China’s Dynamic Zero-COVID Policy

China’s Dynamic Zero-COVID Policy

By – Rahul Karan Reddy;

Introduction

China is grappling with severe outbreaks of coronavirus in multiple provinces, the worst outbreak in the country since the virus first emerged in Wuhan. On 20th March 2022, China reported more than 4,000 new infections, with most cases concentrated in Jilin, Fujian, Guangdong, and Liaoning. As the world emerges out of lockdowns and eases restrictions on travel and other activities, the entire province of Jilin and its 24 million residents are locked down along with industrial hubs in the south: Shenzhen and Dongguan. Meanwhile, cities like Shanghai haven’t declared lockdowns yet but resorted to temporary measures to limit travel and economic activity. As public health officials scramble to contain the virus, China’s dynamic zero-COVID policy is at risk of being undermined by the Omicron variant. Moreover, the lockdown of industrial hubs has already created supply disruptions and sparked fears of an economic slowdown in China. The new wave of infections has reignited a fierce debate about whether to coexist with the virus or stamp it out completely. For the Party and President Xi Jinping, the surge in infections is a test of resolve to stand by the zero-COVID policy that will either dent or enhance the Party’s credibility.

Gradual Progress: Zero-COVID to Co-existence

China’s dynamic zero-COVID policy was initiated in March 2020 when the pandemic started and it has been the guiding principle for managing outbreaks since then. The policy is a public health measure to control and suppress outbreaks of infection as quickly as possible through a range of instruments: mass testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantines, restrictions on domestic and international travel, and lockdowns of entire cities. However, the term ‘zero-COVID’ is a misnomer and obscures a much more targeted approach Chinese provinces have adopted since 2021.

China’s response patterns to outbreaks have transitioned from one stage to the next since 2021, beginning with widespread preventative measures in January 2021 in anticipation of new infections during the Chinese New Year season. The restrictive measures were followed by high and low baseline prevention and control measures between March 2021 and October 2021 that eventually transitioned into targeted measures by the end of 2021. China continues to implement the zero-COVID policy through targeted responses, allowing provinces to enact measures based on the severity of the outbreaks.  Data from the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT) reveals that the stringency of provincial-level responses to COVID-19 has not increased beyond the levels seen in January 2021. Underlining the flexibility of the policy, the head of China’s National Health Commission (NHC) COVID-19 task force, Liang Wannian, pointed out that the NHC is not capable of ensuring no new locally transmitted infections and instead, the focus is to stamp out local infection clusters as quickly as possible. Although the zero-COVID approach resembles public health measures adopted by China in the early stages of the outbreak, the implementation varies by province and severity of the outbreak. One important factor contributing to the feasibility of the policy across the country is the cooperation of the general public who have responded positively to the government’s incessant emphasis on the threat of the virus.

There are other signs that China appears to be modifying its approach to COVID outbreaks. For instance, the NHC altered quarantine and treatment rules so that mild cases would be isolated at centralised locations instead of at hospitals. Similarly, the criteria for a patient to be discharged from a quarantine facility has also been lowered. These developments happened after Premier Li Keqiang’s announcement at the recently concluded National People’s Congress that China would look to make its COVID strategy more scientific and targeted. Additionally, Zeng Guang, Chief Epidemiologist of the Chinese CDC stated in a post on his personal Weibo account, that Chinese and non- Chinese policies towards the virus would eventually converge. He maintained that China’s current zero-COVID policy would not last forever and that in the near future and at an appropriate time, China would unveil a Chinese-style roadmap for co-existence with the virus.

For now, the targeted approach at the regional level appears to have given way to a stringent lockdown in Jilin, where the surge of infections threatens to jeopardize the gains made by the zero-COVID policy. Since March 11, 9 million citizens of Changchun have only been allowed out of their homes once in two days to buy essential supplies, while only medical personnel and anti-epidemic workers are authorised to leave their homes. Meanwhile, in Shenzhen and Dongguan, the restrictions imposed were less severe and are already being eased gradually.

Justifications of Zero-Covid and Consequences of Mismanagement

Chinese government officials have offered several justifications for the zero-COVID policy and the return of stringent public health measures. The policy is justified based on China’s comparatively fragile healthcare system, which has only 4 ICU beds per person compared to USA’s 26 and Germany’s 34. China also has a large old-age population, with only 50% of its citizens above 80 years fully vaccinated. A study by China’s Center for Disease Control claims that the country could have as many as 600,000 daily cases if it were to follow the approach of the US, UK, and European countries. The zero-COVID policy is also uniquely suited to China’s one-party state, which is able to mobilise resources and capacities in accordance with the clear signalling of the top leadership that has incentivised and punished local officials for their handling of outbreaks. 

Most recently, eight officials in the public health and public security departments of the Futian district of Shenzhen were dismissed for dereliction of duty. Similarly, Party Secretaries of Inner Mongolia’s Ejina banner and Hebei were also removed from their posts for failing to properly manage the outbreak of Omicron in their provinces. The management of the outbreaks is also a test of loyalty to President Xi Jinping and his policy initiatives. The zero-COVID policy allows President Xi to identify officials that appear reluctant to implement his policy directives and remove them from contention for higher office. By punishing party and government officials that fail to control outbreaks, Xi is communicating his intention to sustain the zero-COVID policy and enhancing his popular appeal. How these outbreaks are managed at the local and central levels will influence the atmospherics of the Party Congress in October 2022.

Economic Repercussions

The latest surge in cases threatens the recovery of China’s national economy and global supply chains. For the domestic economy, production halts in Dongguan and Shenzhen risk dampening Guangdong’s GDP and export capacity. The province provided about 24% of China’s exports in 2020 and Dongguan was the fifth largest contributor to China’s GDP among cities of the same size. The disruption of economic activity and transportation networks in Shenzhen and Shanghai, China’s number 1 and number 3 biggest cities in terms of GDP output, will also extract significant economic costs. Similarly, the suspension of work at production plants in the Pearl River Delta and the Yangtze River Delta threatens the supply chains of everything from electronics products to consumer goods. 

At some of China’s biggest ports, the backlog of shipping vessels has increased, adding delays to already disrupted supply chains. For instance, 72 vessels were spotted off Qingdao port on March 14, almost twice the amount of backlogged ships in February. There is a similar backlog of ships at other ports like Shanghai, Ningbo, and Zhoushan while the backlog at Shenzhen and Hong Kong has eased in recent weeks. These backlogs at ports and other parts of China are expected to increase freight rates and exacerbate production delays. These developments follow the announcement by Chinese government officials of better-than-expected growth in retail sales, fixed asset investment and industrial production for January and February. The economic momentum during the Winter Games and the Lunar New Year that boosted domestic demand is now at risk of being eroded due to the sporadic outbreak of infections around the country. The recovery of China’s national economy is also complicated by the volatility in the international environment due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.


Conclusion

The latest wave of infections and the zero-COVID policy in China have several implications for the economic and political future of the country and party. The sustained implementation of the zero-COVID policy has restricted production activity and dampened consumption demand following a boost in economic activity in the early months of 2022. The outbreaks highlight the limitations of the zero-COVID policy as Chinese government officials double down to sustain their policy efforts. As party and government officials scramble to prevent local outbreaks, they are also under pressure to maintain economic growth in a year of vital importance for the Party and President Xi Jinping. How the party navigates this wave of outbreaks and evolves its current zero-COVID policy will influence the expectations and outcomes of President Xi Jinping’s decision to remain at the core of China’s top leadership.

Rahul Karan Reddy is a Research Associate at ORCA and an international relations analyst pursuing a Masters degree from O.P Jindal Global University in Diplomacy, Law and Business. He is the author of ‘Islands on the Rocks’, a monograph detailing the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute between China and Japan. His research focus is China and East Asia. He was a research analyst at the Chennai Center for China Studies (C3S) and an intern at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), writing articles and reports on China’s foreign policy and domestic politics. His blog, Asian Drama, follows the rise of India and China as they navigate the Asian Century.

