Modi's NSG blunder has put India-China ties in danger

The BJP government's misadventure to pit Beijing against New Delhi on a global forum will incur a huge cost.

 |  5-minute read |   25-06-2016
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The Nuclear Supply Group (NSG) annual plenary session in Seoul ended on June 24 even without a discussion on India's membership application. Whatever the official spin, this outcome was not unexpected.

No one questions India's eligibility to be a member of this exclusive club, however the diplomatic blitzkrieg approach Narendra Modi and his foreign policy "team" took to achieve it raises serious doubts about their basic understanding of the realpolitik in the post-2008 world.

modid-nsg_062516113750.jpg This 'event management' style of foreign policy has become too costly for India.

By not becoming a member of NSG, which was formed mainly in response to India's first nuclear test in 1974, India has not lost much per se.

Most of membership benefits have been already accrued due to the grant of an exemption by this export-control cartel, which was negotiated diligently by the UPA government in 2008.

Only tangible benefit India can get by being a member of the NSG is that it can prevent Pakistan from being a member in future.

Also read - Foolish to even think China will support India's NSG bid

Thus it is obvious to ask why Modi raised the stakes on pushing the agenda. Undoubtedly, it would have given him and his supporters the possibility to drumbeat the hype of his stature as a "global leader".

However, this "event management" style of foreign policy without a comprehensive global power analysis has become too costly for India.

Foreign policy success since the AB Vajpayee regime to de-hyphenate India from Pakistan in the global arena has taken a serious beating with Modi's misadventures.

Upon failing to get NSG membership, Modi administration tries to spin that it had managed to isolate China in Seoul and successfully created a near consensus in the favour of its application. This is merely a lie.

Only 32 members out of 48 have supported India's application. Not only China, but Brazil, Ireland, Austria, South Africa, Turkey, New Zealand too have openly opposed India's membership over the NPT issue.

Even Switzerland, in spite of Modi's recent photo-op with its President, refused to endorse India's application sans NPT.

Since 2008, India had managed to secure itself from being censured on the NPT issue, but Modi has exposed India yet again.

The list of losses for the thoughtless hoopla over NSG membership is a long one. It has enhanced Pakistan to be hyphenated with India and has also exposed the country to global pressure over signing the NPT.

The immense negative blow of this senseless jingoism in Modi's foreign policy is that it has helped China to shed its inhibition in openly coming out against India in global fora.

Some Modi supporters are trying hard to paint it as a success as India is finally playing power politics at the big table.

Playing power politics in the big league is praiseworthy, but if you do not have enough firepower to play the game it can be suicidal. China, in spite of its huge economic strength and massive domination in both conventional and nuclear military hardware, was reluctant to even enter into any confrontation with the global power system until the 2008 global financial crisis.

But Modi, ever in a hurry to prove himself, does not want to wait for the right moment.

In open confrontation with China, India has most to lose. We have a ballooning trade deficit vis-à-vis China.

In the last year, deficit figure has reached close to 50 billion dollars in China's favour. Moreover, while China exports telecommunications equipment, computer hardware, industrial machinery and other manufactured goods, India sends back mostly raw materials such as cotton yarn, gems and other precious metals like copper and iron ore.

The character of exported goods exposes the state of industrial development of exporting countries. On industrial and economic development fronts, India lags at least two decades behind China, if not more.

In economic terms, India needs China more than China needs India. While China is extremely adept in dealing with emotive issues, not affecting its bilateral commercial ties, India does not have much experience in managing this contradiction.

After open confrontation over the NSG membership, the hawkish views on China within Sangh Parivar could very likely gain traction and that might affect bilateral trade relations.

China not only has the upper hand over the bilateral trade, but also upstream control over a large portion of India's river water, originating from the Himalayas.

While India has been traditionally playing the powerful role of an upstream riparian vis-à-vis Bangladesh with respect to the Brahmaputra river, that honour has now gone to China after its decision to build five major dams on the river.

Also read - Politics behind India's bid for NSG

China has also built dams on the upper reaches of the Indus and Sutlej rivers. India is now to a large extent dependent on China for the execution of its grand river-linking plan to meet the growing water scarcity in the country.

China's influence is immense on most of India's neighbours. One doesn't need to elaborate China's control over its "iron brother" Pakistan and "ideological brother" Myanmar.

For many years now, China has also cultivated its strategic assets in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

Even in Nepal, China is playing the role of a kingmaker. To counter China in the neighbourhood, India possesses a single Dalai Lama card, and that is fast losing its importance in front of China's increasing global power and influence.

It is critical that Modi and his foreign policy team make an honest evaluation of the risks attached to enticing China to an open confrontation. India has already gone ahead in cooperating with the United States to militarily contain China.

While Modi actively collaborates in the containment of China, at the same time, expecting China not to reciprocate in the same coin is not only amateurish, but also plain foolhardy.

The failure at Seoul is not a big deal. However, Modi's misadventure to pit India against China will incur the country a huge cost.

The latter's nuisance value is immense over India's goals of achieving economic development, food security as well as internal stability and regional cooperation.

Without China's support, India can never fulfill its dream of becoming a permanent member of the Security Council.

Writer

Ashok Swain Ashok Swain @ashoswai

The writer is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.

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