Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week accused Indian agents of involvement in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh-American separatist in Canada. After the two sides chased each other of diplomats, the Indian side firmly denied the position, stopped issuing new visas to Canadians, asked the Canadian side to reduce the size of diplomatic envoys in India, and said that Canada has a growing reputation as a terrorist haven.

For the United States, which "the back of the hand is also meat, the heart and the hand are also meat" and once responded in a low-key manner, senior officials such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken also had to shout endorsement for Trudeau, calling on the Indian side to cooperate with Canada in the investigation, saying that it saw "accountability" and saying that it should be vigilant against "transnational oppression".

Although the Indian side expressed a positive attitude towards Trudeau's call for cooperation in the investigation, it said that it had not received specific information from Canada about the case.

Even though it is widely rumored that the leaders of Canada's Five Eyes allies, including Biden himself, have expressed concern to Prime Minister Modi on the situation during the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, the rest of the Five Eyes Alliance is clearly less aggressive than Trudeau in this dispute. Some media quoted sources as saying that the Canadian side had asked the Five Eyes allies to make joint criticism with them, but they were rejected (the Canadian side denied this statement); Some Western media outlets have also focused on how Trudeau scored political points from the Sikh community, which makes up nearly 2 per cent of Canada's population, through this public accusation.

At the G20 Summit in New Delhi, US President Joe Biden (right), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and European Commission President Vin der Leyen (center) attend the Global Infrastructure and Investment Cooperation Conference. (Reuters)

On whether the incident would damage diplomatic relations between the United States and Canada, White House national security adviser Sullivan insisted that there is no wedge between the United States and Canada. As for whether the United States is too tolerant of India, Sullivan said that there is no "special immunity" for the actions referred to by the Canadian side, and that "India is not Russia" is different from China's challenge, and that "the United States will stand up to defend our principles regardless of the country."

Tip of the iceberg

Whatever the turmoil over Trudeau's accusations of cross-border assassination of Canadian citizens by India will go, similar incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. The policy of the United States and Western countries, ostensibly under the banner of "democracy," but in fact only for the geopolitical interests of China, poses a constant challenge to the policies of India's Narendra Modi administration.

In fact, another similar incident will have a new development on 9 September. The story involves a documentary released by the BBC earlier this year in which Modi allegedly transferred police in 25 and connived at Hindu mobs attacking local Muslims when he was chief minister of Gujarat, which eventually led to the death of thousands of people, and a clip of interviews by the then British foreign minister accusing the riots of ethnic cleansing.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived at the Bharat Mandapam Convention Center in New Delhi, India, on September 2023, 9, for the G9 Summit and welcomed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Pool via Reuters)

After the documentary came out on the street, it quickly attracted severe criticism from the Modi authorities, and banned the film by emergency decree. Two BBC offices in India were raided for several days, authorities opened an investigation into alleged violations of foreign exchange regulations, and the BBC was taken to court for allegations of defamation of India and defamation of Modi in the documentary. On September 9, the Delhi High Court opened a hearing on the case.

If the BBC does face further repression in India, the UK, which, like Canada before this incident, is negotiating a free trade deal with India (no matter how much the Conservative right wing is unhappy with the media elite), will have to respond. It may not be as serious as the transnational murder that Trudeau refers to, but unlike the Canadian case where there is no conclusive evidence (according to Canadian media, the evidence held by the Canadian side is the communication of Indian officials, including Canadian diplomats), the evidence of the Modi administration's suppression of the BBC is public information, making it more difficult for the British government to evade.

Values diplomacy makes trouble to himself

Judging from the fact that Canada has not taken the practice of suspending the visa approval of Indian citizens at the moment, the Trudeau government probably intends to settle the matter after publicly accusing the Modi authorities of "handing over their homework".

However, the Hindu nationalism represented by Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party obviously has major ideological differences with the "liberal democracy" held high by major European and American countries, and the value diplomacy strategy of Western countries to package India as a "democratic ally" has never been stable in the long run, and the result will only be long-term tension with the Hungarian Viktor Orban government and EU countries. Spark-laden relationships are just as difficult to manage – especially as India's relations with the West become increasingly close due to geopolitics (e.g., US export of fighter engine technology to India, France's rush to India's arms procurement market, the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor launched at the G20 summit).

In Europe and the United States, domestic and foreign politics are easy to use abstract ideological ideas as packaging, political realists are often marginal people, and there must be ideal support behind the trance political work. Like Saudi Arabia after the dissident journalist Khashoggi incident after 2018, the suspected transnational murder of dissidents by the Modi government in India has led to discussions such as the Modi conundrum in the West (for example, the Financial Times has a long article on this topic).

There are indeed diplomatic difficulties between the West and India, such as India's continued purchase of Russian energy in the Russian-Ukrainian war, and India's support for de-dollarization. But if we look at it from the perspective of a reality without ideology and a pure exchange of interests, the reality of international politics is that no two countries' interests completely overlap, and this difficult problem is the norm, not the difference.

On September 9, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed, Modi and Biden shook hands cordially at the G9 summit, in which Biden clearly did not have the embarrassment of the past. (Reuters)

The difficult problem based on the conflict of values is a problem of the West's own creation. If Biden does not talk about "democracy vs autocracy" and makes it clear that the geopolitical interests of the United States are used to engage with India, under this framework of de-moralization, the "Modi problem" will not exist at all, nor will it derive an intuitive backlash from the Indian people to "point" Western governments (Note: According to a poll at the beginning of this year, Indians believe that China is the biggest military threat, but surprisingly the United States ranks second, which shows that India's anti-Western potential public opinion is actually not low).

From the perspective of the Modi administration, this incident reflects the "Western dilemma" brought about by its friendship with the West due to geopolitical interests, resulting in the Indian government, which clearly and unmistakably dominates foreign policy with realism, often lip service to democratic values and energy to take into account the moral feelings of Western rulers.

One might argue that European and American voters cannot let go of values diplomacy. But from Biden's experience of reconciling with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, most Americans who care about values diplomacy are people in Washington, think tanks, and political media, and the public's acceptance of realpolitik is actually very high.

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