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Why we need to be pragmatic with China

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

India is facing a major military challenge, with escalatory potential, from an unscrupulous and deceitful adversary on its northern border. The stakes are huge in terms of national security and economic choices India must now make with greater clarity and realism than before.
Unfortunately, instead of a show of national unity to meet the heightened external threat, the government is also facing an internal challenge, with opposition politicians aggressively questioning the government’s read-out of the developing situation and demanding premature explanations, and retired army officers claiming a fuller grasp of the ground situation (based on secondary information) than field commanders and confounding the public. They, along with some strategic experts, are giving running commentaries on the evolving situation as if a cricket match was being played in the high mountains.
Lack of foresight
The nation must show solidarity in facing a hegemonic adversary that sees India as an obstacle in realising its global ambitions. Regrettably, those who have held high-level security positions in earlier governments have begun to play politics in criticising the Modi government for showing ineptitude in handling China, as if the governments they have served had a more robust China policy that limited Chinese options in dealing aggressively with India.

Long before Modi/BJP came to power, China has been countering India strategically with impunity. The 2005 agreement on guiding principles and parameters for settling the border issue had some good features, but we accepted the Chinese formulation on making “meaningful” boundary adjustments, a Chinese code word for territorial concessions in the east by India. China began claiming Tawang in violation of the provision in the agreement about safeguarding due interests of their settled populations in the border areas, and we absorbed this Chinese provocation. From 2005 onwards China began claiming the whole of Arunachal Pradesh, calling it South Tibet, started issuing stapled visas to those from Arunachal Pradesh, shortened the length of the India-Tibet border, provoked the Depsang incident before the visit of the Chinese premier to India, which the then External Affairs Minister absurdly described as acne that can be cured with an ointment. In May 2013 while visiting China he announced that he would “love to live in Beijing” and that “On the problem on the LAC, both countries are on the same page” and that “we don’t have prickly issues of significant difference”.
The joint statement on Premier Le Keqiang’s visit to India illustrates the unreal assumptions, confusion and wishful thinking behind our policy towards China. It talks of India and China setting an example of relations between big, neighbouring countries. It refers to India-China relations having acquired global and strategic significance and stated that both countries do not see each other as rivals or competitors.
Additional errors
Where was the need to agree that in the Chinese path of development “fundamental human rights and rule of law are given their due place”. Tibet? Worse, it says that the “two sides are committed to taking a positive view of and support each other’s friendship with other countries” and “support each other in enhancing friendly relations with their common neighbours for mutual benefit and win-win results”. This meant, absurdly, that we view positively and support China’s relations with Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar etc. Besides acknowledging China’s commitment to non-proliferation processes, we agreed to carry out bilateral cooperation in civil nuclear energy. This undercut our objections to Sino-Pak nuclear cooperation, if we were open to such cooperation ourselves, besides ignoring China’s opposition to our NSG membership. We even agreed to ‘further enhance bilateral cooperation in maritime security”, to “earnestly safeguard the security of international sea-lanes and freedom of navigation”, implying that we didn’t view China’s maritime silk route as a threat.
Rising to challenge
There is continuity in government policies and Modi inherited this incongruous legacy. Having yielded ground to China, anti-Modi critics, that include some retired diplomats, shouldn’t hobble the centre’s response to China’s aggression by eroding domestic support, or behaving like spectators who seek a good fight. The government has to act responsibly and exhaust the negotiating process fully before examining other options. It is becoming apparent that the restoration of the status quo ante is improbable, as it would seem that China had buckled under a strong Indian response and obtained nothing for what would seem in hindsight as a reckless, ill-considered move. We have therefore a serious challenge ahead for us. Disengagement, partial withdrawal in phases, creation of a buffer zone, even if it is equitably done, is not a solution, as China will still preserve the option to apply pressure and raise tensions at will to exercise oversight over India’s regional and global foreign policy options. We should disregard the so-called Chinese sensitivities about our relations with the US, Quad or bolstering the Indo-Pacific concept. This is not a question of ideology, it is one of making pragmatic choices faced with a geopolitical adversary determined to obstruct India’s peaceful rise as much as possible.

