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Comparative Politics Foreign Policy War and Conflict

The Great Chinese Anxiety

It might seem strange at a time such as this to talk of Chinese anxiety.

China has handled the Covid-19 outbreak better than most countries. What is more, it is also quickly cranked up its industries and global public diplomacy to offer testing kits and protective gear to countries across the world, including to its arch-rival United States as well as to India, a country that it has trouble describing as a rival at all.

At the same time, Chinese territorial assertiveness continues without letup in the East and South China Seas and, of course, along the LAC with India. It is almost as if even a disruption like Covid-19 that has the rest of the world scrambling to manage public health, economic growth and political fallout, is insufficient to knock China off its stride.

And yet, the Chinese people are anxious. The Communist Party of China (CPC) that governs them even more so.

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Covid-19 Introduces New Tensions in India-China Relations

The year 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and China. While the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic provides a new backdrop to this milestone in bilateral ties, it does not substantially change the direction in which relations were heading, only the pace.

Bilateral ties have seldom been smooth, even if the default position of the leaderships on both sides has been to portray them as being normal and in reasonable fettle. After the low of the Doklam stand-off in mid-2017, ‘informal’ summits between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping were promoted as a way to put the relationship back on the rails. The Indian government has certainly expended much effort domestically to make it look like the informal summits were some sort of diplomatic breakthrough. Except that problems have cropped up so regularly in the relationship that it fools no one.

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Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Political Parties

The Many Instruments of Chinese Foreign Policy

In late September this year, the Communist Party of China (CPC) scored a propaganda coup by conducting a two-day training programme in Kathmandu for top leaders and cadre of the ruling Nepal Communist Party.[1] To think that this has happened in their near neighbourhood should worry Indian policymakers but it is also important to understand Chinese motivations and the tools at their disposal for these have implications for political systems everywhere, and especially for democracies.

In mid-December 2018, at a speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of the beginning of economic reforms and opening up in China, CPC General Secretary and Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out that as a result of its economic reforms and growth, China had ‘significantly raised its cultural soft power and the international influence of Chinese culture’.[2]

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Borders Foreign Policy War and Conflict

India-China Boundary Dispute: LAC Transgressions Will Continue

The next ‘informal summit’ between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be held in Varanasi on 12 October. The announcement of the date has been accompanied in recent days by a series of reports on the state of affairs on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries.

In recent years, some transgressions on the LAC have developed into serious confrontations between the two armies as in the case of Depsang in 2013, Chumur the following year and in Pangong Tso in 2017[1] in the midst of the Doklam standoff in Bhutan.

While reports of LAC transgressions by the Chinese have reduced in number since the Modi government came to power, this might simply be because leaks to the press were plugged. Certainly, it would not be in character for the Chinese to stop their activities along the LAC just because they have made promises to this effect.

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Borders Foreign Policy Political Parties War and Conflict

Modi-Xi ‘Informal Summit’: Domestic Priorities Uppermost

US President Richard Nixon’s path-breaking visit to China in February 1972 could arguably be called the mother of all ‘resets’ of a major bilateral relationship. In his own words, it was ‘the week that… changed the world’ and there can be little disagreement on this score.

The ‘informal summit’ scheduled later this week between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province too, is being advertised as a key moment in the relationship.

What explains the timing of the summit and its motivations?

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

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Foreign Policy War and Conflict

Modi-Xi ‘Informal Summit’: Misplaced Hopes

China has many ways of affecting Indian politics. Indeed, an India-China ‘reset’, as envisaged by the Narendra Modi government and represented by the “informal summit” between Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has the very strong domestic context of several major state-level elections later this year and the general elections next year.

There are two big expectations that the Modi government appears to entertain here — both of which rest on shaky foundations.

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Comparative Politics Foreign Policy Political Parties

Xi for Life: Implications for India and South Asia

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?

Inspiration

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?

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Comparative Politics Political Parties

Wang Huning: Xi Jinping’s Ideological Alter Ego

In practical terms, Wang Huning is to Xi Jinping what Amit Shah is to Narendra Modi. That comparison should help situate for Indian audiences Wang Huning’s importance in the Chinese political firmament somewhat. If Shah’s job is to help Modi do the electoral math and draw up strategies to win elections, it is Wang’s job to help create the narrative that legitimizes Xi Jinping in power in an authoritarian system.

If Modi and Shah have together turned a political party otherwise identified with religious extremism and vested business interests into one that appears to espouse a new work ethic in government and a vision of modernity based on new technologies – digital India, smart cities and the like – there has been a similar makeover underway in of the Communist Party of China (CPC) under Xi and Wang for much longer. Only in the Chinese case, it has been of trying to convey the image the CPC as not only the best thing to have ever happened to China but also as an exemplar for the rest of the world.

Ideologue

Wang has been speechwriter and ideologue to three successive General Secretaries of the CPC

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Comparative Politics Political Parties

Term Limits Off for Xi: Some Reflections for India

When China’s National People’s Congress – the rough equivalent of India’s Lok Sabha, but toothless – meets in the coming week it has to deal with a proposal by the ruling Communist Party of China to amend the state constitution to remove term limits for the President of the state. Coming from where it does, this is pretty much a direct order to the NPC to remove the term limits.

Removing term limits for the President, imposed in 1982, is a roundabout way of saying that the norm of two terms for the CPC General Secretary – Xi’s more powerful avatar – too, is not set in stone.

Indeed, term limits were imposed in the first place to signal to the Party that no leader should be able to continue indefinitely in power as Mao had much to the detriment of China and its people. Now, Xi appears to be seeking the removal of term limits with the opposite message – that China requires a strong leader capable of cleaning up corruption, modernizing the military, stabilizing the economy and standing up to aggressive neighbours and especially, to the United States.

Xi has sold his work in this regard over the five years of his first term as General Secretary as having been fairly successful. But since there is much still to do, the CPC seems to suggest he cannot be inconvenienced by such things as term limits. Surely, the Chinese people understand the great and historic moment of opportunity that they have to make China great again – under Xi’s direction, of course?