Book Review: Gurudas Das and C. Joshua Thomas (ed.), Voices from the Border: Responses to Chinese Claims over Arunachal Pradesh (New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2015), 159 pp.

Reena Bhatiya, Research Assistant, ICS

The debates on Sino-India border dispute largely fall within the strategic affairs and geopolitical framework of international relations. This book approaches the subject of border dispute by looking at the debates on linear borders, local perspectives on the border conflict as an alternative to a state-centric view. The authors examine the historical evidence of China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh while investigating the dynamics of territorial politics. The book is structured into three broad themes: the geopolitical aspects of the conflict, the local community’s spatial history before linear borders, their infrastructure development needs and perspectives on the dispute.

Discussing the boundary question, C.V. Ranganathan looks at the rivalry through the prism of changing geopolitical situations while suggesting India for a multilateral architecture in the South Asian region. Srikanth Kondapalli’s chapter yields a persuasive insight into India’s engagement with China on multiple fronts to prevent any change in the configuration of power in the region. This implies that India should not let China become an extra-regional power in South Asia. In the fifth chapter, Jabin Jacob advances the argument that a mixed strategy of combining the local aspirations of Arunachal Pradesh for peaceful and sustainable development with the national security considerations can best fulfill the demand for ‘first line of defense’ to deter China’s ‘new forward policy’. However, he has not dealt in sufficient depth the ways of deepening the democratic spirit and how communities could be engaged in the decision-making processes. These scholars primarily focus on different ways of India’s engagement with China. But the limitation lies in the fact that they reify the state-centric view of the dispute thus drifting away from the main aim of the book.

The strength of the book lies in unpacking local histories of borderland spaces in this region and local community perception of the conflict thereby giving a more nuanced understanding of the territoriality of these regions. For instance, Namrata Goswami looks at the border dispute through the local community’s point of view. She argues that the Lamas vindicated Tawang Monastery’s historical ties with the Lhasa monastery. And, the Adi, Nishi, Apataani communities do not approve of China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh. She emphasizes the need to meet the demands of the development of these communities to improve the democratic structure and infrastructure conditions in the region.
On the other hand, J.R. Mukherjee briefly surveys the Tibetan folklores to question China’s claims over Arunachal Pradesh to highlight that the tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh were never the subjects of Tibet and only had cultural and commercial links. He notes that the ancient pilgrimage route of Takpasiri Mountain in the Subansiri Valley holy to the Tibetans, Monpas, and Tagians of Arunachal Pradesh, is claimed by China.

Further expanding the discussion on local communities, Gomar Basar attempts to understand the Chinese claim in Arunachal Pradesh through a historical analysis of the local dynamics. He traces the historical trajectory of the hill tribes of Arunachal Pradesh from the colonial period and notes that the British ambition to exercise an indirect control over the tribal areas through drawing inner and outer lines led to Chinese intrusions within the outer line area. These intrusions were contested at the time by the Mishmi community inhabiting the outer line as they already considered themselves British subjects.

Adding to the discussion on linear borders, H. Srikant cautions against “nationalist myopia” on the border dispute and considers linear borders as a colonial baggage. Although he argues that the linear borders overlooked the traditional boundaries of the native communities and kingdoms, but he fails to provide a detailed account of the local traditional boundaries. In addition, he suggests that history, geographical realities, administrative, economic activities, customs, language, etc. that generates deep-rooted sentiments and emotions in the region should be taken into consideration while negotiating border issues.

Through his detailed discussion of the pre-modern kingdoms in eastern sector, Mathew Alkester argues that Moyul (present-day Bhutan) belonged to the Tibetan world not Loyul (present-day Arunachal Pradesh). He, thereby, debunks the Chinese claim that Arunachal Pradesh was under Tibet’s control. The main contention of the essay is that cultural and commercial links of these kingdoms with the Tibetan world do not confirm Tibetan political control over them.

Overall, the unbundling of the complex local histories of the frontier region in these chapters could have been coupled with a discussion on the present concerns of the local communities regarding infrastructure demands and preparedness to be able to participate in the gains from any large development projects in their region. An overview of the traditional knowledge systems and community institutions of the Mishmi could prescribe ways to democratically engage them in decision-making processes.

The last section of the book leaves the reader with C Joshua Thomas’s questions on China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh. a). Did Tibet ever claim Arunachal Pradesh as her part? b). Tibet had ceded the Tawang tract to British India by signing the Shimla accord in 1914 d). Why would the world accept Chinese historiography and refute the Tibetan historiography? The author observes that systemic misunderstanding is a major issue in Sino-Indian relations therefore to prevent India’s hedging; China must come to terms with India.

