Modi’s Asia vision

Modi’s Asia vision

Modi’s Asia vision, After hosting South Asian governments’ Heads at his inaugural, visiting Bhutan and Nepal and sending External Affairs Minister...

After hosting South Asian governments’ Heads at his inaugural, visiting Bhutan and Nepal and sending External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Bangladesh and Nepal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi can be said to have inaugurated his ‘world vision,’ or ‘Asia vision’ during his Japan visit.

At a function there, he divided the world into forces of ‘expansionism’ and those who espouse ‘development’ and riled against the former. He has not named any country, but pointed to the fact that there is no dearth of ‘expansionists’. It is a double-edged sword that could cut both ways. It is like asking the loaded question: “Have you stopped beating your wife?”

At one level, the cap fits the West, given its military forays into Iraq, Syria and other Asian trouble spots. But at another, more significant level, Modi leaves little to imagination when he talks of those who “encroach on a country, sometimes enter into the seas, sometimes enter a country to take it over.”

This cap fits China, given the long-standing border dispute with India, its past invasion of Vietnam and claims of sovereignty over South China Sea. His reference to those who “enter into the seas” also seems a clear reference to China which has maritime border differences with other south-east Asian nations as well. And removing any doubt, he commends “those who walk the path of the Buddha.” This seems an oblique reference to China which does not officially allow practice of any religion. It has been suppressing Muslim Uighours in its Xinjiang province and rule over the Buddhists of Tibet with an iron hand.

The Dalai Lama’s six-decade presence in India gets underlined when an Indian PM refers to Buddhism. He said this in Japan where about two-thirds of population practise Buddhism in one form or the other. This bares the much-speculated ‘tilt’ towards Japan, with the United States’ blessings.

The Chinese have reacted cautiously, saying it is not clear who Modi has referred to. They are watching Modi’s Japan visit, extended by a day, something that is seen as a ‘message’ to China. Modi is due to visit Beijing later month. It is open to doubt whether his observations in Japan, howsoever measured, are good diplomacy. As for its timing, the West and its think-tanks, and a section of Indian strategic community are likely to welcome it. During his polls campaign, Modi took a strident position on incursions by the Chinese army and warned China against its “expansionist designs.”

True, India is guarding against having to accept in any form what has been called the “Chinese Monroe Doctrine” – Chinese preponderance in what it regards as its sphere of influence. For the same reason, India would not want to be part of the American ‘pivot’ in Asia. Subordination to China is certainly not India’s or Modi’s goal. The question is whether we can work with China and other Asian actors to design an alternative framework for regional peace.

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