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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Chinese Provinces and Nepal: The Case of Tibet Autonomous Region

Originally published on the ICS Delhi Blog on 29 April 2016.

The Chinese government might not be able to play a prominent role in Nepal for now, given both Indian dominance and sensitivities. However, China appears to be using its provinces such as Tibet, Yunnan and Sichuan to exercise influence in a different, apparently less threatening way.

The major objective of China’s diplomatic strategy in Nepal has been to ensure that Kathmandu blocked the flow of Tibetan refugees into its territory. In November 2014, the frontier police force in Tibet and the armed police and fire department of Nepal conducted a joint exercise and during his visit to Nepal the following month, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi also laid the foundation stone for a police academy gifted to Nepal to train officers of its Armed Police Force that guards districts bordering Tibet. The number of Tibetans entering Nepal from China, it must be noted, has fallen from about 2,500 in 2008 to just about 200 in 2014.[1] Read more

Expectations from the Modi Visit to China

This article was originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Is it wise for India to stay out of Silk Road initiative?’, South Asia Monitor, 12 May 2015, before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China.

Of the predictions that came true, more sister-province/state and sister-city agreements, announcement of a new visa arrangement, an India-China Think-tank Forum.

 

It is now slowly but increasingly evident to Indians across the board that China, their largest neighbour, will likely be their most important foreign policy challenge for decades to come. Gradually but surely, China will come to occupy regular attention in India across a range of fields from geopolitics to scientific research and development to political and ideological creativity. In this context, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s forthcoming visit to China and the media coverage it will generate will be an important milestone in how Indians perceive and understand China.

Possible Outcomes

Modi has gained a reputation for extreme secrecy and last minute ‘deals’ during visits abroad. China, however, will not be such an easy place to do this. Unless, of course, CPC General Secretary and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, is willing to play ball. This however, is unlikely, given the Chinese self-image of being in a league of just two, contending with the US for regional and global domination while everybody else is for all practical purposes, and despite any rhetoric to the contrary, slotted into lower tiers of importance.

What then are the possible agreements that the two sides might reach during the Modi visit?

The agreements related to economic cooperation including infrastructure construction, industrial parks and sister-city and sister-province/state ties will likely number quite a few, even if they will not match the 51 agreements that resulted during the Xi visit to Pakistan. Boosting bilateral trade and investments at the service of the Prime Minister’s flagship ‘Make in India’ campaign will be a big item on the agenda, if not the most important one.

More sister-city and sister-province/state agreements could help accelerate a trend of Chinese sub-national enterprises targeting specific sectors and localities or states in India for economic opportunities. It also makes immense sense for two countries the size and complexity of India and China for their cities and regions to develop their own independent economic linkages with each other. Along the way, there could be significant spillover effects in terms of increasing mutual understanding, greater familiarization with each other’s cultures and ways of working, tourism, educational exchanges and so on.

An agreement for a more liberalized visa regime between the two countries was to be signed during Xi’s India visit in September but was finally abandoned. The agreement will be extremely important for Chinese investors, businessmen and tourists seeking to explore and commit to India.

It is also quite possible that an agreement of some sort on trans-boundary river waters will come to fruition. To expect an all year-round sharing of information might be too much to expect from the Chinese. It is more likely that China will agree to give India another 15 days worth of data on any one river.

An India-China Think-tank Forum is a proposal that has been doing the rounds for some time, now and will likely reach fruition during this visit. This would be an important avenue for a frequent and unhindered exchange of views between the policy and scholar communities on both sides and replicates a similar exercise in the Sino-US context.

Sign at a Chinese airport - On India, 'Monitor Situation, Exercise Caution'
Sign at a Chinese airport – On India, ‘Monitor Situation, Exercise Caution’

Asian Century?

One important marker of the Asian century will be how India and China are going to cooperate in the science and technology sector to create solutions for uniquely Third World problems as well as to overcome problems that come from copying a Western model of economic development. To this end, cooperation and joint development of renewable energy technologies, to name just one sector, should be a big part of the agenda, capable of being slotted into both the infrastructure construction and ‘Make in India’ campaigns.

Scientific research can also provide the opportunity to avoid or overcome suspicions in other areas. One idea doing the rounds is cooperation between the two countries on the development of deep sea mining in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese are already engaged in this in the southwest Indian Ocean and so is India, so perhaps, this is an opportunity to not just cooperate but also keep an eye on what the other side is doing.

