China’s Foreign Policy In The Sahel: Challenges And Prospects

China’s Foreign Policy In The Sahel: Challenges And Prospects

By Dara Cheick;

According to Chinese political scientist Lanxin Xiang, there are three objectives of Chinese politics: the restoration of the past glory of China and the state; recalling the age-old desire for a rich and powerful modern China and maintaining social stability. Seen from Beijing’s point of view, Africa remains a political and economic question rather than a military and security issue, despite the mantra of “security and development”. However, the security dimension does exist and is even tending to increase, particularly because China is worried about the protection of its nationals in Africa, whose number is estimated today at one million people. In terms of resources (such as oil, zinc, iron, cobalt, copper, titanium, etc.) as well as from the commercial point of view, the development of the Chinese economy depends on Africa and therefore its stability is very crucial for China. The deployment of Chinese military forces in Africa responds to a growth in both security supply and demand.

The Sahel comprises a geographical area that covers five countries of West Africa including Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad, working as an organization at the sub-regional level called G5-Sahel, created on December 16, 2014, in Nouakchott. The region is largely covered by sand and is in the grip of a security crisis that threatens the lives of the people struggling with forced displacement, and massacres with a very heavy toll on human life. This instability has also affected the industrial infrastructure of the region which has reached the brink of collapse, especially since the Malian disaster of 2012.  

China’s Sahel overtures:

For a very long time, Chinese policy was based on significant economic investments in the manufacturing industries of the Sahel countries. To this end, the creation, two decades ago of a mixed company between the Government of Mali and the Chinese Light Industry Company for Techno-Economic Cooperation with Abroad (SUKALA s.a) was set up which is today one of the largest industrial companies in Mali and has generated more than 35 million dollars for the Malian State in taxes and duties.

During the1980s China was strongly involved in Sugar Complex of the Upper Kala (SUKALA), Malian Textile Company (COMATEX), Mali Tannery Company (TAMALI), Malian Pharmaceutical Factory (UMPP), Popular Pharmacy of Mali (PPM) were subject to this type of intervention. 

In Niger, the main areas of investment are energy ($5.12 million); mining ($620 million) and real estate ($140 million), other aspects of cooperation include: the construction of stadiums and schools, medical missions, military cooperation, infrastructure (roads, bridges, rolling stock, thermal power plants). 

Malis still struggling to have a legitimate democratic leader elected through free and transparent elections and is floundering in a transition that is the result of two military putsches. In Burkina Faso, the power of President Rock Marc Kaboré succumbs to a great social protest and a soldier’s mutiny on January 23, 2022, under the leadership of Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo DAMIBA, president of the junta that took power on January 24, 2022. Among all these countries mentioned above, only Niger remains the one that maintains a “relative stability”, with its successful democratic alternation on February 21, 2021, which carried Mohamed Bazoum as President of the Republic with a foiled coup attempt on the night of 30 to 31 March 2021 even.

Nevertheless, without being as weak as their neighbours in the Central Sahel, the capabilities of the Mauritanian and Chadian armies are far from exceptional. Renowned for the quality of its intelligence services and rapid intervention units, Mauritania has still not been directly involved in significant fighting for four years. This is important to note as these are the two countries of the G5 Sahel organization that have a certain capacity to respond to the terrorist threats, hence for four years, they have not been directly involved in this scourge.

However, amidst such terse geopolitical realities in a situation of rejection and lack of coordination and results, France and the other European partners are in a situation of weariness and attempting to decide whether or not to reduce their footprints with the G5-Sahel joint force. This will only open further room for Chinese entry.

On the military and security front, China generally contributes to UN peacekeeping operations, for example in Mali as part of MINUSMA where it deployed 403 peacekeepers, including one killed and 12 others wounded in an attack in Gao in the north of the country.   

China pledged more than $45 million to the G5-Sahel joint force in early 2019 and $1.5 million for the operation of the permanent secretariat, in other cases it allied with Russia to block some resolutions initiated by other UN Security Council members on Mali, in addition to the supply of several military equipment respectively to the countries of the G5-Sahel and more generally to those of the African Union. 

THE GEOSTRATEGIC IMPLICATIONS OF CHINESE COOPERATION IN THE SAHEL

The relationship between the Sahel countries and China has evolved over several years of cooperation through investments in various fields whose interests continue to benefit all the different parties. For the former, it allows them to have diversified diplomacy and cheap goods and for the latter to establish its economic and political power in these developing countries. For China, thanks to globalization which has allowed it to liberalize its economy as well as the new law of 2015 that allows the Chinese military and police to intervene abroad as part of so-called “anti-terrorist” missions to protect its economic and human interests, Beijing has created strong political clout in the region that it has transformed into infrastructure according to the needs of these countries (as in Djibouti)  under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

In addition to these donations, it has carved out a significant share of the public procurement of these States compared to other powers in the West within the framework of bilateral agreements; several achievements have been carried out mutually that continue to benefit the interests of each party thanks to the low cost of Chinese products.  

Beijing’s goals in Africa are threefold, with the first being to get acquainted with uncharted territory. These operations allow it to improve its operational capabilities and test new weapons, such as infantry fighting vehicles and 95-1 assault rifles. Exercises are also being conducted at its military base in Djibouti, inaugurated in 2017, covering several terrains: such as the desert of sub-Saharan Africa, urban areas and sea lanes.

“This is one of the least threatening ways for the Chinese military to practice in real theatres of armed conflict,” says Obert Hodzi, an international relations researcher at the University of Helsinki and author of The End of China’s Non-intervention Policy in Africa”. 

This is why the Chinese government is seeking to consolidate ties between the PLA and the African General Staff. At the beginning of the summer, the first China-Africa Security and Defense Forum organized in Beijing by the Chinese Ministry of Defense was an opportunity to define the axes of this cooperation and in particular the issue of “mutual assistance for security”, terms that appeared in 2015 in the second white paper on Africa, which now includes the training of soldiers and the sale of arms.

 China’s influence in the regional security atmosphere

China has even gone so far as to use its economic power to force governments to give it special treatment, as was the case in Zimbabwe, or to defend politicians favourable to its interests as in Zambia or Zimbabwe with the fall of Mugabe. China behaves there like many Western countries that it has previously criticized.

The reason is the defence of its military-industrial lobby. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has interests in hotels, banking and real estate. With it, China cannot help but mix trade and politics. Companies, such as ZTE or Huawei in telecommunications, are likely to have to respond to requests or orders from the PLA or the party if the need arises. Beijing is thus drawing its new diplomacy, multilaterally via the UN, and bilaterally by maintaining privileged relations with the Sahelian states or political parties sensitive to its arguments to shale up traditional powers such as France and especially the United States in the region.

Dara Cheick is a student at the Faculty of Administrative and Political Sciences of Bamako (Mali) and a research assistant at the Timbuktu Center for Strategic Studies for the Sahel. He can be reached on Twitter @DaraCheick

Decoding the usage of Sun Tzu tactics in Contemporary Geopolitics

Decoding the usage of Sun Tzu tactics in Contemporary Geopolitics

By – Tanishk Saxena;

Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War‘ is seminal Chinese military treatise that looks to forecast victory or defeat. China under Xi Jinping has followed his suggestions and satisfactorily executed Sun Tzu’s Military Treatise that have bolstered confidence and built a moral consensus within China to legitimize his decisions. This opinion piece analyses contemporary endeavors by China (domestically and internationally) that fall in line with Sun Tzu’s Military Treatise on laying plans, waging war and attacking by stratagem.

Sun Tzu mentioned that “morality makes the population comply with the ruler regardless of conditions.” (Pg.1) Herein, we see that Xi Jinping has enforced his thoughts on the people by embedding his thoughts in the education system and running re-education camps in the supervision of the Propaganda Department and Education system to build a moral consensus. 


Sun Tzu has also stated that “he could predict victory by analyzing the General’s ability, advantages derived from occupying strategically important grounds, discipline enforcement, increasing the strength of an army, training of officers and men and constancy both in reward and punishment.” (Pg 2). We see that China trains its generals to uphold the spirit of fearlessness and indomitable courage. PLA comrades endure rigorous training under extreme conditions which includes training to use NunChaku, spears and other non-lethal weapon fighting tactics, especially along the India-China LAC wherein firing of weapons is prohibited. It adds to the strength of the forces in hand-to-hand combat. Such training programs boost commanding and fighting capabilities to foster excellent conduct. During the Beijing winter Olympics 2022, Qi Fabao, the regiment commander of the People’s Liberation Army who fought during the Galwan Valley clashes, was made the torchbearer as a reward for his bravery. Concurrently, harsh punishment to officers for indiscipline is a common practice in PLA. China has worked extensively on gaining high grounds and places of strategic importance through its BRI projects, investments and loans globally. These strategic locations include Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and Gwadar Port in Pakistan which adds to the strategic depth of China.

