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.  


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. 

China’s New Land Border Law: Repercussions for India and Neighbouring Countries

China’s New Land Border Law: Repercussions for India and Neighbouring Countries

By – Teg Prataap Singh Sandhu;

The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, which operates as the legislative body of Communist China, passed the new Land Border Law on the 23rd of October, 2021. The legislation which contains 62 articles and 7 chapters, came into effect on the 1st of January, 2022 can be heralded as a stratagem to convert border disputes into conflicts over sovereignty. The controversial law epitomizes the brinksmanship model adopted by Premier Xi Jinping to tackle border disputes. 

The legislation is a provocative move by the Chinese to unilaterally delineate borders with its neighbouring states. The law has ruffled feathers in New Delhi as it was implemented by the Chinese amidst a border standoff with India. China as of today shares a 22,000-kilometre border with an astonishing fourteen countries; however, it only shares non-demarcated boundaries with India and Bhutan. Currently, the Chinese have illegally occupied 38,000 square kilometres of Ladakh, and claim sovereignty over 90,000 kilometres of Arunachal Pradesh. Moreover, the Chinese claim territory over 760 kilometres of Bhutanese territory. The Chinese modus operandi counteracts the various bilateral attempts to resolve the border issues leaving a militarised solution as the sole viable alternative for India and Bhutan.

Given the controversy the new Land Border Law has stirred, it is critical to analyse the aspects covered in the law which make it contentious. The legislation primarily asserts Chinese sovereignty over its territories as inviolable and sacred. It states how delimitation of boundaries would be fixed by the Chinese authorities along with the relevant neighbouring state to determine the physical extent of territorial sovereignty between the two nations. 

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Paramilitary People’s Armed Police (PAP) are the two bodies working in tandem to nullify security threats along disputed territories. The PLA is tasked to ensure that territory markers are not violated by any external actors whereas the Police Force prohibits any Chinese entity from partaking in activities that could jeopardise the status quo with a neighbouring state. The indigenous population residing along the borders is mandated to abide by the demarcation as per the new law and support the PLA and PAP to uphold Chinese sovereignty along the border areas. The legislation aims to establish buffer zones along border areas while using a hybrid civil-military model. The Chinese state aims to promote economic and social development through the establishment of infrastructure and public services in disputed territories as a reward for protecting Chinese interests. 

Modus Operandi Behind the New Land Border Law

The new Land Border Law echoes territorial expansionism, a concept that has remained central across different Chinese regimes. The Chinese mechanism is viewed as a move to install ‘Xiaokang’ defence villages in disputed territories. Beijing is now prioritizing establishing villages and towns along its border areas as it utilizes civilians to expand into Indian territory under the garb of protecting its sovereignty. After the development of Chinese settlements in disputed areas, negotiations over these territories would become an even more complicated process. Therefore, the Chinese stratagem aims to incentivize settlements along border areas which would be extremely valuable since any border settlement in the future would be implemented as per the Sino-Indian Border Defence Cooperation Agreement which dissects territory according to the settled population in the particular area. 

The legislation exhibits a dichotomy in the Chinese posture while handling border disputes with India and other neighbouring states. The Chinese response to the land border dispute with India and Bhutan is reflective of the intimidation tactic used by the Chinese to coerce its territorial claims in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. The Communist Party adopted the Maritime Police Law and Maritime Traffic Safety Law as it sought to combat all alien encroachments in its maritime domain. As China simultaneously indulges in land and maritime expansion, the common denominator between the new border laws pertaining to both theaters is to legitimize the use of all means necessary to uphold Chinese sovereignty in disputed territories. 

China has claimed that large parts of Northern Bhutanese territory lie under Chinese sovereignty which has historically caused severe discord between the two states. However, in a surprising turn of events, China has backtracked on its assertions over Northern Bhutan in a bid to expand into Western Bhutan. The change in stance results from the geostrategic significance of West Bhutan since it could be utilized as a launch-pad to expand into Southern parts of Bhutan which lie in close proximity to the chicken’s neck, the Siliguri Corridor. Further, Beijing now also asserts sovereignty over the Sakteng sanctuary which could be used as a military base for operations in Arunachal Pradesh. 

The law also highlights the growing fears within the Communist party as the region confronts the establishment of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Given the erratic nature of the Taliban entity, the region faces a new threat that has the potential to infect the South Asia region with instability. Moreover, the law lies in alignment with the formation of a common Chinese identity which forms the focal point of the Xi Jinping regime. Education is utilized as a mechanism to promote loyalty to the Chinese state and build a common Chinese ethos that vibrates across the homeland. The legislation is an attempt to endow ethnic assimilation as Beijing attempts to coerce shared Chinese ‘consciousness’ among the masses.

India’s Response 

The new law has been at the receiving end of stern criticism by Indian hawks as the legislation poses the risk of derailing the Indo-Chinese dialogue to solve border conflicts, leaving a militarised solution as the sole alternative. The Indian External Affairs Ministry condemned the law since it is a unilateral attempt by the Chinese to resolve border disputes on its terms. The Indian government stated that the legislation could hamper the various bilateral treaties, dialogues, and agreements to maintain peace in the non-demarcated border shared between the countries. Further, the Chinese efforts were vehemently denounced as through the law they sought to legitimize the 1963 Sino-Pak border agreement which New Delhi regards as illegal. 

Consensual delimitation of borders with India has historically been a stance that China has avoided. The Chinese blueprint behind territorial encroachment involves disclosing ambiguous historical treaties and maps to claim sovereignty over foreign territory. Having arm-twisted 12 of its land neighbours into establishing borders based on Chinese terms, the strategic course taken by Beijing concerning the border dispute with India also reflects the same. However, adopting a maximalist approach with India on border issues could be rued by the Chinese in the future given the growing economic and military might of the Indian nation. The Modi government has been clear in its stance towards foreign incursions: Under no circumstance would India forego its legitimate territory. The Chinese are aware that provoking India could lead to dire consequences in the South China Sea and the East China Sea since India is a central figure in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) Bloc which is emerging as an important security mechanism in the Indo-Pacific. Additionally, as a reminder to highlight the importance of the Indian market for Chinese goods, New Delhi imposed anti-dumping duty on Chinese goods for a minimum period of five years on products related to industries such as thermal power plants, refrigeration, and dye. 

Importantly, the law comes at a time when border tensions are unresolved post the border clashes of June 2020 in Galwan Valley. Border areas across Demchok, Depsnag, and Pangong Lake have witnessed a recent surge in border infrastructure development and military deployment as the two sides have sought to deter territorial incursions. The doves of Chinese foreign policy have termed the move inconsequential to India. They argue that the legislation endeavours to deter any future threat posed by the newly established Taliban regime in Afghanistan as well as to curb the increasing rate of illegal immigration from Myanmar and Vietnam into Chinese territories. 

Repercussions on the Status Quo

Given the hostile borders relations shared between India and China, the new Land Border Law has the potential to further complicate bilateral relations between the two countries. The latest map unveiled by the Chinese state incorporates the complete state of Arunachal Pradesh, and territories of Uttarakhand and Ladakh, all of which lie under Indian sovereignty. The first tipping point could be the handling of Indian citizens in disputed areas that Beijing insists to be Chinese sovereign territory, since the present-day Chinese map includes a major chunk of Indian territory. Another possible bone of contention could be the mandatory Chinese consent required to build border infrastructure in disputed territories. Given the contrasting nature of claims between India and China over the demarcation of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the PLA would resist the formation of permanent defence structures by the Indian army. This could further spread hostility along the borders, given the flare-up of the Chinese and Indian armed forces in recent times which has led to the two states indulging in an infrastructure arms race along various sectors of the border areas. Lastly, the Chinese tactic resonates with the salami-slicing technique the dragon is infamously renowned for. However, given the fact that the Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi is unlikely to budge on its territorial sovereignty as demonstrated in Galwan and Dokhlam, the Chinese need to reassess their options as it is too far-fetched to assume that a country of India’s stature could be bullied by unilateral declarations. 

Teg Prataap Singh Sandhu is a master’s student pursing Diplomacy, Law and Business from OP Jindal Global University. I have previously interned at think-tanks such as National Maritime Foundation and Global Peace Foundation. My research interests include Chinese Foreign Policy; Peace and Conflict Studies in West Asia and South Asia. I have published articles related to the spread of political Islam across the Middle East; The failure of democracy in Pakistan, and the Chinese debt trap diplomacy. I am presently working on the project ‘Management of the Indo-Bangladesh border’ with UNESCO, Guwahati. 

Xi Jinping’s Political Ambition in 2022

Xi Jinping’s Political Ambition in 2022

By Rahul Karan Reddy;

The future of China under the leadership of Xi Jinping is set to scale new heights at the 20th Communist Party National Congress in October 2022. It is arguably the most important political event of the year in China. More than 2200 delegates, including provincial Party bosses, military officials and other political elites will come to Beijing and elect members to the Central Committee and Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). The Party Congress will ultimately reveal a new Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), composed of China’s top leaders in charge of the economy, military and Party. Most importantly, Xi Jinping appears poised to begin a third term as General Secretary of the Party. By securing a third term, Xi would break with the precedent set by his predecessors who gave up the title after two terms.

The 20th Party Congress is likely to fortify the consolidation of Xi Jinping’s political authority which began in 2012 at the 18th Party Congress. By scrapping the 10-year term limit for the office of president in 2018 and passing the Party’s third historical resolution at the 6th plenary session of the Central Committee in November 2021, Xi has signalled his intentions to stay on as China’s leader for the foreseeable future. Xi also cemented his legacy beside Mao’s by introducing his theoretical contribution – Xi Jinping Thought – into the Chinese constitution at the 19th Party Congress. His political ambition to engineer the rejuvenation of China hinges on the outcomes of and reactions to the 20th Party Congress, which are sure to have an enduring impact on political elites. Nonetheless, Xi’s decision to stay on as China’s paramount leader could spark discontent among Party officials and bring changes to the balance of power between factions in the Party. Concurrently, Xi Jinping’s third term will also raise uncertainty around institutional norms of succession, term limits and age limits.

Xi’s Strategy and Outcomes of the Party Congress

Under Xi Jinping’s direction, the Party Congress is likely to reorder the landscape of elite politics in China through appointments, promotions and retirements. Xi is aware that the period leading up to the Party Congress in October will shape expectations and perceptions surrounding the outcomes of the event. He will look to ensure the smooth and uneventful conclusion of the Beijing Winter Olympics, the National People’s Congress in April and May and diplomatic engagements with the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and United Nations (UN) in August and September respectively. Ensuring these events are a success will be crucial for Xi Jinping to build political momentum going into the Party Congress. The desire for stability is also reflected in Xi’s emphasis on unity within the Party and the country. His warning in November against domestic threats to the CCPs legitimacy and reiteration of the two upholds indicates a desire to protect his legitimacy and authority. 

Xi promised no mercy in the fight against corruption, which has served the purpose of eliminating rivals and resistance to his leadership of the Party. Additionally, the anti-corruption campaign continues to enhance his popular appeal by tackling the corruption of Party elites. Interestingly, the campaign lost momentum in Xi’s second term, reflecting the emphasis on stability and leadership unity among factions in the Party. According to Cheng Li, in Xi Jinping’s second term only two members of the 376-member Central Committee were targeted by the CCDI, compared to 42 members in his first term.

Xi Jinping is likely to make several changes to the composition of China’s top leadership. For instance, he will promote a new generation of leaders born in the 1960s. With at least 11 members of the 25-member Politburo and two members of the PBSC due to retire in 2022, China’s top leadership will see a new generation of leaders enter the Politburo and even the PBSC. Xi may also appoint leaders born in the 1950s who have reached the retirement age in an effort to maintain the balance of power between factions or emphasize the continuity of leadership.

Alternatives and Rivals

Xi Jinping emerged as China’s most important leader in 2012 and did not appoint a successor at the 19th Party Congress in 2017. The absence of a successor on the horizon puts him on the cusp of becoming China’s paramount leader without term limits. Two potential successors to Xi, Sun Zhengcai and Hu Chunhua, were eliminated from consideration for the job in 2017 when Sun was charged with corruption and Hu failed to win promotion to the PBSC. It is possible for Xi to appoint a successor in October 2022 although it is unlikely since Xi initiated the two safeguards campaign in 2019 to protect the unrivalled leadership of the Central Committee and his place at its core. However, at the Beidaihe informal summit before the Party Congress, factions and top leaders will network and lobby for positions in China’s top political bodies. Wang Qishan, China’s Vice-President and the former CCDI director, is one important actor whose experience and network in the Party could prove significant.

