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Menon’s Mission to Beijing
|by Dr. Rajinder Puri|
Conventional wisdom dictates that diplomatic negotiations should never be conducted from a position of weakness. National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon has gone to Beijing as the Prime Minister’s personal envoy with an undisclosed agenda. His visit precedes that of Pakistan President Zardari who will visit Beijing to help clinch the Sino-Pak nuclear deal for setting up two new nuclear reactors in Pakistan. The Nuclear Suppliers Group has not approved the deal but China has indicated that it will go ahead regardless. It has been inferred that Menon will attempt to persuade China to cancel the deal to which India has expressed open opposition.
India’s overall position is weak. It is beset by internal problems in Kashmir and elsewhere. Yet the Indian government decided to send Menon on his mission to Beijing as the PM’s personal envoy. If by conventional wisdom the PM should not have staked his personal reputation for this enterprise, could he have been activated by some unconventional wisdom?
Menon is the former Indian ambassador to China and to Israel. Undoubtedly he is an insider in big power diplomacy. Was Dr Manmohan Singh encouraged to take his initiative to supplement some big power pressure on Beijing? If so, does he expect Beijing to accede to the Indian request? Or is he prepared to follow up a rebuff from Beijing by taking the next logical step?
In diplomatic moves one should not take the first step without being prepared to take the final step. If Beijing cooperates with India it will be a feather in the PM’s cap. If Beijing snubs India it will be a huge embarrassment unless India responds likewise.
Clearly India’s opposition to the Sino-Pak nuclear deal is not just about transferring nuclear power to Pakistan. It reflects opposition to the basic thrust of Sino-Pakistan relations resulting in Islamabad’s intransigence in dealing with India and its reluctance to rein in terrorist activity against India. So, if Beijing goes ahead with the nuclear deal with Pakistan, what will the Indian government do?
If it does nothing India will be perceived as a pathetic kowtowing vassal futilely pleading with its master in Beijing to help it deal with Pakistan. On the other hand the logical next step by the government ought to be to suspend trade with Beijing right away. India with some hardship will be able to adjust to the loss of the Chinese market for its exports and to the import of goods from China.
China right now is still vulnerable to any severe reduction of its exports that would disrupt its domestic stability.
This scribe had suggested this policy option earlier. Subsequently China has got busy rectifying the distortions in its economy. It is attempting to create a stronger domestic market, enhance labour wages and reduce reliance on exports to sustain its economy. China’s vulnerability on this front may cease in the next few years. If the Indian government intends to conduct its policy with self respect the time to confront Beijing is now. New Delhi should lay down its conditions for an acceptable relationship with China. If China fails to respond India should stop all Chinese exports to India. If India cannot put its money where its mouth is, why should Menon have gone to Beijing?
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