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. Read more

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In the Wake of Doklam: India-China Relations Entering a New Phase

This article was originally published as, जबिन टी. जैकब भारतचीन संबंध नये दौर में’, राष्ट्रीय सहारा, 29 July 2017, p. 3. The original text in English follows below the Hindi text.

भारत के राष्ट्रीय सुरक्षा सलाहकार अजित डोभाल बीजिंग में ब्रिक्स देशों के राष्ट्रीय सुरक्षा सलाहकारों की बैठक में शिरकत करने चीन पहुंच चुके हैं। सभी निगाहें इस तरफ हैं कि क्या भारत और चीन इस मौके पर भूटान के डोकलाम क्षेत्रमें बने तनाव को समाप्त करने में सफल होंगे। लेकिन दोनों देशों के आधिकारिक बयानों पर गौर करें तो लगता है कि चीन किसी सूरत पीछे हटने को तैयार नहीं है। न केवल इतना बल्कि वह भारत के खिलाफ तीखे बयान भी दे रहा है। मांग कर रहा है कि उसके क्षेत्र, जिसे वह अपना होने का दावा कर रहा है, से भारत अपने सैनिकों को पीछे हटाए।

लेकिन इस मामले से जुड़े तय बेहद सरल-सादा हैं। भूटान और भारत के साथ अपनी अनेक संधियों और समझौतों का चीन या तो उल्लंघन कर चुका है, या उसने चुन-चुन कर संधियों और समझौतों का उल्लंघन किया है। उदाहरण के लिए उसने भूटान के साथ 1988 और 1998 में हुई संधियों का न केवल उल्लंघन किया है, बल्कि सीमा विवाद को लेकर 2005 में हुए समझौते तथा 2012 में भारत के साथहुए लिखित समझौते को भी काफी हद तक अनदेखा किया है। उसके ऐसा करने में भारत के सुरक्षा हितों के लिए स्पष्ट खतरा पैदा हो गया है। Read more

Explaining Action and Reaction on Doklam

Following the latest confrontation between China and India in the Doklam area of Bhutan, there is clearly an edge to the repeated Chinese calls to India to ‘immediately pull back’ Indian troops to their side of the boundary. The Chinese have stressed that this ‘is the precondition for any meaningful talks between the two sides aiming at resolving the issue’.[1] What should Indians make of this and what should we look out for?

First, the frequent statements from India that it is not today the same as it was in 1962 and the Chinese response that nor for that matter is China implies more than just the accretion of military capability and determination and will on both sides. These statements are also a reminder that both sides have a much more clearer view of each other shorn of romanticism on the Indian side and of an equally romanticized ideology-driven anti-imperialism on the Chinese side. Responsible leaders on both sides know the costs of war. Read more

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

How India Deals with its China Challenge

Book Review: Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab. 2017. Dragon on our Doorstep: Managing China Through Military Power (New Delhi: Aleph Book Company).

Dragons sell. Especially on book jackets and in book titles. Red dragons, baldly hinting at China, sell even better, perhaps. The title of this book is however, somewhat misleading for it is in the main, actually a very good overview of the structural problems that hold India back from its ambition of becoming a regional and global power. China is merely the counterpoint against which these problems are magnified and shown as requiring urgent resolution.

The authors start off with a cutting Introduction that blames various levels of India’s political and military leadership for mistakes in multiple conflicts and crises – the 1962 conflict with China, the 1965 war with Pakistan, ‘the wily Bhutto outsmart[ing] Gandhi’ in 1971 on a Kashmir resolution, the ‘panic reaction’ of Operation Meghdoot to hold Siachen, the ‘Pyrrhic victory’ of Kargil and the ‘total disappointment’ of Operation Parakram. China makes an appearance only on and off here but most notably in the concluding assertion that ‘the problem with Pakistan is inextricably linked with the China problem’. Read more

1962: A Very Particular View

Book Review: Shiv Kunal Verma. 2016. 1962: The War That Wasn’t (New Delhi: Aleph Book Company).

