Xi Jinping arrival prep
School students wave the national flag of China and India ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit in October 2019 | PTI File Photo
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Narendra Modi’s India persists in thinking, against overwhelming evidence and common sense, that it can find a modus vivendi with China by convincing Beijing that New Delhi holds no ill will towards it, and possibly even goodwill. This will not work.

So, China’s efforts to raise the Kashmir issue once again at the UN Security Council should not come as a surprise. China’s behaviour is perfectly understandable. It is India’s that is a head-scratcher.

Indian foreign ministry officials appeared to be reluctant – or fearful? – even to mention China, despite the fact that it was China that took the initiative in the UN Security Council.  MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar was at least willing to say “China” out loud, though only after some prodding from the press, while Indian Permanent Representative to the UN, Syed Akbaruddin, would not say even that, limiting himself to “a UN Security Council permanent member”.  There was also a clear attempt to paint this as a Pakistani ploy, as if China was either duped or at least an unwilling partner.  This amounts to self-delusion about China, and New Delhi is in for a rude awakening.


Also read: China’s attempt to raise Kashmir at UN seen as distraction: Envoy Syed Akbaruddin


China’s signals

It is not as if China has not given enough signals about how it sees the nature of the relationship. Raveesh Kumar admitted that in previous high-level China-India meetings, India had raised the issue of such manoeuvres in the UN Security Council. If so, the fact that China has done this again can only mean that Beijing has paid little heed to India’s concerns.  In other words, Beijing is fully aware that they are engaging in actions that India has objected to previously.

But the fault may not lie with China, and instead with New Delhi and its worldview. China’s behaviour should not be a surprise because this is what countries do: they attempt to weaken potential adversaries and keep them on the defensive because strong adversaries are a natural threat, especially when such potential adversaries are neighbours.


Also read: India’s way is not to be disruptive, it is a decider rather than abstainer: S Jaishankar


China and Pakistan needed each other

This was the logic of both the durability and the strength of the China-Pakistan alliance, which is one of the oldest bilateral security partnerships in the world today. Moreover, China and Pakistan were not even ideologically compatible: when the alliance began in the 1950s, China was a revolutionary, agrarian-Communist regime, while Pakistan was a feudal, military-run religious state. Although ideologically there could not be two dissimilar states, they both saw India as a security problem because of India’s power and its potential. This became the basis of a partnership that has endured because the condition that gave rise to it, India’s power and potential, has endured.

Pakistan and China will continue to see India as a potential threat and partner to counter it. Most importantly, this has little to do with India’s behaviour. If it was India’s behaviour that was responsible for the China-Pakistan partnership, New Delhi could consider changing its behaviour or attempt through dialogues and “informal summits” to convince them, especially China, that India represents no threat to them. The problem is that they are not responding to India’s behaviour but rather to its inherent power. There is little that India can do to convince them that this by itself does not represent a potential threat. Indeed, China and Pakistan would be imprudent and foolish not to do so.


Also read: Modi govt’s trip for envoys to J&K exposes rift between home and external affairs ministries


Un-realism in foreign policy  

Nevertheless, it would appear that New Delhi is surprised. The question is why? One important reason may be that India still refuses to see international politics in realist terms. While India’s foreign policy has traditionally been seen as being idealist or at least un-realistic, the assumption was that a ‘nationalist’ government would not be subject to such impulses. The problem is that idealism is not the only path to un-realism because nationalism can also lead to un-realist impulses and behaviour.

India appears to be in the grip of such nationalistic un-realism, which focuses not on material power but rather on ‘normative power’. New Delhi seems to be paying greater attention to spreading Indian culture than on building the sinews of national power. They do not, of course, have to be in conflict because they are not intrinsically contradictory, nor is there any harm in seeking to promote culture. But it becomes a problem if cultural ‘power’ is somehow seen as a substitute for material power, just as India’s moral power, the power of example, was once mistakenly seen as a more valuable asset.