Sun Tzu notes that “deception is at the core of warfare. Strategies should be formed as one is capable and prepared to conduct an attack- must seem unable; and while during aggression- must seem inactive; when close to conduct an attack must make the enemy feel far away; when far away, make him believe to be near.” (Pg 3). During the reign of Mao Zedong, China had limited military capabilities and didn’t hold significant economic might or stature in international politics. At that time, China claimed to reunify Taiwan in coming 10 years. China was very far away from its goal at that time as the presence of western powers and support for Taiwan was certain. Later during the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, China was in better condition after opening up its economy and had made a place in the international system. Deng Xiaoping during his tenure expressed the willingness to reunify Taiwan but changed it from ten years to hundred years. As China got closer to reunification; China made the world perceive it is moving away from its goal through statements of its leaders. Xi Jinping stated in his comment on Taiwan said that ‘China is still willing to reunify Taiwan but did not mention the exact time or year for his plans. Though China seems much closer to its goal to reunify Taiwan with its economic might, maintains a gigantic military, can write international rules and challenge the global governance, it has made its stance that it is outlying away from its plan of reunification. From Mao’s time to now, China has maintained its stance that China will use only peaceful means to reunify Taiwan also seems a deceptive move as it sends regular flights, fighter jets and bombers close to the island.

Sun Tzu has also suggested that “an opponent with a choleric temper should be irritated and then should pretend to be weak against that same opponent so that the opponent may develop arrogance.” (Pg. 3). During the Trade War with the USA, China had used all means to irritate the former President of the USA – Donald Trump, through various means. Donald Trump taking the America First campaign forward – was willing to bring back manufacturing industries from China back to the USA with a key objective to refrain China from taking unreasonable benefits of the international system, but the chronic temper of Trump was also a well-known fact. Xi Jinping imposed retaliatory taxes on the USA products that received retaliation with even more tariffs on Chinese products. Xi Jinping used to flatter Trump during the dinners and unofficial meetings telling him how grateful he is. John Bolton (Former National Security Advisor of USA) writes in his book ‘The Room Where It Happened’, that Xi Jinping’s personal relationships mean next to nothing to him if it is inconsistent with the interest of the CCP and then China. This consistent cyclic retaliation during the trade war and flattering during personal meetings built up arrogance in Trump. His arrogance grew to a level where he started competing with Xi Jinping and stated ‘People are talking about repealing the two-term limit for him. The Trade deal with China that Trump projected to his domestic audience as success went into a hoax. China used this tactic to build up arrogance into Trump so much that he later fired his National Security Advisor Jon Bolton and Defense secretary Mark Esper over Twitter and could not accept his defeat in elections by the Democrat candidate Joe Biden leading to Capitol Riots. 

Next, Sun Tzu’s statement that, “at the time of war: the expenditure is enormous both at home and on the front and suggests to account money required to pay for the entertainment of guests and other miscellaneous expenses” is noteworthy (Pg. 4). 

China has increased its military and defense budget by 7.1 per cent to USD 230 billion from last year’s USD 209 billion. Xi Jinping has paid extra attention to modernizing China’s defense equipment with self-reliance to sustain long wars. The recent session of the Fiscal and Economic Committee of the Thirteenth National People’s Congress emphasized food security, bringing fiscal and taxation reforms. China imports a significant amount of food from outside,  purchasing wheat from Russia and pork is imported through a long channel from Brazil. Having a stockpile of food beforehand during time of uncertainty acts as a tool to mitigate the risk of food security. China’s domestic spending is not standardized and lacks detailing during execution. The use of budgetary funds remains low and allows China to have backup plans/funds in the instance of any black swan event. 

Sun Tzu stated that the objective should be victory and, prolonging warfare campaigns must be avoided. (Pg. 4) We see that China has entered the conflict zone strategically and has always made it on top of its checklist to abstain from entering prolonged warfare. China had strategic plans in Afghanistan and Pakistan attached to its China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and broadly Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Despite strategic goals, China has abstained from directly entering the conflict zone or situation despite being a direct threat to its investments and interests for prolonged nature. On similar lines, Russia sent its forces to support the current leadership of Khaskasths against the coup. China also supported the existing regime of Kazakhstan but did not send its armed forces on the ground, sensing a fear of prolonged war. The pattern observed in various conflict zones where China abstains from entering despite high stakes and interests is for a reason being of prolonged nature. In all these conflicts, the objective of China remained to be victorious even without firing a bullet itself. Moreover, China’s support remained unaffected by the kind of regime it is dealing with.

Sun Tzu prioritized bringing the other state as a whole and intact within the sphere of direct influence. (Pg. 6). China’s strategy to extend loans through AIIB and under its BRI project provides an irresistible bait for any economy struggling. Ambitious leaders willing to bring a huge change within a short span tend to be caught easily into the trap as a desire to project growth is used to gain support,  popularity and acceptance to their people the kind of development brought. China offers loans without any requirement of restructuring the economy as often mandated by Institutions from the Bretton Wood System. The loans extended are offered at a cheaper price but takes tactically important assets for lease or mortgage. Through these means, China maintains the leadership of the state in control and in case of default takes over the assets of strategic importance to China. China under Xi Jinping has used this tactic in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and many other African states. This tactic is also referred to as salami slicing and debt trap diplomacy where loans and investments are provided as bait. These adhere to Sun Tzu’s strategy of bringing a state completely under its sphere of influence intact. 

Lastly, Sun Tzu mentioned that if you know yourself and your enemy well, you will surely win every battle, but if one fails to do so, he will suffer defeat. One who neither knows his strength nor weakness will surely scramble on the battlefield. (Pg 8). China runs extensive surveillance within the country through cameras that can even identify and report the ethnicity of a person and location. It also engages in using artificial intelligence and maintaining strong control over social media outlets. Along with this China maintains strict surveillance over its military leaders, capitalist class, social media influencers, journalists and members of the CCP. China also extensively reviews its domestic projects, population, military capability and situation of various provinces and autonomous regions. This helps China to identify its strength and weakness so that it never crumbles on the battlefield. Chinese companies like Huawei, ZTE, other applications and social media platforms are accused of stealing user data that is further refined and used to acknowledge the actions and to extract vital information from the user whose information is compromised without any consent. China has extensively built Confucius institutes globally along with the Embassies apart from their role in cultural exchange, act as a medium to gather vital information that helps to know more about a potential adversary. China has installed its surveillance equipment in various countries and withholds technological backend data for service and other purposes that can be used for surveillance as and if needed. 

Conclusion

China under Xi Jinping, one of its most powerful leaders since Mao, has effectively implemented the strategies provided by Sun Tzu. Building a Communist Socialist Society with unique Chinese Characteristics, and restoring glory lost during imperialism are key objectives of Xi Jinping.  Sun Tzu, being an ancient Chinese philosopher best suits Xi Jinping to protect the national interest. As he uses the tactics of Sun Tzu in international politics thereby becoming a part of the normal thought process and being used in domestic politics or to pursue his personal ambitions has high possibility. The work of Sun Tzu effectively bolstered the confidence of Xi Jinping while making strategies and taking decisions. Reading Sun Tzu’s work along with the contemporary actions of various state and non-state actors could help better understand and decode contemporary geopolitics.

Tanishk Saxena is Executive Outreach Head at Organization for Research on China and Asia (ORCA). Mr. Saxena is also Project Associate with Asian Pathfinders and is pursuing his PGDM with specialisations in International Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations. Mr Saxena was associated with Mitkat Advisory Ltd. – Information Services Department, Mahindra Rise – Mahindra Construction Equipment as a Management Trainee and as a Mentor at Teach for India (TFI). He has a Masters degree in International Studies from Symbiosis School of International Studies and a BBA-LLB (Hons.). He previously practised as a Criminal Advocate in District and Sessions Court. His research interests include Chinese politics, Private Military Contractors, International Relations, Security Studies and Business Continuity Management. He can be reached on Twitter @tanishk007.

Asia’s Position in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Asia’s Position in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

By – Donald Leung;

In the next 10, 20, and 30 years, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will upend and transform the world through new technology for better and worse. But what is an industrial revolution, and what does it have to do with technology? Plus, how will society change?

The etymology of the word ‘technology’ has its roots embedded in the Greek words, ‘techne’ and ‘logos’. ‘Techne’ means knowledge of art, skill, and craft. Whereas ‘logos’ means word, reason, or expression. So in a sense, ‘Technology’ is the outward expression of art, skill, or craft. 

It is also worthy to note that there are different categories of technology.  Technology begins with tools, and different applications of technology have assisted the development of civilization since mankind discovered fire in pre-historic times. The same fire that can be used as a source of light to increase productivity during the night can also be used to burn and destroy uncontrollably.

Throughout history, industrial revolutions have occurred through the gradual adoption of newly invented technologies.  When simple tools are adapted, and combined to work together they become complex machines. Machines are technologies that offer repeatable forms of leverage, by providing more-for-less efficiencies that could be adapted in different ways. For example, a sewing machine saved time and made hand stitching obsolete. Machines are tools that do very specific tasks well and generally produce more for less so they have transformed social and economic activities over time and established new standards of living. 

The First Industrial Revolution marked the transition from an agrarian to a handicraft economy that began in Europe around 1760. For more than 100 years, the ways of communication, transportation, and economic production have gradually become more efficient and effective. Technological advancement through the continuous development of machinery, steam engines, and the use of coal revolutionized agricultural and economic productivity.

By the 1860s, the advent of large-scale steel production, mass manufacturing, electrification, and the development of railways ushered in a new phase of industrial advancement which was termed as the Second Industrial Revolution.  Starting in the 1880s, the world’s first personal automobiles became commercially available and its adoption steadily improved. 

