The recent visit of Antony Blinken to India warns of the possibility of a permanent course-change in our nation’s policy towards China.
The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Delhi and his signalling the use of Indian territory to fire the Tibet political salvo at China may have sharpened trilateral equations further.
The Tibet visit of President Xi Jinping’s maiden and Ladakhis celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday preceded the Blinken initiative, where Beijing took exception, but they did not scare away anyone.
It would be anybody’s guess if these political developments that followed a week later had something to do with China agreeing with India on the 12th round of Galway-centric military reallocation talks.
Nor is it clear why the Chinese media simultaneously released pictures of the gruesome, gangster-like attack that killed 20 Indian soldiers in June 2020.
The surgical strike days against Pakistan have to pave the way to a larger, global matrix on China consciously involving the US-led West due to the assessment.
From an Indian perspective, India is shifting gears from the tradition of cautious optimism to candid messaging. The hints of this have been visible for a long time.
Blinken, at the US-sponsored inter-faith conference in a New Delhi hotel, met the Buddhist monk Geshe Dorji Damdul, Director of Tibet House in Delhi and former interpreter of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
In retaliation but targeting Blinken’s Indian hosts, China may step up the Doklam-Galwan calibrated border pressures, especially in Arunachal Pradesh and post-370 Ladakh.
At one stage, China seemed to have realised that the Quad-led Indian initiative had neutralised its ‘String of Pearls’, and it needed to return to the land border, where it was relatively more robust. Doklam and Galwan followed.
However, Beijing may consider US-led international pressure of the Taiwan/ Southeast China Seas kind on the Tibetan front.
The new American-led ‘Tibet signal’ could also lead to reopening the long-forgotten Chinese annexation of Tibet, which happened when post-Independence India was politically friendless and militarily weak.
It may also pay China’s extended claim on Arunachal and Ladakh being a part of Tibet—and hence its territory.
India needs to prepare as revitalising the lost Tibetan cause may culminate in the internationalisation of the India-China element therein, as if it were a part of the more significant Tibet issue.
Such internationalisation would hinder the long-held pan-India consensus that all disputes with China and Pakistan are bilateral.
There wasn’t any place for any third-party involvement or intervention.
The West is whole with India, Post-Cold War. Tibet could drag East and Southeast Asian nations suffering Beijing on the South China and East China Seas, and Taiwan, closer to India.
On the other side, there may be a realignment, from Myanmar and westwards to Nepal and Bhutan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Russia.
There obviously will be consequences for all stakeholders. Either way, India’s will be the biggest.
Sooner than later, Tibet may once again occupy more politico-diplomatic and hence media space in this country and elsewhere, as Taiwan has done all along, and South China and East China Seas in recent times.
In his book, Nehru, Tibet and China, Avtar Singh Bhasin, the tireless collator of original archival material, has attributed India’s China fiasco To Nehru’s vacillation continued misjudgement, flowing from his desire for eternal friendship with China.
Accusing Nehru to escalate the India-China border dispute, opinions differ independent of Tibet’s freedom when India’s armed forces were ill-equipped, leading to the humiliating defeat of 1962.
If nothing else, Nehru proved prophetic on India and China together re-emerging as global powerhouses.
Inherent and inherited scarceness at the time of Independence guided India’s abiding deployment of the geopolitical terminology ‘cautious optimism.
It also arose memories of the politico-military debacle in the 1962 war with China.
In 1971, the Bangladesh War set the tone for an image makeover on the geopolitical and geostrategic fronts.
Yet, guarded optimism continued to govern New Delhi’s policy towards China and Pakistan in particular.
Its versatility became known, in reverse instead, after Zia’s Pakistan launched the ‘thousand cuts’ war of terrorism, despite positive commitments in the post-war Simla Agreement, 1972.
New Delhi should now be preparing for increased Chinese interest in Left militancy and the revival of inter-ethnic strife across the Northeast.
Succeeding the Nehru-Gandhi family’s political prominence, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the BJP undertook the now-infamous Lahore bus trip.
Months later, in 1999, it was not followed by permanent peace but the Kargil War.
As Gujarat chief minister, independent of Narendra Modi’s multiple visits to China, he breathed in fresh air by receiving Xi in a state capital, Ahmedabad as prime minister.
The Wuhan Initiative-2018 and Chennai Declaration-2019 were followed by Modi’s ‘Jhoola diplomacy’ of 2017. Not for long, but leadership chemistry too seemed working.
In late 2015, in Lahore, when Modi made a quick stopover to celebrate Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif’s birthday, the chemistry appeared to work.
But in about a week, the Pathankot airbase came under the terrorist attack. The rest is all history—a history that continues abiding even as it changes.
In context, Blinken’s visit signals the possibility of a permanent course-change in India’s policy towards China, if not Pakistan. With that, the nation may be in enjoyable, and possibly intriguing and challenging times.