Category Archives: Comparative Politics

Political Crisis in Sri Lanka: Little Risk for China

A major political crisis is underway in Sri Lanka following President Maithripala Sirisena’s sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, replacing him former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and finally the dissolution of parliament. There are now multiple petitions now pending before the country’s Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of Sirisena’s actions.[1]

Meanwhile, if general elections were allowed, Rajapaksa’s chances of returning to power look good given that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party – which he formally joined just a few days ago[2] – came out on top in local elections in February. [3]

During Rajapaksa’s tenure as President from 2005 to 2015, the Chinese had begun to gradually involve themselves in Sri Lankan politics. Continue reading Political Crisis in Sri Lanka: Little Risk for China

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Raising China as an Issue in Indian Elections

US Vice-President Mike Pence delivered a key speech on his country’s China policy early this month on 4 October 2018.[1] His speech drove home the message of the burgeoning challenge to American interests from China. Using specific examples, he pointed out how the Chinese sought to influence American domestic politics, stole American technology, and undermined other countries through debt-trap infrastructure projects under its Belt and Road Initiative.

Implications for India

Pence’s speech on China has also been read as being politically motivated given the November mid-term elections to the US Congress.[2] While this may be so, it also offers Indians an opportunity to think why their country’s foreign policy challenges from China do not form more of an issue at least during parliamentary elections. Continue reading Raising China as an Issue in Indian Elections

Economic Complications in the Naya China-Pakistan Relationship

Imran Khan’s taking over as Prime Minister of Pakistan introduces several degrees of uncertainty in the China-Pakistan relationship given his past record of statements on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Khan has previously criticised the CPEC, if not the Chinese themselves, for favouring the bigger Pakistani provinces and ignoring the smaller ones such as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has been in power since 2013. After his July election victory however, Khan spoke specifically about learning from China’s experiences in poverty alleviation and anti-corruption besides stating that CPEC provided an economic opportunity for his country.[1] Of course, Khan was also dealing with the reality of a tougher US mood against Pakistan under the Donald Trump administration,[2] leaving him rather heavily dependent on China and Saudi Arabia to have Pakistan’s back politically and economically.

Pakistan’s Incomplete Reform Agenda Continue reading Economic Complications in the Naya China-Pakistan Relationship

Beware of China Bearing Gifts

Today, the Chinese portray the 15th century voyages to the Indian Ocean by their admiral, Zheng He, as aimed at promoting diplomacy and trade. But the record shows that these were expeditionary voyages of the Ming dynasty navy that apart from making gifts to local leaders and religious and other institutions along the route also involved itself in local politics. In one case, in Sri Lanka, Zheng even effected a regime change.

History has been repeating itself after a fashion in the modern era with China throwing its support behind then Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s in his fight against the LTTE, his economic development programmes and then his re-election effort in 2015. Following his loss, however, Beijing slowly made amends with his successor Maithripala Sirisena, and recently announced a ‘gift’ of US$295 million to be utilized for any project of the latter’s wish. Continue reading Beware of China Bearing Gifts

Modi’s Indonesia Visit: China in the Mix

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Indonesia at the end of May 2018 followed that of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to the Southeast Asian nation earlier the same month.[1] The Modi visit is a significant step not just for the bilateral relationship but in clarifying what India’s strategy is in the region. It is, therefore, important to both understand China’s impact on the India-Indonesia bilateral relationship and what it is that India is up against in converting the rhetoric into action.

As important as practical immediate-term outcomes are – as on counter-terrorism, for example – a long-term vision should also animate the relationship between India and Indonesia that has for long been consigned to a secondary or tertiary status in both capitals. One Indian official on the eve of the visit said that he expected the visit to be ‘forward-looking’. But he also set its foundation very low by noting the obvious that ‘India and Indonesia do not share any territorial disputes, which is significant to add momentum to the relationship’.[2] Continue reading Modi’s Indonesia Visit: China in the Mix

China-India-Pakistan Trilateral: Red Herring and Opportunity

At an event in mid-June organized at the initiative of the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi, China’s envoy, Amb. Luo Zhaohui noting that India and Pakistan had become full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization mooted the idea of a ‘China-India-Pakistan Leaders Meeting … under the SCO framework’.

