Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Modi's Multi-Alignment and Nehru's Non-Alignment

The more I hear the External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, the more I am convinced that India's foreign policy continues to be moored to Nehruvian approaches to negotiating with the global powers. Jaishankar characterises the Nehruvian foreign policy as the era of optimistic non-alignment, where the objective was to strengthen India's sovereignty, integrity and economy. The parallel goal was to place India as the vanguard of third world solidarity (MEA 2019b).

Laced with rhetorical flourishes, Jaishankar is sounding more and more like Jawaharlal Nehru. At the recently concluded Raisina Dialogue, he said, India owes it to be a just power, fair power, standard-bearer for the global voice of south (Bagchi 2020), clearly signalling that India has not abandoned the Nehruvian love to lead the South.

Asserting the independence of his foreign policy, Jaishankar almost mimicked Nehru's nationalist exhortations, when he told Der Spiegel, "I find the idea of being someone else pawn in some Great Game terribly condescending. I certainly don't plan to play the counterweight to other people. I'm in it because of my own ambitions." (MEA 2019a)

Jaishankars assertions are a little surprising because he is considered to be no big fan of either non-alignment or strategic autonomy, the twin lynchpins of Nehru's foreign policy to deal with the superpowers. Why is Jaishankar covering up India's tight embrace of America in nationalist colours? We are already in a strategic relationship with the United States (US), then why deny that we are serving the American strategic needs? Prime Minister Narendra Modi confidently declared at theUS Congress in 2016 that the Indo-US relationship has overcome the hesitations of history (George 2019: 57) indicating that unlike Nehru, he was not bound by any historical compulsions to appear distant from America.

Perhaps, Jaishankar understands better than Modi that till the West continues to dominate global affairs, the Nehruvian influence on India's foreign policy will always remain, no matter how hard the Bharatiya Janata Party may try to distance itself from Nehru. This is because Nehru's foreign policy was rooted in the liberal international order. His belief in one world and the United Nations (UN) ability to usher an era of peace was a by-product of his commitment to the post-war American order. Therefore, there was an element of deception in Nehru's quest of non- alignment, which Ram Manohar Lohia said was'
"not neutral but as one of alternate service to both camps, One minister of this government clings to the United States, another to Russia and the magician tries to hold the balance by his charm. They call this non-alignment." (Wofford 2001: 25)

Posture and Policy

Did Nehru really live in an imaginary world, where he conceived maintaining equidistance from the two power blocs in a highly polarised post-war world? Overt alignment with the US was not considered conducive for a country of India's size and geostrategic location. India could not afford to look like Pakistan or the Philippines by joining the US bloc.

At a time when the Indian nationalism was based on its opposition to the West, it was difficult for Nehru to align with America, the leader of the capitalist West and weaken the spirit of nationalism in the country. For the West, it was important that the first postcolonial nation that subscribed to the Western liberal democracy emerged as a model for the newly independent Afro-Asian countries. 

Any alignment with the Soviet Union was not possible because the diehard anti-communist ruling elite would never have allowed Nehru to make India a Soviet satellite.

Much of our problem in understanding Nehru emerges from the fact that we take him at face value. Most of our analysis is based on what Nehru said rather than what he practised. Nehru projected himself as an idealist and a socialist, and we simply believe him. His efforts at Bandung and Belgrade are often used to paint his foreign policy objectives. However, what happened prior to the Bandung Conference of 1955 and in the period between Bandung and Belgrade, the venue for the first non-aligned summit in 1961, is often ignored in our analysis.

In the late 1940s, Nehru's belief in non-alignment was wavering; he was not averse to open military alignment with theUS. Immediately, on taking over, Nehru was confronted with the developing military situation in Kashmir. Nehrus detractors often blame him for not seeking a military solution in Kashmir and for taking the issue to the UN. However, the facts dug out from American archives, by late M S Venkataramani, the renowned professor of American Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, reveal a very different story. Less than six months into independence, Nehru initiated action to buy arms for the Indian Army. So keen was Nehru to build India's military capability that he bypassed Asaf Ali, India's ambassador to theUS and directed Colonel BM Kaul (who subsequently became the Lieutenant General in the early 1960s), India's defence attache at Washington, to initiate the arms purchase process (Venkataramani 1999).

