Gwadar, in China-Pakistan relations

Saurav Sarkar, Research Assistant, Institute of Chinese Studies

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa went to China on September 16 on a three day visit to discuss issues of bilateral and regional significance. Prior to this visit, the Imran Khan government sent mixed signals on the flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The visit was a gesture on the part of Pakistan to try and contain the fallout of the statements reportedly made by senior officials in the Pakistani government. President Xi in his meeting with General Bajwa pledged China’s continued support to Pakistan as a ‘strategic partner’ and said that opponents of CPEC and BRI will ‘never succeed.’ General Bajwa reciprocated by saying that Pakistan is committed to thwart any plan by other parties to sabotage CPEC.

Despite minor resentments the core basis of the CPEC in particular, and China-Pakistan relations in general, would continue to persevere. Even the risks associated with Chinese nationals in Pakistan such as terrorist attacks and kidnapping are something that China seems willing to put up with. CPEC in China-Pakistan ties is a product of the relationship and not the relationship.

CPEC – more than just economics

China and Pakistan have continued to expand their security ties ever since the opening of the Karakoram Highway in 1963-64. CPEC also utilises this highway in traversing from Gilgit-Baltistan to Xinjiang. The southern tip of CPEC lay at Gwadar, a deep water port  in Baluchistan province, which is significantly closer to Iran than to Karachi in Pakistan.

The port’s strategic value cannot be stated enough. It is good for submarine operations due to its unique bathymetries and it also provides Continue reading “Gwadar, in China-Pakistan relations”

China’s tryst in the South Pacific

Prarthana Basu, Research Assistant, Institute of Chinese Studies

The focus of attention of geopolitics now lie greatly in the Indo-Pacific region, especially the South Pacific islands, which have gained prominence over the years due to varied reasons such as: climate change, geo-strategic importance etc. Even though the South Pacific islands are geographically located far-off in the middle of the Pacific Ocean they occupy a large portion which has proven to be of great strategic importance for all the major contending powers. Currently, this area shows great power struggle which is two-pronged: China and Taiwan and China and the US. Although Australia and Britain also happen to be major players trying to spread their influence over these islands, the South Pacific now happens to be one of the highly contested regions among these powers.

The allegiance of the South Pacific countries is grossly divided between Taiwan and China. While countries such as Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Nauru, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu have established diplomatic ties with Taiwan, China is diplomatically recognized by the Cook Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Federal States of Micronesia and Niue.

Chinese President Xi Jinping intends to increase his sphere of influence among those six countries which still remain under the ambit of its ‘breakaway province’, by upholding a summit for all the South Pacific countries in the month of November (dates if available) in New Papua Guinea, Continue reading “China’s tryst in the South Pacific”

Nepal’s foreign policy options in its immediate neighbourhood

Gunjan Singh, Research Associate, Institute of Chinese Studies

Nepal was one of the first countries to welcome the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It expressed its desire to be a part of the project hoping to benefit from the investments in infrastructure. This was perceived as an attempt by Nepal to reduce its dependence on its southern neighbor India.

In the past two decades, there has been an increasing effort within the Nepalese leadership to find ways to get out of the Indian sphere of influence. The most logical alternative, then, is China.

Nepal is a landlocked, small Himalayan nation, which is looking for ways to assert its “independent” foreign policy by maneuvering between India and China. This, in turn, is creating a lot of concern within the Indian foreign-policymaking circle. However, the most pertinent question is whether Nepal can ever be able to move out of the Indian sphere of influence completely Continue reading “Nepal’s foreign policy options in its immediate neighbourhood”

Tsai’s Cross-Straits Conundrum

Gunjan Singh, Research Associate, Institute of Chinese Studies

The rise of China to an economic and military power has had the most significant effect on its relationship with Taiwan. China has always been assertive about the use of One-China Principle in its dealings with Taiwan. However, the change of the political system in Taiwan from an authoritarian to a democratic system has further complicated this relationship. China was comfortable dealing with Taiwan until it was dominated by the single Kuomintang Party but the recent development of a vibrant multi-party democracy in Taiwan appears confusing to China. To face such a problematic issue when it comes to dealing with its own ‘getaway province’ is rather ironical. The oscillation between reunification, supporting Kuomintang, and a pro-independence Democratic People’s Party (DPP) government in Taipei has led to a very muddled policy in Beijing towards Taiwan.

