Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Chinese Defence Minister’s Visit: To What End for India?

Chinese Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe’s visit to India in late August is an occasion to consider the state of India-China military exchanges.

While military-to-military exchanges are important, there seems little to them in the India-China case beyond merely keeping up appearances. Gen. Wei’s visit was preceded by the late July visit of Gen. Liu Xiaowu, deputy commander of the Western Theater Command (WTC) with charge of the border with India and in mid-August, of the head of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army, Lt Gen. Abhay Krishna.

Even the business of familiarization as is the case with these visits of theatre commanders does not mean much because they do not have any regular schedule and can be easily disrupted. Continue reading Chinese Defence Minister’s Visit: To What End for India?

Advertisements

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

Is It Asia’s Moment, Yet?

Asia witnessed two major summits in the last week of April – between Kim Jong-un of North Korea and Moon Jae-in of South Korea in Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone between the two countries, and between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan, China.

Arguably, it was the meeting between the leaders of the two smaller countries that carried the greatest immediate significance, if nothing else because they sought a formal end to a state of war that has existed since 1950 and ‘complete denuclearisation’ of the Korean peninsula while the India-China summit promised not even a joint statement of what was on the agenda between their two leaders.

And yet, as many have argued for decades, there is no ‘Asian century’ without India and China working together and living in peace. Continue reading Is It Asia’s Moment, Yet?

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

Continue reading Modi-Xi ‘Informal Summit’: Domestic Priorities Uppermost

Modi-Xi ‘Informal Summit’: Misplaced Hopes

China has many ways of affecting Indian politics. Indeed, an India-China ‘reset’, as envisaged by the Narendra Modi government and represented by the “informal summit” between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has the very strong domestic context of several major state-level elections later this year and the general elections next year.

There are two big expectations that the Modi government appears to entertain here — both of which rest on shaky foundations. Continue reading Modi-Xi ‘Informal Summit’: Misplaced Hopes

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

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