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Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy War and Conflict

India, China and their Accelerating Cold Wars

There are three ‘cold wars’ that have been underway for some time, which involve India and China. Each shows both how much the world has changed since the ‘original’ Cold War between the US and the USSR and how distinct in their worldviews and approaches India and China are from the superpowers of an earlier era. These cold wars are also now picking up pace.

The first cold war is a direct one. Mutual trust has never been a strong suit of the India-China relationship but the ongoing Chinese transgressions along the LAC indicate a significant breakdown of long-standing bilateral agreements and can be considered a tipping point. For the foreseeable future, LAC face-offs involving violent physical altercations and possibly casualties will be the norm. And yet, these are unlikely to escalate into full-fledged conflict even as both sides criticise each other more openly in bilateral and multilateral conversations.

What also separates the India-China cold war from its predecessor between the superpowers is the deep and growing economic linkages between the two sides. Another feature is the distinct asymmetry in both the military and economic equations in China’s favour. But while calls in India for selectively boycotting Chinese goods are unlikely to work, the Indian government can still prevent any further Chinese ingress in the form of capital and technologies. Given its own political economy, this might be more of a concern for China, than the LAC itself. Asymmetry, thus, does not necessarily mean lack of leverage for India and avenues for negotiations and compromises will exist in the relationship.

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Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Belligerence and Silence: Explaining Chinese Actions Along the LAC in Ladakh

Ever since Xi Jinping came to power as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), he has given greater wings to a form of victimhood-based nationalism in China and promoted the image of the CPC as the only institution capable of defending China’s interests. One narrative that has built up as a result is that China must reclaim territories that it had supposedly lost to imperialism and great power machinations over a century and a half before the arrival of the CPC at the helm of affairs in China in 1949. In the initial years however, under Mao Zedong as Chairman of the CPC, it was not nationalism as much ideology that drove China’s actions – China even willingly gave up territory to Vietnam as part of the objective of maintaining friendly relations with a fellow communist country.

But even then, as in the case of India in 1962 and the Ussuri clashes with the Soviet Union in 1969, China was ready to throw in and risk everything to push back when it thought its neighbours were trying to take undue advantage of it or acting in a hegemonic manner.

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Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Reorienting India’s China Policy Towards Greater Transparency

The first Indian casualties on the disputed India-China boundary since 1975 should be occasion to reconsider several long-held beliefs and methods of dealing with the relationship that successive governments in New Delhi have adopted over the years.

This essay will deal with just one trope – that foreign policymaking in India cannot be an open, public or democratic exercise and that ‘quiet diplomacy’ is the way to go in dealing with China. There are two central problems with such a position – both of which have been on view during the ongoing crisis on the LAC and which have severely constrained the Indian government’s ability to assess the situation as well as to find options to deal with it.

First, the desire to keep decision-making on China within the strict confines of the government has much to do with the run-up to the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. The lesson learned following India’s defeat seemed to be that discussing matters openly in Parliament or with the general public tended to limit the freedom of manoeuvre for the Indian government to engage in negotiations with the Chinese side that would require compromises by New Delhi in order to have a realistic chance of a resolution that at least broadly met India’s interests.

If this tendency has continued within the Indian government, it has to do with a second reality valid until quite recently, which was that expertise on the border areas or on what went on there was limited to the Army and various paramilitaries – the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and previously, also the Assam Rifles, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs – that had manned the borders and/or with the diplomats and other civilian officials who held administrative charge of these areas.

There are good reasons why neither position is tenable any longer.

For the rest of the article originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Reorienting India’s China policy towards greater transparency’, Raisina Debates, Observer Research Foundation, 17 June 2020 see here.

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Comparative Politics Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Why a post-COVID-19 global order led by China is only a distant threat

Given China’s seemingly quick recovery from Covid-19 and given how the developed West has been shown up in its response to the pandemic, the possibility of a China-led post-Covid world order is not quite idle chatter. Nevertheless, such talk both exaggerates the weaknesses of the West and overstates China’s capabilities.