Why China cannot limit the Indo-US bonhomie

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

Chinese aggression in Ladakh has been analysed and commented on in India as a democratic country with freedom of expression.
From this how India broadly sees the Chinese challenge can be reasonably gauged. However, China’s calculations and insights into why it has provoked this crisis remain opaque because of its closed system. In their writings, South Asia experts abroad have essentially piggy-backed on commentaries in India, without offering any insights of their own, as they too have no direct access to Chinese thinking. Speculative and misleading reasons being touted to explain China’s aggression only give advantage to its propaganda.
That through this aggression China wants to pressure India to remain “nonaligned” between it and the US is an absurd view. India’s ties with the US and China cannot be equated. Unlike China, the US is not claiming Indian territory. It is today supplying advanced defence equipment to India as a “major defence partner”.
Synergy with the US
We conduct major military exercises with the US, especially naval. We are partners in the Quad and in the Indo-Pacific. The people to people ties with the US are deep, with a 3 million diaspora in the US and well over 200,000 Indian students in US universities. The US is now our biggest economic partner, including in goods, and, what is more, unlike in China’s case, we have a trade surplus with it.
China would be foolish to think that it can place limits on India-US ties by creating border tensions intermittently as a dissuasive strategy. Actually, this belligerence builds greater public support for closer ties with the US. Besides, if China wants India to be more “non-aligned” between it and the US as its adversary, it needs to be more “non-aligned” between India and Pakistan, our implacable adversary.
To underline the absurdity of bringing in the US factor, did the Tibet issue arise between India and China because of our closeness to the US?
Beijing’s old agenda
Did the Dalai Lama flee to India for this reason? Did the Chinese occupy Aksai China to counter the US and was 1962 a part of this? Does China make offensive territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh, and on Tawang in particular, because of our US connection? China transferred nuclear and missile technology in the 1980s to Pakistan when India was under severe non-proliferation sanctions by the US.
Did the US provoke the Doklam stand-off, and has China made the latest claim on eastern Bhutan with Tawang in mind because of the US factor?
Leftist lobbies in India use the argument of our increasing strategic closeness US to make China’s purported case, forgetting that the most intense partnership in the last couple of decades or so has been the US-China one. There may be independent, non-ideological reasons for Indian caution about over-reliance on the US.
We have to meet the land threat from China (which includes Pakistan) essentially on our own, with at best diplomatic and intelligence support from US and others, unlike in the maritime domain where US-India cooperation along with Japan and Australia can act as a deterrence against China. US policy towards Afghanistan and the Taliban, which shields Pakistan from the kind of pressure US puts on Iran, not to mention the huge economic ties that the US, Australia and Japan have with China, should be properly assessed by us to determine the scope of our future options. American analysts should not mix the logic of stronger India-US defence ties to scotch India’s so-called non-aligned inclinations, and, more importantly, reliance on Russian defence supplies.
Our longstanding defence ties with Russia cannot be jettisoned, more so in the context of Russia’s increasing strategic closeness to China pushed by US/European policies.
The US, Australia, Japan and Europe, not having territorial contiguity with China have security concerns that differ from ours. (They, unlike us, also have cold ties with Russia). Not facing a territorial threat from China, will they be ready to actively intervene in territorial issues between India and China? However, should the border situation escalate militarily, stepped up US pressure on China in the western Pacific can present China with a two-front situation, tie-down its forces in the east and force it to relieve pressure on India as a result.
The US would have an interest, even independently of India’s concerns, to expose this Chinese vulnerability and contain its muscle-flexing, which is becoming an international problem. India can, on its part, strengthen the Quad, give it a military dimension by including Australia in the Malabar Exercise.
Take ASEAN along
India should convince ASEAN that Quad and the Indo-Pacific concept are the second line of defence against China’s mounting threat in the South China Sea and that it supplements, not dilutes, ASEAN’s critical role in evolving Asian security architecture. Such an architecture will either not emerge because of China’s unbridled conduct or it will be China-centric. As long as China resorts to bullying individual ASEAN countries, fractures ASEAN unity does not disown the nine-dash line and believes that its economic and financial clout limits the scope of retaliation by others, China will pursue its hegemonic policies in Asia.

