying is the worst strategy China could take against India. Even its mouthpieces can’t generate enough propaganda to prevent public opinion from massively turning against Beijing. China would do well to conduct its business at normal working hours.

Update: Read Tarun Vijay’s op-ed