Out of the ordinary

Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s ‘unexpected’ visit meant to further Chinese agenda

Out of the ordinary

Dead end: Wang Yi made it clear in meetings with the External Affairs Minister and National Security Adviser that the border issue was on the back-burner. PTI

JAYADEVA RANADE

President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy

There are many aspects of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to India on March 24-25, which point to it not being any ordinary visit. It was duplicitous and the itinerary itself revealed Beijing’s scant regard for Indian sensitivities. The inclusion of Pakistan in the itinerary and his attending the OIC meeting in Islamabad, where he expressed support for an independent Kashmir, was a thinly-veiled threat to India. Wang Yi said, ‘On Kashmir, we have heard again today the calls of many of our Islamic friends. And China shares the same hope.’ Umar Farooq and the Hurriyat chief were also invited to the OIC to which China was invited for the very first time. 

It is important for India to hold its position. Any concessions will give China an irreversible advantage.

The central item on Wang Yi’s agenda for India was to persuade PM Modi to attend the BRICS Summit scheduled for some months later. Chinese President Xi Jinping is under considerable pressure domestically as he implements his ‘zero-Covid’ policy and because of the war in Ukraine and growing threat of US sanctions against China. The latter will be disastrous for China’s economy, which is already under severe stress and dependent on exports — China’s exports to the US alone are over $500 billion each year. Criticised for the deteriorating Sino-US ties, as Xi prepares to secure a third term at the 20th Party Congress late this year, he is looking for a ‘success’. India has thus far been adamant that unless China restores the status quo at the borders and withdraws its troops to their pre-April 2020 positions, the relationship will not be normalised. That India will not change its stand was made clear by External Affairs Minister Jaishankar promptly after his meeting with Wang Yi in Delhi. 

The BRICS Summit is a major international event for China and an opportunity for Xi to advertise his stature. For India, this provides an additional opportunity to pressure Beijing to cease the incursion and withdraw its troops from our borders. In any event, India has little to gain from participating in the China-led BRICS. Attempts to project Wang Yi’s visit to India as an attempt to restore bilateral relations and persuade Modi to attend the summit are specious. His attending the summit will, on the contrary, effectively set back India’s efforts to restore the pre-April 2020 status quo and render the border commanders’ conferences and other mechanisms infructuous. It will also confirm China’s propaganda since April 2020 that Chinese forces have been victorious in Ladakh and that by using military force, Xi has been able to bend India’s will.

Wang Yi also brought no tangible proposals with him and in his meetings with the External Affairs Minister and National Security Adviser made clear that the border issue was on the back-burner. In fact, he proposed the resumption of normal ties setting aside the border issue, implying that Beijing sees the current deployment of Chinese troops as the new status quo. The continued deployment of large numbers of Chinese troops along the border and plans for massive development of military-related infrastructure in Tibet and Xinjiang under the 14th Five-Year Plan additionally confirm that far from easing tensions, China is preparing for further actions.

The Chinese Defence Attache to India, during the Chinese incursion in April 2013, just prior to Li Keqiang’s first visit to India as Premier, confided to an Asian diplomat of Chinese descent that the incursion had been approved by the Chinese Politburo. A question raised during the Politburo’s discussions was whether India would call off Li Keqiang’s visit, and the Politburo assessed that India would not as it was ‘frightened’ of annoying China. 

Wang Yi, incidentally, has a personal vested interest in getting Modi to attend. It would gladden Xi and possibly improve Wang Yi’s prospects of succeeding Yang Jiechi as Politburo member at the Party Congress likely to be held in November this year.  

Curious too, and what should have sounded an alarm, was that China, which initiated the request for a visit by its foreign minister, requested that the visit not be announced. Since such a visit would obviously not have gone unnoticed and failure to announce it would arouse suspicion, the Chinese request was very odd. It was an obvious attempt to test how far India would go to accommodate China even at this fraught juncture in their relations. Wang Yi’s visit was intended to sow suspicion, especially in the West, that India and China are coordinating policy on the crisis in Ukraine. Numerous recent Chinese statements have sought to dissimulate such an impression in a bid to deflect the West’s focus from China’s unwavering support to Russia, particularly in the wake of the Putin-Xi summit on February 4. The visit to India by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, which followed within days, could potentially add to such a perception. 

A second objective was to create division within India by dissimulating that the two countries are working out a ‘quiet’ deal. Chinese propaganda efforts attempted to strengthen this perception, which explains the clarification in Indian newspapers that India had rejected the Chinese proposal that Chinese troops would withdraw just behind the LAC in return for India agreeing to withdraw behind PP-16. Other articles hinted at a thaw and suggested that bilateral trade arrangements were under discussion. 

It is important for India to hold its position and not yield ground. Any concessions will give China an irreversible advantage.

Tribune Shorts


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