Largely, this book provides a good overview of the historical and political aspects of the border dispute in the eastern sector and gives the much-needed perspective of the local communities on the dispute and the territorial dynamics of the region. All the chapters display a firm grip over understanding the specifics of the dispute with the larger logics of international politics, but a notable kind of perplexity surfaces over an analytical framework to the issue of border disputes. Although informative, its limitation lies in the lack of a theoretical base while looking into the concept of ‘territoriality’ in international politics. An absence of the theoretical discussion on the notion of territoriality puts this discussion in a vacuum. However, the book paves the way for researchers to develop upon the information provided here and engage with it theoretically, and thus becomes an important contribution to the studies on border issues with China.

Superpowers and spirit of International Cooperation in a Pandemic

Anu Dhull, Research Assistant, ICS

The grip of COVID-19 pandemic across the globe has showed albeit in a brutal way the extent of global connectivity. However, the responsive measures taken by major powers to deal with the contagion have exposed the hollowness of their commitments for global cooperation, especially at a time when it is most needed. In hindsight, this has been most visible in the actions of the USA and China. These have belied all the commitments made under phase one deal in January 2020, which had been agreed by both after more than two years of tariff or ‘trade-war’. Effects of the levying tariffs and counter tariffs had not only affected the economy of USA and China but also rendered the global economy and market in a doldrums. Hence this deal came into picture reflecting the need of a fair and mutually beneficial global trade practices. Their unilateral actions and their foreign policy decisions vis-à-vis each other during this pandemic – when international cooperation is most required – have questioned their willingness of a truly globalized world with peaceful cooperation.

Talking about China where the outbreak started, it has widely been accused of containing the information. Criticisms have come in despite the containment measures being seen as effective. At this time not only did the US President failed to recognize COVID-19 as a threat by ruling out any possibility of it becoming pandemic; but also resorted to stigmatise the disease despite warning from World Health Organisation (WHO) to not do so.

The US has labeled the disease as “Wuhan Virus”, “Chinese Virus”, etc. and blamed China for the repressive measures against its own population. In March, with China recovering from the first wave, the tables were turned as China blamed the US Army for bringing COVID-19 to its territory, as a ‘bio-weapon’. Therefore, betraying its own vaunted principles of peaceful cooperation and mutual benefit, China did not extend any help to the USA. These counter accusations were given weight – and paralleled – by China’s own diplomatic overtures of ensuring medical supplies and knowledge to other parts of the world. However, President Xi Jinping’s “idea of building a community with a shared future for mankind” also proved to be rhetorical as it “sells” medical equipment rather than donating them.

This blame-game has spiralled into further accusations and counter-accusations, extending to actions against media – the US tightened rules on Chinese state media organizations including Xinhua news agency inside its territory to tackle the aggressively growing Chinese State-controlled propaganda, and by the same count, China expelling journalists working for New York Times, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

While China claimed of successfully containing the virus, the USA was in the midst of rise in positive cases. In such a situation, instead of assisting US from its experiences of fighting the disease, the Chinese Party-state only sought to criticize the USA for its lack of preparedness. Despite overtures through telephone calls between Xi and Trump, where they decided to take joint actions that has not necessarily translated into meaningful action. Further, neither did USA approach China for any joint research on the virus or on measures to counter its spread, nor did China extend any helping hand to the hard hit public health system in the USA.

Both the USA and China have made significant advances in technological innovations in natural sciences; however, neither of them are acting responsibly in such a time of global crisis. Instead of practicing and emphasizing on cooperating in fighting the disease, both are engulfed into diplomatic and rhetorical battles. Rather, both are more focussed on the stability of internal ‘political regime’ and the blame game adds grist to the mill. Their actions and behaviour only cripples the global efforts to harness resources and strengthen the flailing health infrastructure in many countries. Even while multilateral organizations and regional groupings are making efforts to pool resources – example being the SAARC COVID-19 Emergency Fund – and coordinate,  the actions of the two major powers goes against the grain of a globalized world, that requires everyone to pull together.

Launch-on-Warning in China’s Nuclear Posture

Samanvya Hooda, Research Assistant, ICS

Much of the recent commentary surrounding China’s nuclear program has been in conjunction with New START, i.e. US insistence that China accede to an arms limitation agreement. This article seeks to explain a burgeoning aspect of China’s nuclear program: the possibility of adopting “Launch-on-Warning.”

