Book Review: India-Southeast Asia-China Triangular Dynamics

Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Insights on a Triangular Relationship’, The Book Review, Vol. XLI, No. 12, December 2017, 12-13.

Amitav Acharya. East of India, South of China: Indian Encounters in Southeast Asia (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2017).

Karen Stoll Farrell and Sumit Ganguly (eds) Heading East: Security, Trade, and Environment between India and Southeast Asia (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016).

The two volumes under review are dissimilar books – dissimilar in structure, approaches and style. And yet, in their juxtaposition also emerges many interesting insights on the common theme in the two volumes namely, of the triangular relationship between India, Southeast Asia and China. Amitav Acharya’s East of India, South of China has China much more upfront as a central factor but Heading East edited by Karen Stoll Farrell and Sumit Ganguly would not stand either without China being the unspoken elephant in the volume.

This is not surprising. India’s interest in Southeast Asia today is largely commerce-driven but China has never been far from the surface as a factor. Indeed, it has been the glue holding disparate Indian interests and faltering attention together for over the nearly three decades since the Look East Policy was announced. But only just. And this is evident in the scant resources devoted to the study of Southeast Asia and China in Indian academic institutions or to desk specializations within the government. And this despite a change in nomenclature to an ‘Act East’ policy, frequent claims of Indian civilizational contributions to and geopolitical interest in the two regions and despite China being India’s largest neighbour.

While India has a famed (infamous, according to some sections) group of China-wallahs within its foreign ministry, it is slim pickings almost in every other area of India’s foreign policy and segment its government or non-governmental sector. Read more

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Book Review: Xi Jinping’s China

of Jayadev Ranade’s  Xi Jinping’s China (New Delhi: Knowledge World Publishers). pp. xi+394. Rs. 1,400. ISBN: 978-93-86288-90-5

This work is a collection of pieces written by the author in various online platforms and as part of other edited volumes. The reader does not have the benefit of an introduction that ties in all the chapters together but the fact that the book releases right after the conclusion of 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing in October certainly helps provide context.

All the big issues are covered here – from Xi Jinping’s rise to power as General Secretary of the CPC and his consolidation of power over the past five years, the murky details of the fall of Xi’s rival Bo Xilai, and China’s military reforms and reorganization. Alongside, a host of relatively arcane issues such as China’s annual sessions of its equivalent of a national parliament and Xi’s new rules for propaganda, media control – thought control, no less (the infamous Document No. 9) – are also examined.

Ranade also discusses Chinese foreign policy with respect to India. He covers China’s boundary transgressions, its policies towards Tibet, and Xi’s major foreign policy initiatives such as the ‘belt and road’ project, which India has unequivocally opposed, especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Ranade does not believe that the direction of Chinese foreign and security policies have much by way of positive implications for India-China relations. One might disagree with the assumptions he uses or the reasons he offers but no observer of Chinese words and actions on the South China Sea or as part of its ‘belt and road’ initiative can fail to come away with a sense of unease about Chinese regional and global intentions and ambitions.

Making predictions in Chinese politics and foreign and security policies is inherently risky business Read more

What does India think of China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative?

Jabin T. Jacob, ‘What does India think of China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative?’, ICS Occasional Paper, No. 19, December 2017.  

Abstract

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is an ambitious regional and global project that it has attempted to sell as a global public good. One country where the Chinese project has met clear, consistent and widespread opposition at both the official level and among strategic analysts, is India. As important a factor that a sometimes reflexive Indian opposition to things Chinese is, there are also big contradictions and wide loopholes in Chinese arguments and justifications for the BRI that deserve to be highlighted. This paper examines Chinese arguments in so far as they relate to India but the weaknesses of these arguments are also germane to other countries that have joined or are seeking to join the BRI.

Book Review: Cadres of Tibet

of Jayadev Ranade’s. Cadres of Tibet (New Delhi: Knowledge World Publishers, 2018). pp. xi+199. Rs.1,120. ISBN: 978-93-86288-92-9.