Xi Jinping’s strategy to manage potential rivals and resistance to his rule involves side-lining any threats to his leadership through the anti-corruption campaign, appointments to ceremonial roles and selective application of age limit rules. The most recent target of the anti-corruption campaign was Dong Hang, a former CCDI inspector and close aide to Wang Qishan. Xi also ensures that local leaders do not form power bases and networks in their provinces by reshuffling provincial Party secretaries and governors. By November 13, 2021, provincial committees completed their leadership transitions. These transitions have produced newly elected officials who are no longer distinguishable by faction. 

And finally, age-limits that govern the reappointment of officials are selectively observed for certain candidates at the highest levels while they are enforced on others at the provincial level. For instance, the Party Secretary of Yunnan, Ruan Chengfa, retired after turning 65 in November 2020. Several other provincial party secretaries also retired in 2020 after turning 65 that year. Although provincial party secretaries like Ying Yong, Peng Qinghua and Chen Run’er continue to maintain their positions in spite of being nearly the same age as Ruan Chengfa, retirements and promotions at the Central Committee and provincial levels are largely consistent with age-limit rules. For example, between August and December 2021, none of the 79 personnel changes to the Central Committee deviated from the age-limit rules. Age limit rules are observed consistently at the provincial levels to ensure the promotion of a handful of officials based on their loyalty and proximity to Xi Jinping. On the other hand, retirement rules are ambiguous at the Politburo level and beyond, allowing them to be selectively applied to retire or side-line officials based on their factional loyalties.

The Post-Pandemic Future

In November 2021, Party members were instructed to prepare for the election of delegates to the Party Congress. The Party’s Organization department announced a meeting to make arrangements for the election that will run until June 2022. But the Party and Xi have more than just the Party Congress to think about. This year they face challenges on several fronts that threaten to undermine China’s rise. Xi will have to confront challenges facing China’s slowing economy, growing hostility in its external environment and instability within the Party. The Beijing Winter Games are currently underway and China faces pressure from the US and its allies on human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. China must also contend with outbreaks of COVID-19 in the face of a zero-covid policy that will test the resilience of Xi’s efforts. Moreover, China’s economy is slowing as it grapples with turmoil in the real estate sector and sluggish manufacturing and services activity. Beijing will also have to manage US-China strategic competition and sustain its diplomatic engagements like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) without overextending itself. These challenges converge to create a highly charged and tense political environment for Xi Jinping.

As Xi seeks a third term in power as General Secretary, he has decided to enhance the legitimacy of the Party and his rule. The common prosperity agenda outlined by him was designed to address the inequality of wealth through the use of taxation and income redistribution schemes. The Party has also initiated a variety of social policies in the interest of common prosperity: from banning for-profit tutoring to placing restrictions on the “996” work culture at tech companies. From a political standpoint, Xi is likely to continue consolidation of power while carefully managing the Party reaction to his third term as General Secretary. By pursuing a third term, avoiding to appoint a successor and purging his rivals, Xi Jinping has sparked fears of the cult of personality, much like the one that dominated Chinese politics in the 1950s and 1960s under Mao Zedong.

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.

Pakistan’s quest for ‘full spectrum deterrence’ continues 

Pakistan’s quest for ‘full spectrum deterrence’ continues 

By – Anubhav S Goswami;

In a bid to boost the firepower of its army along the Line of Control (LOC), Pakistan has bought SH-15 Howitzer from People’s Republic of China (PRC) to deter India. These artillery guns were delivered under a contract that the Pakistan Army had signed with China Northern Industries Corporation (NORINCO) after the February-March 2019 tensions with India. The total number of SH-15 to be delivered to Pakistan under the contract is 236, of which some units have been supplied . In this article, alleged capability of SH-15 to fire nuclear shells is discussed with a major focus on Pakistan’s advocacy for the use of Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNWs) in its deterrence posture against India.

Howitzer that can fire nuclear shells?

SH-15 systems are capable of firing 155 mm NATO ammunition as well as indigenous ammunition. They are fitted on the chassis of a truck that can carry 60 rounds of ammunition in four boxes. The range of the SH-15 is said to be 53 km and as this artillery system can be transported via most medium cargo planes like the Y-9, its utility as an extremely mobile munition platform for rapid response teams is immense. Furthermore, in many reports of past and present, it has been said that the SH-15 howitzers are capable of firing nuclear shells. However, this has not been confirmed by any credible source. Nonetheless, SH-15 provides the advantage of having a ‘shoot and scoot’ system that is best for the use of nuclear shells as it is “easy to hide and easy to use against troop concentration”. This article assumes that an SH-15 can indeed fire nuclear shells.

However, the more important ambiguity is over Pakistan’s possession of Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW). Does Islamabad possess miniaturised nuclear weapon to fit into an SH-15 Howitzer? SH-15 could only be made nuclear-capable if Pakistan’s attempts to miniaturize its nuclear weapons are successful. Pakistan has been working on a TNW program since 1984; former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf had claimed in conservation with a top US diplomat that Islamabad had created a “minuscule nuclear warhead” in the latter half of 2011. Another top establishment person, former Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry, confirmed in Washington DC in October 2015 that Pakistan already possessed low-yield battlefield weapons to counter India’s Cold Start strategy. India’s Cold Statrt doctrine envisages a pre-emptive operation virtually from a “cold start” to deny Pakistan the advantage of early mobilisation with Indian “integrated battle groups” (IBGs; divisional-size forces) launching “limited offensive operations to a shallow depth, to capture a long swathe of territory almost all along the international boundary”.

Furthermore, for India, the selling of an alleged nuclear-tipped artillery to Pakistan raises serious questions on China’s already notoriously infamous proliferation record, raising the threat quotient vis-à-vis national security even more.. Beijing has mastered a perfect strategy of supplying conventional weapons to Pakistan to keep India alert on its western border. China also secretly transferred nuclear weapon technology and material to Pakistan beginning the 1980s. Islamabad benefited from those assistance to the extend that it enabled them to  develop its nuclear deterrent against India. Evidences speak of China passing the entire design for a nuclear weapon to Pakistan in the early 1980s. This was a first where a nation “handed over the full design for a nuclear weapon to a strategic partner”. In the case of Islamabad’s TNW programme, there’s no evidences of China helping Pakistan to miniaturise an atomic bomb. However, Pakistan’s short-range ballistic missile, the Nasr (Hatf 9) – a “quick response” tactical nuclear delivery system –  is derived from China’s WS-2 tactical rocket.  Such collaborations in the past gives enough grounds for future China-Pakistan cooperations on TNWs, particularly on nuclear artillery, an open-ended possibility.

Nuclear artillery in sync with FSD

Since it conducted nuclear tests in 1998, Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine and force posture evolved from ‘minimum credible deterrence’ to ‘credible minimum deterrence’ in line with the dictum of ‘full-spectrum deterrence’ (FSD). FSD is meant to enhance Pakistan’s deterrent capability “at all levels of the threat spectrum,” including the strategic, operational, and tactical levels. FSD came into being on Sept 5, 2013 after Pakistan’s top body on research, development, production, use and security of the nuclear programme approved and adopted it as the country’s nuclear doctrine. The FSD also occupies a critical role in Pakistan’s recently adopted National Security Policy (NSP) where the cardinal policy objective is to “deter any aggression by maintaining a cost-effective and adaptive military, focused on modernisation and optimisation of force structures to ensure adequate conventional capability and maintain full spectrum deterrence within the precincts of credible minimum nuclear deterrence, without getting involved in an arms race”.

The need for a change in the nuclear doctrine was felt in Islamabad after Pakistani strategists concurred that India’s limited warfighting concepts of ‘Cold Start’ and Pro-Active Operations (PAO) necessitate the requirement of newer range of options for Pakistani decision-makers. Islamabad believes that Full Spectrum Deterrence will help Pakistan deter threats of a limited war under the shadow of nuclear weapons. Doctrines of limited war evolve when there is strategic instability between two conflicting nations. From Pakistan’s point of view, strategic instability in South Asia is caused by Pakistan’s lack of strategic equivalence with India due to the vast asymmetry in conventional capabilities between the two nations. Former head of Pakistan’s all-important Strategic Plans Division (SPD), Lt. General (retired) Khalid Ahmed Kidwai said that to restore strategic stability between Islamabad and New Delhi and make war less likely, deployment less likely of battlefield nuclear weapons became necessary to extend Pakistan’s conventional deterrent capabilities

The NSP also calls for the development of “requisite conventional capabilities” in full-spectrum deterrence to “defend Pakistan’s territorial integrity at all costs”. In line with FSD, TNWs are meant to provide strong deterrence against India’s proactive military doctrines like the Cold Start which, according to Pakistani analysts, calls for up to “eight independent armoured brigades to penetrate up to 50 kilometres (about 31 miles) into Pakistan without crossing Pakistan’s nuclear thresholds”.

Most military strategists and planners in Islamabad agree that TNWs complete FSD as it allows Pakistan to choose the rung on the escalation ladder at which it can deliberately upscale the war before the country suffers any considerable degradation of its armed forces. TNWs, if fitted in a 155 mm shell with a stated range of 53 km, will add value to Pakistan’s deterrence strategy that revolves around escalation dominance at all rungs of the military ladder, from low intensity to conventional and nuclear war.

Do TNWs establish strategic stability in South Asia?

The rationale for FSD is that TNWs would help further stabilize nuclear deterrence and credibility in the South Asian region. However, the experiences of American and NATO commanders that have dealt with TNW’s during the Cold War suggests that it is futile “of attempting to develop either doctrine or force structure to employ [TNWS] on the battlefield.” Another American officer opines that “rather than contributing to deterrence by offsetting the conventional military superiority of the Soviet Union, the use of tactical nuclear weapons instead would have almost certainly guaranteed uncontrolled escalation in the event of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe”. The prime reason for such bleak observation is the tactical nature of TNWs, which require some form of delegation of authority to battlefield officers for its deployment in the thick fog of war. 

Now on a battlefield, Pakistani TNW launchers could only be deployed dangerously close to the fighting, which would expose them to India’s conventional firepower. This is where a battlefront military officer might be confronted with a use-it-or-lose-it dilemma that could threaten Pakistan’s command and control structure of its TNW forces. Therefore TNWs come with a high risk of being used prematurely when not authorised. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described this as the “Mad Major Syndrome”. Pakistan claims to have a strong command and control structure and a reliable communications system for safe deployment of TNWs on the battlefield. Yet, deployment of TNWs will inevitably make Pakistani battlefield officers anxious about its survivability, making the TNWs a highly destabilizing agent for strategic stability in South Asia. 

India’s concerns in the region

Since Pakistan’s FSD reserves the right to first strike at theatre level, nuclear artillery enjoys a natural advantage over other delivery systems due to its ability to destroy counter-force targets on the battlefield. Counter-force targets could be anywhere from Rajasthan to Drass in Ladakh. According to one report, the howitzers will be mainly deployed in the mountainous plains along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. However, another study points out that nuclear artillery in the Kashmir region is unlikely due to Kashmir being the bargaining factor for Pakistan, and “destruction of Kashmir by use of nuclear weapons would mean Pakistan losing its bargaining factor”. However, nuclear artillery use in areas like the Kargil, Dras and Batalik sectors is possible. Runn of Katch region in the Rajasthan border also provides much scope for Pakistan’s counterforce operations. 

However, the counterforce capabilities of Pakistan’s TNWs are not credible yet. India’s massive advantage in obtaining real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), and an equal advancement in space-based military capabilities can blunt the counterforce capabilities of Pakistani battlefield nuclear weapons. Critics also question the sufficiency of Pakistan’s fissile material (particularly plutonium) stockpiles that are critical for deploying an adequate number of nuclear artilleries to demonstrate its deterrent value against Indian integrated battle groups (IBGs). Given Pakistan’s limited fissile material, nuclear shells are likely to be deployed in limited numbers.

In addition, academics question the military utility of Pakistan’s TNW program. Physicists such as Pervez Hoodbhoy, A. H. Nayyar, and Zia Mian have claimed that battlefield nuclear weapons will have limited military utility against invading Indian armoured formations. TNWs will destroy only a few Indian tanks and armoured vehicles, thus falling short in their effectiveness in deterrence. 


