Hindu gods spike Chinese dragon
By M K Bhadrakumar
India's National Security Advisor M K Narayanan made an astounding claim in a
television interview on Saturday that "divine intervention" might have secured
for the country a "waiver" from the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG). The
"waiver" allows India to have global nuclear commerce without formally signing
either the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nor the Comprehensive Test
Ban Treaty (CTBT) and paves the way for the US Congress to ratify a potentially
lucrative civilian nuclear deal with India.
The NSG "adjusted its guidelines" for India on Saturday. Narayanan was reacting
to the news. He then went on to launch a tirade against China, alleging Beijing
tried to spoil India's party at Vienna. He said India was taken by surprise by
doublespeak since Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao had
assured the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Beijing would play a
constructive role when the issue of the "waiver" for India came up for
consideration in Vienna.
He lamented India's misfortune to have countries like China as neighbors. "We
cannot choose our neighbors. We have China and Pakistan as neighbors and with
both of them we desire to have the best of relations," he said. Narayanan
added, "The Chinese foreign minister will come here and we will, of course,
express disappointment. We will say that we did not expect this from China."
(Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was due to arrive in Delhi on Monday.)
The timing of the broadside is intriguing. It stands to reason that Yang's
visit would have provided a splendid opportunity for Delhi to do some
plain-speaking with the Chinese one-to-one. India's veteran External Affairs
Minister Pranab Mukherjee could have ably done that. Yet Delhi chose to go
ballistic. Curiously, Mukherjee took the first opportunity on Sunday to
somewhat moderate his colleague's savage attack on the Chinese, but without
quite disowning him. When asked about China's stance at the NSG, Mukherjee told
reporters, "I don't want to comment on what role was played by which country at
the NSG. This is their internal matter. Every sovereign country has its right
to express its own sovereign will."
A spate of Indian media reports have since appeared based on government
"leaks", thumb-sketching behind-the-scene efforts by Chinese diplomats to
somehow scuttle a NSG consensus decision on Saturday. Any delay in Vienna would
have been lethal. It would have thwarted the efforts by the US to pilot the NSG
"waiver" and the US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement to the Capitol
Hill on Monday. A tight schedule lies ahead to obtain the approval from the US
Congress before September 28 when its session ends.
It remains unclear where it was that the Indian special envoys sent to Vienna
to canvass for the waiver were rubbed so badly by the Chinese diplomats.
Actually, Beijing had never hidden its unhappiness over the presumptuous
fashion in which the US first erected the NSG to punish India for its nuclear
explosion in 1974 and then shepherded the world community to isolate the
Indians. Now, the US has unilaterally decided otherwise and sought to amend the
rules so as to accommodate Delhi. As recently as last Monday, the People's
Daily lambasted Washington in no uncertain terms for its "multiple standards"
and inconsistencies apropos of the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
But the Chinese commentaries took care to focus criticism on Washington. They
left open the possibility that when the crunch came, China, after having said
its piece, would move on rather than exercise its prerogative to block an NSG
consensus. Indeed, senior American officials have more than once expressed
optimism that rhetoric apart, Beijing wouldn't obstruct an NSG waiver. In fact,
at the crucial NSG session on Saturday in Vienna, China, like many other NSG
member countries, absented.
All said, therefore, the Indian government's decision to whip up a degree of
public frenzy over China has been deliberate and well-conceived. To be sure, a
powerful imagery has been conjured up: Hindu Gods spiking the Chinese dragon.
The thesis is that China worked hard at the NSG to obtain a similar waiver for
it close ally Pakistan. As proof, the government has given to the media a
statement by Yang, "It is also China's hope that the NSG would equally address
the aspirations of all parties for the peaceful use of nuclear power while
adhering to the nuclear non-proliferation mechanism." The corporate media
eagerly lapped up the China-bashing. The large anti-China lobby in the
strategic community in Delhi promptly acquiesced with "expert" opinion.
The government's purpose has been well-served. The public attention has been
almost entirely deflected from the core issue: What is the additional price
that Washington has extracted from Delhi for obtaining this NSG waiver? The
government struck with immaculate timing just as misgivings were beginning to
be voiced in India that Delhi paid a high price to get the NSG waiver.