The Second Industrial Revolution was built upon the successes of the first and the standard of living continued to improve because scientific understanding of physics, chemistry, and biology became formally disseminated and systematically studied at universities and colleges. 

However, the macro-social, and economic progress of industrial revolutions also resulted in unintended consequences. Accidents and abuse was common and there was a lot of uncertainty associated with the transition from old to new forms of technology.

As early as the 1940s, the Third Industrial Revolution slowly began to spread globally from the West starting with greater advances in print and broadcast mass media plus personal transportation. By the 1960s, advances in nuclear energy research, telephone communications, automation, and prototypes of the internet were all being developed. Throughout this time, research and development in electrical engineering, material and computer sciences began to bring inventions such as the giant mainframe computers and microchip technologies that eventually progressed to the point of the smartphones we have in our pockets today.

One point evident throughout the broad historical overview is that while technology is fundamentally nonpartisan, the development and use of technology has often been politically motivated and used as a competitive advantage against one another.

For example, the ‘west’ that consisted of British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Americans were technologically more advanced and were able to invade and hold colonies in different parts of Asia during the first and second world war 1. However, since then, countries in Asia have experienced their own industrial revolutions and are catching up to their Western counterparts through technological transfers. 

During the latter stages of the second world war, in 1944, the Bretton Woods Conference represented a gathering of delegates from 44 nations that met to discuss, plan and create a new financial framework with corresponding technologies that would control the global post-war reconstruction via an international monetary system.  

To facilitate the global economic and infrastructure reconstruction, the International Monetary Fund was created, and the United States Dollar was selected as a common, reserve currency. This decision exemplifies the political application of technology as, since the Bretton Woods agreement, the United States was considered the de facto financial leader of the world. International trade transactions and commodity pricing are mainly conducted in U.S. dollars. Presently, approximately 88% of foreign exchange transactions are U.S. dollar denominated, and it also makes up 59-62% of all international central bank reserves. 

As a result of growing international trade, countries in Asia have been able to integrate around the world and boost their standards of living in a shorter amount of time than it has taken the West to go through previous industrial revolutions due to globalization and international trade.

Today, countries in Asia are more developed than ever before. According to the United Nations, ‘61% of the global population lives in Asia (4.7 billion)’.So through demographics, the global political order is shifting from a unipolar to a multipolar world order . 

Historically, the West was the dominant military, economic, and technological advanced power in the world. But Asian countries like China and India have been able to leverage their large population’s labor force and use the economies of scale through globalization to make significant investments and rapid technological advances. 

For example, China constitutes for 56.7% of the global crude steel production while European Union (EU) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) countries combined make up a mere 12.8%. 

Moreover, India now supplies more than 50% of the global demand for different vaccines. India’s Ministry of Education’s various initiatives, like the development of Indian Institute of Technologies (IIT’s) has become the gold standard for young people to grow into world class Tech CEO’s. For example, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai, and Twitter’s Parag Agrawal. Technological powerhouses such as IBM, Adobe, Palo Alto Networks, Wayfair, VMWare, and Infosys are all of Indian descent. 

In 2017, Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum published the book, ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’. This book highlights some of the upcoming technological developments in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, and 3D printing among other technologies that are poised to disrupt the norms, and bring upon creative destruction and establish new standards of living.

China is now home to several multi-billion dollar companies that are leading the Fourth industrial revolution. From the field of 5G telecommunications, AI and IoT software, drone robotics, and autonomous electrical vehicle technologies, they are: 

Huawei, China Mobile Telecommunications
JD (Jingdong), Alibaba, TencentE-Commerce
DJI (Da-Jiang Innovations)Drones
Baidu, BYD (Build Your Dreams), SAIC (Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation)Autonomous, Electrical Cars
CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited),CALB (China Aviation Lithium Battery)Batteries

While all the companies above have multicultural teams and customers internationally, it is important to note that many of these large Chinese conglomerates are partially owned by the Communist Party of China.  State owned enterprises may have ulterior political agendas, and act as an arm to enact policies. 

For example, according to the China Global Television Network, China has the ‘largest number of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the world that are more than 150,000 in number.’ Additionally, every year in China, there are two sessions of the National People’s Congress where delegates of the Communist Party meet to announce their national socio-economic and political goals for the year within a broader 5-year economic plan. 

In conclusion, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is poised to elevate the standard of living for billions of people with new and amazing green technologies. One of the outcomes of this process might be a continued rebalancing of power between countries in the West and East. These new opportunities could give rise to greater Chinese government surveillance and political influence as Rush Doshi, founding director of the Brookings China Strategy Initiative, says ’China’s leaders have often seen technology and economic exchange through a political lens’. 

Donald Leung is a modern world Historian and creator of newsography.com, a global headline news aggregator and database. He is an investor in natural resource exploration across Africa, and South America.  He completed his Bachelors of Social Work at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

China-Russia: A Strategic or a Tactical Marriage?

China-Russia: A Strategic or a Tactical Marriage?

By – Mahek Marwaha;

Sun Tzu defines strategy as the game plan for achieving a long-term vision or goal set in motion by the completion of tactics, which are checkpoints established at each milestone set by those in control of the state machinery. He says “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”; another apt quote of his is “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved”. Hence, when the present situation is weighed against the past, it becomes clearer to assess if China and Russia’s relationship is strategic or tactical.

Mao’s China and Stalin’s USSR: Ideological similarities with widening differences

Diplomatically, during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, Mao’s China faced much animosity from Stalin’s Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) because USSR and China’s views on Communism differed from each other. The worker’s revolt gave birth to communism in the USSR, which was a way for workers to demand equal rights and to end the tyranny created by capitalism and the monopolization of industries by a few. In the 19th and 20th centuries, China was not facing industrialization; rather, it was an agrarian economy where, according to Stalin, Communism would fail due to the lack of a working-class force. The divergent views on how Communism should be carried out sowed the seeds for the eventual widening of the rift in relations with Russia. Because of the PRC’s(People’s Republic Of China) ambition for global recognition of its nationhood, Zhou En Lai’s foreign policy at the time was to maintain friendly relations with everyone, particularly the United Nations and the United States, deepening the division between the blue and red bloc. Because of these ties, China-USSR relations became complicated.

On the military front, the ownership of the riverine islands became a source of contention in 1960, resulting in a territorial war. Because the USSR treated China as a weaker nation, Mao’s China felt inferior to Stalin’s Russia. Tsarist Russia compelled China to cede its borders to the Soviet Union in the past. During the Cold War, the Brezhnev doctrine, which formalized the Warsaw Pact, was also used by the Soviet Union to justify invasions of eastern bloc nations in order to safeguard or strengthen communism, socialism, and authoritarian forms of government against invading liberal and democratic forces of the western bloc. It was an ideological conflict fought with firearms and machinery between two superpowers where everyone including China was getting roped in. China saw Moscow’s goals as a threat since the China of the 1960s wanted to be free of USSR influence, and didn’t want to be treated as second-class citizens by Russians. The 1970s saw Deng Xiaoping coming to power, strengthening US-China ties while weakening China-Russia connections.

Deng’s China was the economically hungry behemoth with whom the United States needed to engage in the 1970s. In terms of economics, the United States began to place bets on China after seeing promising outcomes. To empower itself economically, diplomatically, militarily, and strategically, Deng’s China adopted capitalism and industrialization. Russia was a declining superpower that had begun to lose its luster due to its communal economy, the drying up of its resources during the Star Wars, and the Soviet-Afghan War, which served as the final nail in the coffin that brought the USSR’s economy to its knees. The Red bloc of communism was torn apart by a decline in hard power (economic strength) and a skyrocket in hard and soft power (political sphere of influence) of the NATO(North Atlantic Treaty Organization) led alliance.

Despite ideologically sharing the same political agenda, China and the USSR were split on numerous fronts in the past. A similar philosophy of Communism, one in the Stalin-Lenin style in Russia and the other with Chinese traits in China, provided the seed for the division, which spread to the diplomatic, military, and economic relationships, resulting in a tumultuous relationship between China and the Soviet Union. “There are no permanent allies or foes in international relations, only permanent interests,” an overused adage that explains the evolution of all geopolitical interactions, accurately sums up their evolving relationship from the Cold War to 2022.

Present Realities shaping China-Russia Ties

 The formation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in 1996 paved the way for deepening ties between China and Russia. Since Xi Jinping’s victory in 2013, he has seen Putin more than 30 times and considers him to be his most important ally. When it comes to Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and even North Korea, Russia, and China are on the same page in terms of foreign policy. Furthermore, with the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Central Asia has become critical in Russia and China’s re-alignment of foreign policies in order to formulate counter-terrorism tactics to combat terrorism emanating from the Middle East and Afghanistan, which would have a significant impact on Central Asian countries due to its strategic importance in terms of economy, energy, and BRI(Belt and Road Initiative) connectivity, which SCO countries provide. Another reason for the re-alignment of each other’s foreign policies towards a single strategic aim of the China-Russia-led world order.