Similarly, nationalism seems to have imbued Indian foreign policy with an even greater faith in diplomacy, especially of the personal kind. Think Narendra Modi’s equation with world leaders. Personal diplomacy and summits are definitely useful, but it is dangerous to think they can alter the consequences of the distribution of international power.

Nationalism also leads to an un-realistic exaggeration of our own capabilities, another Indian tendency that is new in its pathway but not in its substance. India is not China’s equal. New Delhi seems reluctant to recognise that it is far weaker than China, and that this relative weakness necessitates different strategies than India has had to employ until now.

Overconfidence is dangerous in power politics, but this is another lesson that New Delhi refuses to learn.

Nationalism, as much as idealism, refuses to recognise the realities of international power. If it did, India would be less surprised at China’s perfectly understandable behaviour. And possibly, New Delhi would be able to respond more effectively.

The author is a professor in International Politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Views are personal.

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21 Comments Share Your Views

21 COMMENTS

  1. China? Modi has been in denial of his Party manifesto , as well as global and India reality since 2014. He is a Nehru 3.0 after Vajpayee’s 2.0. An intellectually vacuous day dreamer and impresario invested with power beyond even his dreams and excessively dependent on a corrupt, obsolete and incompetent legacy ideology Constitution, laws, bureaucracy, judiciary and police…

  2. Public spectacle on which media thrives or gorges on is not an indication of a Prime Ministers’s understanding or influence on the affairs of the world and neither does it bring in long term national advantage . India ‘s primary problem today is its political administrators lack intrinsic personal knowledge of the affairs of the world unlike in the days of Nehru or a Rajaji or a Swaran Singh or a Gujaral . The dependence on advisers will carry India only to a limited level and no further . Unfortunately , India’s problems are compounded by not not only lack of erudition among its leadership ,which seems to be egged on by its ignoramus cheerleaders , who range from street corner lynch goons to ingratiating followers on the look out for loaves and fishes of political power

  3. Even mighty USA scared of Chinese influence over globally and India’s mute response to powerful China is quite understandable after tasting mighty Chinese army power in misadventure Doklam fiasco. The way Chinese leadership handling issues parallel to unpredictable PM leadership is well known fact including economic issues.

  4. Yes, from the days of Nehru, India’s foreign policy has been un-realistic, or we can say a sort of idealist. But in international scenario there are no moderates. There are no permanent friends, although there are always permanent foes. We think by pampering foreign leaders, they become our friends. No. Nehru pampered and befriended many world leaders, including those of China, in the name of Non-Aligned movement, but none came to side of Nehru at the time of Chinese aggression in 1962. And Modi too thinks like Nehru. No Jaffi-Waffi with Trump or other will materialize at the time of need. In international diplomacy, every country sees it’s interests. And here the interests of both China and Pakistan are on the same wavelength.

  5. China has no option to counter the threats of America in south Asia,on the hand china has been overpopulated,resources and the opportunities of job in basic industries are shrinking day after day,therefore they are badly needed by alternative,which is absolutely P.O.K,,Where the occupants are ready to exchange every thing even own land and available resources with a country appears as the savior to run not build the country.

  6. Another JNU windbag. He is full of criticism. I did not see any useful suggestion. China-Pak need each other is OK. China’s recalcitrant behaviour is OK. Has India done anything to aggravate China? And how domestic politics and nationalistic fervour matter in evaluating China’s conduct? The article is hastily written without evaluating all aspects of the issue, especially the fact that India’s security apparatus has recently evaluated China as a more important security concern than Pakistan.

  7. China’s reaction in the UN is in response to a hard message to it through the revocation of article 370. India is placating China publicly but is playing hard ball in actions. It is building its military, border roads, missile programs, and alliances in the Indian Ocean. Also, it rejected the RCEP deal primarily to counter China’s stance. Also, China’s gdp is not five times but 2.5 times, based on PPP, which is a more accurate measure.