Why the world should not meddle in India’s internal affairs

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

 
 
 
Our resistance to external interference in our internal affairs has greatly eroded at the national level. This gives unfriendly external forces more room to play on our internal differences, promote lobbies to weaken us from within, make governance more difficult, with consequences for the pace of India’s rise and its global ambitions. The UN Secretary-General has been violating the Charter’s core principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states by pronouncing on our legislative decisions, internal security steps and community tensions when India functions much more democratically than the UN.
Out to offend India
The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights (UNHCHR) targets India on issues of internal political management that are subject to unconstrained legal, civil society and media scrutiny domestically, far beyond what is possible by any external observer. Moves are made in the US Congress and the European Parliament to rebuke India on sensitive issues internal to India, putting our diplomacy on the defensive. The UK government permits demonstrations against our High Commission in London by known anti-Indian lobbies on issues internal to India.
main_un-secretary-ge_032520111431.jpgUN Secretary-General has been violating the Charter’s core principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states when India functions much more democratically than the UN. (File photo: Reuters)
Iran’s Ali Khamenei and the country’s Foreign Minister make offensive statements charged with religious rhetoric on street violence in Delhi, ignoring the sharp debate in India itself on the subject. The Islamist Turkish president believes he has the mandate to promote the welfare of India’s Muslims. Malaysia intrudes into our internal affairs by its propagandist accusations about the persecution of Indian Muslims. Surprisingly, Indonesian Muslim lobbies are also agitating the issue of such persecution. All this suggests a concerted campaign against India by Islamic countries outside the Arab world, now that the Gulf countries, with which India has intensive trade, financial, manpower and energy ties, have reached a level of bilateral understanding with the future in view.
The so-called liberal western press is involved in a massive campaign against the Modi government, driven by deep-seated prejudice and ideological antipathy for “Hindu nationalism”. It is playing opposition politics through its reporting, discarding all pretense of objective and fair reporting.
Political polarization in India has reached such a point that instead of the country uniting to rebuff unwarranted external intervention in our internal affairs, elements in our political class, civil society and the media support it as a weapon to beat the Modi government with. The blame is put on the government for damaging India’s image internationally, of generating concerns abroad about the erosion of India’s secularism and democracy, and so on.
The enemy within
In actual fact, it is the anti-Modi/BJP/RSS circles in India that have promoted the negative narrative about India abroad by associating fascism and genocide with Hindutva, referring constantly to lynchings of Muslims and Dalits, comparing Modi with Hitler, accusing the government of seeking to reduce the country’s Muslims to second-class citizens through the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens etc.
main_anti-modi-prote_032520112017.jpg
The government has to fight on two fronts — against the internal lobbies ranged against it and the external lobbies as well, with both in symbiosis. (Photo: Reuters)
The government has to fight on two fronts — against the internal lobbies ranged against it and the external lobbies as well, with both in symbiosis. This explains why the opposition lobbies ask the government to heed foreign critics rather than wear the mantle of nationalism and reject criticism. Regrettably, some who have handled India’s external relations at political and high bureaucratic levels indirectly legitimize this outside intervention in our internal affairs by not condemning it and blaming the government instead for the loss of India’s stature abroad.
Need to show unity
Our political and social activists could have asked Khamenei and Zarif to worry about Iran’s international isolation rather than threaten India with isolation from the Islamic world, and reminded them that India has not commented on the killing of hundreds of protesting civilians by the Iranian security forces. Instead, when External Affairs Minister Jaishankar, with reference to Iranian tweets, makes a mild comment that we now know who are friends really are, he is accused of arrogance. Erdogan could have been reminded about Turkey’s long-standing brutalities against the Kurds, the regime’s exactions against its people after the failed coup and Ankara’s illegal occupation of Northern Cyprus etc. Our Muslim leadership has been remiss in not condemning Iran, Turkey and Malaysia for speaking on behalf of Indian Muslims without any authority to do so.
The government’s response to these affronts from abroad could be stronger if our public opinion was more visibly agitated. On the contrary, some of our papers continue publishing columns by foreign scholars who are ideologically hostile to Modi and the BJP. Ban Ki-Moon, the former UNSG, has just been allowed to regurgitate the standard anti-Modi propaganda by our domestic lobbies. A column is carried favoring the UNHCHR’s bid to be amicus curiae in the petition against the CAA before the Supreme Court, even though the UNHCHR, is exceeding its mandate and has no legal basis to join domestic litigation in a member state. If our political class, think tanks, the media, the civil society do not react strongly to unwarranted foreign interference and help create room for a sharper government response, the perception would endure that hitting out at India carries no price.
Like all clichés “united we stand, divided we fall” is rooted in good sense and human experience.

India is no country for Islamophobia

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

To accuse India of Islamophobia is truly perverse. Given the wounds inflicted by centuries of Muslim rule, India as a majority Hindu country could have been deeply intolerant towards Islam. Instead, it has embraced Islam as an integral part of India.

