China and Vietnam: Neither Thick Friends nor Constant Antagonists

Given their deep historical linkages, China and Vietnam have a relationship that cannot simply be described as uniformly cooperative or conflictual at any given point of time. Vietnam appears to be a near-permanent bulwark against China in Southeast Asia but it will not and cannot simultaneously be in a state of constant antagonism, either.

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

The Sino-Vietnamese relationship is complex and multi-dimensional. Even as clashes between the Vietnamese and Chinese continue, including between their naval vessels in the disputed waters of the Paracels and Spratlys, bilateral trade stood at US$58.5 billion in 2014, up by 16 per cent from 2013; about 10 per cent of Vietnam’s exports – mainly food and natural resources – go to China. And while tourism between the two countries has dropped as bilateral relations deteriorated, regular interactions at the sub-national level continue. Nationalist eruptions are kept in check also by the memory of a common struggle against Western colonialism and imperialism. Despite strong nationalist tendencies on either side, like the Chinese, the Vietnamese too, emphasize people-to-people and cultural exchanges.

Party-to-party ties remain deep with regular bilateral visits and interactions focusing on the study of both theory and each other’s experiences, and messages of felicitation on important anniversaries on either side. Top leaders have also met in third countries on the sidelines of various multilateral forums. CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping and his counterpart in the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), Nguyen Phu Trong, marked the 65th anniversary of China-Vietnam diplomatic relations through a telephone conversation in February 2015 – the third year that the two have marked the occasion thus. Such regular telephone calls also take place between other officials on the two sides. Trong would later in April 2015 make a formal visit to Beijing as part of the celebrations with a delegation that included ‘about one third of Vietnam’s politburo’.

For the full article see, ‘China and Vietnam: Neither Thick Friends nor Constant Antagonists’, ICS Analysis, No. 30, May 2015.

Regional Hegemony or Peaceful Rise? China’s New Silk Roads and the Asia-Pacific

Based on a presentation made at a conference on The US Rebalance and Asia Pacific Region, organized by the Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi, Kerala, 7 March 2015.

The questions asked of China about whether it is engaged in a regional hegemony project in the Asia-Pacific are deeply problematic. For one, there is a great deal of ignorance about China and so the starting assumptions are underlined by misinformation or lack of knowledge of China’s internal political dynamics, its external concerns as well as of its policy processes. For another, similar questions are not asked of the United States. Is the United States engaged in hegemony or is it a power that maintains peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific? Or is it both? Can the responsibility to maintain regional or global peace be separated from the need to also be hegemonic in order to actually successfully carry out that role? These are big questions but the more interesting one from an Indian point of view is why this question today is asked more of China than of the United States. Continue reading Regional Hegemony or Peaceful Rise? China’s New Silk Roads and the Asia-Pacific

Divide and Rule: China Woos Southeast Asia

At the 17th China-ASEAN leaders’ meeting in Naypyitaw, Myanmar in November 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for the formulation of a Plan of Action to Implement the Joint Declaration on the ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity (2016-2020)[1] to ensure good neighbourly relations. A Global Times commentary has pointed out that while the Chairman’s Statement of the 24th ASEAN Summit on the South China Sea disputes ‘expressed serious concerns over the ongoing developments in the South China Sea’, the statement at the 25th Summit that concluded in Naypyitaw on 13 November, only mentioned that it was ‘concerned over the situation in the South China Sea’.[2] Clearly, the Chinese are working on the ASEAN members to moderate their views on the seriousness of the impact of the South China Sea disputes, and by extension, China’s actions, on regional stability. Continue reading Divide and Rule: China Woos Southeast Asia

The Search for a Chinese Model of International Relations

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.

The Age of the Lilliputians

There has been a flurry of visits over the past few months by leaders of the smaller South and East Asian nations to either or both of the Big Two of Asia, namely China and India.

In the space of a few weeks, the presidents of Vietnam and Myanmar and the Prime Minister of Nepal have come visiting India. Pakistan’s top ruling elite have increased the frequency of their visits to China in recent years while in August, the Sri Lankan President made his second trip to Beijing in less than a year.

What is interesting about these visits as well as return visits by Chinese and Indian leaders is that the old paradigm of the smaller countries being the supplicants is changing. Continue reading The Age of the Lilliputians

Hillary Clinton’s India Visit: Chinese Elephant in the Room

During her visit to India for the 2nd Indo-US Strategic Dialogue, last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon India to “not just to look east, but to engage east and act east as well”. But the problem in New Delhi might well be an incapacity to ‘think east’ beyond the boundary dispute with China or trying to retain a toehold against Chinese dominance in Myanmar.  What engagement there is occurs in the economic domain but India remains overcautious in its political and military outreach to the Asia-Pacific. Continue reading Hillary Clinton’s India Visit: Chinese Elephant in the Room