Former foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale in his new book ‘The Long Game: How the Chinese Negotiate with India’, claimed that China used its “close connections” with Left parties in India to “build domestic opposition” to the Indo-US nuclear deal between 2007 and 2008.
As Joint Secretary (East Asia), Gokhale handled China’s affairs in the Ministry of External Affairs from 2007-2009. During this period, India’s deal was being negotiated and it got a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) after Beijing yielded.
At the September 2008 NSG meeting that granted India the crucial waiver to enable it to carry out nuclear commerce, China did not oppose the waiver but had raised specific questions.
As per Gokhale, in his diplomatic career spanning 39 years, he was a China watcher for 20 years and was proficient in the Chinese Mandarin language. During his tenure, he spent seven years at the China desk in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and seven years at the East Asia desk. He was also India’s ambassador to China and he is considered to be the country’s biggest knower among those who keep an eye on China. Gokhale served in Hong Kong, Taipei and Beijing between 1982 and 2017, and was posted in Beijing when the Tiananmen Square protests took place in 1989.
In January 2018, he took over the responsibility of Foreign Secretary in place of S. Jaishankar and retired last year.
In his book, Gokhale has covered six major issues discussed between India and China during the last 75 years — starting from India’s recognition of the People’s Republic China to Tibet, nuclear tests in Pokhran, Sikkim, the Indo-US nuclear deal and Masood Azhar’s listing as a ‘global terrorist’ at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
However, out of everything mentioned/revealed in the book, one of the most intriguing things that Gokhale has claimed is that China had tried to use left parties to break the Indo-US nuclear deal.
He wrote, “…China utilized the close connections with the Left parties in India. Top leaders of the Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist) would travel to China for meetings or medical treatment. Both parties were avowedly nationalist when it came to the Boundary Question and other matters of bilateral interest, but the Chinese were aware that they had fundamental concerns about the Indo-US nuclear deal.”
“Knowing the influence that the Left parties wielded in the United Progressive Alliance government of Dr Manmohan Singh, China perhaps played on their fears about India’s tilt to the Americans. This may have been the first example of China’s foray into domestic politics, but they were careful to remain behind the scenes,” he further writes.
He said that China’s interactions with India throughout this period and their position during the 1998 nuclear tests were very opposite.
The topic of the 123 Deal and the clean waiver that India was seeking from the NSG was never raised by the Chinese in bilateral meetings, and rarely discussed whenever India raised the issue, he says.
“Instead, the Chinese appeared to operate through the Left parties and the left-leaning media in India that had an ideological problem with regard to nuclear weapons, in an effort to build domestic opposition to the Indo-US deal. This might have been the first instance for China to operate politically in Indian domestic politics. China is becoming more sophisticated in its manipulation of Indian interest groups,” he writes.
In another chapter on Masood Azhar, Gokhale has revealed how China had used the Russians to stall the listing of the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief. He wrote that the Chinese side had also claimed that Pakistan had reliably assured them that the “JeM was defunct” and that “Masood Azhar had ‘retired’”.
Foreign Secretary Gokhale was one of the lead negotiators for the Indian government when Azhar was designated a global terrorist at the UNSC in May 2019. Hence, India did not buy that assurance.
Is Vijay Gokhale’s claim really correct?
It is well known that the CPI was and is against the US. Indian communist are by default against any move by India to cultivate closer ties with the US. CPI (M) required motivation from Beijing to oppose the nuclear deal while it knew its clout in the UPA government is questionable. However, it cannot be ruled out that the CPI and Chinese could have discussed the deal as communist allies. The communist go to Beijing for medical treatment because they prefer a communist country for treatment than their idelogical enemy the US.
Most in the govenment which included the Congress was initially apprehensive about the Nuclear deal because of understandable reasons in view of US – Pakistan relations. Even, Dr Mammohan Singh was apprehensive of the deal and as per As per the then External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh, it was him who convinced the entire leadership of the deal. Once Manmohan Singh was onboard, then the scenario changed.
BJP’s opposition to 123 nuclear deal
The Bharatiya Janata Party was also against the 123 Nuclear deal. L K Advani, who had written a pro-deal column had ruled out his party’s support for the agreement in his talks with American ambassador David Mulford as well as former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger. Was the BJP influenced by England which its parent organisation the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) helped to keep India subjugated?
Not just the BJP and CPI, even parties like NCP, RJD etc were against the deal.
Communist still oppose as China consents
The CPI (M) and the CPI on Tuesday termed former foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale’s claim as “baseless” and amounted to “slander”.
Speaking to PTI, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said “ The Left parties took this stand keeping in mind the concern for India’s sovereignty and strategic independence. It had nothing to do with China. The Left parties took such a stand even though China eventually supported the exemption given by the Nuclear Suppliers Group to India.”
“The comments in Vijay Gokhale’s book of China influencing the Left on this matter are completely baseless. Probably, he does not know that the major opposition party at that time, the BJP, had also opposed the nuclear deal in Parliament,” he said.
The Left withdrew its support to the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh in 2008 over the nuclear deal.