Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Chinese Presence in the Indian Ocean

Original published: “Not India’s Ocean: Perceptions of Chinese Presence in the Indian Ocean,” Paper, Asia Centre Conference Series, Centre d’études Asie (Paris), 22 October 2009.

Extract: It is important to start with that oft-repeated statement made by a Chinese admiral, “We can no longer accept the Indian Ocean as an ocean of the Indians.”[1] Apart from a sense of nationalist hurt that Indian reactions to the statement portrayed and continue to portray, the statement succeeded also in evoking a realization hitherto largely ignored or even suppressed that the Indian Ocean which had long ago ceased to be India’s ocean – traversed by international shipping, crisscrossed by US and Soviet naval vessels – was now also viewed as a legitimate area of interest by not just the superpowers of the world, that India had in reality, little capacity to influence events on the high seas.


Another expression that animates security-related discussions on the Indian Ocean is that of the ‘string of pearls,’[2] originally put forward by American naval strategists. Together, these two expressions have provided the epistemological basis for India’s energetic drive in recent years towards asserting itself in “its” ocean in a multiplicity of ways.

China’s Strategy in the Indian Ocean

Clearly, the Indian Ocean through which almost all of China’s oil supplies pass is too important a strategic space for Beijing to leave unattended; hence, its efforts beginning in Pakistan and Myanmar to build naval outposts, to be upgraded eventually, to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean region. With time, the Chinese presence it was observed had extended to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and even the Maldives and perceived to form the so-called ‘string of pearls.’ There are several problems with such a simplistic perception of the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.


One, China was not the only nation that was shipping the majority of its oil supplies and a good deal of its trade through the Indian Ocean, most Southeast Asian nations and Japan and South Korea were in a similar position. While China had especial concerns from the less than friendly attitudes of the world’s only superpower that guaranteed the safety of the shipping of the other nations mentioned, these concerns were perhaps exaggerated or overstated by the then Chinese leadership. The fact was that China’s oil imports and its trade were also tying it ever more closely into the international trading system at the heart of which were the US and its European allies. As such, there was and is little to be gained by the US from militarily threatening Chinese maritime interests. American or European threats are far more feasible and effective when they come in the form of trade-related measures such as sanctions, tariffs or the continued withholding of the market-economy status for China.


Two, while the PLA Navy has received the larger share of China’s military budget since the 1990s,[3] it still has a long way to go to in matching up to even any of the regional navies, leave alone the US Navy. Therefore, a naval expansion of the kind that would allow China set up substantial assets overseas is also likely a long way off. Two related facts also need to be considered when talking of the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean. First, China’s primary maritime security threats originate from its east, from the US presence in the Pacific, in Japan and in South Korea and from the continuing separate status of Taiwan. Thus, most of the PLAN’s attention and resources have been focused here rather than elsewhere. Second, setting up foreign military bases in a third country is not the easiest of endeavours even for a country with overwhelming international clout like the US, no matter whether the host country has an authoritarian dispensation or is a democracy. Most US bases originated in the wake of the Second World War and during the Cold War. Post-Cold War, and it has often found it difficult to justify its military presence abroad both domestically as well as to its host governments; one needs to look no further than the constant controversy that dogs American presence in Japan and South Korea. Under the circumstances, China is unlikely to be given anywhere near the same free hand that the Americans had, even by regimes that consider China their closest ally – and this includes Pakistan – for a number of reasons ranging from simply the fact that the Chinese simply do not have the same degree of political and monetary clout that the Americans have to national sovereignty issues, something that the Chinese themselves are extremely sensitive to.