Russian-Ukraine War: China’s Opportunities and Challenges

Russian-Ukraine War: China’s Opportunities and Challenges

By – Prakash Raj;

In his annual address to Parliament in 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin remarked, ‘First and Foremost, it’s worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century’. From Putin’s perspective, the disintegration of the ‘Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ (USSR) compounded the demise of a lingering discourse of great empire. Principally Russians see Ukraine as a land linked closely by culture, linguistics and generational ties. 

Most of the Russian historians view that medieval Kyvian Rus was the origin of their nation. Since last 22 years Putin’s obsession to influence and control Ukraine is ubiquitous in containing the popular uprisings like ‘orange revolution’ in 2004 to ‘Euromaidan  revolution in 2014’. However, the genesis of the Russification of Ukraine started in 1654 during the Periaslav era but successfully wrested back with the USSR during the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Notably, in 1954 USSR granted autonomy to Ukraine under the Treaty of Pereyaslavl and gifted Crimean territory. Eventually, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 helped seventy-seven percent of ethnic Ukrainians to gain Independence through a series of referendums

What’s the tipping point for current conflict? 

In 2014, Ukraine banned Russian as the official language, although 30 percent of the population speaks the Russian language, which infuriated Putin. Two months after Russia’s Crimean annexation, separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine launched a proxy war against Ukraine. According to the United Nations, since 2014, around 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict between Pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region. Meanwhile, Russia accused Ukraine of the genocide for the Russian-speaking population and rejection of comprehensive autonomy in the Donbas region. 

Nonetheless, there is no documented evidence to establish the genocide of the Russian minority in Donbas. During World War II, some section of the Ukrainians actively collaborated with German invaders to oppose the communist dictatorship of Soviet Union. Invoking the past history of Nazi alignment, Putin tries to distort the Russian nationals for his insidious war propaganda. On 24 February 2022, Putin unleashed a ‘special military operation’ aiming for ‘demilitarization and denazification’ of Ukraine, further stating not with the intention of ‘occupation.’ Whether Putin shows a revanchist tendency to bring Greater Russia or USSR back envisaging strategic parity? Did the strategy of ‘defensive aggression’ evoke the failure of the West’s deterrence and security calculus? What will be the larger geopolitical ramifications in the security architecture of Europe?

Why does Russia want Ukraine?

Historically, Russia felt encircled by ambitious powers and vulnerable western borders without any natural barrier. The insidious expansion of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) towards the east, especially post-cold war, created insecurity to Russia, anticipating future threats. Since 1999 United States-led NATO added 14 new members with an ‘open-door policy’. Remarkably, in the 2007 Munich Security Conference (MSC), Putin said that expanding the footprint of NATO is an existential threat for Russia; perhaps placing nuclear missiles in the neighbourhood could be more disastrous. Defence Analysts speculate that NATO Missiles could reach Moscow within five minutes from these East European Nations. 

Geopolitically, Russia perceives Ukraine as a buffer state and the most accessible gateway to enter the Russian heartland. It is important to note that, Napolean in 1812 and Hitler in 1941 invaded Russia through this route. 

Apparently, Ukraine’s pertinent wish to join NATO deepened Russia’s geopolitical calculations as the heartland would be under threat. For the Kremlin, the Black Sea is the vital gateway to the Mediterranean, where most of the seacoast goes to Ukraine and Georgia. Russia perceives Black Sea as a pivotal security buffer zone to protect its strategic Crimean Peninsula. Moreover, the increasing NATO domination in Mediterranean create flutters, that west could use Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, the only access point to Black Sea as a strategic choke point during a state of war. 

Hence, this ‘Black Sea access dilemma’ forced Russia to annex Crimea in 2014 to strengthen its Black Sea fleet to counter economic or naval blockade from the West. In an attempt to bring truce between Ukraine-Russia, international community fostered Minsk agreement. Despite signing the Russian demands through Minsk accord of 2014 and 2015, and Normandy Paris summit of 2019, Ukraine was reluctant to implement the agreements, as it required Constitutional restructuring which unsettle the question of Sovereignty. Unfortunately, failure of these agreements implementation poised Russia in a diplomatic stalemate and pushed Europe to present nuclear brinkmanship. 

What was the backdrop of recent conflict? 

Firstly, Ukraine’s shift from neutral foreign policy towards pro-America by negotiating NATO membership in 2008 drastically changed the equations between Russian and Ukraine. Subsequently in 2014, the West installed a government under President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, setting the stage for hostile relations to perpetual conflict. Secondly in 2019 Ukraine entered an agreement with Britain and America to develop two naval ports, ‘Ochakiv and Berdyansk’ in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov respectively. Thirdly, in June 2020, NATO recognized Ukraine as ‘Enhanced Opportunities Partner’ to deepen the interoperability programs and exercises. This series of decision created serious security concerns for Russia’s ‘command positions’. Such a move demonstrated a potential threat to Russian interest in the geopolitically capricious Crimean Peninsula. Remarkably Putin presumed such a crisis in Eastern Europe’s backyard is an opportunity to calibrate Russia’s geopolitical ambitions of restoring the Rimland and restructuring the western rules-based European security order. 

Why did West Fail to act? 

The European Union (EU) collectively failed to cease the catastrophe in Ukraine. Analyst pointed out that Europe’s substantial dependence on America and chronic divisions in EU curtailed the agency to deal Russia. Many observers have also noted that the failure of United Kingdom (UK) to act explicitly is due to the major foreign policy crisis of UK to comprehend the post-cold war emerging security architecture and creation of non-NATO countries informal security alliances without joining NATO put Russia on high alert. Firstly, the United States failed to comprehend that Russia’s threat perception is shaped by geopolitics. Secondly, America and its NATO allies underestimated the increasingly bellicose and aspiring Russian foreign policy over the past decade. Former American Security Adviser Henry Kissinger once quipped, ‘To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal’. From the American perspective, the ‘Finlandisation’ of Ukraine would maintain its hegemony as status quo in tumultuous Eastern Europe. John Mearsheimer, International Relations Scholar and Offensive Realism theorist, argues that the United States, EU and NATO are predominantly responsible for the current crisis entrenching in ‘great power politics

Particularly, the recent American debacle in Afghanistan plummeted Joe Biden’s administration to confront the Russian assault directly. It’s evident that America’s inability to cease emboldened Russia to invade Ukraine. On the other hand, Biden’s leadership seems lackadaisical as he could not lead the West for a decisive and collective approach. Even America’s strategic conundrum to bring unity in trans-Atlantic with NATO is perturbing. 

We cannot deny that the West’s belligerent posture eventually sought a modus vivendi signalling a geopolitical rebalancing in Eastern Europe. At the same time, Ukraine’s overdependence on NATO failed to create its own deterrence and a lesson for maintaining an ambiguous foreign policy principle on choosing an alliance. Eventually, the West’s prolonged inactivity heightened the China’s strategic ambitions in Europe with an intention of expanding geoeconomic influence. 

China’s Ukraine Calculus 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov articulates that China-Russia relations are the ‘best in the entire history’. Since 2013 Xi Jinping and Putin have met 38 times and manifest a strong bond. That is why, against Russian incursion, China followed a more docile approach of neutrality. In the International forum, China stated that it comprehended Russia’s security concerns and asked to respect Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity without explicitly criticizing the aggression of Russia. Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that ‘China’s approach is in sharp contrast to the United States approach that aims to create a crisis and benefit from the crisis.’ 

What made China maintain neutrality? 

Over the years, the peaceful border settlement between Russia-China aided them to move close ‘ideologically, strategically, and commercially’ to counter the US and its allies. Firstly, both China and Russia oppose the formation of bloc structures like AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom and United States) and QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) in the Indo-pacific region. Recently China’s foreign Minister Wang Yi accused America for building ‘Indo-Pacific NATO’ using Quad and referred current relations with Russia is ‘rock solid’. Primarily China would be relieved that America’s prime strategic focus has been shifted from Indo-Pacific to Europe to contain Russia. Strategically, Americans being entangled in Europe is what precisely China would contemplate now. 

