Politics, political rulers and their political trajectory decide what China is today and tomorrow. The constitutional amendment removing the presidential and vice-presidential two-term limit at the recently held 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) of China will allow Xi Jinping,1 supposedly the most powerful leader in Chinese political history after Mao Zedong, to hold office for at least another term after his second term ends in 2023.
With this, he may emerge as the longest-serving leader in the post-Mao period.2
In March 2013, Xi Jinping had assumed the position of President of China during the 12th NPC. In the Chinese political system, the powers and authority of the president primarily derives from the concurrent posts of General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission (CMC), which Xi was already holding before becoming President in March 2013. This issue brief examines the implications of Xi Jinping’s extended tenure for India-China relations.
The Domestic Upshot:
The constitutional amendment to do away with the presidential and vice-presidential term limits is a major development in Chinese political history. This was only the fifth occasion since 1982 that the constitution has been amended. Calling the move an “important” development for China’s political course, the Chinese state media clarified that it did not mean a change in the retirement system for party leaders and officials. It, in fact, termed the amendment a progressive move that would facilitate China’s rise under the leadership of the CPC.3
The amendment, importantly, incorporated Xi Jinping’s Thought on “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”,4which is to be gradually achieved by establishing a “moderately prosperous society” by 2020, a great modern socialist country by 2035 and, eventually, a strong China by the middle of the 21st century.
Equally important is the fact that the amendment has been incorporated into the charter of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory body of the CPC,5thus implying that Xi’s thought is central to both the party’s and China’s future path.
Theoretically, Xi’s continuation into a third term as president would mean a strong and institutionalised authoritarian regime with the full backing of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the CPC over the next decade. It indicates a unified leadership in times to come. It further implies that civil-military relations will be stable and Xi Jinping will continue to enjoy undisputed leadership in the civilian and military domains.
In constitutional terms, the removal of the two-term limit for the president effectively establishes parity between the office of the President of China and that of the Chairman of the CMC and General Secretary of the party.6 The last two positions do not have any term limit in the constitution. As a result, the removal of the two-term limit for the position of president will allow all three significant offices to symbolically hold equal weight in China’s complex civil-military structure.
There is widespread speculation that Xi might continue to hold power as the Chairman of the CMC and perhaps as the General Secretary of the CPC beyond 2022-23.
Both are important positions that influence the Party’s supervisory process in China’s political structure. Politically, this will give Xi Jinping a free hand to assert his leadership and the CPC’s supremacy without running the risk of allowing any other potential leader to challenge his leadership in the near future. Xi’s appointment of retired Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Qishan as the new Vice President of China, while simultaneously amending the constitution by removing the two-term limit for the vice presidency, is indicative of his agenda.7 Wang Qishan has been a close and trusted associate in Xi’s anti-corruption drive. Though the position of vice president is largely a ceremonial one, Xi appears determined to empower it so as to benefit from Wang’s support in running the country.
This constitutional amendment, with its centralisation of power, is being seen in some quarters as a serious setback to China’s legal and political system, which is in need of massive reform.
For instance, Li Datong, a well-known journalist in China, commented in WeChat that this development would “subject us to the ridicule of the civilised nations of the world” and will pull China “ backwards into history.”8
On the other hand, this amendment was seemingly carried out keeping in view domestic imperatives. The economy has been under stress for some time, and the rate of growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) has slowed down considerably, which the Chinese leadership has turned to calling the “new normal”.
In 2016, the economy grew at the rate of 6.7%, which was the lowest growth rate since 1990.9
At the same time, Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) needs long-term nurturing since its main intent is to revitalise the economy and revive a higher growth rate through international economic engagement. Thus, under these circumstances, a long-term leadership will provide stability to the system. Besides, there are other domestic issues including the anti-corruption drive that need a long-term action plan which only a strong leadership under Xi can evolve and implement.
The constitutional amendment further implies that political reforms are becoming secondary in China. Civic participation and freedom of the people are becoming subordinate to the CPC’s political culture of managing the country not by the “rule of law” but through arbitrary rules set by the rulers. With this, there seems to be a return to an authoritarian culture in decision-making. China had moved away from an authoritarian culture in the post-Mao period, adapting slowly to the collective and institutional decision-making process. In contrast, until his death, Mao had made all the crucial foreign policy decisions, including his decision to wage war on India in 1962.
