Building further on Wuhan spirit

Injection of pragmatism in diplomacy by India at a time when it is well on the road to becoming a mid-sized economic and military power has to be welcome.

All through the Nehruvian years when India ran on empty, with food shortages, famines and health pandemics blighted Indians, our foreign policy contained a strong moralistic content serving little purpose other than burnishing the first prime minister’s public image. The world has changed vastly since then.

Instead of the dominance of the first world in the early years of the Republic, the second and third world countries are coming into their own now. The somewhat deprecating binaries of developed and under-developed countries has given way to developing and developed world.

The rise of China and India, which is at the threshold of becoming an economic and military power in its own right, has ensured near-parity between the two when it comes to the conduct of hard-nosed diplomacy.

It helps that India vis-à-vis China has the explicit and tacit support of major developed powers which are not a little wary of the real and present threats emanating from China.

The second biggest economy in the world too is apprehensive of the possibilities of formal and informal alliances being worked out constantly between major western powers and India. Nations, it is said, hope for the best while planning for the worst.

In this backdrop, the top leaders of India and China holding an informal powwow in the ancient temple town of Mahabalipuram, 60 kilometers from Chennai, on October 11 and 12, ought to help sort out some wrinkles in the India-China relationship.

Given that we share a long border with China over which the two nations had exchanged fierce firepower in 1962, and yet left the dispute over the demarcation of the border lingering for nearly 60 years, makes the quality of the relationship all the more important for peaceful co-existence. 

The ups and downs between the two nations have attracted much notice over the years. Modi set the ball rolling for an informal style of diplomacy, flying last year to Wuhan, the scenic city in central China, for engaging President XI Jinping in a historic but entirely informal setting  for two days. No joint statements or communiqué were issued. More or less the same unstructured drill is likely to be followed at Mahabalipuram.

On the eve of  the summit, it was significant that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and his boss, the Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa, met Xi in Beijing with, of course, only one thing on their mind, that is, Kashmir.

The joint statement at the end of the meeting in the normal course would be taken note of adversely by India, but it speaks of the maturity of India-China diplomacy that a token lip service to the Pak cause does not overly bother New Delhi. 

A pro forma rebuttal is promptly issued by the Ministry of External Affairs, stating that Kashmir is an internal affair and no other country has any business interfering in it. Which is exactly what was done on Wednesday.

That China offers verbal comfort to an entirely helpless and a near-bankrupt Pakistan ought not to bother us at all.

After all, Pakistan is now virtually a client State, deeply indebted for allowing the Chinese to execute high-cost infrastructure projects with their own strategic and economic interests in view rather than those of the host nation.

Diplomatic displays of solidarity with Pakistan is the least that China can do to an Islamic nation which has surrendered its sovereignty and lost its voice over the barbaric treatment of its own co-religionists in the wider Xinjiang region. 

It is good therefore the joint statement on Khan’s visit to Beijing hours before Xi’s departure for the summit with Modi was not allowed to cast a cloud on it.

Besides, India has no intention of raising Kashmir with the visiting dignitary. And if it does it would give it an opportunity to explain its case in a calm and clear manner. India has nothing to fear on this score.

It is however important to revive the post-Doklam Wuhan spirit sincerely, in ensuring that the local misunderstandings between border troops on both sides of the disputed line do not escalate into a bigger problem. A stable mechanism for sorting out local skirmishes needs to be evolved.

Also, India’s growing deficit in trade with China, about  $ 50 billion in a two-way trade of mere  $ 97 billion, needs to be addressed before it becomes a huge issue, as it has in the case of the much-bigger US-China trade. Atmospherics are important at such summits.

The fact that they do take place sends out a message of peace and harmony between the two biggest Asian neighbours competing and complementing each other. Being nuclear powers, they cannot contemplate an armed confrontation.

Such meetings is the only sensible way to resolve all pending disputes and get on with the more urgent task of improving the living standards of the people of the world’s two most populous nations. We wish the Modi-Xi jaw-jaw great success.

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