Nehru did not have much faith in Ali, who was certainly not his choice to be India's first ambassador to America. Ali was probably rewarded by the British for his services to the Crown during World WarII.

Nehru preferred Kaul to Ali because the latter was considered to be a laggard, and Kaul, according to K Subrahmanyam, was better networked with Louis Johnson and other influential Americans. On 27 January 1948, Kaul metColonel J Garling, in-charge of the foreign military representatives, and requested him to arrange the delivery of 1,000 jeeps and a dozen B-25 Mitchell bombers by May 1948 and another 31 bombers subsequently (Subrahmanyam 2005). Kaul failed to impress the Americans. Their indifference led the Indian government to send placatory signals to the Truman administration and assure them that Nehrusadherence to neutralism was not dogmatic.

Aligning with the US

In April 1948, Girija Shankar Bajpai, India's secretary-general in the Ministry of External Affairs, conveyed to Washington that under no circumstances would India align itself with the Soviet Union in a war between the two superpowers. Bajpai also proposed sending an Indian military mission to the US to explore the possibility of obtaining military equipment. In September 1948, Nehru reassured the Americans that there was no chance of India lining up behind the Soviet Union. Despite clarifications, America refused to lift the arms embargo on India and Pakistan (imposed in the wake of the outbreak of the Kashmir conflict). India renewed its efforts to procure arms by sending H M Patel, defence secretary, to the US. However, Patel too returned empty-handed. Despite American refusal to sell arms to India, Nehru never attempted to reach out to Joseph Stalin for either arms or wheat. In March 1949, after the Kashmir issue subsided, the US lifted the arms embargo and India received one division of Sherman tanks (of World War II vintage) from the US (Venkataramani 1999). 

America was as cussed in delivering arms as it was in exporting wheat to India. And, this was when the Indian mines met 25% of the American manganese requirement, and also fed beryl and monazite, two crucial minerals, for their nuclear programme. The Soviet entry into the Indian foreign policy matrix happened mainly after Stalin's death. This was no act of disloyalty by Nehru against AngloAmerican interests. The post-Stalin phase in international politics was marked by a thaw in EastWest relations. In 1955, when Nehru visited Moscow, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was building bridges with the West, visiting Western capitals, discussing peace and disarmament. The US-Soviet detente gave Nehru the leeway to project his policy of non-alignment.
However, this window of opportunity closed in 1957, when India was hit by the foreign exchange crisis and was forced to go to the World Bank for a bailout package to save its Second Five-Year Plan. Another reason that drew India closer to theUS was the growing political turmoil in Tibet. TheUS launched covert operations inside Chinese territory using Kalimpong as the launch pad.
In 1959, Indias decision to give asylum to the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan supporters from Lhasa appeased America but jeopardised its relations with China. Nehru's luck favoured him. His overt alignment with theUS against China was not opposed by the Soviets, as Khrushchev was busy visiting Washington in 1959. The changes in the Cold War dynamics allowed Nehru's foreign policy to retain its non-alignment facade. The US acknowledged India's contribution by approving the grant of the Development Loan Fund (DLF).
At the end of December 1960, India got $30 million for Hindustan Chemicals and Fertilisers to cover the foreign exchange cost of building a fertiliser plant at Trombay. This was followed by a $50 million loan at an interest rate of 5.75% to enable the purchase of capital equipment from the US to meet the development goals envisaged in the Third Five-Year Plan. This marked the golden period in Indo-US ties. In 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower visited India and was accorded a thunderous welcome. He spoke at a public rally at Ramlila Maidan and also addressed the parliamentarians. The visit emboldened the predominantly pro-American political class in India to work more vigorously to curtail Nehrus ability to manoeuvre vis--vis China and push him on a warpath.

