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
What does the removal of term limits for the Xi Jinping presidency in China mean for the developing world and, in particular, for South Asia?
One possible effect could be a demonstration effect.
China’s decades-long rapid economic growth has long been a source of envy and inspiration for many countries in the developing world. Some like Vietnam, for instance, have used China as a model in launching its own opening up and reforms process. Other countries, including many in South Asia, have seen Beijing as an alternative to the West for financial resources and capital.
With Xi’s latest move, an ambitious autocrat can try and sell the idea to his people or the elites that matter that he, and he alone holds the solutions to a country’s problems.
And often, as in the case of President Abdulla Yameen in the Maldives, who has imposed a state of emergency in the island nation, they will do so with considerably less finesse than Xi.
More of the Same? Continue reading Xi for Life: Implications for India and South Asia
In the latest face-off between Indian and Chinese troops in the Doklam area, the role and place of Bhutan has been easily overlooked. It is the Bhutanese after all that are contending with Chinese over the area and it is they who invited the Indians to take up cudgels on their behalf against the Chinese.
Bhutan is, in many respects, probably India’s only genuine ally in the region and this too, is largely the result of that country’s unique political history and development. The Bhutanese monarchy has played a key role in nurturing a close and beneficial relationship with India and India has in large measure reciprocated. While a tiny country, Bhutan has always been favoured with fairly senior and always competent Indian ambassadors in its capital and maintains the Indian Military Training Team in support of the Bhutanese army. Also worth remembering is the fact that it was to Bhutan that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first official foreign visit after taking office.
That said, India should simply count itself lucky that it has managed to maintain a special place for itself in Bhutan’s international affairs for such a long time despite the vagaries of international politics. Continue reading Doklam Standoff: Not Forgetting Bhutan
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 Continue reading Boxing It In: China’s Approach to India
Book Review: Shishir Gupta, The Himalayan Face-Off: Chinese Assertion and the Indian Riposte (Gurgaon: Hachette India, 2014).
Shishir Gupta says clearly at the beginning that the ‘book is not about China but its policies and mindset towards India as perceived by the top Indian leadership, political parties and the public’ (p. xi). Within this framework he tries to give an organized picture of the ebb and flow of Sino-Indian relations during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime. While the coverage ends sometime in 2013 well before the UPA regime ended its tenure, the change of regime in New Delhi does not materially alter the nature of relations with China and Gupta by highlighting in his title, the fact that there has been an ‘Indian Riposte’ to ‘Chinese Assertion’ deserves full credit for standing out from the crowd and differing with general public perception of the UPA government’s tenure as being one of inaction and incompetence when it came to China policy. Whatever the UPA’s sins of omission or commission in its domestic politics or in its foreign policy in general, on China policy at least, a combination of focused political and military leadership and competent bureaucratic support ensured that the new NDA regime will find little to change except to provide greater direction, resources and speed and perhaps, with the backing of majority in Parliament, bolder engagement or even, out-of-the-box solutions to resolving ‘The Himalayan Face-off’. Continue reading Of Perceptions and Policies
Xi Jinping’s ‘one belt, one road’ initiative – representing the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road – is slowly taking wing in China’s neighbourhood. While India has largely given the cold shoulder to the Chinese moves, its South Asian neighbours have been far more enthusiastic.
A Different Approach
Continue reading China’s Silk Roads in South Asia: Steel in a Silken Glove
Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, “China in Southeast Asia: The Search for a Chinese Model of International Relations,” Special Issue: China and Southeast Asia, China Report, Vol. 48, No. 3, August 2012, pp. 317-326.
Abstract: Despite China’s claims of a foreign policy of ‘peaceful rise’/‘peaceful development’ and of seeking a ‘harmonious world’, and despite its economic openness and active participation in economic multilateralism, China’s neighbours continue to be concerned about the overall direction and intent of Beijing’s security policies. These concerns are particularly heightened by China’s rapid military modernization of the past couple of decades. The announcement in 2010 that China considered its territorial claims in the South China Sea a ‘core interest’, can be seen as a setback to its regional diplomacy, so diligently crafted over the years and drove its Southeast Asian neighbours to seek closer engagement with the US. This article argues that the contradictions evident in China’s neighbourhood foreign policy reflect its continuing search for a model of international relations that can balance its domestic interests such as the need for political stability, including regime stability, on the one hand and its external ambitions for a decisive role in regional affairs, on the other.
Read the full article here.
(original version in English follows below Hindi text)
चीन में नेतृत्व परिवर्तन की एक बड़ी कवायद पूरी हो चुकी है। कुछ दिनों पहले 18वीं नेशनल कांग्रेस में शी जिनपिंग को चीनी कम्युनिस्ट पार्टी का महासचिव बना दिया गया। अब तक यह कमान हू जिंताओ की पास थी। शी ने सेंट्र्ल मिलिट्री कमीशन (सीएमसी) के चेयरमैन का भी पद संभाल लिया है। यह एक अहम पद है और इसके जरिये वह चीन की पीपुल्स लिबरेशन आर्मी के प्रभारी हो गए हैं। इसके साथ ही शी तीसरे अहम पद के तौर पर मार्च, 2013 में राष्ट्रपति का भी पद संभाल लेंगे।
अब सवाल यह है कि नए नेतृत्व के तहत चीन की विदेश नीति कैसी होगी? Continue reading Foreign Policy under China’s New Leaders: What India can Expect
Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, “Rising India’s Foreign Policy: A Partial Introduction,” in D. Suba Chandran and Jabin T. Jacob (eds.), India’s Foreign Policy: Old Problems, New Challenges (New Delhi: Macmillan, 2011): 1-22.
Current Indian foreign policy is informed by a realization that a combination of economic reforms and the end of the Cold War has steered India into a position of some considerable influence in the post-9/11 world. This is influence of a kind that India did not have in the years following Independence. What India had then was a moral standing which it could make little use of, boxed in as it was by the contingencies of a Cold War division of the world. This division allowed very little leeway for the Indian policy of non-alignment, which ended up being not so much an alternative as a means of holding the line, until India could find itself in a more favourable geopolitical situation. Further, unlike in the post-Independence phase, India today often appears reluctant to exercise what influence it has outside South Asia and sometimes even within the region, keenly aware of the several continuing limits on its capabilities and having suffered from blowback on the few occasions it did, as was the case most tragically, in the assassination of former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.
Even as some old problems continue to keep India off-balance in international affairs, notably the issue of Kashmir, the world has also not stood still and new problems – both traditional and non-traditional – have emerged that have required India to step up and take a position on. These have included the fall of the monarchy and the ascension of the Maoists in Nepal in the immediate neighbourhood, the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme in the extended neighbourhood, and issues of global import such as climate change. And all this, even as the Indian foreign policy establishment remains woefully ill-equipped and understaffed to meet these challenges. What then are the patterns of Indian foreign policy behavior in the new century?
Continue reading Rising India’s Foreign Policy: A Partial Introduction