North Korea’s Cyber-offensive: Implications for India

North Korea’s Cyber-offensive: Implications for India

By – Divyanshu Jindal;

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

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

Why North Korea stands apart 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are India’s options? 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

By Eerishika Pankaj;

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

Haqqani Network and Taliban

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

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

India, the Haqqani Network and national security

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

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

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

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

China’s ‘bilateral’ with Haqqani Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

China’s economic engagement and protests in three continents

China’s economic engagement and protests in three continents

By – Sanjay Pulipaka, Mohit Musaddi ;

There have been protests in three countries located on three different continents in the past few weeks. The common thread tying these disparate protests is the presence of Chinese investments. 

For over a month, the Gwadar port city in Pakistan experienced large-scale protests with mass participation of men and women, indicating the prevalence of deep discontent in the populace.The protestors called for wide-ranging demands, including the provision of clean drinking water, better educational facilities, improved healthcare infrastructure, removal of unnecessary check-post, and easy cross border trade with Iran. In June, Dawn reported that the federal government’s decision to grant Chinese trawlers fishing rights in Gwadar had prompted protests from local fishermen. Therefore, it was not surprising that issues pertaining to fishing, such as easy access to the sea and restricting the fishing mafia figured in the protesters’ demands.

There is also deep anguish that locals are not getting employed in various projects implemented in the region. Reportedly, there is an opinion that the Chinese firms developing the port have deployed a large number of personnel from outside Gwadar. Therefore, protestors demanded better employment opportunities for the locals. On December 16, after more than a month of protests, the residents of Gwadar called off their sit-ins after the government reportedly accepted all demands. However, even though large scale infrastructure projects such as ports, airports and stadiums are getting operationalised in Gwadar, issues surrounding basic amenities such as drinking water haven’t received adequate attention.

These protests suggest that there is a lack of confidence that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects will deliver positive economic outcomes. As Maulana Hidayat, one of the protest movement leaders noted, “when the Gwadar port has brought no prosperity to those living in its vicinity, what good can it do for the people in the rest of the country?” 

Chinese investments in Africa have been under the scanner in the recent past. Towards the end of November, there were reports that China may soon take control of Entebbe International Airport in Uganda. Such speculation reportedly stemmed from a parliamentary probe report which noted that the provisions pertaining to a loan taken from China enable attachment of government assets. However, the Ugandan government officials and the Chinese Embassy in Uganda quickly refuted the allegations. Even before the controversy could subside, the financial commitments made by Beijing at the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) generated further discussion. There were reports suggesting that China proposed reducing its investments in Africa. Sun Yun reflecting on the FOCAC deliberations noted that “the amount of financial commitment, the number of promised projects and opportunities, and the relatively thin content of the action items together illustrate China’s cutback of activities on the African continent.”

In a tragic development, towards the end of November, five Chinese nationals were kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The kidnapping threw a spotlight on Chinese mining activities and their interactions with local authorities as well as populations. According to a South China Morning Post report, “in August, South Kivu authorities suspended the work of half a dozen Chinese-financed companies after residents accused them of mining for gold without permission wrecking the environment”. It is possible to argue that China is likely to run into a few law-and-order issues given the large-scale investments across the African continent.

However, as researchers from UNU-MERIT, Harvard University, and ETH Zurich argue, “regions [in Africa] hosting Chinese-led projects are more likely to experience protests”. They contend that “lack of transparency in loan conditions” makes “Chinese finance… prone to being used by local elites,” which may engender protests by locals.

Since the end of November, there have been ongoing protests in the Solomon Islands, in which large parts of the Chinatown District in the island’s capital Honiara has been subjected to arson and at least three people have been killed. The protests are directly related to Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s decision in September 2019 to establish diplomatic relations with China instead of Taiwan. Around the same time, a few senior politicians had published a letter stating the long- term interests of the Islands “in terms of our development aspirations, as well as respect for democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law, human dignity, and mutual respect — lie with Taiwan, not the PRC [People’s Republic of China].” The interethnic tensions are also getting reflected in the foreign policy, with people from Malaita Island preferring to maintain a closer relationship with Taiwan and the United States. The protests led to Australia dispatching a contingent of police and military officers to improve the law and order situation in the Solomon Islands. Similar protests in Honiara had taken place in 2006 when rioters burned Chinese-owned businesses over allegations that Beijing had provided financial assistance to the then newly- elected prime minister.

In little over a month, Chinese investments and policies have generated protests in three different regions – in Asia, Africa, and Oceania. This has added to the numerous protests against Chinese projects and activities in other regions such as Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands (see table).

Some reports have referred to Beijing’s use of the ‘elite capture’ tactic – a process through which the elite in a country get a disproportionately large share in the emerging economic and infrastructural initiatives – to make rapid economic inroads in various countries. The developments in the past few weeks have demonstrated that the elite capture tactic may be encountering popular resistance.

These protests also highlight the limitations of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and external economic engagement strategies. There is an opinion that China often seeks to operationalise big-ticket projects without reference to local HDI, amenities and responsiveness of local governance frameworks to basic needs. The absence of revenue generation with positive spillovers for the local economy engenders negative perceptions regarding Chinese economic engagement. If China’s economy does not register a quick economic recovery from the after-effects of COVID-19, it is possible that Beijing’s investments in areas where it encounters resistance may experience a downward trend in the longer term. Such a development may open up greater space for democratic countries to indulge in healthy economic interactions.

CountryNature of Protest
VietnamVietnam’s Special Zone Act which allows foreign investors to lease land for up to 99 years. Civilians carried anti-Chinese banners such as “No leasing land to China even for one day”. Source: Reuters,  June 11, 2018
PhilippinesChina’s increased presence in South China Sea. Around 1,000 protestors converged in front of the Chinese consulate in Manila waving signs with phrases such as “China Out”.  Source: SupChina, June 14, 2021
LaosBuilding of a 100-meter-tall Buddha statue in a Chinese SEZ as it is viewed as a cultural encroachment. “The statue to be erected is a Mahayana-style, Chinese Buddha wearing a long frock and standing, rather than a Theravada-style Lao Buddha sitting in a meditative pose.” Source: Radio Free Asia September 14, 2021
CambodiaAlleged plans to boost China’s military presence in Cambodia. Civilians protested in front of the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh, where they were involved in a scuffle with the police.  Source: Reuters  October 23, 2020
MyanmarChinese factories were torched as civilians urged Beijing to condemn the February 2021 coup. Source: France 24 March 17, 2021
ThailandChina-backed Chana Industrial Park in Songkhla Province, which locals said would lead to environmental damage. In December 2021, the government decided to delay the project. Source: Radio Free Asia December 11, 2021
IndonesiaChinese workers arriving in the South Sulawesi Province without approval from the Indonesian government. It was a student-led protest against jobs being stolen from locals. Source: International Business Times July 07, 2020
MalaysiaSummoned China’s Ambassador to lodge an official protest against presence and activities of Chinese vessels off the coast of Sabah and Sarawak.  Source: Bangkok Post October 05, 2021
Nauru, Kiribati and Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)Reports indicate that Nauru, Kiribati and FSM jointly raised security concerns over Huawei Marine Networks (HMN) laying undersea communication cables. As a result, the project was not awarded to HMN.  Source: Reuters June 18, 2021
Table 1: Select Protests Against Chinese Projects and Activities across Southeast Asia

(The article first appeared originally in The Economic Times)

Sanjay Pulipaka is a Senior Fellow at the Delhi Policy Group, India. He was a Pavate Fellow at the University of Cambridge and a former Fulbright Fellow in the United States. Twitter: @psanjay_in

Mohit Musaddi is an independent political and security risk consultant. He has a master’s degree in international relations from the War Studies Department of King’s College London.

China’s Sixth Plenum and Xi’s Political Future

China’s Sixth Plenum and Xi’s Political Future

By – Saranya Sircar;

The year 2021 is a milestone one in China for a handful of significant occasions. The 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) was approved in March 2021 by the country’s legislature, National People’s Congress (NPC). Also, the hundredth anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was celebrated in the month of July. Recently another vital event, the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the CPC was held in Beijing from November 08 to 11, 2021. This four-day long closed-door conclave, comprising more than 370 members of the CPC’s Central Committee, was conducted by President Xi Jinping in the capacity of his role as the General Secretary of the party. 

This Sixth Plenum, in particular, was of immense importance, given the fact that key matters on ideological issues and party building were highlighted in this meet as per tradition, but more so, it marked a key political event in lieu of the upcoming year in which a new 20th Standing Committee is expected to be assigned. What makes this meeting even more momentous is the formal statement “Resolution of the CCP Central Committee on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party’s Century of Struggle” that was passed alongside the Communique report at the end. It is only twice in the past that such historical resolutions were released – first by Mao Zedong in 1945 and the second by Deng Xiaoping in 1981. The statement seeks to project the CPC and China’s meteoric rise and growth over the past decade, while simultaneously putting Xi at a pedestal equal to his predecessors.

Xi’s Legacy and the CPC Sixth Plenum

Xi is currently the most powerful leader of China that the world has seen in decades. Right from joining the CPC during his student life as an official party member, Xi had an upward-trending trajectory rising through various ranks within the party, and in the long run became the president of the country in 2013. In 2016, at the Sixth Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the CPC, Xi had been “anointed as the core,” whereby he was bestowed with a designation that was earlier formally attributed to Chairman Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. Eventually the “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” which is primarily a collection of policies developed from his speeches, got enshrined in the State and CPC Constitutions. In the same year, the removal of the two-term threshold for the presidency was an indication that Xi is going to be in power as president for more than ten years — and probably for life. The historical resolution of the latest Sixth Plenum has somewhat indicated that President Xi is now being elevated to the rank of a helmsman, cementing his status as equivalent to that of Mao Zedong as well as Deng Xiaoping – two of the most robust and famous Chinese leaders. Unlike his predecessors, Xi has been carefully managing to quell possible threats to his leadership or any other hindrances in front of him, there were very less hindrances and threats in front of Xi to his headship, and therefore he has solely concentrated on building working on his the ‘Chinese Dream’ and promotion of the ‘Peking model’. Post the Sixth Plenum, there remains very little doubt that Xi will indeed be taking on another term in office, especially as he has yet again begun to reorient political appointments to bring forward his supporters.

Sixth Plenum shaping China’s Foreign Policy

President Xi’s rise can be seen as parallel to the remarkable rise of China in the world stage. During his tenure, China sanctioned economic reforms to combat decelerating growth, and consequentially has witnessed unprecedented growth in the past three decades. Over the years, China has become nationalistically bold and assertive in taking robust decisions and actions in the foreign policy domain. China, under Xi’s presidency, has highlighted its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to magnify its geo-economic as well as geostrategic authority overseas. In spite of international declarations, China continues to exert influence further into the South China Sea, claiming disputed lands and zones as its own territory, building islands artificially, increasing naval presence, constructing armed installations and industrial infrastructure, and conducting military drills. 

