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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People-to-People Connectivity in the BCIM Region: Principles and Practicalities

Original presentation titled, ‘People-to-People Connectivity’, Stakeholders’ Consultative Workshop on the BCIM Economic Corridor, organized by the Institute of Chinese Studies with the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies (MAKAIAS) and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Kolkata, 2 May 2014.

Outline

A. What are your governing values/principles in which you see people-to-people connectivity?

B. What are you trying to achieve?

C. What are you trying to avoid?

D. What are the practical issues involved in implementing these principles and achieving these objectives? 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

India and Myanmar: Some Chinese Perceptions and Linkages

Manmohan Singh’s visit to Myanmar in late May – the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 25 years – inevitably brings up comparisons to what China does in Myanmar. It is therefore interesting to see how the Chinese themselves perceived the visit.

While the Chinese Foreign Ministry did its job by being diplomatic and welcoming the Indian visit, the state-run Global Times – known for its vituperative comments about China’s rivals – had an editorial titled “Myanmar trip shows India’s deluded mindset,” (29 May) that seemed designed to offend. Yet, the article also captures the many lines of thinking that operate simultaneously in China when it comes to India. Read more

Integrating the Outlier: Arunachal Pradesh as Development Project and Dilemma

What follows is a summary of a presentation that I made at the 4th All India Conference of China Studies held from 8-9 November 2011 at the University of Hyderabad:

Arunachal Pradesh’s disputed status, unique socio-cultural makeup and difficult geographic location have elicited multifaceted responses from Indian policymakers. First, its disputed status and the shock of the 1962 border conflict have given it some features in common with other disputed territories bordering China, namely, a legacy of poor physical and communications infrastructure. Second, Arunachal’s demographic composition of minority ethnic groups has meant that it has like other states in Northeast India been protected from a demographic influx from the rest of India and its citizens enjoy special economic rights. Finally, the difficult geographic location of the Arunachal Pradesh has meant that it largely remains exoticized in the mainstream Indian imagination and hence little studied, and even lesser understood by those in government and those outside. Read more

Learning Chinese, Understanding China

This is a presentation, I made at the Department of Chinese Language, Foreign Languages Wing, Army Education Corps Training College and Centre in Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh in early July 2011.

The officers and other ranks learn in Chinese in a 96-week course starting at the beginner’s level. I basically, shared with them my own experiences of studying Chinese in Taiwan and given that most of the students will be frequently posted in Sino-Indian border also gave them a broad overview of the Chinese political and administrative system and of Sino-Indian border relations.

Download the full presentation here: JabinJacob-2011Jul8-ArmyEdnCorps-Learning Chinese, Studying China

Border Provinces in Foreign Policy: China’s West and India’s Northeast

Extract from Jabin T. Jacob, “Border Provinces in Foreign Policy: China’s West and India’s Northeast,” in Dilip Gogoi (ed.), Beyond Borders: India’s Look East Policy and Northeast India (Guwahati: DVS Publishers, 2010), pp. 126-147.

Territory being one of the essential prerequisites for the existence of a state, territorial boundaries and border polities are the focus of much attention from governmental authority. In the case of South Asia, where the nation-state itself is of recent vintage, the many nations that were born at various times from the remains of British India were quick to adopt the caution and suspicion that marked colonial border policy. As a result, borders areas continue to be viewed as requiring strict government (often central government) control and supervision and even development activities are prioritized below security interests. In the case of areas such as the Northeast of India such a policy has meant that a region that was once a bridge connecting peoples, cultures and civilizations, and a centre of trade and commerce has now been reduced to a periphery and dependant on doles and subsidies from the central government. However, this is by no means a situation unique to India. The periphery in China represented by the minority ethnic group-dominated provinces of the vast western region of the country have suffered similarly under central government anxieties that have seen the imposition of heavy-handed state control from Beijing.

However, beginning in the 1990s China has given greater leeway in economic matters, to these provinces of the west under its Western Development Strategy (WDS). In India, too, there is greater attention being paid to connecting India’s Look East Policy (LEP), a foreign policy initiative, with the economic development of the Indian Northeast. Might the WDS and the LEP be compared? This paper examines the rationale for such a comparison and looks at the results derived and their implications.

 

Comparing China’s West and India’s Northeast

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Guns, Blankets and Bird Flu

Original Article: Jabin T. Jacob, “The India-Myanmar Borderlands: Guns, Blankets and Bird Flu,” SPIRIT Occasional Papers, No. 6, Sciences Po (Bordeaux), October 2010.

Abstract: The India-Myanmar border regions form a forgotten frontier in the Indian and global imagination. India’s frontiers to the west (Pakistan), to the north (Tibet/China) and to the south (Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean) have always received greater attention. Today, however, the region representing the conjunction of India, China and Myanmar is returning to the centre of attention for a number of reasons both old and new. Violence (‘Guns’) has been endemic in the region since communities and peoples were rent asunder by the imposition and policing of officially demarcated borders between India and Myanmar. Yet, trade (‘Blankets’) – both formal and informal – has managed to carry on. What has added to the importance of the region in the eyes of the national capitals, is the increasing severity of transnational challenges such as drug-trafficking and the spread of diseases (‘Bird Flu’). Together, these three factors have kept both a regional identity as well as specific community identities alive. This paper examines the region-building properties of these factors.

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A Parliament for Northeast India

“A Parliament for the North East,” Assam Tribune (Guwahati), 20 June 2010, p. 6. (co-authored with Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman).

 

Extract: To counter the role of the central government as a manipulator of intra-Northeast Indian politics in order to serve supposedly ‘national’ interests, ensure that minorities including women are not marginalized, escape institutional inertia and help the people of the region to deal with the increasing effects of globalization, both positive and negative, Northeast India requires a regional parliament that will function within the ambit of the Indian Constitution but will aim to give the region a weight that is more than the sum of its parts.

 

One such solution could be the formation of a North-East Parliament (NEP) where every ethnic community, small or big, would be represented proportionally across the state boundaries of Northeast India and perhaps include also the hill regions of West Bengal. The proposed NEP would help ethnic communities to make their voices heard in a recognized democratic platform and allow for the formation of cross-state coalitions (much like what happens in the European Parliament) over inter-state and regional issues such as water, environment and infrastructure development among others. More importantly, with adequate powers of legislation and oversight of regional and central government institutions, the NEP would provide a forum where communities have the opportunity to talk and hold the central and state governments to account before they had to pick up the gun.

See the full article at  Jabin-Mirza-AssamTribune-NEP.