Following the establishment of QUAD(Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), there has been an increase in defense and military ties between China and Russia, ranging from joint naval maneuvers in the Pacific in October 2019 to large-scale war simulations in Ningxia, all of which are strengthening and reinforcing China-Russia inter-military ties. China and Russia are currently working on military helicopters, missile attack warning systems, and even lunar exploration sites.

When it comes to economic ties, China is Russia’s second-largest oil importer, and Russia is China’s largest exporter of weaponry and ammunition, resulting in significant military advances. The Siberian Pipeline may become China’s lifeline for oil and gas, considering the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia is giving these natural resources at a significantly reduced price, which will benefit China. The Siberian pipeline will be Russia’s largest pipeline, and that will be profitable due to China’s surging energy needs as a side effect of its growing economy and middle class.

The developing nexus between China and Russia in 2022 has much to do with their shared security danger of direct confrontation, as well as the expanding influence of western alliances such as QUAD, AUKUS, and NATO. This vicious cycle of anxiety, in which one picks up the stone in fear of the other doing so, feeds and amplifies itself, eventually resulting in a rift and a war-like situation. The breach between the US and China widened after the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s adamant refusal to cooperate with Western-led inquiries into the pandemic’s origins. China’s growing hostility toward India, as well as the greater democratic world order, fueled a vicious cycle of groupings that eventually results in the deepening of linkages and divisions. The Western-led bloc emphasizes democracy, rule-based order in the fields of military, diplomacy, ideology, and transparency in information sharing whereas the China-Russia-led bloc emphasizes authoritarianism, govt.-based order, and heavy restrictions on information sharing. 

Connecting The Dots

By examining the aspects of diplomacy, military, and economy, we can see that, with the march of time, today’s China, led by Xi Jinping, and Russia, led by Putin, has developed a marriage of convenience that is resulting in a tactical relationship aimed at achieving each other’s personal strategic goals. When we consider the strategic goal of dismantling and establishing a new world order free of a western, liberal, and democratic lifestyle and replacing it with a more restricted, autocratic, and government-based society, we can see the convergence. China has a grand strategy of implementing the Tianxia model of governance, in which everyone is subject to one heaven’s mandate meaning the whole of mankind undergoes a voluntary fusion of that particular culture and societal lifestyle which is beneficial for the evolution of both mental and moral state of whole mankind with Beijing playing a bigger role because of its evolved hard and soft power. Whereas Russia’s revisionist power wishes to return to the glory days of the Tsarist regime when the Eurasian continent and its countries were subject to the Russian Mir, or sphere of influence. This disparity in strategic goals, as well as a reactionary rather than proactive attitude, has resulted in a tactical marriage between China and Russia, with some strategic congruence.

Mahek Marwaha is a Master’s student of OP Jindal University, Jindal School Of International Affairs building an academic background in International Relations with a broad interest in security, trade, and politics of the Asia Region with a specialized focus on China Studies and Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism Studies. 

Friction between India and China: Examining the Indian Approach

Friction between India and China: Examining the Indian Approach

By – Vedika Tiwari and Shivam Shukla;

The ongoing belligerence between Russia and Ukraine epitomizes neighboring nations neglecting to engage in dialogue to solve disputes that have the potential to result in a militarized conflict. Hostility can arise from border issues, affiliation to certain military alliances/defense pacts, or any other historical disagreements. A similar case could be relevant in the Indian context as well.

India shares a boundary line of about 15,106.7 kilometers with nine neighbors, therefore making it imperative to maintain cordial ties with all the states to maintain peace and tranquility in South Asia. China and Pakistan are the two major players in the region with whom we share a border

Since we share borders with them, war remains a last resort. Apart from that, as war is never an option for any country because it will push the conflicting parties in humungous economic and strategic setbacks, regardless of who wins. Historically, Indo-China ties have been sporadic but have taken a bad turn in recent years due to border disputes.

Frictional Relationship 

The root cause of border dispute is an ill-defined 3,440-kilometer boundary that both the nations have claimed for years. The two nations engaged in conflict over border disagreement in 1962, resulting in a stalemate that continues to this day, making it one of the world’s oldest border disputes. The topography of this enormous border comprises rivers and lakes have brought soldiers face to face innumerable times, sparking a skirmish between the two regional powers. The two countries are also fighting to create infrastructure along the shared border, known as the Line of Actual Control (LAC). One of the primary causes of constant belligerence with Chinese forces in the region is India’s construction of a new route to a high-altitude air station. The recent conflict between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley involved use of sticks and clubs. 

The boundary, or the LAC, is not delineated which leads to frequent border “transgressions.” The Ladakh area is exceptionally complex; with unusual geographical traits, this region is strategically very important for both the countries. Roger Llyod Kennion, an officer in the British Indian Army and travel writer, explaining the importance of this region has articulated that, “What Port Said is to the Suez Canal, Leh is to Central Asia.”. First, there’s Aksai-chin, a swath of land claimed by India but occupied by China. Beijing initiated the construction of a road across the area in 1956, connecting Tibet to Xinxiang, and has occupied it since 1962. Further, Pakistan ceded 5,180 square kilometers of Shaksgam valley to China in 1963. The Indian government has refused to recognize the China-Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ of 1963 and has been heavily critical of its unlawful nature.

According to the geopolitical observers in India, New Delhi’s ambition to build infrastructure along the border areas has caused unrest in Beijing. Galwan River has become a flashpoint given its proximity to the Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) that India has built along the Shyok River stretching up to Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO), the most remote and vulnerable terrain along the LAC. The Chinese military has been heavily critical of India’s apparent aggressiveness in the Galwan valley. China already controls the Aksai Chin area, which is east of Ladakh. The land claimed by India is strategically important for Beijing since it connects China’s Xinjiang province to western Tibet.

In the first week of August 2020, India accused China of instigating military tensions twice along the border. China denied both charges and on the contrary blamed India for the impasse. China, in return accused India of firing bullets at their troops in September 2020. In contrast, China has been accused of firing guns into the air by India. According to reports, Chinese forces have been observed engaging in “provocative military acts” in Ladakh to disrupt the status quo. In June 2020, twenty Indian soldiers were killed in clashes with Chinese forces. They have accused each other of igniting war by crossing the disputed border. According to Chinese military sources, China denied that their men breached the status quo.  Historically, there have been instances of both armies crossing the LAC but situations were dealt at the local military level, however, the magnitude of escalation during this build-up was one of the biggest and most violent. 

Simmering tensions carry the possibility of complete militarization, which can be disastrous given that both sides are equipped with nuclear weapons. There would also be some economic consequences as China is India’s largest trading partner. Following the tragic conflict, India-China tensions have reached an all-time high. Both countries’ foreign ministers agreed to a five-point framework  in Russia’s Moscow to manage the situation under the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination of India-China Border Affairs (WMCC). The diplomatic mechanism was established in 2012 for consultation and coordination on effective management of India-China border areas. Further, the joint body group is tasked with strengthening communication and cooperation between border security personnel from both sides. They are also responsible for assisting special representation on border discussions, a post now filled by our National Security Advisor (NSA), Ajit Doval. The 23rd meeting of the WMCC occurred on 18th November 2021. The Indian delegation was led by the Ministry of External Affairs’ Additional Secretary for East Asia. The Chinese delegation was headed by the Director General of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Boundary and Oceanic Department. China and India agreed on a five-point plan to de-escalate tensions along their disputed border areas. The agreement states that the two nations are in alignment as the current situation in the border areas is not beneficial for either side. Conformity was achieved following “frank and constructive” discussions in Moscow between Indian External Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang YI.

India’s approach and the Way Forward

China chose war over de-escalation due to a rising sense of vulnerability and confidence. Both countries declare they have no intention of escalating tensions; nonetheless, the future course of action will be determined by positive engagements towards co-prosperity.

India and China completed the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the North and South banks of the Pangong Tso lake after protracted talks at various political, diplomatic, and military levels. However, India has insisted that a resolution of border disputes is imperative for an overall improvement in bilateral ties. Mistrust and claiming border superiority resulted in the Galwan clash that has dented Indo-China relations like witnessed never before. While China is adamant about disengaging from remaining sites of tension, New Delhi has strengthened its stance against Beijing. India did not reply positively to a letter from Premier Xi to Prime Minister Modi about working together to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, China’s telecom businesses have also been prohibited from joining the 5G network by India.

Despite border hostility, both nations are aware of the benefits of engagement and cooperation. Although China requires India’s growing market, India wants to avoid a tensed relationship with its neighbor. Despite India’s efforts to lessen its reliance on China’s economy through supply chains, the two economies have become increasingly interconnected over time. Given previous events, the two countries must participate in comprehensive dialogue in order to repair their relationship and rebuild future participation at various levels. There is a little chance of reinstating pre-Galwan ties between Beijing and New Delhi anytime soon, however, there is scope for building a pragmatic relationship since the two countries are members of multilateral groupings such as BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and they also share a platform within ASEAN. New Delhi and Beijing’s ties will morph the future of the groupings and will have an impact on the region at large and with other countries around the world. Therefore, reciprocity and mutual sensitivity remains pertinent in the volume and degree of engagement. Both countries are capable of settling their differences through high-level negotiations, similarly in a recently concluded Chinese Foreign minister. Wang Yi, visited New Delhi in March 2022, the minister attempted to mend bilateral ties following the act in the Eastern Ladakh in May and June 2020. Although, the Minister’s visit was not warmly greeted by the authorities in New Delhi and his presence was not announced publicly due to Wang Yi’s speech during the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Pakistan in March 2022 which has added fuel to the fire as he showed solidarity with ‘Islamic nations’ and their ‘desires’ on Kashmir. As Kashmir issue brewed during Yi’s Islamabad visit, New Delhi not only rebuked China, but also canceled plans it had made to welcome the Minister. 

