Exactly six years ago, on September 17, 2014, Ahmedabad and New Delhi were in turmoil with the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife, folk singer Peng Liyuan. TV channels broadcast a long video loop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi sitting on a swing with Xi on the banks of the Sabarmati River, as excited anchors heralded an era of Sino-Indian peace, forged between the two arrived strongmen. to power in less than two. years from each other.
Six years later, the Modi-Xi relationship is in tatters, as are the ties between New Delhi and Beijing. With Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers crossing the Line of Effective Control (LAC) in May and occupying the territory the Indian military traditionally controlled and patrolled, many Indians now view Xi and China as not just adversaries, but relentless enemies.
For the ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party, Modis’ failure to befriend Xi, or achieve the holy grail of a border settlement, is a huge political embarrassment. There has been no movement on a border settlement since 2005, when China agreed to sign a set of political parameters that would govern the final solution. Now the opposition is portraying Modi as a confident idiot who has been duped by the cunning Chinese leader.
The optimism around Xis’ visit was, in fact, quite obviously misplaced. Even as Modi was pouring tea for Xi in Ahmedabad, Beijing was testing the Indian prime minister by sending 1,000 troops through the LAC to Chumar in southern Ladakh.
According to India’s Foreign Ministry, Modi sternly told Xi that such incidents would inevitably affect the wider relationship. With the withdrawal of the PLA from Chumar, the Indian Prime Minister continued to believe that his parity with Xi could lead to the resolution of the Sino-Indian disharmony.
In May 2015, during his three-day visit to China, Modi pressed Xi again on the border issue when they met in Xian. Officials familiar with the conversation say Xi didn’t even respond. Instead, in Beijing the next day, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivered a lecture to Modi featuring Beijing’s standard formulation that the border issue was a complex issue left out of history and its resolution. required patience.
In 2015 and 2016, Modi was concerned about his growing adoption of the United States. In January 2015, President Barack Obama and Modi signed a joint strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region. Pushing the US-India partnership beyond the 2014 Vision Statement and the 2015 Friendship Declaration, Modi and Obama decided that the US and India should see each other as priority partners. in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region.
Meanwhile, Defense Ministers Manohar Parrikar and his US counterpart Ashton Carter launched a dialogue on maritime security between the United States and India and signed the agreement on defense technology and the trade (DTTI) and a long overdue logistics exchange (LEMOA) and communications compatibility memorandum of understanding. And security agreement (COMCASA). Washington has also designated India as a major defense partner, opening the doors to the sale of high-tech military equipment to India.
Washington has also strongly supported New Delhis’s entry into the four global non-proliferation agreements: the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Australian Group, the Wassenaar Arrangement, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
An enraged Beijing signaled its displeasure. China blocked India’s candidacy for membership in the NSG and put a technical brake on the designation of Pakistani leader Jaish-e-Mohammed Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the United Nations. The distance has accelerated with the refusal of New Delhis in 2017 to participate in the flagship project of construction of the Belt and Road (BRI) infrastructure in China.
The underground brawl between Modi and Xi culminated in Doklam in 2017, when Indian troops intervened in disputed territory between China and Bhutan to block road construction in China for 73 tense days. China’s unusually aggressive messages during the crisis suggest that Xi himself took control of events at some point in the confrontation. A mutual withdrawal was negotiated, but China ultimately managed to find its way back into the disputed Doklam bowl later, which India did not dispute.
It was a clear message from China’s top leader, said a senior official, now retired, who served in the prime minister’s office (PMO). Xi told Modi that you can’t stop China from taking what we think is ours.
Modi received the message and concluded a truce in Wuhan in April 2018. Following this, New Delhi implemented measures to appease Xi, including control of the Tibetan diaspora. Modi spoke in June 2018 at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore, echoing Beijing in calling for a return to the era of great power rivalries in the Indo-Pacific, effectively claiming that the United States does not had no place in the region.
A former foreign minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, believes that this proof of Modis ‘weakness only whetted Xis’ appetite. The Chinese leader concluded that he was succeeding in establishing psychological domination over the Indian prime minister. And Xi wanted to consolidate that preeminence.
The Chinese leader saw a perfect opportunity in the circumstances that prevailed in April: a raging COVID-19 pandemic, New Delhis weakened its position in the subcontinent, India’s unprecedented economic slowdown and concern of the Americas for the murderous electoral battle of 2020.
As well as asserting his supremacy over Modi, Xi also reportedly wanted to show Washington that his putative regional partner couldn’t even protect his territory from China. Finally, Xi also wanted to show countries in the Indias region the subordinate place, the former PMO official said.
The fact that Modi is confused and intimidated became evident after the murder of 20 Indian soldiers in June, when he denied any Chinese intrusion into Indian territory. His statement implied that none of the territories occupied by the PLA belonged to India and that Indian soldiers had been killed on Chinese territory.
The Chinese media quickly picked up on this theme. Modis’ remarks will be very helpful in easing tensions because, as Indian Prime Minister, he has removed the moral base of extremists to further blame China. wrote Global Times, citing Lin Minwang of Fudan University.
There was a similar political inconsistency in Defense Minister Rajnath Singhs’ statement to parliament on Tuesday, when he said peace and quiet would prevail if the Chinese disengaged. This implied that India’s claim to Aksai Chin was no longer crucial.
Even more surprising was Rajnath’s omission of Depsang from the list of places where the PLA had entered India’s claimed territory. If Modi had more control, I would have thought that meant a comprehensive deal that involved making concessions to Depsang in exchange for Chinese concessions elsewhere. But, given Modis’ lack of visible leadership in a national crisis, Xi appears to have won, said a former foreign minister who did not want to be named.
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