Secondly, China’s ambitious connectivity project ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) is gaining a strong ‘strategic footprint’ in Eastern Europe, notably in Belarus. Through BRI investments, Beijing invested USD 20 billion in geopolitically debilitated Belarus. Apart from this, China has tremendous influence and economic footprint in Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania. Even United States and European Union expressed concern on China’s growing interest and influence in these four Eastern European countries. China believes that Russia’s ascension in Europe would enable them to solidify their investments, trade and interests. 

Thirdly, Russia even now retains a substantial sphere of influence in Central Asian countries that could be vital for China to safeguard its BRI interests. To maintain strategic BRI investments, China embraces Russia’s approach of keeping democratic intervention away in Europe and Central Asia. Both countries are determined to support authoritarian style of governance. Such regimes will help Beijing to pursue its national interests, especially for exports and exploitation of natural resources And in long-term China is envisaging Russia’s favour to support its territorial aspirations in South China Seas, East Asia and South Asia.

How can China help Russia? 

In 2021, Russia is the second largest supplier of Crude Oil and Coal, and third largest supplier of natural gas to China. On other hand, China can insulate Russia from American sanctions by purchasing more Russian energy and use Chinese renminbi instead of using US dollars. And Beijing has the record and ability to provide economic support to Moscow in vulnerable period. Moreover, China aspires to undermine the existing US-led’ rules-based international order’ and Bretton Wood system. Several scholars have accentuated that China’s growing economic power and soft power could subvert the norms of rules-based western order. Indeed, the present geopolitical climate is conducive to decoupling from the West to meet its strategic ends. It’s crucial to understand that whenever America imposed sanctions on any country, it often advanced China’s commercial and strategic interests. In this light, West’s ‘containment 2.0 strategy’ against Russia would benefit Xi Jinping to pursue the ‘China Dream’ of supplanting America in the power equation. But in the long run, Russia’s robust relationship with China could help them overcome the western economic sanctions to develop a resilient economy in the following years. Finally, whether China balance western powers and Russia immaculately will be tight-rope walk remains to be seen. 

Prakash Raj is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hyderabad, India. He is currently working on ‘China’s Belt and Road Initiative.’ (BRI) His research interests are focused on BRI, Geopolitics, Maritime Silk Route. China’s Foreign Policy and China’s Economic Policy. He can be reached at @PrakashRajLanSe

Implications of cultural exchanges on India-China ties and way forward

Implications of cultural exchanges on India-China ties and way forward

By – Supradip Das;

Introduction

India and China  are considered as the two Asian Giants in respect of demography, economic resilience, and strategic partnerships. The Sino-Indian ties could be looked through profound historical interactions and cultural contacts for more than 2000 years in which the Buddhist monks, political envoys, scholars from various walks of life devoted their lives to understand and propagate the components between the two countries for thousands of years. Through profound historical ties, both countries also established trade exchanges much before the establishment of the diplomatic relationship. The great Chinese diplomat and philosopher Hu Shih said that “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border.” Such a statement is often regarded as the manifestation of long-standing cultural ties between the two great ancient civilizations.

Looking through the eyes of glorious history 

China and India have been leading the way of civilizational exchanges in Asia since ancient times. 

There are early mentions of China in ancient Indian literature dating back to the 2nd century BCE, when cultural interactions between China and India began. One of India’s two great epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana mentioned “Zhina” many times as the horse and soliders of ‘Zhina’   The Sanskrit pronunciation of “Cina” is similar to the Chinese “Qin” (秦), which the honorific name was given to China by the ancient Indians. Therefore, most scholars have speculated that this is a transliteration of the Chinese character “秦” of the Qin Dynasty. In this way, the exchange of civilizations between China and India can be traced back to the Qin and Han dynasties.. By the Warring States Period, China’s silk had become well-known both at home and abroad, and it also spread to India. There is also the word “Cinamsuka in Sanskrit, which means “Chinese clothes, silk clothes”. “Cinaja”, which means “steel” in Sanskrit, is called “Zhina Sheng” (支那生) in Chinese, which means “Made in China” in modern terms. It can be seen that the popular term “Made in China” has already existed in India. According to the records of the Book of Han, since Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, China and the Kashmir of India have established diplomatic ties and conducted a large number of materialistic exchanges. At that time, the items introduced into China from India included pearls, white jade, crystal, agate etc. It is evident from these instances that the material civilization between China and India has a long history .

Spiritual connections for a prosperous world

During the Sui and Tang Dynasties, many Chinese monks and scholars traveled to India for study and exchanges. The most famous of them was Xuanzang, the eminent monk of the Tang Dynasty, who went to “Tianzhu” (天竺Ancient name of India) to collect the Buddhist scriptures. This has become a well-known story in the history of Sino-Indian civilization exchanges. In 645 AD Xuanzang ended his famous Journey to the West and returned to “Chang’an” (ancient name of the Chinese city of Xi’an). He brought back a lot of Buddhist scriptures from India, as well as a large number of relics, Buddha statues, and other sacred items. He also authored the book “Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (大唐西域记)”, which introduced the local customs and historical events of India to Chinese people. With the spread of Buddhism in China, Indian culture has brought a great influence on China’s politics, economy, and culture, such as philosophy, morality, medicine, art, which had greatly enriched the Chinese culture. In places like the Dunhuang Murals, White Horse Temple, Yungang Grottoes, we can still witness the active spirit of mutual learning and fine integration of the spiritual civilizations of China and India.

Linkage in the sufferings

In the middle of the Qing Dynasty during 18th century the two countries resumed trade relations. But unfortunately, this trade was established passively, and the leading character of the trade was opium. The Britishers produced opium in India and smuggled it into China. After the Qing government launched the widespread anti-opium campaign, the British government launched the Opium War twice, forcing the Qing government to legalize the opium trade, which plunged the modern Chinese people into the abyss of humiliation and disaster. China and India became weak and impoverished domestically. They were plundered by the rising Western colonial powers and fell into a deep national crisis. China gradually became a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, while India was forced to become a vassal state of British colonialism. The exchanges between China and India were directly dominated by the West, changing from active and positive to passive and negative, and even interrupted several times.

A friend in need is a friend indeed

In the first half of the 20th century, through mutual sympathy and support, the people of China and India became brothers and sisters and developed a profound friendship, while facing the colonial regime. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian poet and the first Nobel laureate of Asia made  the British colonists in an essay called “Chine Maraner Byabasay”(Bengali name) or the “Trade of Killing People in China”. Tagore visited China twice in 1924 and 1928 and made friendships with pioneers of Chinese literature and art such as Xu Zhimo, Lin Huiyin, Xu Beihong, Liang Shuming, Gu Hongming, Mei Lanfang. Through the joint efforts of Tagore and the great Chinese scholar Tan Yunshan with whom Tagore met in Singapore, the first Institute for Sino Indian Cultural Exchange Cheena-Bhavana” (中国学院) was established at Santiniketan in West Bengal, India. This was  a major development in the cultural and educational exchanges between China and India in modern times.

During China’s War of Resistance against Japan, Dr. Dwarakanath Shantaram Kotnis(柯棣华), an Indian doctor was sent to China in 1938 as a member of the medical group sent by the Indian National Congress (INC) to help the Chinese soldiers. At that time, China was facing an acute shortage of medical practitioners, Dr. Kotnis treated and saved many Chinese soldiers, later he also joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1942 and took an active part in the Chinese Revolution, and then died due to epilepsy just at the age of 32, in China. His contribution to the friendship of China and India is the glorious testimony of humanitarian spirit which can be considered as an essence to carry forward peace and prosperity in Asia and the World. 