The world order might require changing but such change is not about to happen soon for political and economic reasons.

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Comparative Politics

The Coronavirus Epidemic: Some Economic Considerations for India

There are several ways in which the coronavirus outbreak in China has consequences for the Indian economy, directly and indirectly.

One, the lockdowns in Chinese cities – many of which are economic hubs with populations and GDPs equivalent to small countries – affects production and supply worldwide given how integrated China is into the global economy. India is likely to suffer, too – more than half of India’s imports in 19 categories come from China according to a State Bank of India report[1] and 14% of its overall imports.[2] One of India’s top export sectors, pharmaceuticals, for example, depends heavily for key starting material, intermediates and active pharma ingredients from China.[3]

Both the pharma sector and the Indian economy in general have faced a tough year and were only just beginning to show signs of recovery which are now likely to be delayed due to the outbreak in China.[4] The spread of the coronavirus is pushing the world economy toward its worst performance since the 2008 financial crisis. And while the Indian government has declared itself ready with steps to ameliorate the effects on domestic industry,[5] its record so far is not encouraging.

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Comparative Politics Political Parties

Incompetence, Insecurity and an Epidemic

The Chinese city of Wuhan saw the emergence of a novel coronavirus – officially designated “2019-nCoV” – in December last year. Information about the virus was communicated to the World Health Organisation at the end of the month but it was only towards mid-January that the Chinese leadership found it necessary to reveal the information to its own people.

Wuhan had come to the attention to the average Indian because of the eponymous ‘informal summit’ between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in April 2018 that followed the Doklam standoff the previous year and was supposed to have mended bilateral ties. It might be more relevant, however, for Indians to think about Wuhan as a sign of the failure of China’s vaunted efficiency and of the selection system of its supposedly meritocratic leaders.

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Comparative Politics Political Parties

Of Elections, Fake News and China

The island nation of Taiwan, claimed by China as a ‘renegade province’, has just held its presidential elections.

If Unites States politics has been riven in recent years by questions of Russian involvement and interference, the Chinese have been at this for a very long time in Taiwanese politics, trying to push Taiwan’s unification with China and conducting disinformation campaigns in both traditional and social media on the island.

To counter Chinese-sponsored fake news and disinformation on its platform, Facebook had to launch a ‘war room’ in Taiwan on the eve of the presidential elections working closely with the country’s election commission, law enforcement agencies, political parties, and the presidential candidates themselves.[1]

In India, entities as AltNews and Boom, for example, do their best to counter the massive volume of misinformation that floats through WhatsApp groups and other forms of social media in India, but the brazenness with which politicians spout blatant lies or contradict themselves suggests that these efforts need to be widespread and more thorough.

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Comparative Politics Foreign Policy

Another Rajapaksa at the Helm in Sri Lanka: The China Factor

The victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the presidential elections in Sri Lanka in November and the subsequent appointment of his older brother and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister have created some concerns in India that the island nation might be returning to a more pro-China foreign policy.

It is important to look into these concerns more carefully.

One, it is not as if the Sri Lankans under former president Maithripala Sirisena, and successor to the older Rajapaksa, was able to pull his country completely out of the Chinese embrace. As is well-known it was during Sirisena’s tenure that the country had to sign over Hambantota to China in 2018 for a 99-year lease.[1] And other major Chinese investments such as the Colombo Port City and the Norochcholai power station continued unhindered.

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Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Political Parties

China Worries in India’s RCEP Decision

India’s refusal to sign up for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement in Bangkok earlier this month says as much about the state of India’s relations with China as it does about its place in the global trading regime.

There is no doubt that India is in many way not ready for the additional challenges and pain its domestic industry and agriculture will face with accession to RCEP especially since the economy is still recovering from the self-inflicted damage of demonetisation in 2016 and a poorly-executed roll-out of the GST less than a year later.

But there is not an insubstantial argument to be made about the consequences of opening up under RCEP to a Chinese economy that still is far from being an open market economy.