Experience of Chinese Technologies and Products for the Industries of Eastern India

Amitava Banik, Research Intern, ICS

Source: Indian Industry Plus

China’s progress in manufacturing

China is considered as the world’s manufacturing powerhouse. China had been successful in building infrastructure supporting world corporations to make their products in the country. Over time, the world’s leading companies have shifted their manufacturing assembly lines to China. Also, the home-grown manufacturing industry in China is itself quite big. China is successful in manufacturing and exporting a whole range of products from simple electronics to complex machineries.

According to Yue and Evenett (2010), China attracted huge FDIs between 1979 to 2007 of which 70 per cent went to the manufacturing industry. The concentration and development of the global value chains of all industries, including the high-tech industry, on the eastern coast of China have boosted the country’s exports, resulting in the “Made in China” phenomenon.

Multinational corporations such as Siemens have set up facilities for assembly and manufacturing of many of its products including high-end medical equipments such as CT Scanners for their South Asian market in China, taking advantage of low manpower cost and good connectivity networks. A world-renowned instrumentation company such as Yokogawa of Japan, manufactures and exports their meters and oscilloscopes from China. The Chinese are considered to be good with reverse engineering capabilities, which have helped grow a lot of domestic manufacturers across industrial sectors.

China’s market for capital goods and spares in Eastern India

The Chinese machineries and capital items occupy the top of India’s list of imports from China valued at US$ 19,103(2019-20). Unlike China, the global multinationals are more focused on making India a marketing hub for catering to the huge domestic market of India and South Asia rather than India being a global manufacturing destination. Thus, India’s manufacturing capacity for capital goods like other high technology products is low.

In Eastern India, where there is dearth of both capital and new industries, China has successfully filled the vacuum to some extent with its cheaper and competitive products and industrial solutions. According to a survey conducted by the author, traders and businessmen are of the view that there could be further enhancement of Chinese market in this part of the country if the Chinese companies could set up manufacturing and assembly lines for their products – both capital goods and spares in Eastern India. China has made considerable inroads into the industrial market in Eastern India both for high value capital goods as well as low value tools and spares. However, there is dearth of specific data on import of capital goods and spares parts from China by the industries of Eastern India, so this assumption is based on practical experience and field survey as illustrated in Table 1. According to some of the users interviewed from these industries, the satisfaction level of the industrial customers and the value for money proposition is good for Chinese products and their installations. The traders interviewed are of the opinion that easy loan and financial credit facilities are available for buying Chinese machineries. Companies such as Donfang Electric Corporation doing power projects have also set up offices in Kolkata to oversee their projects, marketing, and customer services, etc. The traders are vocal about dealing with China’s ease of doing business. According to them, it is easy to get dealership of Chinese companies and start doing business with them, and Chinese manufacturers are also prompt in responding to trade or dealership enquiries.

Eastern India is primarily a mineral rich belt of India producing steel, ferroalloys, power, etc. Earlier, most of the installations in old plants had been of Russian, US or German technology, but now most of the plants, particularly those built on private investments are using Chinese technologies (Refer Table 1). Even in many of the tenders called by the central and state PSUs*, Chinese companies are the lowest bidders and many of them are ordering Chinese products.


Just like industrial installations of capital goods in Eastern India, Chinese manufacturers have made considerable penetration into the market for low-end manufactured products, tools and spares. The trading communities in Kolkata and other places import Chinese products at lower price and sell them in the market at a premium and make considerable fortune. The result of the survey of a leading bearing trader in Kolkata is put up in Table 2.

Present Situation

The military standoff situation like the recent Galwan Valley clashes and its aftermath creates anxiety among the trading and industrial community, which affect business sentiments. As the Chinese influence is currently highly embedded in Indian economy, trade and commerce, complete decoupling may be expensive for India especially in the present Covid-19 pandemic scenario. However, though decoupling is tough, at the same time it is not possible to entirely ignore border and security issues in the face of economic or business considerations. Thus, India needs to look at economic growth with leverage on China.

Conclusion

Chinese economy (about US$ 14 trillion) is much bigger than that of India (about US$ 3 trillion). India is home to 1.3 billion people (17 per cent of world population) but has only 3-4 per cent of the world GDP. Although the two countries try to co-operate on several international forums such as WTO, BRICS, G20 etc., strategic rivalry is visible. This shows that while there is an understanding on many common matters of concern, the two economic giants sharing a common boundary and geopolitical and historical landscape are often at loggerheads on issues of diverging interests, geopolitical and economic ambitions.

