Modi-Xi ‘Informal Summit’: Domestic Priorities Uppermost

US President Richard Nixon’s path-breaking visit to China in February 1972 could arguably be called the mother of all ‘resets’ of a major bilateral relationship. In his own words, it was ‘the week that… changed the world’ and there can be little disagreement on this score.

The ‘informal summit’ scheduled later this week between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province too, is being advertised as a key moment in the relationship.

What explains the timing of the summit and its motivations?

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

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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 »

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 »

Explaining the India-China Standoff at Doklam: Causes and Implications

‘Explaining the India-China Standoff at Doklam: Causes and Implications’, Aakrosh, Vol. 20, No. 77, October 2017, pp. 60-76.

Extract:

In mid-June 2017, India and China began a long standoff in the Doklam area of Bhutan that came to an end only in late August. The crisis originated when a Chinese road-building party moved into an area that was part of a dispute with Bhutan, an activity that the Indian side deemed was an attempt to change the status quo in an area uncomfortably close to the sensitive ‘Chicken’s neck’ corridor connecting mainland India with Northeast India. As long as the area – part of the trilateral meeting point of the borders between Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan – only saw grazers or the occasional patrol party from China and Bhutan visiting, there really was no major cause for concern. But the Indians refused to countenance permanent Chinese construction in the area and on apparent request from their Bhutanese counterparts moved to physcially block the Chinese from continuing with their activity. The Chinese were clearly surprised, not expecting the Indians to intervene so decisively on the side of the Bhutanese in territory that after all did not belong to India and was the subject of another bilateral dispute altogether. The Chinese reactions in turn were a cause of much surprise for the Indians – the Chinese Foreign Ministry and state-run media began a campaign of vociferous protests and open threats quite unlike usual Chinese practice of either ignoring Indian reports of Chinese transgressions or of giving pro forma responses. In the Doklam case however, there were repeated Chinese calls to India to ‘immediately pull back’ Indian troops to their side of the boundary. The Chinese kept stressing for a long time that this was ‘the precondition for any meaningful talks between the two sides aiming at resolving the issue’. Chinese rhetoric constantly suggested that India not doubt China’s demand for Indian troop withdrawal or that it would do what it took to have India out of ‘Chinese territory’, even suggesting ‘a military response may become inevitable’. The Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was, for instance, targeted by name in several Global Times editorials or op-eds. In the end, the Indians stood their ground and the Chinese had to climb down but there are important considerations for India from the entire episode and the way the vehement Chinese criticism of India through the incident and after.

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China and its Neighbourhood: Perspectives from India and Vietnam

Jabin T. Jacob and Hoang The Anh (editors), China and Its Neighbourhood: Perspectives from India and Vietnam (New Delhi: Pentagon, 2017).

Vietnamese edition: Trang Quoc voi lang Gieng: Quan Diem Viet Nam va An Do (Hanoi: Vietnam Social Sciences Press, 2017).

Summary

This volume is an attempt to develop a more nuanced understanding of China’s foreign, security and economic policies by bringing together perspectives from two of its most important neighbours, India and Vietnam. This is a unique exercise because these two countries have a long history of both contending and cooperating with the People’s Republic of China. Even as India’s boundary dispute and Vietnam’s maritime territorial disputes with China have persisted, both countries have, in recent decades, also managed to successfully develop close economic relations with their northern neighbour as well as cooperated extensively with Beijing on regional and global issues of significance and mutual interest. Yet, the growth of China’s capabilities and ambitions, and the decline of its impulse towards multilateralism present challenges for India and Vietnam in their neighbourhood. It is against this backdrop that the authors in this book examine China’s bilateral relations and its role in regional multilateral organisations as well as the balancing behaviour of other powers in the region. In the process, this work also seeks to strengthen the sinews of the comprehensive strategic partnership between India and Vietnam by building closer ties between the research communities in the two countries and giving it greater analytical heft.

In India, Vietnam has the image of an uncompromising bulwark against China and almost any discussion of India’s external options vis-à-vis China is not complete without bringing Vietnam into the picture. Hanoi, meanwhile, sees India as a big neighbour to China and that while the relationship between the two countries has had its ups and downs in history, New Delhi now seems to be both cooperating and competing with China. India’s experience of dealing with China holds lessons for Vietnam. At the same time, it is extremely essential for policymakers and strategic analysts in India to keep a close eye on the dynamics of the China-Vietnam relationship itself. How relations between the two most successful communist regimes in the world – politically and economically speaking – will develop remains to be seen. There are both lessons to be learnt and cautionary tales here. New Delhi should have a realistic assessment of the lengths to which Vietnam will go in countering China’s assertiveness in the region given that it is the smaller country. At the same time, given Vietnamese history, there is also scope for calibrated measures to support Vietnam’s national capacity.

Available on Amazon.