The two leaders… had a conversation for almost 90 minutes, followed by delegation-level talks. A total six hours of a one-to-one meeting was held between the two leaders (Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping) during the summit” — India’s foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said on Saturday.
It must have been a meeting of head, heart and mind by the leaders of the two Asian giants, with a population of over 2.7 billion people. However, as the entire event was termed “informal”, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to learn or even understand as to what exactly could have had transpired owing to its being a deeply personal and private affair, except for what was announced through official channels.
The spokesman of the external affairs ministry said: “A new mechanism will be established to discuss trade, investment and services at an elevated level.” This is a clear acknowledgement that the existing or old mechanism, if any, wasn’t up to the mark. Hence, on “trade, investment and services”, a lot needs to be done, as a lot remained undone.
That’s easier said than done in an arena where the Communist Party-controlled People’s Republic of China’s inflexible penchant for monopoly, from polity to commerce, territory to telecommunications, military to market-capturing, are too manifest to be missed. In a way, the contemporary Chinese ruling class couldn’t possibly be held solely responsible for this unique mindset. This is a mindset that tends to forcibly impose its own make-believe reality, thinking and action, and ignores the other party’s point of view. This is actually due to the most enduring syndrome of China’s history; concentration and centralisation of polity, being operationalised from the capital by the monarchy till 1911. Thereafter, with the advent of the Communists too, the same style and content of centralisation and control of the power structure under ideological guise, with the catchy slogan “all are equals”, continued, starting in 1919. That tradition now completes 100 years. Hence, to be fair to the Chinese, one has to try to fairly understand their collective psyche to analyse their actions at the bilateral high table. The Chinese search for their opponent’s chink in the armour is good.
Thus, when the Indian foreign secretary clarified: “The Kashmir issue was not raised and not discussed” — and that “our position is anyway very clear, that this is an internal matter of India”, it gives mixed signals: both positive and negative. It’s positive because the Chinese dare not raise Kashmir in a Sino-Indian bilateral encounter, however “informal” the meet, sitting in India, lest their long-term commerce, economics, finance, market and banking interests (in India) get a jolt. Better to be quiet and talk “informally”, “off-the-record”, “below the radar”; which is the traditional forte of Chinese diplomacy, without causing provocation.
From the Chinese point of view, nevertheless, it’s a win-win situation. Not raising the “K” word doesn’t affect them in any way because they are already deeply entrenched in India’s J&K territory; in the east (Aksai Chin) and the west (Gilgit-Baltistan, through which runs their Kashgarh-Gwadar road to the Arabian Sea and CPEC) for long. In any case, China already outflanks India in J&K.
In fact, Beijing had already made its stand clear in no uncertain terms, even before the “informal” October 11-12 summit. When Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan visited Beijing to meet Mr Xi, the latter openly declared that he was closely “monitoring” the J&K situation, and would always protect Pakistan’s “core” interests, just two days before his Chennai visit. Thus, while the non-raising of J&K gave New Delhi some sense of satisfaction owing to its being an “internal matter”, thereby giving a sigh of relief to its official delegation; yet, not firmly protesting in clear terms at the table too could be seen as bona fide, but an unavoidable endorsement of India to China’s aggressive and extraterritorial intent and action, which indisputably poses a nagging security threat and constitutes a blatant infringement of the sovereignty of India. India surely wants calm and caution. In the process, however, China stands vindicated on J&K with or without the mention thereof at the high table. That’s the irony.
An irony borne of the traditional failure of Indian diplomacy on J&K through several decades, even after the 1971 victory. What’s the exact status, if any, of J&K? Unilateral? Bilateral? Internal affairs of India? Trilateral (with physical presence of China)? International issue? Which keeps cropping up in the UN General Assembly, and now, in 2019, the Security Council as well.
Yes, J&K, legally, politically, technically, constitutionally, belongs to India and will continue to be an inseparable and inalienable part of it. The whole official map of J&K, when it acceded to India on October 26, 1947, is Indian territory. Yet India failed to maintain and retain J&K’s territory, which in turn constituted a gross failure of the State. In Tashkent, 1966 when Haji Peer (reclaimed under the command of Ranjit Singh Dayal and Zoru Bakshi and after enormous cost of the lives of Indian soldiers) was ceded back to Pakistan, and a similar scenario was repeated in Shimla in 1972 when part of India’s own territory went back to the aggressor Pakistan.
Again, not too long ago (in the beginning of the 21st century), when both the civilian and military leadership actively toyed with the idea of withdrawing garrisons from Siachen, which is a part of J&K, the Indians gave an indelible impression of their traditional weakness in maintaining territorial integrity as they, more often than not, forget that the sovereignty of the state begins from the border. Hence, any violation by a foreign force or avoidable ceding thereof stares stark at the face of leaders as failure of the sovereign state to maintain its sovereignty.
And that’s exactly where a razor-sharp China quickly grasped the situation and grabbed the opportunity to consistently embarrass India at the high table and ceaselessly harass its troops in hot terrain for decades. India faced the Chinese onslaught 57 years ago, on October 10, 1962, when a platoon of the 9 Punjab regiment was massacred by the Chinese PLA in Thagla ridge on Namka Chu, in front of a high ground presence of then 4 Corps commander Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul. Today’s China is again taking cover under the “convergence” of economics and avoiding territorial dispute and violation talks, calling it a “divergence” which could be settled later. Will mutual trade take care of unilateral territorial infringements?
The last points, as referred to by the Indian foreign secretary, on terror and “engaging more on the defence side” by Mr Xi are well calculated and calibrated Chinese thoughts. Xinjiang is a “terror hub” for China, where India’s help could be useful. Cross-border terror attacks on India, however, have long-term Chinese support to Pakistan. And “engaging more on defence” — of India? To try to minimise the potential disruption of CPEC, should India go physical around Pakistan-occupied Kashmir! For Beijing, the Balakot example is too real a threat to be ignored. Therefore, stopping the Xinjiang terror is an OBOR/BRI compulsion, and containing the Indian military from crossing the India-Pakistan border is, from the high table, a diplomatic stratagem of China.