In view of the evolving world order during the pandemic, several multinational companies are looking to relocate their manufacturing facilities out of China. It may be an opportunity for India to pitch in and fill the void by offering incentives to these corporations as well as to Indian corporates for setting up more manufacturing facilities in east and northeastern parts of India, and other untapped industrial belts. This may also help in developing these deprived regions as new industrial pockets. If this happens, it would lead to overall growth and development of these regions and augment the value chains for the industries.

Chinese Commitments in Afghanistan: A Strategic Calculus

Aadil Sud, Research Intern, ICS

Afghanistan has long been a country on the periphery of Chinese policy due to its inherent instabilities, the presence of foreign coalition forces and the influence of the West acting as a buffer against overt Chinese involvement. Well aware of Afghanistan’s reputation as a ‘graveyard of empires’, China has refrained from serious involvement with the country, supporting the Afghan-led, Afghan-owned policy propagated by the West instead. However, with the imminent withdrawal of coalition troops, China has found a security and diplomatic void it is suited to fill, adding to its pre-existing investments in the country.

Since 2014, the National Unity Government has lobbied China for their assistance on issues of security, economic and regional integration. The prospects of peace in Afghanistan has since motivated China to ramp up its commitment to the nation. China’s Central Asian policy has the possibility of replication here, with economic commitments under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), military aid through arms sales and training, and reciprocal security assistance – with China aiding in dealing with the Taliban, and the Afghani government working to mitigate cross-border Islamist influence in Xinjiang, helping them combat their ‘three evils’ of terrorism, separatism and extremism. These commitments have led many to question the future role of China in Afghanistan’s post-coalition future. Namely, can China effectively integrate their relations with Afghanistan, in line with their own goals in the region?

Economic Integration with Afghanistan

Over the past few years, China has initiated numerous projects in Afghanistan’s key sectors – mining, transportation infrastructure, and agriculture. While the country is seen as geographically strategic, the BRI initially bypassed it. However, since 2016, both countries have jointly promoted this cooperation. Afghanistan acts as a link between China and Southern, Central and Western Asia, with the countries being connected in north by the Sino-Afghan special railway transportation project and the Five Nations Railway Project, which aim to connect to southern Afghanistan via the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Afghanistan is also home to massive resource deposits, such as rare earth metals and lithium, which have the capacity to reduce the dependence of Afghanistan on foreign aid if exploited properly.

China, Afghanistan’s largest foreign investor, is using this position effectively to increase their influence in the region. According to Arif Sahar, an Afghan security expert based in London, these resources can only be effectively exploited by close neighbours, because of geopolitics and logistics. Aware that their manufacturing sector would benefit massively from this access to resources, ‘China is signalling that it is the only country in the region with the financial and economic capabilities that can be relied on as a trustworthy partner’.

This takes on more weight due to China’s interactions with Afghanistan’s neighbours. While China and Pakistan are perennial, all-weather allies, and remain economically and politically integrated, the recent push in Iran has provided Afghanistan further incentive to remain aligned with China, that of coastal access through Iran. Pakistan has consistently blocked Afghanistan from using their territory; and being aligned with Iran through China and the BRI remains a position that the Afghanistan government could be willing to accept.

Political-Strategic Integration: Indifference to Engagement

Over the years, China’s regional policy has gone from a calculated indifference to active engagement, with China realising the best chance to achieve their goals is a strong, stable Afghanistan. As such, China has pushed to reconcile with, and build contacts with both the Taliban and the Afghan government. It also strives for greater cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan, by pushing for greater opportunities for trade and investment.

Chinese motivations in Afghanistan vary. They remain wary of the country being used as a launching ground for Uyghur separatism (such as the East Turkestan Independence Movement), which it often claims could radicalise Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. It also aims to portray itself as an important regional and global player, with the potential to solve one of the world’s longest running insurgencies . China has hence embarked on numerous policies aimed at achieving these. It has portrayed itself as a point of contact between the government and the Taliban, acting as a facilitator in the Afghan peace process. It had also initiated a joint training operation with India for Afghan diplomats, as a gesture of goodwill. However, the future of this collaboration remains to be seen, due to renewed tensions with India following the Galwan incident. It has also aided Afghanistan militarily, helping build the military mountain brigade in the Wakhan corridor, with the primary goal of preventing infiltration by the Islamic State into China.

Afghanistan also hopes to use China as leverage against Pakistan. Quetta is widely believed to be the base of the Afghanistan Taliban leadership, and Pakistan has historically held some sway over the Taliban. Hamid Karzai was quoted as saying that ‘China is a close and strategic friend of Pakistan, and Chinese words with the Pakistani government carry weight… we believe that China can use that asset in a way that brings good relations between us and Pakistan and also leads to peace in Afghanistan’,  laying the groundwork for cooperation between the three countries. Preferring multilateralism over unilateralism in the region, China has also been examining using institutions like the UN to ensure regional peace and stability. Rightly so, any unilateral action in the region will face blowback from Afghanistan’s regional partners, as well as the international community.

