Foreign Service: India

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.

Foreign secretaries

2006-17: China hands dominate

How India's old China hands become country's top diplomats, January 2, 2018: The Times of India


Of the last six foreign secretaries, four have been former envoys to China; many of them spoke Mandarin fluently as well

Gokhale will take over as foreign secretary later this month from S Jaishankar; both are former envoys to China

Gokhale is the person who was serving as envoy to China during the Doklam standoff

The choice of former envoy to China Vijay Gokhale as the next foreign secretary shows that India continues to see engagement with China - or being able to deal with it - as its paramount diplomatic concern. Of the last six foreign secretaries, four have been former envoys to China; many of them speak Mandarin fluently as well.

Not only is the Mandarin-speaking Gokhale a former envoy to China, he also holds the unusual distinction of having been India's envoy in Taiwan. Bolstering his Chinese credentials is the fact that he's also served in Hong Kong in his early years as a diplomat.

More than anything else, though, Gokhale is the person who was serving as envoy to China during the Doklam standoff+ . Many see him as the one responsible for China eventually backing down on the issue of its troops in the region that India considers is Bhutanese territory.

Gokhale replaces S Jaishankar later this month, when the latter completes three years as India's top diplomat.

Jaishankar, too, was India's envoy to China, from 2009 to 2013. He became India's longest-serving ambassador to China, having been there four-and-a-half years. As ambassador, he made an agreement with the Chinese government to introduce Mandarin in Indian schools.

Jaishankar improved economic, trade and cultural relations between China and India, but in addition to speaking softly, he also carried a big stick.

To wit, in 2012, in response to Chinese passports showing Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as parts of China, he ordered visas issued to Chinese nationals showing those territories as parts of India. India dropped the ball vis-a-vis China from 2011-2015, with both the top diplomats during that time - Sujata Singh and Ranjan Mathai - not being particularly known for their China focus.

But before that, Nirupama Rao was foreign secretary, and, yes, she too was a former envoy to China. In fact, Rao was the second only woman foreign secretary of India. (The first was Chokila Iyer.) She served as foreign secretary 2009-2011, and for the three years before that, was India's ambassador to China, the first woman to hold that post.

The India-China Business Forum was set up during Rao's tenure; with the forum began a sharper focus on business-related activities concerning trade and investment between India and China. Rao was also a visiting scholar at the India China Institute at The New School in New York in April-May 2016.

Rao was preceded as foreign secretary by Shivshankar Menon (2006-2009) an old China hand and also former ambassador to China (2000-2003).

A fluent Mandarin speaker, Menon served in Beijing as second secretary from 1974 to 1977. He served again in Beijing as counsellor and deputy chief of mission from 1986 to 1989. He currently serves as chairman of the advisory board of the Institute of Chinese Studies in New Delhi.

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