Monday, 15 August 2016

After FM Wang Yi's Visit: Where do we Stand?

    The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Delhi on 13 August 2016 for talks with his counterpart EAM Sushma Swaraj. As is customary, FM Wang Yi also had an audience with PM Modi. The main purpose of Wang’s visit, according to the Xinhua, was to “conduct strategic communications with India”. In other words, what did the Chinese FM wish to convey, what did he seek from India and eventually did he succeed in his mission?

      Conversations between PM Modi, Sushma Swaraj and Wang Yi are, of course, not in the public domain and neither have these conversations been spelt out in greater detail by either side, but reading between the lines the contours are ever so slightly visible. This must also be placed alongside the current state of the overall relationship between the two countries for a better appreciation. There is no doubt that after the NSG episode and the earlier “technical hold” that China had placed on India’s application to include JeM Chief Masood Azar in UN Sanctions list, bilateral relations are indeed under some considerable stress. Needlessly, the Chinese have brought themselves to this pass, when they looked the other way when their “iron friend” indulged in thoughtless adventurism by encouraging terrorist attacks against mainland India.

      The Chinese press [Xinhua] maintains that at the end of Wang Yi’s visit that a “consensus” was reached that the “two sides agreed to strengthen mutual support over the successful organization of the upcoming G20 and BRICS Summits” and that China is willing to “boost mutual support with India towards this end”. The Chinese have also made it clear that the South China Sea [SCS] issue was of vital national concern and that India should “fully comprehend Beijing’s concerns”. In other words, a warning for India: do not take any stand that hurts China’s vital national interests! Probably what Wang Yi had in mind was that a repeat of phrase used in the joint communique issued at the end of the FMs trilateral meeting [Russia, China and India] in Moscow earlier this year, could be used once again. According to the Chinese, India had agreed that the SCS issue be addressed through talks between the parties concerned. Has India agreed to this formulation for the G20 and BRICS summits?

     As for India’s concerns regarding Masood Azar; these were airily dismissed by advising India not to let “individual problems obstruct the course of co-operation”, but curiously Xinhua also suggested that both sides had reached a consensus that “individual problems [Masood Azar] will eventually be solved through strengthening of mutual trust and reduction of unnecessary misunderstandings”. How is this “trust” to be achieved and will China take the first step to remove these “unnecessary misunderstandings”? From the look of things, it hardly seems likely; given the state of relations that exist between China and Pakistan at present. So a stalemate on this issue between India and China is very likely to continue.

     On the NSG issue the Chinese who are adept at obfuscating facts, denied that they were the prime movers in blocking India’s attempt to gain entry. While loudly proclaiming that India has “wrongly” blamed China for blocking its entry into the NSG, the Chinese tried to morph Indian public opinion in their favor by stating that the door for entry was “not tightly shut”. However, Wang Yi appears only to have conceded the need for further talks by offering to let the chief Chinese negotiator meet his Indian counter-part. But there is a catch here too. According to Xinhua, “future discussions between India and China can only proceed on the basis of safeguarding an International non-proliferation mechanism”. So will the Chinese lift their objections to India’s entry to the NSG? Again hardly likely! All the spin about talks is designed to lull opposition till the G20 summit is over; the successful holding of which is a prime Chinese political requirement, particularly as President Xi Jinping is himself personally committed and his prestige is involved.

     It seems that during Wang Yi’s visit the Sino-Indian boundary issue was also touched upon and the need to strengthen border management. As regards the Sino-Indian boundary issue, the eastern sector is the most important and sensitive from India’s point of view. Sometimes it remains problematical as to why we do not press the Chinese harder in this sector for clarification of the LAC. On 4 November 1962, PM Zhou Enlai wrote an official letter to Nehru and confirmed that “in the east the LAC coincides with the McMahon Line”. Zhou also sarcastically noted that “I believe the Indian government must be having in its possession the original McMahon map”. Quite rightly so, it does. And the Chinese government also has in its possession a copy of the original McMahon map, which they inherited from the Tibetan authorities when they occupied Lhasa. So with both the Indian and the Chinese authorities having in their possession the original McMahon map, it should be easy to read off the co-ordinates and settle the LAC and to demarcate it.  But the Chinese realize that if they were to do that, they in other words, would be confirming the McMahon Line and its demarcation.

    It is this commitment that the Chinese try to avoid when they obfuscate the whole process of LAC clarification. We should not let them get away with it.

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