India’s Strategic Choices to Engage China

Amb. Biren Nanda, former High Commissioner/Ambassador to Australia , Indonesia & ASEAN

What are the Key elements of the Chinese world view at this Juncture?

China perceives the current phase as demonstrating increasing multi-polarity and a decline in US power after the Global Financial crisis of 2007-08. This is seen as giving rise to a period of ‘great strategic opportunity’ to seek the realization of China’s key goals, including challenging the dominant position of US power in Asia, aggressively pursuing maritime and continental territorial claims, pursuing a rapid expansion of maritime power, seeking to dominate its periphery through the BRI and pushing a new Asian Security Architecture that seeks to diminish the role of outside powers. China’s assertiveness has resulted in a pushback from the United States and some regional powers.

How is India reacting to these developments?

First, from a strategic perspective India has moved closer to the United States. Second, India has pursued comprehensive engagement with China based on the belief that there is enough strategic space in Asia to support to support the phenomenal rise of China and the accelerating rise of India. The two countries can emerge without becoming adversaries if they are aware of each other’s’ red lines and make sure that these red lines are never crossed.

Third, India has actively sought to counter Chinese actions in our South Asian and India Ocean neighborhoods, particularly those that have adversely affected India’s national security. Fourth, India has developed closer strategic ties with other powers in the region including Japan, Vietnam and Australia. These growing relationships are based on a convergence of views on the prevailing threats and opportunities in the Indo-Pacific. Fifth, with its “Act East Policy” India is working vigorously to strengthen relations with ASEAN countries bilaterally, and through active participation in ASEAN dialogue forums.

What are the broad trends that characterize the present phase of India China Relations?

Within the emerging US-China bipolar system China is aggressively diminishing India’s Strategic space in its neighborhood and shaping India’s strategic choices in engaging with China. India’s strategic tilt towards the United States is a response to aggressive Chinese actions inimical to Indian interests and a source of growing concern for Beijing. The United States has characterized China as a ‘revisionist power.’  which seeks to challenge the United States’ dominant position in Asia. As long as there are continuing tensions in Sino-US relations, China will make positive overtures towards India, without any assurances that it will not revert to a confrontationist posture under different circumstances in the future. The two summits embodying “the Wuhan Spirit” and the “Chennai Connect” are an attempt to reinvent bilateral relations in order to bring stability to the relationship. They rest on the foundation of maintaining respect for each other’s’ core interests and aspirations.

Closer Strategic Communication between the two leaders has been an overarching objective. Understanding each other’s national visions, developmental priorities, aspirations and red lines that must be respected in order to maintain stability in the relationship has been the priority. The India China trade deficit has continued to grow despite years of discussions between the two sides. While the Chinese side views it as a ‘structural problem’ that cannot be resolved in the short term, we regard it as an issue of ‘market access’ requiring Beijing to address non tariff barriers.

On the RCEP India’s core concern is the same – the impact of the agreement on the bilateral trade deficit. The decision to elevate the trade dialogue to the ministerial level signals the resolve of both sides to find some common ground to address the issue. An important issue for China is the US targeting of major Chinese technology firms to prevent them from getting global business in the 5G roll out. China is keen that India resist US pressure. The Indian government is caught between competing demands. Telecom companies want Huawei to bid because it keeps prices down. But the Government must address the security risks of exposure to cyber threats in the future and the ‘potential US sanctions risk’ of being caught up in increasingly fractious US-China trade tensions.

While China seeks to move towards a Sino-centric Asian Order, India’s vision is that of a multipolar Asia. Within a Sino-centric order China would regard cooperation with India as a priority. India’s growing economy, its importance to China as a trading partner, its role in Asia centric governance institutions like the AIIB and the BRICS Bank and its accretion of strategic capital through its strategic partnerships make it an important Asian interlocutor from China’s point of view.  The Indian Ocean is witnessing a rapid rise of Chinese naval presence on the high seas and in bases and places along the littoral. India’s challenge is to counter the expansion of Chinese presence and influence without appearing too provocative. At Mamallapuram Xi continued to urge Prime Minister Modi to cooperate in China-India Plus projects and connectivity networks in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa and the BRI. Beijing may regard India’s participation in BRI essential for its characterization and success as an Asian project but India remains cautious because of BRI’s strategic intent which to create a Sino-centric Asian order. China seeks to diminish the strategic space for India in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region. India is concerned at China’s growing investments and influence in South Asian countries and the IOR. The strategic collusion between China and Pakistan exacerbates security challenges for India in the region. China is unlikely to be flexible on key issues affecting India’s National Security including the boundary dispute or its expanding footprint in South Asia and its growing strategic ownership of Pakistan. Nor will it cooperate on issues India regards as key milestones in India’s rise as a great power – as for example our quest for permanent membership of the UNSC or membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. While a combination of external circumstances and summit level diplomacy appear to have stabilized India-China relations, it remains to be seen how long India and China can sustain the process without substantial progress on the core issues that divide them.

China and the ongoing Iran-US Conflict

Bihu Chamadia, Research Intern, ICS

The US-Iran conflict has been a long drawn one but it wasn’t until recently that the Middle East witnessed the involvement of another powerful actor in the region. Of late, China’s role in the Middle East has become more proactive. China has been trying to fill the void created by the current US leadership. In the past, The US intervention in Middle East has been twofold – both in terms of military presence as well as civilian efforts. However, the present era in the Middle Eastern region has been characterized as ‘post-American era’. This majorly indicates that while the US’s military presence remains the same there has been a massive decrease in the civilian and diplomatic efforts in the Middle East by the US. China has been trying to fill the long stretches of soft power diplomacy left by the US’s decision to ‘go out’ from the region. While the US-Iran conflict has exacerbated tensions in an already conflict ridden region, China’s rise as a global actor and its Belt Road Initiative (BRI) has led to its greater involvement in the Middle East. As such, it can rightly be said that China’s policy in the Middle East has undergone a big shift – from the policy of non-intervention to that of ‘crisis diplomacy’.

China’s response to the ongoing US-Iran crisis can be described as both strategic and balanced. As a responsible global actor and an important stakeholder in the region, China has given a call for upholding international norms and has been critical of any country that has tried to undermine it. China has been critical of the US actions in Iran especially with regards the following:  the US pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) or the Iran Nuclear deal, imposing sanctions on Iranian oil imports and the killing of Iranian major general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qasem Soleimani. All the above actions have received condemnatory reactions from China but not without an act of balancing.

