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"Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable -- the art of the next best."
---- Otto von Bismarck, former German Chancellor
This quote was at the end of 19th century. Now, in the 21st century, new-found smart diplomacy is disrupting the way resolutions are sought for long-standing conflicts. For the first time, the world is witnessing a sudden surge of warming of bilateral and one-to-one interactions among nations. Multilateralism is on the back-burner, at least for now. The United Nations has been relegated to a passive bystander. Regional groupings are in vouge. The Moon-Kim summit in the demilitarised border of South and North Korea, the Marcon-Trump bromance in the White House and the Modi-Xi riverside dialogue in Wuhan are cases in point.
History of unconventional diplomacy:
In 1971, the so-called "ping-pong-diplomacy" triggered by table tennis players from the US was seized by Chairman Mao and responded to by Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State -- and gave both countries the confidence to thaw their icy relations. The initial moves were shrouded in secrecy and intrigue.
The subsequent "shuttle-diplomacy" for the Palestine-Israel peace deal by Kissinger was effective to a certain extent. The final peace deal was clinched, however, through intimate bilateral interaction facilitated by the passive but positive role by Norway.
The informal dialogue with the "Chai-Diplomacy" between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping on the banks of the Yangtze river in Wuhan in April of 2018 was indeed a unique event in more senses than one.
Firstly, it was initiated by China after a near military stand-off between the second and third largest economies of the world. Second, the two leaders spent more quality time together than scheduled -- for two days, away from their capitals, without aides who often display classical hawkish diplomacy -- to give a strong, positive message to the world. That meeting also facilitated solutions for global challenges, including climate change, sustainable development, food security, combating diseases, natural disasters and cyber security.
The Korean Winter Olympics:
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's diplomatic overture has reversed the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula from brinkmanship towards diplomacy. From threatening nuclear missiles to the hopes of peace missions was a warm and welcoming transition. Starting with joint winter Olympic Games participation by the two Koreas, both Kim and Moon have taken bilateral diplomatic gamble. t statement.
First, neighbours can resolve their conflicts bilaterally. Second, that global threats like terrorism, climate change and nuclearisation have to be addressed through open dialogue and disruptive diplomacy. Third, leader-to-leader informal contacts have the power to resolve conflicts. Lastly, in a rapidly changing century of degradation of ecosystems, global dialogue also needs bilateral initiatives.
The significance of the Wuhan meeting:
Ties are created by the people...
Prime Minister Modi in his customary style, opted to raise ground level issues through the “STRENGTH “ strategy, which stands for Spirituality, Tradition, Trade and Technology; Relationship; Entertainment; Nature conservation; Games; Tourism and Health and Healing.
The travel between the two countries has increased exponentially, with the number of Indian tourists alone to China expected to reach 50 million, given a year-on-year 4.6 percent increase.
Available reportage points to the fact that while Chinese direct investment remained at around a paltry $2 billion, there are hundreds of “angel investors” willing to put up small amounts of about a million each for start-ups and quiet capital.
The OBOR thorn:
The recent statement from the Ministry of External Affairs indicated that India’s position on the mega ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ remains unchanged. It's a bit complicated since it goes beyond the clear infringement of sovereignty issues — with reference to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor going through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities; balanced ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards; transparent assessment of project costs; and skill and technology transfer to help long term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities.
The trade deficit: India's pharma and IT/ITES:
The trade deficit between India and China stands at around $50 billion. At the recent meeting of one of the oldest bilateral groups – the Joint Working Group on Economic Relations and Trade, Science and Technology — Chinese minister Zhong Shan seems to have been given a spirited account of ways of dealing with this very central issue. The suggestions have been for India to provide among other things, agricultural produce and high quality pharmaceutical products as well as focusing on India’s IT and IT Enabled Services (ITES).
PM's own enunciation of a “new Panchsheel” built around “shared vision, better communications, strong relationship, shared thought process and shared resolve” shows promise. Islamabad is likely to view this immediately in a zero sum perspective, implying that what is good for India is bad for Pakistan. It some areas of Chinese assistance, that is probably true. For Beijing, that is going to lead to making some serious choices.
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