Nehru's forward policy, which was used as a pretext by China to declare war against India, was a clear indication that Nehru's foreign policy was indeed adventurous, radical, energetic and probably as pro-America as India's current foreign policy under Modi. One only hopes that the adventurous foreign policy does not lead towards another frivolous war that would keep the region divided and borders closed for another half a decade.

In Conclusion

There are far too many similarities between Nehru and Modi's foreign policy. Both are tethered to the liberal international order, erected and led by America. If Nehru promoted the Ford Foundation, the symbol of American soft power, in India, Modi is not far behind in advancing American corporate philanthropic organisations. Modi may be opposed to the presence of Ford Foundation in India, but he is very comfortable in receiving the Global Goalkeeper Award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which caters as much toUS foreign policy goals as the Ford Foundation does. While the Ford Foundations founder symbolised the second industrial revolution and the advance of the American Century, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is driven by one of the leading figures of the fourth industrial revolution and is deeply engaged in promoting the American technological hegemony.

In the 1950s, America wanted to project India as a counterweight to China, and in 2020, America sees India playing a similar role. In the late 1950s, the Indian elite stood behind the US, forced the Indian government to apply maximum pressure on China, but remained completely oblivious to the consequences of its actions.

When the US was ruled by New Dealers promoting liberal democracy, we had Nehru who was a diehard liberal and New Dealer. Now, when right-wing populists dominate American politics, we have an authoritarian right-wing leader in India. Therefore, irrespective of political changes in the US, India is likely to remain an American ally.

However, one still hopes that the Indian political, as well as foreign policy elite, will be more aware of the American grand strategy that is adept at instigating and using limited wars in the peripheries to further establish its hegemony.

This article was published in Economic and Political Weekly


Bagchi, Indrani (2020): India Holds the Mirror to Its Critics, Times of India, 16 January.

Bhardwaj, Atul (2019): India-America Relations (194262), Rooted in Liberal International Order, Routledge: London. 

George, Varghese K (2019): Open Embrace: India-US Ties in the Age of Modi and Trump, Penguin: Viking.

MEA (2019a): EAMs Interview to Der Spiegel, 19 November,https://mea.gov.in/interviews.htm?dtl/32052/EAMs_interview_to_Der_Spiegel, viewed on 10 January 2020.

(2019b): External Affairs Ministers Speech at the 4th Ramnath Goenka Lecture, 14 November, viewed on 10 January 2020.

Subrahmanyam, K (2005): Arms and Politic, Strategic Analysis, Vol 21, No 1.

Wofford, Harris (2001): Lohia and America Meet1951 and 1964, New Delhi: BR Publishing. 
Venkataramani, M S (1999): An Elusive Military Relationship, Part II, Frontline, 23 April. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


