The Americans have been too clever by half in the way they butted in to undermine the visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to New Delhi.

Just as Wang landed on Indian soil, a United States official “leaked” to an Indian correspondent in Washington that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar will be visiting the US shortly, for a second time in eight months. It was a calculated “leak”.

If Wang needed to be reminded that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s watch, Sino-Indian relationship is dangerously close to becoming an adjunct to the US’ rebalance in Asia, the American leak ensured it.

Unsurprisingly, Wang devoted almost his entire stay in New Delhi to underscore to the Indian leadership the imperative need of a reset in the relationship. Wang stressed the following:

  • India should not define the relationship through the prism of the differences. Differences exist between any two countries but China and India also have common interests by far exceeding their differences.
  • Therefore, the imperatives of cooperation ought to outstrip the competitive spirit that India displays.
  • China does not regard India as its rival. India can and should play a positive role apropos regional and international issues.
  • Despite differences, China is open to expanding all-round pragmatic cooperation.
  • China can live with the current momentum of bilateral ties and is content with the exchanges and dialogue mechanisms. However, as strategic partners, the broad trajectory for development of ties needs consolidation and a closer partnership on the development agenda is feasible.
  • At any rate, India should refrain from making friendly ties hostage to any sticking points in the discourse.
  • The sensible approach will be to resolve any individual problems in due course. This is best done by strengthening mutual trust and reducing misunderstandings instead of letting irritants impede the dynamics of cooperation.

China-Pakistan relationship

The big question is: How do the Chinese assess the Modi government’s proclivity to count the trees instead of seeing the woods? Do they sense this might be a matter of conscious choice?

What rankles most in the Indian mind is China’s relations with Pakistan. The Modi government demands that China should suspend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor on the plea that Gilgit, Baltistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir are Indian territories.

In reality, though, we have a classic situation where it is entirely up to India to raise dust (or not to raise dust). It is even baffling how economic development of those neglected regions would hurt Indian interests. After all, the people inhabiting those regions are also Indians, isn’t it?

The sensible thing would have been to let the Chinese loosen their purse strings to develop our territories that happen to be inside Pakistan temporarily so that when we finally make them part of Akhand Bharat, they won’t be the impoverished terrorist-infested swathes of land that they are today.

Frankly, India is taking an illogical stance. The Modi government estimates that Economic Corridor is “India-centric”, whereas, it is a strategic initiative by China in self-interest.

China has a good reputation for putting money only where the mouth is – and $46 billion is a lot of money. The Chinese motivations are not difficult to comprehend.

  1. The Economic Corridor boils down to project exports by Chinese industry, which is saddled with excess capacity.
  2. Two it opens up efficient communication links with markets in the Gulf and Africa.
  3. It fuels the economy of Xinjiang.
  4. It mitigates to some extent China’s “Malacca Dilemma” – the fact that 80% of China’s oil imports have to pass through the strait en-route from West Asia and Angola.
  5. It creates leverage to balance the traditional American dominance over Pakistan.
  6. Indeed, finally, it cannot be overlooked that One Belt One Road Initiative has a geopolitical dimension insofar as it counters the US’ strategy to encircle China and "contain" it.

Conceivably, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will galvanise Pakistan’s economy. Now, isn’t that a nice thing to happen if it prods our western neighbour to understand that getting rich is the smart thing to do?

If China succeeds in transforming Pakistan as a modern middle-income economy like Turkey or Malaysia, it can only strengthen regional security. But then, a paradox arises: If Pakistan does not collapse as a “failing state” and instead becomes a more prosperous country than India, what happens to Akhand Bharat?

The smart thing would have been to offer to the Chinese an economic corridor through our territory. It is advantageous to be a transit country.

Look at how Moscow encourages China to use Russian territory as its principal transportation route connecting Europe. It is an income-generating enterprise; it helps Russia’s infrastructure development (with Chinese investments); and it makes Beijing a stakeholder in friendship.

To be sure, there is a fundamental contradiction when the Modi government debunks One Belt One Road on the one hand while insisting nonetheless that Silk Roads should bypass Pakistan.

Infinite Ingenuity

Can it be that Modi government is so provincial in outlook that it doesn’t understand how the metropolis works? To my mind, Modi government is deliberately kicking up a row over the Economic Corridor, anticipating that Beijing just cannot afford to abandon the project, which is highly strategic and meets China’s core interests.

Simply put, we are creating a scenario where individual problems – the Economic Corridor, Masood Azhar, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Xinhua correspondents, Uighur separatists – accrue to the centre stage and present themselves as alibi to make haste slowly in cooperation. If not these contentious issues, Modi government would probably seize some other alibi. Our ingenuity is infinite.

Remember how with a straight face we could bring out the spin that People’s Liberation Army units assigned to Ladakh region sabotaged President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in September 2014? Yes, the Indian public believes that Chinese are a bunch of imbeciles – that a clutch of PLA colonels just threw mud at the face of the chairman of China’s Military Commission while he was on state visit to India!

It so happens in inter-state relations that a country may feel the need to atrophy ties with another country for reasons of its own. Many in our country have a predicament vis-à-vis China’s rise – coupled with an itch to settle scores for the humiliating defeat in the 1962 war.

In particular, nationalist forces that mentor the Modi government are wedded to the notion that India should deal with China only from a position of strength – that is, only after India “overtakes” that country. It is not only about dictating the terms of a border settlement on India’s terms but also the seething sense of rivalry over China’s rise as a superpower.

Of course, for India to reach a position of formidable strength vis-à-vis China, it needs to embark on a massive military build-up with American technology. Thus, a “holy communion” has come to exist today between the nationalists and the pro-American lobby in our country.

From Wang’s remarks, Beijing senses that a defining moment has come in Sino-Indian relations and the bilateral high-level exchanges slated through the coming eight-week period will determine the alchemy of partnership for a long time to come.

But then, Modi government’s compass is pre-set already, and so long as the navigators remain in situ, it will not be reset.