Procurement of SH-15 Howitzer by Pakistan leaves much room for guesswork about its rumoured TNW capabilities. Pakistan’s National Security Policy 2022 stresses extending the nation’s conventional capabilities to “maintain full spectrum deterrence within the precincts of credible minimum nuclear deterrence”. TNWs are seen as an extension of Pakistan’s conventional deterrent capabilities as laid down in Islamabad’s Full Spectrum Deterrence doctrine. It is in this context, a careful observation and study of SH-15’s role in Pakistan’s TNW force structure is critical. 

Pakistan believes TNWs are crucial for strategic stability in South Asia. However, low-yield battlefield deterrent by Pakistan will only create a risky cycle of misperceptions between New Delhi’s No-First-Use policy and Islamabad’s unstated policy of First Strike at a tactical level. Such doctrinal mismatch will reduce the scope for future crisis management and resolution, posing a great challenge to regional stability.

Anubhav S Goswami is a Research Associate at Centre for Air Power Studies in New Delhi. Additionally, Anubhav is a Doctoral Scholar at Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P Jindal Global University. His doctoral research is based on the comparative analysis of American Grand strategy in the context of changing world system from Unipolarity to Multipolarity. His research interests include U.S Grand Strategy, Sino-American strategic competition, Taiwan’s sovereignty, Indo-US Strategic relationship, Indian Foreign Policy, Indian grand strategic thought and Japanese Foreign Policy.

US and the North Korea Challenge in the ‘Trinity’

US and the North Korea Challenge in the ‘Trinity’

By – Abhishek Sharma;

In today’s uncertain and fluctuating geopolitical terrain, and with the emergence of new alignment and reaffirmation of partnerships, the world seems to be taking a direction towards a polarized order led by China and U.S. Beijing, with its ideological ‘friends’ Moscow and Pyongyang are challenging the U.S in their respective regions. While the US-China trade war has been on for long, DPRK has sought an explicit demonstration of advancing missile capabilities while Russia has been increasing its troop numbers near the Ukraine border (threatening NATO). But what other factors are shared between the authoritarian ‘Trinity’ of China, Russia and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) apart from antagonizing the U.S.? Is it that all of them are now capable of hitting the U.S with strategic weapons? Is it their Ideological conformity against what they call international (imperialistic) values and norms that constricts them in pursuing their objectives? The reasons are manifold, but first we must contextualize the emergence of the new geopolitical and geoeconomics order in the International System (that already existed in the international society) mainly led by a rethinking in the European capital and a more substantial strategic alignment with the U.S. In this article, the main focus remains on the role of the DPRK in this shifting geopolitical scenario as a ‘strategic spoiler’ for U.S. and DPRK’s closeness with China. In addition, the need for the U.S. to relook its strategy in North-east Asia towards DPRK to avoid strengthening China’s motives is assessed.

DPRK missile demonstration and the US

DPRK, China, and Russia have been in global headlines for different reasons: Russia due to its military buildup on the Ukraine border and the imminent threat of invasion in Ukraine; China is occupied with the Beijing Winter Olympics; while DPRK seems to be the busiest partner absorbed with testing advanced missiles. Some experts have pointed the trend of repeated missile testing by DPRK as a signal towards the U.S. for renewed engagement. This development also comes when the elections in South Korea are slated to be held in March. The atmosphere in Pyongyang also seems suitable for engagement with the U.S. At the 4th Plenum of the 8th Central Committee of Korean Worker’s Party conveyed from 27-30 December 2021, statements made by Kim Jong-un about prioritization of ‘Rural Development’ shows that the DPRK is concerned with the increasing discontent rising among the citizens of the countryside who are hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, the U.S. has seemed uninterested in DPRK since Biden Administration came to the White House. It is an open secret that the decision to engage with the DPRK regime is not taken by Seoul but Washington D.C. After one year in office, the Biden Administration’s strategy towards DPRK has come under severe criticism with no ambassador appointed in Seoul apart from a U.S special representative to North Korea Ambassador Sung Kim.

With DPRK testing more missiles in 2022 than in 2017 alone, the focus in Washington D.C. seems to be shifting again towards Pyongyang. The Trump administration strategy of ‘sanctions and coercive diplomacy’ and the ‘isotopic’ continuation by the Biden administration in the form of ‘serious and sustained diplomacy’ has shown no results in changing attitudes in Pyongyang. On the contrary, DPRK has demonstrated the extent to which it can develop its deterrence arsenal by testing hypersonic missiles on January 5 and 11, which shows the level of technological sophistication achieved by DPRK. In addition, the recent testing of Intermediate-and-long range ballistic missile Hwasong-12 reaching a maximum altitude of 2,000 km and traveling 800 km is its most extended missile test since 2017. This test also breaks off the suspension announced in 2018, a moratorium of not testing nuclear devices and long-range ballistic missiles. DPRK also launched two short-range ballistic missiles tests through a rail-based system as a counter-strike measure on January 14. Even the testing of Cruise Missiles shows the overall strategy of DPRK in boosting its war deterrence against the U.S.

All these tests signal the clear intention of the regime in Pyongyang towards pursuing a credible deterrence against the U.S. by advancing its capabilities and capacities. This also highlights the failure of U.S. foreign policy under both Trump and the Biden Administration in restricting North Korea’s aim of achieving credible deterrence. These developments change the power dynamic in the northeast Asian region, creating more uncertainty both in Seoul and Tokyo. The lack of progress towards the DPRK problem shows a need to relook at the whole issue from a different lens.

Emerging of New Axis: Closing proximity between China, Russia, and DPRK    

The developments in the Korean peninsula show the complicated nature of geopolitics playing in the Indo-Pacific region and the U.S.’s failure to keep up with various concerns of its Allies and Partners. What adds to this fast-changing geopolitical situation is the emergence of ‘generated’ conflict in a different regions where U.S. interest lies. The current developments highlight the inability of Washington D.C to address and manage various foreign policy decisions when push comes to shove. The emerging convergence of the geopolitical and geoeconomic in the polarized international system has finally aligned the interest of various European capitals with the U.S. that earlier ignored the geoeconomics dimension of their relations due to domestic concerns. However, the ‘New’ strategy emerging amidst the re-alignments seems to favor Beijing. The U.S. preoccupation with Russia and DPRK has shown the U.S.’s limited capacity in dealing with multiple challenges. China has successfully benefited from the U.S. conflict with Russia and DPRK, keeping the U.S. occupied with North-East and South-East neighbors. Besides, China is trying to consolidate political capital by standing firm with its neighbors to show solidarity. China’s explicit support in UNSC with Russia on the Ukraine issue stands starkly against its abstention stand on Crimean Resolution in 2014 in UNSC. On January 20, China and Russia blocked the U.N. Security Council from imposing sanctions on North Korean officials engaged in the DPRK missile tests program. The convergence of interest between China, Russia, and the DPRK increases as new geopolitical realities emerge. ‘ China’s efforts to boost ties with Russia and North Korea are based on its national interests and the common interests shared by countries in the region, and most importantly, in these ties, all countries are equal’ stated an expert in Global Times. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the relations between the three countries had only grown.  China remains the largest trading partner of both Russia and DPRK, and with increasing sanctions from the west, Beijing has been the only reliable partner for both Moscow and Pyongyang.

Strategy towards North Korea going forward

China is emerging as the clear strategic competitor for the U.S in the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S strategy for strengthening interest-based partnerships in the region should not focus only on aligning with new partners like India, Indonesia, and Vietnam and strengthening ties with the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan. Further, there must emerge a new strategy that looks from different prism at U.S. ties with DPRK. This should involve taking into account both Seoul’s and Tokyo’s concerns. These encompass the transfer of OPCON to South Korea, support the development of Nuclear Submarines, and encourage closer ties between Seoul and Tokyo. Some changes like the removal of missile restriction made last year indicated the intention of the U.S. administration towards giving Seoul more strategic autonomy. At the same time, an acknowledgment that North Korea will not suspend its missiles program under forced sanction can be a starting point. A renewed engagement between U.S. and DPRK should be the way forward to ensure that the regime in Pyongyang doesn’t become more dependent on Beijing. This strategy must be based on reviving inter-Korean relations. The outlook of the U.S. towards DPRK should not be one-dimensional; in other words, focusing only on denuclearization. U.S. should also engage DPRK in cybersecurity and aim for a strategic outlook of policy in the Indo-Pacific that minimizes its theatres of conflict going forward. Such a strategy is beneficial for the U.S. and its allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region like Vietnam and India. They are standing against Chinese hegemony and wish to see the U.S.’ increasing role in ensuring a Free and Open Indo Pacific (FOIP). To maintain peace in the Indo-Pacific region, the U.S. needs to manage its adversaries in another region more effectively. The U.S.’s strategic approach needs to link the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and its direct effect to the security of the Indo-Pacific region and the common factor of China. A strategy that strengthens its position in the region and weakens the hands of the Trinity should be the way forward.

Abhishek Sharma is a Doctoral Student in Korean Studies under the Department of East Asian Studies at University of Delhi. He is a postgraduate in International Relations from South Asian University. He is interested in evolving Geopolitics of East Asia and the Indo-Pacific Region, focusing on India-South Korea relations and Indian Foreign Policy. His research interests also include the intersection of Gender and International Politics, particularly in Environmental Peacebuilding, Nuclear Disarmament, and Feminist Foreign Policy


Quest for Supremacy: An analytical study of contemporary Chinese behaviour

Quest for Supremacy: An analytical study of contemporary Chinese behaviour

By – Abhishek Verma;

The Chinese political system —which is based on the defining ideologies of Chinese Communist Party (CCP)— is of a sui generis nature. It is a country with a unique combination of political socialism with economic capitalism. Three factors guide this implicit ideological orientation; historical experiences, the fall of the Soviet Union, and China’s quest to regain globally dominant stature as defined in the past (before western interference). One can understand CCP’s overarching intention behind its domestic and international conduct in terms of these factors. This article explores the hidden motive and overarching principle behind Chinese global behaviour. It will try to simplify some contemporary Chinese behaviour concerning their overarching objective of global supremacy. The above three factors and their influence has been discussed in detail in the following section. 

Historical Evolution and its impact on Communist China

Historically, the Chinese worldview was conceptualized around divine existence and heavenly mandated kingdoms. Chinese ancient philosophers like Zhuanxu, Yao, Shun, Yu and more were instrumental in institutionalizing this conceptualization of Chinese society. More implementable ideas were put forth by philosophers like Confucius, Sunzi, Zhuangzi, Laozi and Mozi. These philosophers wielded profound influence over generations of Chinese leadership. 

Chinese hierarchal international system and preconceived notion of heavenly mandated centrality were challenged by western interference in the mid-19th century leading to complete chaos. In communist China, although Mao intended to erase Confucianism from Chinese psych, a glimpse of Confucian influence in Chinese political conduct is very much visible apart from the state promotion of Confucius institutions worldwide. Political leadership in China has built narratives such as ‘Century of Humiliation’ to tighten its authority over Chinese people, society, and administration. This was visible during Mao, who initiated programs like the cultural- revolution, the hundred flowers campaign, the Great Leap Forward and others. These proved to be massive disasters for the Chinese society. 

Learning from this experience, Deng Xiaoping initiated economic reforms and cleared the way for western-style financial capitalism to play a significant part in the Chinese development story. There was an implicit understanding and political consensus that if China has to regain its past glory, it needs a collaborative & cooperative approach along with peaceful external relations. Slogans like peaceful co-existence became more prominent in the Chinese diplomatic rulebook. The most auspicious moment arrived due to the great power compulsion between USA and USSR. US rapprochement towards China combined with economic reforms proved to be an ambitious cocktail that drove one the most significant societal transformations. 

The Soviet Union and China became natural allies after the communist takeover of mainland China. USSR started aiding China militarily and economically as itperceived it as an essential player for the Soviet bloc in the coming cold war. But the CCP’s ambitions and Soviet leader’s deviation from basic tenets of socialism led China to change its ways. Relations started deteriorating afterwards, reaching their peak in late 1969 when the world’s two largest communist states were on the brink of war. The eventual collapse of the Soviet Union provided a necessary educative experience and governance model for China. CCP learnt that controlled economic reforms must be coupled with tightened political control to avoid the undesirable fallout of ‘Perestroika and glasnost’. As a result of this understanding, Deng ordered brutal suppression of democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square in 1989. To absolve itself of repressive image after the Tiananmen incident and implement cautious assimilation, China sighed Non- Proliferation Treaty, which it had vehemently criticized in 1970 when NPT came into force.  