The US pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2018 calling it “a horrible one-sided deal that should never, ever have been made”. China responded by expressing regret over the US’s decision. China mentioned that it “will take an objective, fair and responsible attitude, keep communication and cooperation with all parties concerned, and continue to work to maintain the deal.” China’s response to US’s pulling out of JCPOA can be viewed in a similar light as its response to US’s backing out of various multilateral agreement including the Paris Agreement. While US has been continuously pulling out of various multilateral international agreements China has been continuously giving calls to “Work Together to Build a Community of Shared Future for Mankind”

In 2018, after pulling out of JCPOA, the US reinstated its sanctions on Iran on the following sectors:  energy, shipping and financial sectors. The sanction banned the US companies from not only trading with Iran, but also with foreign firms or countries that were dealing with Iran. China responded by criticizing the US for its “unilateral sanctions” and “bullying”.   It even defied the US sanctions and continued buying oil from Iran. Defying the US sanctions, China continues to buy Iranian oil. Nevertheless, China’s response has been more than a mere lip service.  It has been constantly advocating the significance of multilateralism as a way to manage political as well as economic matters.

With regards Qasem Soleimani, the killing of the General who headed the Elite Quds Force of IRGC in an airstrike carried out by the US forces has led to criticism of the US by various states. US had earlier designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including its Quds Force, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). Responding with a call to maintain restraint by all parties involved in the incident, China singled out the US “for violating international norms”. The US killed Qasem Soleimani, a uniformed personnel of IRGC travelling in a flagged car in a sovereign third party state, which hosts US forces. Killing of Qasem Soleimani by the US forces has raised questions on the legality of the US’s actions. According to UN charter, unless the purpose for using force is an act of self-defense or to prevent an imminent attack on US interest or US forces, the US is prohibited from using force in or against any other nation without UN’s authorization. In case of self-defense, attack killing Qasem Soleimani will be lawful under Article 51 of the UN charter. The killing of Qasem Soleimani would have been lawful under Article 51 of the UN Charter as an act of self-defense. Though, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State has claimed that self-defense led to the killing of Qasem Soleimani, US has not been able to provide the evidence of the same in front of UNSC.

Domestic Impact of US-Iran conflict on China

 Escalation of conflicts in the Middle East could lead to rise in the prices of oil, thereby, severely affecting China’s economy. China’s economy is heavily dependent on oil imports.  China is the world’s largest importer of crude oil (US$ 239.2 billion in 2019). Among the top 15 largest exporters of crude oil to China 7 countries belong to the Middle East.  Moreover, Middle East is also an important part of China’s Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI). Most vessels transporting goods, including oil, between China and Europe must pass through several choke points in the Middle East for e.g. up to one third of crude oil shipped over sea has to transit through the Strait of Hormuz, off the coast of Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

The BRI and China’s economic growth both are major factors undergirding CCP’s legitimacy at home. Until China finds an alternative to its energy supplies, a stable Middle East would be more favorable to China than an unstable one.

Impact on the International Stage

The US along with some other western powers, had set up the current framework for international law and norms after WW II. While it worked in favor of the Western powers earlier. Today, as China adopts the ‘going out’ policy, it has been largely benefitting China.

On Killing of Qasem Soleimani, China responded by saying “The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq should be respected, and peace and stability in the Middle East and the Gulf should be maintained” further, it Chinese authorities also stated, “We urge all parties concerned, especially the United States, to maintain calm and restraint and to avoid the further escalation of tension.”

China’s role in the Middle East has been a strategic one, unlike the US it does not have any permanent enemy or an ‘all weather friend’ in the region. China’s role in the Middle East has been that of a regional leader where it has brought the conflicting parties to hold talks with an aim of peacefully resolving the crisis situations.  It also remains cautious about not being engaged in the conflict. China’s geographical distance also helps to maintain a distance from the region to a considerable extent, China also remains careful to merely criticize the US without taking any concrete action that can go against its own interest and derail the trade negotiation talks. However, if the US continues with its misadventure, China will also be able to legitimize its criticism over US meddling in the internal affairs of other countries.

The escalation in US-Iran conflict coincides with the US-China trade war. China has always been highlighting the political nature of the trade war. President Trump’s policies in the Middle East and especially vis-à-vis Iran  has paved the way for China’s intervention in the Middle East which has benefited China in at least two areas – , the assurance of continuous energy supply within a system that is beneficial for China and  the opportunity to ratify itself as a world leader. On one hand China defied the US’s sanctions and continued to import Iranian oil, which establishes China as a leader. Meanwhile it remains practical to look for other sources of energy, which secures its long term plan as Iranian oil export to China is decreasing.

Natuna Crisis: Is South China Sea a Fisheries Dispute?

Mahesh Kumar Kamtam, Research Intern, ICS

The recent crisis in the South China Sea erupted in December 2019, when a group of nearly 30 Chinese fishing vessels, accompanied by the Chinese Coast Guards (CCG) intruded the “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) of Indonesia around the Natuna Islands, a part of the sovereign rights guaranteed by the “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” (UNCLOS). China’s aggressive posturing in the South China Sea, accompanied by its large fleet of fishing vessels and maritime militia, brings new challenges to the region and the sustainability of South China Sea.

South China Sea has been at the centre of dispute since China began asserting its sovereignty over the entire sea as part of its historical claim of the “nine-dash line”. This claim not only makes it an expansionist power but presents a challenge to the sovereignty of the neighbouring coastal states with overlapping jurisdiction (see the map below). The Natuna crisis and China’s aggressive postures has irked the eye of many ASEAN member states. Nevertheless, I would argue that the crisis presents not only a security threat for the neighbouring coastal states but also challenges the sustainability of the entire South China Sea ecosystem.

South China Sea Ecosystem

Source: South China Morning Post

The South China Sea dispute must be viewed from the perspective of fisheries development and the conflict for fishing grounds in the region.  A report by the Centre for Strategic International studies (CSIS) has shown that the region is dangerously overfished and over-capacitated with the fishing boats. For instance, the report cites a paradoxically worrying trend with South China Sea accounting for 12% of the global fisheries and more than 50% of the gross fishing boats of the world present in the region. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images captured by Asia Maritime Initiative depict this trend in the region (see image below). This shows that there is sheer overcapacity in the region in terms of fishing which has further led to aggressive behavioural tactics by countries involved in the South China Sea dispute.

