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Happy Dussehra and Diwali to all Readers.          November 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:June' 2019


A strange diplomatic exercise

Rajeev Sharma

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping enjoy coconut water in Pancha Rathas complex, Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu The just-concluded second India-China informal summit in Mamallapuram near Chennai (October 11- 12) was a strange diplomatic exercise at the summit level in many ways!
Here was a summit about which top officials from either side weren’t sure whether it will happen in the first place till the eleventh hour, corroborated by the fact that the two sides formally announced the event barely two days before. In normal circumstances such a high profile summit, albeit an informal one, between Asia’s number one and number three economies (China and India respectively) would have been formally announced weeks before.
But so many negative vibes were floating around just before the informal summit which kept the fate of the very event in suspense.
For example, barely a fortnight before the Mamallapuram summit, the Quad (a strategic grouping of four powers antithetical to China, comprising the United States, Japan, Australia and India) upgraded its engagement from the foreign secretary level to the foreign ministers level for the first tine and the Quad foreign ministers met in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in the last week of September. While the Quad members insist that their grouping isn’t targeted at any third country, the worst-kept secret is that the Quad is essentially an anti-China grouping.

Also for the first time, China flexed its diplomatic muscle and found strategic company in antiIndia forces like Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia. The last two hauled India over coals at the UNGA in September and their top leaders in their speeches launched an all-out diplomatic offensive against India over its August 5 decision of ending special status of Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcating the privileged full-fledged state into two union territories directly administered by the Central government. Thus a counter Quad emerged, featuring China, Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia.

Modi and Xi at Mahabalipuram As though this weren’t enough, many other red rags surfaced between India and China hust before the Mamallapuram summit.
A discordant note was struck by China ahead of the informal summit when he hosted Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan days before the Mamallapuram summit and a China-Pakistan Joint Statement at the end of Khan's meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping read as follows: "Kashmir issue is a dispute left from history, and should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN Charter".
This was a provocation for India which has taken a firm position for last seven decades that the Kashmir dispute has to be resolved only bilaterally between India and Pakistan and no third-party involvement would be tolerated in this context. This policy has been in place for over seven decades and no Indian government has ever changed it – and the entire world knows this.
Then there were more irritants. China riled India no end by insisting on a special discussion at the United Nations Security Council over Indian moves on Jammu and Kashmir, though it was a closeddoor event without any formal statement after its conclusion.

From Chinese perspective, there were two major irritants.

One, India launched military exercises “Him Vijay” in Arunachal Pradesh (an Indian state which China claims in entirety in its boundary dispute with India). The exercises were launched in two phases: just before and after Xi’s proposed visit to India. For Xi it must have been quite an unsavoury spectacle by a country he proposes to visit to see India flexing its military muscles in a border Indian state on which China has been laying its claims. Spectacles do matter, even in a country like China and Xi was already under pressure because of protests in Hong Kong that have been continuing for over three months.

Lobsang Sangay Second bug bear for China was the fact that India allowed the Tibetan government-in-exile to host an event in Delhi wherein leaders of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the ruling BJP to share dias with Central Tibeta Administration (CTA) president Lobsang Sangay. The Declaration after the 3-day Special Meeting of 345 Tibetan authorities and Tibetan diaspora spread across 24 countries read as follows: "One thing is certain that the 14th Dalai Lama would reincarnate only in a free country and certainly not on Chinese occupied soil." This meeting also resolved that "No nation, government, entity or any individual can claim to recognize reincarnation of Dalai Lama. RSS leader Indresh Kumar publicly criticized China at this meeting and and bluntly told China that it could not interfere in selection of the 15th Dalai Lama.
This came after India and China flexing their military muscles in the Western sector as they conducted military exercises in Aksai Chin in September. In response to Chinese army’s military exercises in the Western sector India responded with Exercise Changthang Prahar and the Indian Army publicized a video of the exercises with tanks and guns in background.

Xi Jinping and Modi in Chennai

Indresh Kumar And yet the Mamallapuram summit has to go down in history as a successful diplomatic event not just because it happened despite a host of serious irritants but also because the two leaders – prime minister Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping—resolved to manage their differences and not allow these to fester into disputes.
Besides, an important decision was taken at the informal summit to establish a “High-Level Economic and Trade Dialogue mechanism” between the Finance Ministers with the three-pronged objective of enhancing trade volumes, bridging the massive bilateral trade deficit, and increasing mutual investment in sectors agreed upon.

Imran Khan President Xi hosted Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan just before the Mamallapuram summit and after the summit flew straight to Nepal. Nepal-India-China happens to be a tangled triangle. India can’t object to a third country’s diplomatic advances with Nepal.
Himendra Mohan Kumar, a senior journalist currently stationed in Nepal on behalf of an Abu Dhabi newspaper, has this to say about the Nepal-India-China triangle: “Nepal realises that geographically, it is positioned between China, an undeclared world superpower and a financial behemoth, and India, which has been bankrolling Nepal and has been its all weather friend.

President Xi hosted Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan just before the Mamallapuram summit and after the summit flew straight to Nepal. Nepal-IndiaChina happens to be a tangled triangle. India can’t object to a third country’s diplomatic advances with Nepal.

Nepal knows that it is a buffer state between China and India both countries are seeking out Nepal for their own strategic reasons. Nepal is now trying to leverage its geographical position to its advantage. Starved of investments, Nepal is pursuing a policy where it can gain the maximum from Indian and Chinese investments and aid by not taking sides in efforts made by either country towards a geographical realignment.

It is an ally of China as well as of India. It cannot ignore India because more than 90% of its food and all its fuel comes from India. But, it is also true that demonetisation in India crippled Nepal's economy from which it is yet to fully recover and people are now loathe to accept or exchange Indian currency, which once was a currency of choice.”

In conclusion, it must be said that India and China are acting maturely and are staying engaged. Informal summits go a long way in managing and minimizing their differences.