Journal Article : China’s External Propaganda during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Jabin T. Jacob, ‘“To Tell China’s Story Well”: China’s International Messaging during the COVID-19 Pandemic’, China Report, Vol. 56, No. 3 August 2020. 374-392.

Abstract

The Covid-19 pandemic has dented China’s image as an efficient Party-state given how an effort to cover up the outbreak and the resulting delays in reporting led to the virus spreading beyond its origins in Wuhan in Hubei province to the rest of the country as well as rapidly across the world. This article examines China’s massive external propaganda effort launched as part of the effort to repair the damage to its global image and interests. It notes how China has not let the situation stop it from pursuing its traditional foreign policy and security interests, including, of competition with the United States. The article also argues that it is the ruling Communist Party of China’s concerns about its legitimacy at home that has determined the nature and scale of Chinese responses to the pandemic outside its borders.

Read the full article here.

Winning and Losing in Iran

Iran’s relations with both India and China are of long standing and significant in different ways to Tehran. Under pressure from US economic sanctions while also being locked in conflicts of varying intensity with its Arab neighbours as well as with Israel, Iran has had few countries it could bank on for political and economic succour. India and China have fitted this bill occasionally and the difference really has been in terms of who has been able to do it for longer stretches and to greater effect.

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An Opportunity to Rethink India’s Economic Policies

India has in recent months taken some initial steps against predatory Chinese capital and technologies in its economy. Without quite naming China, the Indian government has both tweaked FDI rules to limit acquisition of Indian companies without government approval and banned a few score apps of Chinese origin on national security considerations. These are welcome decisions that have long been called for and should not have waited for either a pandemic or tensions on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.

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A Foreign Policy without Foreign Languages

India is famed as a country with multiple languages and dialects with most Indians being able to understand if not also speak at least two. For a substantial number that number can go up to three and more. Educated Indians also usually have a fascination with French as a ‘foreign language’, though technically, it is spoken or followed at least by older generations in Pondicherry and other former French possessions and a medium of instruction in several schools.

But it is part of a general blindness about all but the developed world that most Indians who wish to learn French do so because they are interested only in France and things French. They almost never think that the largest number of French speakers in the world – and therefore, also a great number of opportunities – exist in Africa. But because Africa and Africans are looked down on by the general Indian population, such possibilities escape them. Spanish and Portuguese are other languages spoken widely in the developing world but arguably have fewer takers in India than German does. 

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Book Chapter : China, India and Asian Connectivity

Jabin T. Jacob, ‘China, India, and Asian Connectivity: India’s View’, in Kanti Bajpai, Selina Ho and Manjari Chatterjee Miller (eds). Routledge Handbook of China-India Relations (London and New York: Routledge, 2020). 315-332.

Abstract

Connectivity when it occurs across borders is usually understood in terms of physical connectivity in the form of road and railway routes primarily for the purposes of trade. The governments of India and China have long used physical connectivity and infrastructure development projects as part of their overseas development initiatives in the belief that this was necessary to develop capacity in sovereign states as well as exchanges between them but also for the purposes of diplomatic advantage. With its launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, however, China has begun to scale up its objectives from physical connectivity projects abroad adding substantially more forms of connectivity including the spread of ideological views, access to digital data as well as people-to-people contacts. The chapter also looks at the domestic views and consequences of connectivity projects abroad before ending with a look at how India has responded to Chinese connectivity projects.

Extract

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The Great Chinese Anxiety

It might seem strange at a time such as this to talk of Chinese anxiety.

China has handled the Covid-19 outbreak better than most countries. What is more, it is also quickly cranked up its industries and global public diplomacy to offer testing kits and protective gear to countries across the world, including to its arch-rival United States as well as to India, a country that it has trouble describing as a rival at all.

At the same time, Chinese territorial assertiveness continues without letup in the East and South China Seas and, of course, along the LAC with India. It is almost as if even a disruption like Covid-19 that has the rest of the world scrambling to manage public health, economic growth and political fallout, is insufficient to knock China off its stride.

And yet, the Chinese people are anxious. The Communist Party of China (CPC) that governs them even more so.

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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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Confused and Confusing: The PM’s Official Statements About 15 June

The Indian government has a near perfect ground game in terms of messaging domestically on matters related to Pakistan and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. And yet, ever since the standoffs with China began in early May, the government’s communications have been limited, confused, and confusing.

This is not to say that India’s military responses to either Pakistani or Chinese provocations – based on such information as is available in the open domain – has been wanting. In the case of the former, one could argue that even such an incident as Balakot where India attacked Pakistani territory, was calibrated well given that it did not lead to escalation. In the case of the Galwan Valley incident of 15 June, too, the official statement on the Prime Minister’s remarks at the All Party Meeting on 19 June quotes him saying, “that twenty of our brave soldiers made the supreme sacrifice for the nation in Ladakh but also taught a lesson to those who had dared to look towards our motherland”.[1] This suggests that the Indians at least gave as good as they got. The Chinese, too, seemed to acknowledge casualties on their side.[2] In dealing with a power like China with its superior military capabilities, that is as good as one can expect, and even something of a victory for India.

However, the question here for the Indian government is of communicating its position and version of events accurately both at home and abroad. The 19 June statement shows the Prime Minister prefacing his reference to the deaths of the soldiers by saying “that neither is anyone inside our territory nor is any of our post captured”.[3] In reality, this obscured more than it clarified. While the present tense suggested that he could technically be accurate insofar as the situation at the moment of his speaking was concerned, the Hindi version – ““न तो किसी ने हमारी सीमा में प्रवेश किया है, न ही किसी भी पोस्ट पर कब्जा किया गया है” na to kisi ne hamari seema main pravesh kiya hain, na hi kisi bhi post par kabza kiya gaya hain[4] – appeared to make a somewhat larger claim covering the entire period since confrontations started in May that neither had anyone entered Indian territory nor capturedany Indian posts.

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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. Continue reading “Belligerence and Silence: Explaining Chinese Actions Along the LAC in Ladakh”