China-India Brief #100

china-india-brief-100


Published Twice a Month
August 23 – September 12, 2017

Centre on Asia and Globalisation
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy



 – Editorial –

Centennials are a cause for celebration and a time to pause and reflect. As the Centre on Asia and Globalisation (CAG) celebrates the 100th issue of our China-India Brief, this presents the perfect opportunity for us to look back at how our publication has changed over the years and perhaps look forward to how we can continue to improve and bring quality synopses of writings on the China-India relationship and informative, thoughtful editorials to our readers.  

The first issue of the ChinaIndia Brief was published by CAG back in March 2013. The Centre wanted a major research focus on the two Asian powers and sought to promote interest and discussion in this area. Through the brief, CAG aimed to provide interested readers with a digest of English-language publishing from all over the world that focused on their bilateral relationship. Both established and up-and-coming academics were also invited to serve as guest columnists in order to stimulate debate. 

 Over the years, our brief has evolved to meet the changing demands of our readership. Our guest column, for instance, initially started out as a single 300-word piece and was highly dependent on whether we could get contributors. Today, the guest column op-eds are a staple of the China-India Brief, and we regularly publish 2-3 articles of around 1200 words per issue in order to meet the demand for more in-depth and well-rounded analyses.

Perhaps most importantly, our publication has made great headway towards our goal of raising international interest in China-India relations. Our readership has grown significantly, allowing us to reach out to a wider audience; and our pool of contributors has expanded to include many distinguished international academics and policy-makers. Indeed, our publication owes its success to our loyal readers and to our guest column writers who have provided us with knowledgeable and often provocative analyses. We would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all our guest column writers for their contributions:   

Kanti Bajpai
Sanjaya Baru
Huang Jing
Krish Raghav
Bhanoji Rao
Jingdong Yuan
Woo Jun Jie
Zhao Gancheng
Swaran Singh
Zorawar Daulet Singh
Razeen Sally
P S Suryanarayana
Uttam Sinha
Bhaskar Roy
Duan Xiaolin
Selina Ho
Danielle Rajendram
Nishant Dixit
Jabin T. Jacob
Rajesh Basrur
Rup Narayan Das
Rohan Gunaratna
Shai Venkatraman
Dev Lewis
Harsh V. Pant
Itty Abraham
David Scott
Hu Shisheng
Zhu Feng
Varigonda Kesava Chandra
Ajai Shukla
Cecilia Tortajada
Richard A. Bitzinger
Toshi Yoshihara
S. Mahmud Ali
Vijay Sakhuja
Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
Ji Xianbai
Zhang Hongzhou
Ravi Mishra
Stanly Johny
David Scott
Peter Krasnopolsky
Somnath Mukherjee
Wu Fuzuo
Dai Yonghong
Tanvi Madan
Chietigj Bajpaee
Sajjad Ashraf
Ivy Pei Ying
Sharinee Jagtiani
Vinay Kaura
Monique Taylor
Takehiro Masutomo
Blake Harley Berger
Tien-sze Fang
Amrita Jash
Angela Stanzel
Sangeeta Thapliyal
Nancy W. Gleason
Tshering Chonzom Bhutia
Liu Xiaoxue
Lu Yang
Jayadeva Ranade
Timothy Yu
Rup Narayan Das
Zhang Baohui
Touqir Hussain
Ashok Swain
J.M. Ananda Jayawickrema
Koh Swee Lean Collin
Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy
Tom Barnes
Deepa M. Ollapally
Brandon K. Yoder
Jagannath Panda
Tridivesh Singh Maini
Bhanoji Rao
Siegfried O. Wolf
Alexander Korolev
Siddharth Mallavarapu
Prem Shankar Jha
Silvia Tieri
Yu Xiaofeng
Bian Xiaochun
Rupakjyoti Borah
Ritu Agarwal
Li Qingyan

To celebrate this milestone, we have prepared a special issue for our readers. We open with a short message from the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Kishore Mahbubani, and we feature op-eds by Kanti Bajpai, David Scott, and Colin Koh. Time brings change. As we reflect on the changes over our last 100 issues, we also look forward to bringing our readers more high-quality articles in our next 100 issues. 


Message from Dean

The Future Belongs to China and India

 

From the year 1 to 1820 – for 1,800 out of the past 2,000 years – the two largest economies were always those of China and India. So, it is perfectly natural for China and India to return to the number one and number two positions by 2050, as predicted by PwC.

The big question of the 21st century is this: will China and India rise together or rise apart? In theory, they should cooperate and rise together, as their economic and cultural renaissances are helping their people enormously. In practice, geopolitical differences keep surfacing, whether they be over Pakistan or the Belt and Road Initiative. The border standoff over Doklam from June to August 2017 provided a reminder that China and India could get locked into an antagonistic relationship. Yet, this need not happen. China and India should remember that for almost 2,000 years (until 1962), there was no conflict between them. In a small globalising world, they also share many common interests.

This brief by the Centre on Asia and Globalisation (CAG) of the LKY School of Public Policy can play a valuable role by getting both China and India to look beyond their short-term challenges and focus instead on their long-term potential. Besides providing readers with a digest of the latest publications on China-India relations, the brief also offers political commentaries by leading scholars and thinkers. By providing a platform for different views and perspectives, the China-India Brief encourages discussion on how the two Asian powers can enhance their cooperation and manage their conflicts. The Centre deserves our warmest congratulations on reaching this significant milestone.