Launch-on-Warning (LOW) refers to a posture in which nuclear weapons are launched at an adversary on detection of an incoming attack, before enemy missiles strike their targets. This implies that decision makers do not have confirmation about incoming missiles hosting conventional or nuclear warheads, and the decision to counter-launch has to be made in a span of approximately 15-30 minutes.  Today, only Russia and the USA adhere to such a posture, carrying forward from decades-old Cold War strategies. This is sustained by significant investment in relevant technology & infrastructure, and excellent command & control mechanisms. 

Currently, Chinese nuclear forces exist only as a deterrent, evinced from a low number of warheads and a policy of de-alerting their nuclear weapons (delivery vehicles and warheads are stored separately). This is in tune with their No-First-Use policy, which may or may not be rendered moot by LOW. To move to such a posture, a certain number of missiles in the country would have to be mated with warheads, ready to respond in a matter of minutes after indication of an enemy launch. In the short term, such “alerted” weapons are only expected to be found on its four ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), soon to be six.  

China’s threat environment covers a wide ambit, ranging from India on its western border to Japan in the east. That said, the only stimuli that may see a move towards LOW are US missile defence and precision strike capabilities. China’s nuclear deterrent is contingent on its relatively small arsenal of approximately 300 warheads being survivable, and “assured” to cause damage when used against an adversary. Precision targeting by the US threatens the “survivable” aspect of the deterrent, while missile defence endangers the “assured” descriptor. Though LOW would be a huge shift in China’s nuclear posture, the option of possessing alerted weapons ready to launch may be perceived as addressing survivability and assured retaliation concerns.

While official statements have not remarked on significant changes to China’s nuclear posture in the offing, there have been some confusing aberrations recently. A 2013 Academy of Military Sciences publication first broached the possibility of Chinese LOW, with a later defence white paper vaguely alluding to “rapid response”.  Even the US Department of Defense remarked LOW may be an “aspiration for China’s nuclear forces”.  Alternatively, a Chinese MFA spokesperson in late 2019 stated that China would not shift to LOW, and called on all nuclear weapon states to divest from the same. 

The foremost requirements for LOW are impeccable command and control, early warning capabilities to detect launches, and “alerted” warheads. Recent reports have predicted joint efforts with Russia for developing early-warning systems (likely space-based) to supplement China’s three phased array radars. A tangential topic of study here is Sino-Russian cooperation in developing, and maybe even operating “strategic” technologies.

In terms of alerted warheads and command and control, recent literature has focussed entirely on China’s SSBNs, undoubtedly important while studying its nuclear program. For LOW however, one shall have to focus primarily on China’s land-based missiles, and to a lesser degree its fledgling air arm of the nuclear triad. LOW in the Chinese context would likely stem from a “use it or lose it” mindset, and with 70% of China’s warheads on land-based systems, they would be the primary focus of a first strike. Consequently, losing these systems would warrant greatest worry in China, pressurising leaders to counter-launch quickly to avoid the risk of having them neutralised. 

LOW entails quick decision making for a counter-launch, as it necessitates action before incoming missiles strike their targets.  Given operating difficulties, the lack of certainty in communicating launch orders to an SSBN within the 15 minutes alluded to earlier makes submarines an undependable LOW platform.  As they boast greater survivability than land-based systems, these assets will likely be used as a reserve for any future nuclear strikes.

The perceived vulnerability of land-based systems has been addressed in recent years by the development of mobile missile units to avoid neutralisation in a conflict, and penetration aids for missiles. The strict negative controls (de-mating of warheads and missiles) employed by the political establishment bolsters command and control, but also weakens survivability of the nuclear arsenal by virtue of increased reaction time. Technical controls are employed through an automated system that allows the Central Military Commission (CMC), to communicate with missile brigades and battalions, or even directly with launch companies. LOW would hence herald a significant change in Chinese nuclear thinking, as it may necessitate delegating some launch authority to field commanders, or even the development of “canisterized” missiles.

