Globes­can: Sino-In­dian ties: Chi­nese en­voy’s goo­gly

Chi­nese Am­bas­sador to In­dia, Luo Zhao­hui’s sug­ges­tion for a tri­lat­eral sum­mit be­tween In­dia, China and Pak­istan has sur­prised diplo­matic cir­cles for In­dia has al­ways been against any third party in­ter­ven­tion where re­la­tions with Pak­istan are con­cerned

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Chi­nese Am­bas­sador to In­dia, Luo Zhao­hui’s sug­ges­tion for a tri­lat­eral sum­mit be­tween In­dia, China and Pak­istan has sur­prised diplo­matic cir­cles for In­dia has al­ways been against any third party in­ter­ven­tion where re­la­tions with Pak­istan are con­cerned

ON June 18 the Chi­nese Am­bas­sador to In­dia Luo Zhao­hui took diplo­matic watch­ers by sur­prise with an elab­o­rate but a con­tentious state­ment sug­gest­ing a tri­lat­eral sum­mit un­der Shanghai Co­op­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (SCO) to set­tle bound­ary is­sues be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. The oc­ca­sion and the con­text in which the en­voy made the com­ment left lit­tle doubt that it was not an off the cuff re­mark. He was speak­ing at a sem­i­nar or­gan­ised by the Chi­nese Em­bassy on the sub­ject, ‘ Be­yond Wuhan: How Far and Fast Can China-In­dia Re­la­tions Go’. In­dia was quick to dis­miss the state­ment as “per­sonal opin­ion” of the en­voy while re­it­er­at­ing that all is­sues be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan are to be set­tled bi­lat­er­ally and that there was no scope what­so­ever for a third party in­ter­ven­tion. Re­sponse of New Delhi to the sug­ges­tion of the Chi­nese en­voy was re­strained and mat­ter of fact. In the past In­dia had strongly re­jected sim­i­lar ideas as tan­ta­mount to in­ter­fer­ence in the in­ter­nal af­fairs of the coun­try. Even China sought to dis­tance it­self from the speech of its en­voy but there were few tak­ers for the avowal. What is one to make out of the pub­lic ex­pres­sion of the Chi­nese en­voy? The ques­tion as­sumes sig­nif­i­cance in the light of the re­cent bon­homie wit­nessed be­tween the two coun­tries at the high­est level. First was the ex­tra­or­di­nary ges­ture on the part of Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in the last week of April to in­vite Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi for a two-day in­for­mal sum­mit at Wuhan in Hubei Province. The Sum­mit with­out any scripted agenda had raised high hopes of a new be­gin­ning in the re­la­tions of the two coun­tries. It was fol­lowed by yet an­other in­for­mal meet­ing be­tween the Chi­nese Premier and the In­dian Prime Min­is­ter on the side­lines of the SCO Sum­mit in Qing­dao, in the sec­ond week of June. At the meet­ing, the Chi­nese Pres­i­dent ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion ex­tended by Modi to visit In­dia for an in­for­mal meet­ing, sim­i­lar to the one in Wuhai, in 2019. In his re­marks, the Chi­nese en­voy made out as if the idea for a tri­lat­eral sum­mit had em­anated from the In­dian side. Al­beit he kept it vague as to whether these quar­ters in­cluded the In­dian es­tab­lish­ment. “Some In­dian friends sug­gested that In­dia, China, and Pak­istan may have some kind of tri­lat­eral sum­mit on the side­lines of the SCO. So, if China, Rus­sia, and Mon­go­lia can have a tri­lat­eral sum­mit, then why not In­dia, China, and Pak­istan,” the Chi­nese Am­bas­sador to In­dia was quoted as say­ing. The en­voy bat­ted for a joint ef­fort to main­tain peace along the border: “We can­not stand an­other Dokalam in­ci­dent.” He also praised Modi’s re­marks at the Shangri-La Di­a­logue. At the con­fer­ence, Modi had said that Asia and the world will have a bet­ter fu­ture when In­dia and China work to­gether with trust and con­fi­dence while be­ing sen­si­tive to each other’s in­ter­ests. “Modi made a speech in Shangri-La which sent a pos­i­tive mes­sage to China. In Qing­dao, the two lead­ers agreed to hold a sec­ond round of in­for­mal sum­mit next year. This is the most sig­nif­i­cant out­come of the Qing­dao meet­ing,” Zhao­hui said and went on to add, “Strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions, meet­ings and heart-to-heart di­a­logues are im­por­tant. What’s equally