 

Sincerely,

Kishore Mahbubani

 

Kishore Mahbubani is Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and co-author with Jeffery Sng of The Asean Miracle: A Catalyst for Peace.

 


Guest Column

Four Indian Interpretations of the Doklam Stand-Off

by Kanti Bajpai

The Doklam stand-off ended almost as quickly and as mysteriously as it began. Analysts and commentators are still scratching their heads over the episode. This short essay looks at the various Indian narratives on Doklam and in particular the kind of motives ascribed to China in those narratives.

Broadly, four Indian narratives are discernible. Let’s call these the “fit of absentmindedness” story, the “pressure India on the border” story, the “punish India” story, and the “drive a wedge between Indian and Bhutan” story.

All four are circulating, and as with the India-China confrontations in 2013 and 2014, it remains unclear which Indian narrative is dominant in the sanctums of New Delhi’s decision-making structures – the Ministry of External Affairs, the National Security Council, and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Except for the wedge story, the other stories with variation were present in the Depsang and Chumar confrontations as well. The one Indian story that has been more or less laid to rest is the “Chinese rogue elements in the PLA” story which blames local or more distant PLA leaders for the incidents.

The fit of absent-mindedness narrative

One view is that the Chinese decision to extend the road from the turning point at Doklam towards the Jampheri ridge was part of extension work that has been in progress for several years. Indian commentators and official statements have noted that the Chinese have been road building and probing in this region for several years going back at least to the early 2000s.

The June action therefore was a case of absentmindedness, with no great thought given to Indian or Bhutanese reactions. Chinese engineers proceeded to extend the road because it was in the original planning for the road and because they have the apparatus, funding, and mandate to do so. With the winter coming on in a few months, this was the time to do it. The extension should therefore be seen as the last mile in the massive Tibet infrastructure plans going back to the early 1990s initiated by Jiang Zemin and then taken forward by Hu Jintao.

Those who are sceptical of this view would say that Chinese military units do not do things absentmindedly and routinely in such sensitive areas and that this was deliberately planned, as are most strategic moves. The Tibet infrastructure plan shows that the extension is part of a larger plan for Chinese strategic dominance over India.

The pressure India narrative

A second narrative, not surprisingly, is that Beijing sought to put India under pressure along the border. Those who make this case point to the spate of border incidents over the past decade and certainly in the past 5 years. They pay attention to two episodes – the April 2013 incident when Chinese troops in Ladakh crossed the line of control just before Premier Li Keqiang came to visit Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi; and the September 2014 incident, again in Ladakh, that began days before the arrival of President Xi Jinping on his first summit with Narendra Modi.

Doklam, in this view, is part of a growing pattern of needling, well-timed, and obstinate intrusions into the Indian side of the line of control. China’s motive is to bring pressures to bear to remind the Indian leadership and public that Beijing can make life uncomfortable. The intrusions are a reminder that China will not accept the status quo, that the “package deal” of 1960 and 1980, which signified an acceptance of the territorial status quo, is now dead. India did not accept those offers and should not expect them to be revived. The intermittent intrusions are part of a larger plan to remind India of its vulnerability and to shake it out of any complacency it might have developed about the viability of the present boundaries. The intrusions are also a signal to New Delhi and other capitals around the world that China is the dominant power in Asia and neither India nor anyone else on the continent should have any illusions about Beijing’s ability to crack the whip.

Skeptics would ask why Beijing would use the occasion of high-level official visits in 2013 and 2014 to carry out the intrusions. Surely the military intrusions would spoil the atmosphere and prove embarrassing to China’s visiting leaders. In the case of the Doklam road extension, this was an intrusion into territory claimed by Bhutan and not India. In any case, there was no high-level visit by a Chinese leader in and around June 2017. Skeptics would conclude that Doklam does not therefore fit the 2013 and 2014 pattern. Proponents of the pressure story would reply that China has simply changed its tactics somewhat. Beijing is reminding India that even the so-called middle sector of the border, which is often thought to be the easiest to delineate with China, will not be an easy one to deal with in a final settlement and that India’s Siliguri Corridor (or Chicken’s Neck) is easy military prey for China if it gets control of the heights in this sector.

The punish Indian story

A third story going around is that Doklam is about punishing a rising India for its temerity. This story depends on the view that contrary to what Beijing says in public, it is deeply resentful or fearful of New Delhi’s growing importance in world counsels and India’s strutting desire to equate itself with China. Doklam is therefore a reminder to India and the world that India is much “smaller” than China and that it cannot compete.

The punish story includes the view that recent Indian foreign policy, under Modi, has rubbed China the wrong way. The Indian prime minister’s trips abroad and his attempt to be a world statesman have not gone down well in Beijing which is determined to present Xi as a world statesman. More specifically, though, Modi’s attempts to lead India into a quasi-alliance with the US to build Indian power and contain China and his construction of a coalition of medium-sized military powers in the Asia-Pacific – Japan, Vietnam, and Australia – have seriously irked Beijing. Doklam is a message to Modi that China can cause serious trouble and that no one in the coalition is likely to speak up for India.

The punish India story also draws on India’s attempts over the past 2 years to publicly shame China over (i) its opposition to Indian membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and (ii) Beijing’s veto over UN action against Masood Azhar, the Islamic extremist leader residing in Pakistan who New Delhi says organized the Mumbai attack of November 2008. In this story, Doklam is part of an attempt to punish Modi for his activism in the past 2 years in trying to get Xi to change his mind on the NSG and on Azhar.

