New Delhi: Given China's repeated vetoes against Indian proposals to designate Jaish-e-Muhammed chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist, should India ban import of Chinese goods in retaliation? It's a question many have asked but only now, in an exclusive conversation with News18, has Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared his views on the subject.
Very interestingly Prime Minister Modi decided to answer this long-pending question with an open-ended answer, leaving the choice of whether to use Chinese goods or not up to the public.
"As far as public sentiment on Chinese goods is concerned, we should leave it to their sooj-bhooj (wisdom). We, including the media, should guide the public," Modi told Network18 group editor Rahul Joshi.
Modi said that the world today was not divided between the two old superpowers anymore. "In this globalised era, all nations are interdependent and connected. International laws are in place, and we are signatories to WTO. As a government, our official stands must align with international rules and regulations and India abides by that."
On the specific question of whether India brought up the topic of Masood Azhar in its talks with China after it vetoed India's proposal to designated the Jaish chief as a 'global terrorist', Modi said, "All issues are discussed in all meetings, so was this one. This issue had come up earlier as well."
When asked what success had India achieved in its diplomatic offensive against Pakistan and its strategies vis-a-vis China, Modi said that all countries had their own strategies in place to serve their national interest.
"There was a time when India had only Russia's support on the international stage and the rest of the world was with Pakistan. Today the entire situation has changed. Now only China stands with Pakistan and the rest of the world with India. We must understand this change. This is proof of our success."
Elaborating on India-China ties, Modi said, "On one hand, there is our bilateral relationship with China. We have a political engagement with China, we have investments there, and they have investments here. Our leaders go there, their leaders come here. Amid all this, there are border disputes which are still unresolved."
That there are differences of perspectives between India and China, was a reality accepted by both the countries, Modi said. But, he added, mechanisms had been put in place to ensure that these differences don't turn into disputes.
"So both sides have accepted that we have differences, but our objective is that these differences don't turn into disputes. And if there are such incidents, then we hold high-level talks. This is a continuous process. As far as their stand on international issues goes, each country takes its own decisions in their own manner. As we do. In some matters, we take Palestine's side, in others we take Israel's side. Sometimes we back Iran, sometimes the Arab nations."
BJP president Amit Shah had also, in a recent conversation with News18, expressed hope that the difference between India and China over Masood Azhar won't turn into a dispute and that it will come around to eventually support India's position. “China is also isolated [on the issue]. Sooner or later it will be forced to support us.”
Demands to boycott Chinese goods have been increasingly been raised by several leaders from within the RSS and its affiliates. "China cannot be defeated militarily and so it is imperative to hit its economy by boycotting Chinese goods altogether," senior RSS functionary Indresh Kumar said at a public function recently.
The veto on Masood Azhar has not been the only bone of contention between the two countries. A 73-day long standoff between Indian and Chinese militaries near Doklam plateau also brought tensions nearly to boiling point last year.
The then commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman, replying to a question of boycott of Chinese goods, had in Parliament said, "A blanket ban on all imports from a country through a single instrument is impossible."
BJP's perceived soft approach towards China has prompted Congress president Rahul Gandhi to attack the Prime Minister. In a tweet last month, the Congress president wrote, "Weak Modi is scared of Xi. Not a word comes out of his mouth when China acts against India. NoMo’s China Diplomacy: 1. Swing with Xi in Gujarat 2. Hug Xi in Delhi 3. Bow to Xi in China."
(The full interview will be aired today at 7pm and 10pm on CNN-News18, News18 India, CNBC TV18 and other News18 regional channels.)