Historically navies and missionaries of charity have reached out to different shores to provide succor. The two are once again out at sea in their white-boats to spread health and harmony.
As long as there have been ships engaged in naval hostilities there have been boats designated to sea-lift casualties. During the battle of Somme, two merchant ships - Maheno and Marama - were converted into hospital ships to bring war wounded from the western front to New Zealand. At the end of World War I, the Royal Navy had some 77 hospital ships in its inventory. Russia lost its hospital Ship, Portugal, to German U Boat action during the First World War. In 1917, America built a custom-made medical ship named USS Relief (AH-1).
USNS Mercy and its sister-ship USNS Comfort are the two biggest floating hospitals in the world, each armed with 1000 beds capacity. Since the mid-1980s the two have contributed their medical-might both in war as well as in peace. The seagoing-white-twins - San Clemente-class supertankers in their earlier avatar - were launched in 1976 from San Diego. The 270 meters long, 69,500 ton, USNS Comfort along with USNS Mercy is the biggest hospital in the United States.   Mercy provides humanitarian relief in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, Comfort mainly operates in the Caribbean and Latin America. 
A hospital ship is a critical fleet-asset. Last year, US Navy Institute News reported that USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), ‘is counted in the service’s ‘battle force’ as part of a new plan that reclassifies existing ships by assets in high demand by combatant commanders.’
The US Navy is contemplating more maneuverable and deployable medical ships that can be easily berthed and are better designed to take-in and discharge patients in unfavorable environments. The US Navy and Marine Corps is contemplating the conversion of its six Newport (LST-179) class tank landing ships into 200 bed-hospital ships.
Besides, dedicated hospital ships the US aircraft carrier, George Washington is also equipped with the 51-bed hospital. Russian destroyers too have a provision to convert the officer’s wardrooms into operation theaters in case of an emergency. Britain converted HMS Hecla, an oceangoing survey vessel and also S.S. Uganda, a civilian cruise ship into a hospital ships during the Falklands war.
The other major player in the military-hospital ship segment in China, which officially launched its hospital ship project in 1976. In 1991, China’s South Sea Fleet was augmented with two hospital ships, Y832 Nan Kang and Y833 Bei Kang with 100-bed facilities each. In 2007 China purchased the Project 320 OB’ class hospital ship to kick-start its white ship fleet. The project was abandoned by the Russian shipyards in the late 1990s.
The Chinese Navy (PLAN) commissioned its first hospital ship, Peace Ark, in 2008. The 583 feet longship with a displacement of 10,000 tons was built by Guangzhou Shipyard International Company Limited.
Peace Ark is an integral part of Chinese naval diplomacy. Since 2010, Peace Ark has been on five ‘Harmonious Mission’ across Asia-Pacific and Africa. In 2013, the 300-bed hospital ship, including 20 intensive care unit beds and eight operating theaters, provided relief to the victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
In June 2014, Peace Ark along with other PLAN ships participated in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercises held at Hawaii every two years. In 2015, the Hospital ship paid a goodwill visit to seven countries in the Asia Pacific – Australia, French Polynesia, USA, Mexico, Barbados, Grenada, and Peru. During its five day halt at Port of San Diego, California in November 2015, Peace Ark was tended to by its US counterpart USNS Mercy. 
Mercy Ships, an international charity has contracted China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) for constructing the world’s biggest, 37,000 GRT ‘white-ship’, costing more than $100 million. According to experts the cost of 69,500 ton US Navy Hospital Ship Comfort is around $600 million. 
Mercy Ships International with headquarters in Garden Valley, Texas, is the largest non-government operator of hospital ships. Towards the fag end of 1970s it converted four ocean liners and ferries into four floating hospitals.
It is for the first time that the charity has invested in building a hospital from scratch. The ship being built at Tianjin Xingang Shipyard is designed by Finnish firm Deltamarin with Stena RoRo managing the actual project construction. The ship has 277 cabins equipped with 641 beds, including 109 intensive care units. 
The demand for hospital ships in the NGO sector is growing. India’s first hospital ship is under construction, at Pandu shipyard, to provide healthcare services to island communities living along the Brahmaputra River in Assam. It is a collaborative effort between the Centre for North East Studies and Policy Research (C-NES), which runs 15 boat clinics in 13 districts of Assam, and the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). Such hospital launches, primarily non-sea-going riverine crafts, are in use in countries like Brazil, Bolivia, Chilie, Peru Cameroon, and Thailand.
One anticipates the land-based private hospital operators to launch their operations in the maritime domain. This assessment is based on the increasing trends in hospital tourism, where relatively in-expensive medical facilities from countries like India may reach out to rich patients rather than making them fly to India cities, where the pollution levels are high. The second factor that could drive private players towards hospital ships is the inability of the government especially in Asia and Africa to meet the challenge posed by unprecedented natural calamities in coastal towns. This could be a lucrative avenue for private navies that are not always involved in hostile anti-piracy operations.
Currently, navies and non-government charities are the main  operators of cost intensive relief-care vessels. Both these segments are likely to grow, especially, because more navies like India, China, Japan, and Russia are indulging in ‘out of area operations.’ The rising aspirations of Tier-II navies are likely to impact the demand for hospital ships too because not only are these platforms proving to be an invaluable arm of naval diplomacy but also because China, the trendsetter in the Asia-Pacific region has embarked on an ambitious maritime diplomacy project. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Stop it! Stop the Senseless Violence on Indo-Pak Border