This is a well-written book and goes into some considerable detail on each of the major battles of the 1962 conflict between India and China in both the Eastern and Western Sectors. The narrative is riveting and supported by maps particularly of battles in the Eastern Sector as well as reproductions of photographs of many important personalities and events associated with the conflict culled from multiple sources. These definitely add a heft and immediacy to the book often lacking in many historical texts. Without doubt, this is a labour of love, much effort, including by the author’s own family members has gone into it. To recreate the amount of detail there is in the accounts of battle the Verma certainly had access to some very personal reminiscences and he communicates the immediacy and tension of battle as well as the bitterness of defeat with verve and feeling. For these reasons alone, this book must belong to the shelves of any student of India’s wars.

And yet, this book is not without its flaws. Read more

Of Perceptions and Policies

Book Review: Shishir Gupta, The Himalayan Face-Off: Chinese Assertion and the Indian Riposte (Gurgaon: Hachette India, 2014).

Shishir Gupta says clearly at the beginning that the ‘book is not about China but its policies and mindset towards India as perceived by the top Indian leadership, political parties and the public’ (p. xi). Within this framework he tries to give an organized picture of the ebb and flow of Sino-Indian relations during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime. While the coverage ends sometime in 2013 well before the UPA regime ended its tenure, the change of regime in New Delhi does not materially alter the nature of relations with China and Gupta by highlighting in his title, the fact that there has been an ‘Indian Riposte’ to ‘Chinese Assertion’ deserves full credit for standing out from the crowd and differing with general public perception of the UPA government’s tenure as being one of inaction and incompetence when it came to China policy. Whatever the UPA’s sins of omission or commission in its domestic politics or in its foreign policy in general, on China policy at least, a combination of focused political and military leadership and competent bureaucratic support ensured that the new NDA regime will find little to change except to provide greater direction, resources and speed and perhaps, with the backing of majority in Parliament, bolder engagement or even, out-of-the-box solutions to resolving ‘The Himalayan Face-off’. Read more

How does India Think about China?

Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Friend, Foe or Competitor? Mapping the Indian Discourse on China’, in Happymon Jacob (ed.), Does India Think Strategically? India’s Strategic Culture and Foreign Policy (New Delhi: Manohar, 2014), pp. 229-272.

 

Abstract*

This paper attempts to answer three questions: what is the content of Indian thinking on China? Who is it in India that thinks about China or is affected by China? And finally, how does thinking on China manifest itself in a strategic policy framework? The continuing lack of knowledge and expertise on China at a broad societal level in India has led to ignorance, fear, and prejudice about the northern neighbour. Further, the inability so far, to achieve a national-level closure on the brief border conflict of1962 – in the form of a consensus on what went wrong or who to hold responsible, for example – and indeed, the failure to achieve a resolution of the boundary dispute, have perpetuated a general tendency in India to ascribe malign motives to China and the masking of prejudice or ignorance under a framework of ‘realism’ in international relations. The work identifies three broad lines of Indian thinking on China are identified along with seven different kinds of actors or interest groups with varying degrees of influence on the country’s China policy. The consequences of Indian thinking on China are also examined through the use of examples from current policy.

 

China has always been independent India’s largest neighbour but it has not always been its most important neighbour. That privilege for a long time belonged to Pakistan on two counts. First, Pakistan was the representation of a competing and opposite philosophy of state formation, namely a nation justified by religion, and second, Pakistan was a security threat both in conventional terms and in the form of a supporter and instigator of secessionist movements and terrorism in India. However, it is debatable if Pakistan was or is ever actually seen as an existential threat to India, even as a nuclear power. Rather, it would appear that a belief exists in India that it could, if push came to shove, defeat Pakistan if things were to go that far. It is perhaps not just the record on the battlefield that justifies such a belief but something akin to a deep self-belief that India ‘understands’ Pakistan and its weaknesses as no other country can.[1] Read more

What the Henderson Brooks Report Really Says

Originally published as जबिन टी. जैकब, ‘नाकामी पर नई निगाह’, Dainik Jagran (Delhi), 23 March 2014, p. 10.

Large sections of the Henderson Brooks-Prem Bhagat Report of the inquiry into the Indian army’s 1962 defeat were recently released online by Neville Maxwell, a former India correspondent of a British newspaper. The release affords us an opportunity to reconsider some questions about both the Indian conduct of the conflict and the nature of policymaking in this country.

Read more