Amidst the pandemic, China further expanded its belligerent posture with assertions along India’s border, a trade war with Australia, imposing a draconian new security law for Hong Kong and continued intrusions into Taiwanese airspace, besides its continuous tussle with the West. With reference to external policy stances, the communique released at the end of the recent Sixth Plenary Session has talked about Chinese China’s reunification endeavours with Taiwan, and uses terminologies such as “major country diplomacy”, expanding “China’s international influence, appeal and the power to shape” and so forth. All of these imply continuity in Chinese external policy stances, with persistent focus on the United States (US), Russia and the European Union as major global powers. Over the years and more recently, China has made a clear standpoint of defying the “status-quo international order” led by the US, and instead advocates restructuring remaking a new one era based on socialism with Chinese characteristics. In Xi’s vision for a Sino-centric world order, the ‘Peking model’, it is China which is the global leader “building a new type of international relations”.

Overall, examining the Sixth Plenum’s impact on Chinese foreign policy through the lens of an assertive CPC, it can be inferred that China is not likely take a step back in conflicts that further promote the ‘strongman’ image of Xi in the theatre of world politics. This holds true in case of instances like the stalemate along the Indian border, the East and South China Sea disputes and even on the tech-trade war with the US.  

Relevance for Regional Security Architecture

The larger Asian region including the Indo-Pacific have consistently argued for and maintained multipolarity, marked by a rules-based, open and transparent formula of like-minded democratic countries like India and Japan as well as the US. But China under the authoritative guidance of President Xi has maintained a concrete partition with the other regional nations in principle. Towards that, it can be anticipated that Chinese policies like “wolf warrior diplomacy”, “grey-zone strategy”, and hybrid warfare would largely continue in a likewise aggressive manner in the foreseeable future, especially after the Sixth Plenum. Hence the Tibet issue, rivalries with the US and India, reconsolidation of Hong Kong and Taiwan, and territorial claims over East and South China Seas – everything being of crucial geopolitical magnitude to China – are expected to persist in its regional foreign policy activities. 

Although there is a broad official acknowledgement of the free and open Indo-Pacific construct by the Chinese Foreign Ministry in the past month, China expressed its patronage for ASEAN centrality in the regional security architecture and even maintained the stand that it believes in the ASEAN in playing a greater role in international affairs. The Quadrilateral grouping of the US, India, Japan and Australia has always been a source of discomfort for China and has been termed by its Foreign Minister as “Indo-Pacific NATO” that cherishes a Cold War mentality and stirs up “geopolitical competition and confrontation among different groups and blocs”. Despite the fact that ASEAN centrality is backed even by the Quad countries (individually as well as a group), China is still unhappy and suspicious about its formation and sees it as a potential threat in the regional security arrangement. This year, China passed three controversial laws – Land Boundary Law, Maritime Law, and China Coast Guard Law – by means of regulating its land borders and marine boundaries militarily. Examining this development through the Sixth Plenum angle, this is a blatant indication of a more aggressive Chinese outlook and strategy for its future, capable enough to create tensions in the Indo-Pacific as well as altering world geopolitics. Now that there is an overall acceptance of the Chinese unilateralism in world politics, Asian and Indo-Pacific countries should stay watchful of China as it would also attempt to act through regional and global diplomatic channels and image modification strategies so that stability in its relations with major powers is safeguarded, with the guarantee that there is less or no obstacle to its economic and strategic growth, as pointed out by scholars.

Link with the two Centennial Goals 

China’s centennial goals are related to and mark the centesimal anniversaries of the CPC that began life in 1921, and the formal establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. Towards that, the following are the goals that were set by the CPC:, viz., 

Goal No. 1 – to “build a moderately prosperous society in all respects” by 2021 to commemorate 100 years of the party; . and 

Goal No. 2 – to “build a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious” by 2049 that would observe the centenary of the PRC – hold great significance. 

In February 2021, it was declared that the first centennial goal has been successfully accomplished with President Xi’s leadership over the past eight years when around 98.99 million impoverished rural residents living below the current poverty line, got “free” from absolute poverty. Although Thethe World Bank had additionally affirmed that China is responsible for over 70 percent of the global reduction in poverty since the late early 198070s, the credibility of such statistics still remains a question to ponder upon. As far as the second centennial goal is concerned, China is determined to attain the target and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is considered to be fundamental to push forward sustained geostrategic, geo-economic and geopolitical advancements. Furthermore, to mark the centenary of the creation of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in August 1927, China codified a new short-term military modernization goal termed as the “2027 Goal” at the annual meeting of the NPC in March 2021. The 2027 goal is sort of an addition to the prevailing target that China will “basically complete national defence and military modernization by 2035” and possess a “world-class military by mid-century”. With reference to the Sixth Plenum, it can be said that China has continually left no stone unturned to work enthusiastically towards achieving the remaining centennial goals in a post-first centennial chapter. 

The Sixth Plenum has reaffirmed China’s plans in making every single effort continuously in actualising its domestic goals as well as international aspirations of becoming a superpower. Domestically, the attempt of the Sixth Plenary was to imbibe the narrative about the CCP’s (with Xi’s legacy) undeniably positive role in the development of China over the past 100 years as a strong counterforce to the West. Externally, all policy targets, legal regulations, and activities by China seem to be recurring assertions that contemporary international politics is now increasingly driven by China, and it is a wakeup call for the rest of the global powers. Alongside thisthis, undoubtedly, President Xi Jinping’s political future look promising enough to steer world order.  

Saranya Sircar is associated as a Consultant for the East Asia Research Programme at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), New Delhi.  She previously interned with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi. She did her post-graduation in Conflict Analysis and Peace Building from Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. She graduated in Political Science Honours from Gargi College, University of Delhi. Saranya’s areas of research interest include geopolitical and security issues in larger East and South Asian regions, Indian foreign policy, global climate change and environmental issues, gender issues, matters of peace and conflict, regionalism, and other related domains. She can be reached at  

Seoul’s Comprehensive Re-Balancing Strategy Amidst Strategic Shift In Indo-Pacific

Seoul’s Comprehensive Re-Balancing Strategy Amidst Strategic Shift In Indo-Pacific

By – Abhishek Sharma;

A Geopolitical and Geoeconomics juggling is taking place between U.S. and China in the Indo-Pacific region, and the pandemic has only accelerated its pace. This new geopolitical game has nudged and aggravated developments in East Asia’s security and economic domain. These developments include signing the AUKUS deal, looking at the Resilience of Global Supply Chains, and the crisis in Taiwan Strait. The developments have forced states to realign their foreign policy and diplomatic balancing; South Korea is one among the many states positioned at the center of this shift as one of the significant critical technological leaders and a prominent security player in East Asia. 

With these developments influencing the South Korean interests directly and otherwise, moves in Seoul’s strategic calculation concerning China have been taking place. South Korea is now making decisions that signal a change in its traditional position. This can be seen by President Moon Jae-in’s acceptance of the AUKUS deal and a call for maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait. How do such shifts and balancing maneuvers in South Korea’s Foreign Policy align with the geopolitical and geoeconomics tide in Indo-Pacific concerning China? What challenges persist in maintaining a state of equilibrium between South Korea and China’s relations in the future?

Gauging ties driven by trade

South Korea and China’s relations have been dominated by trade since their diplomatic relations were established in 1992, apart from their cultural and historical relations, which goes back to the Goguryeo Kingdom. By virtue of being Seoul’s biggest  trading partner, China holds an important position in Seoul’s foreign policy as highlighted by their sheer trade numbers. . In 2019, the trade exports and imports from South Korea to China were around 136 billion dollars and 108 billion dollars, respectively. With the global economic slowdown, many countries have experienced their trade drastically dwindling, with some exceptions where the trade between countries has shown a positive growth trend recently. South Korea and China trade relation is an illustration among the exception. The exports to China from South Korea in October 2021 soared approximately 25 percent, reaching 14.39 billion dollars. Major commodities included semiconductors, electrical machinery, equipment, smartphones, and clothing. 

South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy November figures on exports to China show a climb of  27.1 percent to 15.3 billion dollars, recording growth for 13 consecutive months. China shares a significant part of the South Korean export-oriented economy, and hence traditionally, China’s views on issues are kept in mind while formulating South Korean foreign policy-making. However, with the global geopolitical and geoeconomics tides shifting between U.S and China, the trade factor between South Korea and China no longer remains isolated of the larger consequences. In other words, with the increasing intersection of geopolitical and geoeconomics, sectors that were earlier not influenced by global or regional developments like trade, high-tech technology and shipbuilding are now seen as part of the larger geostrategy to formulate policy-making. Security considerations of respective states overshadow this policy-making, and South Korea is no exception in this shift. The security framework emerging out of the changing tides puts South Korea in an arduous position, forcing it to rebalance the sectors to maximize its interests concerning China. The two domains where the intersection of geopolitics and geoeconomics influences South Korean policy-making concerning China are trade and supply-chain resilience as well as democratic solidarity and national security. However, there is an emerging security framework influencing South Korea’s policies.

Emerging Security Arrangement and Seoul’s Soul Searching

The strategic maritime security alignment emerging among the democratic states had already created a geopolitical duplexity in the Indo-Pacific region. Here, South Korea found itself standing in opposition to China’s position. South Korea being invited as part of QUAD plus was a trust signal from the fellow QUAD countries towards Seoul in standing with the emerging ‘strategic direction.’ However, there was still hesitancy in Seoul of not upsetting China. This hesitancy germinates from Seoul’s dealing with China and its unreliable experience with the U.S. One such instance was the deployment of THAAD missile in 2016 amidst the growing threat from North Korea, which resulted in a backlash from Beijing, coming harsh on Seoul manifesting in declining relations. The economic cost estimated by Hyundai Research Institute (HRI) by Beijing on THAAD incident was around 7.5 billion dollars in 2017, which amounts to 0.5 percent of South Korea GDP.  Apart from trade, other sectors like tourism, gaming, and entertainment especially took the brunt of Beijing ire. The pressure on Korean companies was such that one particular Lotte group had to finally exit the Chinese market after a decade due to a systematic boycott campaign. China showed South Korea the consequences of upsetting its interests. 

However, with the security situation getting increasingly uncertain in the peninsula with North Korea launching missiles repeatedly, South Korea is trying to re-balance its security with economic costs. This re-balancing strategy comes in the backdrop of not getting any substantial support from Beijing on the North Korea issue, apart from some symbolic act of supporting the signing of a Peace agreement resulting in the end of the Korean war.   

The AUKUS deal between U.S, U.K, and Australia might be the final nail in the coffin that had many experts guessing on Seoul balancing foreign policy with China. In his recent visit to Australia, South Korean President Moon Jae-in supported AUKUS and said AUKUS and QUAD all of these groups adds to the ‘peace and prosperity’ in the Indo-Pacific region. Some experts have called President moon’s visit to Australia a symbol of ‘quiet alignment’ or even  called it ‘an act of subtle resistance’ against China. This visit also comes with its standings with South Korea and Australia signing military equipment deal worth 720 million dollars. Hence, we see a calibrated shift in South Korean foreign policy with China.

