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. Read more

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Explaining the India-China Standoff at Doklam: Causes and Implications

‘Explaining the India-China Standoff at Doklam: Causes and Implications’, Aakrosh, Vol. 20, No. 77, October 2017, pp. 60-76.

Extract:

In mid-June 2017, India and China began a long standoff in the Doklam area of Bhutan that came to an end only in late August. The crisis originated when a Chinese road-building party moved into an area that was part of a dispute with Bhutan, an activity that the Indian side deemed was an attempt to change the status quo in an area uncomfortably close to the sensitive ‘Chicken’s neck’ corridor connecting mainland India with Northeast India. As long as the area – part of the trilateral meeting point of the borders between Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan – only saw grazers or the occasional patrol party from China and Bhutan visiting, there really was no major cause for concern. But the Indians refused to countenance permanent Chinese construction in the area and on apparent request from their Bhutanese counterparts moved to physcially block the Chinese from continuing with their activity. The Chinese were clearly surprised, not expecting the Indians to intervene so decisively on the side of the Bhutanese in territory that after all did not belong to India and was the subject of another bilateral dispute altogether. The Chinese reactions in turn were a cause of much surprise for the Indians – the Chinese Foreign Ministry and state-run media began a campaign of vociferous protests and open threats quite unlike usual Chinese practice of either ignoring Indian reports of Chinese transgressions or of giving pro forma responses. In the Doklam case however, there were repeated Chinese calls to India to ‘immediately pull back’ Indian troops to their side of the boundary. The Chinese kept stressing for a long time that this was ‘the precondition for any meaningful talks between the two sides aiming at resolving the issue’. Chinese rhetoric constantly suggested that India not doubt China’s demand for Indian troop withdrawal or that it would do what it took to have India out of ‘Chinese territory’, even suggesting ‘a military response may become inevitable’. The Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was, for instance, targeted by name in several Global Times editorials or op-eds. In the end, the Indians stood their ground and the Chinese had to climb down but there are important considerations for India from the entire episode and the way the vehement Chinese criticism of India through the incident and after.

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The Doklam Standoff and After: Whither India-China Relations?

The standoff between China and India in the Doklam area of Bhutan has been resolved with each government putting out differing versions of the exact terms of the settlement. But it is certain that status quo before 16 June this year has been restored. The Chinese have stopped their road construction in the area, which had led to the Indian action in the first place and Indian troops have pulled back to their positions.

The Chinese government has sought to sell the deal as a case of the Indians having blinked, of having bowed to Chinese threats and coercion. It is doubtful that the line has much purchase even within China where the netizen community might have constraints on their conversations but are not stupid and not entirely without access to information from the outside world.

What then explains China’s high-decibel campaign of vilification against India in the wake of the standoff and which shows no sign of letting up even now? Read more

In the Wake of Doklam: India-China Relations Entering a New Phase

This article was originally published as, जबिन टी. जैकब भारतचीन संबंध नये दौर में’, राष्ट्रीय सहारा, 29 July 2017, p. 3. The original text in English follows below the Hindi text.

भारत के राष्ट्रीय सुरक्षा सलाहकार अजित डोभाल बीजिंग में ब्रिक्स देशों के राष्ट्रीय सुरक्षा सलाहकारों की बैठक में शिरकत करने चीन पहुंच चुके हैं। सभी निगाहें इस तरफ हैं कि क्या भारत और चीन इस मौके पर भूटान के डोकलाम क्षेत्रमें बने तनाव को समाप्त करने में सफल होंगे। लेकिन दोनों देशों के आधिकारिक बयानों पर गौर करें तो लगता है कि चीन किसी सूरत पीछे हटने को तैयार नहीं है। न केवल इतना बल्कि वह भारत के खिलाफ तीखे बयान भी दे रहा है। मांग कर रहा है कि उसके क्षेत्र, जिसे वह अपना होने का दावा कर रहा है, से भारत अपने सैनिकों को पीछे हटाए।

लेकिन इस मामले से जुड़े तय बेहद सरल-सादा हैं। भूटान और भारत के साथ अपनी अनेक संधियों और समझौतों का चीन या तो उल्लंघन कर चुका है, या उसने चुन-चुन कर संधियों और समझौतों का उल्लंघन किया है। उदाहरण के लिए उसने भूटान के साथ 1988 और 1998 में हुई संधियों का न केवल उल्लंघन किया है, बल्कि सीमा विवाद को लेकर 2005 में हुए समझौते तथा 2012 में भारत के साथहुए लिखित समझौते को भी काफी हद तक अनदेखा किया है। उसके ऐसा करने में भारत के सुरक्षा हितों के लिए स्पष्ट खतरा पैदा हो गया है। Read more