The problem, of course, arises since it is China that is expanding opportunities and finding reasons to be in the Indian Ocean while India’s opportunities to partner with China in similar endeavours along or opposite China’s coast are limited either because of China large territorial and consequently EEZ claims or because India does not often have the wherewithal or the incentives to venture that far. Where it has, New Delhi has preferred to partner with the Japanese or the Vietnamese.

This then leads to a major issue that is also likely to crop up during the visit, namely of Indian receptivity to China’s new ‘one belt, one road’ idea and in particular, the Maritime Silk Road. Given the particular version of historical reinterpretation, rewriting even, that the initiative involves, India is wary of joining in. However, given also the potential of the Chinese initiative to transform the economic, and possibly, the political landscape of Asia, New Delhi must seriously consider if staying out and being unable to exert influence on the process is an option.

Xi Meets Modi: A Historic Opportunity for Sino-Indian Leadership

Published as 郑嘉宾, ‘中印面临一个历史性机遇’, 环球网, 19 September 2014.

当前,印中两国被视为全球经济增长的关键推动者,也是改革以西方为中心国际秩序的不可缺少的力量。现阶段,两国经济关系的最大问题是经贸不平衡。印度继续承受逆差, 这也影响着两国经济合作。解决这个问题或者把经贸差额保持在一定程度,要用一个简单的经济逻辑来处理。为了避免经济过热,中国必须把呆在银行的巨额资本拿到境外来投资。毫无疑问,鉴于经济的规模,印度就是中国投资的最佳场所。当然,中国也可以投资于美国或欧洲国债或者到世界上任何一个地方,但在印度投资一定会收获更多。 Read more

Xi visits India: Great Expectations

co-authored with Alka Acharya and originally published as , ‘Modi, Xi and Great Expectations’, Rediff.com, 17 September 2014.

Symbolism is often as important as the essentials in conveying the magnitude of an event – especially when the eyes of the world are focused on it. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to receive the Chinese President Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad and establish a personal rapport in a culturally resonant setting with brisk economic undertones, before moving on to the capital, New Delhi, has certainly added the element which elevates the tenor and adds a dash of élan to this meeting between two of the most important leaders of Asia today. It will likely set the template for the relations between the two countries, at least for the next five years. The statements and body language of both these leaders will thus be closely scrutinized. Read more

Sino-Indian Sub-National Economic Ties: Changing the Game

With a still young political leadership in both China and India, economic ties will be a major plank of the India-China relationship. Even as the burgeoning trade deficit for India is a major bilateral problem, the two countries are also trying to lay fresh sinews in their relationship through Chinese-assisted infrastructure development in India. What is also important to note that is that much of these economic interactions are or will be increasingly negotiated at the sub-national level. Read more

3rd Plenum, 18th CC: A Reformist Agenda but Challenges Ahead

First published as जेबीन टी जैकब, ‘सीपीसी के विरोधाभासी संदेशों का बंडल’, Business Bhaskar (New Delhi), 28 November 2013, p. 4.

 

(Original text in English follows below)

कम्युनिस्ट पार्टी ऑफ चाइना (सीपीसी) की 18 वीं सेंट्रल कमिटी की तीसरी प्लेनरी (विशेषाधिकार प्राप्त महत्वपूर्ण और वरिष्ठ सदस्यों की सभा) इस महीने आयोजित हुई। इस प्लीनम (महासभा) में सेंट्रल कमिटी के 205  सदस्यों के अलावा 171 अन्य सदस्य होते हैं जो महत्वपूर्ण नीतिगत मसलों पर चर्चा कर किसी नतीजे पर पहुंचते हैं। किसी भी सेंट्रल कमिटी की तीसरी प्लीनम का महत्व इसलिए है कि नया नेतृत्व प्राय: इसका उपयोग अपनी नई आर्थिक नीतियों की घोषणा करने के अवसर के रूप में करता है। 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.

China in 2011: Through the Indian Looking Glass

Originally published: Jabin T. Jacob, “We are not that different, you and I,” DNA, 27 December 2011, p. 12.

With the exception of the 1962 conflict almost everything else about China is seen and understood in India through Western eyes. But, isn’t China, like India, a country of over a billion people? Why then suppose that anybody could understand the Chinese and their problems better than we Indians could? Who but Indians can really grasp the incredible complexities and myriad problems of a billion people living under one flag?

As Shakespeare’s Shylock might have continued asking, does China not have corruption and police brutality, unemployment and inflation, farmers committing suicide and migrant workers shivering in the cold? Does China not have a weak government and coalition politics, ethnic conflict and environmental protests?

“It does?”, you ask. Yes, it does. Read more