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The diplomatic showdown between India and Canada continues to worsen, the latest sign of the rising power of former mid-level nations that increasingly are asserting themselves in the face of Western dominance.
PARIS — Expulsions of diplomats between rival countries is nothing new. In the weeks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, dozens were deported between the two countries. But between friendly countries, it is much rarer, and internationally frowned upon. India’s decision Tuesday to demand the departure of 41 Canadian diplomats is therefore exceptional, and says a lot about today’s international political climate.
With this mass expulsion, New Delhi is expressing anger at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has directly implicated the Indian government in the assassination of a Sikh opposition figure on Canadian soil. The dissident, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, was shot dead in Surrey, British Columbia on June 18, and Ottawa has signaled that it is in possession of serious evidence, including wiretaps, implicating Indian agents in the assassination.
Ever since Trudeau launched his accusations, the tone has continued to escalate. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi denies the allegations, and counter-attacked by criticizing Canada’s asylum policy for those he calls “terrorists of Khalistan,” the name of the hypothetical Sikh state that many followers of the religion dream of. Modi wants Canada to pay the price for the attack on his honor.
A global shift in power
This affair reveals two phenomena. First, it reveals the assertion of identity and increasing international relevance of emerging countries led by illiberal and even authoritarian strongmen, such as Modi in India.
India has recently forged closer ties with the West, seen by the Indian Prime Minister’s trips to Washington and Paris this year. India, however, will not stand for criticism and “lessons” from its Western friends.
The second phenomenon is the questioning of the very principle of the right to asylum. Modi is challenging Canada’s right to accept Sikh exiles, in a similar way that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blackmailed Sweden into handing over Kurdish exiles in exchange for his approval for the Nordic country’s admission into NATO. To this day, the issue has not been resolved between two theoretically allied countries.
Trudeau and Modi in happier times at last year's G7 in Germany
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via ZUMA
MBS and Khashoggi
What is new is that these former middle-level powers have acquired the necessary clout and autonomy to make their voices heard and even win these political battles with leading Western nations.
The Crown Prince has enjoyed nearly complete impunity
When exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside his own country’s consulate in Istanbul, investigations led directly to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman as the key perpetrator. Five years later, the Crown Prince remains one of the most powerful men on earth, and has enjoyed nearly complete impunity. All attempts to ostracize him for the murder, including by U.S. President Joe Biden, have failed.
Justin Trudeau now finds himself trapped, perhaps by his own naivety, for underestimating the shift in the world’s balance of power. Notably, not a single other Western leader has commented on the confrontation between the emerging Indian power and the Western prime minister calling for the rule of law. The rules of the game have certainly changed.
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