India’s approach is pragmatic in nature; to further counter the Chinese advances towards Indian sensitivities to its sovereignty, New Delhi could opt to use the Beijing’s sensitivity to the one-China policy, the Tibet issue and the Hong Kong region to try to change Beijing’s narrative. This would allow India to signal to China that it has strategic options and that China would be wise not to escalate the pertaining hostile situations. Likewise, India’s leverage in the Indo-Pacific and stems from its strong democratic credentials, the dynamism of its economy, its leadership role in multilateral institutions, as well as the strategic advantage of its maritime geography is an asset that few other countries have which must be used much more effectively to counterbalance China’s entry into India’s strategic space and the natural sphere of influence, these assets must be used much more effectively to counterbalance China’s ingress. The events in the Galwan Valley should also act as a wake-up call to India’s Asian allies and partners, to provide a clearer picture of Chinese assertive behavior in Asian subcontinent.

Diplomatically, India might use its clout by restating its position on the two countries’ inked accords. Furthermore, because the fifteen rounds of discussions between the two nations have not yielded the intended outcomes, it is critical to reaffirm political level conversations at the ministerial level, as well as the spirits of the informal summits of Wuhan and Mahamallapuram, in order to propagate harmony. To achieve peace in its immediate area, India’s strategy must be to reduce tensions. Indian approach must keep in mind the diplomatic, strategic and political levers New Delhi can pull to dial down the brewing tensions. Nonetheless, a new strategy is required to reach an agreement on overlapping border claims. At a time when the two neighbors are dealing with comparable concerns, India should devise a framework to build a more strong strategy to reach a détente.

Vedika Tiwari is currently pursuing her BA.LLB from Baba Saheb Ambedkar College of Law at Nagpur, India. She is also an active member in Students’s committee of Moot court association.

Shivam Shukla is currently pursuing (B.A.LLB.) law from RTMNU’s Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar College of Law at Nagpur, India.

Anti-Corruption Campaign: Tigers, Flies and Everything in Between

Anti-Corruption Campaign: Tigers, Flies and Everything in Between

By – Rahul Karan Reddy;

Introduction

Corruption in China is not a recent phenomenon and nor are the anti-corruption efforts initiated by the state a new development. Corruption features prominently in China’s history, typically functioning as a special economic mechanism that was widespread and left unchecked in the build up to major political upheaval. The practice became increasingly visible after the reform and opening up of 1978, due to the injection of capital which created opportunities for Party and state officials to exploit state resources for private gain. Yet, tackling corruption took a back seat as China embraced capital and private enterprise, reflecting Deng Xiaoping’s phrase, “to get rich is glorious”.  Nearly four decades later in November 2012, China’s President Hu Jintao was warning the country and Party that systemic corruption could lead to the downfall of the Party and state. Picking up where Hu left off, President Xi Jinping, in his first speech as the Party’s General Secretary in 2013, highlighted graft and corruption as the most pressing challenge confronting the Party. A decade later, Xi’s anti-corruption drive is an all-encompassing campaign sweeping across the Party, state and private enterprises, eliminating his political opponents and becoming a hallmark of his tenure as China’s top leader.

Anti-corruption investigations in China are carried out by the Central Committee for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) and the National Supervision Commission (NSC), reminiscent of Mao’s rectification and self-criticism campaigns that characterized Mao’s Cultural Revolution purges. The CCDI in particular is at the core of corruption investigations at the central and provincial level since Xi Jinping took office, investigating and punishing more than 4 million cadres and nearly 500 senior officials since 2012. The CCDI even has its own TV program called “Zero-tolerance”, an annual production popular with the public for showcasing the body’s work in tacking graft and exposing the corruption and opulence of high-ranking members in the Party. 

Since 2018, the anti-corruption campaign has focused on non-CCP members as well, made possible by the formation of the NSC and passage of the Supervision Law to govern its operations. The Supervision Law has widened the range of targets to include managers of SOEs, administrators in public institutions and state officials across government branches. The anti-corruption campaign coincides with the arrival of Xi Jinping, evidenced by data released by the CCDI, which shows an increase in the prosecution of senior officials in 2013 compared to 2012. The inclusion of tigers and flies, Party and state officials, rivals and allies in the campaign has several pressing implications for elite politics in China and public perception of Xi’s regime. 

Ideology and Discipline

The anti-corruption campaign was set in motion by a sensational scandal in February 2012 involving Chongqing’s head of the Public Security Bureau who fled to the US consulate in Chengdu to seek asylum in the US. The incident revealed the alleged murder of a British businessman by Bo Xilai’s wife, which snowballed into rumours of a coup plot against Xi Jinping by Bo Xilai, Party Secretary of Chongqing, and Zhou Yongkang, Secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission. Soon after the incident, Bo Xilai was dismissed from the Party and eventually sentenced to life in prison for bribery, abuse of power and embezzlement. The incident was followed by another high-profile investigation, this time focused on Liu Zhijun, the Minister of Railways responsible for China’s sprawling High-Speed Railway network. Liu Zhijun’s case was by far one of the most widely followed news stories in China and the prosecutions recommendation that he be given a lenient sentence was met with unanimous opposition by citizens across the country. These incidents cultivated the necessary public support for an anti-corruption campaign that was then in its infancy; however, this public support remains misguided by Party propaganda.

The anti-corruption campaign was supported by a Party Education Program (PEP) in 2012, the first of three such ideological education campaigns launched by Xi Jinping in his first term. The ‘Mass Line Program’ targeted Party cadres to rectify behaviours like hedonism, superficial conformity and inactiveness. The Politburo followed up with a directive called the ‘Eight Provisions’ in December 2012 that set concrete regulations to instil discipline among Party cadres: emphasising regular inspection visits to the local level, prohibiting ribbon cutting and cornerstone laying ceremonies, reducing the number of foreign visits, lower traffic controls when officials travel and other budgetary restrictions on the use of public finance for business meals and government cars. 

These provisions essentially set the rules for acceptable behaviour by Party officials that have become the basis for launching investigations. In operation for two years, the Mass Line Program was a populist measure emphasising austerity that removed the perks associated with Party positions. In the first year of the campaign, more than 30,000 Party officials were investigated and 7,600 of them were sanctioned for violations of the Eight Provisions. The second and third ideological campaign, the ‘Three Strict’ and ‘Two Studies’ programs, were slightly different in emphasis, focusing on political discipline and protocols that ensure loyalty to the Party center and Xi Jinping.

The ‘Three Stricts’ campaign was focused on the ethical conduct of Party officials, including offences like ideological deviances, sedition, espionage and treason. The concept of political protocols became popular between 2014 and 2016, with Xi urging officials to follow the unified Party center and later prohibiting alliance forming activity. One prominent example of prosecution for conducting unorganised political activity was the case against Ling Jihua, Hu Jintao’s former chief of staff, who was accused of organising a factional group called the Xishan society. Similarly, nearly 300 members connected to Zhou Yongkang, a retired Politburo Standing Committee member, were questioned or detained in 2014 while other leaders within the Sichuan faction were investigated as well, marking the first time a retired member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) was put on trial and imprisoned for life. 

On the other hand, Hebei Party Secretary, Zhou Benshun, was charged for expressing a dissenting opinion on the Eight Provisions directive by the Politburo, defying the orders of the Party center. Policing political discipline and loyalty to the Party center became the defining feature of the second wave of anti-corruption efforts. Shortly after, the Party center became concentrated in the office of President Xi Jinping who was elevated to the core of the Party leadership. By 2017, 15,000 Party members had received punishment for violations of Party discipline, more than the number of officials punished during the Tiananmen purge of 1989-1992. Another highlight of the political discipline campaign was the expulsion of 63 military generals, the largest such anti-corruption effort targeting the military in China’s modern history.

The ideology campaign that morphed into a political discipline campaign maintained its intensity until 2018, then expanded its reach to include the private sector, which continues to this day. The campaigns have heavily relied on disciplinary mechanisms like the CCDI and Central Inspection Teams (CIT) while punishment is mostly carried out by Party organisations and later handled by the state’s judicial bodies. The CCDI is now highly institutionalised, tackles corruption and roots out cliques and individuals challenging the authority of the Party core, Xi Jinping.


Expanded Focus

The scope of the anti-corruption campaign has expanded to countries outside China as well, evidenced by Operation Fox Hunt and Operation Sky Net. In 2015, the Chinese government released a list of 100 most wanted fugitives who fled to foreign countries and by 2017 the anti-corruption organisation managed to bring back 40 individuals on the list. In 2018 alone more than 1000 Chinese fugitives who fled abroad were brought back to the country, of which 307 were Party or government officials. The most high profile incident included the disappearance of the first Chinese head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, who was detained in September 2018  during a visit to China and later sentenced to 13 years in jail. Between 2018 and 2020, the NSP claimed in its first work report that it brought back 3,848 fugitives from abroad and nearly 10 billion yuan in illegal funds. The operation to bring back fugitives from foreign countries is focused on white collar criminals, but is also deployed to target dissidents and political opponents.