The Foreign Policy Drawing:
The foreign policy bearing of Xi’s extended presidency is enormous. Basically, it guarantees the continuation and evolution of major initiatives including the BRI over the next decade or so. Here, it is important to note that as part of Xi’s “new era” strategy, since his ascent to power in 2013, Beijing has been pursuing a multi-layered and multi-pronged foreign policy. “Bringing-in” and “going-out” are two important components of this policy.10 “Bringing-in” involves inviting foreign delegates and hosting grand summits and events, while “going-out” means overseas visits of the top leadership through an intensive outreach programme involving the signing of deals, undertaking cooperative programmes and promoting investment abroad.
Thus, as part of the “bringing-in” initiative, Xi Jinping hosted the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in May 2014; Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November 2014; Group of Twenty (G20) summit in September 2016, the BRI forum in May 2017; BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa) summit in September 2017; and a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the victory over Japan in World War II in September 2015.
The year 2018 will witness China hosting the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao. And as part of the “going-out” campaign, Xi Jinping travelled to more than 50 countries across five continents in his first term, which included a visit to India in 2014. Significantly, Xi has visited the headquarters of major regional and international organisations and has delivered speeches, including at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in 2017.
These suggest that China pursued an active foreign policy during Xi’s first term as president. This active foreign policy, combining “bringing-in” and “going-out” initiatives, is being pursued within the architecture of four foreign policy propositions: “a new type of major power relationships”; “major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics”; “a community of common destiny”; and a “new type of international relations”. Each of these propositions engages with smaller and bigger countries across the region and the world differently.
But the main Chinese strategic ambitions behind these propositions are twofold:
(a) enhancing China’s position globally as a leader equal to the status of the US; and
(b) taking a leadership role in international affairs, with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific.
The Chinese proposition of the “new type of major power relations” goes back to 2012 when Xi delivered a speech in Washington to characterise Sino-US relations in times to come.11 Xi’s appointment of Wang Qishan as vice-president indicates the importance that is likely to be given to the relationship with the US. Wang is China’s most experienced and seasoned politician on US affairs and is known as Beijing’s “America hand”.12 His return to power indicates that the Xi administration’s foreign relations strategy will be more US-centric, within the construct of Xi’s “new type of major power relations”. While aiming to enhance its status vis-à-vis the US, China’s immediate focus will be on the Asia-Pacific region where Donald Trump has created a vacuum through his withdrawal from the Asia-Pacific multilateral trade grouping. China sees this as a strategic opportunity for its rise as a world power.
Xi’s extended term as president and his “new era” foreign policy will, therefore, aim to take advantage of this American retreat by focusing more on the Asia-Pacific region.
Under Xi’s “new era” strategy, China’s Asia-Pacific ambitions are growing continuously. The prime Chinese ambitions in the Asia-Pacific are not only to enhance Beijing’s influence but also to check American influence by gradually changing the status quo of the region. Enhancing maritime interests, promoting stronger bilateral and multilateral security contacts, pursuing better economic cooperation through free trade agreements (FTAs) and focusing on regional economic integration and connectivity are major features of China’s Asia-Pacific strategy. The Chinese White Paper released in January 2017, entitled China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security, highlights all of these.13The objective is to create a favourable condition for China’s rise by influencing the geopolitics of the region.
A revisionist tendency is already reflected in China’s Asia-Pacific strategy. For instance, Xi Jinping’s grand propositions and innovative initiatives over the last few years such as the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), introduction of the new Silk Road Fund (SRF) under the BRI, and taking the lead to establish the New Development Bank (NDB) under BRICS are all integral to China’s Asia-Pacific strategy.
