The price of minding Mr Hu’s delicate sensibilities

It is not in New Delhi’s interests to be seen as a craven appeaser of China

There are a number of reasons why states come together and form international groupings. These include common interests, common causes, common weaknesses, common fears, gawking, lurking and sabotaging. One of the more inexplicable reasons they form groupings is because some research at some investment bank wrote a report lumping them together based on their growth rates and sizes of their economy. That’s why when outrage suppresses yawn when BRICS summits are held.

If the Indian foreign service is understaffed and overstretched, it also is guilty of enthusiastically expending resources in one too many pointless clubs, from the Commonwealth to the Non-aligned Movement and now to BRICS. The opportunity cost of getting wrapped up in pointless pageantry is lower attention to more important forums like the G-20 and the East Asia Summit. Like in many other areas, the UPA government’s sense of priorities is highly questionable.

Worse, because China’s highly Tibet-sensitive president was to attend the summit, the Indian government found it necessary to round up not only Tibetan protestors, but anyone else who faintly resembled them. Calling it our shameful kow-tow, Mihir Sharma writes of “Tibetans being rounded up, made to squat in the sun; the ever-sensitive Delhi Police indulging in the worst sort of racial profiling, demanding that people who look even vaguely Tibetan prove their credentials or be locked up.”

Having met some of the top Indian officials dealing with China policy, I can say with some confidence that they are not the appeasing sort. So why did Delhi Police (which takes orders from the Union home ministry) behave in such a demeaning manner?

One explanation that you might hear is that since New Delhi is playing hardball where its core interests are concerned there is no point in gratuitously embarrassing China’s leader in the eyes of his peers. This being a crucial year for the Chinese leadership—where power is supposed to change hands at the Party Congress amid factional strife, economic uncertainties and internal instability—why make President Hu Jintao lose face? There’s some merit in this argument. You don’t need to make a public show of your intentions. Making your guest comfortable is as good a principle in diplomacy as in daily life (although some Leftists didn’t believe this ought to extend to a US president).

Nor does preventing pro-Tibet protests prejudice India’s current or future negotiating position on the Tibetan issue. After all, “Free Tibet” protests can take place elsewhere in the country and on any other day of the calendar.

It’s not uplifting, it’s not fragrant, but there is merit in this logic. However, it still misses a larger point. The world—and especially the countries of East Asia—are watching. What they saw is a potential counter to Chinese hegemony bend over backwards (a reverse kow-tow?) to please China’s leader. Although they have seen some measures by New Delhi that persuades them of India’s intentions to contribute to the Asian balance of power, such signals risk confusing them. Small and medium-powers in India’s extended eastern neighbourhood will begin to have doubts about New Delhi’s ability to stand up to Chinese assertiveness. This will make it much more difficult for India to pursue its own interests in East Asia.

Finally, the perception that New Delhi ‘appeased’ Beijing yet again will exacerbate the hysteria in the media and public discourse on matters concerning China. Ironically, the UPA government has ended up embarrassing itself in front of its people in order to avoid embarrassing Mr Hu in front of his. Senior Indian officials have complained that the way the Indian media report issues pertaining to India-China relations complicates matters. The way the Indian established handled Mr Hu’s visit doesn’t help matters either. Feeding a narrative of a weak India unable to show spine to China on core democratic values is unlikely to help New Delhi make tough decisions of give-and-take if the opportunity presents itself. After all, we are all just prisoners here, of our own narratives.

From hope to dope

More unrealism from Brzezinski

As we have noted earlier, a Brzezinskian world is a world where there is a tidy bipolar world, where the United States and China sit together and make The Big Decisions. It differs from the real world in that the real world is real, and the Brzezinskian world lies in the domain of wishful thinking.

In the Brzezinskian world the following prescription would be considered as both sensible and in US interests:

Additionally, the United States needs to develop a policy for gaining the support of Pakistan, not just in denying the Taliban a sanctuary in Pakistan but also in pressuring the Taliban in Afghanistan to accommodate. Given that many Pakistanis may prefer a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to a secular Afghanistan that leans toward Pakistan’s archrival, India, the United States needs to assuage Pakistan’s security concerns in order to gain its full cooperation in the campaign against the irreconcilable elements of the Taliban. In this regard, the support of China could be helpful, particularly considering its geopolitical stake in regional stability and its traditionally close ties with Islamabad. [Foreign Affairs emphasis added]

Strange. One would think Mr Brzezinski was advising a president who wants to change the policies of his predecessor. What does he think the Bush administration did for nearly seven years?

That’s not all. In the same issue of the magazine, in an article on overcoming the obstacles to a nuclear-free world, Charles Ferguson writes:

Renewed US engagement in helping resolve the Indian-Pakistani dispute over Kashmir is one necessary step toward reducing nuclear tensions on the subcontinent. But this is not enough. Because Pakistan relies on nuclear weapons to counter India’s conventional superiority, the United States needs to address this imbalance by recalibrating its policy of supplying armaments to both states, giving Islamabad enough assistance so that it feels sufficiently secure to free up more military forces to fight the terrorists who are threatening the Pakistani government and its nuclear arsenal. [Foreign Affairs]

Here is someone who is arguing—in the second decade of the twenty-first century—for the United States to settle the Kashmir dispute to Pakistan’s satisfaction and then provide enough military assistance to Pakistan for it to feel secure vis-a-vis India without nuclear weapons. And he evidently thinks that it is a smart thing to do.

Related link: Atanu Dey’s classic post on dollar auctions and deadly games

Pragati July 2008: A better connection with Israel

Issue 15 - Jun 2008
Issue Contents


“Adamant for drift, solid for fluidity”
India needs leadership and a renaissance in its foreign policy
Harsh V Pant

Business interests vs national interests
As Indian companies grow abroad
Sameer Wagle & Gaurav Sabnis

The myth of illiberal capitalism
Multi-polarity, democracy and what the US might do about them
Dhruva Jaishankar


A survey of think-tanks
The post-American world; Asian geopolitics
Vijay Vikram


The India-Israel imperative
Indo-Judeo commonalities: the symbolic and the substantive
Martin Sherman


Fruits of knowledge
Apply knowledge-economy processes for food security
Mukul G Asher & Amarendu Nandy

Needed: A new monsoon strategy
The focus should be on groundwater recharge
Tushaar Shah


Know your consumer?
A review of Rama Bijapurkar’s We are like that only
Aadisht Khanna

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