SAR images

          Source: White Shipping Data, Asia Maritime Initiative

Tactics to intimidate the fishing community are adopted frequently by the CCG in the region to deter the non-Chinese fishers from fishing in the South China Sea region. Chinese fishermen, with the support of CCG and Chinese Navy, have also displayed aggressive behaviour in the cross-fishing activities in the disputed waters. One of their tactics includes ramming foreign boats and sinking them. For instance, a Filipino boat was sunk by the Chinese fishermen leaving 30 Filipino sailors at the mercy of others for rescue. Gregory Poling, Director of Asia Maritime Initiative describes this approach as a “constant exercise of low-intensity warfare”.

The Natuna crisis comes in the context of the departure of Indonesia’s Minister for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Susi Pudjiastuti, whohas a strong track record of adopting tough policies on the protection of ocean ecosystem and the crackdown on illegal fishing activity in the Indonesian waters. With the departure of Susi, China is probably testing Indonesia’s ability to confront CCGs in the Natuna Sea. However, it is also aware that Indonesia stands as the fulcrum that connects the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Therefore, it is seeking not to escalate the dispute further which can lead to a “crisis situation” in the region. Moreover, Indonesia has no conflicting claims in the South China Sea, unlike its neighbours.

China has for long claimed sovereignty over the entire South China Sea by arguing that “it is part of Chinese historic traditional fishing grounds” and expanded its naval presence through aggressive tactics. The Chinese Navy and the CCG are at the forefront by providing security and accompanying the Chinese fishing vessels, survey ships, and other mineral exploration activities in the South China Sea. Nevertheless, these activities are not confined to the “traditional fishing grounds” alone. Chinese ships have often crossed the established “nine-dash line” to either assert their control over fishing grounds by driving out foreign fishers or to test the neighbouring states’ potential and their capabilities in handling the crisis in a “matured” manner. Both the tactics are working in China’s favour to steadily extend its influence in the region.

Chinese activities in the South China Sea have expanded in the recent past with an expansive military build-up, transforming the “ecologically fragile coral reefs” into a military outpost in order to establish their continuous presence in the region as a strong naval power. The modernization of the Chinese Navy and the inclusion of the indigenously built aircraft carrier, “Shandong” is an example of China’s growing capabilities in the region and its quest to become a “naval superpower”. Nevertheless, the disrespect for international laws and non-compliance with international norms can have possible implications not just for the maritime security in the region but also severely affects the livelihood of fishing communities who are solely dependent upon the ocean resources. The data compiled on the marine fishery production in the region by the Pearson Institute of International Economics shows dangerous levels of fishing activity in the region (see graph below). The Chinese fisheries community along the coast, being overwhelming dependent on fishing as their sole occupation, has put China in a compelling position to venture into the extra-territorial waters of other countries.

Fishing activity in the region

    Source: Pearson Institute of International Economics

So, where are we heading towards in the South China Sea dispute? It seems, for the time being, China is trying to carve out its extra-territorial geographical expansion through a multi-prolonged strategy, with CCG and fisheries at the forefront of China’s expansionist agenda. However, the military escalation and the disturbance to the ecological fragility in the region may bring many livelihoods to standstill, ultimately affecting the region’s ecology and economy alike. This presents a long-term challenge to the region that risks human security at the cost of national security. Countries in the region and especially China, should be cognizant of the consequences that follow. Therefore, countries need to redefine the concept of security in the context of growing livelihood challenges.

Situating Labour in a Pandemic: Corona Virus Outbreak’s Social Costs

P.K.Anand, Research Associate, ICS

As the Chinese pick the pieces of the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus, COVID -19, and the much-vaunted State capacity becoming frail, the pandemic has left more than a trail of dead in its wake. The direct or indirect impact on various segments of the polity, economy and society are being seriously felt and some of the cascading and ripple effects may be in the long-term.

The economic ill-health has significant bearing for not just China, but also for the rest of the world; in fact, the slowdown of the economy predates the outbreak with surge in inflation, and structural factors complicated by the trade war with the United States. While the Chinese had scaled down from high- to medium-term growth in early 2015, with reference to the term ‘New Normal’, the slowdown reflected that things had veered away from the expectations.

Much before the National Day last year, the surging prices of pork (a staple ingredient in Chinese food), along with other red flags on the economic front, had signalled life becoming harder in China. In fact, the pork prices have continued to rise amid shortages during the lockdown.

The ‘manufacturing centre of the world’ tag has taken a hit, as factories, enterprises and production units across China are either still closed or yet to restart completely, with cases of even an extension of the Lunar New Year holiday. Being the centre of automobile production in China, Wuhan has borne the maximum impact. Further, the ripple effects have in effect ceased production in automobile factories in South Korea and Japan, as closure of factories manufacturing auto parts in China.

The prospects of an extension of the economic recession also carry social costs, with significant consequences for labour in China. The travel of migrant workers — the fulcrum of the Chinese urban manufacturing story — at the onset of the new year from cities to their home provinces was often visually showcased with fascination over the years. While this masks the weaknesses of the regional economies within China by illustrating the inequalities between coastal and inland provinces, the movement also causes apprehension of spread of the virus.

The workers are also confronted with a dilemma while making decisions on returning to the workplaces — the need to make income by selling their labour versus (in)adequacies of health safety. More often than not, circumstances condition the workers to choose the former. The more days the things remain in limbo and cause disruptions including non-availability of transport for workers to reach workplaces, the more rise in workers’ anxieties.

The workers in manufacturing enterprises and their significance have always dominated the discourse on labour in China, and therefore, their absence through closure of workplaces and dilemmas do command news space. However, of equal, if not more, importance are the workers in the services sector — those in essential services such as sanitation workers, security guards, drivers and those on the low-end, not only in China but also in Hong Kong.

Along with them, hundreds of workers employed to power the platform/gig economy are also on the frontlines, especially food delivery workers. Even though extra precautions are exercised through usage of safety equipment, reporting the body temperature of employees to customers and quality checks, the food delivery workers are under added pressure in addition to the need to make deliveries in time, even though heralded as lifeline during the pandemic, and valourised for their selfless service.

