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

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China’s 2014 NPC: Long Road to Economic Restructuring

Originally published as जबिन टी. जैकब, ‘बदलाव की राह पर चीन, Dainik Jagran, 12 March 2014, p. 8.

As India announced elections to the next Lok Sabha, the annual session of China’s equivalent of the lower house of parliament, the National People’s Congress, got underway on 5 March. Premier Li Keqiang as head of the State Council, the Chinese cabinet of ministers, presented his government’s first Work Report. This exercise shares somewhat the same level of importance that the presentation of the Union Budget sees in India, but covers a wider range of issues. Read more

Centre-Province Relations in Contemporary China

Abstract

China has a total of 31 administrative units directly below the central government in Beijing – 22 provinces, five autonomous regions and four provincial-level cities – all of equal rank in the administrative hierarchy, if not always in political terms. In addition, Hong Kong and Macao form separate Special Administrative Regions. While Chinese provinces do not have powers that inherently belong to them by law and whatever powers they exercise are delegated from the centre, they constantly lobby the centre for resources and for greater flexibility in formulating and implementing policy. Indeed, flexibility is a hallmark of Chinese political processes and institutions.
The Constitution of China adopted in December 1982 is clear in stating that “[t]he People’s Republic of China is a unitary multi-national state built up jointly by the people of all its nationalities” but China’s history has shown that to ensure a functioning national polity, the province needed to exercise sufficient authority to institutionalize and to oversee local government. While there is a need for strong state capacity it has to exist as much at the local level as at the central level. Provinces are crucial to building up state institutional capacity at the local level. While each new regime in Chinese history tried, on assuming power, to centralize power and limit provincial autonomy, it eventually had to seek the assistance of provincial governments to maintain the credibility of the government at the centre. Centre-province relations, before the communist revolution in China and since, have thus followed a pattern of centralization and decentralization.

an advertisement for Chengdu at Beijing airport
an advertisement for Chengdu at Beijing airport

Stronger and more autonomous provincial economies have in the reform era, led to increasingly assertive provincial governments but to assume this has come entirely at the expense of the central government is a mistake. Increased provincial assertion could also mean increased inter-provincial competition or intra-provincial competition, necessitating a strong central government that can play the role of arbitrator. Indeed, ties between the centre and the provinces have seen greater institutionalization due to structural changes introduced during the reform era but this does not imply that the central government has become more powerful vis-à-vis the provinces or vice-versa. Meanwhile, there are additional trends in China that have implications for the administrative, economic and political structure of China. These include the rise of trans-provincial economic groupings such as the Yantze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta regions as also the rise of major cities as powerful political and economic actors in their own right. Centre-province relations in China are therefore, headed towards still greater complexity.

For full article, see Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Centre-Province Relations in China: Ebbs and Flows’, in C. V. Ranganathan and Sanjeev Kumar (eds), The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China: A Major Turning Point for China (New Delhi: Pentagon Press, June 2013), 117-131.

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

The States in Indian Foreign Policy

Original Presentation: “The States in India and Foreign Policy: Interests, Influence and Implications,” L’équipe  Politiques comparées et études européennes, SPIRIT, Sciences Po, Bordeaux, 9 April 2010.

Summary: This presentation focuses on an important political dynamic that while in play for some time now, has begun to have visible impact only in recent years. I am referring to the growing power and influence of the provinces/states in India with respect to national decisions, including foreign policy. The presentation actually begins with a short examination of the same phenomenon in China because it has in a sense been going on in that country for much longer.

And I hope that what I say will sort of ring a bell or remind you of some experiences that you know of in your own countries, while remembering the differences in context and historical development, when things sound either very obvious or very different. In India, meanwhile, there is increasing work being carried out on centre-province relations in India in the post-1990 or post-liberalization/economic reforms phase but a lot of this work is related to fiscal transfers and the like and much of the attention is also focused on matters such as countering terrorism and left-wing extremism (because law and order is actually, a provincial or state subject) and more recently on education (Right to Education legislation; education too, is a state subject).

This presentation however, focuses on only one aspect of the centre-province relations in India and that is the nature of influence that provinces exercise on national foreign policymaking.

See the full presentation at:

JabinJacob-2010Apr9-ScPoBordeaux-States in India-FP