Free Press Journal

Russia wooed but China a hard nut to crack


The tinge of disappointment in some quarters in India over China’s lack of receptivity to condemning Pakistan’s cross-border terror at the BRICS summit of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa in Goa was misplaced and unjustified. The foreign policy formulations in China are based on strategic imperatives as perceived by them and are well thought out. There is indeed no place for sudden change of heart because they are based on cold, clinical calculations. There is no doubt that China couldn’t care less about diplomatic niceties and propriety. It is not as though Beijing is unaware that India has been the victim of unbridled terrorism for decades. In fact, China and Pakistan have been so close with converging strategic interests that dissonance between them is difficult to imagine. But even when there is no meeting of minds it is futile to expect that they would show their differences in public. At this point the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is an obsession with China and the Chinese are well aware that they need Pakistan to get the corridor going as much as the Pakistanis, isolated and shunned by the rest of the world, need it. Yes, they would like to avoid tension with India, whose rising status in the comity of nations they dislike but are grudgingly reconciled to for now, but there is no way they would be willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with India against Pakistani terror. This, however, does not mean that India should shun meetings like the BRICS summit. Far from it. If there is a silver lining that we are looking for it is in the fact that the Chinese noted at the summit that they were against all forms of terror, that they agreed to hold the second round of dialogue on India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group membership and accepted that greater Chinese investments in India were needed to balance the huge trade deficit with New Delhi with India’s exports being miniscule as against China’s exports to India. Their opposition to triggering off UN sanctions against Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar, who has been at the back of terror directed against India, continues steadfastly. Azhar knows too much to be left in the hands of foreign interrogators — the intrigues against India by the Pakistan army and the ISI to which the Chinese government was perhaps privy to, and much more.

One big gain from the BRICS summit and the meeting of all SAARC members except Pakistan on Indian soil is that the diplomatic isolation of Pakistan with the exception of China has been bared before the world. The Russians, who had begun flirting with Pakistan, holding joint military exercises and initiating talks on arms deals have been won over by reminders of age-old ties with India and have bounced back as major arms suppliers to this country. The Russian delegation strongly condemned the Uri terror attack reminiscent of how the erstwhile Soviet Union stood by India on Kashmir through thick and thin. There was also unstinted support to India’s retaliatory strikes on terror launch pads in Pak-occupied Kashmir. The surfeit of agreements signed between India and Russia including defence deals were a reminder that apprehensions that Indo-US relations had overshadowed Indo-Russian ties may well be exaggerated—that India had not put ties with Russia on the back burner to surrender the advantage to the Americans. The deals that really stood out were the signing of a Rs. 39,000 crore defence deal to procure Moscow’s most advanced anti-aircraft defence system – S 400 Triumph, which will provide India a ballistic missile shield and another to initially import and then manufacture Russian Kamov Ka-226 T light utility helicopters. India and Russia will also collaborate in making four state-of-the-art Admiral Grigorovich-class guided-missile stealth frigates. President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Modi also laid the foundation of Unit 3 and 4 of the Kudankulam nuclear plant at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu.

That the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) grouping also met in Goa virtually at the same time offered an opportunity for Prime Minister Modi to showcase how the regional bloc is solidly with him in his fight against terror from across the border in Pakistan. With Pakistan having opted to stay out of the grouping, India has a South Asian forum sans Pakistan which it can build up to its advantage. Indeed, diplomatically India has never been on a sounder footing than it is today. But the Pakistanis can hardly be expected not to nibble at India’s support base. With active help from China, new bridges will be sought to be created. While Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh is a trusted ally of India under Modi, the Chinese have doled out irresistible deals to woo that country. Much diplomatic efforts will work to and fro but it doubtlessly is a gain that a Modi-led India is working at a frenetic pace with fresh diplomatic initiatives.