The glaring failure of India to become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) has an interesting sub-text: It pretty much highlights Prime Minister Narendra Modi's inability to make friends with world leaders like Chinese President Xi Jinping and sweet-talk them into bending rules for India.
Last month, even as Indian diplomats were trying their best to build a strong case at NSG’s Seoul plenary despite China viciously opposing India’s entry, Modi personally met Xi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at Tashkent. Clearly, Modi’s objective was to convince Xi to treat India’s application on merit instead of blindly scuttling it.
But Xi somehow remained unconvinced. And Modi’s much-hyped intervention ultimately proved futile. Not only was Modi snubbed but the office of the Prime Minister of India belittled by the short shrift Xi gave to Modi’s last-minute plea not to block India’s path.
Before engaging Xi, Modi flew to Switzerland, Mexico and the US to get backing for India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) bid. But it was all in vain. After the fiasco in Seoul, the opposition Congress Party declared that Modi had egg on his face because he had shown “desperation” in his diplomacy. A small section in India as well as abroad, however, finds no fault with Modi’s personalized push.
According to Alyssa Ayres, US deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asia from 2010 to 2013, “the fact that Modi made clear his search for support at the highest levels around the world shows leadership, not desperation.” India has interests in joining a number of other multilateral organizations in which it presently does not hold membership, from the UN Security Council to the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum to others, and will need to keep up active diplomatic strategies across multiple levels to advance its candidacies. That each of these will not come to fruition exactly when India wants is no reason for New Delhi to either stop trying or downplay its diplomatic efforts.”
But Ayres’s advocacy of Modi’s method is understandable. She speaks on behalf of Washington, which backed India to the hilt in NSG parleys simply because Modi is a key player in the US’ “Contain China” strategy. The United States heavily banks on India and Japan to checkmate China; New Delhi’s and Tokyo’s cooperation in the East and South China Seas is crucial for the American navy.
Naturally, China is suspicious of the US-India-Japan axis. So it not only blocked India’s entry into the NSG but also ensured that Modi suffered loss of face domestically and in South Asia.
Nirupama Rao, an ex-Foreign Secretary and ambassador to China wrote that India must ask itself whether the time was ripe for a concerted campaign to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
“We should have been aware of the barometric depth of Chinese opposition and non-responsiveness to our case. We chose valor instead of discretion. The India-China relationship has been diminished by these developments and their impact on the construction of a stronger edifice of bilateral interaction.”
Although a group of seven countries — China, Brazil, Switzerland, Turkey, Austria, Ireland and New Zealand blocked India’s NSG path, Modi pinned the blame on China alone in a TV interview. Beijing reacted negatively to the charge, while the Chinese media suggested that Modi was trying to cover up his own failure by accusing China!
After Modi took over as the prime minister, there has been a dramatic shift in the conduct of foreign policy. There is a now a tendency to brazen it out. The new attitude is evident from a recent statement of the Ministry of External Affairs’ spokesman who said: “Today Indian diplomacy does not fear failure.”
Clearly, Modi too is not afraid of failure. I think that he is being egged on by a section of the Foreign Office to embark on reckless diplomatic adventures. The PM’s ego is regularly massaged by the pronouncements of Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, no less. In a speech last year, he said that “personal chemistry has emerged as an important tool in our diplomatic kit,” while another address noted that “the constructive model of relationship between India and China is reflected in the demeanor of Xi and Modi.”
It’s now abundantly clear that Modi and Xi are not buddies but adversaries locked in a strategic combat and that Modi should have avoided asking Xi for a favor in Tashkent. Unfortunately for Modi, the road ahead is going to be bumpy because after Barack Obama’s departure, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump may not even give him the time of day.