A Chinese nuclear ‘alert’ status like the USA’s famous DEFCON remains ambiguous, with speculation of it being a three-tier system. The first-tier is peacetime readiness, with the second-tier believed to be the PLARF making preparations for launch orders, and the third-tier alert being missile forces ready to launch. Will alert levels for nuclear forces be raised in conventional conflict with a more powerful, nuclear-armed adversary? If so, with the PLARF at third-tier alert, would an escalating conflict with the USA see a LOW posture during wartime? It being unclear what stage of what crisis would prompt a higher alert level, there is a small possibility that China only disavows LOW in peacetime, and retains the option for use during war. If command and control during a third-tier alert is considered unimpeachable by the CMC today, this option may already be part of China’s nuclear strategy.    The two points raised above – shifts in the deployment and command & control of land-based systems, and the likelihood of an existing “launch-on-warning during wartime” posture warrant detailed study within the larger scrutiny of Chinese launch on warning. An overt declaration of LOW will undeniably be perceived as aggressive by countries like the US and India, leading to high-risk escalation during future crises. Regionally, though rivals like India do not threaten China’s nuclear forces like the USA, Chinese LOW may well prompt changes to India’s nuclear posture, with a cascading effect on the precarious Indo-Pakistan nuclear dynamic. Globally, the end of the INF already precipitates increased missile deployments in hotspots like East Asia, alongside the probable dissolution of New START looming. A Chinese shift to LOW in the wake of these developments will certainly sound a death knell for arms limitation globally.

COVID-19 Crisis: Is the Communist Party of China facing a Crisis of Legitimacy?

Mahesh Kumar Kamtam, Research Intern, ICS

Today the world is witnessing an outbreak of a pandemic ‘COVID-19’, unseen in the recent past, illustrating the fragile nature of a globalized world. As the virus outbreak continues to create global reverberations, the case of ‘COVID-19’ becomes even more relevant to the Communist Party of China (CPC). The pandemic could put the regime in a precarious position, threatening the unwritten social contract between CPC and Chinese people, since the legitimacy of the Party is driven by its ability to deliver economic prosperity to its citizens.

China is more connected to the world today than in the past. According to the World Economic Situation and Prospects Report 2020, released by the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), China alone contributed 0.75 percent out of an average 3 percent of the global growth. These indicators not only reflect a major trend in globalization, but also the extent to which China is connected in a globalized world. Global economic integration has driven China’s domestic growth in the past. But with global growth set to slow down significantly due to COVID-19, early predictions show signs of recession. As the IMF rings alarm bells on a possible recession, CPC is set for more challenging times as the world enters an era of instability driven by COVID-19.

Increasing global integration and complex challenges due to globalization have domestic repercussions. The inability to maintain economic growth and rise in inequality fuelled by low growth in future are more immediate threats that could undermine the social contract between the people and the Party causing domestic instability. The rise in ‘uncertainty’ casts a shadow of doubt on the goals set forth by the Party, particularly when China is entering into a “New Era”—where Xi Jinping targets to achieve a “moderately well-off society” (Xiaokang society) by 2021— the hundredth anniversary of the formation of CPC.

What is more worrying for the CPC at the moment is the echoing of the anger from Chinese people themselves against Xi’s rule. Xi has been facing criticism of his handling of the COVID-19 crisis and social stability threatened by a slump in production are one of the biggest challenges that CPC is set to face in the next few years. Although CPC has shown the ability to manage ‘domestic uncertainties’ by delivering economic results, mastering propaganda and controlling the flow of information in the past, these strategies are becoming increasingly ineffective for ensuring legitimacy of the Party and its leadership.

There was mounting discontent among Chinese citizens in the early stages of the outburst of COVID-19 as local officials tried to hide the truth about the outburst. The death of Li Wenliang, the doctor who alerted Chinese local officials during the early stages of the virus outbreak, became a breaking point. Li was forced into silence by local officials who hid the truth about the outburst. This event led to widespread discontent among netizens. Popular social-network sites Sina Weibo and WeChat surfaced with the lyrics of a song, Do you hear the people sing” popularized during the Hong Kong protests in 2019, denoting public anger and failure of early response to COVID-19. CPC blocked the ‘anthem of protest’ in mainland China and subsequently, launched a massive propaganda operation to regain lost legitimacy. Eventually, it was forced to sack Hubei Party chief Jiang Changling and Wuhan mayor Ma Guoqiang in an attempt to calm down public anger and channelize resentment away from the Centre while trying to alleviate growing citizen distrust of the central leadership and Xi, in particular.

The newly appointed Provincial Secretary of Wuhan launched a “gratitude education campaign” during the outbreak, to create a favourable impression of party’s image in fighting COVID-19. However, it backfired as the Party was criticized for placing itself above the hardship endured by Wuhan residents. They were enraged because of poor conditions in hospitals, lack of adequate timely care and soaring food prices. In yet another instance, real estate tycoon and princeling, Ren Zhiqiang penned a powerful article that got circulated on Weibo. He was critical of Xi’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and called him a clown with no clothes on who was still determined to play emperor”.

