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Lan-shu Tseng asked: Why United States could de-hyphenate its relations with India and Pakistan but China couldn’t?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: De-hyphenation is a policy adopted by countries to maximise their strategic returns from their diplomatic engagements/investments with two adversarial states, both of whom are of consequence to them. It insulates them in some way from the inadvertent turbulence that could result out of their possible hostile interaction and, thus, affect their relationship with both. It is not a policy of equi-distance but cautious, independent and profitable engagement with both at the same time, without being drawn into the snares of persistent bilateral snags between the two countries. The key here is for the state adopting such strategy to stay unaffected by the reactions that its policy vis-à-vis one would generate in the other.

    In case of the United States (US), it made such a strategic decision without bothering much about how it would be received in either India or Pakistan. In case of China too, one would assume that there is already a de-hyphenated relationship with both at work, even if there is no announcement to this effect. From President Jiang Zemin onward, successive Chinese leaders have urged Pakistan to toe the India-China model of engagement and continue with dialogue despite non-resolution of critical issues. However, there is also a clear dearth of enough dialogue at the strategic level between India and China to take the relations forward.

    Perhaps, China has not been able to convince both the countries about its strategic intentions with as much clarity as the US has. Moreover, its repeated reiteration of “higher than the mountains, deeper than the oceans” relations with Pakistan has a ring of an India-specific alliance, about which China has not felt it in its interest to discuss closely with India. Therefore, its de facto de-hyphenation strategy has not worked to good effect. On the contrary, the diplomatic communications from the US about its de-hyphenation strategy have been clearer, sometimes even affecting its relations with one or the other. However, it has continued to engage both countries with as much interest as its policies demand with the express aim of strengthening relationships with both.

    As an aside, there is a view in Washington to re-hyphenate its relations with India and Pakistan which, who knows, may be gaining traction now. Nations, after all, pursue their interests brazenly recalibrating their policies constantly to ensure better results all the time!

    Posted on September 14, 2018