Attempts at peace
Islamic fundamentalism ravaged India in 1947, long before the world discovered the pernicious nature of this ideology centered on a clash of civilizations, refusal to accept modernity and diversity, the violent assertion of religious identity, religious intolerance, terrorism, unspeakable brutalities, territorial ambitions, and so on. The belief that Muslims formed a separate nation created Pakistan. Up to 2 million were possibly killed during Partition and 14 million made refugees. The Muslim issue, despite Partition, has continued to torment India with Pakistan’s aggression in Kashmir, and Islamic terrorism against India since 1990 by jihadi groups based in Pakistan. The Kashmiri pundit community has been the victim of ethnic cleansing in the Valley.

India has nevertheless striven since independence to build a socially peaceful, secular, democratic home for all Indians, including the Muslim community. India gave itself a secular constitution in tune with the accommodating and tolerant Hindu spirit, which even embraced the “minority” concept and made special provisions for the Muslims and other minorities to manage their religious and educational institutions and leaving almost untouched their personal laws.
While the Hindu majority has been willing to shed the bitter load of history and move forward towards an inclusive future, the conservative Muslim leadership has resisted the change in thinking needed to become real partners in this national ethos and endeavor. Instead of becoming secular in its thinking for better integration, identity assertion with Arabized accoutrements has become more visible. Extremist Muslim organizations have emerged in southern India. The agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act, as well as the National Register of Citizens, has communal roots dissimulated under a constitutional cover. Kashmir has lost its Sufi traditions and has become Islamized. Its leadership has kept the wound of partition alive by nurturing separatism and lionizing terrorists. The Ram Mandir issue was made into a prolonged test of political and social will by the Muslim leadership, with the Supreme Court judgment not accepted with grace.
The resistance
Without being secular themselves, Muslim leaders like Owaisi constantly take shelter behind the secular Indian constitution to disgorge their communal bile. The “liberal leftist” lobbies in India see no contradiction in the Hindu community being exhorted to be secular to protect the right of the Muslims to be non-secular. Their focus is therefore always on the “non-secular” acts or statements by a Hindu and not on the communal acts or statements by a Muslim.
The Muslim leadership has been content to play divisive politics in India in league with those political parties also averse to any form of Hindu consolidation. Its electoral strategy not to vote for the BJP as a Hindu party is itself communal in approach. If the BJP wins without the Muslim vote, as it has, the Muslims are bound to lose politically, as they have. They cannot then fall back on the constitution to compensate for the failings of their political strategy.
The secular Indian constitution is no barrier to pan-Islamism, which is antithetical to Indian nationalism. The Muslims by virtue of their faith cannot delink themselves from Muslims worldwide. This explains the reputedly moderate Delhi minority panel chief’s reprehensible tweet thanking Kuwait for “standing with Indian Muslims” and reminding Hindu bigots of the huge goodwill Indian Muslims enjoy in the Arab and Muslim world, and praising in the process a terrorism instigator like Zakir Naik.
Global hypocrisy
This explains why when the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USICRF) castigates India as an Islamophobic country and recommends sanctions against it, no denunciation comes from Indian Muslim leaders. When Turkey’s Erdogan speaks about his concern for his Muslim “brothers and sisters” in Kashmir or Malaysia’s Mahathir condemns India for occupying Kashmir by force, no Muslim organization rejects this interference in India’s internal affairs and reminds the USCIRF or foreign Islamic leaders that as Indian citizens they have the protection of the Indian constitution and do not need foreign support.
Organizations like the USICRF, whose focus is on conversions to Christianity in India, have no historical understanding of the Muslim question in the subcontinent and the remarkable tolerance with which Hindu society addressed it in independent India. They should contrast it with the cavalier killings of blacks by the American police even though blacks never ruled America and suppressed whites, a stigma that even the ‘half-Black’ President Obama failed to handle. Europeans would understand the Indian situation better if they reflected on how their Muslim population, which never ruled them and has no historical angst to sublimate, resists integrating itself into their democratic, secular polities and sections of it are still attached to sharia, not to mention their involvement in terrorism at home and participation in the excesses of the Islamic State in West Asia. It is Hinduphobia to accuse India of Islamophobia

WHO drafts resolution lets China off the hook totally

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

The WHO draft resolution sponsored by 61 nations, including India, is an eye-wash, as it lets China off the hook completely. There is no call in it for any independent investigation into Covid-19 origins. China or Wuhan is not mentioned directly or indirectly in the text. The words “transparency” and accountability” are missing too. That would explain Russia’s support. India had no reason to opt-out of an anodyne draft. With China now supporting it, there is no reason for Beijing to be upset by India’s position.

