As China continues to expand its in- fluence in the region, India must navigate a delicate bal- ance between diplomacy and safeguarding its national security interests.
It’s been a tough week for External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, which was capped on Wednesday by his candid if obvious acknowledgement of the fact that India was probably at the “most difficult phase of our relationship with China in the last 30-40 years or even more” in the wake of the military standoff between the two countries in eastern Ladakh.
Speaking at a webinar hosted by an Australian think-tank, he went on to add that the Sino-Indian relationship had been “significantly damaged” this year. Also, this week, Mr Jaishankar was targeted in a media interview by a respected commentator on international affairs and former Indian Foreign Service colleague for his helming of Indian foreign policy which was characterised by the latter as being marked by “a lot of uncertainty… (and) no clear direction”.
The retired diplomat was particularly harsh on Jaishankar’s handling of China. Well, the man is entitled to his views, and there certainly is a problem with the New Delhi-Beijing equation, but the solution to it lies not in abandoning the path Jaishankar has set out but by treading on it more firmly. The Foreign Minister would also do well to ignore accusations from the usual suspects of his allegedly self-serving acquiescence with the “nationalistic” stance of the political establishment he represents.
On the contrary, a reiteration of his statement made soon after he was sworn-in as a surprise choice to head the ministry that, to paraphrase, ‘nationalism can be a force for good in the world depending on the variety one is speaking of’, would be apposite. For, Indic nationalism is not of the type that was practiced by European ethnic nation states which led to the horrors of Nazism, fascism and expansionism.
So, when Mr Jaishankar asserts that today’s China is “much more nationalistic”, he needs to underline that it is the Western model of nationalism ~ in this case inspired by a socialism of sorts with definitive Chinese characteristics ~ he is pointing to. Failing that, the same criticism can fairly be made of India too unless the non-expansionist nature of the emergent Indian nationalism is repeatedly underlined at all global fora.
It is not enough to just assert as Mr Jaishankar does: “You could argue that it is natural for a country that goes up the power hierarchy… that its behaviour and pattern would change. I reserve my comment on it. But there’s clearly no question that you have a very much more nationalistic China and that is expressed down the line in a variety of ways and often in policies as well.” Because then the riposte could certainly be ~ and the same to you! The danger, as always, is becoming what one opposes. India must guard against it.