When Religion and Politics Mix: The Dalai Lama and India-China Relations

The Dalai Lama is slated to visit Tawang in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh from 5-7 April. The visit follows a public meeting with the President of India in December last year – the first of its kind in some 60 years[1] – and an address at a major Buddhist conference in the Indian state of Bihar in mid-March where he shared the stage with the minister for culture in the Indian central government.[2]

Beijing has expectedly protested loudly and vigorously, presaging a fresh round of tensions in the India-China relationship.

The Chinese have been trying to portray Tawang and Arunachal Pradesh itself, as the central issue in the India-China boundary dispute. In the process, they are trying to repudiate a significant clause of a landmark 2005 bilateral treaty, which stated clearly that ‘settled populations’ would not be disturbed in the process of resolution.[3] Tawang, with the largest Buddhist monastery in India and a population of some 11,000 at last count, is as settled as they come. This Chinese volte face – no doubt related to continued challenges to their legitimacy in Tibet – might be said to have been at least partially responsible for why the boundary negotiations have not moved forward for a while. Read more

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China in Central Asia: Myth-making and Foreign Policy

China is deepening its ties with Central Asia through the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) initiative. Cooperation with the Central Asian Republics (CARs) that was already quite intense in the field of trade, especially in the energy sector, is broadening into infrastructure development with an eye on strengthening the region’s role as a transit hub for Chinese products moving to the more prosperous and bigger markets of Europe.

The primary objective for China is, of course, the maintenance of stability in Xinjiang, which is a key Chinese province and actor in the SREB. Despite all the troubles in Xinjiang, however, the province is today considerably better off economically than most of its eight neighbouring countries. Beginning in the 1990s China-CAR trade through Xinjiang has expanded and today, several companies from the province have a strong presence in Central Asia. For example, the Xinjiang-headquartered Chinese enterprise TBEA that has promoted connectivity in Central Asia by building power transmission lines in Kyrgyhzstan and Tajikistan. It is also noteworthy that there is a flight from Urumqi to every CAR capital and to many other cities besides. Indeed, many of these countries are connected to each other by air not directly but via the Xinjiang capital. Read more

Rethinking the China-Pakistan-India Triangle

It has been suggested that New Delhi’s bid for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was an ‘extraordinary exercise in realpolitik’, that the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi ‘is not easily rattled by disapproving noises at home or abroad’. One analyst referring to China’s opposition put it rather colourfully that Beijing behaved ‘not as an enlightened power but as a strategic small-timer, with the petty, perfidious and short-termist mindset of a Pyongyang dictator or a Rawalpindi general’.

Not being ‘rattled’ is a good thing and as it should be. However, the ‘exercise in realpolitik’ is not all on the one side and nor indeed, the petty behaviour of a ‘strategic small timer’ with a ‘short-termist mindset’. India is just as guilty and another Indian commentator has, in fact, analysed the NSG episode as an example of India lacking in Kautilyan attributes. Read more

Indian States and Foreign Policy: Lessons from Chinese Provinces

Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘China’s Provinces and Foreign Policy: Lessons and Implications for India and its States’ in Subir Bhaumik (ed.), Agartala Doctrine: A Proactive Northeast in India Foreign Policy (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 253-70.

Extracts

Even without their rising world profiles as a starting point, it has long been a common enough exercise to compare and contrast India and China at various stages since the end of the Second World War. While the two nations started out under their new leaderships as developing nations united against colonialism and attempted for a time to work together as beacons for Asian rejuvenation, the realities of geopolitics, differing viewpoints about history and civilization and the remnants of imperial legacies soon resulted in a short border conflict in 1962 that however has cast a long shadow on their relations.

During the Cold War, the contrast between the two countries was also political and ideological and for a time, especially in the wake of revelations about Chinese communist excesses of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, it was assumed that India with its regular elections was doing much better than China was. However, despite its problems, communist China also raised considerably the social and human development indicators of its people while India continued to remain mired in poverty, illiteracy and various forms of social backwardness. There was also the brief interregnum of Emergency, which also tarnished India’s reputation as a paragon of democratic virtues in the developing world.