Trade and Supply Chain resilience

Even two years after adjusting themselves to pandemic, the issue of supply chain resilience remains intact. The latest case was the urea crisis in South Korea due to restrictions put by China amidst a shortage of coal domestically with the banning of Australian coal imports. South Korea’s dependence on China for 97.6 percent of urea imports shows the enormous nature of the problem it faces. This dependence came as many South Korean companies closed down systems domestically as they found urea cheaper to import from China. The consequences of such decisions, like restricting the flow of critical raw materials, have an enormous impact on the economy of other states. There exist other sectors also where similar issues persist. South Korea is a leader in High-tech electronic products. Still, its reliance on China for raw materials in making semiconductors points to the critical leverage Beijing holds in its tech sector growth.

South Korea is dependent on China for its raw material for 94.7 percent of tungsten oxide and 100 percent of magnesium ingot used for semiconductors and aluminum alloy, respectively. The criticality of ICT products nowadays directly affects the economies of many nations, particularly South Korea, whose exports constitute an amount of 21.5 billion dollars only in November 2021. In 2019, the exports of ICT goods constituted approximately 26 percent of South Korea’s total exports. To avoid this, Seoul is now looking to diversify its partners and the recent visit to Australia, a mineral-rich country, where the two signed an MOU on cooperation and critical mineral supply. This is seen as a critical strategy to address this supply chain issue. ‘Establishing a stable mineral supply chain is important not only for the two countries but also for the global economy,’ said President Moon. 

Such a step may address Seoul’s concern on the issue of supply chain resilience. However, the interdependence on trade exports to China presents another challenge that constrains its policy. As per the latest Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy November figures, the ICT shipments, which includes Semiconductors, Display exports, mobile phones, and computer and peripheral devices to China, grew 30.4 percent, recording a growth with the amount of 10 billion dollars. Contrast this with the ICT product exports to the U.S, which amount to 2.5 billion dollars, approximately five times less. Still, South Korea is taking certain strategic decisions to align its policy with the U.S. Samsung Electronics announcement to set up a semiconductor fab site in Texas. It is an attempt to diversify the supply chain geographically with ‘like-minded’ countries. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo responding to this announcement said that ‘domestic production of semiconductor chips is critical for our national and economic security.’ This points towards the intersection of geopolitics and geoeconomics in high-tech technology and its interaction with trade.

Democratic Solidarity and National Security

Beijing Winter Olympics 2022 is around the corner, and there has been a series of countries boycotting the Olympics. The U.S. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated this move in response to ‘PRC’s egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang.’ The U.S., a formal ally of South Korea, has been supported by Australia, the U.K., Canada, and Lithuania. However, South Korea has chosen to follow a different path. ‘We are not considering a boycott measure,’ said President Moon while responding on the issue of the Beijing Winter Olympics. This is the usual diplomatic maneuvering practiced by Seoul with its relations with China. The manifestation of Seoul’s balancing diplomacy is seen in its signing of the Open Societies Statement at G7 that focuses on protecting human rights on the one hand and rejecting to sign the G7 summit communique that asks China ‘to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.’  Such trickery gets Seoul some leverage with China, where South Korea gets labeled as ‘rational and sober in the face of US pressure’ by the Chinese Communist Party Mouthpiece Global times. Even South Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Choi Jong-moon said that ‘we are responding with consistency when there are discussions about China in the international community.’ All of this points towards a careful balance position with respect to China.

Nonetheless, these steps are just to avoid any tactical friction with Beijing that could attract undue attention like Australia. South Korea accepting the invitation to the G7 meeting, or D10 (short for Democracy 10) with fellow democracies like India and Australia, shows the strategic alignment it wants to pursue going forward. The formulation of such a group by inviting three Indo-Pacific democracies shows that the G7, which represents the western consensus, intends to create a broader structure with a voice from the region. Such steps are taken keeping in mind the evolving geopolitical equations where the delegation of responsibility to uphold the values that democracies represent to those in the region to a liberal democratic country like South Korea. But how this group takes shape remains to be seen. 

South Korea has played cautiously in the game of Truth and Dare with U.S. Seoul neither wants to accept the U.S. dare on China nor to utter the Truth. This comes with reward as well as punishment. Australia has got the reward with the AUKUS deal by Canberra clarity in calling out Chinese hegemony and malpractices in the region. Australian defense minister Peter Dutton remarks that ‘It would be inconceivable that we[Australia] wouldn’t support the U.S. in an action[U.S led defense of Taiwan] if U.S. chooses to take action.’ This statement got an angry response from the Chinese Foreign Ministry instead of President Moon of South Korea. With the AUKUS deal, Seoul has renewed calls to make Nuclear Submarines as North Korea has already stated its intention to create. In the face of the North acquiring second-strike capability, the South would like to build its technology, but many obstacles remain in this process, mainly from the U.S. Although it seems very unlikely South Korea may operate a nuclear submarine soon, as the U.S. sees that may make the peninsula more hostile, triggering a reaction from North Korea. China also called upon both the parties [North and South Korea] ‘to focus on the overall situation, exercise restraint, commit to safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula.’ What makes South Korea’s position more difficult is to convince Beijing of the true intentions behind such a move going back on its own words. South Korea assuaged China’s concern while visiting Beijing with its three no’s: ‘no additional THAAD deployment, no participation in the U.S. missile defense network and no establishment of a trilateral military alliance with the U.S. and Japan.’ China fears that any development in the Korean Peninsula that involves the sudden change of status quo will accelerate the ‘security dilemma,’ making it harder to maintain its hegemony with increasing U.S. entrenchment. How South Korea deals with this challenge remains to be seen.  

The Way Forward

As geopolitics and geoeconomics interact and converge in the Indo-Pacific region, South Korea will become more challenging to make enough space for itself to maneuver through the shifting tides. The strategy of comprehensive re-balancing that entails balancing trade and supply chain resilience or the democratic principles and solidarity with its national security will continue through new avenues that were seen earlier only in the footnotes of opinion pieces. As a neighbor of China and an ally of the U.S., Seoul’s tactical choices are limited only if it sees the strategic change through the Cold-war lens. An emerging multipolar world where countries practice issue-based multi-alignment strategies may address this short-term problem. Be it a global challenge like climate change, terrorism, and supply chain. Or at regional scales like national security and sanction enforcement, there exist an opportunity to catch. The evolving ways to navigate these obstacles are not accessible. Still, with good diplomacy and flexible foreign policy that keeps South Korea’s national interest at its core, the ship may pass the tide easily. However, it remains to be seen whether Seoul’s strategic shift may influence its foreign policy and diplomatic behavior, forcing it to pick from one option or just pick one’s way. The big question is whether the U.S. and China’s strategic competition will get strong and prove the old Korean proverb true. That is, ‘When caught in a fight between the Whales, a shrimp gets his back broken.’  

Abhishek Sharma holds a Masters degree 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.

Balancing ‘East’ and ‘West’: India’s Cyber Diplomacy

Balancing ‘East’ and ‘West’: India’s Cyber Diplomacy

By – Divyanshu Jindal;

Speaking at an online event, India’s National Cyber Security Coordinator Lt. General Rajesh Pant recently remarked that considering the current geopolitical situation where cyberspace is becoming increasingly bipolar, India needs to decide its position. He emphasised on how the East is looking at solutions to break away from the long-standing frameworks dominated by the West, and how the West itself is now focusing on ‘non-China solutions’ to counter a revisionist China.  In this context, building India’s transformation into a successful stalwart in the global cyberspace governance discourse requires immediate focus. 

However, one of the key emerging concerns for India to achieve such a goal is the widening gap between the West (encompassing states like the US and Europe, and ideologically including Japan, South Korea, and Australia), and the East (Russia, China, Central Asian nations, and developing nations from Africa and Southeast Asia due to growing economic dependence on China). The ‘West’ and ‘East’ demarcations in the realm of cyberspace governance have been broadly created based on the fundamental conceptual differences the model rather than geography. 

Considering recent events, India is still far from reaching a decision on taking sides in the growing bipolarity; on the contrary, India has sought to balance each side as per its national interests. India’s approach at the recently concluded ‘Summit for Democracy’ and the ‘Russia-India-China’ Foreign Minister’s meeting provide insights into the dilemma that India is facing in the cyberspace domain.  

Decoding the ‘Global Cyber Divide’

The discourse on global cyberspace governance is divided between the concepts of ‘cyber security’ and ‘information security’. While the US and the western partners propound free speech and global access to information through freely flowing information across the internet, China and Russia have been at the forefront of advocating ‘information security’, which entails ‘content protection’, beyond that of ‘data protection’. 

Through this approach, China and Russia have pushed for a cyberspace governance model which stresses on ‘ ‘state sovereignty’ in cyberspace. The two have also pushed this paradigm through multilateral mechanisms like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the ‘International Code of Conduct for Information Security’ proposal submitted to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2011 with a revision in 2015. Both proposals did not receive global support due to its emphasis on a multilateral system for Internet governance, rather than a multistakeholder one, as desired by the west. 

As India attained SCO’s full membership only in 2017, and was not a signatory to the proposal, it remained unclear whether India supported the two proposals. 

The emphasis towards establishing the state apparatus as the primary actor in cyber space is  visible in China’s ‘Great Firewall’ which allows the government to control the flow of data in Chinese cyberspace by filtering websites deemed unfit, and the  2016 ‘Yarovaya law’ in Russia which mandated the telephone and internet providers to store all communications data for six months and all metadata for three years. 

While this approach is advocated to secure the national cyberspace from foreign influences and security risks, it has also helped governments to crackdown on online anonymity and suppress criticisms directed at governmental functioning and policies, thus threatening the ‘freedom of speech’ held dear by the democratic West. For its part, India has for long stood against the west-led ‘Budapest Convention’, the sole binding legal agreement on cybercrime coordinated by the Council for Europe. India argues that the convention was formulated without India’s participation. Instead, India voted in favour of the Russia-led UN resolution on cybercrime in 2019, (titled ‘Countering the use of Information and communications technologies for criminal purposes’) which aims at creating a new treaty through which nations can coordinate and share data to prevent cybercrime. Ultimately, however, India’s take on the topic remains delicately nuanced. 

India’s Position

India’s approach has witnessed a gradual transition over the past two decades. 

While India had been a supporter for a multilateral approach with primary role of governments and supporting roles of other actors like private organisations and civil society till 2015, India’s stance after 2015 tilted towards a multi-stakeholder approach which envisions active participation by non-governmental actors and civil society. However, this tilt as well has not been definite and remains unclear in absence of a concrete policy. 

But clues from India’s engagement for cyber cooperation provide an insight into India’s evolving policy. 

India has had a longstanding engagement with the west on cyber security. India has cooperated with the US from way back in 2002, when the two formulated the US-India Cyber Security Forum. A decade later in 2011, both signed a Cybersecurity Agreement for a closer cooperation and timely exchange of information between the cyber security related organization of their respective governments. The agreement aimed at establishing the best practices for exchange of critical cybersecurity information and expertise between the two governments. 