With a vast population, continental size, coastal landscape and above all, long civilizational history to look for, China’s rise seemed inevitable. Napoleon once said, ‘let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world’. Essential staggered steps taken by CCP has led Beijing to dominate international politics. After opening up its economy for western businesses and providing cheap labour, it intertwined the global supply chain with the Chinese domestic market. Once it gained a dominant position, China entered World Trade Organisation in 2001. This was the beginning of Chinese economic dominance globally. After securing economic power, it ventured into maritime and military superiority. Against this backdrop, we see a more politically assertive and confidant China today led by aggressive band of CCP leaders. 

Contemporary behaviour

Presently, CCP feels confident about its international behaviour but sometimes accepts that it is legitimate for China to drift against international norms and conventions (ICJ ruling on the South China Sea). Today, much of CCP’s diplomacy is guided by a pragmatic calculation of costs and benefit corresponding to its stature and associated responsibility. Because of this pragmatism, China projects itself as a responsible state and find itself on the same page with the west on specific global issues. Three recent events demonstrate that CCP intends to raise China’s stakes politically and psychologically in international affairs. First, amidst intense great power competition, China has been at the forefront of curbing carbon emissions. As per Zheng Zeguang, preserving the environment is already written into the guidelines of china’s governing party. CCP has announced that it will not build any coal-fired power stations overseas, as well as the peak of its carbon emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060. China has also committed an initial capital contribution of 1.5bn Yuan in newly formed Kunming Biodiversity fund. 

This demonstrates CCP’s the resolve and determination to protect environment which it uses to project its sensitivity towards global issues. Second, China and other significant oil consumers agreed to release crude oil from its national strategic stockpiles, a plan coordinated by the USA to reduce global prices. Third, China’s State Council Information Office published a recent paper titled “China: Democracy That Works”. Before mentioning the new model of democracy that is different from the western conceptualization of democracy, the report explains China’s internal political processes, institutional framework, and pragmatic practices internalized by Chinese society. On the lines of a most democratic constitution and contrary to the exaltation of state-led development at the hundredth-anniversary celebration of the Communist Party of China, the report stipulates that “….all the powers in the Peoples Republic of China belongs to the people….. China’s political power is not linked in any way with personal status, wealth, or social relations, but is equally enjoyed by all the people.” Scholars saw it as a standard propaganda tool. However, it needs greater scrutiny to decipher its importance for Chinese political elites. 

Domestically, other key issues that have emerged recently are growing inequality in rural and urban incomes. As a result of which, under the banner of ‘common prosperity’, CCP is trying to reinforce its control of private sector which has been instrumental in China’s economic success for the last 4 decades. Other major issue for CCP is china’s aging population. Because of the ‘one child policy’ introduced in 1980 to reduce the number of mouths to feed, Chinese working population in today’s context has stated shrinking. This led china to abandon the policy in 2016. Apart from these challenges, huge internal debt and unprofitable capital investments inside China have created severe constraint to China’s quest for supremacy.

The Ultimate ‘Guiding Light’ 

The quest for supremacy guides China to be pragmatic in their international behaviour and not just be antagonistic to Western-led initiatives. They analyze issues on their merit, driven by their national interest (and not by international consensus). This strategy educates them while being proactive in climate negotiations and curbing carbon emissions; they can ignore ICJ ruling by granting legislative backing to their sovereignty over the disputed South China Sea. The two most dominating factors to analyze a country’s developmental trajectory are its ‘capacity’ (in terms of resources) and ‘intentions (ideological orientation and experiences). Communist China’s political trajectory since Mao’s takeover of the mainland explains that Intentions were always self-educative. It was just a matter of time for China to develop that capacity and internal strength required to dominate international politics. Today, China is a well-recognized economic superpower, made significant advancements in information technology, is the global leader in the electronic low end to high-end products and has a robust space program. 

Hence, the fundamental Chinese approach towards international relations is based on a perception that they are already a hegemonic power. This is quite evident because China today cares about not only its material interest but also its psychological image. Today, they are more than ever ready to condemn publicly and even punish other countries for causing a dent in the Chinese image or advancing the western conception of authoritative China (Australia’s support for inspection on COVID origin and subsequent trade restrictions imposed by China). Following a debt trap diplomacy under Belt and Road Initiative, China is well poised to arm-twist the creditors, so much so that they issue a precautionary warning for the act, which are still being contemplated (warning Bangladesh of severe consequences if they join QUAD).

As a result of extreme globalization, China has integrated its economy with the world’s economy and created a well-knit web of economic dependence in South Asia and South-East Asian regions. Lately, China has also initiated buying stakes in global conflict zones such as the Middle East (Iran-China 25 Years Cooperation Program) and Afghanistan quagmire. China’s intervention in both these conflict areas is a perfect manifestation of CCP’s intention in terms of furthering the great power competition with the United States of America. Iran is facing the brunt of US led western sanctions and Afghanistan, after US withdrawal, provides a readymade opportunity for China to make inroads. Overt claim of stakes in these regions make Chinese presence more desirable by the regional players as they seek to offset US influence or grab economic assistance by China. All these initiatives point towards a unique Chinese strategy wherein they attempt to institutionalize a particular framework that will act as a fulcrum on which their future dominance will be based. 


The unprecedented economic and societal growth in China, to a great extent, can be attributed to the CCP. People’s Republic of China is a practical manifestation of Chinese Communist Party and their ideology. But in a bid to maintain strict political control over the party and Chinese people, various fissures have emerged within the top echelon of CPC. How the upcoming third-term bid for Xi works out is to be seen, but seeing Xi’s attempts at constant eradication of political rivals and deeper integration of his governance within the CCP, it becomes more likely than not that the CCP will continue to channel its power over China via Xi in the next election, hence showing consistency in China’s contemporary behaviour in the coming future.  

Abhishek Verma, is a PhD scholar at Diplomacy and Disarmament (DAD) division, Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament (CIPOD), School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He holds a research experience at international relations magazine ‘The Kootneeti’ and ‘Foreign Policy Research Centre’ (FPRC) a New Delhi based think tank, The Takshashila Institute and Chennai Centre for China Studies. He had several publications across these platforms including a monograph titled ‘China’s Growing Stature and Inherent Conflict: Tracing Chinese Strategic Thoughts and its Contemporary Behaviour’. He completed his graduation from Hansraj College, Delhi University and MA in Politics (Specialisation in International Studies) from Jawaharlal Nehru University. He can be reached out at @soni_abhi2018.

Recent Australia’s Regional Overtures in the Indian Ocean Region

Recent Australia’s Regional Overtures in the Indian Ocean Region

By – Artyom Garin;

In the present times, there have been clear attempts by Australia to broaden the scope of its regional policies, including the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). It brings benefits to Canberra, giving it greater influence in the Indo-Pacific. However, Australia may face an overstretch, as every power has its own limits. 

The importance of the Indian Ocean for Australia

Exacerbating further its geo-strategic calculus, Australia borders the Pacific, Indian, and Antarctic Oceans. Over the years, Canberra has focused and experienced more of its strategies in the Pacific. The IOR has received less attention in Australia’s foreign policy, and the situation has begun to change quite recently. Commitment to the Indo-Pacific strategy has contributed to this. In 2013, Australia became the first state to officially declare its belonging to the region. References to this were made in the Defence White Paper. In fact, the Indo-Pacific concept has become a quintessence of political, economic cooperation and, at the same time, is linked to the growing China’s influence both regionally and globally.

Australia’s interest in the IOR is also strengthened by a number of quantitative indicators. These include possessing one of the longest coastlines among Indo-Pacific countries. State of Western Australia, whose shores belong to the Indian Ocean, is the country’s gateway to the region.

However, Australia has island territories in the IOR, whose geostrategic importance is growing as China and the United States (US) have become increasingly competitive in the region. Given the unique position between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (2,700 km. from Perth) and Christmas Island (2,600 km. from Perth) have a special place in Australia’s defence policy. Nowadays, there are airfields with the P8-A Poseidon patrol aircrafts and wharfs. Their unique geographical location is a useful asset for Australia in view of China’s increased activities in the Indo-Pacific. The territories in the IOR also provides Australian forces with rapid access to the region.

‘Territorial Overstretch’ as a challenge for Australia’s Politics in the IOR

The expansion of Australia’s influence in the IOR has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, the interplay between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean makes the scope of Canberra’s foreign policy more extensive, giving Australia a greater status and incentive to build relationships with other powers in the region. On the other hand, each power has its limits.

Australia holds a strong  position on a number of geo-economic and strategic indicators: 1st in the world in terms of gold, iron ore, uranium, lead and other mineral resources, 13th in terms of nominal GDP (2020), 13th highest level of military spending in 2018, and fifth highest among countries in Asia and South Pacific. It also has experience in governing and ensuring stability over the vast expanse of Oceania. In fact, the South Pacific is Canberra’s area of influence. Australia accounts for approximately 94.5 per cent of the South Pacific’s GDP, nearly 98 per cent of defence and security expenditures, and roughly 60 per cent of total official development assistance (ODA), making it the leader of external assistance.

Over the years, Australia has taken increasingly ambitious initiatives to expand its influence over the three oceans. As Rumley, Doyle, and Chaturvedi rightly pointed out in 2012, Australia may face a real ‘territorial overstretch’ that can lead to material difficulties and even shortages of regional specialists. This was confirmed in 2020-2021, when the Australian government contributed A$575 billion (US$397.4 billion) for the next 10 years to modernize the Armed Forces and Military-Industrial Complex (MIC). According to the Australian Prime Minister, the country should be better prepared in case a ‘high-intensity conflict’ (in fact ‘war-like’) situation arises. Consecutively, there have been reports of plans to upgrade defence infrastructure in the Northern Territory of Australia (where at least three military bases are located), Oceania and the IOR.

In the autumn of 2021, the US, Australia, and the United Kingdom announced a deepening of defence and technology cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. As an outcome, a trilateral security partnership called AUKUS was signed. Under this agreement, the US will transfer nuclear submarine technology to Australia. Canberra may now have submarines with higher speeds, longer underwater exposure, greater geographic range, and even nuclear weapons. This poses a completely different and broader defence challenge to Australia. Undoubtedly, Australia’s rearmament was spurred by the rapid pace of military construction by China. The South China Sea or Indian Ocean waters could be the main theatre of operations for the new Australian submarines. But is Australia ready for such a role? Is it ready to be identified as a party to the conflict with China, its main trading partner today, and expecting submarines by 2040-2060? The world is changing rapidly, so by the time Canberra possesses its submarines, it may be necessary to operate in a very different environment.

In an era of pandemics and changes, the allocation of resources to other fields may be more relevant. The Indo-Pacific countries will focus on recovering from the effects of COVID-19 next years. Multibillion-dollar defence spending will allow Australia to reach a new level in terms of military power, but these resources may be useful for strengthening the healthcare, economic sustainability, training specialists in the field of Indo-Pacific, and assistance to small developing island states. Against the background of strained relations with Beijing, Canberra may face difficulties in the field of trade, which will impact its well-being and expenditures.

Australia’s Future Perspectives and Challenges in Indo-Pacific 

Australia could go a different way and maximize its benefits by building a subregional security system in a more limited space, Oceania. Its defence line is covering almost all of Melanesia (Fiji, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands). The fifth continent has dominated the ocean subregion over the past century. However, Canberra is now losing its influence in the South Pacific. This is confirmed by recent events in the Solomon Islands. At the end of December, China expressed readiness to send police advisory group to the small island developing state. The authorities of the Solomon Islands took this step after the riots that took place in Honiara and was connected with the switch of diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the PRC.

Given the growing influence of Beijing, Canberra will increase strategic cooperation with other powers of the Indo-Pacific, for example, with India. Both countries have a number of similar challenges in traditional zones of influence. This leads to the development of humanitarian and defence cooperation. Nevertheless, Australia is more interested in the IOR than India in Oceania.

The IOR has great geostrategic significance. As is known, the Indian Ocean accounts for an approximate 80% of the global maritime oil trade. The South Pacific, in turn, is less affected by international trade. In addition, this subregion is too far from the potential theatre of military operations in the Indo-Pacific. Anyway, New Delhi’s support may be needed in Canberra, which is interested in containing Beijing in the region. India is able to support Australia in strengthening its position in the IOR. Canberra, for its part, can help New Delhi to take the first steps towards establishing relations with the Pacific Islands.