These incidents provide early indications of Xi losing control over the CPC narrative and thereby, his legitimacy to lead. However, Jude Blanchette, Director of China Studies program at the Center for Strategic International and Security Studies argues that the “CPC has reoriented itself from time to time to meet the changing demands in the society and CPC is more focused on long-term threats’ than the short term disruptions like COVID-19 crisis”.

Indeed, it is true to some extent that COVID-19 may be a short-term disruption rather than a long-term threat to the stability of the Party and Xi’s leadership. The mounting discontent against the state is a sporadic outburst of anger rather than a sustained and coordinated movement challenging the ‘Party’s mandate to rule’. However, we can still expect that it could bring more democratic order in Party though not necessarily democracy, by furthering “intraparty regulations”, promoting information disclosure particularly by local party offices at the time of emergency crisis like COVID-19, thus pushing for more transparency in the Party.

This article was earlier published in The WION under the title ‘Communist Party of China and the crisis of social contract in a globalised world’ on 13 April 2020.

Latest Chapters in Sino-Italian Ties: BRI and the Outbreak of COVID-19

Preksha Shree Chhetri, Research Assistant, ICS


A Chinese team of experts pose for a photograph with head of the Italian Red Cross Francesco Rocca after arriving at Rome’s Fiumicino airport with a consignment of medical supplies.  

Image Source: Aljazeera

Italy was one of the first few countries in Western Europe to formally recognise People’s Republic of China – in 1970 – and it was the first G7 industrialised country to officially endorse China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Historical roots between Italy and China can be traced to the trade relations that took place between Imperial China and Ancient Rome. In fact, China’s BRI connectivity route to Italy is very similar to the route once used by Marco Polo to travel from Italy to China. The port of Trieste in the Adriatic Sea used to be a very important port for the ancient travellers in this route and is one of the most significant ports mentioned in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on BRI signed by Italy. In Italy, BRI is commonly referred to as ‘Via Della Seta’, which literally translates to the Silk Route. China and Italy have shared an amicable relationship in the past. However, in recent times the Sino-Italian ties have come to the attention of the global community twice. First in March 2019, when Italy and China signed the MoU on BRI and second in March 2020 when Italy saw the highest number of deaths in the World due to COVID-19. Italy and China are among the worst hit countries and they have shown appreciable support to one another. However, a deeper understanding of the situation in Italy shows a different picture leading to growing apprehensions about China.

Sino-Italian cooperation on BRI

The signing of the MoU between Italy and China on BRI in March 2019 marked a new chapter in Sino-Italian ties. Rome’s decision to join BRI had economic motivations. According to a research done by Enrico Fardella and Giorgio Prodi of the University of Bologna, not joining BRI would have had very negative impact on the Italian Economy. In their research article titled “The Belt and Road Initiative Impact on Europe: An Italian Perspective”, they argued that Italian ports on the Adriatic Sea would lose business to the Greece port of Piraeus which has already been acquired by China. Port of Piraeus in Greece provides an alternative mode of maritime transportation between China and Europe without including Italy. In fact, joining BRI would bring added economic benefits as Italian ports are already very well connected to Central and Eastern Europe by rail. Close cooperation with China would mean Italy could potentially be a major hub for trade coming in from Asia through the Suez Canal. For China, Italy could serve as a gateway into the EU with its many important ports such as Venice, Genoa, Trieste and Ravenna. The Greece port of Piraeus, the most important port in the Mediterranean is viewed as a prototype for Italian ports once they join hands with the Chinese. With regards the debt trap rationale, the Italians believe that unlike Sri Lanka, they are not looking for Chinese funding, and therefore, the question of a debt trap does not arise. The rationale for strengthening cooperation is for the advancement of Italy’s own economic goals. As far as the Sino-Italian MoU is concerned, it is basically a framework agreement for twenty-nine deals expanding over various sectors such as agriculture, oil and gas, urban development, sustainable energy, health care and environmental protection. These twenty-nine deals are valued at more than two and a half  billion USD; though it is a non-binding agreement, it clarifies the intent of both the sides about what is expected out of their partnership.