These initiatives are changing the status quo in the region; the US National Security Strategy (NSS), released in December 2017, also points towards this trend. The Trump administration’s NSS accuses Beijing of being a revisionist power that seeks to transform the geopolitics of the region through infrastructure investment and trade strategies.14
With Xi at the helm for another decade, one is likely to witness a continuation in China’s Asia-Pacific strategy. The return of the Quadrilateral initiative involving Australia, India, Japan and the US will only reinforce China’s focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
Major countries in the region, including India, might find China’s growing strategic ambitions challenging. It might even encourage some countries in the Asia-Pacific to revisit their policies towards China. Donald Trump’s unclear Asia policy does not hold out any assurance, which might eventually encourage many Asian countries not only to rebuild their relationship with China but also to see China as an opportunity.15 For instance, Japan, an alliance partner of the US, has recently shown an inclination to improve relations with China. The recently re-elected Shinzo Abe has even expressed “conditional support” to China on the BRI and a willingness to engage with China under the initiative to improve bilateral relations.
A similar trend is visible on Taiwan’s part too. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) under Tsai Ing-Wen is not pursuing the same nationalist and ‘pro-independence’ policy as it did during its previous stint in power from 2000 to 2008. In South Asia, too, a similar trend can be noticed with many smaller countries engaging with China.
Implications for India and India-China Relations:
India needs to comprehend the course in which China’s foreign policy is likely to evolve over the next decade. In fact, a road map of Chinese policy planning over the next three decades has already been outlined in Xi Jinping’s 19th National Congress of the CPC report. Emphasising on a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”, Xi outlined China’s ambition to emerge as a superpower by 2049, which will mark the centenary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Adequate timelines have been set to achieve targets, such as completing the mechanisation and full modernisation of the PLA by 2020, emerging as a socialist modernized country by 2035, having a world-class army and the eventual attainment of superpower status around the middle of the century.16
The key to the “great rejuvenation” plan is continued economic growth for promoting the CPC’s national and international stature. The debate will continue as to whether China will eventually succeed in meeting these targets, but it is becoming evidently clear that Xi’s tenure as President of China is crucial to the country’s future path. Going by the current GDP growth trend, it is estimated that the Chinese economy will surpass that of the US by 2027-28 (see Chart 1). This is the period when Xi Jinping will supposedly be finishing his third term.
However, this projection has been carried out without taking into account the effect of the BRI on China’s economic performance. If the BRI starts offering even partial success, the Chinese economy will be in an even more sound position by 2027-28. It is important to note here that since the BRI’s initial announcement in 2013, China under Xi’s leadership has pursued an intensive national and international campaign promoting its merits.
If Xi’s first tenure from 2013 to 2018 were to be seen as the phase of “promotion” of the BRI, the second term, 2018-2023, would mark the phase of “execution”, with Beijing signing a range of projects and deals with various countries in Asia and the world.
The BRI’s success is, therefore, key to the CPC’s and China’s future since it will provide an impetus to Chinese economic growth apart from addressing other domestic economic problems. Therefore, Xi Jinping would like to ensure that the BRI starts returning results and helps in sustaining domestic economic growth. That means, Chinese foreign policy will become more BRI-centric in the years to come where infrastructure investment abroad, promoting connectivity and corridors and forging stronger trade and economic contacts with the outside world will be the main aspects of its “going-out” strategy. This will pose an even more severe test for India in the neighbourhood, and in Asia at large, than what New Delhi is facing at present.
Xi’s emergence as the strongest leader in the post-Mao period is certainly not an encouraging development.
However, India should not treat this development negatively in its entirety, particularly in the context of boundary negotiations. Engaging with a strong leadership to find a solution to the boundary dispute is a better proposition than struggling to find a solution under a weak leadership. However, territorial integrity and national sovereignty are two subject matters that any country finds difficult to compromise on, including an authoritarian China. Thus, a nationalist China is unlikely to make any concessions on matters relating to the boundary or national security, no matter who is in power.
But India should not be pessimistic about this. Rather, under these circumstances, India should welcome the boundary negotiation with China and try to carry forward the negotiation process with prudence, focusing instead on the advantage the continuity in leadership presents. Engaging in sustained negotiation with the same leadership is a better proposition than trying to renew a negotiation process under a new leadership.
It is important to mention here that officials under Xi Jinping had initially indicated a preference for “oriental wisdom” to resolve the boundary dispute. It remains unclear what this “oriental wisdom” really means, but the Chinese proposition is basically about finding a ‘political’ solution within the ambit of the “Panchsheel” – the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence – where the leadership in India and China will play a significant role in resolving the boundary dispute.17
Essentially, it implies that the boundary dispute between the two countries must be resolved through a ‘political’ understanding.
