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

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

By – Rahul Karan Reddy;

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

Stability emerges as key theme

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

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

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

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

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

Social Policy, Party Politics and SARs

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

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

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

Global Engagement

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

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

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

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

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

By – Paweł Paszak;

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

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

Basing idealistic critique on realist interests

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

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

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

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

India’s Russia dependance

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

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

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

Immediate outcomes for Moscow’s might 

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

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

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

China’s 2027 plan and its implications on India

China’s 2027 plan and its implications on India

By- Nichole Ballawar;


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

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

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

The 2027 targets and its important components

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

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

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

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

Implications for India 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

One Country, Two Systems – A synthesis of contrasting interests

One Country, Two Systems – A synthesis of contrasting interests

By: Omkar Bhole;

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

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

What is OCTS?

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

Motivations behind OCTS

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

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

Chinese strategies in Hong Kong

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

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

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

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

Response from Hong Kong citizens

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

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


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

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

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

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

By – Teg Prataap Singh Sandhu;

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

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

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

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

Modus Operandi Behind the New Land Border Law

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

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

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

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

India’s Response 

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

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

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

Repercussions on the Status Quo

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

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

Xi Jinping’s Political Ambition in 2022

Xi Jinping’s Political Ambition in 2022

By Rahul Karan Reddy;

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

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

Xi’s Strategy and Outcomes of the Party Congress

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

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

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

Alternatives and Rivals

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

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

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

The Post-Pandemic Future

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

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

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

Pakistan’s quest for ‘full spectrum deterrence’ continues 

Pakistan’s quest for ‘full spectrum deterrence’ continues 

By – Anubhav S Goswami;

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

Howitzer that can fire nuclear shells?

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

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

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

Nuclear artillery in sync with FSD

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

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

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

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

Do TNWs establish strategic stability in South Asia?

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

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

India’s concerns in the region

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

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

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


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

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

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

US and the North Korea Challenge in the ‘Trinity’

US and the North Korea Challenge in the ‘Trinity’

By – Abhishek Sharma;

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

DPRK missile demonstration and the US

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategy towards North Korea going forward

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

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


Quest for Supremacy: An analytical study of contemporary Chinese behaviour

Quest for Supremacy: An analytical study of contemporary Chinese behaviour

By – Abhishek Verma;

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

Historical Evolution and its impact on Communist China

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

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

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

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

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

Contemporary behaviour

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

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

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

The Ultimate ‘Guiding Light’ 

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

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

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


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

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

Recent Australia’s Regional Overtures in the Indian Ocean Region

Recent Australia’s Regional Overtures in the Indian Ocean Region

By – Artyom Garin;

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

The importance of the Indian Ocean for Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australia’s Future Perspectives and Challenges in Indo-Pacific 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

By – Anudeep Gujjeti;

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

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

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

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

Implications for Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By – Bhavdeep Modi;

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

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

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

China & the Western Balkans: Looking at the Bigger Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countering Taiwan: Selling the Serbia Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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