Under the leadership of Xi Jinping there have been very strong assertions towards ‘not giving up’ even an inch of its territory (indicating towards Taiwan, which is currently under the DPP rule). The 19thParty Congress report provided some insights into the upcoming Chinese policies towards Taiwan under Xi Jinping. Continue reading “Tsai’s Cross-Straits Conundrum”

The China Factor in Russia–US Equation

Dr. Atul Bhardwaj, Adjunct Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Trump is no admirer of the post-war liberal international order. He is neither keen to invest to save NATO nor is he interested in subsidizing the United Nations. He wants to stop splurging and rely more on allies’ money and material to maintain American hegemony.

Besides saving precious dollars, Russia is the other crucial element in Trump’s strategy to halt the impressive march of China, its peer competitor. In his endeavour to get Russia back into the US camp, Trump has the full support of Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state and national-security adviser under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Kissinger, a typical offensive realist is well- versed in the technique of balancing realism with restraint. He feels that in the best interest of realpolitik, America should be more restrained vis-a-vis Russia. Kissinger feels that Putin is not “a character like Hitler, He comes out of Dostoyevsky.”  Continue reading “The China Factor in Russia–US Equation”

CFIUS 2.0: An Instrument of American Economic Statecraft Targeting China

Uday Khanapurkar, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies

Trade tensions notwithstanding, with the strengthening of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS)1, little doubt remains that contemporary Sino-American relations are characterised by an “admixture of the methods of commerce with the logic of conflict” (Luttwak, 1990, p.19). ‘CFIUS 2.0’ is slated to exhibit an unprecedented quantum of oversight and finesse in conducting American economic statecraft with its sights fixed largely on China.

With the American foreign policy focus, having pivoted from counter-terrorism to strategic competition with a rising China, the recent iteration of CFIUS reforms2 takes due stock of the USA’s changing priorities. Interestingly, nine out of the 11 takeover bids killed or abandoned at CFIUS’ suggestion under the Trump administration originated in China.

The renewed CFIUS process is now geared toward preventing Chinese appropriation, through equity investments, of American technologies that underpin American competitiveness or which the DoD considers sensitive to military superiority. With respect to critical technologies and infrastructure 3, CFIUS is now enabled to review investments by foreign persons irrespective of whether the stake obtained is controlling (upward of 50 per cent) or not. In doing so, FIRRMA aims to safeguard even Continue reading “CFIUS 2.0: An Instrument of American Economic Statecraft Targeting China”

Building New Capital Cities: Amaravati and Xiong’an

Ms. Ramya Kannan, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies

A look into the development of major cities in India and China would yield very different results. While the former has for the most part seen organic growth of urban centres based on opportunities for differentiated labour, the latter is known for its unique model of planned expansion (Euromonitor Research 2013). In keeping with its ‘urbanization with Chinese characteristics’, Xi Jinping administration announced the building of a subsidiary capital in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei economic triangle last year, called Xiong’an New Area (雄安新区 Xióng’ān Xīnqū). The development of a city from scratch is not new in China, where the government has often allocated resources to specific city-building projects (Gere 2017). What is interesting is that the state government of Andhra Pradesh (AP) in India committed itself to a similar project in 2015 with the announcement of a new capital city in Amaravati. While Xiong’an signifies an attempt to downsize an overpopulated city with too many functions, Amaravati seeks to expand the very notion of a capital city in India. Nevertheless, strong political motives, new policy measures and large investments underlie these capitals in the making.

Amaravati was envisioned as a world-class metropolis modeled on various cities, including Singapore and Shenzhen, which would redefine urbanization in India and establish AP as an important region. Continue reading “Building New Capital Cities: Amaravati and Xiong’an”

A China Gazer’s Random Musings – No. 3

Kishan S. Rana (IFS Retd.), Emeritus Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi

Environment management: the relevance of China’s experience

At the Paris Accord of 2016 and later, China has taken the high road of a responsible environment protector. Behind this pose, which burnishes its international credentials, especially after President Trump’s rejection of that accord. But it seems that within China, environment regulations are now being applied with more rigor than before, and the ‘real cost’, in terms of loss of economic momentum and impact on industrial prices, is less than estimated earlier. This is of relevance for India.

