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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 20 New Delhi May 5, 2018

The Wuhan ‘Informal Summit’

Saturday 5 May 2018


Beyond the hype, the hoopla and the high-voltage publicity, what is the tangible outcome of the ‘Informal Summit’ between Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, held on April 27 and 28? Nobody knows because except for the two interpreters taking detailed notes of their informal talks, there was none present at the one-to-one meeting. What the officials of the two sides told the media after the summit was based on the briefing given to them by the two statesmen. And these were the usual diplomatic sweet nothings that are fed to the media after every summit that has failed to break the ice or break new grounds.

The two countries have reportedly decided to undertake a joint project in Afghanistan. What project? Where? At what cost? And how the cost will be shared between India, China and maybe Afghanistan? Nobody knows because the officials did not say anything, perhaps because they themselves do not know. The other thing that is being highlighted is that military-to-military contact would be established between the two sides at a higher level—instead of the present low and middle levels—so as to prevent recurrence of Doklam-type confrontation in future by building better confidence-building measures.

It is not known whether the Chinese Army will restore the status quo ante at Doklam, withdraw their troops and dismantle the structures they have build after the 73-day stand-off. Obviously, China has shown no intention of changing its plans on Doklam; no intention of withdrawing its troops to pre-confrontation position; no intention of dismantling the trenches and bunkers and helipads and other structures that have been built.

As the initiative for holding the informal summit was taken by India and not China, it is obvious that India was negotiating from a position of weakness.

Narendra Modi is now functioning as the de facto Foreign Minister. The External Affairs Ministry is being remote-controlled by the PMO. In the last four years, India’s neighbourhood policy has failed to counter the growing Chinese influence. On the contrary, Nepal has gone closer to China, thanks to our ham-handed handling of Nepal. Maldives stamped out democracy, imposed national emergency and imprisoned all Opposition leaders. Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was deposed and sent to exile. When, following the emergency, Nasheed sought India’s help, Maldives issued a strong warning to India not to intervene in its internal affairs even though India did nothing. China echoed the Maldives’ warning. In Sri Lanka, China has acquired a strategic asset in the form of the Hambantota port. Even Seychelles said ‘No’ to India when the latter wanted to take on lease an island in the archipelago to build a naval base.

Modi’s foreign policy has driven India closer to the US and Israel, alienating our time-tested friend Russia and raising suspicion in our Arab friends. Today, Washington is bent on severing the Indo-Russian defence cooperation and making India dependent entirely on the US and its Western allies. Sanctions imposed by the US on Russia are now proving a stumbling block to our acquiring high value military hardware from Russia like the $6 billion state-of-the-art Triumf S-400 missile defence system urgently needed by the Indian Air Force.

The UPA Government had finalised the deal for acquiring 126 Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) from France. Modi cancelled the deal and personally negotiated a deal for buying 36 Rafale aircraft in a fly-away condition. The Congress has alleged that under the new deal the cost per aircraft will be much more than settled by the UPA Government. Meanwhile, the IAF’s fleet strength has been reduced to an alarming level.

China’s long-term objective is to supplant the United States as the sole superpower in the next five decades. Its military and economic policies are directed toward that end. In Asia, India poses the biggest challenge to China’s unquestioned supremacy. China will always look upon and treat India as an adversary. This basic truth has to be realised by India’s policy-makers. Talks between Modi and Xi Jinping, whether formal or informal, whether structured or non-structured, whether with or without an agenda, will not change this stark reality. We should negotiate for peace but be prepared for any eventuality.

May 3 B.D.G.

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