What to make of Narendra Modi’s China stance?

March 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

Couple of weeks ago Narendra Modi warned China against its “expansionist” attitude. The overall rhetoric was befitting of prime ministerial candidate of a party which believes in sovereignty as an important facet of its electoral push. In fact, with everyone preoccupied with pointing out faults in the UPA government and economy, there hasn’t been much discussion on foreign policy, China and well, Pakistan. Part of the reason why Modi was talking about China was his visit to Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh.

Most in India are lauding and most in China are ignoring Modi’s comments. BJP in its last instance as the national government was quite pragmatic towards China and so is Modi. They are looking China’s status as second largest economy (incidentally China is the largest trade partner for India now), its growing influence in African and Asian countries, and its importance as source of capital outside the Western economy. But in the end, appealing to the sovereignty issue has always been part to BJP’s core ideology and its main electorate.

Some, quite rightly, are questioning how firm or serious Modi’s stance really is. Columnist Rajinder Puri, rather firmly, questions the Modi’s honesty in his opinions, and his ability to deal with China considering his past dealings with them as chief minister (No other chief minister follows such a pro-China policy). Modi, as a matter of fact, has had more direct access with China and the Communist politburo, and in turn Chinese companies have made substantial investments in Gujarat. These are characteristics of a more pragmatic approach, focusing on short and medium term opportunities rather than long-term border disputes.

The recent rhetoric gives birth to a rather long-winded theory that Modi is looking to build a triumvirate to counter China. Japan and South Korea are likely to sympathise with India’s territorial concerns due to their own issues with China. The idea is that Modi can tie-up with Japan (he’s been already favourably compared with Shinzo Abe), South Korea and even with Singapore from an economic viewpoint. The problem is working out such an alliance, disjointed by geography, respective domestic issues and ultimately no less dependent on China with its influence in the region.

So which one is it really? The answer possibly lies in an article written by BJP leader Jaswant Singh. An excerpt from the article:

Even with a significant deepening of ties [between India-Japan and India-South Korea], however, bilateral relationships alone will be inadequate to counterbalance China. Achieving an internal Asian balance of power will require India, Japan, and South Korea to build a tripartite security arrangement, which can be achieved only if Japanese and South Korean leaders overcome their historical animosities.

The reasons this opinion is critical are simple:

  1. Jaswant Singh was External Affairs minister in the BJP-led Atal Bihari Vajpayee government
  2. He could quite possibly get that post again, should Modi become next Prime Minister. Even if he doesn’t, Singh is a key leader whose opinions are highly respected in the BJP
  3. Coincidentally or otherwise, the article was published the same day as Modi made his comments about China

So now the task for Modi, should he form the next government, will be to balance their short-term needs and long-term ambitions regarding China.

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