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 »

Advertisements

China and its Neighbourhood: Perspectives from India and Vietnam

Jabin T. Jacob and Hoang The Anh (editors), China and Its Neighbourhood: Perspectives from India and Vietnam (New Delhi: Pentagon, 2017).

Vietnamese edition: Trang Quoc voi lang Gieng: Quan Diem Viet Nam va An Do (Hanoi: Vietnam Social Sciences Press, 2017).

Summary

This volume is an attempt to develop a more nuanced understanding of China’s foreign, security and economic policies by bringing together perspectives from two of its most important neighbours, India and Vietnam. This is a unique exercise because these two countries have a long history of both contending and cooperating with the People’s Republic of China. Even as India’s boundary dispute and Vietnam’s maritime territorial disputes with China have persisted, both countries have, in recent decades, also managed to successfully develop close economic relations with their northern neighbour as well as cooperated extensively with Beijing on regional and global issues of significance and mutual interest. Yet, the growth of China’s capabilities and ambitions, and the decline of its impulse towards multilateralism present challenges for India and Vietnam in their neighbourhood. It is against this backdrop that the authors in this book examine China’s bilateral relations and its role in regional multilateral organisations as well as the balancing behaviour of other powers in the region. In the process, this work also seeks to strengthen the sinews of the comprehensive strategic partnership between India and Vietnam by building closer ties between the research communities in the two countries and giving it greater analytical heft.

In India, Vietnam has the image of an uncompromising bulwark against China and almost any discussion of India’s external options vis-à-vis China is not complete without bringing Vietnam into the picture. Hanoi, meanwhile, sees India as a big neighbour to China and that while the relationship between the two countries has had its ups and downs in history, New Delhi now seems to be both cooperating and competing with China. India’s experience of dealing with China holds lessons for Vietnam. At the same time, it is extremely essential for policymakers and strategic analysts in India to keep a close eye on the dynamics of the China-Vietnam relationship itself. How relations between the two most successful communist regimes in the world – politically and economically speaking – will develop remains to be seen. There are both lessons to be learnt and cautionary tales here. New Delhi should have a realistic assessment of the lengths to which Vietnam will go in countering China’s assertiveness in the region given that it is the smaller country. At the same time, given Vietnamese history, there is also scope for calibrated measures to support Vietnam’s national capacity.

Available on Amazon.

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: Promise and Responsibility

This article was specifically requested as an op-ed by the Renmin Ribao at very short notice. I submitted it in early December 2014 in English and they sent a Chinese translation for my approval. I approved it but it was then never published.

English original

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is a sign of Asian commitment to both regional and global economic development. Besides promoting regional connectivity and self-reliance for Asian countries, the AIIB also creates opportunities for developed countries in the form of greater investment opportunities as well as for promoting their own economic recovery.  As the Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei has pointed out, historically, the establishment of regional multilateral development banks such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development did not weaken the influence of existing development banks such as the World Bank. Rather, it was the total capacity of development financing that increased promoting still further development of the global economy. Thus, the AIIB will be an additional source for development financing in the Asian region with a specific focus on infrastructure and in contrast to the ADB with its focus on poverty alleviation.Read More »

Issues and Considerations in Connectivity Projects in the BCIM Region

This is an updated version of a presentation made at Session II: Strengthening Multi-modal Connectivity, 11th BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar) Regional Cooperation Forum, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 24 February 2013. 

The objective of this presentation is to draw some lessons for the implementation of physical connectivity infrastructure projects in underdeveloped areas within the BCIM sub-region using experiences from some ongoing infrastructure projects in the region.

1. Objectives of Connectivity

At the outset it is important to define what physical connectivity will achieve. ‘Economic development’ is an objective, certainly but the expression can mean different things to different constituents. Ordinarily, better roads and improved telecom connectivity lead to increases in the volume of trade, the movement of labour and so on. However, in the absence of a rational policy on and/or management of border trade for example, better roads will only increase the volume of illegal/informal trade. This does not help the authorities in increasing revenues in the form of tax collections and therefore, in getting adequate returns on investments made in developing physical infrastructure.Read More »

Institutionalizing the BCIM: The Next Steps

Presentation made in Session 5: Institutional Arrangements at the 10th Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) Regional Cooperation Forum, Kolkata, 19 February 2012.

There has been a constant debate between India and China about bringing the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) Regional Cooperation Forum up to the full Track-1 level. There is the example of the Russia-India-China Track-2 dialogue that has a parallel Track-1 process starting with meetings of the three foreign ministers and later followed by regular meetings of the heads of government. This was no doubt inspired also by the post-9/11 scenario of unilateral US actions and the need for an alternative global order formulation. The point is that this can be done.

Today, the BCIM is in effect a Track-1.5 process, involving both scholars as well as officials even if the level of official participation varies from country to country. It is understood that for all the flexibility of the Track-2 mechanism, any real action is only possible if government officials are involved.  But since the flexibility is useful, a case can be made for Track-1.5 plus Track-1 level interactions, so that governments have a role to play at all stages.Read More »