Many other Chinese intellectuals also had deep feelings for India. For example, Liang Qichao, who had a strong interest in Indian culture all his life, wrote many articles on Buddhist scriptures and Sino-Indian cultural exchanges, scholars like Sun Yat-sen, Cai Yuanpei, Tan Yunshan, Ji -Xianlin have also made significant contributions to the exchanges between China and India. These predecessors have gone through hardships in the turbulent trajectories to establish many connections between China and India. 

Friction, confrontation, and stalemate

Due to the border issues leftover in history, there had been few incidents of military conflicts along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which is a major setback in the bilateral relationship. The previous conflicts had been resolved through political and governmental intervention but for the present situation there are a lot of serious repercussions for the common people of both nations. The Covid-19 pandemic has already created a huge impact on the normalcy of the relationship by hindering mutual visits of scholars, students and people-to-people exchanges. But as for the aftermath of this military confrontation, India has also banned which were the backbone of connecting the people through social interactions. At present both sides are engaged to find a mutually acceptable solution at various levels for the resolution on the friction points along the LAC.

Ironing out the inhibitions 

Besides the diplomatic relationship, cultural exchanges between two nations are often regarded as major linkage next to intergovernmental exchanges. Cultural exchanges can also act as a soft power that can create innovative ideas for upholding the strong bond between the countries. As for India and China which are the two civilizations germinated from the same Asian cradle with homogeneous traits, can surely do more cultural exchanges to not only resolve the ongoing tussle in the border regions but also can reinvigorate the diplomatic relationship. The two neighbors have multifaceted cultural values, which emphasize self-conscience and harmonious interactions between nature and humanity. In China, the culture of Yoga and the spread of Indian movies have become new attractions for Chinese youths. These types of mutual exchanges undoubtedly shortened the distance between the people and enhanced mutual understanding and trust. The Bollywood movies such as Three Idiots(三傻大闹宝莱坞) Dangal (摔跤吧! 爸爸), Secret Superstar (神秘巨星), Hindi Medium (起跑线)  gained immense popularity in China which are some examples of stories tell about the ways of dealing with various social issues which always make Chinese audiences feel familiar. These films not only created an impact on the young minds but also on the people of every generation in China. Chinese movies such as “Lost in Thailand” (人在囧途之泰囧), “Chinese Zodiac” (十二生肖), “Kung Fu Yoga” (功夫瑜伽), a movie with an ensemble of Chinese and Indian actors, “Dying to Survive” (我不是药神) are also gained an immense response from  Indian audience. While keeping these examples in mind both sides must try to find a mutually acceptable path for solutions through reactivating the cultural interactions.  

Conclusion

The two sides must abandon their prejudices and rebuild a deep understanding and recognition of each other. In the 21st century, both, China and India are in a period of transformation, where both, opportunities and challenges coexists. The two countries should keep in mind their splendid achievements in history, engage in discussions, settle disputes and renew the vast frontier of China-India friendly relations. Throughout China and India, the amiable friendship dominated by people-to-people exchanges since ancient times has actively promoted political, economic, and cultural cooperation. Through cultural exchanges, the Fractured Himalayas will rise again and only act as a geographical hindrance in the Sino Indian border through the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (World is One Family) and Shijie Datong世界大同 (World in Grand Harmony). 

Supradip Das is a student of Master’s (Final Year) in Chinese language and China Studies at the Department of Chinese Language and Culture (Cheena-Bhavana), Visva-Bharati University. His focus is to foster in-depth knowledge of China Studies along with the language. He pursued one year of advanced training in the Chinese language from Beijing Language and Culture University, China, under the joint scholarship program of MHRD, Govt. of India, and China Scholarship Council Govt. of PRC. Besides his studies, Supradip is currently engaged as a Chinese language instructor in an NGO named the UMRAN Green Perspective Foundation based in Madhubani, Bihar & Istanbul, Turkey. The main areas of his interest are – Traditional Philosophies of East & South-East Asia, India-China Civilizational Exchanges, Influence of Tagore in China, Evolution of Cultural and Historical Spheres in China.

Notion of stability and the Two Sessions/Lianghui: Key Takeaways and Way Forward

Notion of stability and the Two Sessions/Lianghui: Key Takeaways and Way Forward

By – Rahul Karan Reddy;

China’s political elite gathered in Beijing for the most important annual policy meeting of the year: the Two Sessions or Lianghui. Over the course of six and a half days between March 5th and March 11th, the National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) outlined development targets for 2022 and discussed the government’s performance over the past year. The two plenary meetings of the NPC and CPPCC were held on March 5th and March 8th, detailing the roadmap for China’s future development. Delegates discussed the work reports of several key political and government bodies, deliberated amendments and draft laws and reviewed development plans and budgets. Following the conclusion of the Beijing Winter Games, the Two Sessions have set the tone for the 20th Party Congress in October 2022, when President Xi Jinping is on track to secure a third term as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). What were the key takeaways from these critical sessions and what do they suggest regarding China’s immediate future?

Stability emerges as key theme

The Government Work Report (GWR) unveiled as is tradition by the Premier of the State Council, Li Keqiang, at the first plenary session remains the most significant policy document in China. It provides a glimpse of economic priorities and development plans of the top leadership for the coming year. The document set economic and development targets for 2022, prioritizing domestic stability, sustainable economic growth and improvements in social policy. For instance, the GDP growth target for 2022 was set at 5.5% and defense spending was raised by 7.1%. Overall, the Two Sessions highlighted efforts made by the Party to combat the pandemic, reiterated the centrality of Xi Jinping at the Party core and emphasized the general guiding principle of seeking progress while maintaining stability. 

Ultimately in the build-up to the 20th Party Congress in October 2020, stability is vital for President Xi and the Party and emerges as the central goal. The emphasis on stability is revealed by the 5.5% GDP growth target set for 2022, which is the lowest GDP growth target set by China in 30 years. 

Parallel to this, the government has planned to keep growth in personal incomes in line with growth in GDP. The need for stability is also reflected in Xi’s calls to ensure food security, which is threatened by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. According to Tang Renjian, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, heavy rainfall and flooding have delayed the seeding of about one-third of China’s winter wheat crop. He warned that this year’s winter crop could be the worst in China’s history. The GWR has set a domestic production target of over 650 million metric tons of grain output and pledged to ensure that the area of farmland remains above the redline of 120 million hectares. Hinting at domestic self-sufficiency, Xi pointed out that China cannot rely on international markets for food security and that ‘the rice bowls of the Chinese people must be mainly filled with Chinese grain’. Food security, if threatened, could have massive implications for Xi’s popularity. The Two Sessions also proposed to address the challenges confronting the domestic economy: slowing growth, downturns in the real estate market and sagging consumption. To manage uncertainties emanating from the global economy, the government vowed to maintain consumer price rise of 3%, reduce the deficit to GDP ratio to 2.8% and offer tax refunds and cuts to the tune of 2.5 trillion yuan. Moreover, China hopes to support small and low-profit businesses by halving their Corporate Income Tax (CIT) liability and exempting small-scale taxpayers from value-added-tax (VAT) for a certain period of time. 

The GWR suggests that China will continue to rely on infrastructure investments to sustain economic activity at the provincial level. Infrastructure spending has typically been used to stimulate economic activity after a crisis, like during the 2008 financial crisis and the 2016 US-China trade war. Premier Li announced that the central government would increase transfer payments to local governments by 18%, expanding the scope of use for Special-Purpose-Bonds which are typically regulated by commercial viability and revenue generation capacity. However, he also stated that these funds would be employed in projects that directly affect people’s well-being: water conservancy projects, energy infrastructure, flood and drainage facilities and comprehensive transportation networks. Given that unemployment is a major source of discontent, the government plans to create 11 – 13 million new urban jobs and maintain the unemployment rate at below 5.5%. Last year, the GWR of 2021 set a target of creating 11 million new jobs and managed to create around 12 million new ones. The GWR also prioritized consumption, which has slowed significantly in the latter half of the year partly due to recurring Covid outbreaks, disruptions in energy supply and natural disasters.