However, dig a little deep, and the rosy picture starts turning bleak — workers for platform services are among the most vulnerable and precarious workforces in China without adequate workplace protection, or entitlements, and are also victims of accidents in the rush to ensure speedy deliveries and for customer satisfaction. Moreover, the rating-driven ecosystem where a high number of deliveries become the benchmark for evaluation, frustrations and alienation also set in.

Avowedly, China has national laws to regulate work contracts and to implement social security, but the translation of the same into action on the ground remains lopsided and inadequate. Precarity is intermingled within the system, as tough urban registration system called hukou, that segments and stratifies residents, renders migrant workers in the services sector to the margins, without access to services in the city where they reside.

The (in)capacity of the local-state to come up with problem-solving solutions to properly integrate the workers in the services sector also has echoes in India; even though there is cognisance of the prevalence of informal workforce in the urban system, adequate legal/formal inclusive measures are few and far between. This leaves them exposed to the vagaries of the market, which leads to the glorifying of their ‘resilience’ bringing forth a low-level equilibrium.

Undoubtedly, the social costs of a pandemic are in the long-term and therefore, the need to learn and unlearn.

Originally Published as Coronavirus exposes the brittleness of China’s economic prowess in Moneycontrol.com, 18 February 2020

Challenging International Norms: Chinese Censorship Model Goes Global

This self-censorship would leave no room for a dialogue or interaction to take place over contested issues if people and states choose not to voice their opinions.

Adveetya Kachiar: Research Assistant, Institute of Chinese Studies


Image Source: Wall Street Journal

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the right to freedom of speech and expression, including the freedom to hold opinions without interference. The right is protected under many treatises such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and ratified by an overwhelming majority of the countries, making it an international norm. In an emerging trend, China is increasingly leveraging its vast consumer market, especially the recent technological advancements in the areas of 5G and AI, to force businesses and states either to co-opt with its worldview or lose out of the race. The censorship model within China is well-known: by managing the discourse and curbing the flow of information, the party ensures its survival and maintains its hold over the system, which is to say, the CCP decides on what can and cannot be talked about in the country. However, the expansion of this model outside China is rather new. Under its global campaign of telling ‘the Chinese story well’, the party-state has increased its efforts to control the narrative of its perceptions outside its borders. The censorship model working at various levels targets businesses, states, academia, and cultural spaces, whose views are not in line with the state’s discourse.

In October 2019, Daryl Morey, the General Manager of Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA) tweeted an image supporting the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, causing a huge outrage on social media platforms like Weibo. The tweet almost jeopardized the $500 million market that NBA is trying to establish in the country. Following a major backlash from the Chinese media and nationalists, both CCTV, NBA’s broadcasting partner and Tencent, its streaming partner, canceled the broadcast of the pre-seasons game.  Consequentially, the NBA gave a statement apologizing to the Chinese people for hurting their sentiments and expressing the respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China.

In their apologies, companies and people such as Daimler, owner of Mercedes, have ended up using the phrase ‘hurting the sentiments of the Chinese people’. It is important to understand that the backlash does not come mainly for the government but also from the Chinese people on social media who see themselves as victims of ‘centuries of humiliation’ by the outside forces. Florian Schneider describes ‘National humiliation’ as the underlying idea around which most of the social media outrage/debate is taking place in the country. The Chinese government then benefitting from this nationalism can continue to have relations with states or businesses, but on its own terms. Due to the asymmetry of information in China, where the government has most of the control over information flow, the businesses are constrained to show their side of the story or reach out to the Chinese public.

Dreading the backlash, corporations and people are now apprehensive about voicing their opinions. Even on American soil, the fear of losing access to the Chinese market and the related risk of financial loss, forces people to stay silent, thereby, do self-censorship. Major movie-making giants, such as Disney, have chosen to accommodate Chinese demands such as removing the Tibetan origins of the character ‘Ancient One’ from their movie Doctor Strange, in return of access to the world’s second largest economy. Even in Academia, according to interviews with professors, students and administrators, many graduates had admitted to self-censorship and choosing not to be overly-political that might threaten their ability to get a visa to China. Samantha Hoffmann argues that, if businesses continue to adhere to the Chinese demands, self-censorship would ultimately become a mechanical decision by the companies, creating a new international norm, threatening the sovereignty of other nations and challenging the values on which the liberal world order operates. This self-censorship would leave no room for a dialogue or interaction to take place over contested issues if people and states choose not to voice their opinions.

Increasingly, many nation-states are also adopting the norm of self-censorship. This trend is especially visible in the EU-member states, avowed proponents of liberal values such as democracy, human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law. States are now willing to make concessions to the Chinese government either because of fear or to curry favor. The normalization of relation between China and Norway in 2016 is one such example, where Norway, distanced itself from the Chinese political activist Liu Xiaobo after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 resulting in freezing of the relations. Ever since then, Norway has tried to mend its relations with China by helping it gain observer status in the Arctic Council, and also refusing to meet the Dalai Lama in 2014. According to a report by the European Think-Tank Network on China, a trend is emerging in Europe where states are downgrading the emphasis on political values while dealing with China.

However, there has been a pushback against the Chinese campaign, for example, Sweden rejecting the threats from China after awarding a freedom of speech prize to the Chinese-Swedish scholar, Gui Minhai, and Google terminating its Dragonfly project, a prototype censored search engine which could be used to monitor people’s behavior online. However, such options are not available to smaller powers that are much more dependent on China. State and corporations have to choose between their commitment to the values of freedom of expression or taking the path of least resistance. One must realize that China has risen in an environment of unprecedented levels of interconnectedness and interdependence, and that it is not only the world that needs China, but China also needs the world.

BRI through India? An Idea that Still Stays Grounded

P.K.Anand, Research Associate, ICS

When an idea grips the masses, it becomes a material force – Karl Marx

German philosopher and political theorist Karl Marx’s quote depicts the power of ideas and how, if other factors remaining stable and equal, the value of ideas to generate transformation is very potent.

However, in the world of policy-making, ideas are not mere abstract concepts; in its germination from a seed to reach full fruition, they often have to navigate through the thick architecture of systems, structures and processes. Mostly, the shape of the ideas would have been altered significantly, to the extent they might even be indistinguishable. If this is the story with ideas that have potential traction, what about those which are yet to even lift off the ground, or even be difficult to execute due to systemic, and political-economic constraints?