The word “as appropriate” is mentioned in critical parts of the draft, which provides a lot of discretion in implementing the operative paragraphs. Even data is to be shared “as appropriate”, which implies that China has no obligation to share the data at its disposal as the source of the virus. WHO is to work, not with China, but with the World Organization of Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization to identify the zoonotic sources of the virus and its transmission to the human population through “scientific and collaborative field missions” to reduce the risk of “similar events and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs” etc.

This is looking to the future, not probing what occurred in Wuhan and China’s handling. It would be misleading to interpret the call to initiate a step-wise process of “impartial, independent, and comprehensive evaluation” to “review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to Covid-19… and the actions of the WHO and their timelines pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic” as China-directed. It is directed at the functioning of the WHO to “improve global pandemic prevention, preparedness” etc., with the future in view.

Australia had shown considerable political grit in pursuing its call for an independent investigation into the origin of the virus and seeking transparency, notwithstanding boorish diplomatic threats of trade sanctions by China and opposition from domestic business circles tied to the Chinese market. The EU, which has China-friendly member countries, has been ambivalent about putting China on the mat, which is why even in the G7 meeting, US pressure to identify Wuhan as the source of the virus was resisted to the point that no joint statement could be issued.
The EU-led proposed resolution reflects this disinclination to press for transparency and an independent international probe. Its foreign affairs spokesperson has opposed playing any blame game when the immediate need is to focus on combating the virus. The upshot of all this is that China, while imposing heavy tariffs on Australian barley exports, has mocked Australia on losing the battle for an independent probe. China has no doubt scored diplomatically in the tussle at the WHO, and may feel emboldened to continue its disruptive policies.
The world order is in a flux, and growing US-China rivalry will shape its contours. China as the source of the virus and the US as its biggest victim will get increasingly locked in confrontation, which has become broad-based with technology denial moves by the US. Trump has made a strategic error of alienating the Europeans, whose active cooperation is needed to curb China’s ambitions. New world order is not for tomorrow; the present fluidity will continue, with the US and China as the principal protagonists. The impact of China’s hegemonic ambitions on India will remain a serious problem, requiring, as before, engagement and hedging. While lines with China should remain open, the links with the US, Europe, Japan, Australia and others who have concerns about China’s authoritarian rise should be strengthened.

Why did China’s ambassador engage publicly with Indian interlocutors?

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

With the ongoing Chinese aggression in Ladakh, why China’s ambassador chose to engage publicly with some Indian interlocutors in an event organized by a Delhi-based institute is not easy to fathom.
Such an initiative would make sense if official level negotiations were on a productive track and Beijing felt that the ambassador could do a public relations exercise to keep the broader Indian public informed and arrest the momentum of rapidly deteriorating perceptions of China in India. If, however, these negotiations are not proceeding well and the risk of a stalemate is real, such a public intervention cannot serve China’s interests.
India and China have now talked at the level of foreign ministers, special representatives, corps commanders (five times) and the working mechanism consultation and coordination on India-China border affairs (three times). India has underlined that it sees disengagement and de-escalation, followed by restoring the status quo ante as on April 30, 2020, as the only solution to the crisis, though it believes that the process will be slow, with the defense minister unsure that the end result can be guaranteed even as he affirmed India’s determination not to cede on issues of sovereignty. The confrontation appears likely to continue through the winter months, for which the armed forces are making necessary preparations.
In consequence, while standing up to China military, India’s pressures on it on the economic and political fronts will continue.
If all the platitudes and masquerades in the ambassador’s presentation, such as China is a peaceful country that does not seek hegemony or military power, wants good neighbourly relations, does not interfere in the internal affairs of countries, believes in win-win cooperation and zero-sum games, etc., are ignored, the core message he conveyed challenges India’s position and expectations squarely. He asserted that China has not been aggressive, knows where the LAC (line of actual control) lies, has not breached it anywhere, including at Pangong Tso where it has not expanded its claim line, or at Galwan where he accused the Indian troops of building infrastructure across the LAC and crossing it illegally.
He spoke of disengagement and de-escalation as objectives, but studiously avoided any mention of restoring the status quo ante. If the Chinese position as enunciated publicly by the ambassador with Beijing’s approval is that China has remained within its LAC during the present stand-off, the question of restoring the status quo ante would not then arise. This also implies that at Pangong Tso (where the grids China conveyed after 1962 of its version of LAC stretched only till Finger 8) and Depsang, Indian patrols will continue to be blocked, resulting in Chinese territorial gains, which India cannot accept.
The ambassador has also belied any expectation that the current confrontation that has already seriously damaged India-China ties will serve to persuade the Chinese to clarify the LAC, as India has been demanding as per the 1996 agreement. He has argued that if one side delineates the LAC unilaterally in accordance with its own understanding it creates new disputes, and so the process cannot continue. In other words, China does not accept India’s perceptions of where the LAC lies; it believes in the validity of its own unilateral determination of the LAC.
What the ambassador hoped to gain from offering a standard propaganda line on border differences when addressing a gathering of Indian experts on China, stonewalling some probing questions and relaying a tough message wrapped in clichés about Chinese foreign policy shows that the next worse thing to wolf warrior diplomacy is to mock the intelligence of well-informed interlocutors.