An explicit Indian commitment not to resort to nuclear weapon-testing ever
again formed the "basis" of the NSG waiver. Indeed, on Friday morning, quite
out of the blue, Mukherjee made a formal statement in Delhi ostensibly
regarding India's commitment to disarmament. The statement contained an
innocuous reference to India's commitment to observe a moratorium on nuclear
testing. At first glance, it seemed Mukherjee was only restating India's
stance. But as it turned out, the resonance was directed towards Vienna and the
NSG waiver was forthcoming on its "basis".
Clearly, the NSG waiver was neither "clean" nor "unconditional" as Delhi
claimed but instead signified yet another surrender of national sovereignty.
The waiver has converted India's voluntary moratorium on testing into a
multilateral commitment. Effectively, India has now agreed that any fuel supply
agreement for its imported reactors will be subject to regular NSG review,
while restrictions remain on India gaining access to uranium enrichment and
reprocessing technologies and India's nuclear facilities come under the
safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] in perpetuity.
In other words, India has been virtually brought within the ambit of the CTBT
and NPT. India has given an open-ended commitment to abide by all NSG
guidelines, including any future changes that the body may make in its
guidelines, while India cannot participate in the NSG decision-making as such.
In overall terms, India's nuclear program will be brought under US monitoring
and control. Unsurprisingly, there is a sense of disquiet that the government
is keeping away from public purview the full details of the negotiations over
the nuclear deal with the US.
Overarching all this is the reality that the US-India nuclear deal forms an
integral part of a broader strategic relationship. Indeed, in the past
three-year period, while the nuclear deal was under negotiation, Indian foreign
policy already moved onto a trajectory harmonizing with the US regional
policies. There has been masterly inactivity with regard to building up
relations with Russia; a distinct cooling is apparent vis-a-vis the
Russia-China-India trilateral dialogue format and the Shanghai Cooperation
Organization; ties with Israel have assumed a pivotal nature within India's
Middle East policies; relations with Iran have been curtailed; close
coordination with the US is apparent in regard of regional security in South
Asia and India Ocean.
Delhi keeps up the pretense that the nuclear deal is all about India's energy
security, but it has succumbed to US-Israeli pressure against proceeding with
the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, which had a much shorter
gestation period and would have been a far cheaper source of energy. The heart
of the matter is that the nuclear deal eases the flow of US military technology
to India, paving the way for the "interoperability" of the two armed forces and
making India a potential ally in coalitions that the US might assemble from
time to time as part of its global strategy.
This is where an orchestrated diversionary tactic becomes useful for the Indian
government. By projecting China's perceived unfriendliness, Delhi insinuates
that India has been left with no option but to proceed on the present track of
forging a strategic partnership with the US. The Indian government's submission
to the domestic opinion is that Chinese unfriendliness as manifest yet again at
Vienna last weekend provides the raison d'etre for what Delhi has embarked on
with the US.
Indians are a deeply nationalistic people. When a Chinese threat is invoked -
and, that too, in combination with the Pakistani - as the rationale of US-India
strategic partnership, the Indian public really has no choice but to rally
behind the government's current policies. Dissenters will be simply branded as
"anti-nationals" - or worse still, "Chinese agents". It is a shrewd strategy,
as it deflects criticism regarding the matrix of US-India relationship as such,
which is an unequal partnership where India is bound to end up playing the role
of a junior partner.
The government has reason to be nervous that once the nuclear deal moves on to
the US Congress on Monday, a new dynamics takes over. Americans have a nasty
practice of indulging in open discussions and public revelations of dark
secrets on sensitive issues that may cause discomfort to the Indian leadership.
Any searchlights by inquisitive American legislators or public watchdogs on the
full range of hidden Indian assurances and commitments to the George W Bush
administration could be extremely damaging politically to the government in
Delhi. Hopefully, the jingoism that has been drummed up in Delhi will deflect
What would Beijing make out of this entire spectacle? The Chinese are realists.
They would most likely show tact. Jingoism isn't new to them, either. Yang, in
particular, had a hugely successful tenure as ambassador to the US. He would
recollect that American politicians almost routinely indulged in grandstanding,
while Sino-American relations continued to expand. China is already India's No
1 trading partner, and it seems bilateral trade will exceed the $60 billion
target by 2010.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign
Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka,
Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.