Wang Miao, Special Correspondent in India
“India’s former Ambassador to China has been promoted”. according to a report in the Times of India of the 2nd vwhich said that Gu Kaijie (Chinese name for Gokhale), who served as Ambassador to China during the “Dong Lang confrontation” between China and India, had been officially appointed as the Foreign Secretary of India and would be the authoritative face of (personage in) India’s diplomatic affairs. His predecessor, Su Jiesheng (Chinese name for S.Jaishankar), also served as Ambassador to China. According to the report, 4 of the last 6 Foreign Secretaries in India have been Ambassadors in China, and most of them speak Chinese fluently . Commenting that it seems that the practice of conducting China’s diplomatic work through “China hands” has become the norm; it shows that the Indian government continues to attach great importance to Chinese affairs. Other Indian media analysis/analyses said that a new generation of China experts taking charge of India’s foreign affairs, suggested a “quiet but significant change” in India’s diplomacy towards China.
Important Departments such as Foreign Affairs, Defence, Home have Secretaries in addition to Minsters, and they generally hold office for a term of two years. The current Foreign Secretary, Jaishankar, whose term ends on January 28th, has been in office for 3 years and is considered to be on “extension”. According to reports of Press Trust of India, Gokhale, who is 59 years old, joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India in 1981 and has served as Ambassador in many countries including Germany, Vietnam, the United States and China. It is particularly worth mentioning that Gokhale is the only senior official in India’s diplomatic service to have worked in (all three) mainland China, Hongkong and Taiwan.
Gokhale was Ambassador of India to China from January 2016 to October 2017. During his 21 month tenure, Sino Indian relations hit one snag after another. Especially in June 2017, when relations between the two countries dipped to a new low following the Indian Army’s cross-border intrusion to prevent Chinese road building, leading to the “Dong Lang confrontation”. India’s “Deccan Herald” of the 2nd said that Gokhale worked very fruitfully during the sensitive period of Sino Indian relations. He coordinated effectively with the Indian National Security Adviser, Doval, and Foreign Secretary, Jaishankar, to successfully (smoothly) resolve the Dong Lang stalemate and enable Modi to attend the BRICS Summit meeting in Xiamen as scheduled. The newspaper analysis also mentioned that during the period of confrontation between China and India, Gokhale insisted on (adhered to) India’s position and held many rounds of talks with the Chinese side. It was this group of “China hands” — Jaishankar, Gokhale and the current Ambassador of India to China, Ban Hao Ran (Bambawale) — who drove the shift in India’s China policy.
Several Indian media said on the 2nd that Gokhale’s promotion also hinted that India’s China policy will become tougher. “The appointment of a new Foreign Secretary suggests that India is likely to encounter an aggressive China”. According to an analysis of the 2nd by the Indian website, Sprint, many years ago, the mainstream opinion in Indian diplomatic circles was that so long as the cards in hand were kept in low key, India could avoid a confrontation with China. “Because of this, India used to remain circumspect about China’s border intrusions until 2013”. However, a new generation of Chinese experts represented by Gokhale believes that fundamental changes have taken place in China’s diplomacy and that old work formulae are no longer valid. A confrontational relationship between China and India can not be avoided. Jaishankar and Bambawale also hold the same view. “Facts have proven that their anticipation is correct”.
The Times of India said on the 2nd that a challenging (time for) Indian diplomacy awaits Gokhale. Nepal just concluded an election in which a “pro-China, anti-India” left led coalition won; India’s relations with Pakistan are on a downturn and China’s presence in Sri Lanka is growing. “Almost all neighboring countries of India welcome an expansion of Chinese persence”. And countries like Bhutan, which India has diplomatic control over India are to hold major elections this year, so the prospects for India are not optimistic.