The Way Forward

Over the past few years, China has steadily increased its involvement in Afghanistan, taking the form of military, economic and diplomatic commitments. However, these acts have not been without pushback, with China’s policy perceptions as giving pre-eminence to their own geopolitical and security concerns being the concern of many in the international community. As such, while the Afghani government views China as an important partner in Afghani stability, their impact so far has remained limited.

One last factor to consider is the influence of Russia. While not one to disrupt the coalition withdrawal, Russia under Putin has been steadily increasing its reputation as a great power with an international reach, as seen also in Libya and Syria. Additionally, Afghanistan is part of the erstwhile Russian sphere of influence, and any attempts by foreign powers to increase their influence in these regions have often been met by opposition. Some recent examples stem from accusations of Russian support to the Taliban, and allegations of state-sponsored bounties on US soldiers.

The force withdrawal provides China with an immense opportunity to increase their influence in the region – unilaterally through the BRI and its associated investments, or multilaterally through organisations like the UN. However, the viability of these projects largely depends on the confidence the international community and Afghanistan’s partners have in the Chinese leadership, which has taken a hit in the aftermath of the pandemic and China’s belligerent ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomacy. China’s engagement in Afghanistan had started to take shape before this crisis, but the efficacy of such policies now remains to be seen, especially with increasing diplomatic challenges, such as with the USA, UK, Canada, and India. Without the support of the countries involved with Afghanistan, the expansion of Chinese policy remains a distant dream, which shall face numerous hurdles in implementation.

India-Taiwan Trade Relations in COVID-19 Era: Opportunities and Challenges

Kannan R Nair, Research Intern, ICS

Image Source: Reuters

Recent skirmishes between China and India at Galwan Valley ignited debates in policy circles across New Delhi about growing importance of Taiwan in positioning India’s stance towards Beijing. Currently, Taiwan is India’s 35th largest trading partner, and for Taiwan, India is 17th largest trading partner. In 2019-20, trade accounted for US$ 5.7 billion, which is a decline of 17.54% as compared to the previous year. However, in the current strategic context, India’s appointment of seasoned diplomat Gauranglal Das as an envoy to Taiwan and virtual participation of two parliamentarians in Taiwan president Tsai Ing-Wen’s swearing-in ceremony indicates a shift in policy towards China.

Since the 1990s, there have been efforts to diversify Taiwan’s trade beyond mainland China. In 1994, Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui officially announced the ‘Go South Policy’ aimed to improve its trade and investment relations with ASEAN countries. India was also included in the policies owing to its growing economic importance after the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) won the presidential election for the first time under the leadership of Chen Shui-Bian in 2000. The DPP government signed a Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA) with India in 2002, which came into force in 2005. The agreement stressed on the need for protection and promotion of investments.

In 2011, China Steel Corporation (CSC), the largest integrated steel maker in Taiwan invested $178 million in Bharuch district of Gujarat. A rapport existed between the Indian state of Gujarat and its then Chief Minister Narendra Modi with Taiwanese firms. Informal deliberations for a FTA (Free Trade Agreement) between Taiwan and India were held when he later became Prime Minister of India in 2014,  the discussions for which are ongoing and not finalized and. India also signed a Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) and a Customs Cooperation Agreement with Taiwan in 2011. The BIA was updated by both of the countries in 2018 to ensure that Taiwanese businessmen’s investments are treated in synchrony with international standards. The COVID-19 spread raises generous challenges and opportunities to furthering India-Taiwan relations together.

Opportunities

China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner accounting for 30% of total trade. Tsai Ing-wen’s reelection exhibits the changing perception in Taiwanese people against Mainland China. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2019 among Taiwanese youth shows that about 85% of the participants supported close economic relations with the United States, at the same time, support for Beijing was limited to 52%. The New Southbound Policy (NSP) initiated in 2016, reoriented the prime focus of Taiwanese firms from China. Apart from NSP, there are several reasons substantiating the migration of firms from Mainland China. First, increasing intense competition from Mainland companies in the manufacturing sector. This adduced as the primary reason for the firms shifting their business to huge markets with similar traits. Second, rising labour costs and lastly the instability in markets caused by the US-China trade war.

