China’s foreign minister Wang Yi looks for a second chance for Beijing but India is cautious

In conclusion, it appears that China wants this meeting more than India. In fact, India has no expectations, to begin with

File image of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Amid the unprecedented fallout of the crisis between Russia and the US-led Nato, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has arrived in India and will be meeting Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. This is the first high-level meeting between the two nations since the bloody clash between the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA in Galwan, during the summer of 2020.

Sources say that this very unpublicised meeting was requested by the Chinese and could set the stage for informal talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has not left the country in over two years and is in desperate need of refurbishing international clout after the widely boycotted Beijing Winter Olympics and ahead of the BRICS and RIC summits to be hosted by China this year, and Jinping cannot afford to have PM Modi give the two meetings a miss. China is also exploring an opportunity to break up the United States and India and lay a dent in the global anti-China sentiment by winning a photo-op with New Delhi.

But what’s the prize? What’s in it for India in this possibility of a thaw between them? And what are the chances that a thaw might even materialise? Such a discussion would have been out of the question even a month ago, but the geopolitical realities of the world have drastically shifted since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started on February 24. Within a month, India’s ties with the West have fallen under tremendous duress in the face of India’s refusal to take sides and drop Russia at the snap of President Joe Biden’s fingers.

Meanwhile, heightened sanctions on Moscow have pushed it closer to Beijing and together, the two are seeking to end the dollar’s hegemony and offer an alternative to the world. Russia gets China to fall back on, and China gets a chance to advance its financial systems and the Yuan as a leading challenge to the USA’s ascendant stature in the realm of global finance. This is part of a longstanding plan and this very moment is China’s cue. Even if most of this is in its nascent stages, the West has surely set the ball rolling for its own isolation, especially as President Biden busies himself coercing nations to side with the US and mollycoddling China at the same time. This leaves the USA’s friend India, which seeks to maintain strategic autonomy at all costs, in a bit of crunch.

If Joe Biden leans towards reinstating ties with China to their pre-trade war state and derailing the Quad’s Indo-Pacific agenda, essentially leaving America’s allies in the lurch— all this after leaving Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban backed by the Pakistan-China nexus, then the reliability and credibility of the United States are compromised beyond redemption. Not only is the US strengthening the Russia-China nexus, but it is also bleeding out its own reputation and prompting allies like India to tread cautiously and find a middle ground.

This is where the unwelcome welcoming of Wang Yi makes its entry, while sources see the door ajar for possible rapprochement. How much of this is true is to be seen in the coming days, but what’s clear as day is the cold shoulder that the Chinese Foreign Minister has received through the silence of the Indian government on his visit.

There have been no speeches or hopes expressed looking forward to the visit. India’s position is clear so far— if the Chinese want anything bearing semblance to rapprochement, they need to begin with restoring the status quo at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to its state preceding March 2020. And even then, it is hard to imagine a thaw between PM Modi and Xi Jinping because of the public’s view of the Chinese leader in India post the Galwan clash and because China has not dumped its ways which are often meant to rub India the wrong way.

Just hours ago at the meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Countries, Wang Yi backed Pakistan’s position on Kashmir and China’s commitment to Islamabad’s cause. Now, it is not clear how Wang Yi plans to play that in his visit to India— whether this would be balanced out with sincerely seeking a settlement at the LAC, or would it just be one of those moments when China takes the niceties of the Indian side for granted. What’s noteworthy is that India, while being silent about his visit, shot back suggesting that China should “note that India refrains from the public judgement of their internal issues.” It’s obvious once India starts poking China on Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan and more, Beijing will have a historic meltdown. Perhaps most of that is being saved for later, but after the Galwan episode, China did see India play the Tibet card with its Special Frontier Force which comprises exiled Tibetans. From the Uighur Muslim Genocide (which the OIC forgets conveniently) to the death of democracy in Hong Kong— the skeletons in China’s closet will come tumbling down if India breaks character.

And this is China’s problem— it wants India to join Russia and itself to create a massive Asian bloc that can challenge the West, while part of this dream is also shared by Russia, but what China also wants from India is to play a junior partner and not just any junior partner, but one that allows the violation of its sovereignty at the LAC and in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir where the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor passes through. China wants to tie the string of pearls around India’s neck across the Indian Ocean and somehow also expects that India would join this unrealistic bloc. The two economies are competitive with respect to each other, and the two militaries are at loggerheads at the border and in the seas. China’s expansionism makes it hard to reach an agreement, without giving undue concessions, and India has been in no mood for it if the last two years and the Doklam standoff before that are anything to go by.

In conclusion, it appears that China wants this meeting more than India. In fact, India has no expectations, to begin with. India sees through the facade of what is being portrayed as an opportunity for a ‘reset’ in India-China ties. The reality is that the “thaw”, if any, will be acutely limited and insincere, for both nations are expected to continue to strengthen alliances with an eye on each other. And yes, India’s hardened stance on China is likely to endure despite Biden’s rough play with India. There are some forces that even the US President alone cannot disrupt.

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