The same year, India met for the first time with the EU, for cyber policy consultation. The mechanism was transformed to a strategic Cyber Dialogue in 2015; India and EU held the sixth version of this dialogue in 2020 and focused on identifying convergences in the diplomatic positions on future negotiations, on an open, free and secure cybersapce. The consultations also emphasised on building bridges between multiple stakeholders in European and Indian cyber diplomacy, by including non-governmental voices in the norm-building process.

Similarly, India has engaged with other nations from the west, like Australia. In 2021, India and Australia held the first Joint Working Group on Cyber Security cooperation and a senior officials’ cyber dialogue. The dialogue built upon the already existing Australia-India Framework Arrangement on Cyber and Cyber-Enabled Critical Technology Cooperation, signed an year before in 2020. 

This highlights India’s focus on establishing cyber security cooperation with the western partners, while reserving room for conceptualising a separate governance approach. 

In recent years, there has been an emphasis on India reaching out to various stakeholders in the global cyberspace governance, ranging from the western governments to the eastern heavyweights. India has also formulated interaction mechanisms with developing countries and tried to find consensus over a universally acceptable cyberspace governance model through multilateral institutions, groupings, and organisations like the United Nations (UN), G20, BRICS, and the SCO.

The Indian government introduced a ‘Data protection bill’  in 2019 for ‘data localisation’– requiring data generated in India to be stored on Indian territory (similar to the Russia’s Yarovaya law). However, in light of displeasure attracted from the west, especially the US (where the major tech and social media giants are based), and from India’s own ICT (Information and Communications Technology) sector as well, the proposal was stayed for more scrutiny and recommendations. The proposed bill is now under review, having been reformed by limiting the scope of requirement of data localisation to ‘sensitive data’, and is expected to make in appearance again in the coming weeks.  

In a further attempt to present India’s leadership role towards a universally acceptable cyberspace governance model, India highlighted the increasingly ambiguous nature of jurisdiction of ICT infrastructure during the UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG)discussions in 2020 and proposed a new governance model. This model bases sovereignty on ‘ownership of data’ and advocates that the ownership of data would be that of the person who has created the data and the ‘territorial jurisdiction’ by the country which the owner belongs to, irrespective of the place where the data is stored physically. 

But India’s approach does not exist in silo with the global geopolitical developments.

The joint communique of the 18th meeting of the Foreign Ministers of India, Russia and China convened on 26 November 2021 underlined the consensus among the three sides on the central coordinating role of the UN in forging common understandings area of ICTs and security. The ministers reiterated that a multi-polar and rebalanced world based on sovereign equality of nations and respect for international law which reflects the contemporary realities is required to strenghten and reform the multilateral system.  The three sides also agreed that imposition of unilateral sanctions beyond those adopted by the UNSC were inconsistent with the principles of international law. 

This emphasis on UN centrality sheds light on the growing complexity and divergence in consensus over cyberspace between the ‘east’ and ‘west’.   The west has long used non-UN forums for consensus-building and norm formulation. Budapest Convention which stands as the lone binding treaty in cyberspace till now, stands as a glowing example of this fact.  On the other hand, as states remain the primary actors at multilateral platforms like the UN (thus retaining the power to articulate on the global governance models), the ‘east’ led by China and Russia has sought consensus at already existing platform like the UN instead of new non-UN platforms.  

In 2018, Russia and US had put forth their separate resolutions regarding cyberspace. While Russia tabled ‘Development in the field of Information and telecommunications in the context of International Security’ highlighting the Russo-Sino perspective (opposed by the western partners), the US advocated the ‘Advancing Responsible State Behaviour in Cyberspace in the context of International Security’, encapsulating the western perspective (opposed by some South American and the Middle Eastern countries, besides China-Russia). 

India however, voted for both. 

But a similar approach going ahead seems to be increasingly difficult. On one hand where China is pushing its ‘Digital Silk Road’ and vying to build a consensus among the developing nations towards the ‘information security’ approach (aided by infusion of infrastructural investments), the new US’ administration under Joe Biden is planning to re-strengthen the western approach by a reinvigorated push towards attracting others through it democratic values. The US plans to launch a new ‘Alliance for the Future of the Internet’ in a bid to rally the world’s democracies around the western model of free and open cyberspace. The recently concluded ‘Summit for Democracy’ can be seen as an initial step towards this push. 


At the ‘Summit for Democracy’, Indian Prime Minister stated that there is a need to jointly shape global norms for emerging technologies like social media and crypto currencies, so that they are used to ‘empower’ democracy, and not to undermine it. With the cyber domain now capable of deeply impacting politics, society, and economies of any nation, cyber diplomacy has emerged as an absolute necessity to balance the offensive and defensive capabilities across nations in current global geopolitical landscape. 

With concerns around rising authoritarianism and falling democratic standards (quantified by various reports like the Freedom House Index), it is being argued that the core values of the liberal order like human rights and freedom of expression, are now under stress, giving rise to a post-liberal cyber order which emphasizes on cyber sovereignty and state’s dominant position. 

Ultimately, the eastern order is being led by China and Russia who are vying to establish a consensus among developing nations for the ‘information security’ model.  The western order is being led by US and Europe, who now consider their ‘cyber security’ model as a necessity for democratic credentials of any nation. In a manner similar to its non-aligned approach during the Cold War, India is focused on its strategic autonomy. However, as history stands witness, non-alignment is not a permanent solution, and sooner or later, a decision will have to be made. 

This time, India should be the stalwart and come up with an ‘Indian way’ out of this cyberspace dilemma. Although many steps have already been taken in recent years, the need of the hour remains a determinative step. 

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

(The views expressed in the article are personal)

The India factor in China’s Bhutan Outreach

The India factor in China’s Bhutan Outreach

By – Shivam Shekhawat;

Sandwiched between its two bigger and powerful neighbours, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has historically been important for both India and China. For New Delhi, since the signing of the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1949 and its subsequent revision in 2007, the relationship has been one of  ‘close trust and understanding’ but not without its fair share of hiccups. On the other hand, Bhutan doesn’t formally recognise the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), with both sides conducting 24 rounds of talks and 10 Expert group meetings from 1984 till 2016 to resolve their boundary dispute. It is in this background that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Foreign Minister of Bhutan, Tandi Dorji and the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs of the PRC, Wu Jiangho —in the presence of their respective Indian Ambassadors —on 14th October 2021 should be viewed. 

A ‘three-step roadmap’, the MoU is aimed at “Expediting the Bhutan-China boundary negotiations”. The framework was charted during the 10th expert group meeting in Kunming in April 2021 and sent to the governments for consideration. It was heralded as a deadlock breaker by the Chinese side and a positive development leading to more “systematic discussions” on the boundary question by Bhutan.  Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, India refused to divulge more information or answer whether India had any prior knowledge of its signing but acknowledged that it has ‘noted’ the development. Even though the precise details of what entails this ‘roadmap’ were deemed sensitive and not made public, Wang Se, an expert at the Chinese Ministry of State Security affiliated China Institute of Contemporary International Relations explained how it is loosely based on the framework for India-China border agreements, i.e., after formulating and deciding upon some basic principles on the overall question of boundary demarcation, the two sides will engage in resolving one issue at a time, possibly by exchanging maps, ultimately leading to the delineation of the boundary and the signing of a final border agreement. 

Strategic calculus along the Bhutan-China border

The over 400 sq. km border which Bhutan shares with China is fraught with contesting claims from the Chinese side. There are two separate areas of dispute- Doklam, Sinchulung, Dramana and Shakhatoe in West Bhutan near the border with India and Jakarlung and Pasamlung near Tibet. In 2020, China made an additional claim to the Sakteng region in eastern Bhutan, a region which according to Bhutan has always been under its administration. For India, the disputed territories between its two neighbours, especially in the West, are of grave security importance because of their strategic location at the tri-junction between the three countries. China considers Mount Gymochen as the triboundary point, which is a ‘strategic redline’ for New Delhi, descending further into the vital but vulnerable Siliguri corridor. China’s claims and actions on Bhutanese territory then must be viewed within the overall dynamics of the Sino-Indian relationship and the incremental steps that it is taking to get a strategic advantage in India’s neighbourhood. 

After the first round of talks between Bhutan and China began in 1984, Beijing offered a ‘package deal’ in 1990, proposing to abdicate its claims from regions in the north to get control of the strategically important region of Doklam. This manoeuvre was directed at getting an advantage over India, as control over the region would have given it an increased advantage over the chicken neck i.e., the Siliguri corridor, India’s gateway to the Northeast. After Bhutan rejected the offer because of security concerns, the two sides decided to sign a temporary truce in 1998, agreeing to uphold the status quo till a final boundary is finalised. But talks came to a halt after 2016 when news of the People’s Liberation Army(PLA) constructing a road near Doklam led to India’s military involvement in the region. India considered it a security threat and intervened on Bhutan’s behalf. The resulting standoff continued for 73 days before an agreement could finally be reached.

The Importance of Timing

For some time now China has been following a policy of populating the frontier and creating Xiakong (moderately prosperous) villages to increase the physical quality of life and also improve border security. The presence of its own people along the frontier increases the leverage that it has in border negotiations. After the Doklam crisis tapered off, the PRC continued its encroachment on Bhutanese territory, constructing villages and building other military infrastructure. 

In November 2020, a Chinese journalist tweeted pictures of a village named Pangda, 35 km inside the Yadong county which is part of the Tibet Autonomous Region. After speculation became rife of its exact location, a US-based satellite imagery company showed its precise location as being near the trijunction at Doklam. Even though this was corroborated by other sources, the Bhutanese ambassador to India outrightly denied its presence. As the village lies close to the Doklam area, India saw the construction as a part of China’s overall strategy of encircling the small nation and creating a rift between the two long-term allies. The de-facto control that China has tacitly exerted on territories under dispute, disregarding the bilateral agreements has even led some experts to term the MoU a fait accompli, aiding Beijing in a timely dressing up of its aggressive and unilateral actions under the garb of diplomacy but making no efforts at resolving the boundary dispute.

Amidst these considerations, Bhutan’s denial of any construction inside its territory worried New Delhi about a possible tilt towards the PRC. In the absence of diplomatic relations between the PRC and Bhutan, India’s role has been indispensable in the border negotiations. But the signing of the MoU and the possibility of both sides establishing formal diplomatic relations is of concern for New Delhi. Even though India and Bhutan have enjoyed a stable relationship, there have been occasional issues of concern such as claims of Delhi’s growing interference and the discontent of the local population towards India’s big brother attitude especially after the petroleum subsidies to Thimpu were discontinued in 2013, possibly because of its warm-up to the PRC. 