According to Sana Hashmi, a Taiwan Fellow at the Institute of International Relations, National Chengchi University in Taipei, there was a dip in the trade figure last year. More than trade, Taiwanese companies see India as a vast market for investment. Foxconn is already investing US$ 1 billion in the Apple plant at Chennai. Therefore, the focus should be on attracting investment in the post COVID-19 period.

Keeping the market potential aside, the cheap labour cost in India, as compared to PRC, invited more attention. Soon after Foxconn’s announcement regarding their $1 billion investment to set up a factory in India, Pegatron, the second-largest assembler of Apple iPhones based in Taipei announced their interest to set up a plant in India. The availability of skilled labour, massive mobile user base and Indian government’s policy initiatives like Make in India and by latest ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ has attracted foreign investments from Taiwan.

During the pandemic, China’s expansionism yielded more investments to India from Taiwan. Policymakers should endorse the role of Taiwan in addressing India’s technology deficits. Under the aegis of Make in India and Atma Nirbhar Bharat, India should work towards attracting more investment which will have an impact on the rising unemployment rates. As Taiwanese exports to India majorly concentrated on heavy machinery and engineering tools, India must make use of the current geopolitical/geoeconomic environment by inviting more firms.

Challenges

The first challenge is regarding the long-standing talks on FTA between India and Taiwan. To address this, both sides need to fast track talks and finalize an agreement by sidelining political difficulties. A two-year joint feasibility study was conducted by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations and Chung Hua Institution for Economic Research in Taiwan during the 2011-13 period. The study suggested an Economic Cooperation Agreement (ECA) for promoting trade relations.  As stated by Taiwanese officials, India and Taiwan are also in the negotiations regarding allowing Special Economic Zones (SEZs) for Taiwanese firms. Currently, India has SEZs with Chinese and Japanese firms.

Source: Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs

The trade figures also affirm the fact that India is way back in terms of trade, as compared to other dominant countries. Here a contradiction in China’s actions is it’s exponential growth in trade with Taipei on one hand and restricting India to do the same on the other hand.

Source: Taiwan Ministry of Economic Affairs

The second challenge is regarding the unbalanced tax system. Recently Taiwan and Japan approached the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to set up dispute settlement panels against India owing to lopsided tariff structures on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) devices and mobile phones imported from them. Imbalance in this tariff structure restricts the prospective inflow of investments towards India.

Transparency in the legal system and effective utilization of decentralized governance can also trigger foreign direct investments. Open-ended support from local governments to a business-friendly environment can also help in this regard.

India and Taiwan share many commonalities such as belief in democratic values and similar economic potentials. In the current geopolitical scenario, India’s best option would be to enhance trade and people to people interactions with Taiwan. Both are gradually strengthening their bilateral ties. Tapping into Taiwan’s Taiwan’s expertise in healthcare, education and agriculture would help India in the future.

Diluting the One-China Policy: An Intelligence Alliance?

Samanvya Hooda, Research Assistant, ICS

The Galwan clash can be a watershed moment for engagement with China. It is time for our polity to decide whether simply reacting to provocations will continue to be the state of affairs, or if a proactive approach can be adopted.

A simplistic analysis can attribute clashes along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) to an outstanding border dispute, which if fixed can bring about peace. This is inaccurate; the deaths of twenty Indian soldiers and an unknown number of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops are not the result of historical animosity, but the geopolitical currents guiding both countries. As some scholars have remarked, China’s desire to dominate the region means it wants the option to escalate at the LAC, and always will. A country with hegemonic dreams will seize every opportunity to exercise dominance. This is exacerbated by rivals building the capabilities to fight back – India’s border infrastructure was bound to evoke Chinese escalation. If India deescalates unilaterally, we should reconcile with being deferential to China’s expansionist policies for the foreseeable future. While developing collaborative strategies to deter China will prompt further backlash, it will also bolster India’s efforts to ensure its sovereignty. Policymakers worry about ‘strategic autonomy’, but ignore that consistently mollifying China’s concerns because of its hostility makes us even less ‘autonomous’.

Broad areas of collaboration

While groupings like the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) and a closer US alliance are viable options to contain China, inherent issues in both might take them longer to operationalise. Many have suggested a relook at the One-China policy and improving our Taiwan ties. Attractive as it may be, India alone recognising the legitimacy of Taiwan would not worry China much, and offer very little by way of material gains. However, there are several options below this threshold that merit serious consideration.

India has conducted joint military exercises with the US, Japan and South Korea, but never with Taiwan. This matters as China reportedly has more than 1,500 missiles aimed at Taiwan. India and China both field Russian-origin equipment like Sukhoi jets and soon, the S-400 air defence system. Although the US provides Taiwan with most of its weaponry, India can offer the opportunity to study platforms that may be used against Taiwanese forces. There is room to work together at sea — on coast guard security and with Taiwan’s fledging submarine programme.