Another part of the punish India story is China’s objections to Indian attempts to improve its infrastructure along the border areas and to increase its mountain forces and air power in the region. Since 2010, India has reversed course on its decades-long decision not to build mountain infrastructure. It has also raised a mountain strike force for offensive operations in Tibet, something it had never done before, and it has boosted land and air power. Doklam was a message, in this view, to warn India not to go too far.

Those who are sceptical of this view of Chinese motives in extending the road in Doklam would argue that a road extension in an obscure part of the border is not much of a riposte to Modi’s public diplomacy over the NSG and UN action on Azhar: China’s repeated refusal to go along with Modi’s requests on both issues are enough of a snub to India.

The wedge story

Finally, there is the view that the Doklam road building was a clearsighted attempt to drive a wedge between Bhutan and India. In this view, Chinese political and military planners were confident that India would respond aggressively, perhaps even cross into Bhutan and the contested area, to confront Chinese troops and that this would cause trouble between Thimphu and New Delhi.

Thimphu would find itself caught between China and India and would be uncomfortable in the conflict between the two giants. India’s intransigence and forcing of the issue would give Bhutanese who are resentful of Indian dominance or interference in their country’s politics a reason to raise their voices against New Delhi. A key part of this story is the idea that there are constituencies in Bhutan who want to settle the Bhutan-China border and who blame India for Thimphu’s unwillingness to go for the deal that China has offered.

Skeptics of this story point to the fact that it was the Bhutanese who first tried to check the road extension by Chinese troops. They also point to the fact that Bhutan publicly objected to the road and has stood by India, if rather quietly, during the confrontation. Skeptics of the wedge story also wonder if China was so prescient as to predict Indian military moves as well as Bhutan’s reactions.

So, what was Doklam all about for China?

Not easy to say.

India will, as in 2013 and 2014, think hard about Chinese motives. The most likely explanation for Beijing’s actions is that the Chinese see the Doklam road extension as being part of a bigger plan for Tibet and were determined to complete it. The trijunction area is one part of the border where India has the heights and superior troop concentrations. Extending the road to the Jampheri Ridge makes perfect sense for China as a way of countering Indian advantages. A second likely motive was to put Bhutan under pressure on a border settlement and to drive a wedge between Thimphu and New Delhi that can be exploited in the future. What is certain is that the withdrawal by both sides from Doklam is not the end of the story. Beijing is not likely to forgive or forget for too long.

This episode as well as the 2013 and 2014 episodes make clear that the border problem is a live one and that it could flare up despite all the confidence building measures signed by New Delhi and Beijing. The two countries need to think about whether it is in their larger interest to squabble over the border forever. This is true even for China which is more powerful. Progress towards a border settlement is not impossible, particularly with two strong leaders in Modi and Xi. So far, unfortunately, neither has displayed great vision in dealing with India-China differences.

 

Kanti Bajpai is the Director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation (CAG) and Wilmar Professor of Asian Studies at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

 


Guest Column

China-India Confrontation at Doklam: Managing a Border, Managing a Relationship

by David Scott

From June 18 to August 28, Indian troops confronted Chinese units engaged in road construction activities in Doklam (Chinese: Dong Lang), close to the sensitive tri-border junction of India, China, and Bhutan. This has been the longest Himalayan confrontation since the 1962 war. India and Bhutan considered the Doklam site as Bhutanese territory while Beijing considered it as Chinese territory. Given Doklam’s location near the Siliguri corridor linking India to its northeastern states, India’s Ministry of External Affairs on June 30 argued that such road construction “would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India.” A robust Indian response ensued, probably somewhat unexpectedly for China.

On the military front, Indian forces remained deployed at the Doklam site, while both sides moved supporting military forces up to adjoining border areas in the north-eastern sector. China also held military exercises in Tibet. A significant development in mid-August was a deterioration of relations in the disputed north-western sector around Pangong Lake in Ladakh, with stone throwing reported between Chinese and Indian troops, and Chinese denunciations of Indian infrastructure building in the area.

China conducted a “three warfares” (san zhong zhanfa) strategy against India over the Doklam incident – using media warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare.

Media warfare was evident with the official state news agency Xinhua castigating India in a profile on August 9 entitled “Indian military’s seven sins in trespassing into Chinese territory” and went on to release a mocking video on Twitter entitled “7 Sins of India: It’s time for India to confess its seven sins” on August 16). This was denounced in India as a “racist” parody. The media warfare was also apparent in vociferous warnings to India of the negative consequences of maintaining its forward deployment of troops. The Global Times kept up a spate of heavy warning pieces such as “India urged to drop delusion of military strength” on July 6, “India didn’t learn lessons from 1962 border war” on July 23, “Unconditional withdrawal only way for India to save face” on July 31, and “If India keeps ignoring China’s warnings, war is inevitable” on August 10. Such media pressure was a form of psychological warfare. Global Times articles such as “Pressure on Bhutan reveals India’s hegemonism” released on August 11 sought to drive a wedge between India and Bhutan. This line matched China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs assertions on August 28 that “India has interfered in Bhutan’s internal affairs” and “shows no respect for Bhutan’s sovereignty.”

Legal warfare was present on August 2 with the 15-page position paper The Facts and China’s Position Concerning the Indian Border Troops’ Crossing of the China-India Boundary in the Sikkim Sector into the Chinese Territory, released by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This stressed that the border was already settled under the 1890 Convention Between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet, although application of its “crestline” demarcation principles remains unclear in practice. China continued to argue that any subsequent questions about boundaries between China and Bhutan remained a bilateral issue, with no role for third parties, such as India, or external adjudication.