Three, China main concerns in the Indian Ocean might not be military ones as much as they are economic ones and these are the only concerns that can allow it to overcome the two limitations mentioned above. If one were to view the so-called pearls in the string as commercial enterprises, this would allow, first, investment and resources that can be generated from the both Chinese and international sources and next, the rationale for a substantial Chinese presence on foreign soil that is acceptable both internationally and to the host government. Indeed, the biggest ‘pearl,’ namely, Gwadar in Pakistan, can be viewed precisely through such a commercial prism. The port was built with substantial Chinese investments[4] but has been managed by the Port of Singapore Authority since it was opened in 2007.[5] Gwadar’s commercial aspect was premised on it serving as a strategic hub for the transport of oil from West Asia overland through Pakistan into western China. Similar interpretations are possible about the other ‘pearls’ in question. Hambantota in Sri Lanka which to all intents and purposes is a case of expansion of a commercial port while there are several inconsistencies and likely exaggerations about the whole issue of Chinese listening posts/naval bases in Myanmar.[6]


Returning to Gwadar, the question can be legitimately asked – how feasible a commercial enterprise was this port ever going to be? The Chinese must surely have had a military angle to this endeavour, as part of the close Sino-Pak partnership that was aimed against India. This is perhaps true but it is also perhaps not the only truth. As mentioned above, the Chinese leadership probably had an exaggerated view of the threats posed to its energy supplies and SLOCs from being exposed for so long through the Indian Ocean. Chinese strategists probably sought to insure their supplies and trade by diverting them through a steadfast ally. It is difficult to state just how much of a military component there was to the plan, whether geostrategic concerns justified the economics or whether, the plan was purely an economic endeavour to start with.


Whatever the case, from an economic point of view, once the decision had been taken, there were certain gains to be made… Read more

[1] Quoted in Yossef Bodansky, “Beijing’s Surge for the Strait of Malacca,” Freeman Center for Strategic Studies, 1995. Bodansky however, provides no sources for his quote, other than saying it is from a top-secret Chinese memorandum.

[2] For a detailed exposition, see Christopher J Pehrson, “String of Pearls: Meeting the Challenge of China’s Rising Power Across the Asian Littoral,” Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, July 2006. The expression however, is much older.

[3] “China’s Defense Budget,”, 20 April 2009,

[4] By the China Harbour Engineering Company, funded with a US$198m Chinese loan. See Stephen Marks, “Understanding China’s Strategy: Beyond ‘Non- Interference’,” Global Policy Forum, 5 November 2008.

[5] “Gwadar port opens today,” Dawn, 20 March 2007. See also Saleem Shahid, “Gwadar port accord to be reviewed, says Gabol,” Dawn, 21 December 2008.

[6] See Andrew Selth, “Chinese Military Bases in Burma: The Explosion of a Myth,” Regional Outlook Paper, No. 10, Griffith Asia Institute, 2007 and Andrew Selth, “Burma’s Coco Islands: rumours and realities in the Indian Ocean,” Working Paper Series, No. 101, Southeast Asia Research Centre, City University of Hong Kong, November 2008.


Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Towards a New Asian Architecture: India and Ideology

Originally published: August 2008

Extract: Current realities including the US presence in Asia as well as China’s global emergence will need to be addressed in any new Asian security architecture. For the new architecture to also acknowledge India’s rise and its interests, India will however need to provide something much more than military or economic might. There must be an Indian idea that can motivate the security discourse on the Asian continent.


Towards this end, India must ask itself some hard questions. What does India view as the foundation for its relations with other countries? Why for example, should any country consider India’s rise as benign in comparison to that of China’s and why therefore, should any country buy India’s argument that an open and inclusive system with the widest possible membership is the most effective and useful way forward for Asia?


It is about time India answered these questions and (re)examined the nature of its engagement with the world. No matter what its current limitations or perceived advantages, India needs to embark on an exercise of basing its foreign policy on strong domestic fundamentals, before it can truly rise in Asia and the world.


Original Article: “Towards a New Asian Architecture: India and Ideology,” IPCS Issue Brief, No. 80, August 2008.