They have their Allah and you have your Ram. They have their Ghazni, you have your Pratap. They do ceasefire violation on Diwali you pay them back on Eid. You behead, they behead. You cross the Loc, they do the same. One terrorist attack there and one here. You do surgical strikes; they give back in the same coin. 

You have nukes, so do they. You unleash your trolls on social media to sing the chorus of patriotism and militarism, they follow suit. 

Your realist talk limited war; their realist blabber proxy war. You give a billion-dollar push to modernize your forces, they try to catch up. To replenish your ammo stocks both of you rush to the same sources abroad. When stalks are depleted both of you fly to Washington  humming peace  numbers.

Sit back and see. What exactly are you trying to acheive? your efforts have only yielded is mutilations in Machill, Mankote, Mendhar and many other location on the border. All that your vision has produced is death of twenty-year-old jawans on both sides of the border. 

You guys and your counterparts over there are bloody nincompoops. Incapable of stopping needless violence. You lack imagination to find solutions. You are a gullible fools who is easily manipulated by international arms dealers. You are hidebound, bloodthirsty leeches who not only kill each other but are also ready to sow nuclear radiations on the subcontinental soil. And all this is being done to follow some vague lines on the map drawn by some third-rate British frontier officer. 

Perhaps, you are smart. It is the people of the subcontinent that are brain dead. Even after years of experience of misery and mayhem, the they continue to buy your argument for more war

Sunday, July 10, 2016


“The frail skiff of present-day British policy is not inspiring any hope in British people, especially since the ‘symbolic voyage’ is taking place amidst the approaching economic crisis which is also tossing the American ship of state on its menacing waves.”

This was Mikh Afonin’s conclusion in Izvestiya, 31 August 1949. The article titled “In a Frail Skiff - to Washington” commented on the media hype associated with the crossing of the Atlantic in a 25-foot-boat by two Englishmen - Bevin and Cripps – for the Washington Conference of 7 September 1949. The Acheson-Bevin talks in Washington discussed issues ranging from the British revenge in Damascus to granting of recognition to Communist China. More importantly Acheson convinced Britain to guide European unity and prevent Germany from slipping into Soviet orbit. 

In 1949 the British economy was in dire straits. Grosvenor Square, the headquarters of the so-called ‘Special Mission for Marshall Plan was occupied by American monopolies and stars and stripes waved atop most houses. From “this ‘Little Washington’ as the Yanks jibed maliciously, 1200 experienced American officials” and about 12000 troops controlled Britain and a considerable part of her empire. 

The current issue is why did America permit its poodle to rock the post-war foundations with the Brexit referendum? It is hard to believe that Cameroon did not seek Uncle Sam’s nod before ordering the referendum. It is equally foolhardy to assume that a divided Britain and fragmented EU is not in American interest. 

Keeping Germany within the American fold continues to be Washington’s objective. The only change is that Britain role in the strategy has changed. The Yanks no longer find the Brits enterprising enough to serve their interests in the EU. Taking a leaf out of the British rule book - divide and rule - America too is leaving behind a divided Britain. What could not be achieved by the Scottish “yes or no” has been achieved through the Brexit “leave or remain” vote. First, the Americans extracted “Great” from Britain by dismantling their empire in Asia and the Middle East. And now the Americans are gleefully seeing it shrink to “Little England”. This does not necessarily make Britain a pariah in the US scheme of things. The Royal Navy may well be deputed to Asia to manage the “US pivot”. After all, it is Asia from where the British amassed their wealth and perhaps this is where the Englishman will revive his fortunes. 