On the diplomatic front, China’s demands for unilateral Indian withdrawal were diametrically opposed by India’s demands for mutual troop withdrawal and a stop to Chinese road building. This deadlock was evident in discussions between China’s state councillor Yang Jiechi and India’s national security adviser Ajit Doval held in Beijing on July 27 and in the Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) attended by Major General rank officers held at Nathu La on August 10. By that time on-going talks had been initiated in Beijing involving India’s Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and India’s Ambassador to China Vijay Gokhale.

These talks seemed to bear fruit, but with (face-saving?) ambiguity surrounding the terms of the resolution. On the one hand, India’s Ministry of External Affairs on August 28 announced an “expeditious disengagement of border personnel of India and China” and thereby a stop to Chinese road building, with the Indian media portraying the outcome as a “victory” for India. On the other hand, China’s Foreign Ministry on August 28 stressed a unilateral Indian withdrawal and on-going Chinese presence:

The Indian side withdrew all its border personnel and equipment that were illegally on the Chinese territory to the Indian side. The Chinese personnel onsite have verified this situation. China will continue fulfilling its sovereign rights to safeguard territorial sovereignty.

Although China reiterated its right to deploy whenever it wished to what it considered to be Chinese territory, this would seem to be a matter of sporadic patrols rather than any permanent presence. As to resuming road building, China’s Foreign Ministry on August 29 was ambiguous, merely indicating that “we will take into consideration all factors, including weather, to make relevant construction plans according to the situation on the ground.” Unofficial tacit understandings may well have been given by China to India, but nothing official was admitted. Deteriorating weather conditions at Doklam may increasingly militate against Chinese forward deployments and road building until Spring 2018. Despite Chinese claims that India’s withdrawal represented a Chinese “victory” (Global Times, September 3), in reality India achieved its goal of stopping the road building during summer 2017. It remains to be seen if the issue will rear its head again, in light of weather and political calculations in Spring 2018.

As a piece of strategic management, the Doklam standoff showed a continuing “two-level” global and regional relationship between India and China. The readiness of India’s leader Narendra Modi not to attend the BRICS summit being hosted by China, echoing his non-attendance at the Belt and Road Forum hosted by China in May, played a role in leading China to halt its road construction foray in Doklam. With Doklam shelved, Modi’s attendance at the BRICS summit brought about the September 4 Xiamen Declaration call for “economic cooperation” and the reform of “global economic governance”. However, this global-level convergence continues to be undercut by sharpening regional and geopolitical friction points, such as the Doklam stalemate. Xi Jinping may indeed have told Modi on September 5 that China represented “development opportunities and pose[s] no threat” to India, but a threat from China was precisely what China’s Doklam push had indicated for India.

 

David Scott is a consultant and prolific writer on India and China foreign policy; having retired from teaching at Brunel University in 2015, but continuing to present at the NATO Defence College in Rome. He can be contacted at davidscott366@outlook.com.

 


Guest Column

Doklam Standoff, China’s Strategic Maritime Vulnerability in the Indian Ocean and the Tyranny of Geography

by Koh Swee Lean Collin

As August 2017 drew to a close, China and India finally marked the end of the worst border standoff since they fought in 1962, much to the relief of a concerned international community. Beijing swiftly claimed victory, pronouncing that New Delhi has “made the right choice”, following a steady spate of fiery, at times inflammatory, rhetoric dished out in its state-controlled media as the grueling faceoff in Doklam dragged on. That the Sino-Indian geopolitical contention carries both a terrestrial and maritime dimension is well known to many. Indeed, while the two feuding Asian giants massed land forces along the site of standoff on both sides, there were also some movements along the second, maritime front.

In July, as tensions simmered in Doklam, the Indian Navy noted a marked increase in Chinese naval activities in the Indian Ocean – over ten vessels of various types, including submarines, which are long regarded as one of New Delhi’s key security concerns. The month also coincided with the inauguration of Beijing’s first-ever overseas military base in Djibouti, which has also been perceived by India with no small amount of concern since the facility is tipped to enable a more sustained Chinese military presence. In fact, the base would give China even greater legitimacy to justify its broader strategic presence in the Indian Ocean region – all in the name of securing its interests in Africa, the Middle East, and further afield.

Barely a week before the Doklam disengagement plan was announced, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) reportedly staged a live-fire exercise in the Indian Ocean. This was regarded by some as an ominous signal directed at New Delhi of Beijing’s resolve to safeguard its interests should the former choose to open up the maritime front against vital sea lines of communications that the Chinese economy so gravely depends on. The political symbolism of the drill was significant. But the flotilla was small, and its operational efficacy limited when brought to bear against the whole gamut of Indian air and sea power arrayed along the coast. It is doubtful whether a PLAN force of such size could have survived for long if a shooting war broke out with the Indians.

After all, New Delhi does enjoy a permanent geostrategic advantage. It’s the resident littoral power in the Indian Ocean. China is not. But Beijing has long been cognizant of this acute disadvantage. Hence, it has embarked on multiple fronts to reduce, if not completely eliminate, its strategic vulnerability. First, China has been building a bluewater-capable PLAN that can project force into the Indian Ocean. This is where much progress has been made. Last year alone, about 24 new vessels were commissioned into the navy, many of which categorized as bluewater-capable, that is, enabling the Chinese to operate beyond the immediate Western Pacific waters close to shore. Most significantly, three of these ships are fleet replenishment vessels – an often overlooked yet extremely vital component of a naval task force designed for sustained operations at sea, if no access to land-based support is available.

