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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Covid-19 Introduces New Tensions in India-China Relations

The year 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and China. While the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic provides a new backdrop to this milestone in bilateral ties, it does not substantially change the direction in which relations were heading, only the pace.

Bilateral ties have seldom been smooth, even if the default position of the leaderships on both sides has been to portray them as being normal and in reasonable fettle. After the low of the Doklam stand-off in mid-2017, ‘informal’ summits between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping were promoted as a way to put the relationship back on the rails. The Indian government has certainly expended much effort domestically to make it look like the informal summits were some sort of diplomatic breakthrough. Except that problems have cropped up so regularly in the relationship that it fools no one.

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Foreign Policy Political Parties

Foreign Minister Jaishankar’s Ramnath Goenka Lecture: Countering Dogma with Still More Dogma

Indian Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar’s Ramnath Goenka lecture earlier this month[1] 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.

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Vacuous Summitry

Following the Doklam stand-off between India and China in mid-2017, the Wuhan ‘informal summit’ between Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping the following April was seen as some sort of a tension-busting exercise and hosannas were sung to a new kind of diplomacy with talk of a ‘reset’ in the relationship. In the run-up to the second informal summit to be held at Chennai tomorrow[1], however, the shallowness of the exercise is now evident especially in the security and political realms.

Even if one were to ignore the fact that it was not until yesterday that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs finally confirmed that the summit was even on, the level of mutual suspicion today appears to be no less than was the case following Doklam.

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Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Is It Asia’s Moment, Yet?

Asia witnessed two major summits in the last week of April – between Kim Jong-un of North Korea and Moon Jae-in of South Korea in Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone between the two countries, and between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan, China.

Arguably, it was the meeting between the leaders of the two smaller countries that carried the greatest immediate significance, if nothing else because they sought a formal end to a state of war that has existed since 1950 and ‘complete denuclearisation’ of the Korean peninsula while the India-China summit promised not even a joint statement of what was on the agenda between their two leaders.

And yet, as many have argued for decades, there is no ‘Asian century’ without India and China working together and living in peace.

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Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Modi-Xi ‘Informal Summit’: Misplaced Hopes

China has many ways of affecting Indian politics. Indeed, an India-China ‘reset’, as envisaged by the Narendra Modi government and represented by the “informal summit” between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has the very strong domestic context of several major state-level elections later this year and the general elections next year.

There are two big expectations that the Modi government appears to entertain here — both of which rest on shaky foundations.