Keeping this in perspective, Xi Jinping’s extended presidency should encourage India to see the boundary negotiation process in a fresh context. In Xi’s first term as president, neither did the boundary negotiation witness any positive development nor was it pursued continuously at the Special Representatives (SRs) level. Yang Jiechi, the Chinese interlocutor for the SRs dialogue, was elevated as a politburo member at the 19th National Congress.
Both Yang Jiechi and the current Foreign Minister Wang Yi are two important officials in the Xi Jinping administration with rich experience in handling Asian affairs. Now, Wang Yi has been elevated to the position of State Councillor after the 13th NPC and could be the new interlocutor for the SRs dialogue. Recently, Wang Yi stated that India and China should not “fight but dance with each other”, offering a positive picture of India-China relations.18 India must perceive these developments positively.
Overall, India should carefully understand the evolving foreign policy strategy of China under Xi Jinping, and notably, his worldview, and try to position bilateral relations accordingly.
The foreign policy strategies and worldviews of each of the previous Chinese presidents have been an integral part of China’s relationship with India. Unlike Mao’s authoritarianism, Deng Xiaoping’s approach largely pursued modest engagement through an “open-door” foreign policy where the focus was on expanding China’s foreign relations across the world.19 As a result, during Deng’s tenure, India-China relations normalised, even though the credit for normalisation should primarily go to India’s diplomatic and political outreach to China through then Foreign Minister A.B. Vajpayee’s visit to China in February 1979 and then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit in 1988.20 Under Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, China’s foreign relations strategy turned towards “greater conservatism”, mainly emphasising on domestic economic growth and linking it with amicable relations among countries around China’s periphery and elsewhere.21 China’s overall approach towards India was to build confidence during the tenure of Jiang Zemin, when a range of confidence-building measures (CBMs) primarily in 1993 and 1996 was signed in order to offer a new momentum to bilateral relations after the normalisation process. The bilateral relationship became even more institutionalised during Hu Jintao’s presidency, when a plethora of agreements, memorandums of understanding (MoUs) and continuous political exchanges at the highest level became the highlights of India-China relations.
In brief, Xi Jinping’s extended Presidency should be seen as a strategic opportunity for India-China relations. New Delhi must act proactively to improve the envisioned “developmental partnership” between India and China, primarily formulated during President Xi’s visit to India in September 2014.
A reciprocation from China regarding the same will obviously be required. The essence of this developmental partnership is to forge closer economic contacts. Post-Doklam, during the Xiamen BRICS summit, Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping expressed interest in having a “forward-looking constructive” relationship to nurture ahead this developmental partnership. Both sides should, therefore, focus on how to develop this developmental partnership while improving overall bilateral relations.
On India’s part, this should be carried out proactively without overlooking the changes and challenges that Xi’s extended presidency brings to the region and the world in general.
- 1.“Amendments proposed for Constitution”, China Daily, February 25, 2018, at http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201802/25/WS5a927386a3106e7dcc13dece.html (accessed on March 24, 2018).
- 2.The office of the President of China was first established in 1954 and then abolished in 1975. It was again reinstated in the Chinese Constitution in 1982, but with reduced powers. The position of “Chairman” has been the most powerful position in Chinese political history. The office of the President of China is closely linked with those of the General Secretary of the CPC and chairman of the CMC. For further reading on the subject, see, Susan V. Lawrence, “China’s Political Institutions and Leaders in Charts”, CRS Report for Congress, November 12, 2013, at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43303.pdf.
- 3.“Commentary: China Is Rising. Get Used to It”, People’s Daily, March 7, 2018, at http://en.people.cn/n3/2018/0307/c90000-9434046.html (Accessed March 18, 2018); also see, “China’s Party System Is Great Contribution to Political Civilization: Xi”, People’s Daily, March 5, 2018, at http://en.people.cn/n3/2018/0305/c90000-9432835.html (Accessed March 18, 2018).
- 4.“Incorporation of Xi Jinping Thought into Constitution Conducive to National Rejuvenation”, People’s Daily, February 26, 2018, at http://en.people.cn/n3/2018/0226/c90000-9430280.html (Accessed March 23, 2018).