The expansion of the CCDI and NSP’s operations abroad also accompanies a shift in the emphasis of the campaign. The CCDI has targeted bureaucratic inefficiency and performance related issues such as failure to meet key performance indicators, unaccountability to constituents and not complying with directives issued by the Party Center. For example, in January 2022, the Zhengzhou city Party Chief, Xu Liyi and 89 other officials were disciplined for their poor handling of the Henan floods that claimed the lives of 380 people in the city. Similarly, after an investigation by the CCDI into Hubei’s COVID-19 response, the provinces Party chief, Jiang Chaoliang, and the director of the provincial health commission were dismissed from their posts. 

Most recently, the anti-corruption campaign turned its attention to financial regulators, who the CCDI has accused of wielding regulatory power for personal gain, describing a revolving door relationship between business and government. The CCDI in October 2021 initiated a two-month long inspection of more than 20 financial institutions, like banks, stock exchanges, insurance regulators and asset management companies. So far, more than 40 officials in the financial sector have been investigated by the CCDI for financial crimes and violations of political discipline. One example is the case of Zhou Jiangyong, Hangzhou Party secretary with close ties to Alibaba, who was expelled for profiting from the disorderly expansion of private companies. The targeting of private companies and SOEs that began with a crackdown on tech companies and education firms has now swept through the financial sector. Most recently, in April 2022, nearly 17 officials including the President of China Merchants Bank, Tian Huiyu, were investigated or punished for violations of political discipline.


Conclusion 

The anti-corruption campaign and institutionalisation of Party organisations like the CCDI has massively affected elite politics, political culture and public perception of the CCP. The campaigns have permitted an increase in Xi Jinping’s unilateral ability to leverage political loyalty and discipline to regulate the behaviour of Party officials. Wang Qishan, the CCDI’s former head and close ally of Xi Jinping noted that killing tigers and swatting flies serves as a deterrent to corrupt officials, calling it the ‘Sword of Damocles’. Local officials and Party members at the center are now increasingly worried about an investigation into their past, incomes and conduct or the leak of information from other functionaries that could involve them in an investigation, especially if they present anti-establishment views. 

The proliferation of the CCDI units across all Party and state bodies has heightened the risk of being investigated upon presenting a threat to Xi. The anti-corruption campaign also has a dual effect on factions and cliques, dampening their operation on the one hand while also increasing the opposition to Xi’s efforts. Factions and cliques like the Xishan society, the Sichuan faction and Shaanxi faction, with the potential to destabilise leadership unity, were purged for forming alliances. As the anti-corruption struggle against Party members and vested business interests carries on, Xi increases the potential for opposition to his campaign and rule. Lastly, public perception of the anti-corruption campaign has been largely supportive of Xi’s efforts. Combined with corruption within the Party, the rising inequality in incomes in China is likely to generate support for the campaign as it moves forward. As the 20th Party Congress approaches, the anti-corruption drive shows no signs of slowing, indicating Xi’s resolve in maintaining his authority over the Party and demonstrating his willingness to shape the future of the CCP in his stride.

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.


Wang Yi’s Visit to Delhi, Border talks and the Future Prospects

Wang Yi’s Visit to Delhi, Border talks and the Future Prospects

By – Bhupendra Kumar;

The Chinese state councillor and foreign minister Wang Yi landed in New Delhi on an unannounced visit on March 24, 2022. This was the first major visit from China since the violent clash in Galwan valley occurred along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in April 2020. Improvement of relations, following the Wuhan summit in April 2018, and the Mamallapuram summit in 2019 along with various diplomatic attempts to bridge relations following the Doklam standoff have derailed, bringing bilateral relations to its lowest point in nearly three decades. 

Though bilateral relations have been frozen, both countries have interacted on certain occasions. Both foreign ministers met on the side-lines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s  meeting in Moscow in September 2020, and Dushanbe in July and September 2021. Discussions on the early resolution of issues concerning the LAC in Eastern Ladakh were a ubiquitous presence in all the meetings, although the efforts seemed rather unsuccessful. Further, there have had fifteen rounds of talks between senior commanders seeking the resolution of the relevant issues along the LAC in the Western sector. 

Amidst the status quo, the border dispute continues to be fraught with mistrust and suspicion between both countries, necessitating a careful examination of the significance of Wang Yi’s visit in relation to India-China border talks. The visit involves both bilateral and multilateral implications for future cooperation and conflict between both countries. Bilaterally, concerning border talks, Wang Yi proposed India to disengage from PP 15 and move back to the Karam Singh Post between PP16 and PP 17 which has been rejected by India signifies a stalemate in the India-China border talks. The paper has firstly revisited the previous 15 rounds of China India Corps Commander level meetings and their significance in India-China relations. Then the paper discussed the recent visit of Wang Yi. 

India China Corps Commander level Meetings 

The first rounds of talks between India and China, following the bloody brawl on 15 June 2020, divisional commanders’ level talk took place on 18 June 2020. Initial talks yielded no progress as both countries continued to ramp up infrastructure and military deployments surrounding the areas. 

The second and third round of corps commanders’ meetings occurred on 22 June and 30 June 2020 respectively. In the third round of talks, both India and China discussed modalities for disengagement from all friction areas in eastern Ladakh. Meanwhile, a discussion took place between special representatives National Security Advisor of India, Ajit Doval and Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi. 

The fourth round of corps commanders’ talks took place on 14 July 2020. The fifth round of corps commanders’ level meetings happened at Chushul Moldo Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) amid a stalemate in Pangong Tso. On the development of the talk, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said that there had been some progress but the disengagement process had not been completed yet. He noted that Chinese troops would ‘sincerely’ work for ‘complete disengagement and de-escalation and full restoration of peace and tranquillity along the border areas at the earliest as agreed during talks between NSA Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.  

On August 29-30 2020  another provocation by the Chinese military was thwarted by the Indian Army. India occupied several strategic heights on the southern bank of the Pangong lake in eastern Ladakh. Before the sixth round of military talks, EAM Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met in Moscow in September 2020, and agreed to implement a five-point agreement, which sought quick disengagement of troops and the adherence to all agreements and protocols on border management to restore peace along the LAC.

The joint press release of the sixth round commanders’ meeting on September 22, 2020 stressed implementing the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries strengthening communication on the ground, avoiding misunderstanding and misjudgement refraining from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground, not sending troops on the frontline. 

The seventh round of Corps Commander took place at Chushul on 12 October 2020. Importantly, it was the first senior military-level talks following Beijing’s comments that it has ‘not recognised’ the Union Territory of Ladakh. More importantly, in the seventh round of Corps Commander-level talks, China pressed for the withdrawal of Indian troops from several strategic heights around the Southern bank of Pangong lake. The eight-round India and China talks, led by Crops Commanders, sought a mutually acceptable timeline to disengage from friction points along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.  

The ninth round of the Corps Commanders level meeting was held on the Chinese side of the Line of Control in Moldo on 24 January 2021. India and China agreed to push for early disengagement of the frontline troops. Both sides held military and diplomatic discussions and agreed that the area between figure 3 and figure 8 would become a no patrolling zone temporarily. India handed over the heights of the Kailash Range at Pangong Tso.

Before the tenth corps commander meeting, a crucial meeting occurred between two foreign ministers in Moscow on the sidelines of Moscow, where both leaders arrived at a five-point approach to resolve the border issue along the LAC. It prescribed that their troops “should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions”. Indian military strategist Maj. Gen. Prof GG Dwivedi termed the process of dialogue on the very line of the Chinese policy of talking and fighting simultaneously (yi bian dan-yi bian da).

The joint press statements of the 10th round of the China India corps commander meeting appraised the smooth completion of disengagement of frontline troops in the Pangong Lake area. The 11th round of the India-China Corps Commander level meeting exchanged views for the resolution of the remaining issues concerning disengagement along the Eastern Ladakh, eventually, it would also pave the way for the two sides to consider de-escalation of forces. The meeting did not appear with any conclusive outcomes as could be observed from the joint statements. The focus of the talks centred on the disengagement from the Patrolling Point (PP) at Gogra and Hot Springs. It is important to note that in earlier talks Pangong Tso issue has been resolved. By the conclusion of  the 11th Corps Commanders meeting, it has been observed, , that the PLA in a graduated manner of disengagement had gained an upper hand as India had vacated the Kailash Range. 

The 12th round of corps commander level meeting on July 31, 2021, sought to talk about troops disengagement at patrolling points (PPs) 15, 17, and 17A in the Hot Springs-Gogra-Kongka La area before the two countries opt for de-escalation. After the joint press release of the 12th round meeting, the Indian government released specifying disengagement at PP 17A on 06 August 2021. It is pertinent to be noted down that the PLA has been blocking Indian patrols in their traditional PPs-10, 11, 11a, 12, 13 since April 2020. The outcome of the talks though welcomed by the Indian strategic community, sections within the strategic community expressed concerns over the possible price India would pay in terms of buffer zone creation, loss of patrolling rights, and border infrastructure development.        

