Foreign Policy Political Parties

The Indo-US Nuclear Deal and the China Factor

Originally published: February 2008

Summary: If the Indian nuclear tests of 1998, provided the first occasion for China in the post-Cold War era, to sit up and give due attention to India in a global political and strategic context, the Indo-US Nuclear Deal provides the second occasion in the same process. This article answers the following questions:


Do the Chinese want the Indo-US Nuclear Deal to succeed?

Will China vote against the deal in the NSG?

Is the Indian Left in cahoots with Beijing?

Is the Chinese offer of civilian nuclear cooperation with India a red herring?


Original Article: “In Chinatown: The Indo-US Nuclear Deal,” CBRN South Asia Brief, No. 1, February 2008.

Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Political Parties

Leadership Change in China and Implications for India

Originally published: 7 November 2007

The 17th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China that took place in October was notable for the beginning of the transition to the so-called fifth generation of China’s leaders. It is important to analyze these leadership changes both for what they reveal about the Chinese domestic political system and for their possible impact on China’s external relations.


First, continuing in the manner by which Hu acceded to power, there is no particular leader of the fifth generation chosen as the “core.” Like Hu, the new leader will likely only be primus inter pares. However, unlike in the case of Hu, who first entered the CPC Politbureau’s Standing Committee (PBSC) as the only member of the fourth generation of leaders, this PBSC has two members of the fifth generation Li Keqiang and Xi Jinping. There has been talk that given Xi stands senior to Li in the PBSC, the former is the likely successor to Hu. It has however, to be noted that it was Li who was the first to become a full member of the CPC’s Central Committee in 1992, with Xi following only in 1997. The choice of who the next General Secretary is therefore not as clear-cut as it was in the case of Hu.


Leaving aside the question of seniority, it appears that given their respective backgrounds Li and Xi seem to fit neatly into the possibility of succeeding Hu and Wen Jiabao respectively. Li has served in senior positions in the agriculturally important province of Henan and in China’s most industrially significant province of Liaoning while Xi has only served in the wealthy coastal provinces of Fujian, Zhejiang and Shanghai. The major reason for Li’s ascent has been his Communist Youth League (CYL) connection with Hu but Xi, in addition to earning his spurs as an economic reformer is also a taizi – one of the princelings, as children of Party elders are known – and also considered to be more popular and successful than Li.


While this uncertainty, would in another era, be considered destabilizing, the CPC by choosing two members of the fifth generation of leaders, who could be potential successors to Hu Jintao, has left open the possibility of each candidate try to win political legitimacy for himself before 2012 when the next Congress takes place. This method also gels with the CPC’s claims of seeking increased “inner-Party democracy” and “consultative democracy.”


Second, for the first time, all members in the PBSC, except Wen Jiabao, have experience as Party Secretaries in the provinces. This indicates the increasing weight of the provinces at Beijing and of the importance of a career in the provinces for promotions to the highest leadership positions in China. The dynamics of centre-province relations – China is a far more federal entity than is commonly acknowledged – and their impact on China’s internal politics and increasingly, its external policies, are issues that are still little understood by outside observers. It will therefore be increasingly necessary for countries, and especially China’s neighbours, to tailor their foreign policies towards China, not just in terms of dealing with a centre at Beijing but also to reorient themselves to acknowledge China’s various provincial power centres.


Third, the two other new faces inducted into the PBSC, besides Li and Xi, namely He Guoqiang and Zhou Yongkang have spent significant lengths of time in departments and ministries related to China’s petroleum industry, especially Zhou, who is a former head of the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). This point perhaps to the new and growing power of China’s top state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and in particular, the national oil companies (NOCs). This is another indication, if it were needed, that China will continue to emphasize public ownership of key sectors of the economy and that energy security will continue to be a top concern with the Chinese leadership in the coming years.