India-China Standoff in Bhutan: Explanation and Prognosis

The ongoing standoff between India and China in the Doklam area in Bhutan is the result of a disagreement over the terms of the 1890 Convention Relating to Sikkim and Tibet signed by the colonial British government in India and the Qing empire in China. Contrary to the Chinese stress today on ‘Mount Gipmochi on the Bhutan frontier’ as the beginning of the boundary between Tibet and Sikkim, the Indian side has pointed out that the specific trijunction point should actually be the result of an adherence to the watershed as indicated in the same Article I of the Convention.[1] And as has been underscored by the 2005 Agreement between India and China, ‘the delineation of the boundary will be carried out utilising means such as modern cartographic and surveying practices and joint surveys’ (Article VIII) and that ‘[p] ending an ultimate settlement … the two sides should … work together to maintain peace and tranquillity in the border areas’ (Article IX).[2]

 

Chinese Violations

Several points then are clear from this. Read more

Tsai Ing-wen’s Visit to Central America

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to Central America from 7-15 January 2017 came amidst the tensions set off by US President-elect Donald Trump publicly tweeting about his phone conversation with her soon after his election. Over time, Trump’s tweets on China have gotten ever more provocative, and questions are now being raised about his administration’s willingness to adhere to the one-China policy, which the Chinese have called the fundamental basis of US-China relations, never mind the fact that in reality China has also never supported the one-China policy as the Americans themselves interpret it which is of Taiwan joining the PRC only with the free will of the people of Taiwan themselves. China insists on maintaining the threat of the use of force if the decision of the Taiwanese does not go its way.

Against this backdrop, Tsai’s visit to four of the dwindling flock of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies came under more than the usual international scrutiny. The visits to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador were part of Tsai’s only second overseas trip after taking office in May 2016; her visits to Panama and Paraguay in June last year went comparatively unremarked by the international press. Read more

Tsai-Trump Telephone Call: Reading Trump and the Chinese Response

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen called up US President-elect Donald Trump on 3 December to congratulate him on his victory. A statement from the Taiwan Presidential Office stated that the call lasted just over 10 minutes and that Tsai and Trump ‘shared views and ideals on governance, especially on promoting domestic economic development and strengthening national defense’ and ‘also exchanged views briefly on the situation in Asia’. Tsai ‘expressed the wish of strengthening [Taiwan-US] bilateral exchanges and contacts and establishing closer cooperation relations.[1]

Trump Testing the Waters?

Taiwan has in the past congratulated the US president-elect in private or in writing[2] but this is possibly the first time since 1979, the two sides have actually spoken over the phone. Taiwanese presidential spokesman Alex Huang said, ‘Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact.’[3]

Trump also tweeted about the occasion saying, ‘The President of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!’.[4] Read more

Parsing Tsai Ing-wen’s Inaugural Presidential Speech

Originally published on 27 May 2016 on ICS Delhi Blog.

Tsai Ing-wen and Chen Chien-jen were sworn in on 20 May as the 14th President and Vice-President of the Republic of China on Taiwan, marking the third successful peaceful transition of power on the island through democratic elections. Tsai, the first female president of the island, is expected to take a more moderate position on Taiwan’s relations with China, even if her Democratic Progress Party is not likely to give up its pro-independence stance. It is this latter reality that is likely to keep the Chinese on tenterhooks about Taiwan’s direction under Tsai.

 

Focus on Domestic Issues Read more

Arunachal Pradesh in the Sino-Indian Boundary Dispute: Constant Claims, Changing Politics

Published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Arunachal Pradesh in the Sino-Indian Boundary Dispute: Constant Claims, Changing Politics’, in Gurudas Das, C. Joshua Thomas and Nani Bath (eds), Voices from the Border: Response to Chinese Claim over Arunachal Pradesh (New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2015), 48-62.

Abstract

The main point of contention in the Sino-Indian boundary dispute was originally the Aksai Chin area in the Indian northwest. In the mid-1980s, however, the core of the dispute shifted eastward to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. This essay makes the argument that while Arunachal Pradesh remains central to the boundary dispute its significance for the two parties to the dispute has varied over time. For China, the shift in emphasis to Arunachal was in large measure tied to the Tibet question, and this emphasis has, if anything, become more important in recent years as instability and protests in Tibet have increased. For India too, Arunachal’s significance has grown, owing mostly due to the increased Chinese attention. But India also appears to be moving from defending Arunachal militarily within a purely bilateral context to defending Arunachal and strengthening Indian claims in the international context.

This essay also argues that Arunachal ought to be seen in the Sino-Indian relationship not only within the context of the boundary dispute but also within the framework of centre-periphery relations in China and India and in the larger context of the differences between the Chinese and Indian political systems. The nature of Arunachal Pradesh’s relations with the rest of India, including the Indian central government, is important not just for the Indian body politic but also for Sino-Indian relations and for Beijing’s relations with Tibet. If in India, this centre-periphery relationship is a just and equitable one, maintaining a fair and necessary balance between local aspirations for peaceful and sustainable development alongside national security considerations, then India and Arunachal can become the model to follow for China and Tibet – it is in this way that Arunachal will best fulfill its role as the ‘first line of defence for India.’

This essay is divided into four sections including a conclusion. The first section looks at how Arunachal Pradesh is currently involved in the Sino-Indian boundary dispute, the second, looks at how China’s stress on Arunachal is a part of its inability to stabilize Tibet; and the third section looks at India’s own relationship with Arunachal.

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