Strategic communications China style



The newly minted president of China, Xi Jinping, speaking to a group of BRICS newswires, told them the Indian participant that he had a five-point formula for Sino-Indian relations.

The formula he proposed was effectively the same sort of framework that China had put forward in the past. And, until the deterioration in relations from about 2008 onwards, was broadly what New Delhi and Beijing had been doing as a matter of course.

Xi, in other words, signalled that China would like India to forget the 2008 to 2010 interlude and kind of pretend that it didn’t.

Fat chance of that.

But what was interesting is that his first point was the idea of “strategic communication” between the two countries.

This, as far as I know and confirmed by some Indian diplomats, is the first time a Chinese leader has spoken about this in the context of bilateral ties with India. The only problem: no one in New Delhi knows what exactly this means.

So what can he mean? Here’s a hypothesis.

First, let’s consider what it does not mean. It is not about multilateral cooperation — that’s part of point three in the Xi formula. It’s not about economic cooperation which has its own separate bullet. It’s not about being third world and all that together.

And it’s not about being sensitive to each other’s biggest bugaboos like Tibet and Kashmir — that’s in point five.
After that, one would think there isn’t much left to strategically communicate about.

The Sinophobes will note that in the literature of “strategic communications” the Art of War by Sun Tzu is often said to have the oldest mention of such an idea. And it isn’t very positive. As he said 2,500 years ago, “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

But I think it’s bit more mundane. Xi’s foreign policy will have one main driver. A need to have a stable international environment ho could roause he wants to carry out the next set of economic reforms and become the second Deng Xiaoping.

A key part of this is to ensure that one country in particular, the United States, doesn’t get into fisticuffs with
China.

Or that other countries bandwagon with the US to contain China.

The Chinese are not worried about India, at least not any more as the Indian economic growth rate slumps. But they do worry about the idea of India and the US getting too close together strategically.

“Strategic communication” in that case is really about the two sides having regular chit-chats about what exactly they are doing around the world and why. It would help dispel the worst and silliest of conspiracy theories regarding China and India.

It would also help Beijing gauge how close India and the US are militarily.

There’s no doubt greater transparency and dialogue between the two countries would help. There are, at last count, three track-two dialogues between India and China. And their heads of state and government meet each other about five times a year.

In between, however, the institutionalised levels of meetings between the bureaucracy are few and far in between. Comparison: India and the US hold 43 dialogues on everything under the sun.

Xi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet for the first time since Xi’s ascension at the BRICS summit in Durban.
Hopefully, Xi will strategically communicate what exactly he means.

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