From the Viewsroom

A pushover power

Venky Vembu | Updated on December 24, 2018 Published on July 12, 2018

India’s diplomacy in recent times comes across as vastly enfeebled

Finding itself caught between a rock and a hard place, Indian diplomacy has in recent times capitulated in unedifying fashion on more than one occasion. In the most recent instance, under pressure from the Donald Trump administration to terminate its oil trade with Iran, India has surrendered its diplomatic negotiation space in its entirety. Oil imports from Iran in June were down 16 per cent over imports in May, evidently in preparation for getting on the right side of US sanctions on the West Asian country, which take effect in November. Iranian diplomats have responded with justifiable indignation to the alacrity with which India has walked away from its commercial and quasi-strategic relationship with Iran. One diplomat even suggested that Iran would rescind the ‘special privileges’ it had thus far extended India, and although Iranian officials have since rolled back some of the rhetoric of brinkmanship, the issue still manifestly rankles.

Similarly, India recently drew Taiwanese ire for having been excessively accommodating of mainland Chinese sensibilities and getting Air India to tag the island as a province of China. The issue goes to the core of Taiwan’s identity as an independent country, and reverses the spirit of diplomatic ambiguity that characterised India’s relations with it thus far. The fact that it happened evidently under Chinese pressure, and without securing any reciprocal concessions from China, amplifies the week-kneed nature of India’s response.

Negotiating the corridors of Big Power rivalry is never an easy task. Yet, for a government that made much of its standing up to Chinese military brinkmanship in Doklam barely a year ago, this reflects a particularly enfeebled diplomatic engagement. That these reversals have been made by the first government in decades to enjoy a comfortable parliamentary majority (and have occurred despite a leader who has projected a muscular approach to diplomacy) accentuates the failings all the more. India today stands exposed as a pushover power that will readily sell its diplomatic negotiation space short when push comes to shove.

Associate Editor

Published on July 12, 2018
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