Borders Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism War and Conflict

Chinese Strategic Interests in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir

Originally published: 2008


When the Northern Frontier of Kashmir was partitioned in 1947, the two routes connecting India with Xinjiang in China were distributed between the successors to British India. The Ladakh route connecting Leh via the Karakoram Pass and via routes east of it to Kashgar (Kashi), Yarkand (Shache) and Khotan (Hotan) went to India while the western route from Gilgit to Kashgar via Hunza, the Mintaka Pass and the Khunjerab Pass went to Pakistan. India’s portion is now a part of its dispute with China, while the Pakistani portion is now part of a cooperative arrangement with China in the form of the Karakoram Highway (KKH). Other than the events preceding the conflict with India in 1962 and the consequent occupation of Aksai Chin, the Chinese are only in the news on the Indian side for occasional border intrusions and clashes along the LAC. In Pakistan, meanwhile the Chinese have managed to engage in a substantial military and strategic partnership as well as a small but significant economic relationship.


The Karakoram Highway (KKH) is today a strategic and commercial asset for both China and Pakistan but it has also been responsible for transporting terrorism, drugs and disease. Indeed, for Pakistan, the resultant Chinese concerns are no small matter. Its policy towards the Northern Areas invariably invokes the link that the region provides with China and the importance of the trade with that country. Pakistani Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz for example, did precisely this while speaking to newly elected members of Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) in late 2004 saying that their region was significant for the KKH that provided a vital link to China and asking them, therefore, to promote unity and maintain sectarian harmony to ensure the development of the area.[1] Another important detail in the Sino-Pakistan relationship that is embodied by the KKH is the fact that there have been extensive historical contacts between the Northern Areas and Xinjiang, formerly known as Eastern Turkestan and that while Xinjiang is increasingly coming into its own as a substantial economic entity, the same cannot be said of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK).

[1] “Government paying attention to Northern Areas uplift: PM,” Business Recorder, 1 November 2004, accessed at


China’s Strategic Interests in POK


The shift in the strategic nature of POK that the construction of a highway between China and Pakistan through the Northern Areas would entail was apparent to India which in June 1969 accused Pakistan of making it easier for Chinese troops to access occupied territory in Aksai Chin and from Tibet to the Gilgit area which lay immediately to the north of the ceasefire line in Kashmir. It stated that the road posed a threat to the peace and tranquility in the region.[1] Years later, on the completion of the KKH, China’s deputy Premier Li Xiannian would publicly declare that the Highway “allows us to give military aid to Pakistan.”[2] The KKH has also increased China and Pakistan’s control over their frontiers and ability to deal with security threats emanating from India and elsewhere.


The KKH, it is believed has been used for the transfer of nuclear and missile equipment to Pakistan.[3] Meanwhile, Chinese and Pakistani plans to link the KKH to the southern port of Gwadar in Balochistan through the Chinese-aided Gwadar-Dalbandin railway, which extends up to Rawalpindi are being carried out with the intention would be that in the case of hostilities between India and China, the PLA Navy would find Gwadar the most convenient logistic location on the Indian Ocean. Prior to hostilities actually breaking out, it would be supported by material transported over the 1300km long Highway and stockpiled at the port. Once conflict had started however, the highway would in many stretches, especially in Gilgit and Hunza be vulnerable to disruption by air attacks.[4] In addition, no traffic occurs from January to June because of the winter snowfall.


The link between the KKH and Gwadar however, has constantly been reinforced. In August 2004, a message on the renaming of a bridge on the KKH in honour of the Pakistani and Chinese workers involved in the construction of the highway, Pakistani Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain referred to Gwadar and in particular the killing of three Chinese engineers engaged in that project.[5]


It also needs to be noted that there were reports that China was upset with Pakistan for allowing the US to establish listening posts in Pakistan’s Northern Areas and was unwilling to provide financing for the Gwadar port as a result.[6] Among China’s overall strategic aims could be access to the air base in Gilgit and listening posts for itself. In a competitive game of acquiring bases and listening posts that has been underway between the major powers in Central Asia, Gilgit and Skardu airfields provide ideal locations for expansion and upgradation and China must fancy its chances. Indian strategic thinkers have long worried about China’s string of pearls in the Indian Ocean. An arch of land bases from Pakistan through Tibet to Myanmar should be just as big a worry.


