Wednesday, 31 August 2016

How Serioiusly Should we Take the Global Times?

    In an article the Global Times [30/8] published from Beijing cautioned India that "joining the US alliance system may irritate China, Pakistan and even would bring strategic troubles to itself...". The question uppermost in everyone's mind is: How seriously should we take the Global Times and its admonition?
   The Global Times [GT] is a subsidiary of the People's Daily; the official mouth piece of the Chinese Communist Party [CCP] and its offices are located within the People's Daily compound in the prestigious Chaoyang district of Beijing. There are 700 staff members working for GT. This association of the GT with the People's Daily implies a degree of official sanction, although it is difficult to assess the exact nature of the link. It cannot be said, however, that its articles carry the same weight or official sanction as Xinhua or the People's Daily.
  GT started publication in 1993 as a weekly but quickly graduated to a daily; with its present daily print circulation estimated at 2 million with an English edition at 100,000 copies. Its website receives about 15 million hits daily. A US edition was launched in 2013, a South African one in 2014 and this year a European one also hit the stands.
    The editor of GT is the 56 year old Hu Xijing, a former pro-democracy activist who is alleged to have participated in the 1989 Tienanmen protests, but was not present when the Chinese authorities sent in PLA tanks to disperse the pro-democracy activists. Hu started his career as a war correspondent in the Balkans and also covered the Middle-East conflicts and quickly rose to become the editor; thereby indicating his close links with the ruling group within the Chinese government and the CCP. Hu often writes editorials himself under the pen name of "Shan Renping".
   GT is best known for its hawkish editorials and sometimes insulting articles, but it is said that these often reflect official thinking on the concerned subject, that Chinese authorities are reluctant to express openly. The nationalist stance taken by GT is in line with present Chinese foreign policy that espouses a firm, robust and an uncompromising line when global issues are on the table. The hawkish and provocative articles published by GT recently on the South China Sea dispute are a prime example. Australia was dubbed as a "paper cat".
     While the admonition carried by the GT as regards India would certainly not have the same weight if it had been published by Xinhua or by the People's Daily; yet in a sense it does reflect the concern that exists within Chinese government on the signing of the LEMOA agreement between the US and India. Probably the Chinese authorities are carefully assessing the impact and would also wait and see on how this agreement is implemented. The GT article is perhaps the first tentative assessment of a section of the Chinese government. It would be interesting to see what the PLA newspaper, 'The Liberation Army Daily' has to say on the subject.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to China--An Evaluation

         It is not a moment too soon that EAM Sushma Swaraj decided to fly out to meet Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi [ASSK], for far reaching strategic developments are taking place on our eastern borders. ASSK has just returned from her visit to China, where she met the Chinese President Xi Jinping, PM Li Keqiang and other leaders. What is the strategic importance of ASSK's visit to China? What are the implications, particularly for India?
*China which had been the main benefactor of Myanmar in the years that it was under military rule, received a rude shock when the military backed government of President Thein Sein cancelled the prestigious US$3.6b Myitsone dam project that China was building. China quickly realized that times were changing and that sooner rather than later, the military backed government would have to give way to a more democratic set-up. A re-calibration of policy was required and was quickly done. Consequently, last year ASSK as leader of the National League for Democracy [NLD] was invited to China and was received by no less than President Xi Jinping; even though she held no official position.
*China looms large in Myanmar's economic calculus, accounting for half its foreign investment and 40% of its trade. China is conscious of the efforts made by the US and Japan to pursue energetically openings for economic investment that have appeared in Myanmar and their endeavor to "balance" Chinese influence.
*However, both China and Myanmar have done their strategic sums nicely. China wishes for access to the Indian Ocean through Myanmar and is prepared for large scale investments to build railroads and highways linking Myanmar ports on the Indian Ocean with Yunnan province in southern China. Oil and gas pipelines traversing this route are already in existence. This is a strategic necessity for China, considering that it is increasingly getting involved with disputes in the South China Sea [SCS]. It is therefore not without reason that one of the more important visitors that ASSK met in Beijing was Jin Liqun, the President of the AIIB.
*For Myanmar, ASSK believes that it is essential to achieve peace and unity amongst different ethnic groups that constitute the Union and that there can be no sustained development with out peace. She realizes that the key to this process lies in the hands of China, that can influence various insurgent groups that dot the Sino-Myanmar border areas, to co-operate with the new Myanmar government.
*That is where President Xi Jinping personally delivered. He handed over to ASSK letters signed by three well armed and stubborn insurgent groups with close affiliations to China, conveying that they would attend the peace conference that ASSK is convening on 31st August 2016 in the Myanmar capital. ASSK responded by ordering the setting up of a Commission to re-assess the Myitsone dam project.
*China also realizes that these insurgent groups have to kept in check, if its aim of opening new rail and road links through Myanmar to the Indian Ocean is to be successful. Success here would also mean that China's prestige amongst the people of Myanmar would exponentially rise.
*It is for these reasons that ASSK chose China to be the first major country that she visited after assuming power. Although slated to visit the US next month, her China trip will cast a distinct shadow on that visit.
*If successfully implemented, these new developments would have profound implications in the strategic landscape for South East Asia. With the CPEC coming into operation in Pakistan and with these new links developing through Myanmar, the Chinese would begin to dominate India's periphery both to the west as also to the east of India!  

Monday, 15 August 2016

After FM Wang Yi's Visit: Where do we Stand?

    The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Delhi on 13 August 2016 for talks with his counterpart EAM Sushma Swaraj. As is customary, FM Wang Yi also had an audience with PM Modi. The main purpose of Wang’s visit, according to the Xinhua, was to “conduct strategic communications with India”. In other words, what did the Chinese FM wish to convey, what did he seek from India and eventually did he succeed in his mission?

      Conversations between PM Modi, Sushma Swaraj and Wang Yi are, of course, not in the public domain and neither have these conversations been spelt out in greater detail by either side, but reading between the lines the contours are ever so slightly visible. This must also be placed alongside the current state of the overall relationship between the two countries for a better appreciation. There is no doubt that after the NSG episode and the earlier “technical hold” that China had placed on India’s application to include JeM Chief Masood Azar in UN Sanctions list, bilateral relations are indeed under some considerable stress. Needlessly, the Chinese have brought themselves to this pass, when they looked the other way when their “iron friend” indulged in thoughtless adventurism by encouraging terrorist attacks against mainland India.

      The Chinese press [Xinhua] maintains that at the end of Wang Yi’s visit that a “consensus” was reached that the “two sides agreed to strengthen mutual support over the successful organization of the upcoming G20 and BRICS Summits” and that China is willing to “boost mutual support with India towards this end”. The Chinese have also made it clear that the South China Sea [SCS] issue was of vital national concern and that India should “fully comprehend Beijing’s concerns”. In other words, a warning for India: do not take any stand that hurts China’s vital national interests! Probably what Wang Yi had in mind was that a repeat of phrase used in the joint communique issued at the end of the FMs trilateral meeting [Russia, China and India] in Moscow earlier this year, could be used once again. According to the Chinese, India had agreed that the SCS issue be addressed through talks between the parties concerned. Has India agreed to this formulation for the G20 and BRICS summits?

     As for India’s concerns regarding Masood Azar; these were airily dismissed by advising India not to let “individual problems obstruct the course of co-operation”, but curiously Xinhua also suggested that both sides had reached a consensus that “individual problems [Masood Azar] will eventually be solved through strengthening of mutual trust and reduction of unnecessary misunderstandings”. How is this “trust” to be achieved and will China take the first step to remove these “unnecessary misunderstandings”? From the look of things, it hardly seems likely; given the state of relations that exist between China and Pakistan at present. So a stalemate on this issue between India and China is very likely to continue.

     On the NSG issue the Chinese who are adept at obfuscating facts, denied that they were the prime movers in blocking India’s attempt to gain entry. While loudly proclaiming that India has “wrongly” blamed China for blocking its entry into the NSG, the Chinese tried to morph Indian public opinion in their favor by stating that the door for entry was “not tightly shut”. However, Wang Yi appears only to have conceded the need for further talks by offering to let the chief Chinese negotiator meet his Indian counter-part. But there is a catch here too. According to Xinhua, “future discussions between India and China can only proceed on the basis of safeguarding an International non-proliferation mechanism”. So will the Chinese lift their objections to India’s entry to the NSG? Again hardly likely! All the spin about talks is designed to lull opposition till the G20 summit is over; the successful holding of which is a prime Chinese political requirement, particularly as President Xi Jinping is himself personally committed and his prestige is involved.

     It seems that during Wang Yi’s visit the Sino-Indian boundary issue was also touched upon and the need to strengthen border management. As regards the Sino-Indian boundary issue, the eastern sector is the most important and sensitive from India’s point of view. Sometimes it remains problematical as to why we do not press the Chinese harder in this sector for clarification of the LAC. On 4 November 1962, PM Zhou Enlai wrote an official letter to Nehru and confirmed that “in the east the LAC coincides with the McMahon Line”. Zhou also sarcastically noted that “I believe the Indian government must be having in its possession the original McMahon map”. Quite rightly so, it does. And the Chinese government also has in its possession a copy of the original McMahon map, which they inherited from the Tibetan authorities when they occupied Lhasa. So with both the Indian and the Chinese authorities having in their possession the original McMahon map, it should be easy to read off the co-ordinates and settle the LAC and to demarcate it.  But the Chinese realize that if they were to do that, they in other words, would be confirming the McMahon Line and its demarcation.

    It is this commitment that the Chinese try to avoid when they obfuscate the whole process of LAC clarification. We should not let them get away with it.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Visit of FM Wang Yi, the South China Sea [SCS] issue and Sino-Indian relations.

     Chinese FM Wang Yi is visiting India on 13 August 2016; his second since the Modi government came to power in May 2014. Wang Yi comes at a time when Sino-Indian bilateral relations, according to Global Times [Hu Weijia in GT, 8 Aug 2016], are witnessing "increasing tension in recent months owing to a series of political incidents". These "incidents" are not hard to identify and few in India would be unaware of them.
*The "advice" of GT to rescue the relationship and prevent further deterioration is that "India should focus on preserving good economic ties with China, rather than on the SCS issue". Implicitly contained in the "advice" is the threat that focusing on the SCS issue "might risk un-necessary side effects on Sino-Indian ties". Any one who has dealt with China would know that this translates itself to mean more tension, incursions, transgressions all along the Sino-Indian border. If any reminder was necessary for the hosts, the recent Barahoti incursion was timed as a "message" just prior to FM Wang Yi's visit and not as constituting any strategic threat to India.
* Apart from the "threat" a "carrot" is also contained in the GT article. The author of the article says that according to Chinese Customs data, India's exports to China have fallen by 16.7% year-on year for the first six months of this year. If India wishes for "generous treatment" in terms of tariff reductions on Indian exports to enable them to revive, it would be "unwise" for India to let its relations with China deteriorate further. In other words, stay out of the SCS imbroglio.
*There is no doubt that if Sino-Indian relations have deteriorated over the past few months, the onus lies largely on Chinese policies. What was the need, for example, to protect terrorists like Hafiz Saeed and others by providing them cover in the UNSC and thus give a severe jolt to Sino-Indian ties? It cannot be China's case that terrorism can be condoned simply because an ally provides the base for such horrendous activities and needs to be 'protected'.
*It would be a very poor bargain indeed if India were to accept staying out on the SCS issue on the promise of tariff reductions by Chinese authorities on Indian exports to China.
*If FM Wang Yi is in the mood for "bargaining" and this can be assessed during his visit; then the Indian authorities need to draw up their own list of substantial concessions and "red lines" that the Chinese should deliver on. Time is available, since two high level interactions with the Chinese are due shortly.
* PM Modi visits Hangzhou for the G-20 Summit in September and President Xi Jinping is due to visit Goa for the BRICS summit in October 2016. So what should India demand of the Chinese?

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Is Omission of PCA Ruling on SCS Dispute in ASEAN Statement a Diplomatic Success for China?

        When the Permanent Court of Arbitration [PCA] gave its ruling on the SCS issue on a reference made by the Philippines, it was expected that China's reaction would be vitriolic given its adverse nature. True to expectations, the Chinese authorities moved every sinew to negate the consequences of the ruling by prevailing upon institutions, such as ASEAN, not to make any reference to the PCA ruling in their joint statement. The absence of any reference to the PCA ruling in the joint ASEAN statement, was thus seen as a distinct diplomatic success for the Chinese government.
*One of the reasons usually ascribed for this Chinese success was that of China's preponderant economic influence in the ten ASEAN states, considering that apart from tiny Brunei, China is the largest trading partner of all the other ASEAN states. It was also ascribed to large Chinese investments in infrastructure projects in the region.
* It was therefore surmised that the ASEAN states had opted not to hurt their economic prospects by un-necessarily annoying China. However the truth lies somewhere else.
* Let us examine the issue a little bit more closely. Let us look at the case of the six largest economies of ASEAN; those of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Vietnam. These six states are collectively known as the SEA-6.
*In the trade statistics of the SEA-6 with China, one point that clearly emerges is that the bulk of the trade is as a result of the presence in each of the SEA-6, of a large number of global production chains; whose products are both imported from and exported to China. It is this that provides ballast to the trade statistics.
* The majority of the global production chains are not controlled by China, but by Japanese, South Korean, EU and US companies. For example, Samsung, the giant Korean conglomerate, is the largest FDI investor into Vietnam.
*US investment into Singapore alone is three times larger than China's total investment into the region. By 2012 Japan's FDI investment was five times larger than Chinas, whilst EU FDI investment was nine times larger!
* As far as Chinese influence is concerned, the key therefore are the states of Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. All the three states have common borders with China and it is here where Chinese influence, both economic and political, is at the greatest.
*No surprises therefore that it was Cambodia that resolutely blocked any reference to the PCA ruling on the SCS dispute in joint ASEAN statement. The only reason why Cambodia eventually prevailed was because none of the ASEAN states wanted to break the ASEAN tradition of consensus.
*Chinese diplomatic success may thus prove pyrrhic, given that none of the SEA-6 are in its favor on this issue. In addition, the US was probably not too keen to un-necessarily 'antagonize' China, given that President Obama is due to pay a visit to China shortly.