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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China’s 19th CPC Congress: Redefining Economic Growth

There are several aspects of the recently concluded 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) that are noteworthy for India.

First, CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping has attempted to redefine what acceptable economic growth is in China. The expression ‘contradiction’ is an important one in the Chinese communist lexicon and until the 19th Party Congress, the ‘principal contradiction’ was the one between ‘the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people and backward social production’ or, in other words, China’s inability to provide for the basic material needs of its people. Following nearly 40 years of economic reforms, this challenge has now been met with China eradicating poverty at the most massive scale and at the quickest pace in human history.

This process has, however, also resulted in rising income inequalities between individuals and between regions in China, and massive environmental damage and health crises across the country.Read More »

Infrastructure Development along India’s Borders with China

Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Political Economy of Infrastructure Development in the Sino-Indian Border Areas’, China-India Brief #22, Centre on Asia and Globalisation, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, 12–25 February 2014.

China occupies a growing space in the daily imagination of ordinary Indians. While they might be not be conscious of the presence of Chinese components in their mobile phones, Indians are increasingly aware of the wide gulf that exists with China in the provision of such essentials as good physical infrastructure. And nowhere perhaps, is this consciousness stronger than along India’s underdeveloped borders areas with China. From Ladakh in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east, border communities are aware of the stark differences in road, telecom and other forms of physical and social infrastructure between what is available on the Indian side and in Tibet.Read More »

China in South Asia: Influence and Feedback

Presentation made at the British High Commission, New Delhi, 22 August 2013.

Outline

A. Developing countries, Duo

–          ideological connect

  • non-Western
    • genuine Marxist feeling in the unity of the Third World
    • minus the Maoist “you’re either with us or against us”
  • coalition building

–          common national interests

  • anti-Western / non-Western
  • international organizations
  • trade
  • energy security

B. China SoloRead More »

China’s ‘Parliament’: Clear and Present Challenges

Originally published as जबिन टी. जेकब, “चीन में परिवर्तन की राह में असमंजस,” Business Bhaskar, 7 March 2013, p. 4.

The Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) together form the equivalent of China’s national parliament broadly representing a lower house and upper house respectively. The 12th NPC will ‘elect’ China’s new President and the Premier – Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang respectively – who were in fact decided by the 18th Communist Party (CPC) Congress in November last year. It is also the 18th CPC Central Committee that has approved the candidates for China’s new cabinet of ministers (or the State Council) and the heads of China’s equivalent of the Supreme Court and of its investigative and prosecution agencies.

While the Party continues to be the more powerful than the government in China, the symbols of state such as the NPC are increasingly vocal. This 12th NPC will see discussion over a variety of topics that will keep China’s new leaders engaged over the next decade. Read More »

Issues and Considerations in Connectivity Projects in the BCIM Region

This is an updated version of a presentation made at Session II: Strengthening Multi-modal Connectivity, 11th BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar) Regional Cooperation Forum, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 24 February 2013. 

The objective of this presentation is to draw some lessons for the implementation of physical connectivity infrastructure projects in underdeveloped areas within the BCIM sub-region using experiences from some ongoing infrastructure projects in the region.

1. Objectives of Connectivity

At the outset it is important to define what physical connectivity will achieve. ‘Economic development’ is an objective, certainly but the expression can mean different things to different constituents. Ordinarily, better roads and improved telecom connectivity lead to increases in the volume of trade, the movement of labour and so on. However, in the absence of a rational policy on and/or management of border trade for example, better roads will only increase the volume of illegal/informal trade. This does not help the authorities in increasing revenues in the form of tax collections and therefore, in getting adequate returns on investments made in developing physical infrastructure.Read More »

Institutionalizing the BCIM: The Next Steps

Presentation made in Session 5: Institutional Arrangements at the 10th Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) Regional Cooperation Forum, Kolkata, 19 February 2012.

There has been a constant debate between India and China about bringing the Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) Regional Cooperation Forum up to the full Track-1 level. There is the example of the Russia-India-China Track-2 dialogue that has a parallel Track-1 process starting with meetings of the three foreign ministers and later followed by regular meetings of the heads of government. This was no doubt inspired also by the post-9/11 scenario of unilateral US actions and the need for an alternative global order formulation. The point is that this can be done.

Today, the BCIM is in effect a Track-1.5 process, involving both scholars as well as officials even if the level of official participation varies from country to country. It is understood that for all the flexibility of the Track-2 mechanism, any real action is only possible if government officials are involved.  But since the flexibility is useful, a case can be made for Track-1.5 plus Track-1 level interactions, so that governments have a role to play at all stages.Read More »