Sino Italian ties and COVID-19

In March 2020, when Italy’s death toll surpassed that of China, the national government approached the European Union (EU) seeking help through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism but to no avail. Most Italian citizens were disillusioned with their EU partner countries, especially with France and Germany as they imposed a ban on export of face masks. In fact, even when the EU intervened and tried to persuade both the countries to lift the ban on corona virus protective equipment, they did not relent. This highlights the inability of the EU to be cohesive while facing a global crisis. In contrast, China not only contributed medical supplies, but also sent three hundred intensive care doctors. After the signing of MoU on BRI, this has been seen as a significant fillip for China in Italy. Some Italian online news media have even characterized it as ‘China saving the day while the EU deserted Italy’, along with images of landings of aircraft laden with medical supplies. However, there is more to this than meets the eye. China’s move to come to Italy’s aid was not entirely philanthropic but rather reciprocal. A month earlier in February, when China was running short of supplies as the outbreak spread through its territory, Italy had sent supplies to Wuhan. In fact, many in Italy are disappointed by the actions of their Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio who went out of his way to share posts and pictures praising China and glorifying Chinese actions to help Italy. Italy as a nations is neither happy with China nor with their own Foreign Minister who believes that the prompt response from China is a result of his robust China policy. Many in Italy blame the Chinese authorities for silencing the doctors who wanted to warn about the outbreak much earlier. Domestically, the Italians have also grown wary of the non-stop Chinese propaganda either in the form of Chinese flags fluttering from hospital windows in the country or in the form of posts shared by their foreign minister praising China.

Overall, online Chinese propaganda in Italy could be deflecting attention away from its mishandling and cover up in Hubei in spite of warning signs. By the same count, questions have also arisen within Italy on China’s motives, with voicing of discomfort over China’s subtle presence in their day to day lives. There also exist extreme racist reactions targeting those of Chinese descent and nationality in the backdrop of the outbreak. Given these developments, what becomes of the so far cordial Sino-Italian ties is a question worth pondering.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has paused the momentum that was created in March 2019 with the signing of the bilateral MoU on BRI between the two countries. Though the bilateral MoU is considered a substantial proof of partnership, it is non-binding. Therefore, the future of China’s BRI projects in Italy may be precarious especially in terms of public receptivity. These two new chapters in Sino-Italian relations has led to some really pertinent questions about the future of Sino-Italian friendship – Can Sino-Italian ties withstand the challenges brought about by the outbreak of COVID-19? What is the future of BRI projects in Italy? Will a continued friendship with China hamper Italy’s relations with its western partners in a post pandemic world?

Eye on Labour amidst Lockdown: Taking a China lens

The images of migrants on roads across India should perhaps help us re-evaluate the often romanticised images of the massive movement of workers annually in China

P.K. Anand, Research Associate, ICS

The nationwide 21-day lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in India has completed 10 days. Being the second-most populous country in the world, India’s lockdown has been a massive exercise involving stopping all forms of public transport, closing down educational institutions, and recreational facilities, and all other avenues of gatherings/congregations across the vast territorial swathes of the country.

The lockdown has generated considerable debate not only on its viability and necessity, but also on its implementation and the resulting effects.

The incrementalism adopted in India’s approach ever since the outbreak in China occupied news space in mid-January — from airport screenings, to visa restrictions and later tracing of contacts and travels of infected people — has also been subjected to scrutiny by public health scholars and experts. The reasons for reluctance of the government to scale up testing at a mass level, even as cases spiked across India, appears to be twin-fold — to avoid a panic and chaos on one hand, and reckoning with the reality of a creaky health infrastructure, amplified by the lack of requisite resources, personnel and equipment, on the other. Even now calls for mass testing than just mere lockdown continues to go unheeded.

Even though Italy was the first country to impose a nation-wide lockdown, the playbook has emerged from China in its complete shutdown of Hubei province (while allowing other provincial and sub-provincial administrations to calibrate measures as deemed necessary in their jurisdictional regions). However, there has been enough reams and ink spent on explaining the impossibility of replication of the Chinese model — which has been undergirded by the authoritarian one-party state system that is decentralised, possessing extensive reach and high-organisational capacity — in democratic, diverse political systems. Further, the party-state massively employed technology to ensure social and political discipline. The party-state’s efforts to ramp up testing and large-scale mobilisation of resources have acted as force multipliers in its combat against the contagion even though the initial cover up, censorship and failure to track it in the first place have come in for criticism.

