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Will Modi’s foreign policy become more audacious?

By MR Josse

MR josseKATHMANDU: Will Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – flush from his spectacular electoral showing in state assembly elections, especially in UP – become more assertive, audacious or reckless with respect to handling Indian foreign/security policy? While we shall know the answer soon enough, I wish to focus on Sino-Indian relations and, in passing, on Nepal-India ties, in that regard.
But, first, I want to remind that last week I essayed an update on Sino-Indian relations; in early February, I tackled this question: ‘Is India bracing for showdown with China?’
Let me begin with the deepening ties between India and Taiwan, evidence of which was provided by India hosting, last month, a three-member, all-female delegation of Taiwanese parliamentarians. Although India was one of the first countries to recognize the People’s Republic of China and its One China Policy (OCP), after the end of the Cold War variegated links between India and Taiwan progressively developed, with the opening in 1995 of complementary representative offices, as detailed by Jeff M. Smith in ‘The Diplomat’ (6 March).
From 2002 till 2015, there was a steady flowering of contacts between them across a wide range of activities, including the formalization of a bilateral investment agreement (2002); direct air links (2003); non-official participation at a trilateral India-Japan-Taiwan conference in Taipei (2004); India hosting party and parliamentary Taiwanese delegations (2005 and 2006); the establishment of the Taiwan-India Cooperation Council to further bilateral interests (2006); an address to the Indian Council on World Affairs by Ma Ying-jeou, head of Taiwan Kuomintang party (2007); and the signing of a MOU on science and technology (2007).
As Smith recounts in his fact-studded piece, India began to shift its position on OCP after the 2010 visa incident – when Beijing denied a visa to an Indian military commander based in disputed Kashmir which, in turn, led to India suspending military ties with China and demanding that Beijing recognize a ‘One India Policy’ – that is to say, that Beijing should acknowledge India’s sovereignty over all of Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh, if it expected New Delhi to continue honouring OCP!
Interestingly, even after Modi’s ascension to power in 2014, India proceeded rather carefully with respect to the OPC question. India’s moves on Taiwan however picked up pace in the summer of 2016 following President Tsai Ing-wen unveiling a “Southward Policy” which openly sought to boost cooperation between Taiwan and Southeast and South Asia, including India.
After Tsai’s inauguration, open consultation between India and Taiwan on security issues began, including by the attendance of high Taiwanese officials at officially sponsored security conferences such as the Raisina Dialogue, the most recent edition of which was attended by Modi (also, revealingly, by Foreign Minister Prakash Saran Mahat). In between those two Raisina Dialogues, India hosted another international security conference in Singapore where former Taiwanese foreign minister Hung-mao Tien “appeared as a last-minute speaker”.
Even before Modi’s most recent electoral triumph some Indian analysts had begun to recommend that the Modi government go further down the slippery anti-China glacis by setting up defence ties with Taiwan, reportedly more than willing to host Indian military students at its National Security University. Others have been suggesting that New Delhi send a permanent military attaché to Taipei – in flagrant defiance of the OCP.
Where the ‘plot’ of India’s apparent recklessness vis-à-vis OCP begins to ‘thicken’ is over Tibet, briefly mentioned here last week. Since then, I have learnt via former Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar (Asia Times) that Obama’s ambassador to India, Richard Verma, was hosted an unprecedented visit to Tawang in the disputed Arunachal Pradesh, a fortnight before the US presidential elections. “Delhi also taunted Beijing by disclosing six months in advance that an official visit by the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh was on the cards for
As previously mentioned by this column, Indian officialdom has rather frenetically been projecting the so-called prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangey, at various international fora in India, including during a Goa confabulation where he parleyed with Sher Bahadur Deuba – who chose to deny the meeting despite a plethora of photographic evidence to the contrary.
Recall, if you will, that when India offered asylum to the Dalai Lama, following his flight from Tibet in 1959, she solemnly pledged not to allow him and his entourage to engage in political activities. Sangey’s orchestrated promotion as a political figure is clearly another serious, and considered, provocation to China.
Incidentally, India’s conflating of the extremely sensitive Tibetan and Taiwan issues in a manner calculated to infuriate China is weird when considered from another perspective: Taipei, too, has long maintained that Tibet is a part of China.
It must thus be asked: how does India believe it can with equanimity trample upon two core areas of Chinese national interest, as there is no indication that the United States, now under a new administration still finding its foreign/security policy legs, is raring to side with India against China?
It should be fairly obvious to all that America needs Chinese goodwill not merely for resolving a gamut of burning global issues but, in particular, for firmly grasping the stinging nettle of North Korea’s unfettered quest for nuclear weapons and ICBMs – not to mention Kim Jong-Un’s unpredictably.
Moreover, let us not forget that President Donald Trump, after flirting with the possibility of overturning OCP, last month clearly and unequivocally endorsed it.
As far as Nepal is concerned, it is legitimate to speculate whether a politically strengthened Modi will decide he can do what he wants to in Nepal with impunity. While some editorialists fear he may push the ‘saffron’ agenda in Nepal, I believe he should think twice – and thrice – before jumping to that facile conclusion: he must mull the significance of the national outrage that has greeted the killing of Govinda Gautam by India’s security forces – and the harrowing public memory of his blockade.

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