Whichever angle one may look at it, it seems that the Modi government’s faux pas of first granting a visa to the Germany-based Uyghur activist Dolkun Isa – branded as a 'terrorist' by the Chinese – and then cancelling it has not only dented India’s global image, but has also exposed the lack of coherence and coordination in the decision making process.
Above all, the episode has shown how a government which otherwise prides itself for its commitment to defend national honour, has virtually surrendered to the Chinese diktat.
Isa, and his Washington-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), claim to fight for the Uyghur people – both in East Turkestan and abroad. The main objective of WUC is to promote the right of the Uyghur people to use peaceful, nonviolent, and democratic means to determine the political future of East Turkestan, the Islamic term for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China.
Obviously, Isa is a “terrorist” in exile as per China. The WUC was pegged to be one of the participants at the proposed Interethnic/Interfaith Leadership Conference at Dharamshala, in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Conference is said to be partially funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which in turn is financed , among others, by the US Congress.
It is mind-boggling that the ministry of external affairs (MEA) officials are now selectively leaking information to the press suggesting that the electronic visa issued to Isa was okayed by the ministry of home affairs (MHA), and that it was again the latter that withdrew the visa when the 'red-corner notice' issued by the Interpol against him was identified.
The theory that, under the Modi government, visas are given directly by the MHA without any involvement of the MEA whatsoever is something that anybody will readily buy.
Let us face then, the truth. The truth that it was indeed a conscious decision of the government to allow Isa into the country, as a tit-for-tat to China after the latter’s dubious role in the United Nations to block India’s move to sanction Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist for his role in the recent attacks on the Pathankot airbase.
By issuing a visa to Isa, India underscored the point that if Beijing can refuse to support India’s anti-terror campaign, then New Delhi can also derail China’s attempts to punish the 'terrorists' working towards the liberation of the territories now under Chinese control.
Resorting to Interpol’s red-corner notice and revoking the visa later is not going to cut much ice now. After all, if the Interpol’s red-notice is so sacrosanct then it should apply to all the countries. If that is the case, then how is it that Isa and his WUC are carrying out their activities in the United Sates (being funded by the US Congress as well)? And how is it that Isa is currently attending a global conference on a similar theme in Germany?
In other words, if Interpol is not a limiting factor to American diplomacy and German global view, why should it be so for India? I do not think that the Modi government can have a convincing answer to this question. Therefore, the truth of the matter is that like all of its predecessors, the current government too is scared of China.
This sorry episode implies that despite all its bravado, Modi’s India is too weak to anatagonise the Chinese power. No wonder why pro-China analysts in India (their number is rapidly proliferating in the country) argue that “at a time when the spectre of famine is haunting us with well over 300 million Indians demanding urgent relief from the drought conditions, the national priority is clear” and that “it would have been an unwarranted provocation to China, since it signified an interference in that country's internal affairs”.
Of course, it has now become quite routine for China – through its officials in international meets, armed forces near the line of actual control, spokespersons, and state-controlled media – to say and do everything possible to humiliate India. And yet, one finds in India powerful voices sympathising and justifying the Chinese behaviour.
These pro-China elements in India may not be exactly fifth columnists, but one thing is clear – all of them literally hate the United States. They are sure that China is the only country that can challenge the United States and end the so-called unipolar world or the American hegemony.
They, in the process, underplay the fact that China throughout the ages has done everything possible to halt the growth of Indian influence and dent India’s eminence. The overall India-China relations may be seen from three angles — border disputes, economic ties and geopolitical goals. And here, things are not inspiring. Despite rounds of negotiations between the two sides over the past 17 years, there is no real progress on the border front, except the fact that soldiers of the two have avoided real armed clashes.
On the economic front, the relationship is one sided, strongly in favour of China. Today, at nearly 70 billion dollars per year, China has emerged as India’s largest trading partner after it replaced the United States (in March 2008). India’s bilateral trade deficit with China reached an unsustainable level of US$ 48.68 billion during 2015-16 (April-February), with the total bilateral trade at $65.16 billion during the period.
"Increasing trade deficit with China can be attributed primarily to the fact that Chinese exports to India rely strongly on manufactured items to meet the demand of fast expanding sectors like telecom and power, while India's exports to China are characterised by primary and intermediate products," commerce minister Nirmala Sitaraman told the parliament recently.
Geo-politically speaking, there have been more areas of discord than accord between India and China – be it on Pakistan, Kashmir, oil exploration in Vietnam or on nuclear issues and the reforms of the United Nations. In the name of a multi-polar world, China is striving for a unipolar Asia, where, true to its theory of middle kingdom, China will not allow another pole – be it India or Japan – to make the world truly multi-polar.
Developing a strategy to deal with China will remain a formidable diplomatic challenge for years to come. In fact, it is as much a challenge to India as it is to the rest of the world. But then, China’s real power does not lie in its military capabilities but in its economic strength.
China has become the second-largest economy in the world. China’s foreign currency reserves are now the largest in world economic history. The People’s Bank of China effectively controls American interest rates and the value of the dollar – the currency on which the global financial system continues to be dependent.
That explains why the world is being forced to tolerate Chinese misdeeds. But how long can the world afford to do so? After all, it needs to be realised that China is an authoritarian country. And as history has shown always, authoritarian states rarely use their power responsibly. The leaders in these countries are not accountable for their actions to the people. That being the case, it is time that the rest of the world, particularly the democratic world, did something to restrain the Chinese power.
The main component of the rising Chinese power is its economic strength, particularly its foreign exchange reserve – dollars. The Chinese have earned all this through export of their goods, which they produce cheaply by employing their cheap labour in markets all over the world.
In fact, for the most part, the Chinese enjoyed a system of 'one-way free trade' in open markets of the Western countries while protecting its own market against western goods under some pretext or the other. As a result, the balance of trade was always been in favour of China, and that, in turn, endowed it with more and more dollars. This is the case even now.
In this age of the World Trade Organisation, which ensures free trade, there cannot be any ideological ground to stop Chinese goods from entering any country. But what we can do here is to adopt the Gandhian tool of boycott. Let us pledge ourselves not to buy Chinese goods.
Once this Gandhian practice gains momentum i.e. if more and more people in the world, particularly in the United States – the biggest market for the Chinese goods, voluntarily stop buying Chinese products, it will have a salutary impact on the Chinese rulers.
The lopsidedness of the Chinese economy is so acute that an overwhelming majority of the Chinese people themselves continue to be too poor to buy their own country’s products. Once the Chinese rulers are unable to find buyers for their goods, their economic power will decline and their arrogance will evaporate. Let Gandhigiri prevail over Chinese dadagiri.