From this brief outline of Chinese strategic interests in POK, three implications might be considered. One, while the Chinese claims to Hunza appear to have been settled by the treaty of 1963, the region is of increasing importance to China for the reasons stated above. Here, considering the Indian experience vis-à-vis the Sino-Indian boundary dispute might be instructive. The Chinese position on the issue has changed over the years with the mid-1980s witnessing a hardening of the Chinese position on the eastern sector. The western sector is no longer considered as the main area of dispute owing perhaps to the fact that the road through Aksai Chin is no longer as critical to China as it had been in the 1950s. The eastern sector meanwhile with its rich natural resources is now considered too valuable to give away in addition to significant political and strategic reasons. Given, the fact that the 1963 treaty is subject to revision depending on the eventual resolution of the dispute over Kashmir and given the recent improvement in Indo-Pak relations, the possibility of Chinese revising their position or strengthening their interests in POK must be considered. Moreover, the current status or the lack thereof, of the Northern Areas within the Pakistani constitutional framework could complicate the situation still further.


Two, access to the Northern Areas also provides another route by which the Chinese might approach Afghanistan. Besides military goals, western intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq also has nation-building goals military operations, and it is therefore, not unrealistic to expect that China will have an interest in getting its own say in such projects where possible. And, in the case of Afghanistan, POK is as close as it gets. As mentioned above it has already once used the KKH to supply arms against the Soviets. Today, perhaps it is taking a longer-term perspective combining strategic aims, historical links and modern infrastructure.


Three, China is also discovering that expansion beyond its boundaries is a two-way street. China not only exports influence, but is influenced in turn and not always for the best – Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and separatism are problems that China has begun to contend with increasingly following the opening of its overland links to Pakistan and other Central Asian countries. China will, therefore, be increasingly interested in how Pakistan and by extension, Afghanistan deal with rising Islamic sectarianism and fundamentalism, in order to safeguard its own domestic interests.


[1] Alastair Lamb, Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy, 1846-1990 (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 275 and John Garver, Protracted Contest: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Twentieth Century (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 207.

[2] Ziad Haider, “Clearing clouds over Karakoram,” Daily Times, 4 April 2004,

[3] B. Raman, “Gilgit & Baltistan, China & North Korea,” SAAG Paper, No. 289, South Asia Analysis Group , 7 August 2001,

[4] John Garver, Protracted Contest: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Twentieth Century (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 289-91.

[5] “Bridge on Karakoram Highway renamed,” Dawn, 18 August 2004,

[6] Tarique Niazi, “Gwadar: China’s Naval Outpost on the Indian Ocean,” China Brief, The Jamestown Foundation, Volume 5, Issue 4, 15 February 2005,

Original Article:  “Chinese Strategic Interests in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir,” in P Stobdan and D Suba Chandran (eds.), The Last Colony: Muzaffarabad-Gilgit-Baltistan (Jammu: Center for Strategic and Regional Studies (CSRS), University of Jammu, 2008), pp. 125-56.

Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism

China’s Olympic Hurdles: The Three ‘Evils’

Originally published: 4 April 2008

China appears to have had a pretty rough time in the month of March having to deal one after the other with what it calls the three ‘evils’ – extremism, terrorism and separatism. First, it was the attempted hijack of a domestic airliner by ‘terrorists’ of Uyghur ethnicity from Xinjiang, the site of China’s extremist problem. Next, came the problem of ‘splittism’ or separatism as exemplified by the protests by ethnic Tibetans not just in the Tibet Autonomous Region but also in its neighbouring provinces. Even as the protests raged, Taiwan, China’s ‘renegade province,’ held presidential elections and referendums on whether the island would seek UN membership.


The Olympics have been widely perceived as showcasing China’s arrival on the global stage. However, along with its Olympic preparations, Beijing must have, no doubt, been preparing also for eventualities related to each of the three ‘evils.’ What then, do China’s reactions to the events of March indicate about its level of preparedness? And, what do these reactions say about how China sees life after the Olympics?