    Far from being unrealistic, India’s policy towards China has a good mix of hard ball and soft ball.

  8. I don’t agree with the author that India does not realise that China is a lot more powerful and is being unrealistic with it. India’s policy is very clear – it does not want to antagonise China while building alliances and military strength to counter China. The fact that India abolished article 370 and reorganised the map was as much a message to China as to Pakistan. This was a bold move that China could not digest. It’s reaction has been in response to this move by India.
    Also, please note that the disparity between China and India in GDP terms is not five times, but closer to 2.5 times. You need to use PPP as the right measure of comparison. Additionally, India is countering china’s superior military force with its own military investments. Let’s not discount the Indian military which is amongst the best globally.
    So far from being unrealistic, India has played its cards well with China.

  9. What is the author trying to say. Yeah even a child knows China wants Kashmir or at least parts of it. As for us it is OUR frikking land nationalism or otherwise period.

  10. Why don’t we make Rajesh Rajagopalan the Foreign Minister of India? He obviously knows more, and has deeper insights into, than Jaishankar, who’s just a career diplomat, who has merely been an Ambassador in China and the US. The more the govt is filled with insufferable know-alls and arm-chair cassandras, the better it is–for China.

  11. Its too late to reconsider all these informal meetings with no results on the Chinese front. Mr.Modi should learn from the past and current situations that the Chinese are never going to change. India has to change it perspective and attitude towards China., Though they cannot attack us by surprise as our defences are alert and strong enough to take on any surprises. Modi should re calibrate India foreign policy in the future to come. Jai Hind

  12. While analysis regarding China is fine, conclusions about India are totally out of place. Of course, India knows what China is upto but it is acting differently to put focus on Pakistan. This is elementary and hardly needs elucidation. Of course, Rajesh being from JNU, he can’t let go any an opportunity to criticize Modi!

  13. The worst part of this article is the self loathing about how small and insignificant we are? Yes, we do need to call out China and Pakistan by name. Somehow, the impression in India’s foreign policy establishment is to play coy by not naming countries that act in ways inimical to India. This has nothing to do with Modi or with China. For many years, India would not call out Pakistan by name for their sponsorship of terrorism.

  14. What a bull shit writing. What do you expect? Give freedom to Kashmir?? Modi may be against China. But he had won the hearts of majority indians. It is almost sure that modi will again win. China wants to threaten india and make Pakistan happy for its cpec . No world country are with China. The author must learn again from school.

  15. Since 1978, the asymmetry between India and China has been growing. Today the gap is unbridgeable. Realism and pragmatism should be the hallmarks of our China policy. Strategic partnership with the United States can work only up to a point. It is vanity to believe that personal equations have any role to play in international relations.

  16. We Indians tend to see the present rulers with rose tinted glasses. The international community has a more realistic handle on things. I have been repeating this ad nauseam – India will improve when Indians improve – in education, in thinking, in modern outlook, in female emancipation. Opening ancient wounds is hardly a path to progress in any society. Unfortunately sufficiently large numbers amongst us come with a sense of entitlement – probably thinking that if a country is an ancient power, it will be so in the modern world as well. Examples of ancient Persia (now Iran), ancient Rome and ancient Mayans (now Mexicans) all doing rather poorly come to mind. It is time Indians stop thinking that they are divinely ordained to forever succeed and focus on improving themselves as people by having a liberal mindset, trying to unite our people than practicing divide and rule and educating all our population, especially women, well to progress in the modern world. Otherwise we will be forever doomed to punch well below our heft regardless of whoever occupies the throne at N Delhi.

  17. Lol prof of jnu ( a “commie” propaganda university) is giving sermons on reality. Last I read Chinese are also officially commies.

  18. I agree with the author. India is busy with bullshits and wants to go back to Vedic time. Even Vietnam is doing far better than India- where 24% of the poorest people on earth live(2019n reports by UN). India is not a super -power, but still super poor

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