The Diplomat recently wrote: ‘In China,a major campaign against environmental violations has so far penalized more than 30,000 companies and over 5,700 officials…These changes represent a fundamental shift… We expect that the deep-seated public unease about the quality of food and water will be addressed through the advent of a more systematic approach to surveys and enforcement.’ Some environmental organizations, as NGOs, are now permitted to bring public interest lawsuits against violators of norms, again a shift for this authoritatian country.  (‘China cleans up its act on environmental enforcement’, 9 Dec 2017, An article in The Economist made similar points, adding that while only 60% of steel blast furnaces are now operating, the biggest economic surprise has been ‘how muted that impact has been’; that also applies to price increases which ‘show little sign of spreading widely’. (‘Towards a greener future’, 6 Jan 2018).

This has direct relevance for India. Our environmental regulations are easily circumvented; tighter enforcement is opposed on the argument advanced by vested business interests about how this would impact on the economy. In that manner, industrial units in cities, notably Delhi, operate with impunity, and pollution worsens continually. In contrast, Beijing with a much worse pollution record is now witness to a visible lowering of PM2.5 levels, having closed shifted out wide swathes of polluting units.

India’s support for the PRC’s UN seat  

As well-known, India remained consistent in its principled position on seating the PRC at the UN, all through the 1950s, up to the 1971 UNGA, when Beijing won that right, that the PRC was the legitimate representative of China, not Chiang Kai-Shek’s rump regime in Taiwan. We may also recall that despite temptation, and persusaion by Western powers, India also did not shift its position at the UN vote, refusing to treat this as an ‘important question at the General Assembly (which would have required a two-thirds majority mandate for the PRC, not a simple majority). This was a triumph of principle over pragmatism.

In Diplomacy at the Cutting Edge (2015) I wrote of the scene in 1070-72:

Premier Zhou Enlai appeared frequently at receptions for visiting foreign leaders. It was his custom to walk down the lineup of foreign envoys, shaking hands with each, and their spouses. He was invariably alert and perceptive, and would lock gaze with each person; we used to say that the warmth of that handshake was in proportion to the bilateral political relationship of the day. The evening the news broke of People’s Republic of China’s gaining its seat in the UN, he was at an embassy national day reception. Clutching a glass of Mao Tai, he went to every table to clink glasses with each guest. At my turn, I said to him in Chinese: Congratulations on China’s success, Excellency; he responded with an expansive gesture with an arm and shoulders. Zhou has remained the most enduring of Chinese leaders, in the perception of its people.

Has Beijing ever expressed appreciation, much less gratitude for that Indian stand? Not as far as I know; perhaps someone with information on this could correct me. What I do recall is a  discussion around late 1964 or early 1965, at the Chinese Foreign Ministry when First Secretary AK Damodaran, deputy to our head of mission Jagat Mehta, called on the Deputy Director of the Asia Division. Damu alluded to India’s consistent support for the seating of the PRC at the UN, as an example of India’s principled action, despite the difficulties in bilateral relations. That Chinese official went pyrotechnic, snapping back: what India has done is no more than its duty; do not expect us to show gratitude for that. The real issue is India’s duplicitous actions on the border issue, its support to the illegal Dalai clique…etc.

Tansen Sen, author of the imprtant recent work India, China, and the World: A Connected History, wrote in an article in The Times of India that ‘Nation states have failed us: to improve relations China and India must allow their people to interact freely’. He wrote of niche groups that work in both countries, and elsewhere, to foster understanding, and tackle the large trust deficit. Among them, the Indian standpoint is well understood, for sure. See:

Indian Cancer Drugs in China

A film released in China in 2018, ‘Dying to Survive’ has had remarkable success. It is based on the true story of a Chinese businessman who 5 years back imported a generic cancer drug from India, faced a trial and was released after a pubic furor. The film made $390m in its first two weeks. It is about a leukemia patient who cheap generic drugs from India, and has struck a major chord with publics. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has called for cheaper and more accessible cancer drugs. A BBC story on the film is at:


Post Shangri La Dialogue: Powerplay in the South China Sea

Mr. Saurav Sarkar, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies

Just a day before the commencement of the 2018 Shangri La Dialogue (SLD) (1-3 June), the United States military’s Pacific Command changed its name to the Indo-Pacific Command. This name change came after the US had disinvited China from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) naval exercise as a consequence of its continued militarization of the South China Sea (SCS). The US-China relations have hit a new low in recent months as China perceives American activities in the SCS to be aimed at countering its growing presence in what it considers to be its sovereign waters.

