China in Afghanistan: Not Ready for the Burden

An August 29 interview of China’s Special Envoy on the Afghanistan Yue Xiaoyong offers a useful overview of China’s views and concerns about the situation in the aftermath of the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

The Chinese envoy’s reference to “The irresponsible and hasty withdrawal of the troops of the United States as well as the NATO” indicates that the Chinese too have been caught in a situation where they are not prepared with options. The fact that the interview was conducted in English suggests among other things that they are not shy of letting the world know this.

China has at least two challenges before it with implications for its security. One, in managing the Taliban itself, and the other in terms of impact on its other neighbours. 

Continue reading China in Afghanistan: Not Ready for the Burden

Xi Jinping in Tibet: What India Needs to Look Out For

It is noteworthy that Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary and Chinese President Xi Jinping started his visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) last week by flying into Nyingchi. This is because on Chinese maps, the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh is shown as part of the Nyingchi and Lhoka prefectures in TAR.

It should not be surprising that Beijing keeps a close eye on what it considers sensitive territorial issues. However, it would be incorrect to assume that the only kind of Chinese transgression into Indian territory is of the military sort. China’s civilian infrastructure build-up in TAR or Xinjiang is almost always seen in India as being also of military use, as indeed they could be. But their other uses must not be ignored. Nor should pronouncements from the Chinese leadership on matters of culture or the environment be dismissed merely as propaganda aimed at Tibetan and other minorities in TAR. They also have value as propaganda aimed across the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at India’s border populations.

Continue reading Xi Jinping in Tibet: What India Needs to Look Out For

Biden’s China Agenda: Two Missteps Require Repair

It is not surprising that American president-elect Joe Biden wants to reverse much of the incumbent Donald Trump’s shambolic and disruptive foreign policies. But on at least one aspect of Trump’s foreign policy – China – Biden should be building on and staying the course. 

The only change required is to forego Trump’s propensity to cut deals with the Chinese in favour of short-term gains. Biden can bring in consistency and firmness and be willing to make it costly for China to renege on promises. But there are already at least two Biden moves with implications for China policy that raise some concerns about how well the incoming administration understands China or America’s partners. 

Continue reading Biden’s China Agenda: Two Missteps Require Repair

Recalibrating India’s Foreign Policy in South Asia: The China Factor

China has long adopted a foreign policy of undermining Indian influence in South Asia. Beijing’s assertive approach has included regular high-level official visits, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and the sale of military weapons and platforms to India’s neighbours. The Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh in the summer of 2020 is only the latest form of such a policy.

Clearly, there is little let-up in China’s pace despite the fact that the Chinese economy is struggling on a number of fronts. One of these is the impact of COVID-19 but this might be said to be a common problem across the world. What is noteworthy is that China is currently also contending with the consequences of an ongoing and sharpening conflict with the United States in the form of a ‘trade war’ since January 2018, and what is being described as a new cold war on the political front. What is more, the chances of an outbreak of kinetic conflict because of a mistake or heightened tensions cannot be ruled out either. How is it then that China has opened up a new front of conflict on its borders with India at this juncture? 

Continue reading Recalibrating India’s Foreign Policy in South Asia: The China Factor

China’s post-COVID19 image problem

Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping’s objective is to make China great again. He is not unaware of the challenges but he is also counting on the leaders of nations competing with China being too cautious, making mistakes, being plain incompetent or all of these things combined. And in varying degrees his gamble has paid off from Germany to India to the United States. 

While the going mantra in India – not without reason – is that Xi has through his actions only strengthened coalitions against China, there are at least two other ways to look at this. 

Continue reading China’s post-COVID19 image problem

India, China and their Accelerating Cold Wars

There are three ‘cold wars’ that have been underway for some time, which involve India and China. Each shows both how much the world has changed since the ‘original’ Cold War between the US and the USSR and how distinct in their worldviews and approaches India and China are from the superpowers of an earlier era. These cold wars are also now picking up pace.

The first cold war is a direct one. Mutual trust has never been a strong suit of the India-China relationship but the ongoing Chinese transgressions along the LAC indicate a significant breakdown of long-standing bilateral agreements and can be considered a tipping point. For the foreseeable future, LAC face-offs involving violent physical altercations and possibly casualties will be the norm. And yet, these are unlikely to escalate into full-fledged conflict even as both sides criticise each other more openly in bilateral and multilateral conversations.

What also separates the India-China cold war from its predecessor between the superpowers is the deep and growing economic linkages between the two sides. Another feature is the distinct asymmetry in both the military and economic equations in China’s favour. But while calls in India for selectively boycotting Chinese goods are unlikely to work, the Indian government can still prevent any further Chinese ingress in the form of capital and technologies. Given its own political economy, this might be more of a concern for China, than the LAC itself. Asymmetry, thus, does not necessarily mean lack of leverage for India and avenues for negotiations and compromises will exist in the relationship.

Continue reading India, China and their Accelerating Cold Wars

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.

Why a post-COVID-19 global order led by China is only a distant threat

Given China’s seemingly quick recovery from Covid-19 and given how the developed West has been shown up in its response to the pandemic, the possibility of a China-led post-Covid world order is not quite idle chatter. Nevertheless, such talk both exaggerates the weaknesses of the West and overstates China’s capabilities.

The world order might require changing but such change is not about to happen soon for political and economic reasons. Continue reading Why a post-COVID-19 global order led by China is only a distant threat

Chinese Views of India’s Elections: Watch and Disparage

The Communist Party of China’s mouthpieces now regularly carry reports of elections being held in different parts of the world. The criticism both overt and subtle that is found in Chinese analyses of these elections reflects the CPC’s insecurities and the desire to promote its own model of politics and development to the rest of the world.

How are the Chinese looking at India’s current general elections? Continue reading Chinese Views of India’s Elections: Watch and Disparage