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.
In May, China hosted its first heads of government/state-level event under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI Forum represents the culmination of over three years of intense Chinese diplomatic activity trying to sell what is likely going to be Chinese president Xi Jinping’s most significant foreign policy legacy.
For this reason alone, there should be no doubt that the Chinese initiative is strategic in nature – not just in economic terms or militarily but also in terms of setting regional and global political agendas.
Western notions of China’s models of economic development and global engagement or of its ambitions are possibly irrelevant today and nowhere near what the Chinese themselves seek to achieve. The BRI’s heavy stress on cultural contacts and people-to-people exchanges is often ignored but is part of a promotion of China’s soft power underlining in turn its political/ideological agenda. This agenda is a direct challenge to India’s own political values and system. Continue reading India’s Absence at China’s Belt and Road Forum→
China’s recent operationalization of the Zangmu hydropower station on the Yarlung Tsangpo, the largest such station in Tibet, is an occasion to reconsider the ‘water problem’ in India-China relations. Unsurprisingly, but sadly, mainstream Indian reactions have been kneejerk and paranoid rather than based on any rational considerations.
Any dam, even run-of-the-river projects will have effects on riverine ecology. However, the impact downstream must be balanced against the fact that most of the water that contributes to the volume of the Brahmaputra beginning in Assam comes from rainfall and tributary flows on the Indian side in Arunachal Pradesh. The more important issue in India is the lack of management of river water resources; thus, a huge hydropower potential remains un- or under-exploited on the Indian side. Continue reading India, China and the Yarlung Tsangpo: Much Ado About Nothing?→
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping are both headed to the United States. If they meet on the sidelines of the 70th United Nations General Assembly, it would be a fitting backdrop for a fresh look at Sino-Indian ties after the high of the Modi visit to China in May this year and the low later of the Chinese blocking an Indian bid in New York to sanction Pakistan for releasing 26/11 mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi.
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.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s loss in the Sri Lankan presidential elections in January 2015, raises a number of questions in the context of China’s role and influence in the country. How relevant now are the statements on China that the winner, Maithripala Sirisena, and his supporters made during the election campaign? And what are the implications for Beijing and New Delhi?
Nobody expected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping to wrap their arms around each other in a bear hug. A rightwing nationalist BJP-led government in India and a Communist Party of China that relies heavily on nationalism as a crutch for continued legitimacy at home were not expected to have it easy at the first formal summit of their leaders, especially on political and strategic issues.
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.
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.