Friday, June 22, 2007

The New Pragmatists- India's Leadership

This article by Gwynne Dyer on China's aggressive posture toward India was indicative of so many such articles in the past. They are still the staple of many Indian journalists even today- notably those of the Hindu which echoed the same sentiments in an editorial a few days ago. The gist of this article seems to be that India in its new found nuclear friendship with the US has been deferring considering the cost it would entail with China, what China would have to say about this. And now, the article says, India has been caught on the wrong foot because the Chinese have raised the issue of Arunachal Pradesh and claimed the state to be Chinese territory in its entirity. The article goes on to say that India had been claiming for the past couple of years or so that it could now engage China succcessfully, but the politicians were now all of a doo-dah.

Then there is this article by B. Raman, India's former head of the intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), which is titled 'Tawang: Some Indian plain-speaking at last!' This piece says that India's response to China's claim has been plain, calm and aggressive but not impractical or reactionary. In the past several politicians would decry such comments, using strong language to describe the Chinese claims as unwarranted, unjustifiable, etc; and would 'condemn' them, as newspapers would quote. Raman's article quotes the only two politicians who gave their comments on this issue. This is notable because: (1) the rest of the political machinery has been silent- an unprecedented occurence; and (2) the content of the comments has come across absolutely unexpected and utterly magnificent.

Which is this is true? Let's take a look. India's press has been as knee jerk as ever before, wagging their fingers and saying 'I told you so'. If this had been 1995, India may have politely refused the US the nuclear deal and appeased China by refusing to undertake any infrastructure, industrial or military initiatives in Arunachal as has happened since the 1962 Sino-Indian war, until recently. In the end we would have engaged neither the US nor China, getting no military or diplomatic partnership with the US and no engagement with China.

In 2007 however External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee commented 'he had made it clear to his new Chinese counterpart that any elected Government of India is not permitted by the provisions of the Constitution to part with any part of our land that sends representatives to the Indian Parliament.'

The minister added: 'The days of Hitler are over. After the Second World War, no country captures land of another country in the present global context. That is why there is a civilised mechanism of discussions and dialogue to sort out border disputes. We sit around the table and discuss disputes to resolve them.'

Mukherjee's first comment notes that the Chinese claim over Arunachal is impractical in that they cannot simply get the state just because they claim it. This is not 1962 where a conventional war could be fought and boundaries decided. But this is a known fact. I would venture that the Chinese, masterful negotiators that they are, do not want to let go of the Arunachal issue because it is a leverage they have in negotiations. After recognizing Sikkim's statehood within India, the Chinese lost a playing card. To get a concession from India they need to give back something. And that could be Arunachal. But it looks like the Indian leadership sees this for the smokescreen that it is. For India to give up something significant, say recognizing Tibet as Chinese territory (we did accept Tibet as an autonomous region within China in 2003, whatever that means!), and accept Chinese recognition of Arunachal would be silly- we would be getting nothing of value! Secondly, Mukherjee states that the discussions to resolve the issue are going on and any claim over past occupation does not hold good now. This is a mature, down to earth stating of facts.

Take a look at Defence Minster AK Anthony's comments:

'China has been building infrastructure (near the Line of Actual Control). We are also building infrastructure. Nobody can prevent both sides. There is nothing wrong in that. They have the right to build infrastructure on their territory. We have the right to do that on ours. We are also trying to hasten the development of our infrastructure. They have their perception (about Arunachal Pradesh). On our part, we are very categorical that Arunachal Pradesh is part of India.'

Anthony seems to be confident enough in talking about our infrastructure building in Arunachal which had been languishing since 1962, when we decided to leave it well alone for fear that the Chinese may eventually get the state. Indeed, India has begun a series of hectic road building in this state unparalleled since then. After this China went further and jammed the All India Radio and Doordarshan signals in Arunachal's border towns with more powerful signals from China. But the message is clear enough: the way to engage the dragon is through aggression. We know that from their interactions with the Americans and the Japanese. India's aggression (without unnecessary sensationalism) pays and we have since seen the dividends. India has been pragmatic and diplomatic enough to encourage trade with China (which hit $20 billion this year, well on its way to be $30 billion next year, significantly large for them as it is for us) and cooperation in a number of projects (including joint bidding for gas and oil fields abroad), but our foreign policy seems to be finally free of dogmatic appeasement.

