Remarks from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the wake of India’s attack on Balakot in Pakistan and the subsequent tensions between the two South Asian neighbours appeared to suggest that Beijing was taking a more or less neutral stand. The official spokesperson’s answers to repeated questions on the Indo-Pak incidents stuck to the same overall formulation calling for restraint from both sides and for de-escalation.
A Pakistan Slant
However, the fact is that this apparent Chinese neutrality also creates a false equivalence between India and Pakistan in which Pakistan’s original sin as the perpetrator of terrorism, including the Pulwama attack, is erased and equal responsibility assigned to both India and Pakistan for the current instability and tensions. Continue reading China’s Reactions to India’s Attack on Balakot, Pakistan
In the wake of the Pulwama attack in Jammu & Kashmir against Indian paramilitary forces, the Indian government has withdrawn the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status for Pakistan. This status had been accorded to Pakistan on the basis of India’s obligations under the World Trade Organisation. The former had, however, never reciprocated and it is only now that New Delhi has sought to respond in kind. 
While this is seen as a strong signal of sorts to the Pakistanis, it is unlikely to be so given the abysmally low level of Indo-Pak bilateral trade.
According to the UN Comtrade Database, Indo-Pak trade stood at US$1.992 billion in 2015, just about crossed the US$2 billion threshold in 2016 and in 2017 had not increased by more than a few tens of millions of dollars over the previous year. Pakistani exports to India in this period stayed between US$310 million and US$350 million. By contrast, Sino-Pak trade in 2015 stood at nearly US$13 billion with Pakistan suffering a deficit of some US$11 billion. In 2016, trade went up to US$15.3 billion with not just Pakistani imports rising but its exports to China also falling worsening its deficit. This trend continued even as Sino-Pak trade rose to nearly US$17 billion with Pakistani exports to China constituting just a shade over US$1.5 billion. Continue reading India’s Withdrawal of MFN Status to Pakistan: Ceding More Space to China
India-China relations went through a year of relative calm in 2018. This was the result of the so-called ‘Wuhan Spirit’ – after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in the Chinese city in April to attempt to sort out tensions in the relationship following the several months-long standoff in Doklam (Dolam) in Bhutan middle of last year. However, this respite must be considered unusual for the goal that China under Xi has set itself is of racing to the top of the global hierarchy at the apparent expense of the United States and India certainly is seen only as a bit player in this story. Continue reading 2019: What’s in Store for India-China Relations?
2018 marks 40 years since China launched its economic reforms, and opening up that changed its domestic economic structure as well as set it on course to being the global economic giant it is today. Now, China’s significance in the global economy is not in question whether as an industrial producer, as a consumer of raw materials, or as a pioneer in pushing the frontiers of technology and its applications.
What has also been apparent since at least 2012 when Xi Jinping took over as general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), if not earlier, is that China’s economic power is being put to political uses at both the regional and global levels. Somehow, the west, led by the US, appears not to have anticipated that the ‘rise of China’ would bring with it a challenge to not just western economic domination but also to American military might and perhaps, most importantly, to the very idea of democracy and other largely western political values and ideals.
A dynamic foreign policy Continue reading The Rising Chinese Challenge to Order and Politics Everywhere
Today, the Chinese portray the 15th century voyages to the Indian Ocean by their admiral, Zheng He, as aimed at promoting diplomacy and trade. But the record shows that these were expeditionary voyages of the Ming dynasty navy that apart from making gifts to local leaders and religious and other institutions along the route also involved itself in local politics. In one case, in Sri Lanka, Zheng even effected a regime change.
History has been repeating itself after a fashion in the modern era with China throwing its support behind then Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s in his fight against the LTTE, his economic development programmes and then his re-election effort in 2015. Following his loss, however, Beijing slowly made amends with his successor Maithripala Sirisena, and recently announced a ‘gift’ of US$295 million to be utilized for any project of the latter’s wish. Continue reading Beware of China Bearing Gifts
At an event in mid-June organized at the initiative of the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi, China’s envoy, Amb. Luo Zhaohui noting that India and Pakistan had become full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization mooted the idea of a ‘China-India-Pakistan Leaders Meeting … under the SCO framework’.
The last time the Chinese envoy came up with a trilateral idea for cooperation was at a speech at the United Service Institution of India in May 2017 where he suggested that the name of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) could be changed to accommodate Indian sensitivities. That speech can no longer be found on the Chinese Embassy website indicating that he possibly spoke out of turn or at least ruffled some feathers in Beijing and/or across the border.
Nevertheless, Amb. Luo’s latest speech is unlikely to disappear if for nothing else because the trilateral idea is not a new one. Continue reading China-India-Pakistan Trilateral: Red Herring and Opportunity
US President Richard Nixon’s path-breaking visit to China in February 1972 could arguably be called the mother of all ‘resets’ of a major bilateral relationship. In his own words, it was ‘the week that… changed the world’ and there can be little disagreement on this score.
The ‘informal summit’ scheduled later this week between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province too, is being advertised as a key moment in the relationship.
What explains the timing of the summit and its motivations?
Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back
Continue reading Modi-Xi ‘Informal Summit’: Domestic Priorities Uppermost
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. Continue reading Book Review: India-Southeast Asia-China Triangular Dynamics
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 Continue reading Book Review: Xi Jinping’s China