The 13 rounds of Corps Commander talks occurred at the Chushul-Moldo border on 10 October, 2021. The Indian Side conveyed its dismay over unilateral attempts of the Chinese side to alter the status quo– one in the Barhoti sector of Uttarakhand and another in the Tawang sector in the Arunachal Pradesh. Both sides stressed over maintaining communication and stability on the ground. It is important to  note that the fresh rounds of talks have taken place over three weeks after EAM S Jaishankar conveyed his counterpart Wang Yi for resolving the remaining issues in Eastern Ladakh on the side-lines of the SCO Summit in Dushanbe on 16 September 2021

The 14th round of Corps Commander level talks occurred at the Chushul-Moldo border on the Chinese side on 12th January 2022, where the Indian side sought early disengagement in all friction points especially Hot Spring (Patrolling Point 15), including resolution of issues in Depsang Bulge and Demchok. An important observation appeared from General M M Naravane who raised concerns over ever-increasing infrastructure apart from the deployment of a large number of PLA forces in Eastern Ladakh.  

In the latest 15th round of the China-India Corps Commander level meeting on the Chushul-Moldo border on the Indian side on 11th March 2022, India pushed for a resolution of remaining friction points in eastern Ladakh.

Above detailed discussions of previous senior corps commanders’ meetings indicate China continues to have the upper hand in talks as the PLA has been blocking Indian patrols yet in their traditional PPs-10, 11, 11a, 12, 13 since April 2020. Earlier, India handed over the heights of Kailash Range at Pangong Pso, and many military strategists objected to it. Now, Wang Yi in his visit to Delhi proposed to disengage from PP 15, which has been rejected by India. Next, the implication of his visit over borders talks and other critical areas have been analysed. 

Differing Stances of Both Countries in Border Areas

The outcome of the visit highlights the polar stances of both countries on border demarcation. Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar clarified that China’s deployments in border areas since April 2020, which violate the 1993 and 1996 border agreements, act as a major stumbling block between the two neighbours. It has been quite evident that the Doklam stand-off of 2017 and the more recent Galwan crisis highlighted complete disregard towards the bilateral peace and tranquillity agreements related to the border areas. Given the recent downward trajectory of diplomatic initiatives to resolve the border dispute, the visit of Wang Yi is critical since it reflects the current position of China on the border issues with India. 

The Chinese side stated that border resolution should be placed “at a proper position” in bilateral relations between New Delhi and Beijing, however, they also mentioned that it should not become a necessary precondition for bilateral relations. Wang suggested the three-point approaches that special representatives of India and China could look upon, with the key components of the approach entailing that boundary questions should maintain communication and exchanges;  a shift from emergency response to regular management and control of the border issues should be pressed for as soon as possible, and commitment to properly managing the border issues to seek a fair and just solution must be undertaken. India’s response to the Chinese proposals have been quite consistent since the border skirmishes in April 2020, where it stated that the onus of normalising border relations lies with Beijing. 

In the press briefing, that followed the meeting with Wang Yi, EAM Jaishankar asserted that normalcy in bilateral ties cannot be reconciled given China’s deployments since April 2020 hindering the restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border area. It is pertinent to note that the PLA has been utilizing the military technique of ‘salami slicing’ , which involves gradually encroaching on disputed territories by extending Chinese infrastructure and presence in these regions. China is renowned for applying this stratagem in the South China Sea and across its borders with India and Bhutan. Therefore, India has conveyed a firm message to Wang Yi that the current situation in border areas will not be compromised.  

On the question of Ukraine, both agreed on the importance of an immediate ceasefire, as well as a return to diplomacy and dialogue. Further, questions pertaining to QUAD and security in the Indo- Pacific were not raised. In March 2022, Mr Wang Yi raised the issue of Kashmir in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting, raising eyebrows in New Delhi. India publicly condemned Beijing and expected China to follow an independent policy that should not be influenced by other countries, specifically alluding to Pakistan. 

Significance of the Visit

This visit has several key aspects. First, as mentioned earlier, by terming border issues ‘at a proper position’, China intends to normalise future bilateral relations despite it continues to build up along the Line of Actual Control. However, tensions were further heightened as China had consciously placed Qi Fabao to carry the torchlight in Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Qi was involved in the Galwan valley face-off that resulted in the death of several Indian soldiers. Added to it, the Chinese insistence on the Indian pullback from Hot Springs signifies that China will continue to be aggressive in matters relating to border disputes. This Chinese policy poses a significant challenge to India, which wants China to respect earlier commitments to bring peace along border areas. 

Second, at the upcoming BRICS summit meeting, which is proposed to take place on 23-24 June this year in China, Beijing intends to invite the leaders of member-states for an in-person meeting. This is significant, as commented by India-China expert Professor Srikanth Kondapalli in JNU, the visit mainly seeks multilateral cooperation amidst freezing bilateral engagements. The official notification regarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s presence at the BRICS after the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, has recently been announced. India has agreed to attend a virtual summit of BRICS. Earlier there has been questions about whether India would continue multilateral engagement at the BRICS summit in the same vein. 

Third, in the fast-changing geopolitical circumstances, China has been making several diplomatic manoeuvres in light of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and post the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. This could be seen as an attempt to influence and shape the regional security order. The visit of Wang Yi to several South Asian and Central Asian countries preceded the hosting of the third meeting of foreign ministers of Afghanistan ‘s neighbouring countries comprising of delegations from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan which took place on the 30th and 31st of March 2022 in China. The meeting was convened with the vision to maintain stability in the region post the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. India was a notable absentee from the dialogue. Earlier, the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue for Afghanistan occurred in November 2021, where representatives from India, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan engaged as China and Pakistan refrained from participation.  

Conclusion

To conclude, Wang Yi’s visit to India and other South Asian countries brings three crucial observations regarding Beijing’s foreign policy in the region. Firstly, amidst the mounting Russia-Ukraine crisis, and lingering border tensions between India and China, the visit seeks continuity in border talks, without improving the ground situations along the border areas where it continues to have adopted a confrontational posture vis-a-vis India. As Wang Yi in his visit to India, proposed India to disengage from PP 15 and move back to the Karam Singh Post between PP16 and PP 17 which has been rejected by New Delhi, simply affirms Beijing’s intransigence attitude toward border talks with India.

Secondly, it signals the continuity of close multilateral cooperation among BRICS members and India particularly amidst the Russia-Ukraine war. Though, India has accepted Beijing’s invitation to the proposed BRICS meeting in June 2022, its future implications are still to be unfolded. Thirdly, though not distinctly related, as the visit coincides with Wang’s visit to other South Asian countries, it reveals China’s long-term objectives after the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan where Beijing seeks unhindered progress of its flagship programmes of the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Overall, the paper reflects that as far as India is concerned, China has yet to take concrete steps to improve relations with India which has ebbed since April 2020. 

Bhupendra Kumar completed his M. Phil and PhD from the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament (CIPOD), School of International Studies Jawaharlal Nehru Interests. His research interests are foreign policy behaviour, diplomatic relations of Pakistan with India and the United States, personality and diplomacy, China, Global Governance, and climate change politics. 

Maldives- China relations: A Multidimensional Cooperation in the Indian Ocean

Maldives- China relations: A Multidimensional Cooperation in the Indian Ocean

By – Shalini Singh;

Introduction

Maldives is a small archipelago nation that holds a crucial geo-strategic location in the Indian Ocean region. Influence over Maldives has emerged as a new bone of contention between India  and China. The Southern and the Northern parts of the island have three sea lanes of communication, which are the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Hormuz (West Asia), and Strait of Malacca (Southeast Asia) that are pivotal for maritime trade in the Indian Ocean. Since its Independence in 1965,  Maldives has maintained cordial relations with India. Beijing, however, has only recently entered the fray, indicating its long-term goals in the Indian Ocean region through its Maritime Silk Road.

Friendly relations between Maldives and India witnessed uncertainty during the reign of former Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom between 2013-18. President Gayoom favoured a pro-China policy that made Beijing’s entry in the Indian Ocean very swift. The presence of China in its backyard i.e. the Indian Ocean, has made India anxious about maritime security in the region where it has historically maintained the upper hand. After hostile relations in the northern part of the mainland, India is worried about the increasing engagement of China with the Maldives as well as Sri Lanka through investments, infrastructural projects, and trade agreements that are consolidating Beijing’s presence in the region.

Maldives: Crucial ‘Pearl’ of China’s Maritime Strategy

Maldives and China have enjoyed cordial relations since establishing diplomatic ties in 1972. The two nations have collaborated over a wide range of issues covering trade, defence, housing development projects biodiversity preservation and climate change.  In 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the Maldives, highlighting the emerging importance of the Indian Ocean and Maldives in China’s foreign policy. Xi was accompanied by a 100-member business delegation. He advocated the idea of increasing connectivity between China and Maldives by proposing the Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI) (a part of the Belt and Road Initiative – BRI). The Gayoom regime agreed to participate in the initiative since it provided a major boost to sectors such as tourism, trade, culture, and infrastructural development.

