China’s Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie’s most memorable event during his recent visit to Delhi was undoubtedly his cash gift of Rs. 50,000 each to the two Indian Air Force pilots who flew him from Mumbai to Delhi. The incident has raised eyebrows and created speculation.
Making cash gifts by visiting dignitaries is a brazen violation of diplomatic protocol. The meticulous Chinese would be well aware of it. That the money was not paid spontaneously becomes clear from the carefully sealed envelopes in which it was passed. Asked to comment Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson in Beijing said: “I am not aware of the specifics.” But another retired Chinese government official bluntly said: “Such a thing cannot happen without detailed planning.”
He was right.
The question remains. Why did the General make the payment?
China watchers and experts have been quoted by the media to state that payment of bribes frequently undertaken by the Chinese government is invariably left to officials and not made directly by high visiting dignitaries. Indian diplomats posted in Beijing have been quoted by the media to state that cash payments are unprecedented.
I am surprised at all the speculation and puzzlement the cash gifts have aroused. To my mind the General’s motive was crystal clear. He did not make the payment to create any kind of diplomatic rumpus or controversy. He was just carrying out a simple test.
In the ensuing media blitz exposing widespread corruption in India the military has also been singed by the controversy. For future reference the General wanted to know to what extent. He made the preplanned payments to find out if the pilots would quietly pocket the cash or report it to their superiors.
He must have been disappointed. Both pilots promptly reported the matter to higher authority.
I venture to suggest that with the passage of time Chinese leaders are going to be increasingly disappointed. Despite the government’s tainted image the bulk of Indian officialdom remains clean.
After the next general election Beijing may well have to deal with a very different India.