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy’s recent suggestion of getting the Chinese to redirect their Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) through Mumbai and Kolkata ports falls into the latter category — incoherent, and without attention to details. In domestic politics, Swamy’s extreme Right-wing opinions and verbose are often ignored by his party and the Union government. However, on this count, he attempts to indicate seriousness to his idea, by indicating the apparent affirmation of the Chinese leadership.

Juxtaposed with the concrete realities on the ground, it is doubtful that his signalling would get across to the intended sections in the government. This is largely due to the avowed opposition of the Indian government on the BRI though it is yet to come out with a concrete, well-articulated response to the initiative or offer a credible and tangible alternative. Rather, oft-handed comments and terse statements are all that are available for analysts to parse through to understand the official position.

If one were to build a macro picture going by those comments as well as looking at the Chinese assertiveness, the non-transparency in most of the projects and increasing contrarian voices on the BRI from some of the participant countries, it is difficult to imagine that merely keeping out of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) would resolve the issue.

As a rising power, India aspires to play an equally enhanced leadership role in the world and, therefore, competition with China is inevitable, at multiple levels. In this context, any involvement in the BRI with next to no control on the narrative would be perceived as playing second fiddle. Furthermore, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), even with all its fragilities, is now moving to the second phase and therefore, the chances of Beijing revising its position are slim.

Swamy’s comments on the Mumbai and Kolkata ports — though BRI is not only about transportation and movement of goods but also infrastructural expansion — provides the opportunity to highlight the pressing concern of weak infrastructural capacities in India. In the hypothetical possibility of flow of goods through both the ports, the (in)capacities in the form of human and material resources, ill-equipped mechanisms, and red-tape, remain plaguing issues and cast serious doubts on preparedness. Given that the Chinese also like to put the money where the mouth is, absence of enhanced basic infrastructure will discourage potential investments.

The lack of resources and structural constraints brings to the fore the critical question of State capacity, or why, despite having high population and economic growth around same levels, China was more responsive than India in distributing resources and directing development? The high degree of organisational capacity of the Chinese State being under one-party rule notwithstanding — and thereby looking beyond the simplistic notion of type of regimes, or multi-party democracy vs one-party State — the key to the answer might lie in India’s weak public institutions.The inability of the State to perform the functions of economic and social development due to constraints of societal rifts or administrative barriers negatively impacts the people. The ongoing churning on ideas of belonging and citizenship has only exacerbated the lack of faith and trust in institutions, questioning their efficacy and effectiveness.

Clearly, material force, and concrete conditions, are key factors in actualising ideas.

Originally published as Why BRI through India is wishful thinking at best in Moneycontrol.com, 23 January 2020

A Note of Pause on Chinese Manufacturing Dreams in Indian Terrain

P.K.Anand, Research Associate, ICS

Anticipation mixed caution prevails in the run up to the second informal summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the south Indian coastal town of Mamallapuram, in Tamil Nadu, this weekend. Given that the jury is still out on whether any substantive and tangible deliverables have been achieved from the first such exercise at Wuhan, in China, in May 2018, such an approach is understandable.

The optics of the meeting between the two leaders is expected to be political and strategic, even though economics looms as signifier for the relations of both countries in the background. Perhaps, it is a good time to analyse the economic capacity of China, especially the role of manufacturing sector, in powering the country and its positioning in the China-India dynamics.

The manufacturing base in China was largely the result of the invigoration of the economy after the 1978 reforms, with the focus on attracting foreign investments, especially in the coastal provinces. Along with the aim of getting foreign capital, the Chinese diaspora along with businesses based in Taiwan and Hong Kong, were also targeted of these investment policies.

Over the years, the rise of the Chinese economy was on the wings of the industrial production and development. While the bulk of heavy industry is under State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), an increased proportion of manufacturing also falls in light and consumer-oriented firms, which are either private or joint ventures.

With deepening diversification, the industrial pace picked up in 1990s, with the development of automobile, electronics, and semiconductors, along with steel, cement, metallurgy and textiles. A cursory glance through the Indian market is enough to understand why the sobriquet ‘Factory of the World’ fits for China — such is the range of myriad consumer goods tagged as ‘Made in China’. Intricately connected with the global value chains, the manufacturing sector in China has often been considered robust.

This purportedly successful industrial development model has been offset with significant challenges. That the real essence of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was to find a fix for industrial and infrastructural overcapacities, is a well-acknowledged fact. With the rise of labour costs in the mainland along with the increasing worker protests, mainly in south China — the industrial hub of the country — due to despotic labour regimes in workplaces, manufacturers are grappling with either automating labour-intensive industries or move them to newer locations like Southeast Asia.

Further, the US-China trade war over the last one year has compounded in the slowing of economic growthresulting in the shrinking of the manufacturing sector. In fact, the trade war has also impacted the Made in China 2025 project, at least in terms of its active pronouncements and projections. These need to be contextualised while probing the dynamics and possibilities for China’s manufacturing sector to make forays in India.

There has been a spike in investments by Chinese companies in electronics (mainly mobile phones), home appliances, and automobiles, along with the tech sectors. The lion’s share of Chinese investments in India are private companies, thereby highlighting the reticence towards big ticket SOEs, and dawning the realisation that a good amount of such partnerships take place outside the purview of government-to-government engagements. However, these partnerships and investments are not necessarily the markers for the whole manufacturing sector, as there exist multiple humps on the road for both countries.

The increasing clamour among sections of the Indian business and political elite —enamoured by the glitter of China’s advancement —to ‘transplant’ the Chinese model in Indian settings, is oblivious to the inherent problems on both sides. The avowed ‘win-win’ as often bandied by the Chinese doesn’t translate into reality when it comes to technological transfer or knowledge sharing. Doubts exist in the count on employment creation, as Chinese enterprises abroad mostly seek have technical and supervisory/managerial personnel only from the mainland, thereby hiring local workers only for other routine and auxiliary tasks. This is often justified in the name of ‘work culture’ and ‘efficiency’.

Further, they view the regulative environment, with complex labour laws, discouragingly. The suppression of labour rights, is an inherent part of the ‘Chinese model’, and is even visible in subcontracting firms, as illustrated by developments at this phone manufacturing facility  Delhi NCR; the export of this exploitative model is well documented in Southeast Asia. Clearly, there are enough warts are always cheek by jowl with the gloss.