Nowhere has the planning and viability of the lockdown been questioned than by the heart-wrenching images of displaced migrant workers and their families, fleeing cities to their native places in the Indian hinterland on foot, riven with fears and anxieties of lost livelihoods and absent State support. In fact, these images and stories have generated significant traction to the argument of privileging the middle classes and urban elite in India, who have the wherewithal and space to practice social distancing as well as be able to exercise the option of work from home. Unlike them, the poor and daily wage, low-paid workers who constitute the informal sector and are at the frontlines in keeping essential services thriving, have a hand-to-mouth existence.

The images of migrants on the road also engages us to perhaps re-evaluate the often romanticised images of the massive movement of workers annually in China, for Chunyun, or the 40-day period with the onset of the Lunar New Year holiday, cramping through trains and other public transport (incidentally that movement this year was termed to have accentuated the spread of the virus).

That China’s migrant workers, often termed as floating population, have to traverse great distances to work in manufacturing and services, mostly in coastal regions or bigger cities, reflects the failure to develop viable regional economies. This is line with the high level of inequality prevalent in China, both regional and income related. The obduracy and rigidity of the country’s urban registration system — or, Hukou — that excludes the low-paid migrants from accessing rights and services in Chinese cities, also finds echoes in how ‘invisible’ the migrant workers have become in Indian scenario.

While democracy versus one-party state value judgements have often tended to dominate India-China comparatives, ideally the metric to test the State has to be State capacity; the ability of the State to provide goods and services to its citizens, especially during times of crises and distress. Herein, in spite of its authoritarian State system, with censorship and restrictions on freedom, China has a higher State capacity compared to India. That in turn, means a more formalised economy, with even social protections built into employment contracts (even if the implementation on the ground has been tardy).

Rome was not built in a day, and that applies for State capacity as well. Perhaps this pandemic and the lockdown, and the stark images left in its wake, will finally activate the Indian State to unlearn and learn, and reshape itself as a provider than remain only as an enforcer.

Originally Published as Labour, lockdown and the State’s predicamentin Moneycontrol.com, 3 April 2020

Fang Fang: Literary Voice of Dissent Amid China’s Coronavirus Disaster

The party’s ill-governance of the deadly virus has given birth to a new critical voice: Fang Fang’s Wuhan Diary.

Hemant Adlakha, Ph.D., Honorary Fellow, ICS and Professor of Chinese at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

Fang Fang 方方 picture

Fang Fang is definitely not the most famous living writer in China, but she is revered by hundreds and thousands of Chinese as the literary voice of COVID19-stricken China. Even before the outbreak, Fang had published widely in different genres and won several literary awards, including China’s most prestigious Lu Xun Literary Prize in 2010. Until recently, she served as vice president of the Hubei Writer’s Association. Having spent her early and late childhood during the tumultuous Great Leap Forward years and adolescent years in the cataclysmic decade of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), she worked as a porter for four years to support her family before entering Wuhan University to study literature in her early 20s in the 1970s. Fang Fang’s early works, mostly short stories, concentrated mainly on poor Wuhanese – from urban factory workers to the city’s middle-class intellectuals – part of China’s “new realism” literature. Born into a literati family in 1955, she inherited the legacy of the May Fourth socialist realism and her own experiences of a struggling life made her remain committed to social consciousness. According to well-known Chinese literary critic Han Shaogong, “the secret of Fang Fang’s success is that she can capture the complexities of an ever-changing life without losing its thread.”  

Now, she is famous for another reason: her Wuhan Diary posted on social media. Also called the Quarantine Diary, the daily account of the locked down city’s millions of inhabitants’ untold sufferings during the ongoing health crisis has recast Fang Fang from a well-known literary figure into China’s most revered living literary voice of dissent. Her fans in China are already proclaiming her to be the conscience of Wuhan.   

On the night of February 7, Dr. Li Wenliang, who was reprimanded for warning about the coronavirus on social media, lay dead in the quarantine ward of the Wuhan Central Hospital. The same day, the first page of the Wuhan Diary was put up on Fang Fang’s WeChat account, and disappeared within hours. But before being taken down by China’s cyber censors, her Wuhan Diary had gone viral with thousands of re-posts. Fang Fang already enjoyed 3.5 million followers on social media even before she began chronicling her life during Wuhan’s quarantine. Wuhan Diary first appeared on day 14 of Wuhan’s lockdown. The latest page of the diary (as of this writing), entitled “Let’s see if you scare me!” was put up on March 20, on Day 57. “Dear internet censors, you should let Wuhan people speak,” Fang wrote recently, as quoted by Kiki Zhao in the New York Times.“If you don’t allow us to express our anguish or complaints or reflections, do you want us to go really mad?”

