Sensing the direction of renewed round two of negotiations over India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership bid, a Xinhua statement heeds to the probability that “… the door for India’s admission into the NSG is ‘not tightly’ closed and New Delhi should ‘fully comprehend’ Beijing’s concerns over the disputed South China Sea.” What remains abhorrent is Beijing putting the onus on New Delhi for “wrongly blaming China for blocking its entry into the NSG.”
This is nothing short of blatant misrepresentation given that it was well acknowledged that during the NSG plenary session (Seoul) in June, China blocked a consensus vote on India’s application for membership. China was decidedly prepared to scuttle India’s application for the NSG membership, even if it was to be the last man standing – and did not disappoint by doing exactly as stated, and expected. What worked in Chinese favour is that the NSG, as a group, works on decision-making by consensus, and not by majority vote.
However, the latest turn of events exhibits that China is deftly associating the twin issues of India’s potential membership to the NSG (for which, China’s nod is obligatory) with India’s stance and position over the South China Sea dispute, where Beijing finds itself isolated internationally following the verdict of the international tribunal that struck down China’s expansive claims finding them unsubstantiated.
Since then, Beijing has been engaging in proactive diplomatic engagement with regional players, including India, to ensure that it does not get cornered globally, or regionally, any further. By boycotting the proceedings of the tribunal, terming them as illegal, null and void, China has displayed its scant regard for international norms and rule-making yet again. More so, it only tends to underscore China’s long-term intent of rewriting international rules in accordance with its own vision of a Sino-centric Asia in the short-term, and that of China being a global power centre in the distant future.
In the realm of international politics, this makes for classic employment of the dual strategy of issue linkage and coercive diplomacy. Conceptually, issue linkage occurs when a state deliberately connects two or more distinctive foreign policy issues, holding resolution of one as hostage until the result of the other is met with in accordance to the state’s will/benefit/interest. Linking of a state’s territorial claims strategically to another (may be unrelated) foreign policy issue, making an explicit or implicit precondition that resolving one issue will affect, or be affected, by the resolution of the other, embodies the essence of the concept of issue linkage.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to New Delhi can well be interpreted as a soft coercive diplomacy initiative attempting to induce India to reconsider/shift its policy stance on the South China Sea dispute – evident in the announcement of Beijing agreeing to send its key negotiator from the Department of Arms Control to New Delhi for continuing talks on the NSG issue.
Coercive diplomacy being a political strategy, employs, just about enough of a forewarning to credibly demonstrate its resolve and achieve the set objective – thereby distinguishing it from a traditional military strategy. Wang Yi’s India visit and the concurrent view in Beijing’s public space stands testament to China resorting to the strategy of coercive diplomacy by admonishing India with adversarial reactions, should it not halt taking a position on ‘contentious subjects’ such as the South China Sea.
This fits to a ‘T’ within the theoretical premise that the primary objective of coercive diplomacy, as argued by Alexander L. George in Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War is to “create in the opponent, the expectation of costs of sufficient magnitude to erode his motivation to continue doing what he is doing.”
China’s deceptive diplomacy mechanisms have been long familiar and were on exhibition yet again when Wang Yi did not formally bring up the South China Sea issue with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj. However, Wang did make a statement prior to his arrival stating “… it is up to India to take its stand in the South China Sea dispute.”
Coinciding with Wang’s Delhi visit, Chinese publications cautioned that India’s focus on the South China Sea will harm its ties with China by stating, “India may want to avoid unnecessary entanglement with China over the South China Sea debate during Wang’s visit if the country wishes to create a good atmosphere for economic cooperation, which would include reducing tariffs on made-in-India products exported to China amid the on-going free trade talk known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.”
The above tenor of Chinese thinking and articulation represents the pivot upon which coercive diplomacy hinges, i.e., to back up a demand by means of issuing a veiled threat of punishment/punitive action that would likely persuade the opposition towards compliance.
China is known to have combined two/more foreign policy strategies, when crises arise, deliberately, as a bargaining leverage to compel regional players including Japan, for instance, to shift its policy on related issues such as economic aid, Japan–US security agreements, or revision of Japanese defence guidelines.
In the backdrop of strategic issue linkages, China, prospectively shall use the NSG-card where its bargaining leverage is much stronger in order to persuade India to reconsider its stance on the South China Sea issue, on which, China finds itself on a considerably sticky wicket.