Bhutan: the ‘Missing’ Piece of the Puzzle

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

In the latest faceoff between Indian and Chinese troops in the Doklam area, the role and place of Bhutan has been easily overlooked. It is the Bhutanese after all that are contending with Chinese over the area and it is they who invited the Indians to take up cudgels on their behalf against the Chinese.

Bhutan is, in many respects, probably India’s only genuine ally in the region and this too, is largely the result of that country’s unique political history and development. The Bhutanese monarchy has played a key role in nurturing a close and beneficial relationship with India and India has in large measure reciprocated. While a tiny country, Bhutan has always been favoured with fairly senior and always competent Indian ambassadors in its capital and maintains the Indian Military Training Team in support of the Bhutanese army. Also worth remembering is the fact that it was to Bhutan that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first official foreign visit after taking office.

That said, India should simply count itself lucky that it has managed to maintain a special place for itself in Bhutan’s international affairs for such a long time despite the vagaries of international politics. Continue reading “Bhutan: the ‘Missing’ Piece of the Puzzle”

Doklam: Understanding Chinese Actions in Bhutan

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Following the latest confrontation between China and India in the Doklam area of Bhutan, there is clearly an edge to the repeated Chinese calls to India to ‘immediately pull back’ Indian troops to their side of the boundary.

The Chinese have stressed that this ‘is the precondition for any meaningful talks between the two sides aiming at resolving the issue’.

What should Indians make of this and what should we look out for? Continue reading “Doklam: Understanding Chinese Actions in Bhutan”

India-China Face-off in Doklam: Need for both Resolve and Prudence 

Shyam Saran, Member, ICS Governing Council and former Indian Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy

The latest face-off between the Indian and Chinese security forces in Doklam, where the borders of India, China and Bhutan meet, brings a sense of déjà vu. There was a similar extended face-off in the Depsang area in Ladakh in April 2013. There have been other incidents as well but the mechanisms in place to maintain peace and tranquillity at the border have eventually worked and the issues have been resolved. Both sides have remained committed to preventing escalation. One hopes that the Doklam incident will not be allowed to vitiate the relationship between the two countries, particularly in view of the fact that Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly had a friendly meeting on the sidelines of the recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Almaty. Both leaders made a special effort to put relations back on a positive track after a somewhat prickly interlude, which included India’s refusal to join the Chinese-led One Belt One Road initiative. This turnaround in relations must not suffer a setback as a result of the latest incident. This may impact the prospects of a possible bilateral summit when the leaders attend the forthcoming G-20 summit in Hamburg. Continue reading “India-China Face-off in Doklam: Need for both Resolve and Prudence “

Pressing Pause: India’s Absence at China’s Belt and Road Forum

Shyam Saran, Member, ICS Governing Council and former Indian Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy

The successful conclusion of the Belt and Road Forum (BARF) in Beijing, which India chose to stay away from, has led to a chorus of voices warning that in doing so, India has isolated itself both regionally and globally.

With the exception of Bhutan, all the South Asian neighbours of India participated, as did countries India regards as its partners in resisting the Chinese dominance of Asia; these include the US, Japan, Australia and Vietnam. Japan and Vietnam are also countries of South East Asia, which, like India, have territorial disputes with China, but they did not consider those disputes reason enough to stay away. It may also be argued that India itself has not let its territorial disputes with China stand in the way of cooperating with it on matters of mutual interest such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) or the BRICS Development Bank (DB).

India’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will also present opportunities for regional cooperation with China and other member countries. These opportunities constituted a rationale for seeking membership in the organisation. So, did India make a wrong call in staying away from the BARF? Continue reading “Pressing Pause: India’s Absence at China’s Belt and Road Forum”

India’s Concerns about China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Ashok K. Kantha, Director ICS and former Indian ambassador to China

It is one of the most imaginative and ambitious programmes ever to be rolled out by a government. It represents a broad strategy for China’s economic cooperation and expanded presence in Asia, Africa and Europe, and has been presented as a win-win initiative for all participating nations. But for India, the connotations of China’s Belt and Road Initiative” are somewhat different. A flagship programme and the most advanced component of the initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a region that belongs to India and is under the control of Pakistan. As a country acutely conscious of its own sovereignty-related claims, China should have no difficulty in appreciating India’s sensitivities in this regard. Continue reading “India’s Concerns about China’s Belt and Road Initiative”

Economic Ties with China: India Needs to Look Beyond Politics

Alka Acharya, ICS Honorary Fellow and Professor, Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

There appears to be a world of difference between the images presented by India-China economic and commercial ties on the one hand and the politico-strategic on the other. Interactions and exchanges with representatives from both these domains are markedly different in tone and tenor—the former focus on the opportunities, openings, benefits and profits while the latter dwell more on the dangers, threats, challenges and disputes.

