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M K Bhadrakumar |

If anyone ever told the nation that India should be prepared to fight a “two-front war” with China, he must have been a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread. Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s words while addressing the ITBP guarding the India-China border make that much abundantly clear:

“There are perceptional differences between China and India over the border. All these things can be sorted out easily through a continuous, structural dialogue. If the two countries create a positive atmosphere and continue the structured dialogue, there is no reason why the border problem can’t be solved with time.”

The professional diplomats should have been left alone to do their job for which they have been trained for years, over decades – instead of impostors insisting on “muscular diplomacy”

Rajnath Singh chose the land of warriors, Uttarakhand, to speak these words of peace and reconciliation. Hours after he spoke, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat also dialed back the rhetoric of  “muscular diplomacy” in a speech in Nagpur. Taken together, this must be a course correction? If so, China will wholeheartedly welcome it.

Read more: China’s ‘great game’ in its near-abroad

Coincidence or not, Chinese ambassador Luo Zhaohui has taken forward Rajnath Singh and Bhagwat’s sentiments and has proposed that his country and India should start a new chapter of reconciliation and cooperation in their relations.

Quite obviously, the doctrine of “muscular policy” towards China has proved to be a grave miscalculation, as the Indian withdrawal from Doklam showed.  The “muscular policy” only put the Sino-Indian relationship in an adversarial mode. The miscalculation occurred primarily because India’s strategists didn’t read the tea leaves properly in regard of the geopolitics of Asia-Pacific. They blithely rechristened the region as “Indo-Pacific” and believed that India has become a pivotal state in the containment of China.

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi stressed the need to properly manage differences and “communicate and cooperate more on major international and regional issues to keep the positive momentum of bilateral ties.”

Therefore, the manner in which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushed forward his nascent move to improve relations with China must come as an eye-opener. On Thursday – within a fortnight of the Modi-Abe “roadshow” in Ahmedabad – Abe showed up at the Chinese embassy’s National Day Reception in Tokyo, greeting his hosts warmly in Chinese. The chill in relations with China is hurting Japan’s vital interests. Abe wants Japan to adjust quickly to the geopolitical reality of a new type of relations between the US and China.

Abe had conveyed to Xi at a meeting at the G20 in Hamburg in July that Japan intended to join the Belt and Road Initiative. In early August he chose Taro Kono as the new foreign minister, who is known to favor improved relations with China. Now comes the olive branch. Beijing lost no time to welcome Abe’s gesture. This was conveyed by Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the Japanese ambassador Yokoi Yutaka at a scheduled meeting. As the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang put it,

Read more: Only cooperation with China will make India ‘Great’

Foreign Minister Wang Yi also pointed out that it is good news that yesterday Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the reception held by the Chinese Embassy in Japan to celebrate the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. We look forward to more good news on China-Japan relations rather than bad news after the good news.

I believe that President Trump’s upcoming visit to China means (inaudible) opportunity for the furtherance of China-U.S. relationship, and I hope the teams on both sides will make full preparation for this important event

We hope that the Japanese government can adopt a more positive policy towards China, take more actions that are conducive to bilateral cooperation and achieve the sound interaction of China-Japan relations instead of retreating one step after taking one step forward or even retreating two steps after taking one step forward. Ambassador Yokoi Yutaka also made some positive remarks.

What gives impetus to Abe’s course correction is the sheer pace of events in the Asia Pacific. The US is for the first time haunted by the specter of an existential threat originating from the Asia-Pacific and it needs China’s help to counter it.

In fact, on Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Beijing on his second visit to China in the last 6 month period. Tillerson’s mission had two key objectives – to prepare for President Trump’s visit to China in early November and to seek more help from China on the North Korea problem. We get a flavor of the state of play in US-China relations from Xi’s meeting with Tillerson on Friday. The opening remarks are highly revealing:

Read more: Come in, Kim. Join the club

Tillerson’s mission had two key objectives – to prepare for President Trump’s visit to China in early November and to seek more help from China on the North Korea problem

President Xi: Secretary Tillerson, it is indeed a great pleasure for me to meet with you here. I understand that you have traveled a long way to arrive in Beijing and, immediately after getting out of your plane, you have entered into busy working sessions with your Chinese counterparts.

And I’ve been briefed that you have just had very good discussions. Since taking office as the Secretary of State, you’ve been placing tremendous importance on China-U.S. relationship and you have played a positive role in advancing the growth of China-U.S. relations. And we would like to express our appreciation for what you have done.

Right now for China-U.S. relationship, the most important agenda is the visit to China by President Trump in November. Well, on top of the two meetings between President Trump and I at Mar-a-Lago and also in Hamburg, Germany, we’ve also exchanged letters and telephone conversations on multiple occasions. I’ve enjoyed each and every one of those engagements, and we have made concerted efforts to push for the growth of China-U.S. relationship.

Read more: US resets its transatlantic leadership role

Wang Yi also pointed out that it is good news that yesterday Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the reception held by the Chinese Embassy in Japan to celebrate the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China

And the two of us have also maintained a very good working relationship and personal friendship. I believe that President Trump’s upcoming visit to China means (inaudible) opportunity for the furtherance of China-U.S. relationship, and I hope the teams on both sides will make full preparation for this important event. And I believe his visit will be special, wonderful, and successful.

Secretary Tillerson: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President, for giving us this time for my delegation to call on you. President Trump is looking forward with great anticipation to the summit here in Beijing, as is the first lady, Melania Trump. And our teams have had very good discussions today to move forward on the preparations for this very important visit; had very good discussions with Foreign Minister Wang Yi, State Councilor Yang, and I think the details of the visit are coming together quite nicely.

And we appreciate all the preparation and the efforts being taken by the Chinese side. As you have noted, this is a relationship that continues to grow and mature on the strength of the relationship between yourself and President Trump, and we look forward to advancing that relationship with this upcoming summit. Thank you.

At a separate meeting with Tillerson, Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi stressed the need to properly manage differences and “communicate and cooperate more on major international and regional issues to keep the positive momentum of bilateral ties.” (Again, it is instructive to read the opening remarks, here, at the meeting to make out the transformed climate of Sino-American relationship.) Significantly, at another meeting, Foreign Minister Wang Yi discussed with Tillerson issues relating to Afghanistan.

Read more: China closes US’ exit door from Iran nuclear deal

The chill in relations with China is hurting Japan’s vital interests. Abe wants Japan to adjust quickly to the geopolitical reality of a new type of relations between the US and China

India should see the writing on the wall – namely, its China policies are hopelessly adrift and perilously close to a dead-end. The jingoists strutting around as strategic thinkers among the ruling elite in Delhi completely missed the plot. The entire myth that China is a “rival” to India — or that India can rival OBOR on its own steam — has been blown sky-high.

The absurdity of the rivalry thesis should have been so very apparent since the two countries are far, far from equals in their comprehensive national power and China has no conceivable reason on earth to fear India. The real challenge for Indian diplomacy should have been to engage with China constructively and to benefit out of China’s rise for India’s development. The professional diplomats should have been left alone to do their job for which they have been trained for years, over decades – instead of impostors insisting on “muscular diplomacy”.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.

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