NEW DELHI: In one of the longest meetings of the MEA’s consultative committee on Friday, foreign minister S Jaishankar and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla answered questions on India’s China strategy and foreign policy priorities.
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi led the opposition charge against the government, demanding a “clear and concrete” strategy rather than a “laundry list” of government achievements.
In the three-and-half-hour meeting, sources said Jaishankar answered questions for over 2 hours and Shringla gave a detailed presentation for over 75 minutes.
Jaishankar said China’s actions of the sudden military buildup in eastern Ladakh had undermined peace and tranquillity. The government’s strategy at present was to hold the line militarily on the border areas and support the armed forces in their efforts.
Jaishankar stressed that the real problem with China was the rapid growth of India’s border infrastructure efforts, adding that this had been slow until 2014. Since then, the government had trebled the infrastructure budget and quadrupled the pace of implementation, according to official sources.
Gandhi questioned whether the government had a strategy that could be “summarised in three sentences”. More specifically, he asked, what India would do to counter a situation where Chinese strategy moves from the maritime to the terrestrial, where the old Silk Road is changed into a land route that links China to Europe (BRI) and through Pakistan (CPEC) to the Gulf in order to diminish India’s centrality. He also asked whether India had a strategy to deal with a more “bipolar” (read the US versus China) world.
Jaishankar replied that India’s strategy on the BRI and connectivity had been made clear from the first BRI Forum in 2017. India’s position was now echoed by many other countries in the world, he said. India, he added, was working to creating a more multipolar world, of which the first step would be to create a multipolar Asia.
Rahul Gandhi said he wanted the minutes to be circulated in advance. Jaishankar informed him that in previous years the minutes used to be circulated, but the practice had been stopped by Pranab Mukherjee when he was foreign minister for security reasons.
Other MPs are also learnt to have red-flagged concerns over the dangers of protectionism and cautioning against too much ‘atma nirbharta’. Sources said Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, in particular, sought clarity on whether India proposed to take sides on US-China tensions or if it will continue to have it both ways. Among six questions he sought clarity on, Tharoor also asked whether India’s “dysfunctional domestic politics” has provided an opportunity to Pakistan and China to “fish in troubled waters”.
Congress MP Anand Sharma, sources said, spoke about the importance of Afghanistan and why India has remained absent from the table in the Afghan peace process.
Bhagwant Mann, T Chandrasekhar and Priyanka Chaturvedi also raised concerns over India’s domestic politics creating the “wrong perceptions” especially in the context of difficulties faced by people on Vande Bharat flights and the migrants crises.