Prima facie, they appear to be working at different levels, according to their own—somewhat different—logic and rationale, and it does not look like they will converge any time soon in a more composite picture of this most critical of relationships in the world today. The political understanding at the highest level, which is committed to building a strategic and cooperative—and now more promisingly ‘developmental’—partnership, struggles with deep suspicion that runs through practically our entire strategic discourse. On the other hand, economic engagements have become the most dynamic and transformative aspects of the India-China relationship today. But this has to contend with the structural mismatch between the manufacturing strengths and industrial capacity of the two economies—and therefore, unsurprisingly, perceived by and large as a situation that works only to China’s advantage. The controversial and contentious political issues and the angry exchanges understandably garner greater attention.

Bigger Picture

And yet we must ask ourselves as to whether that is all there is to the overall picture. Continue reading “Economic Ties with China: India Needs to Look Beyond Politics”

Dalai Lama at the Namami Brahmaputra River Festival in Assam: Mixed Signals for India-China Relations

Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, Assam

His Holiness the Dalai Lama graced the Namami Brahmaputra River Festival[1] in Guwahati as chief guest, on 2 April 2017, as part of a 14-day visit to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Assam Governor Banwarilal Purohit, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and several state cabinet ministers received him at the banks of the Brahmaputra in Guwahati. The Assam Government and the New Delhi-based research think-tank India Foundation, jointly organized this particular event hosting the Dalai Lama.[2] This visit combined with the Dalai Lama’s subsequent itinerary covering Tawang and Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh lends itself to some questions about India’s China policy and in particular, the link between the boundary dispute and aspects of river-management and -sharing between India and China. Continue reading “Dalai Lama at the Namami Brahmaputra River Festival in Assam: Mixed Signals for India-China Relations”

The 8th BRICS Summit: India Hosts, China Gains

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

The 8th BRICS Summit in Goa in October this year, India came close on the heels of the G-20 Summit at Hangzhou in China and appears more or less to have had the same agenda except that it was smaller in size and therefore brought into sharper focus the contradictions within. The BRICS grouping remains an unbalanced one. China is in a league of its own in the BRICS – both in economic terms as well as increasingly in the political sphere. India is the only other member that has a strong economy – the other three economies are in various stages of stress. However, the grouping is also about taking political positions and here once again, China’s dominant weight has seen statements taking on anti-Western tilt. Continue reading “The 8th BRICS Summit: India Hosts, China Gains”

Time to Rethink India’s Approach on OBOR

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for their bilateral on the sidelines of the 8th BRICS Summit in Goa two issues dominated. One was the Chinese resistance to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). The other was China’s refusal to support UN action against terrorists living under state protection in its ally Pakistan, who were involved in the attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi in 2001 and the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.

It is unlikely that New Delhi will get anywhere with the Chinese on either issue. The reasons are rather simple. Continue reading “Time to Rethink India’s Approach on OBOR”

India’s Place in Chinese Foreign Policy: South Asia Bound

Jabin T. Jacob, Assistant Director and Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies.

Originally published as ‘Boxing It In: China’s Approach to India’, The Quint, 13 August 2016.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to New Delhi in mid-August was ostensibly in preparation for the G-20 summit in Hangzhou in September for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit China and the BRICS Summit  in Goa for which Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit India in October. However, high-level meetings no longer impact matters significantly as they used to. Nor even do they help maintain matters on even keel if the incursions during Li Keqiang’s and Xi’s visits to India in 2013 and 2014 respectively or China’s objection to India’s NSG entry despite Modi’s personal intervention with Xi are anything to go by.

Continue reading “India’s Place in Chinese Foreign Policy: South Asia Bound”