China must pay for its actions

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

Even before the Wuhan virus crisis international relations had entered into a phase of new disruptions triggered by Trump’s inward looking, anti-globalization and protectionist policies, erosion of multilateralism, renewed US unilateralism in repudiating the Paris climate change accord, the Iranian nuclear deal, signed trade agreements, and extra-territorial application of US laws through secondary sanctions.

Clash of cultures
The uncontrollable economic rise of China aided by the US and its allies on false assumptions that more prosperity will bring more democracy to China has been another source of disruption. Instead of behaving as an increasingly responsible stakeholder in the system that enabled its rise and transferred huge financial power to it, China has sought hegemony in Asia and promoted its Belt and Road Initiative to attach countries across the world to it politically through trade and debt dependence. Xi Jinping has disclosed his “China Dream” to be at the center stage of international relations by 2049, with his country becoming dominant in high-tech manufacturing by 2025. The US accuses China of cyber espionage and theft of technology and is now determined to derail China’s 2025 ambitions with its international campaign against Huawei.
China’s expansionist thinking has been accompanied by an open repudiation of western values and democracy, and more authoritarianism and social control at home, with Xi arrogating all power to himself as a reincarnated Mao. China has built a technological surveillance society unprecedented in scope and scale, with a freedom-suppressing social credit system. Xi is now vaunting China’s political and economic system as superior to western-style democracy for meeting the needs of developing countries.

Externally, China, confident of its political and economic leverages and growing military strength, has begun to challenge US power in the western Pacific, violate the Law of the Sea in the South China Sea, and exacerbate territorial disputes with Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia. As the world’s second-largest economy that offers a huge market, it has weaponized economic interdependence that globalization has fostered by threatening countries that resist it politically with the refusal to buy their products or sanction them in other ways as it has done most recently with Australia, and earlier with Japan, South Korea and Mongolia.
Hostile gestures
China has relentlessly countered India strategically and undermined its vital interests. It opposes India’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council as well as NSG membership. It shields Pakistan on the issue of terrorism against India. It is pursuing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in full knowledge of its illegal status. It continues to make aggressive claims on Indian territory. It has shown no inclination to clarify the Line of Actual Control, much less move towards a settlement despite 22 meetings of the Special Representatives. It counters India’s influence in its neighborhood, most notably in Nepal and Sri Lanka, and earlier in the Maldives. Its bid to inscribe the Kashmir issue on the UN Security Council agenda once again was exceedingly provocative. It has not tried to address seriously India’s unsustainable trade deficit with it. There is virtually nothing that India can put on the positive side of the bilateral ledger of its relations with China.
US-China relations, already filled with tension and in the throes of a trade war, have further nosedived after the coronavirus pandemic. Trump is seeking an independent probe into its genesis and accountability for China’s apparent lapses. The issue has got caught up in US electoral politics.
Time to resist
WHO’s role in handling the would-be pandemic has been legitimately questioned in the light of the pro-Chinese leanings of its Director-General. China has unleashed its “wolf-warrior” diplomacy to oppose any demand for an independent international probe and the restoration of Taiwan as an observer at the forthcoming meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA). Chinese diplomats are showing their obnoxious face in openly threatening countries that support an international probe and in their sharp exchanges with the US.
China’s efforts to change the Covid-19 narrative in its favor despite its clear culpability and intimidate countries that seek transparency, if only to prevent such pandemics in the future, have to be resisted. If China succeeds in thwarting the US and others in this power tussle, it will further tilt the balance in China’s favor and will boost its geopolitical ascendancy.
China must be put in its place and now is the chance to do it. India should support the demand for an international probe into the origin of this virus in the interest of transparency. India too has suffered gravely. The restoration of Taiwan’s observer status at the WHA should also be supported. The One-China policy is not inscribed in the UN Charter and is not part of any international agreement. If China wants support for its territorial integrity it must not brazenly violate the territorial integrity of others. India has ceased to endorse the One-China policy in view of China’s aggressive position against India’s unity. It is a reflection of China’s unabashed hypocrisy when it seeks support for “One China” even as it makes territorial claims on others, occupies their land and violates their sovereignty.