The increased rivalry between Indo-Pacific powers may lead to infrastructural competition in the region and the unification of Quad countries’ efforts to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). For example, Australia implements its multibillion-dollar Pacific Step-Up aimed at developing relations with Oceania in the field of economy, security, and external AID. Japan has an Expanded Partnership on Quality Infrastructure (EPQI), India in this case can offer Project Mausam, Project Sagarmala (SAGAR), and the USA has already established Infrastructure Transaction and Assistance Network (ITAN). However, the Quad countries had been left behind in terms of BRI. The Chinese initiative already includes almost 140 countries. The value of BRI projects exceeded US$4 trillion in 2020.


Australia is trying to broaden the scope of its foreign policy by projecting its national interests into the larger IOR spaces. In many ways, the success of this venture will depend on India, which Canberra sees as the basis for a sustainable Indo-Pacific strategy. Nevertheless, Australia faces some challenges in implementing its plans. Firstly, increased foreign policy outreach distracts it from the affairs in Oceania. Secondly, the resources of each power are limited, so Canberra will have to correctly prioritize defense, diplomacy, and determine the scope of its foreign policy. Despite the high defense costs, Australia will not be able to compete with China. Probably, this financing could be more effective in other areas. Finally, the situation may change in the domestic political dimension, including after the upcoming elections in Australia.

Artyom Garin is a Research Assistant of the Center for Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is interested in multilateralism in the Indo-Pacific, as well as in Australia-China relations. His research interests also include defence and aid policies of Australia, as well as politics and history of the Pacific Island countries.

Evolving Security Paradigm in The Indo-Pacific: Implications for Japan

Evolving Security Paradigm in The Indo-Pacific: Implications for Japan

By – Anudeep Gujjeti;

The formation of the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) security partnership has undoubtedly been a significant geopolitical development in the Indo-Pacific. This pact came in the backdrop of various nations shifting their focus to the Indo-Pacific and the formation of minilateral groupings such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or Quad). The AUKUS deal seeks to address the security concerns in the Indo-Pacific. This is evident from their joint statement, wherein it talked about this partnership as a historic opportunity for “the three nations” by recommitting themselves “to protect shared values and promote security and prosperity” in the Indo-Pacific region. 

This is a significant development, not just in the Indo-Pacific but also among the comity of nations, considering the nature of the deal where the US and the UK are willing to share their nuclear expertise with Australia. In November 2021, the three-member countries also signed the naval nuclear propulsion information agreement to share sensitive information. This partnership has the potential to increase Australia’s commitment to peace and stability in the region and evolve as a net security provider in the region. There was no specific mention of China in the AUKUS statement, but it is understood that this pact intends to counter the growing threat of China and to limit its influence in disrupting the rules-based order in the region. 

Both North Korea and China were quick to condemn the formation of this trilateral security pact, saying that this would disrupt the strategic stability in the region. China even went on to accuse that the member countries of the security pact are fuelling an “arms race in the region” and criticised them for being irresponsible. There were mixed responses to this framework from the regional stakeholders. Malaysia and Indonesia shared their reservations about the new nuclear deal in their backyard, which they think can fuel an arms race in the region. Whereas countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan welcomed this framework. While the debates are still on whether this pact would give rise to a nuclear arms race in the Indo-Pacific, Australia has signed a military deal worth $1billion with a South Korean defence company. 

Such action has the potential to spark opposition from China and North Korea. At the same time, Indonesia is in negotiations with France to procure Rafale fighter jets to boost its capabilities amid rising tensions with China. With all these developments, it is beyond doubt that the Indo-Pacific has emerged as a theatre of conflict of different dimensions ranging from ideologies, values, protecting national security and building capabilities. In this context, it is important to understand the role of Japan, a significant player in the region and an important stakeholder, in upholding stability and rules-based order in the region. 

Implications for Japan

Unlike any other country in the region, Japan is facing a dual challenge. One is to contest the growing aggressiveness of China in the Indo-Pacific to maintain rules-based order, and second, to counter the threats emanating from countries such as North Korea and China to its sovereignty. North Korea’s continued missile tests pose a severe security risk for both South Korea and Japan equally, while China’s increasing adventurism into Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone  increases tensions across the strait. Any attempts to forcefully annex Taiwan will have spill-over effects and would disturb the stability in the region. Japan has genuine reasons to feel threatened because China would eventually concentrate on the territorial sovereignty of Japan by asserting its claim on the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands in China). This fear is not misplaced considering the military adventurism of China elsewhere, be it India or Hong Kong or Taiwan and its disputes with the ASEAN nations. Former Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe even commented that “military adventures are the way to economic suicide” to China’s leadership and a “Taiwan contingency is a contingency of Japan”, that requires US intervention. This drew strong criticism from China, and Beijing even held an emergency meeting with Japan’s ambassador to China. 

In such a fragile strategic environment, Japan must change its course of diplomacy. First of all, Japan needs a strong political will to stand against the imminent threat posed by China. The Japanese political elite in the recent past has been maintaining a hard-line stance against China. This was evident even during the campaign for the Presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, whereby all the four contestants, including Fumio Kishida, the present Japanese Prime Minister, have welcomed Taiwan’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). 

Additionally, the G7’s support for Taiwan to join the World Trade Organisation reflects Japan’s efforts to work with other states to support Taiwan. It is still too early to judge Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s policy towards China, whose political outlook and vision is based on the principles of “Kochikai”, a faction of the Liberal Democratic Party of which he has been a leader and continues to be so till date. These are not only politically hawkish policies that irritate China but also to make a statement that any forceful occupation of Taiwan would mean an emergency for US-Japan alliance and would necessitate a military response. 

Changing political stance would not mean anything unless it is matched with tangible changes in the strategic forces and on the geo-economic front. This is because Japan’s economic prosperity is linked to the stable, secure, free, rules-based and open Indo-Pacific and South China Sea and East China Sea. Any unilateral change in the status quo would mean an economic death trap for Japan. Japan exports around 22 per cent to China, excluding exports to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Exports to Greater China (which includes Taiwan and Hong Kong) will amount to 33.1 per cent of total Japanese exports. This is double what Japan exports to the US, and this scenario would become even worse if China’s application is accepted to join CPTPP. 

Considering the tilt in the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific and to avoid any type of trade calamities, Japan needs to diversify its export market, and its Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI), in the wake of disruptions to the existing supply chains during the Covid-19 pandemic, is a step in the right direction. Still, it remains to be seen whether the countries involved (Japan, India and Australia) in the initiative can match the expectations. Even before SCRI came into picture the then Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe announced “Partnership for Quality Infrastructure” on 21st May, 2015 on the occasion of the “21st International Conference on the Future of Asia,” which was later on revised as the “Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure” (EPQI) at the G7 Ise-Shima Summit. EPQI intends to promote both “sustainable” and “quality” infrastructure in Asia to counter China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  In spite of being one of the important foreign policy considerations of Japan, EPQI lacks the vision and financial prowess to match BRI in both scope and ambition. 

To address EPQI’s limitations Japan can bank on another major initiative that has the potential to counter China’s economic clout is the US’ International Development Finance Corporation (DFC)-led Blue Dot network launched on the side-lines of the 35th ASEAN Summit in Thailand. The major drawback of this initiative is it does not finance infrastructure projects directly, unlike the China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative in developing countries. Instead, it is a standard-setting framework and raises doubts about whether this is a first-world solution for third-word problems. Apart from these, to promote Free and Open Indo-Pacific and secure Japan’s economic prosperity, Japan needs to streamline, with the help of India, the Asia Africa Growth Corridor and at the same time effectively implement Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement. 

Another area where Japan needs to invest is modernising its military forces and apart from increasing its military spending Japans needs to actively get into bilateral and multilateral strategic agreements to build its capabilities. Being a member of the Quad is vital in many aspects although it started as an informal grouping of like-minded nations rather than a formal alliance. Though the Quad is not a security alliance, former Prime Minister Abe believed in the Quad’s power to ensure a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ and support Japan’s heavily dependent economy on open sea lanes for its trade with the world. Other than forming a working group on COVID-19 vaccines, climate change, and supply-chain resilience, Japan and Australia pledged to promote security cooperation of the Quad to counter China’s assertiveness and maintained that strategic consultations with the other Quad partners are vital. 

Similarly, an additional grouping with which Japan can further its cooperation is the AUKUS, as its scope as a security grouping is wider than that of the Quad considering its areas of cooperation. The AUKUS can be seen as a complementary grouping to the Quad and Five Eyes (FVEY), an intelligence-sharing alliance of the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Japan, which is sometimes considered as the “Sixth Eye”, benefits immensely by deepening its cooperation with such a grouping, considering the geographical proximity of Japan to China and North Korea, and increasing it capabilities. In the same vein, signing of a Reciprocal Access Agreement with Australia will provide interoperability and cooperation between Australian Defence Force and the Japanese Self-Defence Force.  

To conclude, it can be said that irrespective of all these, Japan needs to chart its own course of action in its neighbourhood without the support of outside players. This does not necessarily mean that it has to go alone in important geopolitical considerations, but be ready to act decisively in the event of a threat to its vital interests in the region.

Anudeep Gujjeti is a PhD candidate from the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad. He is currently working on India and Japan relations in the Post-Cold War period. His research interests include Indian Foreign Policy, Japanese Foreign Policy, Indo-Japan relations, Soft Power, and Non-traditional security. He can be reached on Twitter @anudeepgujjeti.   

Why is China Pitching the Serbia Model to Europe to Counter Taiwan-EU Relations?

Why is China Pitching the Serbia Model to Europe to Counter Taiwan-EU Relations?

By – Bhavdeep Modi;

China, over the past decade, has forged closer ties with the Western Balkan (WBs) states through the expansion of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) and the 16+1 Initiative (earlier the 17+1 Initiative). In what was earlier seen as the backyard of Europe and the US, the Western Balkan region has steadily become a theatre of Chinese geopolitical and geo-economic influence via the BRI. The recent Euro Tour of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Serbia, Greece, Albania, and Italy is a further testament to the importance that Beijing attaches to the strategic value of the region. As China looks to pitch the Serbia Model – large funding under BRI projects across critical sectors with lesser scrutiny- to Europe, what factors are shaping its outlook, and what is the desired outcome? 

While Beijing vies for influence in the WBs, it has also been looking at ways to contain the downward spiral in its relations with the European Union (EU). This downward spiral can be attributed to the EU’s angst over China’s human rights record vis-à-vis Uyghurs, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Tibet. Moreover, China is also worried about the European parliament’s recent vote to support stronger relations with Taiwan. 

Concurrently, recent developments like the EU’s adoption of an Indo-Pacific strategy and the announcement of the Global Gateway are also being closely watched by Beijing. As a result, China’s play in the WBs seems to be aimed towards presenting the Serbia-model to Europe to lure the latter to Beijing’s BRI fold and expand its overall sphere of influence, and offset growing EU-Taiwan ties. However, maneuvering its many divergences with Europe will remain a key challenge for the Chinese government. 

China & the Western Balkans: Looking at the Bigger Picture

WBs has traditionally been Europe and US’ bastion, with both having provided heavy investments to the region in terms of economic and military assistance after the breakup of erstwhile Yugoslavia. Since it provides access to the “inner core of Europe” through the Mediterranean, the WBs have been a point of geostrategic competition for decades.

The increased attention towards China and Asia has led to a neglection of the WBs by the Transatlantic allies. China has grabbed this opportunity and infused huge investments in the WBs’ nations. It has also increased the investment intensity steadily. In doing so, China is reviving its communist links to Albania (in the 1950s) and the former Yugoslavia (1970s) to forge stronger relations in the region.

To understand China in the WBs, it is important to identify Xi Jinping’s BRI as the key element in Beijing’s outreach to the region and Xi Jinping’s foreign policy focused on the “Chinese Dream”. The WBs region, currently in need of infrastructural financing, has been identified by China as a possible region for the expansion of BRI.

Here, the 16+1 Initiative, which aims to promote trade and investment between Beijing and the Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries while also looking to expand China’s diplomatic heft, takes on critical weightage.

As of 2020, China has invested the most in the energy and transportation sectors- constituting 64/102 Chinese activities in the region. In the second phase, it has planned for investments to build digital infrastructure in the region in the form of information and communications technology (ICT) projects. The idea behind these projects is to provide China access to the European market and strategic access to various transit points that connect China to Europe. Here, the China-Europe Land-Sea Express Route (LSER) is the key region-wide initiative undertaken under the BRI, and Chinese companies have picked up major stakes in various ports of Greece, mainly the port of Piraeus.

