Around 200 PRC ‘fishing boats’ have entered Philippines waters and despite love calls from Duterte to his counterpart in Beijing, refuse to leave.
Despite every meeting of the Special Representatives across thedecades ending without result in terms of settlement of the border issue, this ritual continues. Every telephone conversation between functionaries in Delhi and Beijing is regarded by sections of the media as a “breakthrough”. A recent consequence of the multiple interactions that have taken place has been the withdrawal by India from vital positions that came under the control of the Army in the Pangong Tso sector. This was on the understanding that the PLA would reciprocate in the other sectors that were discussed during talks between the two sides, both military and civilian. Rather than opening talks on “dis-engagement” in a sector where conditions on the field conferred an advantage to India, such talks should preferably have focussed on sectors where the other side had seized an advantage. The withdrawal from other sectors by the PLA has yet to take place, which ought not to be much of a surprise, given the change in tone and tactics by that military in the era of General Secretary Xi Jinping. Successive governments in India have expended a considerable amount of time in seeking better relations with both Pakistan and China. Given the unimpressive yield from such efforts, perhaps a more productive use of time would have been to work harder in other ways. This would be geared towards ensuring that in the event of a single or two-front kinetic conflict, India would not face its attackers alone as in past wars but would reap the benefit of a previously agreed logistics chain bringing the material needed to ensure that on both fronts, the armed forces of India prevail. Also needed is to work towards a situation where any such attacker would face the consequences of escalation dominance from newfound allies of the world’s most populous democracy. Planning with present and prospective partners needs to be meticulous for these requisites to be met, and those who have supported Narendra Modi from the time he was CM of Gujarat remain confident that such a process must be taking place under his (now national) watch. The next conflict will show this. Given the overall situation where China under Xi is concerned, those wagering on “peace in our time” are likely to be proved wrong, that too before the next Lok Sabha polls in 2024. The impression of a melange of confusing and sometimes conflicting policy moves on the crafting of a “worst case” security matrix needs to be replaced with public awareness that the Modi government has been planning in a manner designed for India to prevail in a future contest. More than anything else, such an outcome would give citizens the energy and confidence needed to ensure rapid progress across a variety of fronts. Among the reasons why Narendra Modi is much more popular than Rahul Gandhi is that in interactions with the public, the former implants hope within the people, the latter despair. Success would promote hope, failure despair.
While he was in the opposition, the current President of Seychelles was opposed to a naval base that would be built by India. He needs to reflect on the swarm of Chinese “fishing boats” plying the waters of the Philippines, and on the intrusions and occupation by the PLA of waters that in UN-sanctioned law belong to the other members of ASEAN. The naval base proposed by India would protect the Seychelles and nearby island countries from a Philippine-style invasion of their space. Such a violation would of course be in violation of UN conventions that Wang Yi once again recently swore to abide by. Keeping the Indo-Pacific free and open would benefit each of the littoral countries of those waters, and this explains the warm response from them to PM Modi and EAM Jaishankar’s vigorous diplomacy throughout the Indo-Pacific Rim.