UTTAM SEN | 25 MAY, 2015


The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s China visit must be intriguing experts and amateurs alike. There was a huge line-up list to be addressed. But the impression, that it was being negotiated withal through the symbolic representation of culture, realpolitik, trade and finance, was thought-provoking. Modi’s reception in Xi Jinping’s hometown of Xian corresponded with Xi’s scheduling of Ahmedabad as his first stop in September last year. Modi’s visit to the Giant Golden Goose Pagoda, which had held Buddhist sutras brought to China from India by the 7th century traveller, Xuan Zang, were of a piece with the scriptural aphorisms which bond diversity. To be sure, there is a larger perspective that remains persuasive, that is, Asia’s civilisational congruence despite the seeming diplomatic gymnastics required to stay the course. This is appropriate for reasons which unfold in due course.

Modi’s China trip was in a way incomplete without his visits to Mongolia and South Korea. In the latter he concluded deals which included aid (to Mongolia) and “strategic” networking (with both Mongolia and South Korea). With South Korea the agenda was predictably much wider. Some Korean brands are household names in India and we would like further collaboration in an area like ship-building. South Korea is a source of nuclear energy technology and fuel supply to India after a nuclear deal signed in 2011. Korean research and development, and the relative cheapness of its products, have given it a ready market in India as well as West Asia. Korean innovation has helped the Indian workforce absorb the skills required to assemble its products, though India would sorely wish to have them manufactured here as well. Korean technical assistance, particularly in electronics, can be an asset in infrastructure development. On the strategic front the Seoul connection can give India maritime presence, specifically berthing facilities, in the East China Sea.

It bears recalling that South Korea does flourishing business with China and, if anything, nurses memories (along with China) of Japanese occupation. Japan is, of course, one of India’s other strategic partners.It would be a good thing to remember that China is caught in a South Asian bind with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, in which Pakistan figures as an all-weather friend, despite the export of terror to India. India’s outflanking movement in the Asia-Pacific is about what China could expect. There are two mitigating circumstances. China’s investments can ease the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s border regions, fostered and financed by various vested interests and the sale of opium. Selective targeting of terror groups, for example, just the Haqqanis and not the others operating with impunity, has confounded matters. Secondly, discerning observers have noted a certain shift in China’s attitude. India would be invited, along with Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Business Council, arguably as part of the package to sort out things.

These will take time. Analyses are growing in complexity to tell that mischief and cons-piracy do not have to come from afar and can brew within. In the interim, life must go on, in the spirit reiterated at Bandung 2015, of an awareness of the past. The present, with its inter-connected pressure points, should be viewed against that backdrop. Under these conditions, Modi’s reiteration of “one world” and the centrality of India in BRICS were well-taken. India and China would pursue their security options, both traditional and non-traditional, despite appearances.

This article has appeared in the Mainstream Weekly.

Click here to read more