India, the NSG and China: Time to Move Away from the Blame Game

As India’s application to membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) comes up for renewed discussion at a consultative meeting in Vienna later this November, several questions about China’s possible response remain.

The Indian argument for putting effort into the pursuit of NSG membership is that this ‘would place our existing cooperation on a predictable basis and facilitate the enhanced investments, industrial tie ups and technology access required to accelerate augmentation of nuclear power capacity in India’.[1]

Targetting China

Justified as this may be, this is an argument that however, holds less sway in public perception than the one about China being the only country that stands in the way of India’s aspirations. Read More »

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Major Powers in the Indo-Pacific

Originally published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘Role of Major Powers in the Indo-Pacific Region’ in Gurpreet S Khurana and Antara Ghosal Singh (eds). India and China: Constructing A Peaceful Order in the Indo-Pacific (New Delhi: National Maritime Foundation, 2016), pp. 79-89.

The conversion of the ‘Asia-Pacific’ into the ‘Indo-Pacific’ – a construct of fairly recent vintage – is of somewhat varying legitimacy depending on the issues one is dealing with. From an economic perspective, the ‘Indo-Pacific’ makes sense given the long energy supply lines between West Asia and East Asia and also from a goods trade perspective. The ‘Indo-Pacific’ is also increasingly relevant on the basis of various new and specific themes such as climate change, theft of intellectual property, currency manipulation and cyber-security.

However, from a traditional security perspective, the new nomenclature appears rather contrived still even if energy security or nuclear proliferation – that link the Indian and Pacific Oceans – are major issues for the growing powers in Asia. This is so because it is only truly the United States that links the two geographies in terms of credible security capacity. Further, concerns of piracy in the Indian Ocean apart, it is the East Asian half of the Indo-Pacific that is the more critical region from a maritime security perspective given the various maritime disputes involving China and its neighbours, the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula and the incipient great power competition between China and the United States. Keeping this context in mind, this essay will examine the role of three major powers in East Asia, namely, Japan, Russia and the United States, and their interactions with China as a way of understanding evolving dynamics in the Indo-Pacific.

Japan

As neighbours and sibling civilizations, China and Japan have been structurally oriented towards rivalry. China is unwilling to forgive or forget the humiliation by and depredations of the Japanese during WW II and the Japanese elites that matter are unwilling to fully and genuinely apologize or to let go of the chip on their shoulder from having bested and dominated their larger neighbor for however brief a period. The current Chinese territorial claims over the Senkakus are only a manifestation of this historical reality rather than the main problem.Read More »

Interview: China Balances Assertiveness and Diplomacy

The original of an interview published in the Maharashtra Times, Pune in Marathi on 31 July 2016.

1. Why is China so aggressive in the South China Sea case? Are there any chances of war between China and other parts of the world?

A: China has a strong sense of having suffered from Western and Japanese colonialism and of being wronged. The so-called ‘century of humiliation’ is something that every Chinese man, woman and child is familiar with and hence, they have a great attachment to territory as a sign of their historical greatness. Right now, Chinese leaders seem their country as being militarily more powerful than their neighbours and so think they can also claim the territory they want in the South China Sea. But this is not simply a case of China versus its ASEAN neighbours. China is in the main trying to keep the United States from exercising power and influence in China’s neighbourhood. Chances of all-out war are low. China is smart enough not to damage its chances of growth and prosperity by going to war.

2. China has tense relations with almost all ASEAN countries. But, their Maritime silk route vision includes Southeast Asia also. Both these things stand in contrast. How will they manage?Read More »

Interpreting Ma Ying-jeou’s Visit to Taiping Island

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s visit to Taiping/Itu Aba Island in the Spratly Islands on 28 January 2016 was justified among other things on the grounds that he visited men and women in uniform before every Lunar New Year and that he was seeking to clarify the legal status of the island.[1]

 

Omissions

There are however, some issues that need to be considered.

For one, Ma did not mention the visit to Taiping of his predecessor Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in February 2008. Standing before military personnel this omission perhaps weakened Taiwan’s/Republic of China’ (ROC) image and position, which is to say that there is an element of dissonance between the Kuomintang’s (KMT) position and that of its political rival.Read More »

US FON Ops and China’s Continuing Challenge

Originally published as Jabin T Jacob, China’s aggression in South China Sea a global challenge’, Hindustan Times, 4 November 2015.

In late October, the American destroyer USS Lassens sailed within a 12 nautical mile territorial waters limit claimed by China at Subi Reef in the South China Sea. China has no right to such a claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the US was exercising its rights to freedom of navigation under the Convention.

Predictably Beijing has protested while others have cheered the US action but American freedom of navigation (FON) operations are nothing new and have been carried out regularly in other seas despite the fact that the US itself has not ratified UNCLOS. In the South China Sea itself, the US has carried out FON operations previously to counter excessive maritime claims by Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.Read More »

China’s 2015 Defence White Paper: Military Strategy Meets Foreign Policy

Originally published as ‘With China’s Growing Regional Interests, a New Strategy of “Active Defence”’, The Wire, 28 May 2015.

China’s latest defence White Paper (WP) – its ninth – has only confirmed trends that have been evident for some time. Themed “China’s Military Strategy”, it is a sign of China’s greater confidence if not always of transparency delivered in language that is a mix of boilerplate, rhetoric and accusations against unnamed countries. That said, there is clearly a desire to communicate better to the United States and other potential rivals what China’s intentions and red lines are.Read More »

The Why of China’s Actions in the South China Sea

Shorter version published as Jabin T. Jacob, ‘China’s “moral code”’, The Hindu, 1 July 2015.

In mid-November 2006, Chinese television broadcast a documentary series titled, ‘The Rise of the Great Powers’ (Daguo jueqi) that studied the rise of nine world powers starting with Portugal and ending with the United States in the present with Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia/Soviet Union in between. Produced by a group of eminent Chinese historians, the series was telecast during primetime and took the country by storm with its bold, impartial look at the reasons behind the rise and fall of powers in the modern era.

The broadcast of the series opened up the discussion of China’s rise to a wider domestic audience; in hindsight, it might have been the beginning of China’s move away from Deng Xiaoping’s 24-character strategy, that enjoined it to “…hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.” Read More »