There is also an opportunity in the new frontiers of war. Taiwan government networks are reportedly subject to 15 million attacks a month from China, and India has only recently made fledgling steps in developing cyber capabilities. Taiwan’s limited space programme can be boosted by collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and India can be a huge market for Taiwanese technology investments. These developments engender material gains and posturing benefits, both crucial for standing up to China. However, structural problems will cause them years to materialise fully. While India cannot credibly support Taiwan through a policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’, there are other feasible measures available in the short-term. An intelligence alliance with Taiwan would be relatively easy to achieve, vastly improve intelligence gathering/sharing, constitute unprecedented signalling of resolve, and be a significant step towards mitigating Chinese aggression.

Intelligence alliance

The leading intelligence alliance in the world today is Five Eyes, whose constituent countries – the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand — share primarily signals intelligence. Its enduring success lies in the ability to divide limited resources on common areas of concern, while still ensuring complete intelligence coverage. A similar arrangement between India, Taiwan, and perhaps Japan would amplify each country’s intelligence capabilities exponentially.

Some reports indicate Taiwan and India have exchanged intelligence in the past. The covert nature of this cooperation necessitates negligible signalling, with material gains also affected by the lack of official communication channels. Taiwan’s security establishment is almost entirely focussed on the Chinese threat, and can relieve pressure on India’s intelligence network, overextended as it is over two hostile threats on its borders. India’s superior satellite reconnaissance abilities can significantly improve Taiwan’s intelligence network over China, with both countries combining resources in signals intelligence. By combining their intelligence assets and creating channels for a continuous exchange of communications, electronic, geospatial, and human intelligence, the two countries together can achieve better coverage of China than they can individually. By developing the infrastructure to share all China-related intelligence in real-time, a formalised alliance also avoids the bureaucracy and red-tape otherwise accompanying ‘informal’ intelligence sharing.

Japan will certainly be a welcome addition to this alliance, bolstering a united front against China. It would contribute an estimated 19 signals intelligence stations (possibly the third largest in the world) and an extensive underwater surveillance system, among others. India is inducting a variety of electronics intelligence, imaging, and communications satellites for better surveillance. Taiwan is understood to have some of the best human intelligence assets operating against China. While some areas will undoubtedly overlap, constant intelligence sharing between the three countries can result in near-absolute situational awareness of China.

All three countries are on the front line of China’s aggression, and face the brunt of its expansionist policies. Arguably having the most to lose from Chinese hostility, they should be the first to consolidate a containment policy. Why should there be any unwillingness to do so? They have no divergent national interests, or prevailing historical antagonisms. They all face a unifying, substantive threat to their national interests, and all three have a great deal to gain from an intelligence alliance. Other regional countries such as Singapore, Vietnam, and Australia should also be extended invitations in the future. In time, this alliance may even grow to be a third-party grouping to Five Eyes.

A formal and publicised alliance indicates a clear shift away from tip-toeing around policies to deter China. An alliance is more permanent than vague MoUs, and unlike initiatives like joint military exercises cannot wax on and off depending on the polity’s slightest whims (or under threats from China). Presenting a credible, united front also emboldens countries

otherwise struggling to hold China at bay. This trilateral can also be used to posture as a precursor to a possible military alliance, and hence be used to extract concessions from China. By stepping up the escalation ladder and threatening to step further, it would be among the few instances where India, Taiwan, and Japan will own the initiative, rather than only reacting to Chinese actions.

Arresting China’s hostility

Realising that China’s trajectory is inimical to India’s interests allows one to prepare for challenges in the future. Ignoring it and changing nothing may appear a more comfortable option now, but will encourage China to continue its grey zone tactics against India. Efforts such as diluting the One China Policy will undoubtedly draw China’s ire in different ways.India will likely see an escalation in border incidents, Indian Ocean troubles, and Pakistan also joining the fray. But by expanding the scope of possible actions against China, India has more options by which to escalate/de-escalate. This will vastly improve our negotiating position, which is abysmal at the moment. Instituting proactive measures like the intelligence alliance will provide us the tools with which to defend against China, and its constant and inevitable hostility.

Avoiding war while attaining one’s goals is the most desired form of strategy, whether according to Kautilya, Sun Tzu, or Machiavelli. Former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon has hinted China might be “flaunting ambition” too early. Time will tell – but we can’t afford to wait and find out.

Originally published as ‘To check China’s hostility, India, Taiwan and Japan need an intelligence-sharing alliance’ in The Print, 26 June 2020