Xinjiang’s ‘extremism’ is clearly the easiest of the three ‘evils’ China has to tackle. China has been quick to take advantage of 9/11 and the resulting increased global focus on Muslim-led terrorism. Xinjiang’s Uyghurs are Muslim and while they have become increasingly radicalized from the 1990s, post-9/11, it has been easier to categorize Uyghur movements as terrorist. The airplane hijack was the first real crisis in the Olympics year and from putting it down to the investigations and arrests that followed, as also the statements by Chinese leaders everything appears to have gone by the book. On view, was a China that was prepared for any threat and ready to host the largest spectacle on the planet, until Lhasa erupted, that is.


Meanwhile, Taiwan was, on paper, China’s biggest worry in the run-up to the Olympics, but Beijing must have known for sometime, that the island’s separatists were not likely to win either the presidential elections or the UN referendum. Nevertheless, it constantly kept up the pressure on the island and on its perceived supporters. China’s leaders, it seemed, had become comfortable focusing on a problem that was both familiar to them and which provided them the opportunity to affix the blame more easily on external actors such as the United States or the outgoing Taiwanese president, Chen Shui-bian. It was also an issue more amenable to being leveraged by Chinese leaders as a rallying point for the country. However, with international media attention remaining focused on Tibet, the KMT’s return to power in Taiwan did not allow Beijing much opportunity to feel relieved.


It is China’s reactions to the Tibetan protests that will have the most to say about the country, post-Olympics. While China might have expected Tibetan protests in other parts of the world in the run-up to the Olympics it clearly did not expect them to occur within its own territory, either so violently or so widely spread. Tibet has always been a sensitive issue internationally but Beijing too, has in recent years, wished to be seen as more open and accommodative of popular aspirations. As a result, it apparently did not crackdown on the protests immediately. Once they started getting out of hand, however, Chinese leaders were left with no choice but to put troops on the streets and blaming the “Dalai clique” for fomenting the unrest.


The protests in Tibet have garnered international attention more for emotive issues such as ‘cultural genocide’ or for issues of geopolitics rather than the increasingly economic content of Tibetan grievances. For China’s leaders, however, it will be the domestic implications of the latter that are the more serious long-term concerns than any international opprobrium. For long, the idea in China has been that economic development and prosperity would make up for constraints on political rights and for other political ills. However, despite several years of sustained economic attention, rising income inequalities and regional disparities are, evidently, providing additional fuel to political discontentment and cultural and ethnic grievances in China’s western periphery. It is doubtful that China will solve these domestic issues in the near future. However, Beijing is also unlikely to face a sustained challenge, as long as the Tibet issue remains caught in a time-warp of religious and cultural concerns and focused on the personality of the Dalai Lama, without consideration of the changing internal dynamics of Tibet, itself.


Meanwhile, even as it accused the international media of biased reporting, China appears to be crafting a far more confident response to the sustained attention on its domestic troubles. It has moderated its fire-and-brimstone approach and even slipped in the occasional feelers about being willing to enter into talks with the Dalai Lama. Further, despite the fiasco it turned out to be, opening up Lhasa to foreign journalists in quick time was still a bold stroke and indicative of Beijing’s willingness to deal with international attention head on. It is this confidence that is going to be China’s biggest achievement from hosting the Olympic Games.

Original Article: “China’s Olympic Hurdles: The Three ‘Evils’,” IPCS Article No. 2539, 4 April 2008.



Foreign Policy Political Parties

The Indo-US Nuclear Deal and the China Factor

Originally published: February 2008

Summary: If the Indian nuclear tests of 1998, provided the first occasion for China in the post-Cold War era, to sit up and give due attention to India in a global political and strategic context, the Indo-US Nuclear Deal provides the second occasion in the same process. This article answers the following questions:


Do the Chinese want the Indo-US Nuclear Deal to succeed?

Will China vote against the deal in the NSG?

Is the Indian Left in cahoots with Beijing?

Is the Chinese offer of civilian nuclear cooperation with India a red herring?


Original Article: “In Chinatown: The Indo-US Nuclear Deal,” CBRN South Asia Brief, No. 1, February 2008.

Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Manmohan Singh’s Visit to China

Originally published: January-March 2008

Extract: Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh’s three-day visit to China from 13-15 January 2008 was the first of the year by a foreign dignitary to the country, and in a land where symbolism counts for a great deal, it may be seen as notable for just this reason. Earlier, the Indian ruling coalition chairperson, Sonia Gandhi’s trip to China in November 2007 was also considered significant for being the first visit by a foreign political leader, following the conclusion of the important 17th Congress of the Communist Party of China. The Singh visit saw the additional highlight of the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao hosting his Indian counterpart to a private dinner testifying to both the significance of bilateral ties as well as to the excellent rapport between the two leaders.

However, symbolism apart, and despite the booming trade that continues to exceed all targets, Sino-Indian relations have seen some major political incidents beginning around the time of Chinese President, Hu Jintao’s visit to India in November 2006. These include then Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Yuxi’s statement on the eve of Hu Jintao’s visit reiterating China’s claim over Arunachal, the denial of a Chinese visa to an Indian civil servant of Arunachali origin and the Chinese Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi’s statement that the “mere” fact of populated areas was insufficient reason for China to give up its territorial claims. While the first two incidents are not surprising, given that they reflect the official Chinese position – Arunachalis have been denied Chinese visas in the past as well – it was the last one that provided the real jolt as it was in apparent contradiction of the Article VII of the 2005 Agreement on the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question, which statedsthat “the two sides shall safeguard due interests of their settled populations in the border areas.”

Taken together, the Hu Jintao visit to India and the Manmohan Singh visit to China mark perhaps the beginning of a new stage in Sino-Indian ties. For one, both sides seem to have reconciled themselves to the fact that every visit will not produce a “great leap forward” in ties but that progress can only be incremental. Two, it appears now that the economic relationship is also beginning to witness increasing problems and given that the actors involved are more than governmental ones, these are likely to crop more often and more visibly in the future. While the boundary talks continue with no end in sight, the relationship is likely to be tested further by these and other newer issues.

Original Article: “Manmohan Singh’s Visit to China: New Challenges Ahead,” China Report, Vol. 44, No. 1, January-March 2008, pp. 63-70.

Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

The Future of Kashmir: China and Kashmir

Originally published: Winter 2007-08

Extract: Perceptions about the People’s Republic of China’s position on Kashmir have long been associated with its “all-weather” friendship with Pakistan. However, the PRC’s positions on Kashmir have never been consistently pro-Pakistan, changing instead from disinterest in the 1950s to open support for the Pakistani position in the subsequent decades to greater neutrality in the 1980s and since. While China has continued military support to Pakistan even during military conflicts and near-conflicts between India and Pakistan, its stance on Kashmir has shifted gradually in response to the prevailing domestic, regional, and international situations.

Original Article: “The Future of Kashmir: China and Kashmir,” Swords and Ploughshares, ACDIS (University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign), Vol. XVI, No. 1, Winter 2007-8, pp. 19-21.

Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Political Parties

Leadership Change in China and Implications for India

Originally published: 7 November 2007

The 17th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China that took place in October was notable for the beginning of the transition to the so-called fifth generation of China’s leaders. It is important to analyze these leadership changes both for what they reveal about the Chinese domestic political system and for their possible impact on China’s external relations.


First, continuing in the manner by which Hu acceded to power, there is no particular leader of the fifth generation chosen as the “core.” Like Hu, the new leader will likely only be primus inter pares. However, unlike in the case of Hu, who first entered the CPC Politbureau’s Standing Committee (PBSC) as the only member of the fourth generation of leaders, this PBSC has two members of the fifth generation Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping. There has been talk that given Xi stands senior to Li in the PBSC, the former is the likely successor to Hu. It has however, to be noted that it was Li who was the first to become a full member of the CPC’s Central Committee in 1992, with Xi following only in 1997. The choice of who the next General Secretary is therefore not as clear-cut as it was in the case of Hu.