Besides the economic targets laid out in the GWR, the Two Sessions also held deliberations on key legislation and development plans. For example, delegates discussed a sixth amendment to the Organic Law of the Local People’s Congress and Local People’s Governments, highlighting whole-process democracy and people-centered philosophy of development. Delegates at the Two Sessions also reviewed the execution of the 2021 plan for National Economic and Social Development (Development Plan) and the draft 2022 Development Plan. According to the 2022 Development plan, all projected targets for the year 2021 were met satisfactorily and indicators of technology innovation, environmental protection, resource conservation and social security continued to improve.

Social Policy, Party Politics and SARs

The Two Sessions were an opportunity for Xi Jinping to enhance his popular appeal before the 20th Party Congress by implementing the common prosperity agenda. Accordingly, the GWR proposed several measures to tackle social and political challenges facing China, like the slowing population growth, corruption and income inequality. Following a three-child policy initiated in May 2021, the GWR proposed to initiate measures that will ease the burden of raising children. Compared to the 2021 GWR, this year’s report laid out concrete measures that incentivize citizens to have more children. In line with Xi’s common prosperity agenda, the GWR also prioritized high-quality development that addresses the problem of income disparities at the regional level. The government also planned to continue improving the fairness and quality of education after the crackdown on for-profit tutoring in the country last year. These populist measures announced ahead of the 20th Party Congress dovetail with the anti-corruption campaign and other initiatives to tackle income inequality. They promise to boost Xi Jinping’s popularity and legitimacy as leader of China.

Besides enhancing Xi’s popularity through a raft of populist measures, the GWR reaffirmed his position at the core of the party several times in the 2022 GWR. The document mentioned Xi Jinping’s core position nine times compared to six times in the 2021 GWR document, highlighting the importance of leadership stability in a year of massive significance for China’s political future. The reiteration of XI’s position as paramount leader warns adversaries and rival factions in the party from moving against him before the Party Congress in October. The government promised to persist with Xi’s anti-corruption campaign against party cadres for dereliction of duty and other excesses. However, it is likely that President Xi will tone down the anti-corruption campaign leading up to the 20th Party Congress to avoid stoking resentment and discontent within the party.

The Two Sessions also proposed to enhance the integration of Special Administrative Regions (SAR) like Hong Kong and Macau by promoting the governance of SARs by patriots. The Work Report of the Standing Committee of the NPC, presented by Li Zhanshu, revealed that China plans to amend the process by which the Chief Executive and Legislative Council members are selected. On the issue of Taiwan and reunification, Premier Li reiterated China’s commitment to the one-China principle and the 1992 Consensus. Although the GWR promises to continue peaceful development of cross-strait relations, it is possible that with a renewed mandate in October, Xi could pursue the Taiwan issue with greater force and aggression.

Global Engagement

Although most of the GWR was focused on China’s domestic issues, it did address China’s global engagements like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Global Development Initiative (GDI). The government promised to deepen high-quality joint construction through the BRI, expand areas of cooperation and promote the construction of new land-sea passages in the West. The government also promised to pursue high-quality FTAs and promote the implementation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Highlighting the country’s contributions to the fight against Covid-19, Zhang Yesui, spokesperson for the 13th NPC pointed out that China provided 2.1 billion vaccine doses to more than 120 countries and international organizations, accounting for a third of all vaccines administered outside of China. China plans to sustain its public diplomacy and development diplomacy initiatives to further enhance its image as a credible development partner and benign great power.

The Two Sessions reflect Xi Jinping’s preference for stability in a year of massive importance for China and the CCP. Xi plans to manage the uncertainty stemming from the global economy and the slowdown in economic growth that could adversely affect his credibility and legitimacy. Xi also has to contend with recurring covid outbreaks that dampen China’s economic growth momentum, while persisting with the zero-Covid policy that threatens to exact greater costs from China economic future. From a political standpoint, the Two Sessions serve to demonstrate China’s whole-process democracy in action. As delegates of China’s rubber-stamp parliament deliberate legislation and development plans for the future, the Two Sessions cultivate the perception of China as a democracy or as a society moving towards some form of democratic arrangement. 

Rahul Karan Reddy is an international relations analyst pursuing a Masters degree from O.P Jindal Global University in Diplomacy, Law and Business. He is the author of ‘Islands on the Rocks’, a monograph detailing the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute between China and Japan. His research focus is China and East Asia. He was a research analyst at the Chennai Center for China Studies (C3S) and an intern at the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), writing articles and reports on China’s foreign policy and domestic politics. His blog, Asian Drama, follows the rise of India and China as they navigate the Asian Century.

Ukrainian crisis as an opportunity for building India’s strategic autonomy: The view from CEE

Ukrainian crisis as an opportunity for building India’s strategic autonomy: The view from CEE

By – Paweł Paszak;

Since the onset of the Russian aggression on Ukraine, New Delhi maintained a cautious approach toward the conflict emphasizing the need to resolve differences of both sides through dialogue and calling for an immediate cessation of violence and hostilities. India abstained on a US-sponsored UN Security Council resolution from February 26th that “deplored in the strongest terms” Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Four days later New Delhi took the same stance during the UN General Assembly resolution demanding ends to Russian offensive in Ukraine. These actions were not only deeply rooted in India’s foundational tradition of strategic autonomy and special partnership with Russia but was also conditioned by its present dependencies in the arms, energy and agricultural sector on Russia as well as the presence of Indian citizens in Ukraine. These factors have contributed to New Delhi’s hesitancy to officially criticize its long-term partner despite evident breaches of the UN Charter Principles by Russia.  India’s motivations behind this specific stance toward the conflict are well understood in Europe, yet it is received with no enthusiasm. Surely, overtime, the decision to maintain neutrality may bare increased costs for New Delhi’s foreign policy. The challenges associated with the close relationship with Moscow are significant and will become more serious over time, but they also offer an opportunity for India to diversify its foreign policy portfolio and facilitate its emergence as a global actor with extra-regional influence. 

India is aspiring to become a global normative power as “the largest democracy in the world” and is an ascending great power. However, its stance regarding the Russian attack on Ukraine could undermine these efforts. In not condemning the invasion, instead of being increasingly identified as a part of the Free World, India has found itself in the company of countries such as China, Myanmar or Pakistan which are primarily associated with authoritarian political systems and human rights violations. India’s image may further suffer as Russia decides to adopt more aggressive war tactics and conduct mass artillery bombardment of civilian areas which will increase the death toll and intensify international criticism.

Basing idealistic critique on realist interests

One may say that the perception of a country is secondary to its material capabilities and morality is not always the best measure of foreign policy effectiveness.  However, the decision to criticize Russia shall not be seen as an idealistic choice but rather an action based on India’s national interests defined in realist terms.

First of all, the lack of a strong stance toward crucial issues of international politics and expressing “concerns” will undermine India’s image and diplomatic efforts in Europe and beyond. India will not be perceived as a key actor offering constructive contribution that goes further than expressing concern. It took the EU a long time, but it eventually brushed off criticism of inaction with a resolute decision to support Ukraine through a broad package of sanctions aimed at Russia and military and financial assistance to Kyiv.

It is worth noting India maintains not only friendly contacts with Russia but also with Belarus which staged a hybrid attack on Polish and Lithuanian borders in 2021 with the use of illegal migrants and then later supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  These experiences are not likely to increase support for India’s permanent seat at UN Security Council, as it would be seen by the West as the reinforcement of Russia’s position instead of qualitative change toward more civilized international relations.

