Since the decade when the Dalai Lama crossed the border at Khenzimane on March 31, 1959, and entered India, the issue of Tibet has been on a perpetual simmer between India and China. In the 60 years since, Tibet remains the core of tensions seething at the political and military levels. On the diplomatic front, the complexities surrounding the Tibet issue have emerged once again with a for-mal circular reportedly being passed around to government officials and functionaries advising them to maintain distance from the upcoming events commemorating six decades of Dalai Lama’s passage from Tibet and making India his second home.
Following the uproar over the reportedly leaked circular, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs was quick to clarify and reiterate that India’s position on the Dalai Lama remained consistent – that of him being a revered religious leader who has been accorded all freedom to carry out religious activities in India. What remains significant was MEA’s tacit acceptance of issuing and circulating the formal note, given that it did not deny issuing the said directive .
This only goes on to signifying the implicit message that India’s latest policy tool to ‘deal’ with China is its attempt to placate Beijing on multiple fronts. Pushing Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s events away from the spotlight in Delhi to the quaint and politically uneventful location of Dharamsala appears a part of that larger strategy. Besides, the immediate agenda could be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Qingdao in June to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, amid other speculations that suggest Modi’s official visit to China happening as early as April.
India and its policymakers are hunting for options to repair the Sino-Indian relationship which ex-perienced perhaps its roughest patch over the Doklam standoff last summer, since the 1962 war. The question is, what are the areas that New Delhi seems to have identified, wherein it expects China to hand it a quid pro quo treatment for the ‘Tibet relief’ that it seemingly has provided Beijing? Any outlandish hope of India expecting being paid back in terms of diplomatic dividends for this move might just be heading to a crash.
For starters, would it be at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – where it is all too well known and acknowledged that India’s NSG membership getting through remains bleak given China’s tenacious obstruction and antagonism to Delhi’s candidature. China is known to have blocked a consensus vote on India’s application for membership and is decidedly prepared to scuttle New Delhi’s application, even if it has to be the last man standing. China’s will continue to deny India an entry into the NSG club, at any cost.
Secondly, is India expecting a quid pro quo in its fight against terrorism, wherein Beijing is officially stonewalling Indian attempts to brand Masood Azhar as a global terrorist? As recently as No-vember 2017, China blocked listing of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief and Pathankot ter-ror attack mastermind Azhar as a global terrorist by the UN under the Al-Qaeda Sanctions Commit-tee of the Council. This is the second year in succession that China has blocked the resolution.
AFTER ALL, CHINA HAS SUCCESSFULLY EMPLOYED ITS TRADITIONAL CONCEPT AND STRATEGY OF ‘SHI’ THAT EXPLOITS THE ‘STRATEGIC CONFIGURATION OF POWER’ TO ITS ADVANTAGE, WHILE MAXIMISING ITS ABILITY TO PRESERVE ITS OWN STRENGTH. THE STRATEGY OF ‘SHI’ ALSO ADVOCATES ENGAGING THE ADVERSARY IN ‘QI’ (EXTRAORDINARY) WAYS AND DEVELOPING A WIN-WIN SITUATION TO ACHIEVE POLITICAL AND STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES.
Third, and perhaps most significant, is China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Is India expecting a quid pro quo on the BRI project, especially the section of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor running through the Indian territory of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir? With the amount of economic and political capital invested by the Xi administration in the BRI project, there is no way that China would relent to Delhi’s objections on the BRI corridor running through PoK since placing Delhi’s sovereignty and territorial integrity under strain suits Beijing’s South Asia strategy, politico-diplomatically, and adds pressure on Indian Armed Forces in the conventional deterrence equation vis-à-vis a two-front scenario. China’s dealings with the outside world hinge upon three discernible policy stands that essentially constitute the basis of Beijing’s claim to legitimacy, namely; the so-called unequal treaties; nationalism; and sovereignty.
After all, China has successfully employed its traditional concept and strategy of ‘shi’ that exploits the ‘strategic configuration of power’ to its advantage, while maximising its ability to preserve its own strength. The strategy of ‘shi’ also advocates engaging the adversary in ‘qi’ (extraordinary) ways and developing a win-win situation to achieve political and strategic objectives.
Over the past decade and more, China has managed to gradually create a situation where India finds itself gripped, politico-diplomatically, and militarily. As Chinese influence and presence inside, and around, South Asia increases, the hard realities outlined above need to be dealt with pragmatically. India needs to rethink its policy before it loses leverage far beyond repairable standards. In its aim and ambition to redraw borders and expand its sphere of influence, Beijing inevitably is engaged in a wholesale revision of its foreign policy.
The policy of handing over olive branches to Beijing without any terms and conditions would not constitute prudence. It is time for New Delhi to revisit the theoretical roots of India’s strategic thinking and orientation that lie in the ‘Arthashastra’ and delineate theories of statecraft, diplomacy, strategy, and prerequisites of politics and power, in the realist paradigm.
Dr. Monika Chansoria is a Tokyo-based Senior Visiting Fellow at The Japan Institute of International Affairs. This article originally appeared in the Deccan Herald newspaper on March 22, 2018 and is republished with the permission of the author.