Coming back to the German-American conundrum, one wonders as to who is driving the alliance? Is America making Germany its new poodle or are the Germans inching closer to replacing the Jewish Lobby as drivers of USA. According to Philip Oltermann, “German Americans make up the largest ethnic group in the US, if you divide Hispanics into Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans etc. In the 2013 American Community Survey, 46 million Americans claimed German ancestry: more than the number who traced their roots to Ireland (33 million) or England (25 million).”[1]

The Germans are trying their best to endear themselves to the Americans. Germany has decided to completely give up on nuclear energy and is likely to close down all nuclear plants by 2022.[2]

The German government has handed over its information systems and IT security entirely to an American private military company, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC). CSC is like the IT department for the entire U.S. intelligence infrastructure. 

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s desire to court Americans at all costs, also explains the current chill in German behaviour towards Russia. The German denials on the rape of the German -Russian girl in Berlin; attacks on President Putin’s cyber-security policy and their attitude on the Ukrainian issue all point in the direction that Germans want to be in American good books. 

What one is witnessing is an intense power struggle within the transatlantic world. The Germans are making bold moves to woo America. Britain is the first to fall, the Jewish lobby in America is likely to be the next to go! 


[2] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13592208 

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Last week, Jo Cox, a member of the Labour Party in the British Parliament, was shot and stabbed to death in West Yorkshire allegedly` by Thomas Mair, At the time of killing, Mair is reported to have shouted “Britain First”, a possible reference to the far right Britain First party, that has linkages with the white nationalist British National Party.

Mair has joined the list of maverick right-wingers who over the last few years have suffixed “First” to their country’s name and popularized it. The Indian Prime Minister Modi made “India First” his election theme during the general elections. Speaking at a video conference of the Indian-American community organised by the Overseas Friends of BJP in early 2013, Modi said, ‘India First’. Whatever you do, wherever you work, India should be the top priority for all its citizens,” to define his understanding of secularism. In the midst of a raging debate on intolerance in the country in November 2015, Modi reiterated, 'India first’ is the only religion and Constitution the only ‘holy book’ for his government.

If Modi branded his secularism with “India First” Donald Trump has chosen “America First” to showcase his foreign policy by stating that "My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else. That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration." 

Whether it is Mair, Modi or Trump the common mantra connecting the conservatives of the world seems to be country first. The basic premise is that nation-state is the bulwark of happiness and globalism or regionalism is not healthy the people. Trump comes out as a typical isolationist who rejects America’s so-called appeasement of the world using soft power. Modi also believes that the Indian state can be strengthened by weeding out foreign NGOs. The contradiction is that American NGOs are considered detrimental to national political harmony, the American military logistic base in India is believed to be completely innocuous. 

The History of “First”

America First was first used by Woodrow Wilson to reaffirm American neutrality in WWI. However, as the German U-boat attacks picked up momentum, Wilson changed tack and decided on American participation in war. This was not acceptable to William Randolph Hearst, the American businessman and media giant in the first half of twentieth century. Hearst put America First on the masthead of his Newspaper to remind Wilson of his promise not to get involved in European affairs, especially against Germany. 

The America First Committee was formed in 1940, to oppose American entry into second World War, to save Britain. The anti-war committee was formed by some prominent American businessmen R. Douglas Stuart, Jr. the owner of Quaker Oats at Yale University. He was supported by Gerald Ford, and Sargent Shriver, the founder of US Peace Corps in early 1960. Many in the anti-war committee were supporters of India’s freedom in the 1940s. 

The origins of ‘India First’ can also be traced to an American journalist, Gertrude Emerson. Gertrude was the correspondent of Asia magazine. In the 1930s she was deeply linked to the Americans like Pearl S Buck and others who voiced their concerns about colonial rule in India. Gertrude married Boshi Sen, an agricultural scientist, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda. The Sen couple was closely linked to Josephine Macleod, the American lady who played a big role in establishing the entire Ramakrishna Mission in India and abroad since mid-1890. Gertrude Emerson floated an NGO called “India First Society” at Almora in 1980. 

