India can ill afford to be coy with China. The Chinese are spreading their tentacles all across Asia and there cannot be any escape from confrontation with it unless this country surrenders to the hegemonic designs of the dragon.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi struck up a cosy relationship with Xi Jinping when they met recently in Quindao and earlier in Wuhan but the Chinese bonhomie could well be a facade. When it comes to self-interest, China is a tougher nut to crack than any other country and it would be folly for New Delhi to forget that. Let us not be deluded by the fact that Xi Jinping has been charmed by India.
Xi Jinping has been vested with untrammelled authority by his party politburo precisely because he is calculative, ruthless, wily and uncompromising on national concerns. He is nobody’s friend beyond a point.
Take two of India’s regional allies, Maldives and Seychelles, for instance. India was going great guns with Maldives until the Chinese stepped in. The country had a huge dependence on India but then came a whiff of China. Mohamed Nasheed, who was the country’s first democratically elected prime minister was removed as though he was a fly in a tea cup.
Nasheed took refuge in the Indian High Commission but had to eventually come into the open and live the life of a deposed leader — he was jailed and ultimately had to flee to Britain as China’s prop Abdulla Yameen took over the reins.
A contract to develop the Male airport was revoked with an Indian firm and after a cooling off period handed over to a Chinese firm. That was the time India needed to woo back Maldives rather than putting all its eggs in the Nasheed basket.
A country that had always looked up to India suddenly developed the gumption to refuse to participate in naval exercises in which six nations had accepted India’s invitation. When Yameen imposed a state of emergency in more recent times, India’s entreaties to revoke it fell on deaf ears. The Yameen government is cocking a snook at India as never before because the Chinese are backing it and apparently encouraging it to be defiant with the others.
How long will India, which aspires to be at least a regional power continue to stomach such high-handedness from a tiny country which until the other day was cringing before it? That Yameen has no rival in the race for a second presidential term is an index that he is riding rough shod and has developed a degree of arrogance that is the result of his being egged on by the Chinese. He has jailed his half-brother and the country’s longest-serving president, Abdul Gayoom, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court on the flimsiest of grounds.
The judiciary is by now petrified of him and is prepared to give verdicts that suit him. In effect, his rule is the very antithesis of democracy. Some day he will shed the pretensions of democracy and assume the formal shape of a dictator. When Barack Obama was at the helm in the US, he would make common cause with India when he found democracy being trampled upon in Maldives. But Donald Trump is too obsessed with ‘America First’ to do any such thing. He couldn’t care less, and that is proving to be costly for the world at large. He does put his foot down but mostly at a wrong time and place.
Just as India has been forced to cave in on Maldives, the Chinese have now browbeaten the Seychelles leadership to go back on an agreement with India for a joint control over a naval base that was on the drawing board. Seychelles President Danny Faure’s and Opposition leader Wavell John Charles Ramkalawan do not acknowledge it but it is inconceivable that they would have cancelled the deal with India without Chinese goading and pressure.
It was too much to expect that China would swallow its pride and accept a naval base of strategic importance in the Indian Ocean by another country. While the Chinese were putting up a show of camaraderie with India, it was engaged in cutting the Indian influence down to size.
A common thread that runs through China’s relationships with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Seychelles is that by giving liberal loans and providing for their needs today, it is increasing their indebtedness to China and leading them into a debt trap which would be troublesome in future. In some cases like in Pakistan, China is settling Chinese inhabitants in areas like Baluchistan, compromising Pakistani sovereignty and creating a virtual colony of its settlers.
This is a dangerous trend which these countries must resist but so taken in are these governments that they find it expedient to do the Chinese bidding and do not think of the future generations. The more India is caving in to China, the more the Chinese are assuming an air of superiority. Take the latest case of the Chinese ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui suggesting that China, India and Pakistan have a trilateral meet to solve border disputes among them. ”If China, Russia and Mongolia can have a trilateral summit then why can’t India, China and Pakistan”, he asked at a seminar recently.
That a spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry said India considered it the personal opinion of the envoy and reiterated that Indo-Pakistan relations were purely bilateral in nature and have no scope for involvement of any third country was an apt response. India must be wary of Chinese attempts to meddle in Indo-Pak affairs.
Kamlendra Kanwar is a political commentator and columnist. He has authored four books.