With the coming of the Modi government and the espousal of its Neighbourhood First policy-coupled with the Act East Policy (AEP)–  Bhutan has been regarded as one of India’s topmost priorities. Under its Vaccine Maitri scheme, India supplied 1,50,000 vaccines to its neighbour, reiterating the importance it accrues to this all-weather friendship. Both nations also cooperated in the field of financial technology, with the introduction of the RuPay card and efforts to increase connectivity for the speedy delivery of training and other essentials by inaugurating a trading route between India’s Jaigaon and Bhutan’s Ahllay in July 2020. Concurrently, China too focused on Bhutan via its Health Silk Road, an offshoot of the Belt and Road Initiative to increase its footprint in the region and project itself as a global public health leader, working towards increasing cooperation and solidarity in the fight against the virus.

The signing of the MoU also followed the failure of the thirteenth round of talks between India and China, which ended on 12 October to resolve the dispute at their border. In March 2020 the PLA amassed troops in eastern Ladakh, subsequently leading up to the clash in Galwan Valley which killed 20 Indian soldiers and an unspecified number of Chinese soldiers. The relationship between the two countries has been tense ever since with both sides occupied in protracted negotiations to disengage from the regions. The news at the beginning of 2021 about the presence of Chinese villages in Long and areas to its east has also exacerbated the situation further. The disengagement was successful in Pangong Tso in February 2021 and Gogra in Patrolling Point 15 in August 2021 but has been difficult in the Hot Springs, which was the subject of the latest talks. The Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar as well as the Army Chief General M.M.  Narvanne, for long keeping the dispute at the border and the bilateral relations in separate silos, stated how bilateral relations can no longer turn normal until China decides to undo the unilateral decisions that it has taken in eastern Ladakh and commits to successfully disengage from the contested points.  The Chinese instead blame India’s demands for the failure of the talks and for the continued stagnation in resolving the dispute. 

Construction of a benign narrative 

In August 2013, Xi Jinping reiterated the need for China to communicate well with the world and ‘strengthen our discourse power internationally’. In keeping with this, the Chinese state media and officials have depicted the signing of the MoU as a strong answer to India’s interference in the internal politics of Bhutan and its efforts at coercively establishing its hegemony in the region. Exhorting China for its ‘constructive neighbourhood policy’, the state media blames New Delhi for preventing Bhutan from exercising its agency. The agreement was also touted as a failure of the Modi dispensation’s Neighbourhood First Policy in the face of ‘respectful, bilateral diplomacy’. Aimed at debunking the imaginary and inaccurate fear of the threat from a rising China which India artificially created to legitimise its role in the Indo-Pacific, the PRC wanted to resume the talks which have been under stagnation since 2017, albeit without Indian interference. It is this narrative that China takes advantage of, with reports in the Chinese state media of India being the thorn that is preventing the demarcation of a legitimate boundary between two ‘friends’ (China and Bhutan) underscoring the Chinese tactic of representing India as the unreasonable power making it difficult to establish peace in the region. 

China has been aggressively repositioning itself in the region. With continued encroachments in Nepal and its burgeoning relationship with Pakistan, India is facing a difficult situation in the neighbourhood. Beijing’s renewed claim on the Tawang area and the brawl at Naku La in January 2021 further aggravated the situation. Bhutan is the only country in the region where China has not been able to make direct headway. In a conversation with the Institute of Chinese Studies, Vijay K. Nambiar, India’s former Ambassador to China argued how the MoU is aimed at coaxing Bhutan for a definitive response. In the background of the intransigence it has shown in the border dispute with India, the MoU can be seen as a preventive tool to rein in Bhutan and dissuade it from taking any action which could aggravate the situation further. 

There is a general tendency in the PRC to view Bhutan’s foreign policy decision making as a function of India’s influence and dominance. This aspect, as mentioned above was evident in the pains it took to paint the MoU as a defeat for India. China’s encroachment in Bhutan poses a security threat to India and as its neighbour and friend, India would also want the speedy resolution of the dispute but not at the cost of Beijing forcefully appropriating strategically important locations. It is to be seen what path the negotiations will take based on this new framework and the bearing it would have on the ongoing border dispute with India.

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

Pakistan’s Troika Plus Meeting: Implications for the regional security

Pakistan’s Troika Plus Meeting: Implications for the regional security

By – Niranjan Marjani

As global powers continue to figure out the ways to deal with the deepening crisis in Afghanistan, divisions within South Asia continue to widen. This was evident with Pakistan attempting to compete with India over deliberations on Afghanistan. India held the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan on November 10. This dialogue was chaired by India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval. NSAs of Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan participated in this meeting. India had invited Pakistan and China as well but both chose not to attend. 

Exactly a day after India hosted the dialogue, Pakistan held the Troika Plus Meeting on November 11. This meeting was attended by senior diplomats from the United States, Russia and China. Afghanistan’s Interim Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi was also present at this Troika Plus Meeting. 

By not attending the meeting hosted by India and by keeping India out of the Troika Plus Meeting, Pakistan has prioritized rivalry with India over the collective concern for the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan. Pakistan has always positioned itself as a primary actor when it comes to coordinating on Afghanistan. Even at the Troika Plus Meeting, Pakistan has tried to portray its superior relevance as compared to India on Afghanistan. 

However Pakistan’s own weakening position and instability in Afghanistan have serious implications on security of the entire region. Further, in an attempt to play gain primacy in Afghanistan, Pakistan and China stand isolated. 

Pakistan’s weakening position

At the time when Pakistan is trying to remain relevant in South Asian geopolitics, it faces challenges on political, economic and security fronts at home. 

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government is facing opposition from its own allies Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). While these two parties have agreed to vote for the bills to be tabled in a joint session of parliament convened by the PTI, the tussle between the ruling party and its allies is likely to continue. 

In addition to the tension with allies, the civilian government is also at loggerheads with the military. Tensions are simmering between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for months now over the appointment of the new director general of Pakistan’s intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Khan opposed appointment of Lt. Gen. Nadeem Anjum as the Director General of ISI while he was favored by Gen. Bajwa over Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, the incumbent ISI chief, whose tenure Khan sought to extend. 

Pakistan is also going through a precarious economic situation. Pakistan continues to be in the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list for not effectively implementing global FATF standards and for failing to prosecute UN-designated terrorists. Pakistan is also in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for resuming the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) of $6 billion. However the IMF has demanded five major policy actions from Pakistan before resumption of the facility. 

Apart from the political and economic challenges, the internal security in Pakistan has also become a cause of concern. The PTI-led Pakistani government is increasingly under pressure from extremist groups such as the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). While attempting to pacify these groups, the government is weakening its own position as it is giving in to the demands of the extremists.  

Implications for security in the region

The Pakistan-hosted Troika Plus Meeting is not likely to contribute to strengthening the security architecture in the region. The reason is that both Pakistan and Afghanistan lack control over the developments shaping the security situation in their respective countries which could lead to a spillover effect and rise in radicalization in the region.  

Lack of control over security

Afghanistan’s deteriorating situation along with Pakistan’s own weak position pose a combined security threat for the region. Pakistan has been vocal in expressing support to the Taliban in the wake of US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Initially Pakistan did try to influence the government formation in Afghanistan under the Taliban. However, it is unlikely that the Taliban would continue to operate under Pakistan’s control as Islamabad had expected. 

Since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the internal security scenario in Pakistan has also deteriorated. The Pakistan government has been increasingly under pressure due to protests and radical demands from the TLP and attacks by the TTP. During his visit to Pakistan, Afghanistan’s Interim Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi confirmed that the Taliban was mediating between the Pakistani government and the TTP. The Taliban’s role in Pakistan’s internal security matter indicates that at present Pakistan needs the Taliban more than the Taliban needs Pakistan. It also implies that Pakistan is hardly in a position to dictate terms to the Taliban. 

Just as Pakistan has no control over the Taliban, the latter is also not able to exert a total control over entire Afghanistan. There are signs of civil war already. Parallel to rise of the Taliban, terror groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) are also rapidly expanding in Afghanistan. While the Taliban is in contact with these groups, it is not in a position to control the activities of these groups. This is evident from the attacks carried out by the ISIS-K across Afghanistan since the Taliban-takeover. M. Lyla Kohistany, a former US naval intelligence officer said, “This is ISIS-K showing through force that, in fact, it’s virtually impossible for a group like the Taliban – without the kinds of assets that the United States and the international community have – to keep them from using Afghanistan in the future as a safe haven, a sanctuary to conduct transnational terrorist attacks.”   

Spillover effect and increased radicalization

The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban has increased the risk of spillover effect and radicalization across South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia. The rise of the Taliban is likely to boost morale of the terror groups operating across the region. Pakistan-backed terror groups Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Taiba held a rally in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) in support of the Taliban post-US withdrawal. While India and Pakistan have agreed to support the 2003 ceasefire in February this year, Pakistan-supported terror activities continue. As per intelligence, reports suggest presence of 200 to 250 terrorists on the launchpad across the Line of Control (LoC). India has beefed up the security in the Union Territory by increasing the number of troops by 5500. 

The Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is a security concern for Central Asian countries and China as well. The Taliban maintains close contacts with groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Islamic Movement of Tajikistan (IMT) and Jamaat Ansarullah, a Tajik terror group. Some members of the IMU and the IMT had even fought alongside the Taliban against the US forces. Central Asian countries witnessed an increase in radicalization during the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. China too would be concerned that the Taliban rule in Afghanistan would give momentum to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in the Uighur-majority province of Xinjiang. This restive Chinese province shares border with Afghanistan through Wakhan corridor. 

Russia, although not sharing a direct border with Afghanistan, has taken a cautious approach. In the months of August, September and October Russia has conducted military exercises in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). As regards to Iran, a Shia-majority country, the presence of the Sunni Taliban is likely to result in sectarian conflicts. The Taliban in power in Afghanistan would further cause an escalation in conflicts across the region either directly or indirectly. 

Pakistan and China stand isolated

By choosing to stay away from the Delhi Regional Security Dialogue, Pakistan —and even China —could find themselves isolated. Pakistan chose not to attend as it blamed India for the instability in Afghanistan. China also chose competition and rivalry over regional security. With the US-exit, China is eyeing for a major role in Afghanistan. While China is already competing with Russia in Central Asia, Afghanistan offers it an opportunity to undermine India’s role. China is even engaging with the Taliban. However, China would find it difficult to increase footprint in Afghanistan as even the Taliban cannot guarantee foolproof security to China across Afghanistan. Apart from the security threat to China’s assets in Afghanistan, there is always a concern about the Taliban supporting the ETIM despite China reaching out to the Taliban through economic diplomacy. Further China’s investments in Pakistan are also facing risk. China has asked Pakistan to create enabling conditions, implying at present insufficient security, for the Chinese nationals working on the China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) project. So China’s attempts to gain economic and strategic advantage may not materialize.  

For Pakistan, although rivalry with India is a major reason, fear of ethnic fault lines erupting is also a cause of concern. Pakistan’s use of uniform religious identity is a shield to prevent its diverse ethnic groups asserting their identity. The case in point is the Pashtun identity. Pakistan associates Islamic identity with the Taliban since Pashtun identity could stoke unrest in the Pashtun-majority province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and give rise to aspirations of independence from Pakistan. 