Associated with the fleet buildup has been the second prong of its approach – to secure access to friendly ports in the region, if not basing rights, like the case of Djibouti. This is where some achievements are palpable, especially with respect to major Pakistani ports such as Gwadar and Karachi, where PLAN vessels have frequented. Aiding this has been stable and friendly relations between Beijing and Islamabad, thus guaranteeing secure naval access. Sri Lanka earlier allowed PLAN ships, including submarines, to dock in Colombo Port. However, after New Delhi raised concerns, the Sri Lankan Government sought to assuage its much bigger neighbour by pledging that its civilian ports would not be utilized for military purposes. The other smaller Indian Ocean littoral governments, except Pakistan, are likely to fall in step behind Sri Lanka. After all, Islamabad and New Delhi are traditional archrivals, and Pakistan’s dependence on China goes beyond just economic, but diplomatic and military.

The third way to nullify India’s attempt to open up the maritime front in the event of a future Doklam-like border standoff is for Beijing to seek alternative land routes for its energy supplies. This is a long-discussed topic, which relates to much earlier literature about China’s “Malacca Dilemma” – the strategic waterway constitutes its soft underbelly. Chinese energy imports from Africa and the Middle East invariably transit by sea through the Indian Ocean, well within Indian air and naval striking range. This concerns not just the mainland Indian seaboards, but also the strategic Andaman and Nicobar Islands which overlook these routes through the Andaman Sea leading into the Malacca Strait. Any hostile shipping could be interdicted before it enters the strait or westbound out of it. To circumvent the strait, Beijing could rely on southerly routes such as through the Indonesian archipelago, like the Lombok and Sunda Straits. But the economics don’t add up to make shipping profitable. The best alternative is to cultivate land routes in friendly territories such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar and Pakistan – conveniently subsumed under the famous Belt and Road Initiative.

However, these projects are fraught with geopolitical risks and uncertainties. For example, part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through Kashmir, which has been claimed by both Pakistan and Indian; and  the port at Gwadar and its connected land arteries reside in restive Balochistan province where terrorist attacks have targeted Chinese nationals. Plans to build a port in Malacca and connecting it overland via the East Coast Rail Line (ECRL) are in place, with immense backing by the ruling Barisan Nasional Government headed by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak which is keen to court Chinese investments to shore up its political legitimacy at home as a general election looms. But there is uncertainty because the opposition seeks to ride on domestic sentiments to displace the incumbent in power, with the promise to review such grandeur Chinese-backed infrastructure projects as ECRL which are deemed to have compromised Malaysian sovereignty.

The fourth prong has been to shape the strategic narrative that the Indian Ocean is no backyard of New Delhi, and calling upon the latter to “get used” to its naval presence.  Beijing has been seeking to portray itself as a conciliatory maritime user in the Indian Ocean, repeatedly emphasizing the need for Sino-Indian cooperation in the regional waters. However, China’s outreach could be seen as insincere. For example, Chinese state media chose to omit mention of the Indian Navy’s role in the foiling of a pirate attack on merchantman OS35, instead giving full coverage of the PLAN’s part in what ought to have been a cooperative effort. It is unclear whether the recent Chinese proposal to build maritime cooperation, under the Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, will cut ice with an already wary India. It might be enticing though to India’s neighbours since the Initiative contains provisions on maritime security capacity-building assistance. But again, some if not all of these governments, in order not to agitate undue Indian concerns, will not necessarily tap on China’s help.

Beijing’s multi-pronged strategy to reduce its maritime vulnerabilities in the Indian Ocean looks set to endure, especially after the Doklam crisis demonstrated that New Delhi is no easy pushover for China’s coercion. Long versed in protracted border standoffs, such as the one with Pakistan back in the early-2000s, India has repeatedly stressed its resolve to hold out for as long as it can. It would be strange for any sane Indian defence strategist not to contemplate opening the maritime front as a way of deterring or coercing Beijing if a serious border incident happens and Delhi finds itself in extremis.

It does not help that, besides the geopolitical risks and uncertainties surrounding those various measures  in the Indian Ocean region that Beijing has sought to emplace, geography does not favour China unlike the flashpoints in the East and South China Seas where Beijing can more easily bring its geostrategic and military leverage to bear on its adversaries. China may increase its naval power and strengthen its relations with Indian Ocean states, but if there is anything that can pose an immutable hindrance to Beijing’s strategic planning in the Indian Ocean, it is the tyranny of geography.

 

Koh Swee Lean Collin is research fellow with the Maritime Security Programme, at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, based in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

 

The views expressed in the article(s) are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy or the National University of Singapore.


 

News Reports

Bilateral relations

Amid border tensions, China oils its strategy
The Hindu, August 27
Amid looming crises in its neighbourhood, from the Korean Peninsula to the Doklam Plateau in the Himalayas, China has been beefing up its strategic petroleum reserve (SPR). The sight of huge oil tankers offloading in China’s giant ports should come as no surprise. Earlier in August, the world’s largest active oil tanker, TI Europe, was spotted at China’s giant Ningbo port in the East China Sea. The humongous vessel can ferry 3 million barrels in a single shipment. That is nearly equal to the total daily production of the oil-rich Kuwait. A Reuters report quoting China’s Commerce Ministry said that by the middle of 2016, China had 33.25 million tonnes of crude oil in its SPR inventory. But others, using satellite imagery and big data processing, estimate that the country’s capacity is much larger. The crisis in the Doklam plateau and the possibility of the standoff between Indian and Chinese troops drifting into open conflict has brought China’s energy security into sharp focus. According to some analysts, a China-India conflict could acquire a naval dimension, affecting China’s energy supplies.