Even as speculations continue on the enduring nature of China-India relationship amidst the Mamallapuram pit stop, we can be pretty sure that there is still a long way to go and multiple hoops to climb before the Chinese manufacturing sector can both meaningfully and substantively, shake hands with India.

Originally Published as Entry of Chinese manufacturing in India is a bridge too far in Moneycontrol.com, 9 October 2019

‘PRC Scholars React to India’s Contentious Kashmir Move’: An Analysis

One expert said that “Kashmir war escalation shows that India is a rogue state.”

Dr. Hemant Adlakha, Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies; Associate Professor, Centre for Chinese & South East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Scholars in the P R China have reacted quickly and sharply to the Indian government’s sudden decision to remove Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 and reorganize the state into two centrally governed territories – Jammu and Kashmir being one, Ladakh the other.  In the views of most Chinese experts, India’s ‘unilateral’ move is not only ‘irresponsible and is source of tension in one of the most complex border disputes in the region’ but it (the Indian move on Kashmir) has the potential to ‘seriously derail’ the recent consensus arrived at between the president Xi Jinping and prime minister Narendra Modi.

Echoing Beijing’s official position on the status of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, the scholarly commentaries too describe the Kashmir region as internationally acknowledged disputed area between India and Pakistan; as also established in the 13 August, 1948 UNSC Resolution, 5 January, 1949 UN Resolution on India Pakistan Commission, and 1972 Simla Agreement etc. respectively.   

Interestingly, in sharp contrast with the section of the Indian English language national media – both the print and electronic – reports last Tuesday that “India and China (on Monday) seemed to have stepped back from allowing Kashmir to become an unmanageable irritant between the two countries,” just as the visiting Indian foreign minister, Mr. S. Jaishankar was holding talks with his counterpart in Beijing, op-ed columns in the mainstream Chinese media were screaming out with contradictory tones. Take a look at the sample: “As India scraps Kashmir’s special status, Pakistan’s dream lies shattered,” “India Revoking Kashmir Special Status is Violation of China’s Sovereignty: Don’t Expect Beijing to sit by idly,” “China will Never Let India’s Kashmir Power Grab Succeed.”

In addition, even as the Indian EAM was shaking hands with the Chinese vice president, Wang Qishan, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, SIIS, Mr. Liu Zongyi wrote in a signed syndicated column, “Due to India’s classification of Ladakh as a centrally administered area, the territory of the region, which was occupied by India in the western sector of the Sino-Indian border, will also have an impact on the stability of Sino-Indian relations.” Mr. Liu Zongyi also dons the position of a visiting research fellow at the Renmin University of China’s Chongyang Institute, an influential Beijing think tank on foreign affairs issues.

In another signed article on the same day, a Chinese scholar argued that India’s arrogant action has posed an increased security risk to the LAC in the western sector along the boundary between China and India. “China immediately and firmly opposed (India’s Kashmir move) not only because the Indian arrogant action will exacerbate regional tensions and pose a threat to China’s peripheral security, but also because the Indian action will render the LAC along the western sector of the boundary between the two countries increasingly vulnerable.” In the wild Indian imagination, the composition of the so-called Kashmir region includes the IOK – which includes Jammu, the Kashmir Valley, Baltistan and the China’s native land of Ladakh; the POK, the Chinese Aksai Chin as well as the Demchok region to the west of Aksai Chin – currently under dispute, the article claimed.    

Several Chinese commentaries view the controversial unilateral Indian push to change Kashmir’s status is aimed at fulfilling Modi government’s Hindu nationalist agenda. According to Liu Zongyi, “the Bhartiya Janta Party and its parent organization the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have always believed India has been at the forefront of resisting the Muslim invasion for 1300 years. The revocation of the Kashmir special status is the successful accomplishment of the BJP/RSS political agenda, i e, to strengthen Indian control over Kashmir, to alter Kashmir’s demographic nature, and to fully integrate it into the Union of India.”

The article, which first appeared on the Chongyang Institute website on August 12 and was quickly picked up by various Chinese news portals claims, the Kashmir move had been hatched based on a well-synchronized strategy, with keeping in mind both national as well as international factors. Speaking of the internal factors, the article contends that the Modi government wanted to fulfil its election promises to integrate Kashmir with India, which it had failed to implement during the previous five years on account of lack of majority in the Indian parliament. Likewise, several other Chinese commentators too have interpreted the parliamentary move on 5 August as an attempt by Modi, emboldened by the recent election victory, to have greater control over Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state and the main source of conflict between India and Pakistan.

On the other hand, the external factor which largely contributed to the timing of the Kashmir move was the rapid progress achieved by the US and Taliban recently. Leaving India not only marginalized and isolated in the renewed Afghan peace process but also pushing India face the risk of losing initiative on both Afghanistan and Kashmir vis-à-vis Pakistan.  Besides, Chinese commentators over time have been highlighting India desperately trying to win over the US support to isolate Pakistan/Taliban in order to strengthen control over the entire Kashmir region. It is in this context these experts see a close link behind the Indian unilateral action in Kashmir to two more possible external reasons: to alert as well as draw the US attention to the fact that India alone has the right to determine what goes on in Jammu & Kashmir; and that India will not tolerate Pakistan to make use of the Taliban militants to unleash terrorism in Kashmir.

Furthermore, typically least surprising, not one Chinese commentary so far has voiced concerns such as total clampdown on democracy in Kashmir, closing down of schools, tourists evacuation, cutting off internet connectivity, and putting some of the local political leaders under house arrest etc.; on the other hand, what is also noticeably absent in the Chinese commentaries are the worldwide heightened concerns of both India and Pakistan being the nuclear weapon possessing neighbours. Neither China’s leaders nor the experts/scholars have indicated worrying signs that any escalation might push the two South Asian hostile neighbours ‘over the edge’ and start a conventional war that might well grow into a full-on nuclear conflict. 

Finally, as already mentioned, the Chinese concerns are largely centred on how Pakistan is going to equip itself both diplomatically and otherwise to successfully thwart off the arrogant Indian move in Kashmir; whether the immediate counter measures the Imran Khan government has announced would exercise any impact on India – measures such as to downgrade diplomatic relations, to cut off economic and trade ties, to put a ban on the Indian movies, to deny air space access over Pakistan to the Indian air flights and so on. A few Chinese scholars did however warn India of serious consequences of carrying out ‘aggression’ over the Chinese sovereign areas in the so-called Union Territory of Ladakh. Likening India’s highly contentious move in Kashmir to the behaviour of a rogue state, one commentator questioned: India has been dreaming of becoming a UNSC permanent member, does India aim to achieve this by deliberately violating the UNSC Resolutions and by trampling on the authority of the UN and the Security Council?

