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“How Xu Feihong’s Appointment as Chinese Envoy to India Shapes Diplomacy Amidst Xi Jinping’s European Tour”

Chinese envoy to India Xu Feihong (Image Credit: @China_Amb_India)

Considering the recent appointment of Chinese envoy to India invites various nuances that are required to be studied and given before the masses with a de-constructivist approach.

The appointment of Xu was first reported by the wire in January of this year, which clearly mentioned Xu’s appointment as a Chinese envoy to India. Several media houses later reported his appointment, along with a few Chinese experts on social media, which did not happen in actuality. The delay in appointing someone to one of the most significant positions indicates careful consideration by the CCP to bring in someone extremely reliable for India. Now, looking at the ongoing visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping, the timing of Xu’s appointment becomes questionable, as his appointment had already been made public in January. This timing significantly answers the question that such an appointment was made to pacify the Western world and its media by maintaining a cordial relationship with all its neighbors, including India.

Who is Xu Feihong?

The recently nominated Chinese ambassador to India, Xu Feihong, has a plethora of diplomatic expertise. He previously held the positions of ambassador for China in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013 and Romania from 2015 to 2018. Xu’s diplomatic abilities have been refined through these notable posts during his career. The appointment of Xu after a delay of 18 months underlines the geostrategic positioning that Chinese President Xi has in mind. This delay is the longest since the ambassadorial exchange between the nations began in 1976.

Overview of Sino-Indian Relations Amidst Current Global Geopolitical Dynamics

There have been numerous instances when Indian armed forces directly engaged with the Chinese PLA. After the 1962 Indo-Sino War, India lost trust in CCP-led China and saw it as another aggressive neighbor on par with Pakistan. Given the current global geopolitical environment, one can predict that Sino-Indian relations are apprehensive at best. Following the PLA-led aggression in the Galwan Valley in June 2020, there were casualties on both sides, leading to a rapid escalation of military and diplomatic tensions and further mobilization along the border. However, after the conflict, both countries engaged in 21 military and 29 diplomatic talks to resolve the coldness in their relationship. Despite the efforts made by the Indian side, it appears that the Chinese military has shown no interest in bridging the gap with India, as they tried to repeat the same notorious activity post-Galwan Clash. With a new government coming to power on June 4, 2024, assessing the situation and considering the geopolitical and economic interests of Xi’s Europe visit, the CCP-led Chinese government appointed Xu to India. This appointment is seen as a strategic move to address both regional stability and international perceptions.

Contextualizing Xi Jinping’s European Tour and why it is alarming for India

President Xi Jinping made strategic visits to France, Serbia, and Hungary with the objective of countering American hegemony in global politics and promoting Chinese dominance. His tour of Europe, amidst geopolitical tensions, aimed at altering perceptions and highlighting China’s power. Xi planned to mitigate the negative consequences on China-EU relations caused by trade battles as well as European Union scrutiny of Beijing’s subsidies for electric vehicles (EVs). The tour is expected not only to strengthen economic ties but also to demonstrate China as a major player in an evolving global order.

As these European states negotiate their ties with China in the face of its growing global influence, Xi’s push for a Chinese world order may complicate India’s strategic partnerships, particularly with the United States and European nations.

The selection of France, Serbia, and Hungary for Xi’s trip suggests that China wants to confront Europe by bypassing Britain and manipulating its economic relations. By engaging with key members of the EU and promoting mutual investments, Xi intended to create a supportive narrative for China’s future global political aspirations and economic goals. This attitude aligns with Gao’s notion that Beijing wants not only to extend its reach further afield but also to manage the complications associated with international scrutiny and shifts in allegiances within the EU.

Considering the ongoing territorial disputes and increasing US-China rivalry, there is no doubt that India will be significantly influenced by President Xi Jinping’s current visit to Europe. If China strengthens its ties with countries like Hungary or Serbia, it could gain more influence over European policy, thereby endangering India’s interests in relation to them.

India and China are time-honoured Civilizations: A Reality Check

Xu Feihong said that India and China boast of being time-honored civilizations and are each other’s important neighbors. However, his statements overlook two historical points: first, India never shared direct boundaries with China; it shared its boundaries only with Tibet. Second, the civilization Xu referred to is not being taught in China itself. Though it is true that China and India used to share civilizational relations, this changed after Mao came to power. After the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came into power, the civilizational connection between the two nations was ruptured due to the CCP’s expansionism. The CCP’s disbelief in their age-old civilization and cultural practices not only makes its existence vulnerable but also raises concerns among its civilizational partners like India. Instances such as the backstabbing during the 1962 Indo-Sino War and the Wuhan-led global pandemic further affirm the disbelief in CCP-led China and the statements of their ambassadors.

India should remain cautious of the deliberate appointment of ‘Xu’

Interestingly, Xu stated that if China and India speak in one voice, the whole world will listen. Moreover, in addressing the question of ‘strategic rivalry,’ Xu said that India and China are cooperation partners, not competitors. This comes against a backdrop where China has repeatedly vetoed India’s contention for a permanent seat on the UNSC. While China might suggest that the two countries can become a voice for the Global South, it has undermined India’s ability whenever it had the chance. Whether it is the issue of India’s sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh or the controversy over the BRI’s territorial and financial implications, CCP-led China has failed to be a reliable neighbor. After multiple setbacks, India should not rely on the alluring statements from the newly appointed CCP envoy to India.

In light of these major concerns, it will be a significant challenge for Xu to overcome the diplomatic hurdles that have engulfed the relationship between the two countries over the past few years.

India has shown the world in the last decade, during the Russia-Ukraine war and the Israel-Hamas War, how independently and efficiently it could manage diplomatic affairs with other nations while following guidelines established by various multilateral organisations.

Conclusion: A New Dawn or a Mere Diplomatic Gesture?

The appointment of Xu Feihong as the Chinese envoy to India is a significant event that could either herald a new dawn in Sino-Indian relations or remain a mere diplomatic gesture. With both countries grappling with deep-seated mistrust and geopolitical rivalries, Xu’s tenure will be a litmus test for China’s willingness to genuinely improve bilateral ties. India, while cautiously optimistic, must remain vigilant and prioritize its strategic interests in navigating this complex relationship. The coming months will reveal whether this appointment will bridge gaps or deepen the divide between the two countries.

(By Rahul Tiwari, Author- The Puritan Movement: US Universities and Their Anti-Bharat Approach)