Interestingly, throughout nearly two months of lockdown and three months since the central authorities confirmed and publicly announced the coronavirus outbreak, each entry in Fang’s Wuhan Diary has been consistently deleted by Beijing’s censors within an hour or so of it being posted on Fang’s social media page. Yet each post has gone viral before being struck down, being shared by millions of WeChatters within China and abroad. More committed fans of Fang Fang are happily and with great enthusiasm sharing the entire series. Some of Fang Fang’s censored posts are being archived by China Digital Times (CDT) in Chinese, and Fang Fang’s Caixin blog is one of the multitudes of sources being preserved on the nCoVMemory Github, a repository of personal narratives from the outbreak in China.          

CDT has also translated her censored WeChat post entitled “As long as we survive” in which, as CDT puts it,“Fang Fang expresses the frustrations of lockdown, laments the many displaced and affected by the virus, lauds the brave journalists attempting to uncover truth amid propaganda, and demands accountability from those who allowed the situation to develop.” The post begins:

“It is cloudy again and a bit chilly, but not too cold. I walked out to look at the sky. A sky without sunshine is somewhat gloomy and dismal, I thought. The article I posted on WeChat yesterday was deleted again, and my Weibo account has also once again been blocked. I thought I couldn’t post on Weibo anymore, and then found out that they only censored yesterday’s post and that new posts can still be published. It made me instantly happy. Alas, I am like a frightened bird. I no longer know what I can say and what I can’t. When it comes to something as important as this fight against the epidemic, I’m cooperating fully with the government and obeying all their commands. I’m now just short of taking an oath with a fist over my heart – is this still not enough?”

It is no exaggeration to say the ongoing swelling debate over Wuhan Diary on both WeChat and Weibo – China’s main social media platforms – has led to a near vertical split among the country’s educated millions. Viewed in the context of how Charter 08, a manifesto for constitutional reforms issued by Liu Xiaobo and others, jangled the nerves of the Communist Party of China more than a decade ago, Wuhan Diary and the emerging discourse it has triggered have to be understood in the context of political criticism at home during the current health crisis, the critics in China are telling us. Of course, both supporters and opponents of Fang Fang can be found in large numbers.For example, one online group of Fang’s detractors spelled out 20 reasons why Wuhan Diary deserves to be rejected and condemned. Reason 20 for “Why we are opposed to Fang Fang” — as the group is called in English – reads: “Some people are really weird and crazy. The more they have to appear in front of the public, the more they show off. These people easily get excited and go berserk. They fiercely start attacking all those who disagree with them. When provoked, these people will not only bully others. They will even pull out a gun if necessary!” But each Wuhan Diary post has also inspired hundreds of her supporters and eliciting comments from them. One comment reads: “Dr. Li Wenliang and Wuhan Quarantine Diary are ‘flowers of thought’ and ‘flowers of Wuhan’ that bloomed in the blood and tears of Wuhanese people during the epidemic period. Blooming in spring in early February, she is destined to be ‘cold and crystal clear’ and eye-catching. I hope she is always blooming.”     

The controversial and at times acrimonious debate over Wuhan Diary touches on a wide range of issues – political, social, cultural. But a fundamentally disturbing aspect of the debate invokes the specter of the Cultural Revolution. A few days ago, an “open letter” written by a 16-year-old boy challenging Fang Fang, not only sent shockwaves through China’s netizens but it shook everyone who had experienced the 10 chaotic years of the Cultural Revolution – including Fang Fang. The reason for the shock, according to Li Yongzhong, China’s leading anti-corruption scholar-expert, is that “our generation, including Fang Fang, always thinks that the Cultural Revolution has gone, at least our generation will never see the Cultural Revolution again.” But the open-letter by the high school student rekindled the memories of the nightmare that teenager Red Guards unleashed to commit violence, especially targeting intellectuals.        

Thus readers of Fang Fang, and perhaps even some of her detractors who were wounded during the Cultural Revolution, profusely thanked her for her befitting reply to her teenage provocateur in March 18’s Wuhan Diary entry: “Son, all your doubts will be answered sooner or later. But remember, those will be your answers to yourself.” And hundreds and thousands of Wuhanese and people all over China continue to impatiently wait for her next Wuhan Diary page.

This article was earlier published in The Diplomat under the title ‘Fang Fang: The ‘Conscience of Wuhan’ Amid Coronavirus Quarantine’ on 23 March 2020.

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.