India’s way of handling China has just solved the biggest policy puzzle for World Powers
How to deal with China? This is easily the biggest foreign policy question for most governments in today’s global power order. And that’s precisely why the resolution to the Doklam stand-off will necessitate continuous relooking. Because the outcome in itself is an exception to what was becoming a new normal.
While China’s larger interest on the success of the Brics Summit in Xiamen did help expedite an end to the two-month stand-off, the fact that India could manage to successfully stave off a strong and shrill Chinese challenge has reverberated across world capitals.
The understanding was arrived at after some 13 rounds of negotiations done through established diplomatic channels. No back channel, no false assurances. This is quite an out-of the-ordinary experience for all countries with a Beijing problem, specifically those that share land and maritime boundaries with China.
Just over the last few weeks alone, New Delhi has established itself quite a reputation, one that seemed to have rubbed off on the Brics Summit itself where India could achieve some desirable outcomes.
So, is there now an India model to emulate while dealing with a confrontational China? While that would receive some detailed attention in the days ahead, what’s clear is that there were certain distinctive contours to the Indian approach. And while these worked for India, it’s also a fact that they proved effective because of a larger context that continues to weigh heavily on China.
The context is now becoming increasingly embarrassing for China. The North Korean tests, including the missile that was fired over Japanese territory on the day Doklam issue was resolved, underline the weight of that embarrassment.
Terror Has a Capital ::
The other country pulling down China in a similar manner is Pakistan, which is under fire for sponsorship of terrorism not just by India alone, but by now a growing spectrum of countries. These start with Afghanistan and go on to include countries in West Asia, Europe, and the US, as exemplified in President Donald Trump’s South Asia strategy address.
In short, North Korea and Pakistan are not the best advertisements of friends for a country aspiring global economic leadership. At a time when the US is looking insular as an economic power, China has thrown in its hat to lead the free trade pitch. The Brics, for instance, is a key forum to strengthen this claim. And just then, to have Pyongyang set off a nuclear device doesn’t help matters.
This kind of ‘Notoriety Club’ had a utility for China, but that time may have passed. This is a conclusion only Beijing can make. But it cannot stop other countries drawing their own meanings in their national interest.
It’s in this context that the shrill rhetoric on Doklam did not help. There were very few takers for China’s case, frankly, even before it was articulated. The reason for that being China’s lack of credibility in sub-continental matters, given its own long-term strategic commitment with Pakistan. Further, the tone and content of the official attack did not help either, sending signals that made others equally insecure.
In contrast, India had a more nuanced approach, which can now be fleshed out along few parameters. To begin with, there was a conscious, clear decision to halt Chinese construction activity and stand by Bhutan regardless of how the situation evolved. This was a departure from the past practice to avoid direct confrontation. But this time, the overall military assessment was that China had come too close for comfort.
The initial action was done swiftly. Thereafter, India decided to keep quiet, not aggravate matters. So, New Delhi had, early in the day, recognised the principle that there could be no gain made by humiliating China.
New Delhi followed this edict to the point that it did not allow itself to be provoked by any Chinese humiliation. The next principle at play was that China has much bigger stakes in the international system and the global commons for it to just abandon all of that in favour of military action against a global systems-compliant country and emerging economy like India. That assumption was correct. Which is why China did not cross the Brics deadline.
Cultivation Season ::
And, finally, it was assessed that in the bigger picture, Beijing’s aspirations require cultivating more positive relations with New Delhi. Which is why the condemnation of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed in the Brics statement is better understood as a rethink in China than a victory for India.
The Doklam handling tells us that there’s indeed an effective way to talk tough issues with China, and not by giving in or speaking out, but by showing up and conversing relentlessly to find convergences. China, after all, cannot have an ambition at the cost of everyone else.