As the blurb of this book says, while information about the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is plentiful in China’s official media, there is comparatively little about the people who actually govern the province in China. This book tries to fill this important gap in knowledge and the author is to be commended for taking on an onerous task.

The importance and significance of the work can be understood when one considers that the best-known international repository of information on Chinese leaders, China Vitae run by the American think-tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has no data on a significant number of the officials that this book includes. Memebers of the Standing Committee of provincial Communist Party Committee are not insignificant political leaders, even if there is an informal hierarchy among Chinese provinces based on GDP, history, ethnic composition and so on. However, China Vitae does not have entries for many members of the TAR Standing Committee and even if a name were available, the data is not up to date, including even for the Party Secretary Wu Yingjie who took up his post in August 2016. Ranade by contrast goes into granular detail on Wu’s career in Tibet and his public statements (pp.19-23) as he does also for at least a few previous Party Secretaries, including former Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary and PRC President, Hu Jintao who served in Tibet from 1988-1992. Read more

The Many Ironies of India-China Economic Relations

Pickpockets are not uncommon in crowded places in India. Victims are generally realists and tend to resign themselves to their misfortune quickly often not even bothering to go to the police. Not so, however, actor-turned-politician Manoj Tiwari, head of the Delhi unit of India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. When he lost his iPhone Seven Plus at a demonstration, he promptly complained at the local police station. Politicians in India are often able to get the police to expend extra effort on their behalf, so Tiwari’s response was not really surprising.

What was surprising was the fact that the politician had lost his phone at a protest against Chinese-made goods organized by an affiliate of the BJP’s parent organization, the right-wing hyper-nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. And as American as Steve Jobs might have been, the iPhone is the quintessential made-in-China product.

Such ironies are a dime a dozen in the India-China relationship. Read more

A Strongman in China: Implications for Asian Regional Politics

At the end of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) 19th Congress, Xi Jinping was elected to a second five-year term as General Secretary. As expected, he was able to pack China’s top ruling body, the Politburo Standing Committee of the CPC (PBSC) with his allies but contrary to expectations did not choose potential leaders-in-waiting from the so-called ‘sixth generation’ of China’s leaders (those born in the 1960s). The grooming of potential successors has been a Party norm since the demise of Mao Zedong, adopted to ensure that greater political stability and institutionalization within the CPC. Read more

19th CPC Congress in China: Ideology Dominant

China is the world’s second-largest economy and one its major political powers. While it has not been tested in battle for some 40 years, it has the largest military in the world and the second-largest military budget. For nearly 70 years, the world’s most populous country has been ruled by a single political party – the Communist Party of China (CPC) – and so when it holds its once-in-five-years national congress, it is an important event that the rest of the world and especially neighbouring India would do well to watch closely and understand. Read more

China’s 19th CPC Congress: Redefining Economic Growth

There are several aspects of the recently concluded 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) that are noteworthy for India.

First, CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping has attempted to redefine what acceptable economic growth is in China. The expression ‘contradiction’ is an important one in the Chinese communist lexicon and until the 19th Party Congress, the ‘principal contradiction’ was the one between ‘the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people and backward social production’ or, in other words, China’s inability to provide for the basic material needs of its people. Following nearly 40 years of economic reforms, this challenge has now been met with China eradicating poverty at the most massive scale and at the quickest pace in human history.

This process has, however, also resulted in rising income inequalities between individuals and between regions in China, and massive environmental damage and health crises across the country. Read more

Xi Jinping’s Report to the 19th CPC Congress in China

This article was originally written on 23 October 2017 and published online on 29 October as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Red Alert’ in The Week (issue dated 5 November 2017).

China is the world’s second-largest economy and one its major political powers. While it has not been tested in battle for some 40 years, it has the largest military in the world and the second-largest military budget. For nearly 70 years, the world’s most populous country has been ruled by a single political party – the Communist Party of China (CPC) – and so when it holds its once-in-five-years national congress, it is an important event that the rest of the world and especially neighbouring India would do well to watch closely and understand. Read more