The last time the Chinese envoy came up with a trilateral idea for cooperation was at a speech at the United Service Institution of India in May 2017 where he suggested that the name of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could be changed to accommodate Indian sensitivities. That speech can no longer be found on the Chinese Embassy website indicating that he possibly spoke out of turn or at least ruffled some feathers in Beijing and/or across the border.

Nevertheless, Amb. Luo’s latest speech is unlikely to disappear if for nothing else because the trilateral idea is not a new one. Continue reading China-India-Pakistan Trilateral: Red Herring and Opportunity

Xi for Life: Implications for India and South Asia

What does the removal of term limits for the Xi Jinping presidency in China mean for the developing world and, in particular, for South Asia?

Inspiration

One possible effect could be a demonstration effect.

China’s decades-long rapid economic growth has long been a source of envy and inspiration for many countries in the developing world. Some like Vietnam, for instance, have used China as a model in launching its own opening up and reforms process. Other countries, including many in South Asia, have seen Beijing as an alternative to the West for financial resources and capital.

With Xi’s latest move, an ambitious autocrat can try and sell the idea to his people or the elites that matter that he, and he alone holds the solutions to a country’s problems.

And often, as in the case of President Abdulla Yameen in the Maldives, who has imposed a state of emergency in the island nation, they will do so with considerably less finesse than Xi.

More of the Same? Continue reading Xi for Life: Implications for India and South Asia

Wang Huning: Xi Jinping’s Ideological Alter Ego

In practical terms, Wang Huning is to Xi Jinping what Amit Shah is to Narendra Modi. That comparison should help situate for Indian audiences Wang Huning’s importance in the Chinese political firmament somewhat. If Shah’s job is to help Modi do the electoral math and draw up strategies to win elections, it is Wang’s job to help create the narrative that legitimizes Xi Jinping in power in an authoritarian system.

If Modi and Shah have together turned a political party otherwise identified with religious extremism and vested business interests into one that appears to espouse a new work ethic in government and a vision of modernity based on new technologies – digital India, smart cities and the like – there has been a similar makeover underway in of the Communist Party of China (CPC) under Xi and Wang for much longer. Only in the Chinese case, it has been of trying to convey the image the CPC as not only the best thing to have ever happened to China but also as an exemplar for the rest of the world.

Ideologue

Wang has been speechwriter and ideologue to three successive General Secretaries of the CPC Continue reading Wang Huning: Xi Jinping’s Ideological Alter Ego

Term Limits Off for Xi: Some Reflections for India

When China’s National People’s Congress – the rough equivalent of India’s Lok Sabha, but toothless – meets in the coming week it has to deal with a proposal by the ruling Communist Party of China to amend the state constitution to remove term limits for the President of the state. Coming from where it does, this is pretty much a direct order to the NPC to remove the term limits.

Removing term limits for the President, imposed in 1982, is a roundabout way of saying that the norm of two terms for the CPC General Secretary – Xi’s more powerful avatar – too, is not set in stone.

Indeed, term limits were imposed in the first place to signal to the Party that no leader should be able to continue indefinitely in power as Mao had much to the detriment of China and its people. Now, Xi appears to be seeking the removal of term limits with the opposite message – that China requires a strong leader capable of cleaning up corruption, modernizing the military, stabilizing the economy and standing up to aggressive neighbours and especially, to the United States.

Xi has sold his work in this regard over the five years of his first term as General Secretary as having been fairly successful. But since there is much still to do, the CPC seems to suggest he cannot be inconvenienced by such things as term limits. Surely, the Chinese people understand the great and historic moment of opportunity that they have to make China great again – under Xi’s direction, of course? Continue reading Term Limits Off for Xi: Some Reflections for India