- 5.“Proposed Amendment to CPPCC Charter Unveiled”, Xinhua, March 8, 2018, at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-03/08/c_137025376.htm (Accessed March 16, 2018).
- 6.Christopher Bodeen, “China Abolishes 2-term Limit, Allowing Xi Jinping to Rule Indefinitely”, Time, March 11, 2018, at http://time.com/5194739/china-abolishes-term-limits/ (Accessed March 18, 2018).
- 7.“Wang Qishan Elected Vice-President of China”, Xinhuanet, March 17, 2018, at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-03/17/c_137045280.htm (Accessed March 18, 2018).
- 8.Li Datong is a well-known journalist and known for being critical of the CPC. He was formerly an editor of Freezing Point of the China Youth Daily, a widely circulated Chinese newspaper. He posted an open letter to the Chinese public through WeChat on February 26, 2018. The translated letter can be accessed here: David Bandurski, “Li Datong’s Open Letter”, China Media Project, February 28, 2018, at http://chinamediaproject.org/2018/02/28/li-datongs-open-letter/(Accessed March 16, 2018).
- 9.Katie Allen, “Chinese Growth Slips to Slowest Pace for 26 Years”, The Guardian, January 20, 2017, at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jan/20/chinese-economic-growth… (Accessed March 1, 2018).
- 10.Xie Tao, “Chinese Foreign Policy with Xi Jinping Characteristics”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 20, 2017, at http://carnegieendowment.org/2017/11/20/chinese-foreign-policy-with-xi-j… (Accessed March 17, 2018).
- 11.David Lampton, “A New Type of Major-power Relationship: Seeking a Durable Foundation for U.S.-China Ties”, China & US Focus, September 21, 2013, at https://www.chinausfocus.com/foreign-policy/a-new-type-of-major-power-re…(Accessed March 18, 2018).
- 12.Tom Mitchell, “Xi Jinping Ally Wang Qishan Confirmed as New China Vice-president”, Financial Times, March 18, 2018, at https://www.ft.com/content/aa260008-28d3-11e8-b27e-cc62a39d57a0 (Accessed March 18, 2018).
- 13.China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation, State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, First Edition, January 2017, at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-01/11/c_135974121.htm (Accessed March 24, 2018).
- 14.National Security Strategy of the United States of America, White House, December 2017, at
https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-20… (Accessed March 24, 2018).
- 15.Dylan Loh Ming Hui, “How Xi Jinping’s ‘Lifetime Presidency’ Could Change China – For Better or Worse”, The Conversation, February 27, 2018, at http://theconversation.com/how-xi-jinpings-lifetime-presidency-could-cha…(Accessed March 17, 2018).
- 16.Xi Jinping, “Secure Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, Speech Delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, October 18, 2017, at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/download/Xi_Jinping‘s_report_at_19th_CPC_National_Congress.pdf (Accessed March 19, 2018).
- 17.“Interview with Chinese Ambassador Le Yucheng by PT”, News from China, September 2014, pp. 20-21; “Full Text of Li Keqiang’s Speech at Opening Ceremony of Boao Forum”, Ministry of Commerce, People’s Republic of China, April 14, 2014, at http://english.mofcom.gov.cn/article/zt_boaoforum2014/news/201404/201404… (Accessed March 18, 2018).
- 18.“Chinese FM Calls for Mutual Trust with India”, Xinhua, March 8, 2018, at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-03/08/c_137024429.htm (Accessed March 24, 2018).
- 19.Several books and articles written on Mao and Deng explain this. For instance, for an analysis of the role of leaders, leadership and their stature in Chinese politics, see: Weixing Chen and Yang Zhong, Leadership in a Changing China(Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005).
- 20.Eric Gonsalves, “The India-China Parleys (1979-1982)”, Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, October-December 2013.
- 21.Marc Lanteigne, “Who Makes Chinese Foreign Policy Today?”, Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction (Routledge, London, 2009), p. 19.
Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
India and China – Time for a Dialogue on Nuclear Security?
That there will be no nuclear escalation between India and China has become conventional wisdom.
