China hosted the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing from 25 to 27 April 2019 with a few dozen heads of state/government and of international organizations in attendance. Seen as a key event of the Chinese diplomatic calendar, international participation at the BRI Forum is seen by Beijing as some sort of validation of its attempts at regional and global leadership using the mantra of economic growth through infrastructure development.
This infrastructure development provided by Chinese enterprises around the world has come under increasing scrutiny since the launch of the BRI in 2013 and the Chinese appear to have used the 2nd Forum both as a sort of reality check for themselves as well as a fresh attempt to convince countries hosting BRI projects and those not yet on board that there is still much on offer.
Problems with Chinese Infrastructure Continue reading The Second BRI Forum: Signaling Change?
US Vice-President Mike Pence delivered a key speech on his country’s China policy early this month on 4 October 2018. His speech drove home the message of the burgeoning challenge to American interests from China. Using specific examples, he pointed out how the Chinese sought to influence American domestic politics, stole American technology, and undermined other countries through debt-trap infrastructure projects under its Belt and Road Initiative.
Implications for India
Pence’s speech on China has also been read as being politically motivated given the November mid-term elections to the US Congress. While this may be so, it also offers Indians an opportunity to think why their country’s foreign policy challenges from China do not form more of an issue at least during parliamentary elections. Continue reading Raising China as an Issue in Indian Elections
Today, the Chinese portray the 15th century voyages to the Indian Ocean by their admiral, Zheng He, as aimed at promoting diplomacy and trade. But the record shows that these were expeditionary voyages of the Ming dynasty navy that apart from making gifts to local leaders and religious and other institutions along the route also involved itself in local politics. In one case, in Sri Lanka, Zheng even effected a regime change.
History has been repeating itself after a fashion in the modern era with China throwing its support behind then Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s in his fight against the LTTE, his economic development programmes and then his re-election effort in 2015. Following his loss, however, Beijing slowly made amends with his successor Maithripala Sirisena, and recently announced a ‘gift’ of US$295 million to be utilized for any project of the latter’s wish. Continue reading Beware of China Bearing Gifts
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Indonesia at the end of May 2018 followed that of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to the Southeast Asian nation earlier the same month. The Modi visit is a significant step not just for the bilateral relationship but in clarifying what India’s strategy is in the region. It is, therefore, important to both understand China’s impact on the India-Indonesia bilateral relationship and what it is that India is up against in converting the rhetoric into action.
As important as practical immediate-term outcomes are – as on counter-terrorism, for example – a long-term vision should also animate the relationship between India and Indonesia that has for long been consigned to a secondary or tertiary status in both capitals. One Indian official on the eve of the visit said that he expected the visit to be ‘forward-looking’. But he also set its foundation very low by noting the obvious that ‘India and Indonesia do not share any territorial disputes, which is significant to add momentum to the relationship’. Continue reading Modi’s Indonesia Visit: China in the Mix
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’. 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. Continue reading Explaining Action and Reaction on Doklam
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
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 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. Continue reading Sheikh Hasina’s Visit to India: China in the Background
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. Continue reading China in Central Asia: Myth-making and Foreign Policy
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. Continue reading Tsai Ing-wen’s Visit to Central America