Lieutenant General He Lei, head of China’s military delegation to the 2018 SLD, reportedly drew a parallel between China’s militarization of the SCS to the deployment of troops to Hong Kong in 1997 to project its sovereignty. The US, however, expects China to adhere to international law in the SCS before engaging with it in any military exercise hence the reason for disinviting China from RIMPAC. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has defiantly insisted that the US would continue its freedom of navigation operations to enforce the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. China, however, does not view cessation of its military activities in disputed areas of the SCS (which it perceives to be completely legal) as a pre-requisite for participating in war games like RIMPAC. Hence, it has developed significant military capabilities in the SCS in an attempt to enhance its power projection capabilities in the region and beyond.

Implications of militarization in SCS islands

In the backdrop of this strained period in China-US relations, the military activities of both countries in the SCS are significant. Woody Island occupied by China in the disputed Paracels is now capable of conducting takeoff and landing of the H6-K strategic bomber which can even carry nuclear weapons. However, its nuclear capability is secondary to its primary role of conducting aerial attacks on approaching enemy ships using air-to-ground cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles. Woody Island is in close proximity to the Yulin naval base in Hainan province which is home to the People Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) fleet. About 1028 km south from Yulin is Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. This makes the defences at Fiery Cross Reef important as it sits in the middle of the southern access zone to the SCS and will, therefore, be vital to disrupting enemy movements into the SCS. In addition to Fiery Cross, there are air and naval defence platforms on Mischief and Subi Reefs as well. This arc of military installations from the Paracels to the Spratlys is designed to protect the Yulin submarine base using anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons as Yulin is critical for the PLAN’s ability to break through US defences around the First Island Chain. This is because the SCS has favourable conditions for submarines and makes it easier to disguise their movements.

Woody Island is also capable of landing J-11 and FC-1 fighter jets which could be used to gain air superiority and in conducting aerial bombings in the SCS. The same warplanes and even strategic bombers like the H6-K can also be stationed at Fiery Cross Reef which has a 3 km long airstrip and multiple hangers as observed via satellite images. This would allow the PLA to use the island as a force multiplier and an offshore power projection platform, something it had earlier lacked in the SCS. On 5 June the US Air Force conducted a flyby of the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal from Guam using B-52 bombers as part of a routine ‘Continuous Bomber Presence’ mission in a deliberate attempt to project American power. The flyby not only raised tensions but also elicited a response from China who accused the US of sabre-rattling. This is understandable due to the fact that B-52s are nuclear capable and form part of the US strategic bomber fleet at Guam.

A day after the B-52 fly-by, according to ImageSat International, HQ-9B surface-to-air missile (SAM) batteries had been removed from Woody Island which reappeared in the same positions on 8 June. This shows that the PLA is capable of quickly moving and deploying sophisticated military hardware on its offshore facilities. HQ-9Bs have been deployed in the Spratlys as well along with YJ-12B anti-ship cruise missiles. HQ-9Bs are medium to long range SAMs and would be effective in engaging with the US Navy’s fighter jets like F/A-18s but their effectiveness in dealing with stealth aircraft like F-22s and F-35s and cruise missiles remain doubtful. The YJ-12B anti-ship missiles, however, would be dangerous to US aircraft carriers especially if launched in large numbers to overwhelm their short-range defences.

In the current scenario, the PLA could conduct operations in the SCS unilaterally and get an upper hand against all regional actors but not without escalating the stakes involved and risking a direct confrontation with the US. A direct contest with the US, however, would be an uphill task for the PLA due to the experience and superior capability of the US Navy in amphibious warfare and support from its allies. This is one reason why China has still not engaged in a direct show of strength as it knows it still has a long way to go to counter the US fully. For the moment China seems to be abiding by Deng Xiaoping’s ‘bide our time, hide our capabilities’ dictum in its strategic designs. How it all plays out in the long term remains to be seen as neither country seems willing to compromise on their respective stances regarding the dispute.

Book Review: Redefining Empress Dowager Cixi

Ms. Sharanya Menon, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies

JUNG CHANG, Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who Launched Modern China. (London, Random House Group, 2013), pp. 436, ₹ 360/ £ 7.48, ISBN: 9780224087438

Through the Empress Dowager Cixi’s biography, Jung Chang has attempted a reappraisal of a controversial figure in Chinese history – Empress Dowager Cixi (Qing dynasty) –who ruled for over four decades, during some of the most turbulent years in Chinese history (1861-1908). Commonly perceived as ‘tyrannical’, ‘vicious’ and ‘incompetent’ (pp. 373), Empress Dowager Cixi was known as a traditionalist and unfalteringly opposed to modernisation and any engagements with the West. Her adopted son, Emperor Guangxu was known to be a reformer, moderniser and heralded for shaping modern China during its nascent stages. Commonly perceived to be anti-Western and deeply traditional, Cixi is often accused of being the primary reason for China’s humiliating defeat in the Sino-Japanese war in 1895.

Using newly available Chinese records and historical documents, Jung Chang, through this detailed biography of Empress Dowager, constructs a compelling counter narrative. The author throws new light on Cixi’s reign by describing her as an ‘astute’ ruler (pp. 298), and most importantly, a strong woman who stood her ground among the misogynistic male bureaucracy and society. The book narrates the story of a concubine who, with the desire to protect her empire, transforms into an ‘amazing stateswoman’ (pp. 373).

The book is divided into six sections with each section devoted to the various stages and the important events that shaped her life. The first section takes the reader through the initial years of Empress Dowager’s life in the Summer Palace as an imperial concubine of Emperor Xianfeng (1835-56). Initially left as a low-ranking concubine, Cixi was hardly taken notice of by the Emperor. This changed with the birth of her son, Tongzhi (1856), the heir to the throne. She was consequently promoted to a higher position and gained prominence.

Emperor Xianfeng’s lack of foreign policy understanding and deep-seated loathing for the Westerners was seen by Cixi as the primary cause for the empire’s defeat in the hands of the foreign powers during the Second Opium War (1856-1860). Cixi understood that it was in the interests of the empire to engage with the West instead of following a contractionary trade and foreign policy. State-affairs were assigned to a Board of Regents chosen by her husband till her son came of age. Known to share the late Emperor’s views on the West, Cixi was afraid that with themn power the empire would plunge deeper into crisis. Hence, Cixi launched a coup that transferred all authority and powers to her till her son, Tongzhi, came of age.

Section two takes off with Cixi assuming power and ruling from behind the ‘yellow screen’; being a woman, she could not appear in front of the men who served her. Her initial attempts at modernisation and engagement with the West are described along with the resistance that she endured. With the support of her trusted aides, Cixi embarked on the journey of transforming medieval China by introducing foreign policy, diplomacy and engaging in foreign trade at a level that was unprecedented. She introduced reforms to modernise the army and navy; trade and diplomacy boomed during her reign and the empirerom a slump (1861-1873).

Cixi retired as soon as her son came of age and willingly stayed away from state-affairs. Emperor Tongzhi had a short reign (1861-75) and died at a very young age, forcing a heartbroken Cixi to assume power yet again, this time through her adopted son, Emperor Guangxu. Section three and four explore Cixi’s modernisation efforts and her engagement with the West until he came of age. Unlike with her own son, Cixi did not share a warm and close relationship with her adopted son. Often alienated, Emperor Guangxu grew up rooted in Confucian principles and espoused deeply traditional values. Cixi had to retire once again as Emperor Guangxu came of age and was forced to remain silent when he undid all her modernising efforts and reverted to an isolationist foreign policy.

The final two sections highlight the consequences of Emperor Guangxu’s decisions and efforts. China suffered a humiliating defeat in the Sino-Japanese war of 1895 due to Guangxu’s conservative approach. Cixi, unable to hold off any longer, launched yet another coup and assumed the mantle of power. However, at this stage, faced with the combined forces of the imperial powers (British, French, Russian, German, United States, Italy and Austria-Hungary) and Japan. Cixi committed the fatal mistake of aligning with the anti-West and anti-Christian rebel group, the Boxers. The foreign powers overpowered the forces and the empire suffered a setback once again. The period from 1906ere spent in rebuilding her empire and she devoted her time towards transforming China into a constitutional monarchy. Her wish was to allow her subjects to participate in the affairs of the state and hence become citizens.

The nationalists that came to power after the fall of the Qing dynasty (1911-12) were not kind to her legacy though. They yoked together a narrative that presented Cixi in a manner that was highly unfavourable, while all her achievements and successes were credited to Emperor Guangxu or to the men who served her.

The author has attempted to undo the great disservice that has been done to an important historical figure in China. While some may allege that the author is rather explicit in her bias towards the Empress, and the biography at times takes on characteristics of a hagiography, Jung Chang presents the Empress in a manner that disrupts her otherwise demonic characterisation. The book is successful in attempting to produce a fresh and alternative narrative to the dominant one, by successfully presenting Cixi as the astute political ruler and stateswoman, despite all her flaws and handicaps.