Iran’s relations with both India and China are of long standing and significant in different ways to Tehran. Under pressure from US economic sanctions while also being locked in conflicts of varying intensity with its Arab neighbours as well as with Israel, Iran has had few countries it could bank on for political and economic succour. India and China have fitted this bill occasionally and the difference really has been in terms of who has been able to do it for longer stretches and to greater effect.
India is famed as a country with multiple languages and dialects with most Indians being able to understand if not also speak at least two. For a substantial number that number can go up to three and more. Educated Indians also usually have a fascination with French as a ‘foreign language’, though technically, it is spoken or followed at least by older generations in Pondicherry and other former French possessions and a medium of instruction in several schools.
But it is part of a general blindness about all but the developed world that most Indians who wish to learn French do so because they are interested only in France and things French. They almost never think that the largest number of French speakers in the world – and therefore, also a great number of opportunities – exist in Africa. But because Africa and Africans are looked down on by the general Indian population, such possibilities escape them. Spanish and Portuguese are other languages spoken widely in the developing world but arguably have fewer takers in India than German does.
The first Indian casualties on the disputed India-China boundary since 1975 should be occasion to reconsider several long-held beliefs and methods of dealing with the relationship that successive governments in New Delhi have adopted over the years.
This essay will deal with just one trope – that foreign policymaking in India cannot be an open, public or democratic exercise and that ‘quiet diplomacy’ is the way to go in dealing with China. There are two central problems with such a position – both of which have been on view during the ongoing crisis on the LAC and which have severely constrained the Indian government’s ability to assess the situation as well as to find options to deal with it.
First, the desire to keep decision-making on China within the strict confines of the government has much to do with the run-up to the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. The lesson learned following India’s defeat seemed to be that discussing matters openly in Parliament or with the general public tended to limit the freedom of manoeuvre for the Indian government to engage in negotiations with the Chinese side that would require compromises by New Delhi in order to have a realistic chance of a resolution that at least broadly met India’s interests.
If this tendency has continued within the Indian government, it has to do with a second reality valid until quite recently, which was that expertise on the border areas or on what went on there was limited to the Army and various paramilitaries – the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and previously, also the Assam Rifles, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs – that had manned the borders and/or with the diplomats and other civilian officials who held administrative charge of these areas.
There are good reasons why neither position is tenable any longer.
For the rest of the article originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Reorienting India’s China policy towards greater transparency’, Raisina Debates, Observer Research Foundation, 17 June 2020 see here.
In early June, a “virtual summit” between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, led to the signing of several agreements that have significant implications for regional security. The call for a deeper maritime partnership between the two countries and an important agreement on mutual logistics support in each other’s military bases come against a backdrop of bilateral tensions in both the India-China and Australia-China relationships.
Chinese transgressions on the Line of Actual Control between India and China have been ongoing over the past month and while this is not a new phenomenon what was notable was that these transgressions took place at multiple locations in Sikkim and Ladakh, indicating perhaps, a new phase in bilateral tensions. Australia-China relations, meanwhile, are in a particularly difficult phase. Canberra’s push for an independent international investigation into the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic attracting furious reaction from Beijing which accused the Australians of playing proxy for the United States. In the inflated Chinese view of themselves, no country accusing China of wrongdoing has any agency or rationale of its own but is always serving American interests.
Talk of a post-Covid world order often centres around the decline or the retreat of the US from global leadership implying that the field is clear for China to pursue its ambitions to take over with even greater speed. However, as countries like Australia and others like France and Germany – despite the general failure of a collective response from the European Union – have shown, a vacuum created by the US does not necessarily mean that liberal democracies elsewhere will not stand up to China.
Last week, the Nepalese government released a new map of the country which included Kalapani at the India-Nepal-Tibet trijunction as part of its territory, drawing immediate protest from India. Administered by the latter as part of its Uttarakhand state, the area has been a bone of contention for several decades now between Nepal and India.
