Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy War and Conflict

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.

Comparative Politics Foreign Policy War and Conflict

The Bandung Conference at 60: Redeeming Unfulfilled Promises

Another article of mine solicited by the People’s Daily but which it found unable to publish for reasons not fully explained. This article (minus the sub-headings) was requested as early as February for use during the anniversary in April. Some quotes were used by the People’s Daily in translation without running them past me first.

The Asian-African Conference, more commonly referred to as the Bandung Conference, will mark its 60th anniversary in April 2015. This is an opportune time therefore, to ask a few hard questions about the achievements that the Third World have made since the high ideals espoused at the event. The conference was held by the Afro-Asian nations to discuss their common problems and to evolve a joint approach to playing a greater role in world affairs, including strengthening opposition to Western colonialism and imperialism. In hindsight, it is evident that even as Asian and African leaders engaged in lofty political rhetoric, they neither fully trusted each other and nor did they actually have the economic wherewithal to bring their cooperation and development plans to fruition.

Self-Interest over Principle

The final 10-point statement at the end of the Conference focused largely on political goals. Its ‘declaration on promotion of world peace and cooperation’, however, has been violated and continues to be violated by the many participants at the Conference. Neither respect for ‘fundamental human rights’ nor the ‘equality of all races’ is a core principle of governance for the vast majority of Asian and African nations yet. Not even India, the country with the longest and strongest democratic of them all, is an exemplar in this matter, even though its free press and strong, independent judiciary mostly manage to hold the executive to account.