Discovering My Father Artist Xu Beihong’s Experience in Santiniketan, India

Xu Fangfang

My visit to Santiniketan, India, in January 2019 was to continue the journey my father artist Xu Beihong had started there between 1939 and 1940. At the invitation of the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, Xu Beihong went to India at the end of 1939, holding an exhibition at Visva-Bharati and another in Calcutta in the following year. Rabindranath Tagore had established Visva-Bharati to offer the studies of all the components of Eastern civilization in one place and Chinese civilization was one of Tagore’s major focuses. A most influential Chinese painter and teacher, Xu Beihong came to Santiniketan as the first Chinese visiting professor of Kala Bhavana, the art school at Visva-Bharati, which had been eager to get a broad view of Chinese art. He lectured and demonstrated Chinese ink brush painting and calligraphy to Kala Bhavana students.

Xu Beihong (1895-1953) is widely known as the father of modern Chinese painting. Born into a poor family in Yixing, Jiangsu Province, he learned Chinese classics and traditional Chinese painting from his father, a self-taught artist.

One of the first Chinese art students to study in Europe, Xu Beihong in the 1920s graduated from the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Returning to China in 1927, he successfully integrated Western painting methods and techniques with traditional Chinese painting in order to develop Chinese painting. Xu Beihong pioneered China’s art education. From 1927 until his death in 1953, he trained several generations of Chinese artists.

Admiring Xu Beihong’s art, Rabindranath Tagore wrote an introduction to Xu’s exhibition. In response to Tagore’s welcome address, Xu Beihong said: “Santiniketan is a place which corresponds to my ideal of a center of art and culture. The whole world should make a pilgrimage here in order to breathe the joyful atmosphere of creative endeavour undertaken here under the direct inspiration of India’s great poet. My visit here is that of a pilgrim. I have come not to give but to receive the great gifts that India may have to bestow upon my country and people as she did in the days gone by.”

Now I understand why my father made such a comment. Rabindranath Tagore’s poetic lines, his sensitivity to the beauty in nature and his ability to capture the soul of a human being really touched my heart. Tagore’s creativity made Visva-Bharati such a vibrant place. The short, yellow-colored buildings with light grey windows appeared lively. The dark-red leaf design patterns on the pillars and around windows suggest a sense of growth, symbolizing the intellectual growth of students. I hear these design motives have remained since 1940 or earlier.

Besides observing cultural activities and the magnificent landscape of the Himalayas and Darjeeling, which are reflected in his works, Xu Beihong interacted with outstanding cultural figures including the Nobel laureate Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi. Xu Beihong was moved by Tagore’s sympathy with China’s War of Resistance and his firm denunciation of the Japanese invasion of China. In his memorial speech for Tagore in 1941, he praised Tagore’s love of humanity that resonated in the whole universe. Describing his meeting with Gandhi on 17 February 1940, Xu Beihong wrote: ‘Today I felt truly honored to live with the soul of all India’.

This rich experience enabled Xu Beihong to create during his year of residence in India, a great number of masterpieces that exemplify the pinnacle of his artistic career. These include Portrait of Rabindranath Tagore, Portrait of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains, depictions of the Himalayas and his famous ink brush paintings of horses. After his experiences with the horses in India, the horses he painted exhibit noticeably greater vigor.

There are nine original Chinese ink brush works by Xu Beihong at Visva-Bharati, including two in Rabindra Bhavana, the university museum, and seven in Kala Bhavana’s Nandan Museum. Among these works, Portrait of Rabindranath Tagore has the highest artistic merit. It is Xu Beihong’s representative Chinese ink brush portrait based on his many sketches of Tagore. A similar painting of Rabindranath Tagore is in the collection of the Xu Beihong Memorial Museum in Beijing. The accomplishment of this Chinese ink brush portrait is comparable to that of a Western oil portrait from life. Such a portrait from life revealing an individual’s facial expression and capturing his creative moment was unique in Chinese ink brush painting at the time it was done. I think that Xu Beihong must have given this portrait of Rabindranath Tagore to Visva-Bharati to honor his friendship with Tagore and also to serve as an example for the students to learn from.

To help research on Xu Beihong, I deciphered the inscriptions and seals on all the works by Xu Beihong in the twin museums’ collection and provided translation. The implications of these inscriptions and seals had not been known to scholars before. I also offered suggestions to both museums concerning preserving their fragile ink brush works by Xu Beihong so future generations in India and around the world will be able to understand and appreciate Xu Beihong’s art.

During my visit, Nandan Museum held an exhibition of paintings by Xu Beihong and other Chinese artists. Watching a Kala Bhavana professor and his students discussing the paintings at the exhibition, I was happy to share with them how Xu Beihong’s animal paintings express deeper meanings through the use of analogy implied in his inscriptions and seals. On his painting The Horse, he inscribed: “November 1940. Beihong painted this to congratulate Elder Tagore on his recovery from his illness. Gentle breeze and beautiful sun. The celestial and human worlds were celebrating.” Xu Beihong conveyed his happiness for Tagore’s recovery through this spirited horse and the artist’s inscription. One of the seals says: “Brilliant and Fluid,” expressing the joy through fluid brushwork.

Xu Beihong had received strong support for his exhibition in Calcutta, initiated by Rabindranath Tagore and held under the joint auspices of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, Calcutta, and the Sino-Indian Cultural Society, Santiniketan. Nandalal Bose, principal of Kala Bhavana, wrote an appreciation for the exhibition catalogue while another famous Indian artist Abanindranath Tagore opened the exhibition, which included among the 206 artworks Xu Beihong’s representative Chinese ink brush painting Jiufang Gao, Horse Judge and his oil history painting Tian Heng and His Five Hundred Warriors. Xu Beihong’s comprehensive exhibition strongly influenced artists and art lovers in India. He donated the entire proceeds from the exhibition to help alleviate the suffering of refugees driven from their homes in Japanese-occupied areas of China.