India, on the other hand, maintains terrorism as a universal security concern and is not restricted to a narrow identity. India calls for an inclusive government in Afghanistan in which minority groups as well as women have a fair representation. However, Pakistan continues to take a myopic view the regional geopolitics through the prism of religion.    

The Troika Plus Meeting was a desperate attempt from Pakistan to stay relevant in the region. Owing to geographical proximity to Afghanistan, Pakistan had successfully leveraged its own position as a facilitator for the Western powers, in particular the US to gain access to Afghanistan. However, it is a known fact that Pakistan, while masquerading as a US-ally, had also covertly supported the Taliban against the US. It is important for the US to seek ways to engage with Afghanistan beyond Pakistan. 

Afghanistan, which is called graveyard of empires, has long been a competing ground for rival powers. However, owing to the imminent security threat, it is pertinent that regional and extra regional powers cooperate with each other and act in a cohesive manner. Competition and division among these powers would further increase the threat perception originating from Afghanistan. 

Niranjan Marjani is a Political Analyst specializing in international relations and geopolitics. His areas of work are India’s foreign policy, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Indo-Pacific Region, Europe and Spain. He is also the Consulting Editor of The Kootneeti Español, a New Delhi-based Spanish-language magazine on international relations. He tweets at @NiranjanMarjani

China-US Slugfest Towards New Tech-Cold War Multiplex

China-US Slugfest Towards New Tech-Cold War Multiplex

By – Nafisa Nazin Lutfa and Rafayat Ahmed Shanto;

Indo-Pacific, the nucleus of world politics, concerns the global powers regarding its oceanic space, the land space, and even the facts beyond the space. Indo-Pacific signifies itself with the competition among major powers in the aspects of technology, trade, culture, and security.  The competition between the US and China and their alliances in Indo-Pacific is identically projecting a cold-war syndrome. From a casual thought, the new cold war might be seen as a lazy label because it lacks the present geopolitical context of world politics. However, the Indo-Pacific region projected characteristics similar to the Cold War phenomena, where it is a resuscitating experience of the international realm, in the same way, anarchy promises to energize the multiplex. Many academics are doubtful that the Cold War has ended at all. In many areas, from regional politics to outer space and beyond, the Cold War legacy lingers on. The new multiplex cold war includes competition in the Indian Ocean (formation of QUAD), US’s pivot to Asia, legacies of the cold war with the new alliance of ‘democratic Anglosphere” in the 21st century replacing the old ‘Anglo-Saxon tutelage,’ institutional and territorial conflicts, multiple militaries and defense arrangements by the US and China, and the emergence of a chemical, and cyber and technological war.  In light of this, it becomes reasonable to look into the underlying phenomenon that suggests Indo-Pacific is becoming a new Cold War zone. Taking this into perspective, how are the United States and China confronting each other in the tech industry, and how is it developing a new tech-Cold War Multiples in the Indo-Pacific region?

Complementary Tactics: Technology and Military 

It is very much conceivable that the domain of technology has competed as equally as military, economy, and culture in the “new multiplex cold war.” On a special note, it has to be informed that technologies like 5G and microchips semiconductors are decisive to the development of the post-modern military. The technological competition between the global powers is nothing new, but rather an old one exampling the competition over nuclear and space technology between the US and USSR in the Cold War era. The technological competition in the Cold War was a bio-polar one, entirely between the US-bloc and the Soviet bloc. However, in the post-cold war era, new technological innovations (5G, microchips, Artificial Intelligence- AI, and drones) coupled with the neo-liberal interdependency in the global supply-chain fall into the realities of the new multiplex cold war in a multipolar world – hence, construct a ‘technological cold war multiplex.’ 

Enhancing Resilience

China has become the unstoppable force and the US as the immovable object in this war. Chinese expansion is sometimes described as an unstoppable force, and the neoliberal world order has clearly benefited China in this way. However, there are significant manifestations that would vouch for the claim of a tech cold war multiplex. To be accurate, the US and China are the chief competitors in the tech cold war matrix. Uncloaking two ambitious projects of China: “Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)” and “Made in China 2025,” it is clear that China is up for an extraordinary venture. The second one, ‘Made in China 2025,’ aims to make China self-reliant on high-end technology and its production, such as electric cars, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, and advanced communications. It is assumed that these ambitious stances of China throughout the years made the US worry about their position in the global hierarchy; hence, the Trump administration raised the trade war against China. The Export Reform Act (ERC) enacted by the US in 2018 threatens to blacklist any company or institution that would use American tools or technologies to manufacture Huawei. As both the US and China are the linchpins of the global supply chain, the other countries in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa are being forced to choose sides. 

The US and China are engaged in a tech-cold war using their giant tech companies. The US accuses China of Intellectual Property-IP theft and data privacy breaches in social media. China’s IP theft is discernible with their Alibaba for E-bay, We Chat for Whatsapp and Facebook, and Twitter for Weibo. Regardless of America’s IP theft accusations on China, America involves itself in copying Chinese apps like Tik Tok to arrange alternatives such as Instagram Reels, Triller, and Byte. Nevertheless, Huawei would be the largest distributor to connect the world in a 5G network if American did not ban it. Huawei was supposed to give the technical support for 5G in Europe (notably Germany, UK, and France). The Export Reform Act (ERA) by the US restricts its western allies from dealing with Huawei.

Beyond Tyranny of Hard Power

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) is the sole supplier of microchip semiconductors to cutting-edge-tech companies like Apple, Nvidia, Media Tek, and Qualcomm in America. The semiconductors microchips are said to be the mother of all big-science technologies like fighter jets, auto-mobile industries, artificial intelligence, spying drones, and computers. Taiwan, for its TSMC, is of great strategic importance to America and China and its tech companies. As TSMC uses American technologies, resources, and equipment for manufacturing chips, the ERA makes TSMC cut off its deal with Huawei. On the other hand, Huawei was entirely dependent on TSMC for making its products. For the cancellation of the deal, TSMC and Huawei both faced losses. Also, multiple American companies lost their businesses in China because of the legislative rule.

Taiwan’s dominant position in producing semiconductor chips jeopardizes its security, thus triggering the risk of getting annexed by China. Its historical claim on the island backs China’s idea of invading Taiwan. The ‘Greater China’ and ‘One China Policy’ being central to Chinese foreign policy seems like a vehement threat to the US. Taking the ‘Greater’ and ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ into account, the US with its allies (Japan, Australia, France, South Korea) has a consistent military presence in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca. Furthermore, as an alternative plan, the US is placing its bid on Samsung and Erickson and expecting several other players to fill the possible unexpected void of TSMC. On its mission to become self-reliant on high-end technological production, China bolstering its chip-manufacturing company SMIC (a public-private partnership) to beat America’s high science technology and TMSC’s manufacturing technology. However, SMIC is still a cradling baby to American giants like Apple, Qualcomm, and Taiwanese TSMC. 

The “China-Problem”

Complex alliance is what makes the cold war multiplex. For the sake of economy and neo-liberalism, most South-East Asian countries, including Japan, rely on each other and China’s economy. India is the system integrator for Huawei, is not an exception in the technology-trade symbiotic relationship. Indian A-1 IT firms like TCS, Infosys, and Tech Mahindra work with Huawei. India’s Bharti Airtel and Vodaphone count on their 4G and 5G services contracts with Huawei. Bharti Airtel and Vodaphone Idea are reported loss because of India’s ban on Huawei. Balancing the steelyard of cost and benefit with Nokia, Samsung, and Erickson for Huawei, would not be a coherent choice for Indian companies. Moreover, South Korea is one of the major exporters of chips and other technologies to China.

Despite all that, India, Japan, and South Korea have chosen sides with the USA in the techno-cold war by joining the D-10. India, on the excuse of ‘national security risk,’ banned Huawei and ZTE in 2020. India banned more than 50 Chinese apps over the border confrontation in LAC (Line of Actual Control), killing more than 20 Indian soldiers. Considering the possibility of a Taiwan war, Japan is very eager to set up a TSMC subsidiary in Japan. South Korean company Samsung has a plan to expand its chip factory in Arizona, US.

Karl Haushofer predicted the constant great power conflict between the Anglo-Saxon alliance (UK, USA, France) and the non-Anglo-Saxon alliance (China, Russia, Germany). Karl Haushofer had been right all along with the cold war rivalry between the US and USSR from 1945 to 1990 and now the new cold war multiplex between the US and China. The recent cold war multiplex pivot to Indo-Pacific has different layers of competition in technology, economy, trade, culture, and complexities in alliance making. 

The techno-cold-war-multiplex being the most crucial aspect of the new cold war matrix aims to contain China. US has planned to contain China’s maritime rise with the formation of QUAD and the universalist stance of nobody’s ocean. Furthermore, now, it has planned to contain China’s technological advancement with the appearance of D-10. The new cold war multiplex is a distinct one from the Cold War because of several reasons. The technological semiconductor microchip race replaces the nuclear arms race. But the democratic anglosphere in D-10 and QUAD lacks the Anglo-Saxon kinship like it is in NATO. That is what makes it the new cold war multiplex and lets the uncertainty takes the grip. Accepting the urge of neo-liberal inclination to trade realism, the rise of China in technology will definitely exhaust the US in the long run. And an exhausted America would someday recall the words of Napoleon: “Let China sleep; when she wakes, she will shake the world.”

Nafisa Nazin Lutfa is currently, working as a teaching assistant at the Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP). She is postgraduate student at the Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP) with a major in International Relations. National politics, international political economy, security studies, and public policy are all areas of research and interested.

Rafayat Ahmed Shanto is currently a research intern at Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), a government think tank in Bangladesh. He is perusing his Masters in International Relations from Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP).

Australia and ASEAN: New Challenges to Cooperation

Australia and ASEAN: New Challenges to Cooperation

By – Artyom Garin;

Geostrategic expanse of the Indian and Pacific Oceans into the Indo-Pacific space and the emergence of Quad, designed to balance China, brought the importance of ASEAN to a completely new level. Southeast Asia has become an especially important part in the diplomacy of China, the United States and other actors in the region. Australia is also no exception and is trying to intensify the pace of its involvement in Southeast Asia. However, Canberra’s efforts are accompanied by mixed success, especially due to a change in its foreign policy strategy.

Australia and Quad’s Current Approach to ASEAN

With the development of the United States’, Japan’s and Australia’s visions of the Indo-Pacific, academic discourse has been filled with theses that the ASEAN countries need Quad support to counter the growing power — the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Indeed, Beijing is not standing still. The PRC strengths its defence capabilities, economic and humanitarian agenda in the region, but militarization is far from being unilateral.

The fact is that the politicized nature of this concept itself contributes to the militarization of the Indo-Pacific. For example, everyone knows that ASEAN is trying to stop any outbreaks of instability in Southeast Asia and has come a long way to move beyond from the Cold War thinking. However, during the Annual U.S.—ASEAN Summit, the US Navy and Japan Self-Defence Forces (JSDF) decided to conduct exercises in the South China Sea. They included the US aircraft carrier strike group and Japanese helicopter destroyer. As a result, the summit did not appear in most flattering light from the conflict mitigation. Rather, on the contrary.