While the European context is important, it is Indo-Pacific that has to be seen as a priority theatre. India’s caution in the context of Russian aggression on Ukraine will also hurt the credibility of its commitment to Free and Open Indo-Pacific. The main axis of India-US rapprochement has been the concern of both countries about the revisionist actions of China including an escalating situation in Eastern Ladakh, Taiwan or on the South China Sea. India’s stance toward the Ukrainian conflict may weaken the resolve of the West to act in the case of escalation on the India-China border. Clear and official indication of Russia’s aggression, even without joining official sanctions, would build India’s credibility as a country truly committed to the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Concept and the Principles of UN Charter. It is also worth noting that Ukraine has achieved remarkable success in terms of building popular support among European and other democratic societies. The social pressure coupled with actions of key powers has contributed to some unprecedented decisions namely Germany establishing a special 100-billion Euro fund and the commitment of Chancellor Scholz to spend two per cent of Germany’s GDP on defence. With this in mind, India’s neutrality is likely to slow down the process of building its soft power among western societies, which proved to be decisive in terms of providing support for Ukraine. 

India’s Russia dependance

India’s reliance on the transfers of Russian arms was undoubtedly one of the valid reasons why India has abstained from openly criticizing Moscow’s actions. India is one of the two largest arms importers in the world with a 9,5% share during the 2016-2020 period and 14% in 2011-2015. According to research conducted by Air University, around 85 percent of India’s military equipment is of Russian or Soviet origin, and India continues to rely upon Russia for maintenance, spare parts, and other support. Taking into consideration these conditions, it is impossible to immediately diversify imports but, it is worth accelerating that process in the future. In fact, a greater share of military equipment from the EU, the US, Japan or South Korea would guarantee greater strategic autonomy of India and build a stronger foundation for political and economic relations. There is also the additional angle that such a move over time will facilitate building a diversified arms portfolio. 

Cold War 2.0 between the West on the one side and China with Russia on the other will likely push many countries in Asia to carefully choose between specific arms providers. Buying weapons from the EU, USA, Russia or other countries is not purely an economic decision, but has considerable strategic implications. That is why recently Indonesia decided to make a $22 billion purchase of French Rafale and American F-15 instead of Russian Su-30. It was not a decision based purely on economic merit, but a careful cost-benefit analysis that included the assessment of the political implications of each decision. 

After the robust package of Western sanctions on Russia, Moscow is likely to find itself in isolation much deeper than after the 2014 Annexation of Crimea. This deterioration of Russia’s international position is likely to increase to power asymmetry of Russia and China in Beijing’s favour. Therefore, Beijing is likely to exert an even stronger influence on Russia’s foreign policy and the two countries are likely to coordinate more closely than ever before. If China makes a decision to unilaterally change the border with India, it is very unlikely that Russia will exert significant and effective pressure on China to stop hostilities. During the military escalation in Ladakh Moscow was often perceived by New Delhi as a valuable partner in alleviating tensions with Beijing. In the past RIC and SCO summits provided opportunities to navigate differences between three great Eurasian powers and Moscow was content to increase its international prestige by playing a role of a mediator acceptable by both sides. However, due to Russia’s rising dependence on China its potential to shape Beijing’s strategic choices is likely to decrease which translates into the lower attractiveness of Russia as a strategic partner for India.

Immediate outcomes for Moscow’s might 

Russia’s economy struggles with several systemic issues including its overdependence on hydrocarbons exports and deepening demographic crisis. Western sanctions further limit Russia’s ability to transform into an innovative, high-tech economy deeply integrated with global value chains. The world has made significant efforts to depart from fossil fuels and deaccelerate global warming and that process is likely to continue among the developed countries. The diversification of energy imports and limiting the role of fossil fuels will likely reduce Russian sway over the world economy and will speed up its relative decline as a great power. From this perspective, Russia’s attractiveness as a strategic partner for India will continue to diminish in many areas. Nevertheless, India may also take advantage of Russia’s weakened position as a global arms supplier to negotiate better contract terms for the deliveries of new equipment and maintenance of existing equipment. Simultaneously strong relationship with Moscow will be an obstacle to elevating relations with the US, EU, Japan, Australia and South Korea to a higher level

During the last decade, India has shown its ability to adjust the concept of its strategic autonomy in the face of growing China’s power and its rising revisionism in South and East Asia. This flexibility enabled a remarkable rapprochement with US administrations based on shared interest and the greater involvement of India in the networked security architecture in Asia that goes far beyond the US . India’s adherence to the Free and Open Indo Pacific concept is a symbol and practical measure of India’s growing security role in the region and its significance for the effective strategy of balancing the most immediate threats in the region. The Russian aggression on Ukraine has led to unprecedented integration of the West over very evident security threats. It is also the West and its Asian allies that are the most useful partners in terms of supporting India’s security position diplomatically, militarily, economically and technologically against China. On the other hand, Russia is a declining great power experiencing deepening isolation as a consequence of its confrontation with the West. Over the next years, India has to make some difficult choices regarding the path it wants to take in the future and building greater autonomy from its Russian partner might be one of the hardest, but ultimately beneficial steps. 

Paweł Paszak is PhD Student at War Studies Academy (Warsaw, Poland). Analyst in Institute of New Europe (INE). His research focuses on US-China strategic confrontation in the Indo-Pacific and China-V4 relations. 

China’s 2027 plan and its implications on India

China’s 2027 plan and its implications on India

By- Nichole Ballawar;

Introduction

As the world undergoes unprecedented changes, China is on the verge of a significant strategic opportunity. According to a communiqué issued at the sixth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), China has remained loyal to its initial ambition and mission of achieving happiness for Chinese people and rejuvenation for the nation since its inception in 1921. It has united and led Chinese people of all ethnic groups in fighting relentlessly to win national independence and freedom, and subsequently built an affluent and powerful country while remaining faithful to communist values and socialist convictions. Some excerpts from the communiqué also focused on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) modernisation program and China’s national security while it called for preparedness, integration, informationisation and comprehensive military training to defend national sovereignty. The focus is “ensure that the goal for which we have been striving for one hundred years is achieved”. Geostrategist Brahma Chellaney maintains that ‘China needs a multipolar world but a unipolar Asia’ which explains Beijing’s aspirations to achieve broader foreign policy goals to realise what Xi Jinping has called the China Dream, which envisions a return to China’s predominance in Asia. Chinese officials have also promoted the notion of “Asia for Asians”, a nationalistic posturing with a reference to the idea that Asians should settle disputes without the intervention of the US.

With the goal of building a modern military by 2027, China desires to refurbish the military with the capability to defend national sovereignty, safeguard against security threats posed by hegemonism in the western pacific region, and protect overseas development interests. “By 2027, the Chinese military will be able to adequately cope with challenges in the western Pacific area, including Taiwan and the South China Sea, as well as border conflicts between China and India”, according to the report US’s department of Defence 

The 2027 milestone is also a powerful propaganda weapon. In the past, CPC has repeatedly set big goals to coincide with historic milestone anniversaries, most significantly the “two centennial goals” reflected in Xi Jinping’s report to the 19th Party Congress. The first centennial aim is to “create a moderately affluent society in all areas” by 2021, the CPC’s hundredth anniversary. The second is to “create a modern socialist country that is affluent, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious” by 2049, the centennial of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) establishment.

The 2027 targets and its important components

Revealing China’s broader foreign policy objectives, an article titled VIRAL In China: Beijing Will Conquer Taiwan By 2025, India’s Arunachal Pradesh By 2040 has detailed China’s expansionist propensities in the near and long term. The piece argues that China will conquer Taiwan, Arunachal Pradesh, South China Sea, Southern Tibet, Senkaku Islands and Russia by 2060. Although the 2027 target does not alter the timeline for military modernization, it does indicate that the next few years will be critical for China’s military growth plan. Ren Guoqiang, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of National Defense, highlighted the four essential features of the new standard.

First, after achieving basic mechanisation and making significant progress toward informationisation, the focus shifts to combining and accelerating the integration of mechanisation, information technology, and advancements in intelligentization. Intelligentization, or the integration of artificial intelligence and similar technology into military capabilities, has been designated by Xi Jinping as a key component of military modernisation in the future.