However, none of these developments and contrasts was nearly as consequential as those that would come following the beginning of China’s economic reforms and opening up in the late 1970s. By the time India started its own economic liberalization programme in 1991, China had started opening up a gap with India on the economic front in addition to the lead in social indicators that it already held. At the turn of the millennium, China could genuinely claim the mantle of a rising world power in both political and economic terms, while India was struggling to shake off the international opprobrium that came in the wake of its 1998 nuclear tests and to get into the same high economic gear as the Chinese had. Both its growing economy and a combination of international circumstances involving worries about China’s perceived challenge to the United States as well as its rapid military modernization combined to make India attractive again to the world at large before the 2008 financial crisis and government paralysis combined to put the brakes on India’s economic growth again, if not quite its political importance. Nevertheless, the India story also now appears to have a momentum of its own with a young demographic, active state governments and an economy unburdened by the shackles of an earlier command economy and free to make the adjustments to domestic and global circumstances as necessary.

The purpose of this chapter is to examine in more detail the role of Chinese provinces in the country’s growth story and to see how this experience can be a learning experience for Indian states. Read more

Chinese Provinces and Nepal: The Case of Tibet Autonomous Region

Originally published on the ICS Delhi Blog on 29 April 2016.

The Chinese government might not be able to play a prominent role in Nepal for now, given both Indian dominance and sensitivities. However, China appears to be using its provinces such as Tibet, Yunnan and Sichuan to exercise influence in a different, apparently less threatening way.

The major objective of China’s diplomatic strategy in Nepal has been to ensure that Kathmandu blocked the flow of Tibetan refugees into its territory. In November 2014, the frontier police force in Tibet and the armed police and fire department of Nepal conducted a joint exercise and during his visit to Nepal the following month, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi also laid the foundation stone for a police academy gifted to Nepal to train officers of its Armed Police Force that guards districts bordering Tibet. The number of Tibetans entering Nepal from China, it must be noted, has fallen from about 2,500 in 2008 to just about 200 in 2014.[1] Read more

Expectations from the Modi Visit to China

This article was originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Is it wise for India to stay out of Silk Road initiative?’, South Asia Monitor, 12 May 2015, before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China.

Of the predictions that came true, more sister-province/state and sister-city agreements, announcement of a new visa arrangement, an India-China Think-tank Forum.

 

It is now slowly but increasingly evident to Indians across the board that China, their largest neighbour, will likely be their most important foreign policy challenge for decades to come. Gradually but surely, China will come to occupy regular attention in India across a range of fields from geopolitics to scientific research and development to political and ideological creativity. In this context, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s forthcoming visit to China and the media coverage it will generate will be an important milestone in how Indians perceive and understand China.

Possible Outcomes

Modi has gained a reputation for extreme secrecy and last minute ‘deals’ during visits abroad. China, however, will not be such an easy place to do this. Unless, of course, CPC General Secretary and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, is willing to play ball. This however, is unlikely, given the Chinese self-image of being in a league of just two, contending with the US for regional and global domination while everybody else is for all practical purposes, and despite any rhetoric to the contrary, slotted into lower tiers of importance.

What then are the possible agreements that the two sides might reach during the Modi visit?

The agreements related to economic cooperation including infrastructure construction, industrial parks and sister-city and sister-province/state ties will likely number quite a few, even if they will not match the 51 agreements that resulted during the Xi visit to Pakistan. Boosting bilateral trade and investments at the service of the Prime Minister’s flagship ‘Make in India’ campaign will be a big item on the agenda, if not the most important one.

More sister-city and sister-province/state agreements could help accelerate a trend of Chinese sub-national enterprises targeting specific sectors and localities or states in India for economic opportunities. It also makes immense sense for two countries the size and complexity of India and China for their cities and regions to develop their own independent economic linkages with each other. Along the way, there could be significant spillover effects in terms of increasing mutual understanding, greater familiarization with each other’s cultures and ways of working, tourism, educational exchanges and so on.

An agreement for a more liberalized visa regime between the two countries was to be signed during Xi’s India visit in September but was finally abandoned. The agreement will be extremely important for Chinese investors, businessmen and tourists seeking to explore and commit to India.