Thus, China has successfully leveraged the gaps left by Europe and US’ engagements in the WBs through strategic investments. Certain advantages have helped China to establish its presence in the region. For instance, a major concern for WBs is the European expectation to implement governance reforms in return for support- something which many WBs’ nations have been reluctant to carry out. Furthermore, as Chinese investments arrive with lesser scrutiny as compared to EU-led aid, it attracts the WBs nations to indulge in business with Beijing. Hence, it would not be an exaggeration to state that Chinese investments in the WBs are part of Xi Jinping’s larger strategy aimed at laying out the advantages of the BRI and presenting the Chinese economic model as superior to the Western economic model. 

Countering Taiwan: Selling the Serbia Model

China and the EU have been witnessing a downward spiral in their relations. Even though China remains the EU’s largest trading partner, both have failed to reach a middle ground in ramping up their economic ties despite the intention to do so. The ratification of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) has also been frozen since May 2021 after China imposed sanctions on several EU individuals and entities. The EU had reacted with countersanctions on the Chinese while France, the UK, and Germany sent military vessels into the South China Sea this year- inviting strong reactions from Beijing. 

Nonetheless, China recognizes the importance Europe holds. In a video meeting with Angela Merkel recently, Xi Jinping stated that both sides “believe that the common interests of China and the EU far outweigh contradictions and differences”.

To accomplish this goal, Serbia has become a tool for China to tell a success story to the EU. Serbia is now a hub of Chinese investment in the WBs- with more than 50% Chinese funding reaching it out of all the other WBs nations. The Budapest-Belgrade railway stands as the flagship BRI project in Europe, being accelerated after Wang Yi visited Serbia.

Beyond an economic partnership, Serbia provides Beijing with an ally in Europe that would support its core concerns. This is exemplified in Serbia’s steadfast support for the Chinese position on Taiwan and Beijing’s non-recognition of Kosovo as an independent state. 

While mainly driven by economic factors, China’s involvement with the WBs has certain strategic and geopolitical connotations. This can be understood in the backdrop of China positing Serbia as BRI’s success story in the WBs and using the same to accomplish two goals- luring the EU to its BRI fold and building diplomatic support against Taiwan.

Identifying Cracks in the Chinese Approach: A Chance for Strengthening the Transatlantic Alliance?

China making inroads into the WBs may appear to be lucrative, but it is not free from cracks. These cracks can be classified under two heads- lack of a system of checks and balances in the BRI projects, and threats that might emerge similarly to other BRI projects across the globe.

Talking about the system of checks and balances, China is currently offering BRI projects to the WBs nations through the Chinese EXIM Bank and the Chinese Development Bank (CDB) loans. These routes offer lesser scrutiny in comparison to European or American investments. While this lure is enough to pull the WBs nations- lax governance, corruption, and bribery are just a few of the issues that are already coming up.

Such dilemmas are further accentuated by threats that emanate from such BRI projects. It has been widely documented in Africa, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka that loans provided for infrastructure projects under the BRI have often led to debt traps for these countries. As a result, China ends up controlling the critical assets of these countries as payback.  An example of this was Beijing taking control over the strategic Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka.

In the case of WBs, it would not be far-fetched to be fearful of such debt-traps emerging, since the WBs nations are also developing nations and provide room for China to take control of critical assets for its national interests, especially transit points, and maritime routes. Similarly, it also raises concerns of potential dual-use ports coming up in the region at the behest of China, in a similar fashion to the South China Sea. 

Apart from the strategic fears, it has been observed in countries like Sri Lanka that along with Chinese investment, Beijing has subtly been spreading its cultural influence, often at the cost of local traditions and culture (exemplified in Mandarin sign boards replacing Tamil language signboards). In the case of WBs, it becomes important to anticipate such occurrences well in advance as China increases its footprint in the region. 

The human rights discourse is extremely crucial to scrutinize as well. It has already been reported that Chinese construction sites are using slave labour in Serbia; while a Chinese steel mill has been flouting environmental guidelines- increasing the risk of cancer in nearby areas. These instances are not very different from China’s dismal human rights record in foreign countries. Similar instances have taken place in Pakistan, Africa, and elsewhere.  This would invoke some fears in WBs.

These cracks highlight the downside of China’s relations with the WBs nations and call for exercising caution by the WBs, while offering a chance to the Transatlantic alliance to reassess the terms on which it wants to negotiate with China in the future, especially the EU. Since China wants to reengage with the EU on the economic front, the clear divergences between the two over ideology and human rights cannot be ignored. 

China has not shown any inclination to find a middle ground on these two issues. On the economic front too, the recent announcement by the EU to launch the Global Gateway initiative, a €300 billion plan for infrastructure development across the globe, is in direct competition with China’s BRI. As the EU adopts a more independent approach in foreign policy, with a pivot towards the Indo-Pacific and balancing China, how Beijing and Brussels navigate the vagaries of their relationship, remains to be seen. China has effectively managed to exploit the gaps in assistance left by the United States and the EU to the WBs. While it may cast doubt on the EU’s and US’ leadership in the WBs, it also offers them a chance to rebuild the Transatlantic Alliance —which has taken key hits post the signing of the AUKUS and hasty US-led withdrawal from Kabul resulting in the swift return of the Taliban —by using the WBs as a catalyst.

A major concern that should be focused on by both EU and the US should be the membership issues in the EU of the candidate countries from WBs who have long kept away due to certain expectations by both. With the EU and the US identifying China as the key future challenge, the WBs should serve as the driver behind a stronger Transatlantic alliance.

Bhavdeep Modi is a Senior Research Associate at ORCA and he is also a Visiting Researcher at Red Lantern Analytica (RLA), a New-Delhi based think-tank and has previously worked with Mr. Ninong Ering (former MP & currently MLA, Arunachal Pradesh). Mr Modi is also a former Teach for India Fellow and has worked as a political consultant in the past. He has interned at CLAWS, Chase India, and office of Mr. Anurag Singh Thakur (Minister of Sports, Youth Affairs and Minister for Information & Broadcasting). A lawyer by degree, he has also done an MA in Diplomacy, Law & Business with a specialization in Defense & National Security studies.

China’s Xiaokang villages- Why should India be concerned?

China’s Xiaokang villages- Why should India be concerned?

ByShivam Shekhawat;

The Galwan valley clash between the Indian and Chinese forces last year was an inflexion point in the Sino-Indian relationship. India viewed China’s actions as breaching ‘peace and tranquillity’ and going against the spirit of the agreements signed between the two countries stipulating minimal troop level on the borders. The increased belligerence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the failure of the two sides to reach a consensus on the boundary dispute following the clash has deteriorated bilateral relations further. 

This opinion piece while putting emphasis on the aggressive Chinese frontier policy, will focus primarily on the construction of the moderately prosperous villages called Xiaokang in the disputed areas between the two Himalayan neighbours by the PRC and the consequences it has for India’s security. In the background of the border dispute, the recent reports of the PLA constructing a bridge on the Pangong Tso lake and the orders by the Chinese premier to “combine training with combat operations”, there is an urgent need for India to take account of the infrastructural developments in both the eastern and western sectors and to pace up its own security in the border regions. 

‘Poverty alleviation’ villages 

In October 2020, the Xinhua news agency hailed the Communist government of China for eliminating poverty completely, with the CCP Chief in Tibet- Wu Yinhjie, calling the relocation of people to ghetto-like new model villages a ‘major victory’. According to Wu, till 2020 a total of 900 villages were constructed with an estimated 200 near the Indian border. The construction of these Xiaokang villages, which according to the People’s daily “shine like pearls”, is an aspect of the CCP’s overall strategy of transforming China into a moderately prosperous society. Xinhua news media describes Xiaokang as a state in which imperfection persists but still, everyone is equally provided for. The term was reintroduced in the political discourse of China in the 1970s but the final push for its attainment was given in the last eight years. An intermediate stage in the path of modernisation, it involved rejuvenation in all aspects- economic, political, cultural, social and ecological in a coordinated fashion. 

In the plan to make a moderately prosperous society, the Tibet Autonomous region (TAR) has been placed at the forefront of its strategy. Describing it as a vanguard of the national security barrier and as a region in urgent need of development and nourishment, China has accrued a dual purpose to these villages. The government of the TAR in 2017 launched a plan to build 628 villages in 21 counties, stretching from the Ngari, Shigatse, Shinnan and Nyingchi prefectures. The state allocated 30.1 billion yuan ( approx. 30000 crore rupees) for their construction and for building critical infrastructures like water, electricity, road, communication, network, etc. The location of these villages along the contested territories between India and China sheds light on the PRC’s real motives behind their positioning. Aiming to gain a leverage in its border disputes with its neighbours, the villages should be viewed together with the development of bridges and railway lines in the same regions and their potential in increasing China’s ability to reach Arunachal Pradesh. According to Claude Arpi, an expert on China, the villages are also aimed at changing the demographic identity of the region, with plans to enforce ethnic inter-mingling as a means to exercise control over the masses in the borders. They are also seen as targeting the border population of India and luring them towards a better life in Chinese villages, apart from keeping an eye on any incursions. As every village will have a party official, there are concerns about these officials being able to do political work in areas across the border because of the similarity of culture. According to save Tibet, which is an international advocacy group working for the freedom of Tibetans, the villages are also intended to act as a security barrier between Tibet and the rest of the world having been constructed mostly on the routes used by the Tibetans to cross over to India and Nepal.

Why should India be concerned?

In January 2021, NDTV released a report showing a Chinese village with approximately 100 houses on the banks of the Tsari Chu river in the Long ju area of Arunachal Pradesh. According to the report, the village is approximately 4.5 km inside Indian territory. Even though the region is shown as a part of India in the official maps of the Surveyor General of India, it has been in effective Chinese control for the last six decades. The Ministry of External Affairs, while not categorically denying the presence of the said village, stated that it rejects China’s unjustified claims and illegal occupation in the region. But General Bipin Rawat- India’s Chief of Defence Staff at the time- refuted the presence of any village inside India’s perception of the LAC, adding that the villages on the Chinese side are for ‘billeting and locating’ their civilians, and probably their military in the future. Denying that the construction of these villages was a part of Chinese flexing their strength against India, the CDS argued how India should also focus on increasing connectivity to the border areas. The report was also rejected by the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Pema Khandu. 

Another report indicated the presence of a second village, 93 km away from the first one in the Shi-Yomi district of Arunachal Pradesh with satellite images showing a Chinese flag painted from the rooftop of one of the houses. This was also subsequently denied by the Indian army. The issue came to light again in November 2021, when the US Department of Defence passed a reference to these villages in its Annual report on military developments involving China. It’s statement that the Indian Army was aware of the presence of these villages since at least the past year led to emphatic debates about China’s intransigence and the overall condition on the border, especially in the eastern sector. The Chinese state media labelled the state’s actions as ‘beyond reproach’ as it didn’t recognise Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India and hence was well within its powers to undertake such a project.

The five fingers of the Tibetan palm, a strategy espoused by Mao and used by the officials in the 1950s considers Xizang (Tibet) as the right palm of the Chinese state, responsible for liberating the fingers- Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA), present-day Arunachal Pradesh. With Nepal and Bhutan independent countries and Sikkim, Ladakh and NEFA inalienable part of India, it becomes important for us to view the construction of these villages as a manifestation of this strategy. The recent clash at Galwan valley in the west, the clash at  Naku La in Sikkim and the construction of a village 2.5 km inside Bhutanese territory are some points of concern. Along the Indian border, the villages are spread from the Rutok prefecture in the west to Rima in the Lohit valley in the east. There are also a few villages on the Chinese side of the LAC in Ladakh and the Tsona area. 

What can India do to counter Chinese aggression- Making the eastern sector a priority 

Kibithu in Anjaw district is in the easternmost administrative circle in India. Housing dozens of villages within the 10 km range of the McMohan line, the villagers are fluent in Hindi because of their regular interaction with the security forces but do not have proper connectivity with the mainland. Having been subjected to a significant military deployment since independence, they are accustomed to a military presence. But depopulation is a case of concern in the border villages in all areas of India. After trade with Tibet stopped post the 1962 Indo-China war, many frontier villages dependent on trade were deserted with people moving to the plains for better economic and professional opportunities. This is also visible in the west where close to 3000 ‘ghost’ villages exist in Uttarakhand. 

