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Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Reorienting India’s China Policy Towards Greater Transparency

The first Indian casualties on the disputed India-China boundary since 1975 should be occasion to reconsider several long-held beliefs and methods of dealing with the relationship that successive governments in New Delhi have adopted over the years.

This essay will deal with just one trope – that foreign policymaking in India cannot be an open, public or democratic exercise and that ‘quiet diplomacy’ is the way to go in dealing with China. There are two central problems with such a position – both of which have been on view during the ongoing crisis on the LAC and which have severely constrained the Indian government’s ability to assess the situation as well as to find options to deal with it.

First, the desire to keep decision-making on China within the strict confines of the government has much to do with the run-up to the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. The lesson learned following India’s defeat seemed to be that discussing matters openly in Parliament or with the general public tended to limit the freedom of manoeuvre for the Indian government to engage in negotiations with the Chinese side that would require compromises by New Delhi in order to have a realistic chance of a resolution that at least broadly met India’s interests.

If this tendency has continued within the Indian government, it has to do with a second reality valid until quite recently, which was that expertise on the border areas or on what went on there was limited to the Army and various paramilitaries – the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and previously, also the Assam Rifles, both under the Ministry of Home Affairs – that had manned the borders and/or with the diplomats and other civilian officials who held administrative charge of these areas.

There are good reasons why neither position is tenable any longer.

For the rest of the article originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Reorienting India’s China policy towards greater transparency’, Raisina Debates, Observer Research Foundation, 17 June 2020 see here.

Categories
Borders Foreign Policy Political Parties War and Conflict

Book Review: Xi Jinping’s China

of Jayadev Ranade’s  Xi Jinping’s China (New Delhi: Knowledge World Publishers). pp. xi+394. Rs. 1,400. ISBN: 978-93-86288-90-5

This work is a collection of pieces written by the author in various online platforms and as part of other edited volumes. The reader does not have the benefit of an introduction that ties in all the chapters together but the fact that the book releases right after the conclusion of 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing in October certainly helps provide context.

All the big issues are covered here – from Xi Jinping’s rise to power as General Secretary of the CPC and his consolidation of power over the past five years, the murky details of the fall of Xi’s rival Bo Xilai, and China’s military reforms and reorganization. Alongside, a host of relatively arcane issues such as China’s annual sessions of its equivalent of a national parliament and Xi’s new rules for propaganda, media control – thought control, no less (the infamous Document No. 9) – are also examined.

Ranade also discusses Chinese foreign policy with respect to India. He covers China’s boundary transgressions, its policies towards Tibet, and Xi’s major foreign policy initiatives such as the ‘belt and road’ project, which India has unequivocally opposed, especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Ranade does not believe that the direction of Chinese foreign and security policies have much by way of positive implications for India-China relations. One might disagree with the assumptions he uses or the reasons he offers but no observer of Chinese words and actions on the South China Sea or as part of its ‘belt and road’ initiative can fail to come away with a sense of unease about Chinese regional and global intentions and ambitions.

Making predictions in Chinese politics and foreign and security policies is inherently risky business

Categories
Borders Political Parties

Book Review: Cadres of Tibet

of Jayadev Ranade’s. Cadres of Tibet (New Delhi: Knowledge World Publishers, 2018). pp. xi+199. Rs.1,120. ISBN: 978-93-86288-92-9.

As the blurb of this book says, while information about the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is plentiful in China’s official media, there is comparatively little about the people who actually govern the province in China. This book tries to fill this important gap in knowledge and the author is to be commended for taking on an onerous task.

The importance and significance of the work can be understood when one considers that the best-known international repository of information on Chinese leaders, China Vitae run by the American think-tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has no data on a significant number of the officials that this book includes. Memebers of the Standing Committee of provincial Communist Party Committee are not insignificant political leaders, even if there is an informal hierarchy among Chinese provinces based on GDP, history, ethnic composition and so on. However, China Vitae does not have entries for many members of the TAR Standing Committee and even if a name were available, the data is not up to date, including even for the Party Secretary Wu Yingjie who took up his post in August 2016. Ranade by contrast goes into granular detail on Wu’s career in Tibet and his public statements (pp.19-23) as he does also for at least a few previous Party Secretaries, including former Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary and PRC President, Hu Jintao who served in Tibet from 1988-1992.

Categories
Foreign Policy

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]

Categories
Foreign Policy War and Conflict

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.