Earlier, in November 2019, Kathmandu chose the occasion of the release of new Indian maps to reflect the reorganization of Jammu and Kashmir, to register fresh protests over the depiction of Kalapani as Indian territory. The trigger for the present Nepalese action seems to be the inauguration by the Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh of a new approximately 90km-long road to the Lipulekh Pass, across Kalapani. This route is one of the two through India for the annual pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar in Tibet. The other route through Nathu La in Sikkim was hitherto the only one with a proper road while the Lipulekh route involved an arduous three-week trek. With the new road, travel time from Delhi comes down to as little as three days.
Indian Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar’s Ramnath Goenka lecture earlier this month has been hailed widely as something of a master class in the directions and principles of India’s foreign policy in the Modi era. It could well be that. But it is equally a masterful papering over the shortcomings of Indian foreign policymaking that neither the country’s political class nor its bureaucracy has managed to fix so far.
It is noteworthy that of the “five baskets of issues” which Jaishankar referred to as offering lessons about India’s past performance, there is no reference to the problems of lack of capacity within the government. It is something of a paradox that for the second-most populous country in the world, India has one of the smallest civil services anywhere and that it prefers to keep it that way alongside a general lack of interest in taking on ideas from outside the four walls of the government.
The Indian invitation to leaders of the BIMSTEC grouping to attend the second swearing-in ceremony of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a number of significant implications. For one, it is a sign that the current Indian establishment thinks that the SAARC framework continues to underperform and is simply not enough to facilitate India’s ambitions. For another, the attention to BIMSTEC, with location around the Bay of Bengal as its central organizing principle, can also be read as a sign of the return of a maritime focus in Indian foreign policy.
The challenge, however, is to ensure that any renewed focus on the maritime domain does not go the way of the ‘neighbourhood first’ approach of the first Modi administration.
To this end, it is important to consider afresh some of the approaches the Indian policy establishment has adopted to maritime concepts and groupings over the past decade and more. In recent years, the Indian government has been part of significant maritime groupings such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) including its earlier iteration as the Quadrilateral Initiative, and begun using concepts like the ‘Indo-Pacific’. While these initiatives could form part of New Delhi’s ‘Act East’ Policy, it must be noted that neither the QSD nor the concept of the Indo-Pacific, as currently promoted, have India in a leadership role or even as an enthusiastic partner. Even as large sections of the strategic community in India see great promise in the QSD, there is an equally great reluctance by the government to actually declare any consistent or regular interest in the initiative.
This essay argues that rather than form groupings based only on India’s comfort level with certain countries or individuals leading them, as is the case now, New Delhi must push to create, as well as institutionalise, groupings based on certain clear principles. While membership can be ‘open’, it is only if these principles are accepted that membership should be possible. And the central organising principle of any new grouping in the Indo-Pacific must be that of respect for the idea of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, which, in turn, must be based on respect for international law, including UNCLOS. The essay uses a Chinese prism – specifically, Chinese views of the Indo-Pacific and the Quad – to argue why such an Indian approach will be more effective in deterring aggressive Chinese behaviour in the region and perhaps, even further afield.
Download the rest of the article here
This article was originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Let the Quad Die: Towards Greater Indian Leadership in the Indo-Pacific’, National Maritime Foundation, 17 July 2019.
A shorter version of this article was also published earlier as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘India must create and lead a new regional grouping to replace Quad’, Moneycontrol.com, 12 June 2019.
Chinese analysts saw Narendra Modi’s reelection as Prime Minister as a foregone conclusion. What came as a surprise to them – as it did to many in India – was the scale of Modi’s victory. Many assumed – going by Indian press reports and conversations with Indian visitors – that Modi would return with a reduced mandate and be forced into a coalition government. The implication here was that Modi would not have as free a hand in governance and foreign policy as he did in his first term.
What then do the Chinese expect from the second Modi administration?
For a party that claims to be the best defender of India’s national security interests, it is strange that the Bharatiya Janata Party does not have a separate dedicated document on the subject of national security like the Congress does.
The BJP’s election manifesto, ‘Sankalp Patra’, mentions China all of once – while referring to the Russia-India-China trilateral framework for multilateral cooperation in the same breath as the Japan-America-India trilateral.
China, does, however, appear by implication in a number of instances