Leaving aside the question of seniority, it appears that given their respective backgrounds Li and Xi seem to fit neatly into the possibility of succeeding Hu and Wen Jiabao respectively. Li has served in senior positions in the agriculturally important province of Henan and in China’s most industrially significant province of Liaoning while Xi has only served in the wealthy coastal provinces of Fujian, Zhejiang and Shanghai. The major reason for Li’s ascent has been his Communist Youth League (CYL) connection with Hu but Xi, in addition to earning his spurs as an economic reformer is also a taizi – one of the princelings, as children of Party elders are known – and also considered to be more popular and successful than Li.


While this uncertainty, would in another era, be considered destabilizing, the CPC by choosing two members of the fifth generation of leaders, who could be potential successors to Hu Jintao, has left open the possibility of each candidate try to win political legitimacy for himself before 2012 when the next Congress takes place. This method also gels with the CPC’s claims of seeking increased “inner-Party democracy” and “consultative democracy.”


Second, for the first time, all members in the PBSC, except Wen Jiabao, have experience as Party Secretaries in the provinces. This indicates the increasing weight of the provinces at Beijing and of the importance of a career in the provinces for promotions to the highest leadership positions in China. The dynamics of centre-province relations – China is a far more federal entity than is commonly acknowledged – and their impact on China’s internal politics and increasingly, its external policies, are issues that are still little understood by outside observers. It will therefore be increasingly necessary for countries, and especially China’s neighbours, to tailor their foreign policies towards China, not just in terms of dealing with a centre at Beijing but also to reorient themselves to acknowledge China’s various provincial power centres.


Third, the two other new faces inducted into the PBSC, besides Li and Xi, namely He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang have spent significant lengths of time in departments and ministries related to China’s petroleum industry, especially Zhou, who is a former head of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). This point perhaps to the new and growing power of China’s top state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and in particular, the national oil companies (NOCs). This is another indication, if it were needed, that China will continue to emphasize public ownership of key sectors of the economy and that energy security will continue to be a top concern with the Chinese leadership in the coming years.


For India, the manner of leadership change and the background of the new leaders in its largest neighbour should be matters of close study. On the foreign policy front, there are two aspects India should pay attention to. One, India’s China policy should take note of the rising power of China’s provinces and pay renewed attention to sub-regional projects such as the Kunming Initiative, for example. New Delhi should also be broad-basing its China involvement and actively encourage closer ties between its states and China’s provinces. Equally significant for India is the fact that the Hu Jintao years have seen increased attention being paid to China’s interior provinces. This attention is only likely to intensify and could have important implications for the outcome of the boundary talks between India and China.


Two, at a much broader level, given the political instability and the ‘difficulties’ of Western-style multi-party democracy in the rest of South Asia, India must seriously consider whether, the Chinese one-party model might not increasingly come to be seen as an alternative and whether India needs to do more as a role model for multi-party democracy in the region.

Original Article: “Leadership Change in China and Implications for India,” IPCS Article No. 2411, 7 November 2007.


Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Political Parties War and Conflict

Direct Flights between Taiwan and China

Originally published: 2007



Is a direct flight from Taipei to Shanghai an international flight or a domestic flight? It is both. It is international by the International Civil Aviation Agreement of 1944. It is domestic in the sense that it probably won’t be operated by any foreign airline, but by airlines in Taiwan and in the mainland. So what is it then? It is a special flight. What should we call it? Say, Cross-strait Flight.

Ma Ying-jeou

 The above statement by Guomindang (KMT) chairman Ma captures the nature of the problem of cross-straits flights. The ambiguity involved allows the respective government to interpret to its own advantage the nature of the flights. However, the issue at hand has always been more than one of a simple renewal of contacts between Taiwan and the mainland. Direct transport, trade and postal links – known as the “three links” – with the mainland were snapped by the Republic of China government that had fled to Taiwan following its defeat. Today, in an era of deepening economic ties, the lack of direct and convenient links between the two political entities remains something of an anachronism. What has complicated matters however, is the fact that the strengthening of Sino-Taiwanese economic ties has also been accompanied by the rise of Taiwanese nationalism.

Original Article: “The Implications of Direct Flights: Beijing in Taiwanese Politics,” in Anita Sharma and Sreemati Chakrabarti (eds.), Taiwan Today (New Delhi: Anthem Press, 2007), pp. 22-41.