World News

Horse trading with the pros

Peter Niesewand March 26 1979
World News

Horse trading with the pros

Peter Niesewand March 26 1979

Horse trading with the pros

India

Alexei Kosygin was put off. The give-and-take of international diplomacy had become mostly give, and as the Soviet premier ended his official stay in India last week, he bore the troubled air of a horse trader bested. Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai’s government had gratefully accepted all the aid Kosygin had come armed with and, ungratefully, offered nothing in return.

Kosygin’s visit, part of the Sino-Soviet tug of war in Asia, was designed to head off recent moves to end India’s long-standing feud with China (since 1959, when it upset Peking by sheltering the Dalai Lama). What the Soviet ^ leader hoped for was Indian condemna3 tion of China’s invasion of Vietnam and assurances that the frost between New Delhi and Peking was once again icy cold. He even had reason to think his hopes would be granted. In February, while External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was on a bridgebuilding official visit to Peking, he had packed his bags in protest at the invasion and returned home.

So much, however, for fond hopes. While Kosygin labored to persuade Desai to join him in a denunciation of Chinese “aggression, intimidation and adventurism,” Vajpayee was busy saying, in a magazine interview, that the Chinese had “wise leaders.” Of Chinese Vice-Chairman Teng Hsiao-ping, Vajpayee said: “Mr. Teng is forthright. Teng is tough, Teng is blunt, it is a joy talking to him.”

The hint was clear, and a ruffled Kosygin cancelled scheduled tours of agricultural and industrial projects to free

his time for further intensive private talks with Desai. The Soviets had offered to help build a massive steel mill on India’s east coast, he recalled, and India had accepted with alacrity. But what about Kampuchea (Cambodia)? Why hadn’t India recognized the government which, with Vietnamese help (and Soviet aid), had overthrown the bloody Pol Pot regime? Desai replied, a little slightingly, that the new government did not satisfy Indian requirements for recognition, because it was not completely in control.

The Soviets offered to help build a giant aluminum processing complex. The Indians were delighted. But what about Chinese aggression, Kosygin asked? What were India and the Soviet Union to say about that in the communiqué at the end of his visit? On that

subject, Desai bent a fraction. The Indians were not going to join in any stinging denunciations, he indicated, but if Kosygin wanted to launch diatribes from Indian soil his hosts would give him television time. So the Soviet premier went on TV to claim that the “complete insolvency and futility of the Chinese policy is now clear to one and all.”

Alas, not quite all. So Kosygin made a final attempt to convince Desai. After the aid agreements and protocols had been signed, he scheduled a last private meeting, and the final communiqué was held up in case of a breakthrough. None came, however. Vietnam was dismissed in a sentence that simply echoed a stand the Indian government had taken publicly long before the visit: a demand for immediate, unconditional and total withdrawal of Chinese troops. Kampuchea did not even get a mention.

Peter Niesewand