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Nuclear Waters

 

Editorial. Satya Pal Singh. XI. IV. XIV


DRAGON'S LORE OF DECEIT



Satya Pal Singh-fnbworld  By Satya Pal Singh

 

 

Chinese Nuke Submarine at Sri
Lanka-fnbworld

 

Sri Lankan President  Mahinda
Rajapaksa with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping -
fnbworld

Just when the first Chinese nuclear submarine was allowed to dock at Colombo port last September, I had a chance meeting with a Foreign Ministry official who appeared to tom-tom the development as another innocuous passage in seafaring. I chose to contest his "expert view" and reminded him how unpredictably Dragon had been behaving ever since 1959 when the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had run into China's 'Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai' lore of deceit and magical fascination and began slighting his defence chiefs whenever they discussed China with him. If Beijing has reached a stage where it can take 1.25 billion-strong, nuclear-powered India for granted, it's because the extended Nehruvian diplomacy taking rounds under the Ministry's portals had for long failed to see lethal splinters in the air. When I cautioned the official that more Chinese submarines would cruise the Indian Ocean, he would not agree. He believed the docked sub would leave the Lankan port immediately on New Delhi's protest. 


Now a little later, when Colombo permits another Chinese 'attack submarine' to dock at its port in defiance of strong Indian reservations, New Delhi is seething with anger. UPA regime's timorous stance on diplomatic front today stands woefully stretched to the threads of present-day executive dispensation, despite Narendra Modi's presence in PMO. Bureaucracy had long been tuned to diminutive strains of complacency during 10 years of the Manmohan Singh regime. 


Modi rode to power, promising clean governance and tough initiatives on economic and diplomatic fronts to assert India's growing strength on global plane. He may be a strong-willed political executive, but still is faced with too many hiccups within the corridors of External Affairs Ministry. Sushma Swaraj, at the head of the Ministry, has been advised to be adequately firm and reasonably harsh with needed indiscrimination in dealing with those prickly neighbours who are in the habit of spreading fangs beyond norms of international decency. Modi mantra appears to be firmness with due care and camaraderie with neighbours, but the hostility and misunderstanding built over the years continues to reign across the borders, be it giant of a China or mole of a Lanka.


We are much used to attributing the failures of our foreign policy to "unreliable" intelligence, and rarely to the tired bureaucratic set-up within our Foreign Office. Can we shake off the verity that India had just one hostile neighbour in 1947, but today we find ourselves encircled by myriad hostile entities. What exactly is the truth ? Have we, by our conduct, forced fumes of hostility piercing through the neighbourhood that includes China ? Or have we, by virtue of our inherent infirmities, failed to halt the approaching aggression right at the frontiers ? In between these positions, the fact remains that even minions like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh take time to snub New Delhi, what to talk of Beijing, a very powerful nationality sitting right on the country's northern frontier. 

President Xi Jinping and
President Obama-fnbworld

Is it the effect of our long-pursued policy of nonalignment ? We have believed in great value of strategic autonomy that broadly remains vested in the non-aligned principle. A cumulative effect of this policy is that we have acquired the image of an extremely "passive power", which does not retaliate even if someone grievously hurts its vital interests. Even if we consider our position within South Asia, we hardly look like a regional superpower. Even though India is a large democracy, having the biggest economy and formidable military might in the region, why has it failed to emerge even as a regional superpower which could inspire awe and veneration at least within regional entities ? Chasing its prized neutrality over the years, have we treated our neighbours with neglect, contempt and little concern ? If not, why has the power of South Asia not become the power of India ? If South Asia is the least integrated part of the world today, who other than India is to take the blame ?


Nothing is more important for us in Asia than South Asia, given our ambition to become a great world power one day. So, if India fails to assume the role of a leader and take small regional nations into confidence, building intimate relationships based on mutual respect and interests, there is no way India would attain supremacy. No doubt, these nations would extract choicest favours on investment, aid and trade from India in the process, but then leadership stipulates first sacrifice and then power. There may be a view that such unilateral economic concessions without reciprocal offerings would hurt Indian interests, but the country has to take it as fait accompli, should it choose to raise its power equations.


Persistent Chinese incursions on the border have been causing grave concern to New Delhi. Recently, Chinese military made two-pronged incursion by sending troops into Indian waters in the Pangong Lake, nestled in the higher reaches of Ladakh, as well as 5-km deep into Indian territory through land route in the same area. Incursions continued even as Chinese President Xi Jinping visited India last September. But Xi now makes the standoff look like a handiwork of the army, in utter disregard of the party orders to relieve the border tension. He indicates crackdown on military officials if they choose to differ from the ruling Communist Party line. "The party commands the gun", an apparently exasperated President tells the army. But this looks incredible that army would go this far. China is not Pakistan where army's bullet rules the nation. In a society where indiscipline may invite straight execution, such brazen-faced impudence looks impossible. I still believe Xi is saying so for public consumption on this side of the border.

 

Indian President Pranab Mukherjee with
Vietnam's President Trương Tấn
Sang - fnbworld

China is deeply averse to any Indian involvement with either Japan or Vietnam, its sworn enemies in South China Sea. Even though the Sino-Japanese deeper confrontation pre-dates  World War II, to a 1931 incident that became the pretext for Japan's invasion of northern China, the latest dangerous standoff was sparked by Tokyo's decision to "nationalize" a chain of disputed, gas-rich islands in the East China Sea. Likewise, Vietnam faced off against China over the placement of a Chinese oil rig in waters claimed by both the countries. Aided by US, Japan and possibly also France, Vietnam's open defiance of Beijing's growing highhandedness against neighbours has caused flutters in China. In the circumstances, President Pranab Mukherjee's "solidarity" visit to Vietnam, with some strategic pacts, and PM Modi's warm welcome to Japan and his discussions to intensify bilateral relations in diverse fields became an immediate provocation for China.


This perhaps explains why China is hell-bent on pushing the submarines to frequent the Indian Ocean : to build tremendous pressure on New Delhi, now closely aligning with Tokyo and Hanoi. Beijing explains that there is nothing unusual in submarine docking at the Lanka port, as it is an international common practice for warships to stop at different ports. China observers, however, claim that this is the first time that China has begun deploying submarines for frequenting the Indian Ocean. The presence of these submarines across Palk Straits has deeply disturbed India which has lodged repeated protest to Colombo. The news of a second submarine docking in Sri Lanka follows Vietnam PM Nguyen Tan Dung's visit to India. .


The fleet of these mass-potential submarines, both diesel and nuclear-powered, which can fire ballistic missiles, represent China's most offensive war capabilities. One of them menacingly propelled through Indian Ocean waters while on its way to the Persian Gulf recently.


 Then should India, that hosts over two-thirds of the sub-continental expanse, still celebrate isolation ? Can we insist on "living by self" just because we as a large national entity think we need no one in our march to international supremacy. We might have jacked up, through our exceptional brain power, the economic growth of the United States, the undisputed superpower of the day, but we are left ourselves wanting to emerge as a power of great consequence. For this, we have to espouse the policy of strategic alignments, while keeping neighbours in good humour.


We have moved far from the times when Nehru felt concerned over the "isolation" of Asian countries from one another and blamed it on European domination of the region. Now no one dominates the region. The fact that we as a major power have failed to undo this isolation is a sad commentary on our foreign policy. At least now, we must proceed to align the regional powers. Modi's visits to Nepal and Japan were the beginning of that process. If we had issues with Colombo, those were not intractable enough. I feel the Modi regime, too, has significantly floundered on this side of diplomacy!

________________________________________

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