After Chinese statements hit the press, we saw another historic event take place. Taiwanese presidential candidate Ma-Ying Jeou (Kuo Ming Tang) paid a visit to India, the first by any Taiwanese leader. This article, titled India Plays the Taiwan Card', talks eloquently about this. China did not protest this as the visit was billed as having economic motives. But this cannot have caused just mild flutters in Beijing- whatever the motives, ths visit was unprecedented in nearly seventy decades, and on a larger, strategic level, reflects India's commitments to engage Taiwan. It also reflects a reversal of the former Indian policy of leaving Chinese feathers unruffled as concerns Taiwan.

Gwynne Dyer's pronouncement that India has been given a rude awakening is far from reality. India has been awake for a while now, but I think our northern neighbour is taking longer to wake up. They got a wake up call when India tested the nuclear bomb and they've been slowly adjusting to the new attitude. India's priorities were made very clear when Chinese President Hu Jintao visited India last November. His welcome party was in no way colourful or warm as the fantastic reception India gave US President George Bush when he visited. President Bush was received maginificently both at Rashtrapati Bhavan, with a parade of cavalry, as well as at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's home, decorated with flowers. The press also noted the informality and warmth between the two leaders. Prime Minister Singh broke protocol and went himself to receive President Bush when he landed in New Delhi. None of that for President Jintao. Regulation red carpet, regulation formal welcome. He was welcomed by senior Indian bureaucrats, politicians and Chinese consular officers and later met with the Prime Minister and other senior lawmakers. The difference was more than symbolic. Our leadership's comments were clear enough that the visit was not expected to make any grand proclamations of friendship or giant strides in the Sino-Indian rapprochement, but was certainly expected to make progress in trade and economic ties- This contemporary article titled 'Hu Visit: It's Trade, Not Politics' captures the idea nicely.

Another facet of India's pragmatism was made known to me when I visited a US defense contractor yesterday for a possible sale of IT services. The security officer at the door engaged me in conversation as my contact was taking some time to come and receive me. He let me know with some apprehension in his voice that the company was moving some jobs to India. I thought back to one of our strategy sessions within our company when we talked about the $30 billion business in defense procurement that we are throwing open to global arms companies. Perhaps taking a leaf out of the United States' historical record of unreliability when it comes to arms delivery and perhaps from Pakistan's hapless experience of having paid money upfront to procure F-16s and waiting several years to get the goods (because of US sanctions after their nuclear tests), India made it manadatory for the US companies to subcontract 30 percent of the arms manufacture to Indian companies. In addition, qualitative factors such as doing business with Indian companies would feature in a decision to select a supplier. This would ensure: (1) timely delivery of arms; (2) an American stake in ensuring contract terms; (3) the development of a domestic military industrial complex in India. Besides, this relationship would closely marry American interests in improving US-India relations with doing business with the Indians. In the absence of historical, ethnic or such undefinable ties such as that the US shares with Britain, sound economics would be India's best bet to improve the relationship with America.

My answer to the security officer was that since the company was selling several products to India the outsourcing is part of the quid pro quo that is expected in the transaction. Interestingly, the officer warmed to me visibly after I mentioned this. The oft quoted phrase 'I owe you one' seems very appropriate here.

This shows pragmatism, decisiveness and maturity in the leadership. I just wish our press would understand these larger realities and begin some responsible reportage instead of regurgitating foreign journalists or worse still, quite often agencies like Xinhua. The other party in India that I would like to see responding honourably is the CPI(M). They have been behaving more or less like an informal Chinese trade office by actively pushing for Chinese investments in India's infrastructure and decrying any deals with the US. Remarkably they have been silent about Chinese claims over Arunachal. These gentlemen and ladies of the Left need to behave like Indians before they get any respect from the rest of India. The old joke in Kerala about the Left was that they would open up their umbrellas if it was raining in China. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the Fifth Estate and the Left have so many mutual admirers (no explanations necessary here, I think).

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