im­por­tant is to im­ple­ment the con­sen­sus, trans­mit (the) lead­ers’ per­sonal friend­ship down to the peo­ple, and take more con­crete ac­tions. The Qing­dao meet­ing has shown the right di­rec­tion.” Zhao­hui said that In­dia and China are neigh­bours that “can­not be moved away”. “We are most pop­u­lous and largest devel­op­ing coun­tries. We shared a his­toric glory of friendly in­ter­ac­tions. We also have pend­ing bound­ary is­sues. Our re­la­tions, so mul­ti­faceted and com­pli­cated, call for spe­cial care and at­ten­tion,” he said. The Chi­nese Am­bas­sador ar­gued that In­dia and China have to fol­low five Cs to im­prove re­la­tions—com­mu­ni­ca­tion, co­op­er­a­tion, con­tacts, co­or­di­na­tion, and con­trol. In a tweet he said, “China-In­dia re­la­tions have gone be­yond bi­lat­eral scope. We have broad con­verg­ing in­ter­ests and face com­mon chal­lenges in Asia and be­yond. We need to en­hance co­or­di­na­tion and co­op­er­a­tion in SCO, BRICS and G20, and join hands to tackle global chal­lenges,” he said. The re­marks came al­most a year af­ter the troops of In­dia and China were locked in a 73-day stand­off in Dok­lam. In June 2017, the In­dian side stopped the con­struc­tion of a road by the Chi­nese Army in the dis­puted area. The face­off ended in the last week of Au­gust. At the meet­ing ahead of the SCO sum­mit, the In­dian Prime Min­is­ter and the Chi­nese Pres­i­dent held de­tailed dis­cus­sions on sev­eral sub­jects of mu­tual in­ter­est. They in­cluded mea­sures needed to avoid fu­ture Doklams, China block­ing In­dia’s move to get Pak­istan-based JeM chief Ma­sood Azhar banned by the United Na­tions, and its op­po­si­tion to In­dia’s bid for the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group (NSG) mem­ber­ship. Does the un­am­bigu­ous state­ment of the Chi­nese en­voy on tri­lat­eral Sum­mit un­der the aegis of SCO in­di­cate at­tempt by Bei­jing to push New Delhi en­dorse its pres­ti­gious China’s One Belt and One Road (OBOR) ini­tia­tive. In the eight-na­tion SCO meet, In­dia re­fused to back China’s Belt and Road ini­tia­tive for which Bei­jing had signed agree­ments with over 80 coun­tries and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions. Since 1988, which marked the first visit of the than Prime Min­is­ter Ra­jiv Gandhi since 1962 at that level, there have at­tempts to re­de­fine the re­la­tions be­tween the two na­tions, gi­ants not just in terms of pop­u­la­tion but also the size of the econ­omy. Af­ter post-9/11 world, an­other at­tempt at re­set was made by Prime Min­is­ter Va­j­payee’s visit in June 2003. A dec­la­ra­tion was is­sued on “prin­ci­ples for re­la­tions and com­pre­hen­sive co­op­er­a­tion”, where it was as­serted that “dif­fer­ences should not be al­lowed to af­fect the over­all de­vel­op­ment of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions”.

MODI sought to give a new push to ties with Bei­jing through a lav­ish wel­come to Xi in Gu­jarat dur­ing his Septem­ber 2014 visit. How­ever, it did not amount to much as it was over­shad­owed by a Chi­nese in­cur­sion in Chu­mar, Ladakh. In­dia has also con­cerns over the trade deficit. The grow­ing foot­print of China in In­dia’s neigh­bour­hood, par­tic­u­larly Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Mal­dives and Bangladesh is a cause of deep un­ease for New Delhi. China on its part is sen­si­tive to what it per­ceives as New Delhi’s en­cour­age­ment to the Ti­betan Gov­ern­ment-in-Ex­ile in Dharam­sala. In a bid to as­suage con­cerns of China on this front, in March, the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs is­sued a “clas­si­fied cir­cu­lar ad­vi­sory ad­vis­ing all min­istries/de­part­ments of Union gov­ern­ment as well as State gov­ern­ments not to ac­cept any in­vi­ta­tion or to par­tic­i­pate in the pro­posed com­mem­o­ra­tive events” or­gan­ised by the Ti­betan gov­ern­ment-in-ex­ile in Dharam­sala in April. Given the his­tory of dif­fer­ences and dis­trust be­tween the two coun­tries on a num­ber of sub­jects par­tic­u­larly post1962, it is naïve to as­sume any dra­matic change in the equa­tions.

Does the un­am­bigu­ous state­ment of the Chi­nese en­voy on tri­lat­eral Sum­mit un­der the aegis of SCO in­di­cate at­tempt by Bei­jing to push New Delhi en­dorse its pres­ti­gious China’s One Belt and One Road (OBOR) ini­tia­tive

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