After hitting the ground running on the foreign policy front with his invitation diplomacy to leaders of eight neighbouring countries including Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has got his first reality check vis a vis the most powerful neighbour, China, a month after he took over the reins of India.
China has just released its new map showing the whole of Arunachal Pradesh and large parts of Jammu and Kashmir as its territories. The Chinese cartographic aggression has come days after Chinese troops made a six-km-deep incursion in Pangong lake in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, on 24 June and went back after staying put in their high speed boats for about two hours.
This is Prime Minister Modi’s first brush with China, a country he admires and wants to emulate in lifting the sagging Indian economy, particularly the manufacturing sector where the Chinese performance has been consistently impressive.
While China has provoked India on several occasions in the past few years on both the counts – cartographic as well as military incursions – this time the Chinese actions are much different and far more significant for two reasons.
First, The Chinese cartographic provocation has come at a time when Vice President Hamid Ansari is currently in China on an official visit (26-30 June) to celebrate the 60th year of Panchsheel, the five principles for peaceful coexistence that once formed bedrock of India-China ties.
The timing of publication of the controversial Chinese map is significant and has clearly been timed to coincide with Ansari’s ongoing visit to China.
Second, China has hardened its position on boundary dispute with India as is clear by a just-published report in Chinese state newspaper People's Daily which said without mincing words that Chinese citizens would now be able to "fully, directly know the full map of China".
Earlier, Chinese maps used to separately denote China’s declared claims and Arunachal Pradesh (described by China as “Southern Tibet”) used to figure among these territories. But now the Chinese have taken a giant leap forward towards its territorial claims vis a vis India as stated thus by the People’s Daily report: "Readers won’t ever think again that China’s territory has primary and secondary claims."
For his part, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin pooh-poohed the Chinese territorial claims in their latest map saying that "the cartographic depictions do not change the reality on the ground." Akbaruddin also stated thus "The fact that Arunachal Pradesh in integral and inalienable part of India has been conveyed to Chinese authority at several occasions including at the very highest level" and also indicated that Hamid Ansari may also be conveying this to his Chinese interlocutors.
But the question is: is this enough? Modi made strong remarks and warned China during the election campaign as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
The fact that the Chinese are not merely continuing with their India-baiting like business as usual but have hardened their stand (as demonstrated above) shows that they are undeterred by Modi’s image as a strong, no-nonsense leader.
If Modi has to convey a hard-hitting message to the Chinese without bothering about the diplomatic costs and strategic repercussions, one option before him is to advise the Vice President to cut short his ongoing China visit and return home immediately.
After all, it was during the Janata Party regime when the then External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was visiting China and the Chinese invaded Vietnam while Vajpayee was on the Chinese soil. Vajpayee was told to abruptly end his China visit and return home immediately, which he did.
This time also it is Chinese aggression – though a cartographic one – and directed against India.
Therefore, we return to the original question mentioned upfront in this article: Should Prime Minister Modi tell Vice President Hamid Ansari to cut short his China visit after the Chinese cartographic aggression?
But this is easier said than done. For one, diplomacy is not run through knee-jerk reactions. Diplomacy, after all, is not a hundred meter race, but a marathon and a long hurdle race.
Perhaps Modi can ask his diplomats to come up with more hard-hitting diplomatic approach that really hurts China.
How about India officially expressing doubts about its One China policy?