Category Archives: Comparative Politics

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

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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

The ‘Emperor’ Has Feet of Clay

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China has suggested removing term limits for the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China. The immediate implication is that President Xi Jinping could conceivably continue for a third term or more in office. However, the more important one is that this sets a precedent for doing away with the norm of a two-term limit developed over the past couple of decades for the CPC General Secretary – the most powerful position Xi holds.

This development then appears to confirm long-standing speculation that Xi was aiming to carry on in power at the next CPC National Congress in 2022.

Other amendments to the PRC constitution being mooted by the CPC also confirm the possibility.[1] One such is the addition of ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ in the PRC Constitution. In this case, this is a foregone conclusion since Xi Jinping Thought was already included in the CPC constitution at the 19th Party National Congress last October.

To understand what exactly has happened and how, Indians need only remember how their own bureaucrats bend the rules or create new ones at will, if necessary – to push their own aggrandizement while in office or to comfortable post-retirement sinecures. Continue reading The ‘Emperor’ Has Feet of Clay

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. Continue reading Book Review: India-Southeast Asia-China Triangular Dynamics

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.