Chinese Now Know Modi And Jaishankar Have Wised Up; India Is Now Trying To Call Xi’s Bluff

Chinese Now Know Modi And Jaishankar Have Wised Up; India Is Now Trying To Call  Xi’s BluffPrime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and MEA officers at the India-ASEAN summit. (@MEAIndia/Twitter)
Snapshot
  • Modi and Jaishankar now know the Chinese game well. We should make it even plainer: first border, then trade.

    Take it or leave it.

The Chinese must take us for fools. They are trying the same old trick of pretending that the border dispute and normal ties in other areas are separate, and one should not confuse the two.

However, this time they may find that Narendra Modi and his External Affairs Minister, S Jaishankar, are unwilling to be lulled into any false sense of normality. They seem to be saying that without a border pullback, there will be no deal elsewhere too. They are now in a position to call Chinese supremo Xi Jinping’s bluff.

While the Prime Minister went to a forward area in Ladakh to tell the Chinese that the age of expansionism was over, Jaishankar made it even more plain that the border issue cannot, any longer, be separated from the larger areas of trade and cultural ties.

In an interview to The Times of India, Jaishankar said: “Over the last three decades, we had steadily normalised our relationship on the assumption of peace and tranquillity prevailing on the border. This was the basis for the policies of successive governments. The state of the border and the future of our ties, therefore, cannot be separated.” (Italics mine).

There cannot be a clearer message to the rogue Chinese Communist Party, that their misadventure on the border will carry a heavy cost. Over the last few weeks, 59 Chinese apps, and clones of those apps, have been banned. Chinese Internet giants, Baidu and Weibo, have blocked, Xiaomi, the mobile market leader in India, has been barred from offering its own browser to Indian users, and Vivo has been excluded from sponsoring the Indian Premier League.

Chinese contractors are being banned from bidding for government contracts, Chinese imports in general are being slowed down and Indian companies asked to find other suppliers even as concessions are being offered to global mobile and other electronics giants to locate their manufacturing hubs in India. There could be duty hikes on Chinese products too. TV imports are now under licensing.

Nobody in China can be in any doubt that India is willing to pay an economic price to send a strong message. The message is that Chinese military presence on previously disputed areas of the border will mean a lower presence for Chinese companies in profitable Indian markets.

Not surprisingly, the Chinese are now beginning to signal a realisation that India may not be bluffing about its intent. It is too early to interpret the statements of the Chinese as any kind of willingness to pull back to military positions as on 1 May – there will be too much loss of face if the pullback is immediate – but there is little doubt that their belligerence is now waning.

Reacting to India’s decision to review the need for Chinese Confucius Institutes, the Chinese embassy said that “normal cooperation” should not be politicised. The embassy said: “We hope the relevant Indian parties can treat Confucius Institutes and China-India higher education cooperation in an objective and fair manner, avoid politicising normal cooperation, and maintain healthy and stable development of China-India people-to-people and cultural exchanges.”

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson also reacted to Jaishankar’s statement on the linkage between the border dispute and trade ties by saying that “the two sides should always place the boundary issue in an appropriate position in bilateral relations and avoid differences escalating into disputes”.

This is rich. Everyone and the dog at the lamp-post knows that this separating the issues suits China. It wants the benefits of trade and influence on the Indian public through its Confucius institutes, but wants settlement of the border delayed as long as possible so that it can keep pushing its claims further and further into India-claimed territory.

Both Modi and Jaishankar now know the Chinese game well. We should make it even plainer: first border, then trade. Take it or leave it.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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