In­dia Deals Its Cards

For­eign pol­icy is com­ing of age, but it must be propped up by eco­nomic growth

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Ecstasy Of Ideas - In­[email protected]

In the past 20 years, there have been three clear in­stances when In­dia’s ac­tions have not only forced its diplo­macy out of South Block and to the rest of the world, but have been in­flex­ion points in its larger for­eign pol­icy, forc­ing In­dia to ar­tic­u­late its way for­ward. One was the nu­clear tests of 1998 and the se­cond, the In­dia-US nu­clear deal of 2008. The third was In­dia’s de­ci­sion on Au­gust 5 to nul­lify Ar­ti­cle 370 and re­or­gan­ise Jammu & Kash­mir.

As In­dia’s diplo­mats led by for­eign min­is­ter S Jais­hankar work over­time to con­vince the world that the In­dian ac­tion would not lead to nu­clear war or a Xin­jiang-like sit­u­a­tion, the new Modi gov­ern­ment is also us­ing the op­por­tu­nity to lay out the con­tours of its for­eign pol­icy this time around. Three for­tu­itous de­vel­op­ments are help­ing the ModiJais­hankar-Do­val trio to ef­fect some sub­tle changes – Modi and Jais­hankar’s high oc­tane diplo­matic blitz in the US to re-en­er­gise the US re­la­tion­ship; the craft­ing of Wuhan II at Ma­mal­la­pu­ram when Chi­nese pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping vis­its later this week, and the un­ex­pected open­ing up of the field in the Afghanista­n peace process.

The post-370 diplo­macy has, by and large, com­pleted its first phase, with the gen­eral re­port card be­ing sort of favourable to In­dia by gov­ern­ments, less so by the me­dia or civil so­ci­ety. Chi­nese gov­ern­ments ap­par­ently find it much eas­ier to place opin­ion ar­ti­cles in Western me­dia. In­dian min­is­ters and am­bas­sadors struggle. In­dia has found, to its cost, that lib­eral opin­ion par­tic­u­larly in the An­glo­sphere is to­day taken with “Is­lam­o­pho­bia” (it was no co­in­ci­dence that Im­ran raised it in his UN speech) that has coloured the crit­i­cism against In­dian ac­tions. It’s quite an­other mat­ter that this does not ex­tend to China’s ac­tions in Xin­jiang, or, for that mat­ter to Pak­istan’s own ac­tions in dif­fer­ent parts of its coun­try. But no­body said the world had to be fair.

Se­cond, the in­fu­sion of na­tion­al­ism into for­eign pol­icy is seen as a net pos­i­tive. De­vel­oped coun­tries are steeped in what Jais­hankar calls “in­se­cure” na­tion­al­ism. In an out­stand­ing speech to the Cen­tre for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (CSIS) in Wash­ing­ton last week, Jais­hankar said, “In­dia in many ways will be a con­trary case where I would ar­gue that In­dia is to­day both more na­tion­al­is­tic, but also more in­ter­na­tion­al­ist at the same time. I’m not sure that in ev­ery part of the world na­tion­al­ism means the same thing and leads to the same con­se­quences. To some ex­tent, there could be some other cases like that where a coun­try wants, feels more con­fi­dent about it­self.”

That segues neatly with the most im­por­tant bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship that In­dia will be work­ing on this week­end when Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping ar­rives for the se­cond in­for­mal sum­mit with Modi. The set­ting will be per­fect to show Xi that In­dia’s mar­itime im­perium stretched cen­turies be­fore Zheng He was even a twin­kle in the eye. But the real con­ver­sa­tion be­tween a pu­ta­tive su­per­power and a neigh­bour­ing ris­ing power will be about bi­lat­eral man­age­ment and bi­lat­eral sta­bil­ity. Nei­ther Modi nor Xi are likely

China has been sur­prised at In­dia’s abil­ity to play the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem for its ends, with far less at its com­mand. This came out clearly in the Au­gust 16 UNSC joust on Kash­mir, at the UNHRC, and in the week-long UNGA jaw-jaw. China’s play­book is likely to har­den, but In­dia’s will too

to read out a laun­dry list of griev­ances, that’s not the pur­pose. In­stead they will as­sess the other’s abil­ity and will to play larger global roles and the means each uses to get there.

China has been sur­prised at In­dia’s abil­ity to play the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem for its ends, with far less at its com­mand. This came out clearly in the Au­gust 16 UNSC joust on Kash­mir, at the UNHRC, and in the week-long UNGA jaw-jaw. China’s play­book is likely to har­den, but In­dia’s will too. Pak­istan will con­tinue to be used by China by tap­ping into its in­se­cu­ri­ties while In­dia will use its in­nate po­lit­i­cal skills to stay nim­ble and on the go. China might have the best chance of be­ing a su­per­power but In­dia wants to tweak the rules of the game to suit 21st cen­tury re­al­i­ties and make space for it­self.

In an un­no­ticed re­mark, Jais­hankar in­formed the UN’s new group­ing on mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism that “The Kindle­berger trap on the short­age of global goods is far more se­ri­ous than the Thucy­dides Trap.” Ba­si­cally he was say­ing China’s mer­can­til­ism ren­dered it a self­ish su­per­power be­cause it dis­re­garded ex­ist­ing in­ter­na­tional norms (like UNCLOS) with­out help­ing to cre­ate a new or­der.

It was the clear­est in­dict­ment of the Chi­nese view of power, as well as an ex­co­ri­a­tion of the US’s with­drawal from its tra­di­tional role of be­ing the provider of global goods (de­fined as “sta­ble cli­mate, fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity, or free­dom of the seas” by Joseph Nye). That is the space In­dia sees for it­self in the com­ing decades, a mid­dle power ris­ing by shar­ing the global bur­dens in pro­vid­ing for global goods in coali­tion with large pow­ers like the US.

Jais­hankar out­lined In­dia’s Modi 2.0 for­eign pol­icy mantras – greater plu­ral­ism, prag­matic co­op­er­a­tion, con­ver­gence with many, con­gru­ence with none, not pure trans­ac­tion­al­ism, but ac­com­mo­da­tion, na­tion­al­ism and in­ter­na­tion­al­ism to co-ex­ist. “In this in­tensely com­pet­i­tive world In­dia’s goal should be to move closer to­wards the strate­gic sweet spot. … even as we look at an era of more dis­persed power and sharper com­pe­ti­tion, the way for­ward is more likely to be new forms of ac­com­mo­da­tion rather than pure trans­ac­tions. While na­tions will, nat­u­rally, each strive to ad­vance their par­tic­u­lar in­ter­ests, sim­i­lar­i­ties and affini­ties will al­ways re­main a fac­tor.”

This could pro­vide the recipe for a man­age­ment of the in­creas­ingly frag­ile In­dia-China dy­namic, but only if In­dia can grow at 9%. That is In­dia’s real strate­gic sweet spot, cur­rently elu­sive be­cause In­dia’s eco­nomic stew­ard­ship is with­out vi­sion and de­pen­dent on Band-Aids.

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