Britain First came up in 2011. All three firsts are engaged in hate campaigns against Muslims in their respective countries. They are all connected to big money and media. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

In 1970s British Tried Selling Harriers to China

Last week, the Indian Navy bid adieu to the British-built Sea Harrier. The lone Subsonic-Sea Harrier flew among the newly inducted supersonic fighters, MiG 29k to mark the ceremony at Goa. The 1970s vintage machine was de-inducted from the Royal Navy in the year 2006 after serving for good twenty-six years. The Indian Navy had refurbished the aircraft, in 2009, to add another few years to its life. For almost three decades the Harriers were a pride of the Indian Navy flying from aircraft carriers. 

Harrier was a short/vertical take-off and landing jet fighter, reconnaissance and strike aircraft designed and manufactured by British Aerospace. Its ability to hover like a helicopter was its unique feature. 

Harriers operated successfully from the aircraft carriers, HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes in the Falkland War of 1982. A good war-performance enhanced their marketability in global arms market. India was impressed with the British innovation in the fighter domain. India ordered 30 aircraft and along with HMS Hermes, which was later rechristened as INS Viraat. The first three Sea Harriers landed at Goa on December 16, 1983, the deck landing abilities were tested on India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant on December 20, 1983. 

Interestingly, when the British Aerospace was busy negotiating with India the price of the naval version of the aircraft, it was simultaneously engaged in selling the Airforce-version of the Harriers to the Chinese. In fact, the Chinese started talking about sale-purchase of 200 Harriers, as early as 1972. In 1964, the Chinese bought Six Viscount aircraft for civilian use and thirty-six Trident jets firm Great Britain. 

The “Gang of Four” menace in China put the Harrier negotiations on hold. In 1977 Li Chiang, then Chinese Minister of Foreign Trade visited Britain. The British organised a special Harrier flying demonstration for Li. In November 1978, the Harrier-demonstration was repeated for the Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Chen during his London visit.

The British were more than willing to sell to the Chinese despite the United States Battle Act of 1951 that prohibited such sales to the Soviet Bloc countries. Earlier Britain had overlooked the American concerns and sold Rolls Royce Spey engine to China in 1975. The sale of engine was for military purpose. Not only were the Americans advising Britain to refrain from selling jump-jets to the Chinese the Soviets too were opposed to the West arming the Chinese. Brezhnev wrote to British Prime Minister asking him to back off from negotiation harrier deal with the Chinese. Brezhnev’s letter was leaked to the press to show that the Soviets were trying to influence British decision. 

Perhaps, due many of these factors the Chinese slowed down the speed of negotiations. In the midst of uncertainty, Wang’s elevation into the Politburo of CCP gave British fresh hopes of selling Harrier to China. The British sales-pitch to the Chinese was that Harrier could be effective in close-support operations and was a fit aircraft in defensive role. In 1979, the Anglo-Sino deal was almost through, the agreement was drawn, but the process got stalled by the Chinese invasion of Vietnam. And the deal died its natural death. 

Interestingly, to keep the Americans in good humour, the London told Washington that it did not foresee the Chinese using the Harriers against Taiwan. Now the US Marine Corps is trying to sell the refurbished AV-8 Harriers to Taiwan. The justification is that in the event of a Chinese missile-attack the Taiwanese airfields will be the first to be destroyed and in such an eventuality the Harriers - capable of vertical take-off and landing- hidden in the mountains will come in handy to launch counter attacks. In 1980s China rejected the Harriers, now it is Taiwan that seems to be in no mood to oblige USA. 


1. David Crane, “The Harrier Jump-Jet and Sino-British Relations,” Asian Affairs

Vol. 8, No. 4 (Mar. - Apr., 1981), pp. 227-250 

2. Edward Harvey, “The Modernisation of China and the Harrier ‘Jump-Jet’: Sino-British relations during China’s ‘opening-up’ to the World.” Available at https://independentresearcher.academia.edu/EdwardHarvey