Why India's foreign policy should look beyond Chinese interests

For the fourth time, China has refused to support India on banning the JeM chief at UN.

 |  6-minute read |   16-11-2017
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By yet again blocking a move to ban Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar at the United Nations, China has sent a clear message. For now, it is not likely to pressurise Pakistan to take action against JeM. This is the fourth time that China, a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), has refused to support India’s demand.

On this decision, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, “We raised a technical hold so as to allow more time for the committee and its members to deliberate on this matter. But there is still absence of consensus on this matter.”

It would be pertinent to point out that 14 other members of the UNSC are backing India. Washington, of late, has been the most vocal in backing India’s demand for imposing the ban on Pathankot attack mastermind Masood Azhar. Commenting on the issue, a US state department spokesman, said, “We certainly think that he is a bad guy. We would like to have him on that list."

After agreeing to mention Pakistan-based terror groups in the BRICS Summit, it was believed that China may change its mind about Pakistan. The BRICS declaration, without naming Pakistan directly, referred to the actions of the groups harboured in Pakistan.

In its statement, it expressed concerns over “the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH (Islamic State), the Al-Qaida and its affiliates, including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan ) and Hizb ut-Tahrir”.

The mention of these terror groups was all the more important, given the fact, that in the previous BRICS Summit (October 2016) China had not agreed to refer to terrorism. It only agreed to mention disputes within South Asia, alluding to Kashmir.

China doesn’t want to upset Pakistan

First, after China President Xi Jinping got a second five-year-term as the Communist Party leader, he will now concentrate on strengthening his position in a broader geo-political context.

Second, it is the ever-burgeoning relationships between the India and the US, and India and Japan but also the emerging Quad between India, the US, Australia and Japan which caused discomfort to China. Representatives of the Quad, who met on the eve of Prime Minister Modi’s arrival in Manila stated, “The discussions focused on cooperation based on their converging vision and values for promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in an increasingly inter-connected region that they share with each other and with other partners."

Interestingly, there was also a reference to “democracy” as a commonality. This, too, was a clear message to China.

China not happy as Asia Pacific becomes Indo-Pacific

The term “Indo-Pacific”, which has been increasingly used by the Americans, too, has caused discomfort in Beijing. US President Donald Trump used this on more than one occasion during his recent visit to the Asia Pacific. Secretary of state Rex Tillerson, in a speech, spoke about greater cooperation between India and the US in the Indo-Pacific, while also taking a jibe at China. Said Tillerson, “We need to collaborate with India to ensure that the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity—so that it does not become a region of disorder, conflict, and predatory economics."

Similarly, US President Donald Trump, too, used this term during his recent Asia visit and did away with the earlier reference of Asia-Pacific.

What should India do in such a scenario?

First, its strengthening of ties with the US, Japan and the talk of a Quadrilateral with Australia makes perfect sense. For way too long, India has paid attention to Chinese sensitivities and been reticent about joining hands with other countries. While India needs to have an independent policy, and should not blindly follow any one country, its foreign policy cannot be driven by Chinese sensitivities.

Second, the real leverage which India enjoys over China is in the economic sphere. India should focus on reducing its dependence on Chinese goods, and also send a clear message to the Chinese that if it does not stop supporting Pakistan-based terror groups, India is capable of taking punitive steps in the economic sphere. This certainly does not mean a boycott, but gradually reducing its dependence. As it is, there is an increasing dip in sales of Chinese goods. On Diwali, for instance, there has been a significant dip in sales. While last year, there was a dip of 30 per cent, this year the dip in demand for Chinese goods was estimated at 40 percent.

India should befriend Taiwan

Apart from becoming more pro-active in the Indo-Pacific, India should also strengthen its ties with Taiwan. Trade between both the countries has witnessed a significant rise and is estimated at six billion USD (2016). Both the countries have also been working towards an FTA-like agreement to boost the economic relationship. Taiwanese investment in India, too, has significantly risen, though this is way below potential. There are over 90 Taiwanese companies in India and most of them have invested in information and communications technology. One of the major investors has been Foxconn. In fact, Foxconn has been the first to respond to India’s Make-in-India scheme. Of late, there has been a delay in Taiwanese investment in Maharashtra, owing to tensions with China. In 2015, Foxconn had committed an investment of five billion USD. India should seek to address the reasons for the delay.

Given the interest of the current Taiwan government in wanting to improve bilateral ties, through its southbound policy, India should seek to strengthen bilateral ties with Taiwan. President Tsai Ing Wen, in her inaugural speech stated, "…We will broaden exchanges and cooperation with regional neighbours in areas such as technology, culture and commerce, and expand in particular our dynamic relationships with Asean and India."

There is immense scope for India and Taiwan to work together in numerous areas; infrastructure, science and technology, education and tourism. New Delhi should, thus, seek to accelerate bilateral ties with Taiwan. Visits by representatives from the state governments, especially states where Taiwan has invested or has interest, should be encouraged along with greater people-to-people contact.

In conclusion, New Delhi needs to send a clear message to Beijing that the onus of respecting sensitivities does not lie solely on New Delhi. Beijing, too, needs to decisively clamp down on Pak-based terror groups. While terms and ideas, like ‘Asian Century’, seem attractive, ultimately each country has to see its own interests, and India is no exception. New Delhi for far too long has avoided cultivating relationships with friendly countries out of a fear of offending China, and this should end now.

Also read: India has an edge over China in soft power, divisive politics must not harm it



Tridivesh Singh Maini Tridivesh Singh Maini @tridiveshsingh

The writer is a New Delhi-based policy analyst associated with Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonipat.

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