The ASEAN countries are trying to balance between the United States and China, to benefit from the development of the region, in order to also withstand the consequences of the pandemic. The Association has also published an outlook on the Indo-Pacific, but it is clearly not interested in politicizing this issue, as well as in choosing between the United States and China. This is also confirmed by the Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong’s quote,  “Countries in the region want to have good relations with both, the US and China, and do not wish to take sides”.

One must admire Australia’s steps to strengthen relations with ASEAN during the pandemic, starting from the humanitarian agenda. In 2020, Canberra presented a new strategy ‘Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response’, which focuses on the aid to the South Pacific countries, Timor-Leste and Southeast Asia in healthcare and economy.

However, further attempts to politicize cooperation outweighed quite promising strategy. Some experts have already noticed Australia’s statements related to the ‘China threat’ during bilateral meetings with the diplomats of some ASEAN countries. It put the Australia’s partners from Southeast Asia in an awkward position. According to Australia’s PM Scott Morrison, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam are close friends for Australia. However, the aggravation of Australia-China relations can only distance Canberra from ASEAN members.

The AUKUS Factor in Australia-ASEAN Relations

Another step towards ‘ensuring stability’ in the region was the establishment of AUKUS trilateral alliance, which includes Australia, the U.S. and the UK. According to the statements, it is aimed at deepening defence and tech cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. A lot has already been said about AUKUS, so it is better to focus here on the ASEAN members’ perception of the new alliance.

The AUKUS parties assure that it is not directed against any power. However, the nature of this alliance is based on the rivalry between the United States and China. Everyone understands this, including experts, politicians and ordinary observers. Of course, Australia can get new opportunities from AUKUS to strengthen its defence capability. The experts from the Fifth Continent have long been discussing the need of nuclear fleet. However, it will not appear in Australia soon, and it will require great technological, infrastructural and financial efforts.

Nevertheless, the establishment of AUKUS has already influenced the diplomacy. It showed that Australia can cancel previous agreements. Regardless of the statements, the countries will keep this in mind when building further cooperation with Australia – and even the US.

Nuclear submarines are very useful for defence. In the straits between the Pacific Island countries (PICs), Australia can use them imperceptibly, since PICs do not have high-tech capabilities to detect submarines. But potential presence of the Australia’s submarines in Southeast Asia may raise questions.

AUKUS has made Australia a bridgehead for military power projection against the PRC. It is important to remember that the US won’t provide technology for nothing. Probably the price is Australia’s support for the rivalry against the rise of China in the region. The potential permission for Australia’s submarines to access the straits from Indonesia, as the closest ASEAN member, would mean its support for anti-Chinese actions. But the Indonesian authorities are clearly not interested in aggravating relations with China.

Australian diplomats have been working for decades to strengthen ties with Southeast Asia. They have made considerable efforts to show that Australia is one of the regional actors that is ready to cooperate with Asian countries with common future. As a result, common grounds that were established with great difficulty are being threatened in the 21st century. As Australia-China relations get worse, the ASEAN members could temporarily pull away from Canberra.

Malaysia and Indonesia have already expressed concerns about another nuclear submarine fleet. The ASEAN members believe that this makes the region more conflict-prone, not safe. This makes the countries of Southeast Asia think more about the consequences during the dialogue with Australia, which is sharply opposed to China.

Australia has a strong school of diplomacy and analysis in international relations. It’s probably on this basis that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was advised to reassure the ASEAN countries through the media that Canberra doesn’t want to aggravate the situation in the region. It’s not yet known whether his interview helped to convince the leaders from Southeast Asia.

Economy and Trade as a More Productive Way to Ensure Regional Stability

The Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Australia and ASEAN could rectify the situation. But it will be difficult to get statements of friendship from one of the concrete Southeast Asian countries in the recent conditions.

The quote of the Director-General of the Department of Asian Affairs of the Foreign Ministry of China, Liu Jinsong, seemed notable. He said: “Whenever there is crisis or problem in the region, Australia looks to the West for friends, not the East. Australia tried to persuade ASEAN countries to jointly target China, but ASEAN countries won’t do it”. This accurately characterizes the current state of affairs. Notably, Asia accounts for 65,2% of Australia’s bilateral trade. 

During the pandemic era, strengthening economic and humanitarian cooperation with ASEAN members would help Australia gain diplomatic benefits. Southeast Asia needs a favorable environment for developing trade, supply chains, and healthcare. Assertive military agenda is unlikely to find a positive response, especially during the global crisis.

According to forecasts, ASEAN members’ total GDP will grow rapidly by 2050. For example, Indonesia may probably become the 4th largest economy in the world. On the contrary, the Australian economy may decrease. In order to maintain economic growth in the future, Canberra certainly needs to strengthen relations with ASEAN and right now, while the good image of Australia as a reliable economic partner that possesses technology and high-quality goods is still alive.

Recently, Quad has intensified its infrastructure rivalry with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). For this purpose, the parties will certainly combine their initiatives — Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (Japan), Blue Dot Network — the U.S., or Pacific Step-Up (Australia). Together, their capital exceeds $100 billion. For now, India wisely decided to abstain from joining and took a careful position on this issue.

Participation in the Quad have spurred Australia to action. In June 2021, together with Germany and Switzerland, it committed to provide about US$13 million to the Mekong River Commission for Sustainable Development. We may see more Canberra’s activity in Southeast Asia, but it is still more focused on strengthening its positions in the South Pacific. Besides, as in other areas, the perception of Quad infrastructure initiatives by Southeast Asian countries will still be restrained.

They will not choose political agenda instead of economic well-being. After all, Australia, even together with the United States, will not be able to compensate for the economic costs in case of the potential aggravation of relations between ASEAN and Beijing.


With extensive diplomatic experience, ASEAN is clearly aware of the scale of China’s rise and the US plans to counter it. The countries of Southeast Asia clearly don’t want to become part of this rivalry. They are already facing many challenges, including the impact of the global crisis, the pandemic, the current situation in Myanmar and so on.

The antagonization of Australia against China will also lead to distancing of ASEAN from Canberra. To earn trust in the region, Australia needs to take a different strategy. It’s necessary to reinforce the mutual dialogue on the basics of cooperation for the economic and humanitarian benefits. In the rivalry for ASEAN’s favour, the party that can propose more mutual interests and opportunities for cooperation will certainly win.

Of course, Vietnam, Indonesia and other ASEAN members will continue to build up their defence potential and host politicians from China, the United States, Australia and other countries. However, in the short and medium term, ASEAN will prefer to use the strategy of careful and prudent balancing.

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.

Significance of India’s accelerated outreach to Sri Lanka

Significance of India’s accelerated outreach to Sri Lanka

By- Niranjan Marjani

After a prolonged period of tensions, the relations between India and Sri Lanka are on the mend. Sri Lanka’s growing proximity to China since the present political dispensation came to power in 2015 has been a cause of concern for India. However, both the sides are taking steps towards normalization of their relations since past couple of months. This period has seen acceleration in outreach between India and Sri Lanka. This outreach has been characterized by high profile visits, military exercises and both the countries prioritising relations with each other. 

India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla paid a four-day visit to Sri Lanka at the start of October. During his visit he held talks with the top Sri Lankan leadership which included Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris and Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa. He also reviewed bilateral cooperation during a meeting with the Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage. 

Following Shringla’s visit India’s Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane visited Sri Lanka from 12 to 16 October and interacted with the military as well as the civilian leadership of Sri Lanka. General Naravane’s visit coincided with the India-Sri Lanka military exercise (named Mitra Shakti) which was held from 4 to 15 October at Combat Training School, Ampara, Sri Lanka. 

Later, six ships of Indian Navy’s First Training Squadron arrived in Sri Lanka on October 24 for a four-day visit to participate in a training programme with their Sri Lankan counterparts. This is a milestone in India-Sri Lanka relations as it is the first time that such a large number of Indian Navy ships are visiting Sri Lanka. 

For its part, Sri Lanka released Integrated Country Strategy in July through its Ambassador to India Milinda Moragoda. This strategy focuses on prioritising relations with India and lists out steps to be taken the Sri Lankan Embassy and the Consulates in India to strengthen the bilateral relations. On October 10, Moragoda also met India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and discussed wide ranging issue pertaining to the strategic interests of both the countries. 

Sri Lanka’s tilt towards China which resulted in Chinese presence in close proximity to India had strained India-Sri Lanka relations. The urgency shown by India and Sri Lanka to reset bilateral relations is an outcome of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis. For India, this reset would allow it to engage with Sri Lanka as a country in the Indo-Pacific Region and further strengthen relations by way of de-hyphenation of engagements with the Tamils and the Buddhists of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka as a template for India’s counter to the Belt and Road Initiative? 

Although being presented as an economic undertaking, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project has become an instrument of debt trap diplomacy. The loans advanced by China for infrastructure projects are unsustainable for small countries. The inability of these countries to repay the loans often results in China taking over the key infrastructure installations which could double-up as strategic outpost. In case of Sri Lanka, its inability to repay Chinese debts resulted in leasing the Hambantota Port to China for 99 years.

In the past few months, when Sri Lanka has been facing economic crisis, in particular falling foreign exchange reserves, rising food costs and devaluation of cash, it turned to India for help in tiding over this situation. Sri Lanka sought a $500 million credit line from India to enable payment for its crude oil purchases. 

As regards to the food crisis, following President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decision to go for 100% organic farming, Sri Lanka had signed a deal with a Chinese company Qingdao Seawin Biotech Group for the supply of 96,000 tonnes of organic fertilizer and 3,000 tonnes of powdered form of organic fertilizer. But the fertilizer imported from China was found to be contaminated. Here also India stepped in and supplied nano liquid fertilizer to Sri Lanka. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a role in bridging the gap between India and Sri Lanka. As Sri Lanka battled the third wave of the pandemic in the past two months, India has been supplying liquid medical oxygen to the island nation. India’s economic outreach to Sri Lanka is intertwined with humanitarian assistance during the crisis. India has presented itself as an alternative to China to which Sri Lanka should look forward as a means of diversifying its engagements.  

Sri Lanka as India’s neighbour in the Indo-Pacific Region

The on-going reset in India-Sri Lanka relations should propel India to engage with Sri Lanka as a country in the Indo-Pacific Region. China’s economic ventures in Sri Lanka have resulted in the former gaining a foothold in India’s proximity. In turn, India should approach Sri Lanka as a geopolitical entity in the Indo-Pacific. 

China’s rising profile in South Asia has led to Sri Lanka becoming a competing ground for India and China. Chinese submarines made port calls to Sri Lanka twice in 2014 to which India raised concerns but maintained that it is monitoring Chinese naval activities in the Indian Ocean. In 2017, Sri Lanka rejected a request from China to dock its submarine at Colombo Port to pacify India’s worries. 