Secondly, factors such as accelerating military philosophy, organisational form, military manpower, weapons and equipment modernisation have long been seen as critical. The PLA has already undergone major organisational reforms and force structure modifications under Xi Jinping, which is likely to continue in the future. Thirdly, the quality component is meant to stress the need for resource efficiency to optimise the quality and speed of modernisation. Ren particularly mentions that the globe is experiencing the acceleration of “huge developments unseen in a century,” making military modernization even more critical. Notably, this third component is connected to the fourth component, since attempts to combine economic and security plans aim to improve efficiency in sectors such as research and development.

Promoting the simultaneous strengthening of national security and economic development is the fourth major component. The CPC’s military-civil fusion plan hopes to achieve significant progress. The Military Civil Fusion (MCF) strategy is described by the US Department of Defence as “a state-wide undertaking that tries to fuse economic and social development plans with its security strategies.” Policy implementation encouraging MCF has increased dramatically in recent years as a result of high-level prioritising and is expected to be a focus area in the future. The strategy could also aim to stimulate innovation in crucial areas and deploy dual-use technology for military end-uses.

Implications for India 

India has grown increasingly concerned about its rising power imbalance with China, particularly in light of China’s fast-growing military capabilities and the consequences for the disputed Sino-Indian boundary and the Indian Ocean. Chen Hanghui of the PLA Nanjing Army Command College stated in the official PLA Daily that “the military game of great powers will become more intense” in 2022, and “major powers such as Russia, United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and India have accelerated their military transformation, focusing on key areas to enhance their high-end warfare capabilities.” As a result, the security risks associated with force modernisation of the PLA are manifold. 

First, China’s Western Theatre Command, Xinjiang military district and Tibet military district are responsible for operations along the Sino-Indian border. For years China has built dual-use infrastructure to prepare for offensive and defensive operations along the border in Tibet. This includes north-south and east-west highways and the construction of feeder roads. With force modernisation and improved connectivity, the PLA has the capability to transform stand-offs into conflicts. Since 2015, the PLA has also commissioned modern weaponry and held several drills to attain “improved joint-ness and efficiency.” The Qingtongxia combined arms tactical training base simulates Chinese-occupied terrain in Aksai Chin, allowing for realistic joint training.

Second, the Academy of Military Science’s 2013 Science of Military Strategy and China’s 2015 Defence Whitepaper both call for a transition from “near seas defence” to “near seas defence and far seas protection,” which means safeguarding China’s interests in the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans. In the previous two decades, China’s presence in the Indian Ocean has grown dramatically. In 1999, there was not a single PLA Navy (PLAN) port visit in the Indian Ocean Region. Since 2011, the PLAN has made over 20 port visits every year. The PLAN can sustain 18 ships in the region based on its current military posture. It already has a naval base in Djibouti, and might acquire a few more in the near future. In 2013, a Chinese oceanographic research vessel spent 2-3 months cruising the Indian Ocean, reportedly monitoring the ocean’s hydrological parameters. Researchers estimate that such high levels of mobility in the Indian Ocean over months are for anti-submarine warfare studies, weapon development, and tracking enemy submarines. 

Third, to boost synergy across its space, cyber, and electromagnetic domains, China established the PLA Strategic Support Force in 2015. In simple terms, this force is in charge of China’s information warfare and electronic countermeasures operations, as well as cyber-attack and defence missions and psychological warfare missions.

Last but not least, China’s military forces are quickly developing space and counter-space capabilities. They have become crucial elements of China’s force projection capabilities. During the Galwan standoff with India, China is said to have placed roughly 16 DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile systems along the Xinjiang border. Given the rockets’ attack ranges, India is a likely target.

Apart from these developments, India should be concerned about China’s investments in military technology, big data, drone swarms, and other disruptive and offensive technologies, as well as its military ties with Pakistan. These developments are specifically related to India and have massive strategic and tactical ramifications for India’s border dispute with China.

Conclusion

Henry Kissinger rightly observed that “The Chinese are like compulsive students – for them, no problem is finally solved; every solution is an admission to a new problem.” China’s foreign policy objectives will continue to include provocative actions such as border breaches, a missile development programme, cyber and psychological warfare, as well as power projection capabilities for the near future; therefore, India must mitigate and manage this aggressive behaviour. India and other like-minded powers must acknowledge the dangers posed by the region’s emperor-like regime. The Quad and other minilaterals, particularly trilateral alliances with major strategic partners such as Australia and Japan, have the potential to evolve into military alliances in the future. India must also continue to pursue strategic partnerships in which likeminded partners could work together through regional groupings to promote stability in the region. Collaboration in new domains such as such as health, space, and cyber space along with deepened economic and technological cooperation remains pertinent to address the China challenge.

Nevertheless, India must rely on internal balancing to counter China in the economic sphere as well. If India maintains an annual GDP growth of 8%, it will be a $64-trillion-dollar economy in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms by 2047. Within the same time frame, if China grows at 5% per year, it will have a PPP economy worth $86 trillion. In other words, the current asymmetry will be greatly reduced. Hence, to address Chinese provocations, a judicious use of self-reliance, grounded in self-assurance, in which a confident India engages the world without fear, forms alliances with like-minded countries, and effectively leverages democracy and a skilled workforce is a necessity.

 

Nichole Ballawar is currently working as a Research Associate at the Organisation for Research on China and Asia (ORCA). Formerly, he has worked with the Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS) as a Research Associate and  Janes as a Defence Analyst. He has also worked with the Ministry of External Affairs as a China Research assistant and United Nations Development Program as an Intern. He worked with organisations like NIICE, The Diplomatist, 9dashline etc. and published various research papers. He is an author of various articles related to China, Nuclear non-proliferation and arms control. He is also a visiting faculty at the Government Law College, Nagpur. 

One Country, Two Systems – A synthesis of contrasting interests

One Country, Two Systems – A synthesis of contrasting interests

By: Omkar Bhole;

After a humiliating defeat in the First Opium war (1839-1842) at the hands of Western powers, China was divided among the victors and Hong Kong was given to Britain for an indefinite period by the Treaty of Nanjing (1842). To protect Hong Kong from competing European powers, Britain signed the Peking Convention with China in 1898 which officially leased out Hong Kong and its surrounding territories to Britain for 99 years. As a result, negotiations for the peaceful transfer of Hong Kong began between Britain and People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1982. Subsequently, the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ (OCTS) became a key feature of the Sino-Britain joint declaration in 1984 which aimed to restore China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong. Beijing considered this principle as a basic state policy to achieve conflict-free “reunification” of Hong Kong and China.

China’s first President Mao Zedong first introduced the concept of OCTS in May 1960 with reference to Taiwan as an intermediate step in its reunification with the PRC. It assured Taiwan and later, Hong Kong and Macau that their administrative autonomy would be protected. Although Taiwan has consistently rejected this principle, Hong Kong and Macau have incorporated it, allowing them to maintain their unique socio-cultural and economic conditions under China’s sovereignty. Macau has proven to be a success story for China’s OCTS policy, whereas this policy has faced numerous challenges in Hong Kong especially in the last decade. 

What is OCTS?

According to this principle, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is created with a high degree of autonomy in its legislative, executive and judicial functions except for foreign affairs and defence. The Chinese government also promised not to implement prevalent socialist policies and allows Hong Kong to continue with a free-market capitalist system until 2047. In 1990, Basic Law was enacted by China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) which codified the OCTS principle. This law guaranteed many democratic and civil liberties to citizens of Hong Kong which were absent in China. According to Xie Feng, former Commissioner of PRC’s Foreign ministry in Hong Kong, this basic law is a ‘redline’ for Hong Kong within which all affairs are to be conducted. Under this law, executive powers are entrusted with the Chief Executive who was to be initially elected by a limited franchise of 1200 people with the ultimate aim of allowing universal franchise. 