To learn more about my father’s experience in Santiniketan, I visited Professor Tan Yunshan’s old house behind Cheena Bhavana where Father had stayed. Tan Yunshan was founder of Cheena Bhavana. The earth color of the house is consistent with the design of other buildings in Visva-Bharati. The simplicity and openness of the architectural design allow ample space both inside and outside the house, which has several entries. I imagined Father walking in the morning around the open space next to the house, observing the large trees and birds carefully for his creative work. He made many studies of the red flowers on the huge silk-cotton trees, one of which grew in front of the Chanda house. Anil Chanda, Tagore’s secretary, and his wife Rani Chanda became Xu Beihong’s close friends. I also imagined Father chatting with his host Professor Tan in the evening, sharing his personal stories and his concerns for his country suffering from the Japanese invasion. Now the people in that once bustling house are gone, leaving only the old trees and birds to reminisce about the people and events that had taken place there.

In my lectures at Visva-Bharati I shared my understanding of Xu Beihong’s art, his Indian connection and my memoir Galloping Horses: Artist Xu Beihong and His Family in Mao’s China. Faculty and students appreciated my insight into Xu Beihong’s art and how his family and legacy had survived the turbulence of Mao’s ever-changing policies, which dictated the direction of art and music from 1949 through the devastating ten-year Cultural Revolution as described in my memoir. Students told me that I had enriched their experience. At the same time, I received inspiration from the creative environment of Visva-Bharati as my father had received in 1940. Viewing Father’s works in Santiniketan was like seeing his life experience in front of me. I felt rewarded to have contributed to Tagore’s Visva-Bharati as my father had done three quarters of a century before.

I appreciate the help from Dr. Tan Chung, Chameli Ramachandra, Srila Chatterji, and other people in Santiniketan.

Hong Kong: A Fight Against Subordination

The present mass opposition and upheaval against a proposed extradition law by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, is driven by the same factor. But, this time precious rights and freedoms guaranteed under “one country, two systems” are at stake.

Sanjana Dhar, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

Hong Kongers are known for mass protests whenever they have been pushed to a corner by their government. The present mass opposition and upheaval against a proposed extradition law by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, is driven by the same factor. But, this time precious rights and freedoms guaranteed under “one country, two systems” are at stake.

The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, or the Extradition law of Hong Kong has garnered widespread attention. The proposed law deals with the extradition of fugitives from Hong Kong to Taiwan, Macau and mainland China. It was initiated by Carrie Lam in February 2019 and the motivation for it was due to a murder case, where a man from Hong Kong murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan and fled back home. Extradition requests made by Taiwanese officials could not be carried forward due to the absence of an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and Taiwan. Carrie Lam proposed this law in the hopes of filling a “legal loophole” because without a prior treaty in place, extradition cannot be carried out. With the formulation of a new extradition treaty, criminals cannot evade punishments for crimes committed in a different country.

The present situation of mass protests in Hong Kong is driven by the fact that the extradition law will give Beijing more leeway in matters of suppressing democracy and freedom in Hong Kong. Central authorities could arbitrarily arrest individuals who oppose their authority and bring them to justice under the opaque and politicised judicial system in the mainland. This is in contrast with the judicial system in Hong Kong, which is guided by rule of law. Beijing’s overbearing involvement in Hong Kong is in contradiction to the “one country, two systems” policy, which allows Hong Kong to maintain its partial democracy and free market within the territory of China. Fear of erosion of this policy has shaken the minds of the public and they are choosing to express this fear in the form of fierce protests.

Amidst popular discontent for the law, Carrie Lam initially had a strong position and vouched that the proposed law would in no way compromise human rights principles of Hong Kong. The final say in the granting of extradition requests would rest with Hong Kong and religious and political matters would be kept out of the purview. Yet, growing public dissatisfaction against the bill has undermined her image and created demands for her resignation.

The mass protests of 9 and 12 June is evidence of the dissatisfaction among Hong Kong citizens with the turn of events. It is testimony that Hong Kongers are ready for what has been touted as the “last fight” for safeguarding their democracy and freedom.

The protests on 12 June gave the people a temporary relief as the second round of discussions of the bill was cancelled due to blockades by protesters near the government headquarters. However, the protests took an unprecedented turn as the police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets at the protesters. Media outlets have dubbed it as violence which has never been witnessed in the history of Hong Kong and the police force is being held accountable by the public for such a blatant act. Rising protests after such violence has forced Carrie Lam to suspend discussions on the law indefinitely. Her apology for the negligence on her part in involving the opinions of the society in making the law and expediting the passing of the law at the cost of peace in Hong Kong has brought temporary relief, but the people do not intend to stop until the bill is entirely withdrawn.

Undoubtedly, these events have drawn the attention of the international community. Leaders all over the world have come out in support of the anti-extradition protests and voiced their concerns of Hong Kong transforming into an illiberal region, not suitable for its once reputed liberal, market oriented society. Multiple rallies have taken place worldwide in support of the protesters. Hong Kongers have also urged foreign leaders to discuss the situation in the G-20 Summit and back demands of withdrawal of the bill.

China is at the center of this issue, although its direct involvement in the matter is not clear. Regardless, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang initially came out in full support of the administration in Hong Kong. Beijing believed the involvement of “foreign forces” was aggravating the situation and filling the public with animosity towards the law, which would not jeopardise the rule of law and justice in Hong Kong. But Beijing has now backtracked and is in support of the suspension of the bill.

The shift in Beijing’s stance reflects the precarious condition China is presently in, due to the trade war with the USA and the slowing economy. Can Xi Jinping afford to counter the situation in Hong Kong through force and add another tragedy in China’s history or could the protests in Hong Kong further attenuate Beijing’s vulnerabilities, are some of the questions which are yet to be answered. But at the moment, Hong Kongers seem to have gotten the better of Beijing.

The black clad protests of 16 June of nearly two million people sent a strong message to the administration over the people’s demands of complete withdrawal of the bill. Protesters won’t be satisfied only with the suspension of the bill because they speculate the administration will bring back discussions once the protesters have calmed down.

The situation in Hong Kong demonstrates the resolution of the protesters and their concerns about erosion of the “one country two systems” and its eventual merging with the system present in mainland China. Fierce resistance of the people is not just against the extradition law, but this upheaval is critical for Hong Kongers to safeguard their prized rights and freedoms in the face of arbitrariness and subordination from Beijing.