It is also quite possible that an agreement of some sort on trans-boundary river waters will come to fruition. To expect an all year-round sharing of information might be too much to expect from the Chinese. It is more likely that China will agree to give India another 15 days worth of data on any one river.

An India-China Think-tank Forum is a proposal that has been doing the rounds for some time, now and will likely reach fruition during this visit. This would be an important avenue for a frequent and unhindered exchange of views between the policy and scholar communities on both sides and replicates a similar exercise in the Sino-US context.

Sign at a Chinese airport - On India, 'Monitor Situation, Exercise Caution'
Sign at a Chinese airport – On India, ‘Monitor Situation, Exercise Caution’

Asian Century?

One important marker of the Asian century will be how India and China are going to cooperate in the science and technology sector to create solutions for uniquely Third World problems as well as to overcome problems that come from copying a Western model of economic development. To this end, cooperation and joint development of renewable energy technologies, to name just one sector, should be a big part of the agenda, capable of being slotted into both the infrastructure construction and ‘Make in India’ campaigns.

Scientific research can also provide the opportunity to avoid or overcome suspicions in other areas. One idea doing the rounds is cooperation between the two countries on the development of deep sea mining in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese are already engaged in this in the southwest Indian Ocean and so is India, so perhaps, this is an opportunity to not just cooperate but also keep an eye on what the other side is doing.

The problem, of course, arises since it is China that is expanding opportunities and finding reasons to be in the Indian Ocean while India’s opportunities to partner with China in similar endeavours along or opposite China’s coast are limited either because of China large territorial and consequently EEZ claims or because India does not often have the wherewithal or the incentives to venture that far. Where it has, New Delhi has preferred to partner with the Japanese or the Vietnamese.

This then leads to a major issue that is also likely to crop up during the visit, namely of Indian receptivity to China’s new ‘one belt, one road’ idea and in particular, the Maritime Silk Road. Given the particular version of historical reinterpretation, rewriting even, that the initiative involves, India is wary of joining in. However, given also the potential of the Chinese initiative to transform the economic, and possibly, the political landscape of Asia, New Delhi must seriously consider if staying out and being unable to exert influence on the process is an option.

Taiwan’s 9-in-1 Election Results: Warning for the KMT-CPC Relationship

The major losses suffered by Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang (KMT) in the nine-in-one local elections – called so because there were elections held to nine levels of local government – at the end of November are the result of both internal and external reasons. With elections to the Taiwanese presidency and to the Legislative Yuan due in 2016, China will have to both rethink the scope and recalibrate the pace of its embrace of the island that has held out against it since 1949.

 

Background

Over the years, the Communist Party of China (CPC)-ruled mainland has adopted a variety of approaches to bring Taiwan – dubbed a ‘renegade province’ – around. While for most of the Maoist and Dengist eras, there were really no serious attempts at coercion, rapprochement with the US in 1971 did bring about the ‘one China’ policy that put the Republic of China on Taiwan on very shaky footing as far as its international standing was concerned. Read more

Reclaiming India’s Foreign Policy for its Citizens

This is the modified version of a Valedictory Address delivered at a conference titled, Citizen’s Foreign Policy at the Department of Political Science, Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University on 11 November 2014

It is an important distinction to make between citizen’s foreign policy and people’s foreign policy. While the latter is generally used in the sense of ensuring that foreign policy is not just a matter of high politics but is also one of wider democratic consideration of the interests of ordinary people as well, it is also in this sense liable to be misused or misinterpreted. Just as democracy by the numbers alone does not convey the full import of the values and spirit of democracy, so also simple reference to the ‘people’ as a way of legitimizing a foreign policy choice has its drawbacks. The reference to a citizen however comes with clear implications. Read more

The Modi-Xi Tango: Missteps and Fluffed Lines?

Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Xi Jinping visit: High on expectations, low on delivery’, Hindustan Times, 22 September 2014, p. 12.

Nobody expected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping to wrap their arms around each other in a bear hug. A rightwing nationalist BJP-led government in India and a Communist Party of China that relies heavily on nationalism as a crutch for continued legitimacy at home were not expected to have it easy at the first formal summit of their leaders, especially on political and strategic issues.

Expectations however, were sky-high on the economic front. Read more