Explaining Action and Reaction on Doklam

Following the latest confrontation between China and India in the Doklam area of Bhutan, there is clearly an edge to the repeated Chinese calls to India to ‘immediately pull back’ Indian troops to their side of the boundary. The Chinese have stressed that this ‘is the precondition for any meaningful talks between the two sides aiming at resolving the issue’.[1] What should Indians make of this and what should we look out for?

First, the frequent statements from India that it is not today the same as it was in 1962 and the Chinese response that nor for that matter is China implies more than just the accretion of military capability and determination and will on both sides. These statements are also a reminder that both sides have a much more clearer view of each other shorn of romanticism on the Indian side and of an equally romanticized ideology-driven anti-imperialism on the Chinese side. Responsible leaders on both sides know the costs of war. Read more

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India’s Absence at China’s Belt and Road Forum

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. Read more

Sheikh Hasina’s Visit to India: China in the Background

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is slated to make a state visit India from 7-10 April. The visit comes after at least two postponements. The difficulty in getting the visit to take off is a far cry from the warmth and cordiality that was on display in words and deeds during Indian Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Dhaka in June 2015.

Hasina’s reservations have to do with her fear of coming away from New Delhi without any agreement either on sharing the Teesta river waters or on constructing the Ganges Barrage on the Padma river at Pangsha near Rajbari. The agreement has fallen through multiple times during both the UPA tenure as well as during Modi’s visit and despite Dhaka agreeing to major India’s major demands of allowing transit of goods to Northeast both from Indian mainland overland through Bangladesh territory and by sea through the Bangladeshi ports of Chittagong and Mongla.

The Contrast

The coming state visit will be Hasina’s first in seven years to India and it might be useful to compare and contrast the progress in Dhaka’s ties with China – India’s principal challenger for Bangladesh’s affections – in the meantime. Read more

China in Central Asia: Myth-making and Foreign Policy

China is deepening its ties with Central Asia through the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) initiative. Cooperation with the Central Asian Republics (CARs) that was already quite intense in the field of trade, especially in the energy sector, is broadening into infrastructure development with an eye on strengthening the region’s role as a transit hub for Chinese products moving to the more prosperous and bigger markets of Europe.

The primary objective for China is, of course, the maintenance of stability in Xinjiang, which is a key Chinese province and actor in the SREB. Despite all the troubles in Xinjiang, however, the province is today considerably better off economically than most of its eight neighbouring countries. Beginning in the 1990s China-CAR trade through Xinjiang has expanded and today, several companies from the province have a strong presence in Central Asia. For example, the Xinjiang-headquartered Chinese enterprise TBEA that has promoted connectivity in Central Asia by building power transmission lines in Kyrgyhzstan and Tajikistan. It is also noteworthy that there is a flight from Urumqi to every CAR capital and to many other cities besides. Indeed, many of these countries are connected to each other by air not directly but via the Xinjiang capital. 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

India-Taiwan Relations: Promise Unfulfilled

Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘India-Taiwan Relations: Constrained or Self-Constraining?’, in Jagannath P. Panda (ed.), India-Taiwan Relations in Asia and Beyond: The Future (New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2016), 37-47.

The big problem in India-Taiwan relations is the lack of ambition. Given the depth of economic relations and often enough, of political ties too, that many countries including in East Asia itself have with Taiwan, one wonders if there is not also a lack of creativity in the case of India-Taiwan ties. The economic dimension in the relationship is often highlighted – the most recent case being the announcement in August 2015 of Foxconn investing (US)$5 billion in India[1] – but it also seems unlikely that the Government of India went out of its way to court Foxconn because it was a Taiwanese company or indeed, that it is going out of its way for any Taiwanese company.

If the Act East policy is an opportunity to recast and revitalise India’s ties with East Asia across dimensions, then this recasting and revitalisation must also cover Taiwan.

One-China Policy

If the development of China-Taiwan relations in the decades following China’s economic opening up and reforms is any indication, the story of India-Taiwan relations is one of missed opportunities. This is understandable in some respects, given that India-China relations themselves were only slowly recovering from the 1962 conflict. The 1980s were still early days as negotiations on the boundary dispute were taking off. Still, India took note of Taiwan under the Look East policy fairly early, as indicated by the 1995 establishment of representative offices in Taipei and in New Delhi. Read more

India’s Response to China’s ‘one belt, one road’ Initiative

Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘India and China’s “One Belt, One Road” Initiative’, Nação e Defesa (Nation and Defense, Instituto da Defesa Nacional, Lisboa, Portugal), No. 142, pp. 56-71.

Abstract

India’s response to China’s ‘new Silk Roads’ or ‘one belt, one road’ initiative is a good example of the problems that beset the India-China relationship. Neither country has quite managed to put in the effort required to pull their bilateral ties out of the deep freeze of suspicion and distrust that came about as a result of the conflict of 1962. And with China’s economic and political rise in addition to its military build-up, doubts about Chinese intentions vis-à-vis India and its South Asian neighbourhood have grown even if India too is growing and gaining economically including through its economic relationship with China. This article examines the ‘one belt, one road’ initiative and the reasons why it creates concerns in India. It looks at India’s response and the weaknesses of that response before examining two cases of Pakistan and the Indian Ocean in the context of ‘one belt, one road’ initiative and the India-China relationship.

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India, China and the Yarlung Tsangpo: Much Ado About Nothing?

Originally published as, Jabin T Jacob, ‘Brahmaputra water diversion: India must go with the flow on this’, Hindustan Times, 16 October 2015.

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. 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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