Chequered Past Has Lessons for India

The deterioration in the relationship between India and China leading to the violent clash at Galwan on the Line of Actual Control on the border in May 2020 aroused a great degree of interest among scholars, triggering a relook at the complicated relationship between the two countries caught up in competition and strategic rivalry. The insights and analysis in recent books on the bilateral relationship go beyond the immediate event and look at issues of enduring relevance. The Long Game: How the Chinese Negotiate with India, authored by leading diplomat and India’s former foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale, is a provocative addition to that recent literature. While the book covers a lot of well-known ground, the better parts introduce a lot that is not widely known. Through painstaking research, Gokhale has dug out obscure information from primary sources in China, Russia and India. As a distinguished diplomat with years of experience in foreign policy and diplomatic negotiations, Gokhale revisits some very critical events in the chequered history of India-China relations and comes out with insightful analysis based on solid empirical evidence.

The author focuses on six major negotiations that India and China conducted after India’s independence in August 1947, ending British colonial rule, and the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in October 1949 after protracted internecine civil war with the Kuomintang (KMT). The major issues that India had to calibrate were recognition of the PRC; the challenges of dealing with China on the issue of Tibet; China’s posturing following India’s nuclear explosion at Pokhran in 1998; the dispute over the merger of the state of Sikkim with India in 1975 and China’s subsequent recognition of India’s sovereignty over the state; the Indo-US nuclear deal signed in 2006, which China accepted grudgingly; and China’s duplicity in the listing of Masood Azhar in a UN sanctions list. The book’s last chapter, “Lessons for India,” is truly the takeaway.

At a time when the ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India, as well as some sections of the intelligentsia, looks at the major decisions of the earlier Congress regime that determined India’s China policy with a pinch of salt, the findings of the book abound with evidence of Nehru’s deferential policy towards China without due regard for securing India’s interests while dealing with Beijing. In recognizing China, Nehru was certainly on the right side of history. A recurring theme of chapters in the book is how China, through deception and double speak, secured its own interests at the cost of India’s. In the first two chapters — “Recognition” and “Tibet: The Price of Friendship” — which are seamlessly connected, the author demonstrates that while China succeeded in securing its interests, India failed not only to get its northern border defined, but also fell victim to the Chinese invasion of Tibet after India became the second country outside the socialist block to recognize the Communist regime in Beijing.

According to Gokhale, the timing of recognition became the focal point for the government of India, ignoring more tangible objectives relating to India’s interests or concerns including the northern frontier and the status of Tibet, which might have formed an important part of the negotiation strategy during talks with Beijing. Gokhale observes that whereas the Chinese saw the process of talks as a matter of substantive negotiation, India considered it simply a matter of protocol; the idea was to win Chinese goodwill as soon as possible. He bemoans the fact that in the process, India unilaterally gave up some crucial negotiating cards. He cites how India severed ties with the KMT government and argues that while cutting off ties was inevitable, it should have been part of the give-and-take during the negotiation. India’s approach to the whole idea of recognition was a mixture of emotionalism and conjecture, the author argues. Turning to Tibet, Gokhale writes that detaching India from the Americans was a Chinese priority while planning the invasion of Tibet. Thus, through a strategy of distraction and deception, China was able to ensure that until the invasion of Tibet began in October 1950, India never directly raised the matter of its own interests or concerns in Tibet with the Chinese side.

In the concluding chapter, “Lessons for India,” he observes that China’s insistence that India totally break with the KMT government before Beijing would even open diplomatic talks, and by asking that India unilaterally announce the withdrawal of its military escorts in Tibet in 1953 before the negotiations on India’s privileges in Tibet, the Chinese were able to remove two important points of leverage that India had in its negotiations with China.

Also in his concluding chapter, Gokhale says that his book “is intended to be a researched account of events, accompanied by analysis that might hold lessons for India in future negotiations with China.” Those lessons deserve to be studied by scholars and Indian policymakers alike.

Web Search Engine

Back to Issue

Artmotion Asia

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button