India’s shrewd diplomacy at this crucial phase of world affairs is the only thing preserving the focus on containing China— that is the focus on securing the future. When China sought to send its foreign minister to India, it was working on an opportunity to drive a wedge between the United States and India. It thought that it could get India to leave Japan and Australia stranded and hence, weak in the face of Chinese belligerence. China also thought, or had a wild dream, that India would sign-in on the Russia-China-India bloc under its veiled leadership. Its propagandists are talking about offering India the chance to “forgive and forget”.
What China got, however, is the same firm stand of India that has been unnerving the Chinese Communists for the last two years. India placed solid conditions before the Chinese before any breakthroughs materialise. These conditions are now for Wang Yi, Xi Jinping’s international fall guy, to go and work on with his comrades in Beijing if China at all desires a thaw with India.
Wang Yi was perhaps anticipating that India would stand its ground firmly and that India was aware of the desperation of the isolated Xi Jinping who has not left China and made any state visit for the last two years since the beginning of the pandemic. That may explain Wang Yi’s behaviour before coming to India. He rakes up Kashmir at the OIC and made a surprise visit to meet the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. He wanted to perhaps hint to India, that he arrives on a strong footing and that he has the upper hand in the meetings to follow. That was surely not the case. But that was Wang Yi’s way of dealing with this sticky situation where the wolf warrior was tasked with ensuring that the Indians lower their guard and that Prime Minister Modi agrees for a photo with him, and eventually agrees to attend the BRICS and RIC summits in China and for a state visit by Xi Jinping to India, in what would be a lucky break for the Chinese President.
Wang Yi’s realistic goal was the photo-op, and for securing a thaw at least in terms of optics, so that the ice is broken before facilitating PM Modi’s visit to the BRICS Summit hosted by China, and more immediately, to prop India against the West and win the war of perception by claiming to have India on its side. India has been doing some serious damage to Western narratives on its own, so why not piggyback on it to seek legitimacy for your own fight with the West? Perhaps this is why a Chinese embassy tweeted an Indian journalist’s speech against Western hypocrisy to earn some clout. Even China believes that the propaganda portals of the Chinese Communist Party must sit this one out owing to their notoriety.
Treating New Delhi’s stand on the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity to find common ground with India, China’s larger and more ambitious aims from this visit were to get India to stand down at the border, accept the ‘new’ status quo and focus on the big picture— the Chinese version of the big picture, the “Asia Moment”.
However, none of Wang Yi’s endeavours bore fruit in the face of the assertions of the astute and long-headed Indian MEA Dr. Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval and the conditions laid down by them. Not only did they firmly reiterate their longstanding condition that China disengages at the border and restore things back to their pre-April 2020 status quo to open the door for a possible thaw, but they also did not play into the Chinese Foreign Minister’s hands when it came to clubbing India’s decision to refuse to condemn Russia with that of China’s. India made it a point to imply that its reasons for its stand on Russia are different from that of China’s and the only place they converge was in calling for “an immediate ceasefire, as well as a return to diplomacy and dialogue.”
It’s pertinent to observe that India values its ties with Russia not just for the arms dependence or Russia’s UNSC support over the decades, but because India seeks to ensure that the Russia-China nexus does not overwhelm Moscow to the point that it is controlled by Beijing, which would, in turn, result in a more hostile neighbourhood for India and a more compromised Indo-Pacific region. So while India secures its ties with Russia to prevent these circumstances, China’s reasons to stand by Russia are obviously the complete opposite. This is also a fundamental difference that many ‘experts’ in the West are yet to stumble upon.
Wang Yi’s visit should indeed serve as a rude awakening for China in case it was consumed by the thought that India would relent amid disagreements with the US, and throw its doors wide open to Beijing, disregarding the mess started by the Chinese at the border and their unabashed support to Pakistan.
And finally, it all boiled down to one simple test for China which India made sure it takes— that is, if it wants a normal relationship it should solve the immediate border issue. That, so far, is a test that China has failed. And Wang Yi left New Delhi without a photo-op from PM Modi or any assurances that he would visit China this year. In a nutshell, as it had expected, India got nothing from this meeting but it made sure that China does get one thing— a rude awakening.