After the 1962 war, the Nehru administration decided against undertaking border development fearing an increased advantage for China in case it decided to intrude. But in the current situation, with India caught in an unfavourable neighbourhood, there is an urgent need for it to focus on strengthening its frontier regions- not just building critical military infrastructure but also working towards better integrating the populations with the mainland, taking a more development centred approach rather than directing all its actions to contain China. The ‘difference’ in the infrastructure development between the two countries was also exhorted by the External Affairs Minister at the beginning of this year. The Border Area Development Programme, which began in 1980 for the western border now covers 390 blocks of 111 border districts in 16 states and Union Territories. In the 2020-21 fiscal year, ₹784 crores were allocated to border states and UTs based on the length of the border and population, a fall from the ₹825 crores allocated in the previous fiscal with emphasis on building villages and towns while also allocating resources on building roads, bridges, culverts, schools and health infrastructure. Mechanisms to undertake social audits and create a positive perception amongst the people are also being adopted. According to some sources the government is now focusing on equipping the forces stationed in the border areas with sufficient knowledge of the Chinese language as well as culture to train them better. The eastern sector involves questions of territory as well as allegiance, with a diverse cultural composition and the distinct nature of the tribes making it more important than the cartographic importance of the West.

Efforts to stem migration from the frontier and enhanced funding have also been taken regularly but the Government’s focus should be on creating adequate facilities- both economic and welfare so that the people can earn their livelihood. Steps should be taken to enhance wool production, carpet weaving, and other industries that are more viable in the region along with increasing inter-village trading. The government can also consider the prospect of resuscitating the defunct Indian Frontier Administrative Service, calls for which have been made in different quarters. A central tool in shaping India’s border policy during the 1950s, it was based on an understanding and connection with the local people, with its focus on the development of the region. The emphasis should be on mainstreaming local voices.


Following a salami-slicing technique, China is trying to accrue incremental gains in its boundary disputes with India as well as Bhutan to place itself in a more advantageous position in their resolution. The step towards inhabiting the villages is aimed at establishing sovereignty through the presence of civilians in a territory. The Chinese state-run  Global Times deemed India’s reaction as exaggerated and a consequence of its hypersensitive nature. Testimonies of locals marvelling at their better lifestyle in these villages are also frequently made to legitimise the state’s actions. Citing the dismal conditions of these border regions in India and the reported dissent from the locals, India is blamed for targeting China to deflect attention from its domestic shortcomings. 

The rhetoric of the Xi Jinping led government has only increased in tempo in the past few months, with actions on the ground, like the construction of civilian villages and the promulgation of a new ‘Land borders law’ to legitimise the military’s actions in the eastern sector simultaneously accompanied by symbolic acts like the renaming of 15 places in Arunachal Pradesh. The attempts by China to change the facts on ground should be of great concern to India. With the talks on the border dispute not seeing any positive development, it is imperative for New Delhi to scale its infrastructure in the border areas, especially in the east while taking along the needs of the local population. 

Shivam Shekhawat is a recent graduate from the London School of Economics and Political Science where she was a Commonwealth Scholar. She is interested in studying about India’s neighbourhood, particularly India’s relationship with China and its response to the situation in Afghanistan and Myanmar. Her interests also lie in analyzing contemporary conflicts through a historical lens and the factors which affect a country’s response to humanitarian crises.

North Korea’s Cyber-offensive: Implications for India

North Korea’s Cyber-offensive: Implications for India

By – Divyanshu Jindal;

The anatomy of global conflicts is rapidly changing. With the focus of both state and non-state actors shifting towards exploiting the cyber domain for inflicting damage on their adversaries, cyber security has emerged as a key domain for geopolitical considerations. 

In the last few years, India has witnessed an exponential increase in cyber-attacks. India’s cyber susceptibilities have also been highlighted in several rankings and reports. In a volatile regional geopolitical dynamic (with both Pakistan and China able to collude with North Korea), India stands at a risk of an impending proxy cyberwar. However, there emerges an argument on whether New Delhi can feel Pyongyang’s pulse and diplomatically engage with the Kim regime to convey the importance of positive India-North Korea relations. 

Why North Korea stands apart 

There have been major cyber-attacks in the past few years by groups associated with the North Korean regime. The 2017 WannaCry  (the largest ransomware attack in history), the 2018 South Korean Ministry of Defence breach to steal arms procurement and next-gen fighter aircraft plans as well as the 2019 breach of India’s Kudankulam nuclear power plant – to steal proprietary information on thorium-based reactor, are some of the incidents that made headlines. 

As it seeks funds while reeling under heavy sanctions imposed by the United Nations (UN), the Kim regime has looked towards cyber-crimes and China’s support to run the country. With fault lines emerging between the West (the United States and Europe) and the eastern partners (China and Russia) over dominance in every sphere, the possibility of North Korea becoming China’s ‘Cyber Arm’ raises concerns, especially for nations with weaker cyber defence capacities.  

In recent past, the North Korean hacking groups have targeted institutions like the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, and several South Korean think tanks and security-related institutions; British drug maker AstraZeneca, and various other health bodies, drugmakers, and vaccine scientists working on the COVID-19 vaccines; the Central Bank of Bangladesh in 2016 (theft of $81 million); and Sony pictures in 2014. The groups used phishing emails as a common strategy, targeting experts to gain classified or proprietary information. The targets were contacted through fake job offers or by mimicking family and friends to install data-gathering malwares on the target systems, thus exploiting a lack of cyber security standards and awareness. Over the years, the North Korean cyber groups have increasingly improved their sophistication levels and have been able to exploit operating system vulnerabilities and use decentralised routes like cryptocurrencies for ransoms. The growing aggressiveness by North Korea in this sphere becomes a cause of concern, given the inability of diplomatic pressures as well as sanctions, to force the North to lower the cyber warfare being inflicted from its side North Korea has desire. The ‘Naming and Shaming’ approach – the practise of public singling out a person, company, government etc., for doing an illegal act, in order to cause public embarrassment- has also been ineffective in light of the North’s open defiance of the global order.

The North’s cyber prowess is often observed with astonishment, considering the degree of self-isolation the ruling regime has imposed on the nation, as well as due to years of sanctions restricting the country’s technical advancement on wider level. In the last one and a half decades, the North has been cut off from the global financial system and almost all sources of foreign investments. The North Korean leader equates the importance of cyber capabilities to that of nuclear power.  He is deemed to have stated that “Cyberwarfare is an all-purpose sword that guarantees the North Korean People’s Armed Forces ruthless striking capability, along with nuclear weapons and missiles”. This signifies the regime’s focus on achieving superior cyber offensive skills as a means to defend against its rivals. North Korea’s case is different than other nations like China or Russia who are often alleged to be backing the cyber criminals but cannot be explicitly linked with them.

Although many attacks might be state sponsored, there also exists a considerable degree of freedom exercised by these criminals’ groups in their conduct. This is seen as an explanation (or an excuse) for Chinese origin cyber-attacks on Russia and vice-versa, as well as Russian origin cyberattacks on India. Generally, cyber-attacks provide a large extent of deniability to the states backing them in absence of proofs to establish a direct link. 

However, as access to internet remains limited to only the North’s elites, comprising about 0.1 percent of the population, and an extremely severe form of monitoring and restriction is imposed inside the country, the cyberattacks originating from the groups associated with the North Korean regime are deemed directly as state sponsored. Severe restrictions on foreign travel and stay for North Korean citizens also makes it improbable for North Korean groups to conduct operations without the leadership’s knowledge. This makes the Kim regime a hostile state actor in the cyber domain.   

Concerns for India: Diminishing ties and the rising China-North Korea Axis

The India-North Korea relations are generally characterized by friendship, cooperation and understanding. India participates in the biennial Pyongyang International Film festival, welcomes North Korean students in Indian academic institutions under Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme, and extends humanitarian assistance consisting of food, medicine, and essential goods like blankets and polythene sheets on a regular basis. It is argued that India-North Korea ties are a legacy from India’s non-aligned status during the cold war, uplifted post-cold war by India’s welcoming stance to engagements with the North, even when the western consensus deemed the North’s regime problematic. 

Despite desires for deeper contacts, India-North relations have remained limited in backdrop of international sanctions on North Korea. This extends to both the economic and political spheres. While Indian public and private entities remain averse to making investments in North Korea, India’s ‘dialogue diplomacy’ to promote establishment of peace and stability on the Korean peninsula has not  lead to substantive results. In comparison, China’s heft in North Korea’s strategic considerations have grown exponentially. 

Beijing stands among Pyongyang’s major allies in global arena. It supports North Korea’s defence through a 1961 alliance treaty and there exists a heavy dependence on Chinese fuel and food imports. Although Beijing has criticized Pyongyang’s missile tests on several occasions, it enjoys the strategic costs that Pyongyang’s rogue stance incurs on the West. The US maintains a force of around 28,500 soldiers in South Korea to deter any aggression by the North, along with constant monitoring of its activities. 

The North also creates a mediating role for Beijing in regional tensions with Japan, and South Korea. It is now widely accepted that Beijing’s role will be paramount in Korean de-nuclearization – if at all. Given how China seeks to shape its global image in the post pandemic world – Pyongyang can be Beijing’s trump card in cyber space. Without being accused of leading any cyber offensive against the West, China can utilize North Korean cyber capabilities to attain its objectives.  

A report by a US-based think-tank highlighted that in 2020 the North Korean hacking groups targeted at least six pharmaceutical companies that were working on the COVID-19 treatments. It remained unclear whether North Korea was attempting to create its own vaccine or vying to sell the stolen information to some foreign company or government. Considering the lack of infrastructural resources in North Korea to develop own vaccines and China’s failures to come up with an efficient vaccine, it is not far from imagination that China would have been the main beneficiary for any cyber exploits through these cyberattacks. This remains true for any stolen information from the US, India, Israel, Japan, South Korea, or even Russia, which can accelerate Chinese projects to attain technical superiority.

The Chinese government pursues official academic partnerships with military-affiliated North Korean universities. According to a US army report, North Korea commands an estimated 6,000 cyber agents scattered across the globe. These agents gain the relevant skills while studying at Chinese universities, thus getting access to advanced technology and equipment. There also exists Chinese infrastructural support to North’s hacking groups, an example of which came to light during the 2016 cyber heist on the Bangladesh’s central bank. The investigators observed that most of the stolen money ended up in Macau, before being sent to North Korea. 

Attacks on India’s critical infrastructure by North Korean hackers – like Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) attack, and the previously highlighted Kudankulam nuclear power plant attack – would immensely help Beijing in the evolving geopolitical competition against India.    

What are India’s options? 

According to a global survey by a cybersecurity firm – Sophos, India tops the list of top 30 countries vulnerable to ransomware attacks, primarily due to a lack of proper cyber security mechanisms and highly prevalent use of pirated technology. Another report on cyber readiness highlights India among the countries with lowest adoption rates for multi-factor authentication. 

While low cybersecurity awareness at ground levels remains a weak spot in India’s cyber defences, there exists a vacuum in India’s cybersecurity approach which can be filled through multilateral cyber intelligence arrangements. 

India remains a non-signatory to the Budapest convention which stands as the sole binding treaty on cybercrime. It aims at harmonizing national laws, improving investigative techniques, and increasing cooperation among nations. India has expressed concerns regarding cross border data access provisions which impinge on national sovereignty. Instead, India has focused on cyber cooperation on mostly bilateral basis. 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has witnessed a developing bifurcation in global geopolitics. The current Joe Biden administration is at odds with both Russia and China at the same time. Experts believe that a collusion between China and Russia could lead to a two-pronged attack on Ukraine and Taiwan, to overwhelm the West’s defensive capacities. 

There is also a growing concern over the rising Chinese dominance in the Indo-Pacific region, which has shifted global focus towards this region. This can be seen in the recent institutionalization of the QUAD (India, Japan, Australia, US) mechanism and the formation of the AUKUS (Australia-United Kingdom-United States) pact. India is expected to act as a fulcrum for countering Chinese hegemony in the region in most western plans. 

This makes an opportunity for India to look at mechanisms like the Five/Nine/Fourteen Eyes arrangements which focus on intelligence gathering, counterintelligence operations, and law enforcement in the cyber domain. This will need India to make a significant decision towards its cybersecurity strategy for the coming years. 


Hopes for better India-North Korea relations have taken some beating in last few years. While in 2015 India refused a US suggestion to diminish its diplomatic presence in Pyongyang – pointing the need for embassies of some of US’ friendly countries to remain in Pyongyang to continue channels of communication- India has not been able to move closer to the Kim regime. The growing global animosity towards North Korea’s nuclear activities has also led to diminished interactions between New Delhi and Pyongyang. Meanwhile, India’s ties have strengthened with the North’s major adversaries- US, Japan, South Korea. 