Discussions on nuclear security in South Asia generally focus on the India-Pakistan relationship. Given the volatile military equation and frequent sabre-rattling between these two neighbours, that is unsurprising.
China as a nuclear power that has a bearing on nuclear security and stability in South Asia is discussed in India primarily in terms of its nuclear relationship with Pakistan – the material and technology that Indian analysts believe China provides to bolster Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme.
That the India-China relationship might itself merit a discussion on issues of nuclear security, perhaps even Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), is seldom mooted.
A dialogue on nuclear security between the two is supposed unnecessary since –
(a) Chinese analysts maintain that India’s nuclear capability is apparently inconsequential and China does not believe it is in a deterrence relationship with India;
(b) given that no shots have been fired along the disputed border, there is no realistic scenario in which the two states would enter into a military conflict; and,
(c) both countries have a declared no-first-use (NFU) policy, which is believed to be a guarantee enough against nuclear escalation.
There are, however, many reasons to re-examine this comfortable assessment of the impossibility of nuclear escalation between India and China.
Chinese scholars continue to state that China’s technological superiority implies that India’s nuclear weapons capabilities do not pose a threat to China and that India does not feature in China’s nuclear calculus. This seems singularly peculiar given that Indian analysts and even ministers have repeatedly stated that India’s nuclear deterrent is primarily a safeguard against nuclear blackmail by China.
Despite the overt unwillingness to acknowledge the reality of a neighbour with nuclear weapons, Chinese views of Indian capabilities are certainly changing. This is best exemplified in the changing tone of statements made by Beijing in response to India’s missile tests.
In the wake of India’s first intercontinental ballistic missile test of Agni V in 2012, the spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) did not so much as allude to the missile test and emphasised only that China and India were cooperative partners rather than rivals.1 By 2016, when India undertook the fourth Agni V test, China’s reaction to the test was very hostile. Not only did the MoFA spokesperson insinuate that India’s missile test was in violation of United Nations Security Council Regulations, but also sought clarity on its “intentions”.2
From muted reactions that seemed to ignore missile development to belligerent statements that place the blame for destabilising South Asia at India’s door, there has clearly been a change in perception regarding India’s nuclear capabilities within the Chinese government. When considered along with the fact that China maintains nuclear missile launch sites and storage facilities in the provinces bordering India, it seems reasonable to suppose that China’s security assessments do actively account for India’s growing nuclear capabilities.
It would be a willful ignorance to deny that the bilateral relationship between India and China remains hostage to the territorial dispute which is becoming increasingly acrimonious. Perhaps, as a prelude to the final settlement of the outstanding border dispute and with a view to bolstering their respective negotiating positions, both sides are seeking to increase their areas of “regular” operations in the disputed territory.
This has not only led to a steady increase in the number of border “transgressions” logged by each country but also brought troops in face-offs more frequently. While it is true that the India-China border has not seen skirmishes of the sort witnessed on India’s borders with Bangladesh or Pakistan involving the use of small arms or artillery and can thus be termed provisionally “peaceful”, fisticuffs and stone-throwing along the Western border3 indicate that tensions remain high.
As India and China compete for greater influence in the Asia-Pacific, this history of mistrust and the legacy of an unresolved territorial dispute continue to dog their diplomatic efforts. A zero-sum analysis predominates assessments of foreign policy. India’s ‘Act-East’ policy is assessed by Chinese scholars as an attempt by India to position itself as an economic and military alternative to China in Southeast Asia.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative is viewed with suspicion in India not merely because there is lack of clarity on the details of the vision, but also because the reflex with regard to developments concerning China is one of assessing what India might lose. The possibility that efforts by both countries in Southeast Asia and beyond can be synthesised for mutual benefit is considered utopian.
The stand-off at Doklam demonstrated that they could well become embroiled in territorial disputes that are not strictly bilateral. Could a similar stand-off occur in the South China Sea if Indian naval vessels were to be challenged by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy?
The rapid militarisation of features controlled by China in the disputed waters of the South China Sea along with the active expansion of China’s area of operations in the region makes this a real possibility. Chinese investment and military presence in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor also raises the prospect of Chinese military involvement in a conflict between India and Pakistan in the area.