China and India Agree to End Border Standoff
Wall Street Journal, August 28
China and India said they had negotiated a solution to a more than two-month-long standoff on a remote Himalayan plateau, ending a stalemate that had raised concerns about a potential military conflict. But statements on Monday from both sides created confusion over terms of the detente. India’s Foreign Ministry said the two sides had agreed to the “expeditious disengagement of border personnel of India and China at the face-off site.” Beijing said Indian troops had withdrawn and, responding to a question about Chinese troop deployments, said it would make “necessary adjustments.”

PM Modi, Xi Jinping move on from Doklam, vow to build trust and ensure border peace
Hindustan Times, September 6
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping agreed on Tuesday that more must be done to improve mutual trust and avoid future border standoffs, as they sought to mend ties damaged by a two-month-long tense military faceoff on an icy Himalayan plateau. The two spoke for more than an hour after the Brics nations summit, a meeting described by Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar as a “forward looking conversation” that recognised that peace along the border was a prerequisite for better ties. Talks between Xi and Modi had been in question after Chinese and Indian troops faced off in the Doklam border region, their most serious military confrontation in decades that ended last week as abruptly as it had begun in June.

India speeds up border road work to avoid future Doklams
The Times of India, September 10
India’s capacity to counter challenges like Doklam is likely to get a significant boost in the next couple of years with stepped up pace of work on India-China border roads likely to result in several critical high altitude links being completed well before the 2020-21 deadline. Though the completion time-frame for most of the 61 roads — barring two or three — the Border Roads Organisation has been entrusted with, is around 2021, many will be ready earlier as enhanced financial powers given to the organisation recently begin to show results on the ground.

 

News Reports

China and India in the Regions

Doklam standoff: Countering China in the backyard, Indian Navy silently tightens grip over Indian Ocean
India Today, August 24
As countries like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand keenly watch the outcome of the standoff at the Doklam in Bhutan between the Indian and Chinese armies; New Delhi has tasked the Indian Navy to silently spread its influence and further strengthen its grip over the Indian Ocean Region. Bangladesh, with the help of India will be organising the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) – a large Naval exercise involving over a dozen countries. The IONS is an India initiative to increase maritime cooperation among navies of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean Region. It was conceived by the UPA government to get “friendly” navies of the region together to counter the increased aggressiveness of China in the Indian Ocean region.

From anti-submarine warfare to robotics, India and Japan to crank up defence cooperation
The Times of India, September 6
India and Japan have decided to further ramp up their defence cooperation, with more bilateral combat exercises, exchanges and collaboration in military and dual-use technologies, with an eye firmly on a belligerent and expansionist China. India and Japan, which is now a permanent part of the trilateral Malabar naval exercise with the US, will now also work towards including anti-submarine warfare training in their expanding military-to-military ties at a time when Chinese submarines have been making regular forays into the Indian Ocean Region.

Nepal and China fast track rail link in aftermath of Sino-Indian border row
South China Morning Post, September 7
China and Nepal agreed on Thursday to ramp up plans for a cross-border railway amid public assurances from China that Beijing would work hard to avoid conflict with New Delhi. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also said Beijing hoped Nepal could be a bridge between China and India, following a bitter border stand-off between the two Asian heavyweights. After talks in Beijing with Nepalese Foreign Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, Wang said China and India should work hard to make sure their ties do “not derail, become confrontational or get out of control”.

China about-turn: Pak made sacrifices in fighting terror, has ‘clear conscience’
Hindustan Times, September 8
Pakistan has made great sacrifices in fighting terror and has a clear conscience, China said on Friday, barely five days after Beijing joined other Brics members in condemning terror groups operating from that country. China’s message of support for its “iron brother” came during a joint news conference by foreign minister Wang Yi and his visiting Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Asif. “The government and people of Pakistan made huge efforts and sacrifice on the fight against terrorism and such efforts and sacrifice are there for everyone to see. The international community should recognise that,” Wang said.

 

News Reports

Trade and Economy

China expects full-year trade growth amid strong BRICS partnership
Xinhuanet, August 22
China’s foreign trade is likely to swing back to full-year growth in 2017 on back of strong first-half momentum and strengthened cooperation with trade partners. Analysts believe a recovery in global demand and the upcoming BRICS summit will inject a boost to trade growth for the rest of the year. China’s foreign trade in the first seven months totaled 15.46 trillion yuan, up 18.5 percent year on year. The economy saw a 7 percent dip in foreign trade volume in 2015 and a 0.9 percent decline in 2016, due to sluggish overseas demand. In the first seven months, exports increased 14.4 percent year on year, while imports rose 24 percent, resulting in a 14.5 percent decline in the trade surplus.

China’s Cleaning Act Is Helping Indian Aluminium Producers
Bloomberg Quint, August 23
As the driver of commodity prices across geographies, China’s efforts to streamline processes at its bloated aluminium industry is helping metal companies back home and elsewhere. Hindalco Industries Ltd. has climbed 44 percent on the S&P BSE Metal Index. The gain for Vedanta Ltd. has been 33 percent, while state-run National Aluminium Company Ltd. has had a muted growth of nearly 4 percent. Aluminium accounts for nearly half the revenue of Hindalco and NALCO, and a little less than one-third of Vedanta.