For India, the manner of leadership change and the background of the new leaders in its largest neighbour should be matters of close study. On the foreign policy front, there are two aspects India should pay attention to. One, India’s China policy should take note of the rising power of China’s provinces and pay renewed attention to sub-regional projects such as the Kunming Initiative, for example. New Delhi should also be broad-basing its China involvement and actively encourage closer ties between its states and China’s provinces. Equally significant for India is the fact that the Hu Jintao years have seen increased attention being paid to China’s interior provinces. This attention is only likely to intensify and could have important implications for the outcome of the boundary talks between India and China.


Two, at a much broader level, given the political instability and the ‘difficulties’ of Western-style multi-party democracy in the rest of South Asia, India must seriously consider whether, the Chinese one-party model might not increasingly come to be seen as an alternative and whether India needs to do more as a role model for multi-party democracy in the region.

Original Article: “Leadership Change in China and Implications for India,” IPCS Article No. 2411, 7 November 2007.


Borders Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism War and Conflict

Beyond the McMahon Line

Abstract: The development of the North East hinges on a range of factors. One of the aspects that could play an important role in the matter is the improvement of infrastructure along the India-China boundary in the sector. While both India and China have legitimate security interests to consider along their common, disputed frontiers, renewed focus on developing border relations between the two Asian giants, especially in the light of recent infrastructure developments in the North East, could have a salutary effect. If security is defined also as the maintenance of peace and harmony along borders, New Delhi and Beijing might find that the current phase of infrastructure development by both the countries along the common frontier could provide for such security in a number of ways. In this context, it is my contention that the pursuit of cross-border economic initiatives by both countries must focus on letting sub-national actors such as the states (on the Indian side) and the provinces (on the Chinese side) take the lead. The time has come to stop thinking of borders as being static or unchanging and to abandon the belief that achieving fixed boundaries or the defence of those lines as defined on a map is a guarantee of national security.

For the North East, this is a position that could possibly contribute to the reordering of priorities accorded to it by New Delhi. Moreover, such an approach could offer ‘mainstream’ India a way out of the dilemma it has often been caught in: whether to consider the North East as a part of India that has genuine developmental aspirations or only as a region for which security should be the sole concern—the latter, either because of the several ethnopolitical problems that beleaguer the region, or because it as a buffer zone against external pressure.

Original Article: “Beyond the McMahon Line: Infrastructure Development in the North Eastern Sector,” in Jaideep Saikia (ed.), Frontier in Flames: North East India in Turmoil (New Delhi: Penguin, 2007), pp. 170-85.

Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Sub-nationalism

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway and Nathu La

Originally published: January 2007

Abstract: July 2006 saw China make two major statements of intent in its huge western region. The first of these was the opening of the 1,142km section from Golmud to Lhasa completing the Qinghai-Tibet railway (QTR). The other, was the reopening of the 4,545m high Nathu La trading route on the Tibet-Sikkim border that had been closed following the 1962 border conflict between India and China. Besides a narrow perception of these and other Chinese infrastructure developments as creating a strategic threat, they might also be looked at in terms of creating long-term opportunities for India.

India must not view Chinese moves to gain greater access to South Asia only within a narrow strategic framework but as another opportunity for New Delhi to come to terms with the problems that bedevil its relations with the northeastern states of the country, to take better account of local aspirations and demands before deciding what is best for the region. It needs to be remembered that Chinese ties to South Asia cannot be enduring in any way without a decisive Indian influence. For several decades now, that Indian influence has played out in a negative sense where Chinese relations with Pakistan have been concerned. On India’s eastern front, strategic concerns and a defensive mindset meant that connectivity in the northeast remained limited. Today, however, if India were to accept the challenge and approach the Chinese moves more positively, Indian influence in the larger region too can play out positively. The vision is one of tying the development of India’s northeast with that of its South Asian neighbours, of China’s west and southwest and of the countries of Indochina. The closer the ties, the lesser incentive any player has to play spoilsport. This can be a situation where everyone is a winner.


Original Article: “The Qinghai-Tibet Railway and Nathu La – Challenge and Opportunity for India,” China Report (New Delhi), Vol. 43, No. 1, January 2007, pp. 83-87.


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