China and the Wuhan virus

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

The Chinese are trying to change the narrative about their responsibility for the origin of the novel Coronavirus under our very eyes. This shows their over-weening self-confidence that their financial means and the world’s need of them as the world’s second-largest economy allows them to cover up their tracks. Over the years they have nurtured lobbies in the political, business, academic, think tank and media circles across the world that are ready to promote China’s case.
Its effort to sow confusion about the origin of the virus is being resisted in the US because of its effrontery in accusing the US military of planting it in Wuhan. Trump has called it the Chinese virus, but within the US too he has been criticized for his political incorrectness and exposing ethnic Chinese Americans to social prejudice and worse. Major western European countries suffering grievously from the virus do not back the US in calling it the Wuhan virus, which is why the G7 could not issue a joint statement.
New narratives
Italy and some East European countries are actually lauding China’s role in helping to combat the virus through supply of masks and testing kits. But there is a push back in some European quarters to astute propaganda that clubs these commercial transactions with some free supplies of masks. The supply of defective testing kits has also dented China’s image. But then, in this hour of dire need and China’s huge manufacturing capacities, even India has placed orders on China for personal protection equipment for medical workers and even for testing kits. It is by now widely accepted that China tried to suppress information about the new virus detected as early as November by calling it rumour-mongering. China allowed countless thousands to move out of Wuhan to the rest of China and many countries abroad.
When the truth about the virus could no longer be suppressed China acknowledged its emergence, but still tried to tailor the story to its requirements. For this it used the WHO which purveyed China’s story line about the inadvisability of a ban on flights to China and unavailability of evidence of human to human transmission of the virus as Chinese experts believed. For weeks the WHO would not declare the spread of the Coronavirus as an epidemic, much less a pandemic.
The role of the Ethiopian head of the WHO has come under sharp scrutiny. China, now the second largest contributor to the UN budget, has got its tentacles deeply into the UN system. It helped the WHO DG win the position; it makes large voluntary contributions to the organization, besides the fact that Ethiopia is a recipient of huge Chinese largesse as a major point of BRI’s entry into Africa. China seems to be extremely sensitive about the virus being associated by name with China. The WHO has obliged by calling it COVID 19. Chinese ambassadors abroad have abandoned diplomatic decency by abusing and threatening those who dare associate the virus with China by name.
By another name
Apparently the Chinese Foreign Minister wants India not to label the virus Chinese. Any official departure from WHO’s nomenclature by India would be a politically sensitive issue , but our media, the think tanks, political commentators should have no hesitation in calling it the “Wuhan virus”, which would be accurate as a general description.
It would be like calling plants not by their technical Latin name but by their common one. Even when the world is facing a crisis that is destabilizing global society, the UN Security Council has been unable to meet to discuss the security aspects of the situation. China as a permanent veto-wielding member will not allow it, much less agree to a resolution that should ideally demand a UN probe into the circumstances in which the virus emerged, its spread globally and the acts of omission and commission by China, so as to learn lessons for the future. China will never allow this. It will not also give access to complete data, as it can profiteer from any breakthrough it can achieve in developing an anti-dote for the disease ahead of others. It can then present itself as a savior and roll in billions to boot.
Warning to world
This is the second pandemic that has been unleashed on the world in one generation. The consequences of the Wuhan virus are potentially so devastating for all of us that there is a good case for a “Wuhan tax”, whose contours are best expressed in my verse below:
A Wuhan tax would be a way to make the Chinese leaders pay for letting loose this deadly scourge which is most difficult to purge so all Chinese exports will be taxed as a form of subsidy in special fund will go proceeds to spend on the economic needs of populations in distress to make the pain they suffer less under international control to supplement the World Bank’s role to be seen as reparations for the travails of all nations the world must now have the mission to curb Xi Jinping’s ambition.

