Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Modi’s Vietnam outreach marks India’s new assertive foreign policy
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Modi was clear about the ‘aligned’ policy when his Government decided to sell to Vietnam Brahmos short range cruise missiles (co-developed with Russia), a long-standing demand from Hanoi. The Congress Government had been hesitant, hiding behind reservations by Russia.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invented a new concept in Foreign Policy, ‘Assertive Alignment’.
Take Vietnam for example.
At the end of the meeting with the visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Modi asserted: “Our defence cooperation with Vietnam is among our most important ones. India remains committed to the modernisation of Vietnam’s defence and security forces. This will include expansion of our training programme, which is already very substantial, joint-exercises and cooperation in defence equipment.”
Modi was clear about the ‘aligned’ policy when his Government decided to sell to Vietnam Brahmos short range cruise missiles (co-developed with Russia), a long-standing demand from Hanoi. The Congress Government had been hesitant, hiding behind reservations by Russia. Modi was not shy to tweet: “My Government has promptly and purposefully intensified our engagement in Asia Pacific region, which is critical to India’s future.”
India is also likely to coach Vietnam Air Force pilots in flying Sukhoi SU-30 fighter planes. Quoting a source, The Times of India asserted: “The training would be on the pattern of the ‘underwater combat training’ already underway for Vietnamese sailors at the Navy’s submarine school in Visakhapatnam since October 2013.”
Perhaps touchier for Beijing, the two countries will also work on joint oil exploration in the South China Sea, a region disputed by China.
This comes after Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States where he reiterated that Washington was India’s ‘natural’ ally.
We have come a long way from the Krishna Menon days and his obsession with the American ‘imperialists’.
After their dinner at the White House, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama issued a vision statement and wrote a joint editorial whose theme was ‘chalein saath saath’ (‘forward together we go’).
The joint editorial published on The Washington Post, while invoking Swami Vivekananda and Martin Luther King Jr., emphasised: “India and the United States are bound by common values and mutual interests.”
It speaks of India and the US building ‘a transformative relationship’, again far from the often aggressive stance of Nehru towards the United States.
Two days after Modi had left the US, Phil Reiner, senior director for India in the National Security Council at the White House declared that Modi’s meeting with President Barack Obama had ‘re-energised’ the strategic relationship between the world’s two largest democracies: “I would say that the assessment on our part is that the PMs visit was extraordinarily successful. It has provided a boost in terms of the vision and focus that we have for our bilateral relations,” he stated.
Narendra Modi also met some of the US top business leaders who promised to invest in India. In a survey, the US-India Business Council (USIBC) found that US businesses were ready to commit $42 billion over the next two-three years. IANS reported that what added to the investor confidence was Prime Minister Modi being very conversant with the business ‘nuts and bolts’.
The Prime Minister’s visit to Japan too was a special one. Modi’s first bilateral meet outside the subcontinent was also an ‘aligned’ exercise.
Interestingly, there was a cultural and spiritual dimension to the visit.
Whether it is Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore or Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, many great Indians have been associated with Japan in the past and became admirers of Land of the Rising Sun.
Then, Modi reiterated his alignment with some of India’s neighbours, Nepal and Bhutan. Regarding Modi’s visit to Thimbu, The Times of India reported that Modi has “stepped up a charm offensive with neighbours to try to check China’s influence in the region.”
Before leaving, the PMO had released a statement putting the visit in perspective: “Bound by common interests and shared prosperity, India and Bhutan enjoy a unique and special relationship, which has been forged by ties of geography, history and culture. Therefore, Bhutan as the destination for my first visit abroad as Prime Minister is a natural choice. Relations with Bhutan will be a key foreign policy priority of my Government.”
All these moves demonstrate a more pro-active and ‘aligned’ foreign policy. Even with less ‘aligned’ nations, assertive engagement has been the motto.
When President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan, landed in Ahmedabad on September 17, they had a taste of Modi’s hospitality first hand, a flavour of the friendly culture of Gujarat (as well as its delicacies) on the banks of a clean Sabarmati river.
Both India and China wanted to show the world that the two most populated countries of the planet can live harmoniously together.
Of course, the next day, the Chumar incident took place and Modi’s India had to remind the Chinese President of its position on the LAC. Whether the incident was the outcome of differences within the PLA or not, Delhi remained firm on the ground, while ‘engaging’ China.
It is perhaps time for historians to have a deeper look at India’s non-aligned policy.
Officially, the Non-Aligned movement came into being during the Conference of Heads of State or Government of Non-Aligned Countries, under the Chairmanship of the Yugoslav president, Josip Broz Tito in September 1961 in Belgrade.
It seems that the term ‘non-alignment’ was coined by VK Krishna Menon, the Indian (Communist) Representative to the UN during a speech in New York in 1952. Menon could obviously not have been ‘non-aligned’.
However, it is probably in Bandung in 1955, that Nehru firmly decided to go for the policy of ‘non-alignment’. The conference of Asian and African states, hosted by Indonesian president Sukarno brought together several ‘Third Word’ leaders and the Machiavellian Zhou Enlai. With most participants heavily tilting towards Soviet Union, the conference adopted a ‘declaration on promotion of world peace and cooperation’ and a collective pledge to remain ‘neutral’ in the Cold War.
Nehru was greatly influenced by his ‘friend’ Zhou Enlai, the Chinese Premier who also swore by the Five Principles (Panchsheel), which became the ideological foundation stone of the Movement. The principles such as ‘Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity’ or ‘Mutual non-interference in domestic affairs’ were music to the ears of the Chinese Premier, who thus could keep at bay those who were tempted to come to Tibet’s defence. Four years earlier, the Roof of the World had been invaded by a neo-imperialist China; it was indeed a very clever move on the part of Zhou!
The end of the non-alignment came on November 19, 1962 when a panicky Indian Prime Minister shot two missives to the US President imploring him to help his country.
Modi’s new Indian assertive foreign policy, ‘aligned’ with friends as well as less friendly countries, is refreshing. We are living in an interdependent world, and ‘non-alignment’, apart from the fact that it never served India’s interests, is not suited to the 21st century; ‘alignment’ and ‘engagement’ are.