The Xi-Yameen talks held in September 2014 yielded the following outcomes:

  1. Housing Project of the Maldives—Phase II to be financed through concessional loan financing by the government of China,
  2. Laamu Atoll Link-Road, to be constructed through non-reimbursable aid financing by the Chinese Government,
  3. An MoU on the construction of the Malé–Hulhulé Bridge Project,
  4. Contract agreement on the expansion and upgrading of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport,
  5. An MoU on the tourism infrastructure development project,
  6. An MoU on the Greater Malé power station project,
  7. An MoU on marine cooperation,

In December 2014, the China-Maldives Joint Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to bolster the MSRI stratagem. The second meeting of the Joint Committee in September 2015 resulted in another MoU to initiate discussions on a free-trade area. Moreover, China is also involved in other projects that include renewable energy projects, housing development projects, airport construction, building special economic zones, and building telecommunication networks. 

Maldives is central to China’s Indian Ocean strategy. Maldives is a part of the MSRI through the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project, or IHavan , which is located on the northernmost island. The project passes over the seven-degree channel that holds a key geostrategic location since it connects major shipping routes from Southeast Asia and China to West Asia and Europe. China has strategically placed a project in the region to take advantage of the US$18 trillion worth of goods transported across the seven-degree channel annually.

China  also manipulated diplomatic relations with Maldives to further its rebalancing strategy  in the Indian Ocean region. Given the recent strengthening of bilateral ties between the two countries, China aimed to replace the United States of America as a more reliable ally and consolidate itself as Malé’s all-weather friend. Also, China has India as a major competitor in in  Maldives. However, the upward trajectory of bilateral relations between China and Maldives faced its biggest hurdles in 2018 as Ibrahim Solih was elected President. The Soleh regime adopted a pro-India approach built on a “multifaceted, mutually beneficial partnership” Consequently, Maldives  retracted from the Joint Ocean Observation Station to be built by China located in Makunudhoo in North Western Maldives.   These developments rung alarm bells in Beijing.

However, China and Maldives have tried to maintain  relations by cooperating in different fields. In February 2022, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit marked five agreements between both countries:

  1. Agreement on Mutual Visa Exemption between the Maldives and the
  2. Agreement of Economic and Technical on Grand Aid focusing on the development of key areas such as social, livelihood, and infrastructure projects.
  3. Letter of Exchange on the Feasibility Study of Management and Maintenance of China-Maldives Friendship Bridge,
  4. Implementation Contract for China Aided Micro-Grid Sea-water Desalination Project in the Maldives was signed.
  5. Agreement on Establishing a Hospital Assistance and Cooperation Programme

India- Maldives Relations  

Maldives’ India First policy has reaffirmed cooperation between both the nations. The establishment of  a joint working group on counterterrorism; countering violent extremism; de-radicalization; coordinated patrolling; aerial surveillance; exchange of information, and capacity building for maritime security in the region are areas that have reaffirmed bilateral relations between the two countries. New Delhi is further seeking to participate in climate change projects in the Maldives through the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change and the Paris Agreement.

In 2019, India provided $1.4 billion dollars as budgetary support to the Maldives besides an $800 million Line of Credit signed in March for “people-centric and socio-economic projects including water and sanitation for many islands”. India has also provided grant assistance equalling $5.5 million for the implementation of High Impact Community Development Projects and a cash grant of $ 6.9 million for the implementation of community infrastructure, access to education, and environmental protection. Moreover, Maldives was also the first country to receive Covid-19 vaccines from New Delhi in January 2021. 

India’s relations with Maldives have always been multidimensional based on mutual respect and transparency.  Bilateral ties include cooperation in areas such as economics, climate change, health, and counter-terrorism. India has viewed the Maldives as a strategic neighbour in South Asia. 

India has provided soft loans to Maldives in a bid to assist development. New Delhi has offered funds for infrastructure that include a cricket stadium and a hospital in Hulhumalé, a $300 million port project in Gulhifalhu, the redevelopment of an airport at Hanimaadhoo, and water and sewerage projects on 34 islands. Transparency and lenient repayment clauses are two of the most stand-out features about assistance from India. 

However, the domestic opponents of the current Solih government have  launched a “India Out ” campaign, accusing New Delhi of undermining Maldives’ sovereignty by stationing military personnel in the country and persistently seeking a naval base.  The anti-India entities have been reassured by the Solih regime about India’s honest intentions and how New Delhi has been Maldives’ closest ally and a trusted neighbour.

QUAD and Maldives – scope of delicate yet strategic cooperation

In April 2021, Maldives welcomed Quad for the greater cooperation and stability in the Indian Ocean. This statement opened the scope of collaboration between the QUAD nations and  Maldives. India, which is one of founding the pillars of QUAD, is already a close ally of the island nation. Other members of QUAD have also initiated efforts to strengthen bilateral relations with the country. In February 2022, Australia announced the establishment of a High Commission in the Maldives and investment of $36.5 million over five years in the region. India also welcomed the US-Maldives military agreement titled “Framework for a Defence and Security Relationship” for deeper engagement and cooperation along with maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean.

Japan also shares cordial relations with the Maldives. In November 2020, Maldives and Japan announced the Economic and Social Development Programme.  The Government of Japan provided a grant worth 800 million Japanese Yen (USD 7.6 million) to the Maldivian Coast Guard, the Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre, Sub-Regional Centres, and Vessels.

Since Maldives shares friendly relations with all signatories of QUAD, there is scope for collaborative initiatives. In 2021, Japan and India were ready to collaborate in Sri Lanka for the development of the East Coast Terminal project. However, Sri Lanka unilaterally scrapped the deal and threw India and Japan out of the project without any discussion. However, since Maldives share cordial relations with both Japan and India bilaterally, there’s a huge potential for collaborative developmental plans by both the countries in Maldives. 

India or China?

China’s two Ocean strategy has gained momentum ever since the announcement of the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Even though the primary vision of the BRI focused on coastal cities such as the development of the Gwadar Port and the Hambantota Port. Recently, the focus has  shifted towards landlocked countries. China has denied the notion of “Indo- Pacific” as geographical concept constructed by the US and its allies to strategically target and hamper its presence and collaboration with the countries in the Indian as well as the Pacific Ocean. However, China’s increasing interest through investment projects in the Indian Ocean since the dawn of the 21st Century can’t be ignored. Both the oceans are home to China’s SLOCs – commercial and energy supply routes. 

The Malacca Strait is a major concern for China as a majority of its imports pass through the strait. China’s overdependence on Malacca has resulted in a dilemma within the Communist Party. The possible scenario of a blockade on imports has provoked China to take a proactive yet defensive approach in the region.  And Maldives’ dormant approach towards China has kept its multitude of investments in the country in the backseat. Chinese Infrastructure projects, initially seemed lucrative however they have come at the cost of stringent repayment clauses. Maldives’ central bank states that the government owes $600 million to Beijing. Further, loans worth $900 million were issued to private Maldivian companies under sovereign guarantees that warranted the Maldivian government to repay the loans if the lender companies were unable to pay back their loans. Moreover, the projects funded and developed by the Chinese have lacked transparency since the Maldivian government is not involved in contract distribution and price negotiation.

India, on the other hand, has  been Maldives’ all weather friend, not focused on economic interests. This is what makes India- Maldives’ relations special and makes their bond stronger. Despite the regime changes, the level of mutual respect and understanding between the two nations will continue as long as they maintain the policy of non-interference and cooperation. India, through its Neighbourhood First policy, must continue to engage with the Maldives to further its cooperation in different sectors. In the long run, India cannot deny China emerging as a major actor in the Indian Ocean  region, but constructive use of smart power with a focus on a diverse range of issues crucial to both countries, will help India strengthen its position in the region.

The Maldives needs to balance India and China and must not favour either. Even though MSRI is crucial for Maldives’ development, India has been its long-term ally in the neighbourhood. standing beside like an all-weather ally with all the cards on the table and no hidden cost. Economic benefits are not the only thing that has kept their relations strong. China, will need to extend its cooperation in more than just developmental projects to strengthen its relations  with Maldives. 

Shalini Singh is currently working as a Junior Researcher and Copyeditor​ at the Organisation for Research on China and Asia (ORCA). Earlier, she has worked with the National Maritime Foundation as a research intern and Political Risk and Threat Intelligence Analyst Intern with Horizon Intelligence. She has also worked with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment as a Research Intern and Field Investigator. In addition, she has worked as an editor with Alexis Foundation and Hindustan Publishing Corporation. Her core interests lie in Energy Security, International Institutions, and China’s presence in Africa and the Middle East.

China’s Dynamic Zero-COVID Policy

China’s Dynamic Zero-COVID Policy

By – Rahul Karan Reddy;

Introduction

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

Gradual Progress: Zero-COVID to Co-existence

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

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

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

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

Justifications of Zero-Covid and Consequences of Mismanagement

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

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

Economic Repercussions

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

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


Conclusion

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

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

Russian-Ukraine War: China’s Opportunities and Challenges

Russian-Ukraine War: China’s Opportunities and Challenges

By – Prakash Raj;

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

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

What’s the tipping point for current conflict? 

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

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

Why does Russia want Ukraine?

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

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

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

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

What was the backdrop of recent conflict? 

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

Why did West Fail to act? 

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

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

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

China’s Ukraine Calculus 

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

What made China maintain neutrality? 

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

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

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

How can China help Russia? 

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

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