How Trump handed over Afghanistan to the Taliban

Kanwal Sibal

IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council

US President Donald Trump has admitted publicly that the Taliban could well take over power in Afghanistan, arguing that the United States cannot be there for another 20 years.
The US “can only hold someone’s hand for so long,” Trump said adding that eventually the Afghan people will have to protect themselves. This stark disavowal of any responsibility for Afghanistan’s future exposes the cosmetic nature of the agreement with the Taliban.
Strife on ground
This brutal acknowledgement of the unfolding reality in Afghanistan comes after the Taliban, on the heels of its agreement with the US, attacked 43 checkposts of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) in the Helmand area on March 3 that killed 25 Afghan soldiers. Retaliatory US airstrikes took place on March 4 that were preceded by a bizarre telephone call between Trump and Mullah Baradar (who leads a terrorist group and is not head of state or government). On March 6, a murderous terrorist attack claimed by the Islamic State in Kabul killed 27 people and wounded another 81.
By this agreement, Trump has made it plain that he does not intend to uphold any of the declared tenets of US foreign policy, be it the combat against religious extremism and terrorism, defence of human rights, promotion of democracy, commitment to gender equality, and so on.
In these negotiations, America’s hand has been weak, having already acknowledged that a military solution to the Afghanistan conflict was not possible, and pressure on Trump, before the presidential election in November, to deliver on his campaign promise to bring the US troops back home.
The US is not going to recommit itself to Afghanistan no matter what happens ahead, and Trump has affirmed this rather casually. The clause in the February 29 US-Afghan government Joint Declaration that the US will seek funds annually to support the training, equipping, advising and sustaining of Afghan security forces seems to be a paper exercise because once the US withdraws, Afghanistan will lose strategic value and the commitment to maintain financial support for an Afghan government with the Taliban in it would make little sense.

main_trump_reuters_031020120531.jpgThe stark disavowal of any responsibility for Afghanistan’s future by the US President Donald Trump exposes the cosmetic nature of the agreement with the Taliban. (Photo: Reuters)

The US has effectively capitulated to the Taliban. It has bypassed the legitimate government in Kabul. Worse, it has signed an agreement with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA); the caveat in it that the US does not recognise the IEA is just a verbal coverup. Under the agreement, after a timebound initial reduction, all US and allied troops will be out in 14 months, including “non-diplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisors, and supporting services personnel”. This implies no retention of bases or residual forces to prevent a full Taliban takeover.
No mention of terror
The Taliban, according to the agreement, will not allow its “members, other individuals or groups, including Al Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies”. The Islamic State is omitted, though it is mentioned in the US-Afghan Joint Declaration. Groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaishe-Mohammed which are UN-designated terrorist organisations are also left out, which leaves India exposed. India-US strengthened counter-terrorism cooperation has meaning essentially in the Pakistan-Afghanistan context, which is why omitting any reference to Taliban’s regional responsibility to not permit violence emanating from its soil is a serious lacuna. The uncertain future of Afghanistan is a problem for India. Pakistan, which has assisted in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, has obtained a political role in Afghanistan through the Taliban which it will use to control developments there, including with regard to India’s presence and future role.
India has been right in not engaging with the Taliban. It was and is under compulsion to legitimize the takeover of Afghanistan by a radical Islamic force and indirectly promote Pakistan’s geopolitical ambitions.
Chabahar slowdown
The Taliban have to make the first move openly to reach out to India, as that would indicate how much they are thinking nationally and want to resist Pakistan’s hold over them. It was the right move to send our Foreign Secretary to Kabul as the US-Taliban agreement was signed to mark our support for an “independent, sovereign, democratic, pluralistic, and inclusive” Afghanistan, and for an “enduring and inclusive” peace and reconciliation that is “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled”. He also rightly referred to an “end to externally sponsored terrorism”.
Prospect of a civil conflict if the Taliban seeks a complete takeover as can be expected, the group’s expected reticence towards India and leaning towards Pakistan, not the least because of religious affinity, and Iran’s ambiguity are bound to cast a shadow on the Chabahar project’s salience This project had strategic meaning in the context of an independent Afghanistan seeking a strong relationship with India and a loosening of Pakistan’s geographical grip over it. A Taliban-dominated Afghanistan would have reduced stakes in this project. Iranian Supreme leader Khamenei’s highly offensive religious outburst against India over the Delhi riots calls into question the quality of India-Iran ties and the robustness of Chabahar project looking ahead.

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