The Middle Kingdom, often held up as an example of diplomatic propriety, no longer exists. Its descendants, the modern-day Communists presiding in Beijing, believe in a more muscular approach. The snubs imparted to commerce minister Kamal Nath, the issue of India encouraging Tibetan “splittists” and sabre-rattling over Arunachal Pradesh, among a host of other issues indicate that Sino-Indian “friendship” will take long to mature.
Nath’s planned visit to Beijing on 2 April to negotiate a regional free trade agreement had to be called off after the Chinese government said his counterpart was not available to host him. Days later, commerce secretary G.K. Pillai tried to put a diplomatic gloss over the snub, saying it was confusion on dates that led to the problem.
Let no one be confused by this. Visits by ministers and high officials are settled well in advance by diplomats; a minister simply does not bum into another country, least of all an Indian minister to China. Clearly, it was a snub.
Chinese “sensitivities” over Tibet, the “storming” of its embassy in New Delhi and the activities of the Dalai Lama are held up as causes of Chinese behaviour. This is a canard spread by the Left parties, which seem to take every cue the Chinese offer. The fact is that China cares little for Indian perceptions and friendship with India is in all probability not a priority for Beijing. India, on the other hand, is bending over backwards to appease the Chinese.
What explains this asymmetric behaviour? Lack of leadership and imagination in the foreign office plays a big role. Why can’t a tit-for-tat response be given to Chinese actions? There is no rational explanation. India is almost apologetic about having Tibetans on its soil. There should be no reason for that. If the Dalai Lama has been given refuge in India, it was a conscious decision made by the country’s leaders at that time. It is in no way interference in China’s internal affairs. The continued silence over the sallies China makes on Arunachal Pradesh falls in the same category, yet our response is muted, if not totally absent. We ought to be much more vocal and effective in sending appropriate signals. We should not rest content with a mere cancellation of a ministerial visit.
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