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Borders Political Parties War and Conflict

Confused and Confusing: The PM’s Official Statements About 15 June

The Indian government has a near perfect ground game in terms of messaging domestically on matters related to Pakistan and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. And yet, ever since the standoffs with China began in early May, the government’s communications have been limited, confused, and confusing.

This is not to say that India’s military responses to either Pakistani or Chinese provocations – based on such information as is available in the open domain – has been wanting. In the case of the former, one could argue that even such an incident as Balakot where India attacked Pakistani territory, was calibrated well given that it did not lead to escalation. In the case of the Galwan Valley incident of 15 June, too, the official statement on the Prime Minister’s remarks at the All Party Meeting on 19 June quotes him saying, “that twenty of our brave soldiers made the supreme sacrifice for the nation in Ladakh but also taught a lesson to those who had dared to look towards our motherland”.[1] This suggests that the Indians at least gave as good as they got. The Chinese, too, seemed to acknowledge casualties on their side.[2] In dealing with a power like China with its superior military capabilities, that is as good as one can expect, and even something of a victory for India.

However, the question here for the Indian government is of communicating its position and version of events accurately both at home and abroad. The 19 June statement shows the Prime Minister prefacing his reference to the deaths of the soldiers by saying “that neither is anyone inside our territory nor is any of our post captured”.[3] In reality, this obscured more than it clarified. While the present tense suggested that he could technically be accurate insofar as the situation at the moment of his speaking was concerned, the Hindi version – ““न तो किसी ने हमारी सीमा में प्रवेश किया है, न ही किसी भी पोस्ट पर कब्जा किया गया है” na to kisi ne hamari seema main pravesh kiya hain, na hi kisi bhi post par kabza kiya gaya hain[4] – appeared to make a somewhat larger claim covering the entire period since confrontations started in May that neither had anyone entered Indian territory nor capturedany Indian posts.

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Covid-19 Introduces New Tensions in India-China Relations

The year 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and China. While the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic provides a new backdrop to this milestone in bilateral ties, it does not substantially change the direction in which relations were heading, only the pace.

Bilateral ties have seldom been smooth, even if the default position of the leaderships on both sides has been to portray them as being normal and in reasonable fettle. After the low of the Doklam stand-off in mid-2017, ‘informal’ summits between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping were promoted as a way to put the relationship back on the rails. The Indian government has certainly expended much effort domestically to make it look like the informal summits were some sort of diplomatic breakthrough. Except that problems have cropped up so regularly in the relationship that it fools no one.

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

India-China Boundary Dispute: LAC Transgressions Will Continue

The next ‘informal summit’ between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be held in Varanasi on 12 October. The announcement of the date has been accompanied in recent days by a series of reports on the state of affairs on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries.

In recent years, some transgressions on the LAC have developed into serious confrontations between the two armies as in the case of Depsang in 2013, Chumur the following year and in Pangong Tso in 2017[1] in the midst of the Doklam standoff in Bhutan.

While reports of LAC transgressions by the Chinese have reduced in number since the Modi government came to power, this might simply be because leaks to the press were plugged. Certainly, it would not be in character for the Chinese to stop their activities along the LAC just because they have made promises to this effect.

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Borders Foreign Policy Political Parties War and Conflict

Modi-Xi ‘Informal Summit’: Domestic Priorities Uppermost

US President Richard Nixon’s path-breaking visit to China in February 1972 could arguably be called the mother of all ‘resets’ of a major bilateral relationship. In his own words, it was ‘the week that… changed the world’ and there can be little disagreement on this score.

The ‘informal summit’ scheduled later this week between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province too, is being advertised as a key moment in the relationship.

What explains the timing of the summit and its motivations?

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

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Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Modi-Xi ‘Informal Summit’: Misplaced Hopes

China has many ways of affecting Indian politics. Indeed, an India-China ‘reset’, as envisaged by the Narendra Modi government and represented by the “informal summit” between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has the very strong domestic context of several major state-level elections later this year and the general elections next year.

There are two big expectations that the Modi government appears to entertain here — both of which rest on shaky foundations.

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Comparative Politics Political Parties

Term Limits Off for Xi: Some Reflections for India

When China’s National People’s Congress – the rough equivalent of India’s Lok Sabha, but toothless – meets in the coming week it has to deal with a proposal by the ruling Communist Party of China to amend the state constitution to remove term limits for the President of the state. Coming from where it does, this is pretty much a direct order to the NPC to remove the term limits.

Removing term limits for the President, imposed in 1982, is a roundabout way of saying that the norm of two terms for the CPC General Secretary – Xi’s more powerful avatar – too, is not set in stone.

Indeed, term limits were imposed in the first place to signal to the Party that no leader should be able to continue indefinitely in power as Mao had much to the detriment of China and its people. Now, Xi appears to be seeking the removal of term limits with the opposite message – that China requires a strong leader capable of cleaning up corruption, modernizing the military, stabilizing the economy and standing up to aggressive neighbours and especially, to the United States.

Xi has sold his work in this regard over the five years of his first term as General Secretary as having been fairly successful. But since there is much still to do, the CPC seems to suggest he cannot be inconvenienced by such things as term limits. Surely, the Chinese people understand the great and historic moment of opportunity that they have to make China great again – under Xi’s direction, of course?

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Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Political Parties

A Strongman in China: Implications for Asian Regional Politics

At the end of the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) 19th Congress, Xi Jinping was elected to a second five-year term as General Secretary. As expected, he was able to pack China’s top ruling body, the Politburo Standing Committee of the CPC (PBSC) with his allies but contrary to expectations did not choose potential leaders-in-waiting from the so-called ‘sixth generation’ of China’s leaders (those born in the 1960s). The grooming of potential successors has been a Party norm since the demise of Mao Zedong, adopted to ensure that greater political stability and institutionalization within the CPC.

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Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism War and Conflict

Rethinking the China-Pakistan-India Triangle

It has been suggested that New Delhi’s bid for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was an ‘extraordinary exercise in realpolitik’, that the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi ‘is not easily rattled by disapproving noises at home or abroad’. One analyst referring to China’s opposition put it rather colourfully that Beijing behaved ‘not as an enlightened power but as a strategic small-timer, with the petty, perfidious and short-termist mindset of a Pyongyang dictator or a Rawalpindi general’.

Not being ‘rattled’ is a good thing and as it should be. However, the ‘exercise in realpolitik’ is not all on the one side and nor indeed, the petty behaviour of a ‘strategic small timer’ with a ‘short-termist mindset’. India is just as guilty and another Indian commentator has, in fact, analysed the NSG episode as an example of India lacking in Kautilyan attributes.

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Foreign Policy

Boxing It In: China’s Approach to India

Originally published under the same title in The Quint, 13 August 2016.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi comes to New Delhi this week ostensibly in preparation for the G-20 summit in Hangzhou next month for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit China and the BRICS Summit in Goa for which Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit India in October. However, high-level meetings no longer impact matters significantly as they used to. Nor even do they help maintain matters on even keel if the incursions during Li Keqiang’s and Xi’s visits to India in 2013 and 2014 respectively or China’s objection to India’s NSG entry despite Modi’s personal intervention with Xi are anything to go by.

The question therefore, that Wang’s visit and the two forthcoming meetings between Modi and Xi must occasion is simple – what exactly is India’s place in China’s foreign policy calculus?

Falling Expectations from Modi