Considering the shifting tides in global and regional geopolitics, it might be time for India to consider the developing Xi-Kim nexus and shape India’s cyber diplomacy accordingly. There remains an urgent need for India to develop its cyber defence, improve cyber awareness on ground level, and engage in multilateral avenues to deter cybercrimes.

Divyanshu Jindal is a Doctoral Student at OP Jindal Global University, India and a Research Intern at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyse, New Delhi, India. He is a postgraduate in International Relations with a specialization in economics and foreign policy. He has worked at Fidelity Investments as an Associate Systems Engineer after completing B. Tech in Computer Science from SRM University, India. His writings have appeared at The Lowy institute, BRICS Information Portal, The Quint, 9Dashline, Eurasian Review, Modern Diplomacy, The Geopolitics, among other online platforms. His areas of interests include India-Russia relations, India’s foreign policy, cyber diplomacy, and cyber politics. 

The Haqqani Network – China nexus in India’s Kabul Calculus

The Haqqani Network – China nexus in India’s Kabul Calculus

By Eerishika Pankaj;

The globally watched withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan which resulted in an extremely swift return of the Taliban to Kabul will remain one of the most pivotal geopolitical events of the year, if not decade. Despite being referred to as ‘Taliban 2.0’ –linked to efforts at building a more political rather than insurgent image –the group’s return brings with it serious security, political, socio-economic and diplomatic challenges for South Asia. For India, which is a traditional power in the region, the Taliban’s return foreshadows the challenges that will threaten its national security and sovereignty, especially as they merge with existing rivalries and tensions along the border. Beyond conventional factors such as Pakistan’s backing of the Taliban and security threats along the Indian boundary as well as in Kashmir, a key denominator linked to Taliban 2.0 has emerged in the form of China’s growing political clout within the grouping and the return to considerable central power of the Haqqani Network. Merging these two threats together, the question arises of China’s ties with the Haqqani Network and what such a ‘bilateral’ means for New Delhi. How will the presence of Haqqani Network in Kabul affect India’s security interests, investments and broader ties with Afghanistan and the official government formed by Taliban 2.0? What role does Beijing play in this regard? 

Haqqani Network and Taliban

A Sunni Islamist terrorist organization, the Haqaani Network was established by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who rose to power as a powerful Afghan warlord and guerilla-insurgency commander during the Soviet-Afghan war. When the Taliban 1.0 came to power in the early 1990’s, Jalaluddin aligned with the group as its Minister of Tribal and Border Affairs. He was a known partner of Usama Bin Ladin and was perceived as one of Bin Ladin’s closest guides during his formative years in the Afghan War. At present, Jalaluddin’s son Sirajuddin Haqqani —whose international credentials include being an UN-designated global terrorist since 2007 with a USD10 million reward by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for information leading to his arrest —  runs the everyday exercises of the Network, alongside a few of his nearest family members. In August 2015, Sirajuddin became as a deputy to Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansur—the then supreme Taliban leader who took over from Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar in 2015. Mansur was killed in a 2016 US drone strike, but Sirajuddin’s appointment in the Taliban nonetheless successfully established the alliance between the Haqqanis and the Taliban which has grown progressively since.

In September 2021, Taliban 2.0 while awaiting international recognition announced the formation of an interim government —-with heavy representation of the Haqqani Network, showing the endurance of their ties. Taliban’s attempts at presenting its new avatar as more political than insurgent will find in its dependance on the Haqqani Network a key fallback; the Network’s associations with transnational jihad are well documented. With four key individuals from the infamous Network holding cabinet level positions —Sirajuddin himself as Interior Minister; his uncle Khalil-Ur-Rehman Haqqani (a listed terrorist since 2011) as the Minister for Refugees; Najibullah Haqqani (a listed terrorist since 2001) as Minister for Communication; and Sheikh Abdul Baqi Haqqani as the Minister for Higher Education —the group’s power in the new Afghan state and with the Taliban only appears to be growing. However, it becomes important to note that despite Sirajuddin’s induction into the Taliban 1.0 and 2.0, the Network has successfully managed to remain outside Taliban control, often functioning as a separate identity that could draw power from its Taliban connect should it need to. 

India, the Haqqani Network and national security

The Haqqani Network, in its aforementioned capacity of operating with an individual identity, has long been a cause of security concern for India. The Network has operated and supported a number of anti-India terrorists and terror activities, often with the involvement of Pakistan, India’s neighbor and strategic rival. Pakistan’s financial and logistical aid to the Taliban –mostly via its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency –has continued across sectors, while Islamabad’s strong direct ties with the Haqqani Network itself have also grown. Pakistan’s ties with the Network are further documented in the shelter it provided to Haqqani leaders post the fall of Taliban 1.0 in 2001, allowing them refuge in North Waziristan. In its bid to undermine Indian influence in Afghanistan –especially as New Delhi enjoys more public support in the country as opposed to the non-state action support behind Islamabad  –Pakistan has provided security to the Network which has used the same to carry out lethal attacks, more often than not, targeting India. The 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, the 2020 attack on Gurdwara Har Rai Saheb in Kabul and even the introduction of suicide bombing as a non-state action tactic –which was inducted by the Taliban as well –are often credited as works of the Haqqani Network.

Such an outlook has also guided Pakistan’s non-attempts at bringing the Taliban and Haqqani’s together at the peace talks table, even as Islamabad and ISI wield great influence over both terror groups. Frustration on this point is shared by the US, which realized that no amount of persuasion would convince Pakistan to crack down on the Haqqani Network, termed a “veritable arm” of the ISI by a former US Joint Chief of Staff. A testament of Pakistan’s influence within the Network –and readiness to use the same for its national interest –can be seen at present as Sirajuddin Haqqani, in the capacity of Taliban’s interior minister, attempts to mediate talks between Pakistan and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to bring an end to twenty years of militancy by the latter in Pakistan. 

However, in lieu of current geopolitics and the Taliban 2.0’s new needs in lieu of a changed world order, Pakistan’s influence within the Taliban –and Haqqani Network –could decrease. This is because both the groups recognize that better political achievements could be achieved by building closer alliances with China and Russia (with both these countries being UN permanent powers) and Iran (based on a religious ideological connect vis-à-vis Sunni populations). Here also, China emerges as the clear choice especially as the Chinese government has long sought to build stronger ties with the Taliban especially in an attempt to make sure the group brings the anti-China Uyghur extremist group East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) under control. ETIM presents a major security threat for China in Xinjiang and has dominated China’s Afghanistan outreach from as early as 2000 when Chinese representatives met with Mullah Omar in a bid to get the Taliban to stop harboring Uyghur militants. This diplomatic outreach was not successful, as Omar failed to restrain the ETIM and in retaliation, China did not stop the US sanctions against the Taliban.

There has now emerged a security and power vacuum in Afghanistan post withdrawal of US-NATO forces; the Taliban’s swift and easy return to Kabul highlighted this overture. China hopes to fill this vacuum, especially by making an exclusive entry into the country via its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and ensuring safety of its own borders against ETIM. This narrative has dominated China’s Afghan –or more specifically, Taliban –outreach since the time of the peace talks itself. The meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi with Taliban leaders in Tianjin as the US was still withdrawing from Afghanistan in itself lay the diplomatic official cornerstone of China’s warming ties with the insurgent group –official recognition of the Taliban is all but inevitable by Beijing should the grouping manage to give China the political, economic and diplomatic clout it wants in the country, especially to counter India. Post the return of Taliban, China has maintained that it will “respect the sovereign independence and territorial integrity of Afghanistan” while hoping that “Afghanistan can build a broad and inclusive political structure” while cracking down on “all kinds of terrorist forces”. Having endorsed the Taliban, China plans to hold the Taliban to its pledge of forming an ‘inclusive’ government, and it has the political sway to shape it narrative. An example of this power was seen when the Taliban extended their interim government by publishing new appointments post the Chinese (along with Pakistani and Russian) envoys met with the Taliban calling for more inclusiveness. 

China’s ‘bilateral’ with Haqqani Network

Despite talks to build further its BRI in Afghanistan, China is unlikely to press forward until it receives a guarantee that its own interests will be protected. Nonetheless, Kabul has been reportedly engaging with China over talks on the extension of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan; this would decidedly shape China’s entry into post-US Afghanistan while also adversely  affecting the power balance India holds in the region.  Strategic assets in Taxkorgan, Wakhan and Gwadar will highly aid China’s economic and political global outreach. Beyond BRI driven outlooks, China’s power in Afghanistan will deter India’s neighborhood power and influence. In this regard, China recognizes that beyond the Taliban, the eventual fate of New Delhi’s US$3 billion (S$4.02 billion) investments in Afghan infrastructure development projects and India’s security interests in the region would extraordinarily rely upon how the Haqqani network assesses the underlying necessities and external imperatives of its activities in its quest for power. This recognition has driven China’s focus on the Haqqani Network —extending beyond the purview of the Taliban-China bilateral, but accentuating it all the same.

In what is emerges as the biggest threat for India, the Taliban have put security for Kabul in the hands of the Haqqani Network, or more specifically, Khalil Haqqani. Khalil’s close ties with the ISI, Taliban and Al-Qaida create a trifecta of potential terror activities that could be directed at India; there is considerable threat to Indian national security as the power of the Network grows, especially in light of Al-Qaeda’s statements regarding ‘liberation’ of Kashmir post-Taliban ‘victory’ have stirred security tensions. Here, the China-Pakistan ‘iron’ brotherhood will allow Islamabad to emerge as a trump card for Beijing in its outreach to Kabul –and the Haqqani Network. It becomes important to note that the Haqqani’s are Pakistan’s “favored Taliban”; furthermore, with growing power, the Network is emerging as the true “kingmakers” in the country, allowing Pakistan to use the strategic geography of Afghanistan to its advantage by positioning itself as an indispensable ally to the US.

China’s outreach to the Haqqani Network has been long built; even during the peace talks phase, reports of Chinese nationals being in touch with the Network fast emerged. At present, the long-nurtured outreach is being used by Beijing to reach its goal to get the Taliban to ‘cut ties’ with militant groups, especially ETIM, while current reports suggest that Chinese intelligence heads are building pressure on Sirajuddin to extradite Uyghur militants. In a state-arranged chartered flight, ten Chinese ‘spies’ reportedly flew out from Afghanistan earlier this year; two of these Chinese nationals were in direct and close contact with the Haqqani Network. Chinese spies have long stayed in touch with key Haqqani leaders, with ISI agents often acting as the intermediaries

Debate within Chinese public on the Taliban has been divided; a post by the CCP’s mouthpiece People’s Daily was deleted from Weibo after it faced backlash due to its narrative that sought to ‘whitewash’ the Taliban’s violent history. The Chinese public has seemed at odds on whether or not to support the Taliban and its affiliated groups simply because it is an anti-US group, or to focus solely on officially recognizing the grouping should it move away from terror activities. Beijing’s delay in officially recognizing the Taliban –even as its embassy continues to remain one of the last few operating normally in Kabul –could also potentially be due to the public divide in China. Even as the same is rapidly censored, the article by People’s Daily highlights the CCP’s attempts to push forward a more-favorable outlook of the group before making a formal policy announcement. 

However, such debate does not exist vis-à-vis ties with the Haqqani Network. China and its ‘iron brother’ Pakistan have both sought to undermine India’s role in the Afghanistan nexus; a key diplomatic example of this was their decision to skip the security dialogue India convened on the situation in Kabul in November. The Taliban has already welcomed Chinese contribution to “rebuilding” Afghanistan; such an overture spells trouble for India. New Delhi’s most ideal choice at present would be to maintain a channel of correspondence open with the Taliban. How New Delhi maneuvers its role in the country will hence have to be decided in close consultation with its partner states like US, Japan and Australia bilaterally or as part of the Quad. Nonetheless, it becomes evident that India’s Afghanistan policy will be driven by the nexus between the Haqqani’s, the Taliban and the China-Pakistan bilateral. 

Eerishika Pankaj (@eerishika) is Head of Research and Operations Director at the Organisation for Research on China and Asia (ORCA). She is also an Editorial and Research Assistant to the Series Editor for Routledge Series on Think Asia, a Young Leader in the 2020 cohort of the Pacific Forum’s Young Leaders Program and is a Commissioning Editor with E-International Relations for their Political Economy section.