India will adopt a broad, three-pronged approach to deal with China’s increasing engagement in the South Asian and Indian Ocean neighbourhood — track Beijing’s activities carefully; pursue its own projects and commitments; and educate and advise neighbours on the consequences of engaging with China.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj laid out this approach at a meeting with top diplomats posted in the neighbourhood last Tuesday on the sidelines of the Head of the Missions Conference, said four officials familiar with the development. The meeting was attended minister of state MJ Akbar; foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale; India’s ambassador to China Gautam Bambawale; and the country’s envoys to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries — Ajay Bisaria in Pakistan, Vinay Kumar in Afghanistan, Manjeev Singh Puri in Nepal, Harsh Vardhan Shringla in Bangladesh, Taranjit Singh Sandhu in Sri Lanka, Akhilesh Mishra in the Maldives and Jaideep Sarkar in Bhutan.
Indian high commissioner to Mauritius Abhay Thakur and ambassador to Myanmar Vikram Misri were also present.
This was a sub-set of the larger HOM Conference, a closed-door annual MEA affair. This year, multiple themes — from the need to focus on Indians in distress abroad to deploying soft power and celebrating Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary; from India’s global development assistance and cooperation to evolving regional and geopolitical dynamics – came up, said a fifth government official. Swaraj gave the inaugural address and PM Narendra Modi delivered the final keynote speech at the meeting.
It was on the sidelines of this conference that Swaraj held both individual and region-specific meetings with ambassadors posted in Europe, Gulf, African and Latin American countries, besides the neighbourhood. “The idea behind the region-specific meetings is to ensure a broad commonality of approach since there are many overlapping themes; it is to understand, in a free and frank internal setting, the views of different ambassadors and if there is anything the ministry can do to help,” said the fifth official.
Kicking off the neighbourhood meeting, according to the first official, Swaraj asked the ambassadors to give her a broad sense of what China was doing in each of their countries. Each envoy then spoke briefly about Beijing’s footprint in the country they serve.According to the first four officials, the broad sense in the meeting was that in Pakistan, China’s economic and political dominance had only grown; in Afghanistan.