India Intensifies Crackdown on Chinese Tech Firms
Bloomberg, August 24
India’s ministry of electronics and IT said earlier this month that it was focusing on “securing Indian cyberspace” and its digital infrastructure. It directed over two dozen smartphone companies to provide detailed written responses by Aug. 28 on their “safety and security practices, architecture, frameworks, guidelines and standards.” The companies included prominent Chinese device makers such as Xiaomi, Lenovo, Oppo, Vivo and Gionee as well as global brands Apple and Samsung and Indian companies.

India, China jointly propose removal of US, EU farm subsidies
Livemint, August 28
China and India have jointly proposed the elimination of $160 billion of trade-distorting farm subsidies in the US, European Union and other wealthy nations, a move that has come as a game changer in global farm trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization, say trade envoys familiar with the development. The issue of contention – the Aggregate Measurement of Support (AMS) has been described as “the most trade distorting element in the global trade in agriculture.” In the proposal, floated last month, the two largest developing countries argued that AMS have to be eliminated before any other reform in the global farm trade can be taken up for consideration. 

Report says India is about to overtake China’s fintech
TechNode, September 1
At more than twice the global average, China is currently the world leader in fintech service adoption, but current second-place India is expected to surpass its neighbour according to a report by EY (formerly Ernst & Young), a global accounting and consulting firm. This is not something for Chinese fintech firms to be concerned about—because they’re already heavily invested in their counterparts across the Himalayas. The EY FinTech Adoption Index 2017 covers five categories of fintech: money transfer and payments, borrowing, savings and investment, financial planning, and insurance. The categories are rather broad in the 2017 report. For example, insurance now covers comparison sites for picking premiums. Providers can be start-ups through to maturing firms.

India slaps additional tax on some Chinese stainless steel imports
Reuters, September 8
India has imposed an additional import tax on certain stainless steel flat products from China for five years in order to curb influx of cheaper foreign imports, a government statement said on Friday. The government imposed 18.95 percent countervailing duty on some hot-rolled and cold-rolled stainless steel flat products, a first such levy on a steel product. This is aimed at helping local steel makers benefit when there is surge in imports, it said.

India, China to set up joint working groups to bridge trade deficit
The New Indian Express, September 10
With India’s trade deficit with China in danger of steadily expanding, newly minted Commerce and Industries minister Suresh Prabhu said on Saturday that the two countries have agreed to set up industry specific working groups which will help increasing Indian exports. “Concerned about growing trade deficit with China, we agreed to set up industry specific working groups, to promote more exports from India,” Prabhu tweeted from the capital city of Philippines – Manila – where he is attending the fifth East Asia Summit (EAS) Economic Ministers’ Meeting. He is also set to participate in the trade ministers’ meeting of 16 Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) member countries on Sunday.

 

News Reports

Energy and Environment

China’s Solar Appetite Eats Into India’s Clean Energy Effort
Bloomberg, August 25
Indian solar projects banking on a continuous supply of ever-cheaper panels are now under threat as China’s appetite props up prices. The global spot market price for solar panels in the second quarter fell at the slowest pace since the three months ended in December 2015, according to data compiled by PVinsights. While the decline has picked up slightly this month, they’re down 10 percent since the beginning of the year, compared with a 35 percent drop in 2016. The slowdown is complicating plans for solar developers in India, who were anticipating the cost of their panels would fall more quickly and are now facing an unexpected reduction in their returns. That’s making the industry more cautious about future developments, adding a hurdle to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambition for quick growth in clean-energy.

Chinese green firm to begin construction of Indian plant; will give jobs to 1,000 people
The Economic Times, September 2
China’s mono-crystalline solar cells and modules Longi Green Energy Technology will start building its Rs 1,500 crore Indian plant by the end of this year, said a senior official of its Indian subsidiary Lerri Solar Technology India.  “We are planning to begin construction of the Indian plant by this December. It will take around one-and-a-half years to start commercial production,” said Rahul Kapil, Vice President-Operations and Director.  According to him the total investment planned in India is around Rs 1,500 crore and the plant will employ around 1,000 persons. 

India can catch up with China in renewable energy projects, says KV Kamath
Hindustan Times, September 3
India can implement renewable energy projects at a lower cost than most countries and catch up with China which has taken the lead in the sector, KV Kamath , the president of the New Development Bank — also known as the BRICS bank — said on Sunday. “In building scale, clearly in terms of manufacturing capacity and projects that are already on the ground, China took the lead. I must say India is catching on,” Kamath told the Hindustan Times in Xiamen. “The targets that are set up by the (Indian) government are very desirable and indeed in today’s context, it is achievable because of the cost of green today is less, in most cases, than the cost of coal and other fossil fuel (projects),” he said.

NBD to provide loans for three green energy projects in China
Power Technology, September 5
The New Development Bank (NDB) has signed three loan agreements with a total value of more than CNY5bn ($765m). The loans will be used to fund the Fujian Putian Pinghai Bay offshore windpower project, Jiangxi Industrial low-carbon restructuring and green development pilot projects, and Ecological Development project, which are to be built in Fujian, Hunan, and Jiangxi provinces respectively. NDB president K V Kamath said: “The NDB was established by Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) countries to finance infrastructure and sustainable development activities. “To date, the Board of Directors of NDB has approved 11 [green] projects with loans aggregating more than $3bn.

