Saturday, August 15, 2009

G-2 embassies in New Delhi

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The Chinese Embassy at Chanakyapuri, in New Delhi, is now surrounded by a barbed wire fence. It starts next to the pavement and is a good 6-7 feet away from the walls of the compound. It is an eyesore! It looks more like a compound housing a security agency/military outpost than an embassy at New Delhi’s beautiful diplomatic enclave.

Embassies in New Delhi, or for that matter anywhere in the world, take great care to project an authentic (or desired) perception of the country. When I first visited New Delhi as a 13 year old, I remember my parents taking me around the Diplomatic Enclave. That was quite some time ago and I was amazed by the wide boulevards, the neatly manicured lawns, “foreign cars” (India only had the Maruti to boast of then) which was so unlike the rest of Delhi. I remember loving the ‘cottage like’ Belgian Embassy and the Pakistan Embassy for its unique Islamic architecture with domes and all. But yes, every embassy I visited embedded in my mind an image of the country.Years later, when I happened to visit the US embassy, I could sense "power" - in its sprawling campus, high walls, layers of security surrounding the embassy, cumbersome and tiring security checks conducted by paranoid and angry staff. There are barricades, check posts in the lanes and roads leading to the embassy, there is a ring of security by the paramilitary forces (most likely the CRPF) and an outer layer of security of Delhi Police both outside the embassy and then there are layers inside. You realize, this is a country that takes itself really seriously. It was inaccessible and unfriendly. There was nothing “diplomatic” about it and you could sense the “empire.” In a way, the preeminent position of US in the world was being reinforced by its heightened threat perception.

The Chinese seems to be doing something similar. Is it reflective of its growing power in the world now? I don’t know exactly when this fence and layers of security came up around the Chinese embassy. Possibly, after the Urumqi riots with threats of attacks by Islamic terrorists the Chinese are being extra careful. However, contrast this with the Algerian Embassy, a country which has been a victim of Islamic terror for quite some time now. The Algerians don’t look so paranoid. The rest of the P5 - Russian, French and English - seem comparatively relaxed too. The Chinese are beginning to take themselves seriously or maybe I am taking the Chinese seriously! But as my colleagues and me drove by the Chinese embassy we could sense "power."
The G2 has arrived in New Delhi. Contrast this to a visit to the New Zealand High Commisssion or the embassy of Nepal for that matter. You will know what I am talking about!
Suggestions/Critiques welcome.



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