What does a declared NFU policy mean when there exists a trust deficit between two countries? How far can declaratory positions be relied upon in the event of a conflict? Leaders in both countries have stoked nationalism in aid of legitimising their positions in power.
In the event of a military conflict, how would a country losing a conventional war explain adherence to NFU to its domestic constituency? Does the reliance on declared NFUs make military conflict more likely given the assurance that the adversary will not use nuclear weapons?
Even as far as the declaratory postures of the two countries are concerned, there appears to be continued uncertainty. From a recommendation attributed to the third National Security Advisory Board for India to consider withdrawing from an NFU commitment in 2003,4 to remarks made in 2016 by the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar suggesting that India need not bind itself to NFU,5there has been recurring speculation that India is reconsidering its NFU policy.
Similar speculation over changes in China’s nuclear posture is also ongoing. Within China, there are scholars who emphasise the need to review China’s NFU position.6 Furthermore, discussion over the possible loss of China’s retaliatory strike capabilities has led to suggestions since 2013 at least that the PLA implement a hair-trigger alert in the event of a confirmed incoming attack.7
Given President Xi Jinping’s emphasis on combat-readiness and restructuring the military for a rapid response, the idea does not seem far-fetched. If Xi condones some version of a “launch on alert” mechanism, it could potentially lead to accidental or mistaken launch triggered by a false alert since the fallibility of detection and monitoring systems has been amply demonstrated in the past.
That there will be no nuclear escalation between India and China has become conventional wisdom. The growing capabilities, competing aspirations and overweening hubris of these two neighbours, however, suggest that reliance on accepted assumptions will lead to complacency. It may, therefore, be time for India and China to discuss nuclear issues bilaterally with a view to mediating the uncertainties borne of their differing perspectives and postures.
- 1.Zhang, CC. (2012, 20 April). China says India is a ‘partner, not rival’ after missile launch. CNN. Retrieved 23 January 2018, from https://edition.cnn.com/2012/04/20/world/asia/china-react-india-missle/index.html
- 2.Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (2016, 27 December). Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Regular Press Conference on December 27, 2016. Retrieved 23 January 2018, from http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1427046.shtml
- 3.Times of India. (2017, 19 August. Watch: Scuffle between Indian and Chinese soldiers near Ladakh’s Pangong Lake [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7szW8u52I0
- 4.Rediff. (2003, 9 January). Abandon no-first use policy, Security Board tells govt. Rediff News. Retrieved 25 Jan 2018, from http://www.rediff.com/news/special/ia/20030109.htm
- 5.Chaudhury, DR. (2016, 11 November). Why bind ourselves to ‘no first use policy’, says Manohar Parrikar on India’s nuke doctrine. The Economic Times. Retrieved 25 January 2018, from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/why-bind-ourselves-to-no-first-use-policy-says-parrikar-on-indias-nuke-doctrine/articleshow/55357808.cms
- 6.For a summary of these views see lecture by Maj Gen Jin Yi Nan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYpj3OsoOSw
- 7.Kulacki, G. (2015). The Chinese Military Updates China’s Nuclear Strategy. Union of Concerned Scientists. Retrieved from https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2015/03/chinese-nuclear-strategy-full-report.pdf
Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
EAM’s Statement after Meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi
The following is the text of the press statement released by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj after her meeting with the foreign minister of China, Wang Yi in Beijing on April 22, 2018:
I am happy to be in Beijing. I am visiting China to not only participate in the SCO Foreign Ministers Meeting, but also to have a substantial bilateral interaction with State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, following our last meeting in New Delhi in December 2017.
My meeting with Foreign Minister Wang Yi today is part of the regular high level engagements between India and China. In our meeting, we reviewed various aspects of bilateral relations and discussed regional and international issues of common interest.
As Foreign Minister Wang Yi just mentioned, Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi will visit China on 27 & 28 April for an informal Summit with President of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Xi Jinping in the city of Wuhan.
My discussion with Foreign Minister Wang Yi today was to prepare for this Informal Summit between our leaders. It will be an important occasion for them to exchange views on bilateral and international matters from an over-arching and long-term perspective with the objective of enhancing mutual communication at the level of leaders.
The meeting in Wuhan flows from the understanding reached by the two leaders last year that India-China relations are a factor for stability in a period of global changes, and have a common responsibility for peace, security and prosperity in the world. Both leaders will also discuss their respective national developmental priorities and explore the future direction of the multifaceted engagement between the two countries with a view to strengthen their Closer Developmental Partnership.
As part of preparatory discussions for the Informal Summit, Foreign Minister Wang Yi and I with satisfaction the progress made in our bilateral relations since we last met in December 2017. In particular, we are pleased with the headway made by our various dialogue mechanisms in diverse areas, which has helped in setting a positive tone for the upcoming Summit. The progress made in the last few months has also contributed to building trust and understanding in our bilateral engagement. We have agreed to maintain the momentum of these exchanges.
We also discussed the importance of strengthening people-to- people contacts in bringing our two countries closer to each other. In this context, I conveyed our appreciation to the Chinese side for their confirmation on resumption of data sharing on Brahmaputra and Sutlej rivers in 2018, as this issue has direct relevance for people living in those areas. We are also happy that the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through the Nathu La route will be resumed this year. I am confident that with Chinese side’s full cooperation, this year’s Yatra will be a fulfilling experience for the visiting Indian pilgrims.
We agreed that as two major countries and large emerging economies, healthy development of India-China relations is important for the emergence of Asian Century. We believe that our commonalities outweigh our differences and that we must build on our convergences, while seeking mutually acceptable resolution of our differences.
While making efforts to progress our relations in diverse areas, we underlined that maintaining peace and tranquility in the India-China border areas is an essential pre-requisite for the smooth development of bilateral relations.
We also used this opportunity to exchange views on cooperation in multilateral arena. We discussed our perspectives on counter-terrorism and collaborative efforts to address other global challenges, such as climate change, sustainable development, global healthcare etc.
I conveyed my warm wishes to Foreign Minister Wang Yi for the success of SCO Foreign Ministers Meeting on April 24. I also conveyed India’s full support to China for a successful organization of SCO Summit in Qingdao and for other engagements which the Chinese side will be coordinating as the SCO chair this year.
Positive Momentum in Bilateral Ties, Chinese FM Tells Sushma Swaraj
This was their first meeting after Wang was elevated as state councillor last month which makes him the top diplomat of the country in the Chinese hierarchy.
BEIJING (China): External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday met her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to discuss bilateral ties and step up the pace of high-level interactions to improve the relationship.
Swaraj arrived in Beijing on a four-day visit to take part in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).
This was their first meeting after Wang was elevated as state councillor last month which makes him the top diplomat of the country in the Chinese hierarchy. He also continues to be foreign minister.
In her initial remarks, Swaraj congratulated Wang on being elevated as state councillor and appointed the special representative for the India-China boundary talks.
Their meeting is part of efforts by the two countries to step up the pace of high-level interactions to improve relations, official sources said.
Following the Dokalam standoff last year both countries increased dialogue to scale down tensions and improve relations with talks at various levels.
Ms Swaraj and Mr Wang are meeting in the immediate backdrop of the recent meeting between National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and the top official of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) Yang Jiechi in Shanghai.
Wang said the bilateral ties have witnessed a good development and shown a positive momentum this year under the guidance of the leaders of the two nations.
“Our two leaders had in-depth exchange of views and reached important consensus on furthering the China-India relationship. We must work very hard to implement the consensus between our two leaders,” the Chinese Foreign minister said.
Moving Towards Better Definitions of ‘Urban’ in India
First Meeting of Think Tank on Framework for National Policy on E-Commerce Tomorrow
India Exploring Signing of MoU for ‘Road Information System’
India’s First Sign Language Dictionary Released
How India can establish Ram Rajya today
Hanuman Jayanti Special: 19 Forms (‘Roop’) of Lord Hanuman
Also In The News
SCIENCE-TECHNOLOGY2 months ago
Solar System 2.0 May Have Water-Rich Planets, Says a New Study
CHANGE ON THE GROUND2 months ago
India Registers Significant Decline in Child Mortality Rate
DIALOGUE FOR CHANGE2 months ago
Consultations Begin on the New Industrial Policy
DEFENCE-SECURITY3 months ago
Artificial Intelligence in Military Operations: Technology, Ethics and the Indian Perspective