 


Analyses

India feeling the heat on Belt and Road
The Interpreter, August 21
In May, when China organised a major summit in Beijing around its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one invited country was completely absent: India. In response to queries, New Delhi issued only a short statement that underscored the benefits of ‘enhanced physical connectivity’ but listed a set of criteria that such initiatives must follow. These included avoiding ‘unsustainable debt,’ taking into account ‘environment protection,’ making a ‘transparent assessment of project costs,’ guaranteeing the transfer of ‘skill and technology’ to local communities, and respecting ‘sovereignty and territorial integrity.’ The message was clear: BRI did not satisfy these requirements. India’s concerns have since been partially echoed by other major countries and companies including the European Union, the United States, and Japan.

Countering Chinese Coercion: The Case of Doklam
War on the Rocks, August 29
Two nuclear-armed powers have stepped back from the brink — for now. On August 28, India and China announced they had agreed to end a two-month border confrontation, in which a few hundred troops had faced off in the Doklam area claimed by both China and Bhutan, and many thousands more had been placed on heightened alert. The immediate crisis seems to be over, but it offers tantalizing insights into Chinese coercive strategies and how they may be thwarted. This has implications not only for India in its own land border disputes, but also for several Southeast Asian nations and the United States, as they all confront China’s attempts to expand its control and influence.

India’s geopolitical status goes up after Doklam standoff ends
The Economic Times, August 30
The Doklam standoff which was resolved following mutual withdrawal of troops and not the removal of Indian troops unilaterally as demanded by China will have a profound impact on the geopolitical standing of both Delhi and Beijing. New Delhi, which stood firm amid Beijing’s relentless provocation, sent out a message that it would stand by a friend (Bhutan) in terms of crisis and in the process strengthened its partnership with Asian countries, particularly in South and Southeast Asia. This stand-off, closely watched by Asian countries, especially those who have territorial and maritime disputes with China, has shown that China’s expansionist ambition is not unstoppable, according to an expert well-versed with Beijing’s foreign policy.

The China-India border standoff: What does Beijing want?
Chicago Tribune, September 1
After 10 weeks, the latest chapter in the long-running China-India-Bhutan border dispute has come to an end. On Monday, India and China agreed to remove their troops from a disputed region called the Doklam Plateau, claimed by both China and Bhutan. (The area is not claimed by India, but it is very close to the Indian border, and of extreme strategic importance to New Delhi.) Although the dust-up failed to attract much attention from the international community, it is nonetheless worthy of note, both for what it says about a rising China’s more forward-leaning approach to its neighbours, and also for what it says about the Trump administration’s strangely inattentive approach to an increasingly restive Asia.

China prevails in Doklam standoff, but India attempts to distort public opinion
Global Times, September 3
The settlement of the Doklam standoff was undoubtedly a victory for China after it pressured India into ending its speculative tactical intervention in the border region via military, diplomatic and other means. It was a comprehensive demonstration of China’s major-country strategy, and the wisdom and the ability of the Chinese leadership. Soon after the two sides withdrew their troops – at the same time, New Delhi claimed – Indian media immediately began to imply that New Delhi had acted on its own initiative after realizing its strategic goal of blocking a Chinese road construction project. Chinese media released their statement on the matter a couple of hours later, losing the initiative in the war of public opinion.

Doklam standoff: The takeaways for India
Livemint, September 4
There are still many unknowns about the Doklam standoff, what led to it and its de-escalation—some of which will stay unknowns. There also remain questions, including its broader implications and longer-term impact. More immediately, its diplomatic resolution has been rightfully greeted with a sense of relief. Some have suggested that this outcome was inevitable since China and India have dialogue mechanisms, experience dealing with such incidents, and more to lose than gain by conflict. But the risk of escalation is always present in such standoffs. For example, the kind of miscalculation that led to the apparent Chinese belief that India wouldn’t respond to its road construction could have also led to a belief that a limited operation was feasible and desirable.

Doklam issue: China’s Xi Jinping has a PLA problem
Hindustan Times, September 5
The Doklam debate has missed one key element: The mutual withdrawal deal was clinched just after Chinese President Xi Jinping replaced the chief of the People Liberation Army’s (PLA) joint staff department. This topmost position – equivalent to the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff – was created only last year as part of Xi’s military reforms to turn the PLA into a force “able to fight and win wars”. The Doklam pullbacks suggest that the removed chief, General Fang Fenghui, was an obstacle to clinching a deal with India and probably was responsible for precipitating the standoff in the first place. Fang was fired just days after he hosted America’s highest-ranking military officer, General Joseph Dunford.

Building a bigger, better BRICS wall against the West’s global order
South China Morning Post, September 10
Seven years on and much of the shine has come off the BRICS club of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Political and economic uncertainties at home and geopolitical rifts between some members have exposed weaknesses in the bloc, raising doubts over its future. But Beijing is not ready to let BRICS crumble just yet. At the bloc’s latest summit in Xiamen, Fujian province, last week, China tried to breathe new life into the group by expanding its scope and agenda. The goal is to make it a global grouping to counterbalance the Western-dominated order.

 


Books and Journals

China-India Relations under Modi: Playing with Fire
China Report 53, No. 2, May 2017
The sweeping changes in the foreign policy of Narendra Modi’s government in India reflect several departures from previous year. Most prominent shift was from non-alignment that was designed to steer India clear of involvements that could harm the country by diverting its resources from development and social consolidation into militarisation and war. Another shift is from the policy of equidistance which was not a refusal to get involved but an assertion that India would choose when, where and how to get involved, reflecting the rise of India’s soft power. These shifts have ramifications on bilateral relations of India and China and carry substantial impact on future trends of engagements between the two.

 


Compiled and sent to you by Centre on Asia and Globalisation and
the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore