Tightrope walk for incoming Maldivian president

Gunjan Singh, Research Associate, Institute of Chinese Studies

The results of the recent election in Maldives are an indication that a major challenge to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative is emerging from the vicissitudes of domestic politics in BRI partner nations.The victory of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the island nation’s presidential election reiterates the fact that there is something very wrong with the direction of Chinese investment. In the last few years there has been a rise in sentiment against Chinese investment in the countries where the BRI is in play.

The election also strengthens the impression that in the South Asian region, China will have to work at multiple levels to counter Indian influence. Continue reading “Tightrope walk for incoming Maldivian president”

China-North Korea Relations under Xi Jinping

Gunjan Singh, Research Associate, Institute of Chinese Studies

North Korea has regarded China as its most natural ally and supporter since the Korean War. The relationship had begun to show signs of strain after the continued nuclear tests by North Korea and it became increasingly difficult since Xi Jinping came to power. The last Chinese leader to visit North Korea was Hu Jintao in 2005. Even though China is the only country helping North Korea manage its domestic problems and economic difficulties, the relationship has started to show signs of strain. Beijing will not totally abandon Pyongyang or push it towards a total breakup as the influx of refugees is a major concern for China and for its border security and regional peace. However, the last few years have highlighted that China is ready to use its leverage to steer North Korea’s behaviour in a more acceptable direction.

There were reports that Xi Jinping may visit Pyongyang on September 9 for the 70th anniversary of the North Korea’s Foundation Day. Continue reading “China-North Korea Relations under Xi Jinping”

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, https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/china-cleans-up-its-act-on-environmental-enforcement/ 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: https://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/china-man/nation-states-have-failed-us-to-improve-relations-china-and-india-must-allow-their-peoples-to-interact-freely/

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: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-44876528