Motivations behind OCTS

Hong Kong has played a crucial role in China’s integration with the global economy. By 1998, it was China’s largest investor accounting for more than half of inbound FDI into the mainland. Hence, disrupting Hong Kong’s attractive business environment after 1997 would have also harmed China’s economic prospects. Additionally, in the post-reform period, many Chinese companies were using Hong Kong as a platform for their global expansion.

On the other hand, the influence of Western values in Hong Kong due to 150 years of British rule meant any drastic systemic changes would send the wrong signal to business community as well as provoke people’s resentment. Further, the OCTS principle helped in preventing the ‘Taiwanization’ of Hong Kong which meant that anti-Beijing sentiments would have grown in Hong Kong if this principle did not exist. On the contrary, China has been trying to create a successful OCTS model which may convince Taiwan to consider peaceful reunification. However, Taiwan’s President Tsai-Ing Wen has clearly stated that Taiwan would never accept the OCTS principle. 

Chinese strategies in Hong Kong

The initial years of the OCTS principle in Hong Kong were quite successful as China adhered to its non-interventionist policy. Except for few instances like the 1998 Asian Financial crisis or the SARS outbreak in 2002-03, PRC allowed Hong Kong to be run autonomously in accordance with the basic law. A survey by Wong and Wan revealed that Hong Kong had a positive public opinion about the implementation of OCTS till 2003. However, turning point came when a pro-democracy movement erupted in 2003 against the National Security bill that saw almost 5 lakh people participate in the protest. It ultimately compelled the HKSAR government to withdraw the bill. The protest was unexpected for Beijing and seen as a challenge to its sovereign authority in Hong Kong. Hence, Beijing initiated a policy which Brian Fong calls assimilationist state-building nationalism. It aimed to incorporate Hong Kong into the PRC at political, economic and ideological levels. Article 158 of basic law, which grants the powers to interpret basic law solely to the Standing Committee of the NPC, proved very effective for this. It implies that the Hong Kong judiciary and legislature are subordinate to the NPC. It provides an opportunity for the PRC to misuse basic law, the bedrock of Hong Kong-PRC relations. For instance, basic law has promised universal suffrage for the election of Chief Executive but does not state any timeline. As a result, China amended the nomination process of candidates for the post of Chief Executive in such a way that anti-Beijing candidates could be filtered out of the process. This gave rise to the Umbrella movement in 2014 which lasted for 79 days before PRC-backed forces suppressed it. 

Such changes ensured that PRC loyalists occupy key positions in Hong Kong and continue to govern it according to Chinese interests. For instance, Beijing has often preferred to appoint businessmen over politicians to the key positions in Hong Kong considering Hong Kong’s business potential. Beijing has justified this system as it adheres to the principle of ‘patriots ruling Hong Kong’. A Hong Kong legal scholar Benny Tai rightly describes this system as having both ‘semi-democratic’ and ‘semi-authoritarian features.’ It also means that the PRC often focuses on fulfilling ‘procedure established by law’ while conveniently ignoring ‘due process of law’. The Extradition bill in 2019 and the most recent Nationals security law of 2020 which empowered Beijing to punish protestors and secessionist elements in Hong Kong, were introduced under the provisions prescribed in Basic law. Such laws, however, contradicted the promises given under the OCTS policy. 

China’s recent crackdown on tech giants like Alibaba or its policy regarding tutoring companies has also sparked uncertainty about the future of ‘free market economy’ in Hong Kong. This is complemented by the fact that Hong Kong has been removed from 2021 Economic Freedom Index, released by the USA-based Heritage Foundation. This is a significant development considering the fact that Hong Kong has topped this index for nearly 25 years till 2019. Hong Kong’s removal from the index took place in the wake of a new national security law that put many pro-democracy activists behind bars. Additionally, many foreign companies in Hong Kong, especially tech-based companies, have also started relocating to other Asian countries like Singapore due to concerns about data sharing and rule of law. Hence, forceful incorporation of the Chinese legal system in Hong Kong can discourage global investors and may affect Hong Kong’s global significance.

On the ideological front, China is effectively using the media and education systems as instruments to facilitate the integration of Hong Kong into the mainland. In 2012, the Moral and National Education (MNE) programme introduced by the HKSAR government aimed to consolidate PRC-promoted values in Hong Kong. However, this programme was soon terminated as the anti-MNE movement rapidly spread across Hong Kong and the programme was ridiculed as a propaganda tool of PRC. Such efforts to integrate Hong Kong into the PRC have failed and Hong Kong citizens, on the contrary, have actually begun to develop a separate identity which strongly supports democracy and a vibrant civil society. 

Response from Hong Kong citizens

Currently, Hong Kong citizens are divided into two camps: pro-establishment group which supports complete integration with China and pro-democracy group which feels the need to protect Hong Kong’s unique identity in the wake of Beijing’s assertion. Notably, the latter group acknowledges that the OCTS policy does not grant them the right to secede from China. Hence, even during the peak of protests against the draconian extradition bill in 2019, protestors mainly had 5 demands:- withdrawal of the extradition bill, inquiry into police misconduct, amnesty for arrested protestors, non-characterization of protests as riots and resumption of electoral reforms. Hong Kong citizens are also aware of their dependence on the mainland in spite of Hong Kong’s attractive business environment. Hong Kong’s economy is considered as ‘service economy’ since over 90% of GDP comes from the service sector. Hence, Hong Kong is heavily dependent on PRC for imports of all necessities. 

Hong Kong’s problems, however, begin when China oversteps its limits by interfering into domestic affairs of HKSAR and threaten its autonomy guaranteed under the Basic law. Similarly, China has weakened the political institutions in Hong Kong over the years which is resented by pro-democracy citizens. Despite these apprehensions, Hong Kong citizens understand that the OCTS policy is the best possible alternative considering China’s aggressive policies in Tibet and its attempts to unite Taiwan. Many Hong Kong activists pin their hopes on international pressure to compel China into conceding the promised autonomy for Hong Kong. However, given China’s current global footprint, it will be a delusion for Hong Kong to rely solely on this factor. Even the former Chinese Ambassador to UK Liu Xiaoming pointed out that ‘two systems’ is subordinate to ‘one country’ and the former exists only until Hong Kong accepts the latter. Hence, Hong Kong citizens should try to gain more concessions only within the ambit of OCTS.  

Conclusion

With mounting international pressure to introduce more democratic reforms in Hong Kong and given the need to maintain Hong Kong’s position in the global financial world, it would be unwise for China to further dilute the OCTS policy. China has to adhere to its promise of “upholding and improving the practice of ‘One Country, Two Systems”, made in the 2021 white paper. Accordingly, China must adopt conciliatory policies to enable greater participation of Hong Kong citizens in political processes. Protests are bound to arise time and again if China does not stop its assertive policies in Hong Kong and continue to treat every protest as a challenge to its sovereignty. China must adopt an accommodative approach within the boundaries of OCTS as it is the most feasible way to manage Hong Kong. Brian Fong, a political scientist in Hong Kong, describes Hong Kong as a stateless nation fighting for its autonomy. China should honour this desire for autonomy and fulfil promises made under the OCTS policy. Ultimately, successful implementation of OCTS in Hong Kong may also influence Taiwan to reconsider its stance on reunification. Hence, despite all tensions surrounding the OCTS principle, it is likely to continue until 2047 as it is the best possible alternative for both sides. However, China ought to be more careful in the interpretation of this principle and ensure that its policies do not contradict promises made to the citizens of Hong Kong.

Omkar Bhole after completing the Graduation in History from the University of Mumbai, Omkar is currently pursuing MA in China Studies at Somaiya University, Mumbai. He has also completed 4 levels (HSK4) of Mandarin language training. His key interests are in China’s policymaking processes, India-China relations, China’s global footprint, and the Chinese economy.