Port development in Sri Lanka has also witnessed competition between India and China. In September 2021, India secured a deal to build a strategically important deep-sea container terminal in Sri Lanka. Indian company Adani Group will partner with a local conglomerate John Keells and the Sri Lankan Port Authority (SLPA) for this deal which is worth more than $700 million. This deal is important for India since in February this year Sri Lanka had scrapped an agreement with India and Japan for development of East Container Terminal at Colombo Port.

India must build upon this accelerated outreach to Sri Lanka in the strategic domain. Strong relations with Sri Lanka should further consolidate the trilateral cooperation between India, Sri Lanka and Maldives. India’s growing engagements with Sri Lanka and Maldives could lead to a cohesive response to China’s strategic encirclement of India by way of string of pearls. This could strengthen India’s manoeuvring in the Indo-Pacific Region.     

The de-hyphenation factor

For a major part of past seven decades, India’s policy towards Sri Lanka was dominated by the issue of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. This very factor has been the cause of Sri Lanka being wary of India’s posturing. India’s stand on the Tamil issue of Sri Lanka was also linked to the domestic politics in the state of Tamil Nadu. For India to view Sri Lanka as a neighbouring country in the Indo-Pacific Region, a shift in the approach was necessary which is visible in India’s recent outreach. India’s present approach marks a de-hyphenation in relations with Sri Lanka which implies that India would appeal to the Buddhist identity of Sri Lanka as much as it cares for the Tamils. 

India has been pressing Sri Lanka on implementation of 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution which was passed in 1987. This amendment allows for the devolution of power to the provincial councils. Foreign Secretary Shringla, during his recent visit to Sri Lanka, once again emphasised on India’s commitment to protect the rights of the Tamils through full implementation of the 13th Amendment. 

India’s commitment towards the Tamils of Sri Lanka is evident from the fact that after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, India has been involved in the reconstruction work in the Tamil-majority Northern Provinces. Since 2011 India has been involved in infrastructure development such as housing projects, building railway lines, renovation of schools and construction of hospitals. 

While concerns about the Tamils do exist, India is moving towards de-hyphening of its engagements between the minority Tamils and the majority Buddhists. India has taken steps towards strengthening the cultural links with Sri Lanka by evoking Buddhism. In a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa held in September 2020, India announced a grant of $15 million to Sri Lanka for the promotion of the Buddhist ties between both the countries.

On October 20, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Kushinagar International Airport in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The construction of airport would improve connectivity to Kushinagar, which is one of the most important pilgrim sites of Buddhism. It was here that Gautam Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana. The first international flight to land at this airport was from Sri Lanka. On board this flight was a delegation led by Sri Lankan Cabinet Minister Namal Rajapaksa. Around 100 senior Buddhist monks, 4 State Ministers and other senior officials accompanied him.  

The cultural outreach to Sri Lanka indicates that the current Indian political dispensation is ready to de-hyphenate its engagements with the Tamils on one hand and the Buddhists on the other which are in majority in Sri Lanka. Culture is one of the areas through which India can diversify its ties with Sri Lanka. Close engagements with the Sri Lankan government are important for India in order to gain strategic advantage in the region. New Delhi is leveraging the historical soft power connections between the two countries to consolidate its position vis-à-vis China in South Asia. 

Niranjan Marjani is a Political Analyst specializing in international relations and geopolitics. His areas of work are India’s foreign policy, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Indo-Pacific Region, Europe and Spain. He is also the Consulting Editor of The Kootneeti Español, a New Delhi-based Spanish-language magazine on international relations. He tweets at @NiranjanMarjani


China’s Emerging Status: COP 15 and The Dream of Ecological Civilization

China’s Emerging Status: COP 15 and The Dream of Ecological Civilization

By – Abhishek Sharma

The policy shift observed in the U.S with the coming of the Biden Administration has again put global issues at the forefront, and one of that is Climate Change. COP26 is the flagship event where negotiations and discussions on climate change will begin in November at Glasgow, Scotland. However, another vital conference has taken place before that in Kunming, China: UN COP 15(15th Conference of the Parties) biodiversity summit was held in the capital of Yunnan province in China. China hosted the ambitious COP15 meeting online for the first round of talks and will follow this in April 2022 for the second round in person. This special summit allows China to project its leadership in the domain of biodiversity conservation, which has been an area where China has attracted a lot of criticism; COP15 presents to China a possibility to influence and direct a framework with an inclusive-global vision for the year 2030. One of those recommended targets is ‘30 by 30’, which plans to give protected status to 30 % of lands and oceans, already supported by many nations. This same target is also considered controversial in many countries: COP15 presents to China such challenges which are complex and need extensive deliberations and negotiations among countries, NGOs, civil society and more. These are just some obstacles which are exacerbated with pandemic restrictions in China. This article is looking at China’s vision for COP15 in continuation of the failure of Aichi Biodiversity targets. How can China navigate through the challenges it faces regarding creating consensus within the international community amidst its own environmental violations? What is China’s domestic approach in directing the framework for biodiversity conservation at the international level to further its own climate diplomacy?

The world is looking forward to discussing Climate Change at COP 26, in Glasgow, Scotland, where all major heads of states are expected to participate under the post-Brexit Global Britain. However, another major event has taken place in Kunming, China. This was the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) Summit. This summit took place under the Chinese leadership, which seems now more participatory and responsible for climate negotiations and biodiversity protection compared to a decade earlier. What made COP15 crucial for the world, and particularly China, was the failure of COP10 at Aichi, Japan, in 2010. At Aichi (COP10), the 220 targets aimed to fulfill the conservation of environmental habitat till 2020 were not achieved by the international community. Therefore, China via COP15 sought to achieve substantial commitments from the global community on biological diversity conservation to create a more integrated framework response on climate change adaptation and mitigation. However, the COP15 summit must also be seen as a political opportunity for China to influence and shape biological diversity conservation vision until 2050, especially when Beijing itself is largely under criticism for its own environmental transgressions. In addition, by leveraging the COP15 summit, China would like to change the international community’s perception of China’s ability to create consensus on international agreements towards a conclusive arrangement on climate protection, helping build its image as an international environmental leader.

China’s Interest in Shaping International Climate Negotiations and Climate Diplomacy

China has been traditionally seen as a state inclined to pursue a position preferring  its political interests over the global good, especially as the importance of global (liberal) norms, rules, and laws has been challenged by China. Nonetheless, under President Xi’s leadership, China is now more assertive at the global stage in shaping negotiations, discussions, and policies on issues ranging from climate change to security. Beijing’s strategy has been leveraging global norms to pursue its political objectives, be it in expanding territoriality in the South China Sea or trade policies at WTO. The focus of China has been to bend the rules in its favor, not that other states are innocent of these allegations, even powerful states like the U.S have faced backlash for violating international norms and rules.

After its economic success and shaping major trading agreements successfully, China now feels that it can play a significant role in non-conventional security domains that challenges the global community, such as climate change and biological diversity conservation. Being a large state with a billion-plus population, it places China at an advantage to even drive the direction, and leverage it for its benefit.

Climate negotiations are not just routine diplomatic engagements between states, these are now more of jostling between powerful states, particularly U.S and China for hedging their own political objectives and interests. The political interests manifest toady mainly in the domain of geo-economics, where contested interests of states clash on the issues of intellectual property, clean-tech, and green energy technology. To ensure that the interests are protected, states like China have invested more in climate/environmental diplomacy. However for China this is not just about geo-economics alone but also about its broader geostrategic objectives. Climate negotiations gives China an opportunity, as mentioned earlier, the power to influence and shape the rules of the international multilateral framework on new emerging issues of climate finance, green technology, and resilient infrastructure, considered as new engines of future economic growth. At the same time, it helps to institutionalize structures within Multilateral institutions like the UN, and UNEP which favors its geostrategic objectives. China’s objection for grant to Bhutan’s Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary at the Global Environment Facility council is just one example of China’s incremental leveraging power at multilateral forums.

China’s contemporary climate diplomacy is closely linked with issues of human rights, market access, trade and security, that it thinks can be leveraged with western countries during negotiations. The trilateral meeting of China with Germany and France, and reiteration of China’s commitment towards climate change mitigation was a signal of China’s emerging climate diplomacy in absence of U.S leadership. China’s Climate diplomacy rise comes in the backdrop of the downward trajectory of bi-lateral relations between China and the U.S, after Trump came to power, and its continuation with the Biden administration. Increasing geopolitical developments are overshadowing the cooperation between China and the U.S, the ban on solar panel material by U.S, and the rare earth material exports curbs by China used in wind turbines and electric vehicles to the U.S is just one area. 

Increasingly now China’s climate diplomacy is seen by many as a tool to achieve political and economic commitments from developed countries, without any accountability or compromise of its economic interests. However there exists different perspectives on China’s Climate Diplomacy too, author like Feng Renjie’s  The Making of China’s Climate Diplomacy has emphasized on the two-level game theory, bringing in the influence of both international and domestic influence on China’s position. But some would argue that this shift coincides with the peak of China’s economic growth, Communist Party of China (CCP) only guarantee (economic growth) to hold onto power. China’s changed position on Climate Diplomacy reaffirms its Common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) intersectionality with economic growth.

Are China’s Commitments Enough?

There has been a lack of linkage between the conference of parties on climate change and biological diversity. This weak interlinkage has been a subject of contention for environmental experts and activists, who have advocated for a closer coordination between the two. Chinese President Xi, in his address, tried to link the issue of Biodiversity protection with the challenge of Climate Change. President Xi said a ‘sound ecology and environment is not just a natural asset but also an environmental asset, and it affects the momentum of social and economic development.’ The focus of the whole speech of President Xi was on the issue of breaking the traditional binary between humans and nature. This is even reflected in the slogan of the COP15 that is Ecological Civilization: Building a shared future for all life on Earth.

The Chinese approach at COP15 is focusing on finding intersectionality between the issue of biodiversity conservation with the broader issue of Climate change which will be discussed at COP26. China, a significant stakeholder, has tried to align COP15 with the upcoming COP26 by creating a broad consensus with developing countries and announcing financial assistance. A divide between developed and developing states has also been an obstacle in Climate Change negotiations. Recent steps taken by China have shown its intentions to take a more prominent role in driving the negotiations on Climate change towards sustainability, be it a net-zero target by 2060 or the stopping of building new coal-fired power projects overseas. These steps will help the global community efforts in Climate Mitigation; at least on paper.

In   this   context, a   report  by   Global  Energy  Monitor  stated  that  the  announcement of cancellation of 44 coal plants overseas could reduce 30 million tons per year of carbon emission. However, the Coal Finance pledge by President Xi does take into account the domestic  coal  plants  and coal production, which accounts for half of the world. However, the current coal crisis happening in China points to the challenges of reduction in consumption of coal, which affects the Chinese target of moving to renewables. This one aspect just shows the complex nature of ambitious targets on Climate Mitigation, and the difficulty to achieve them. On Climate Change, a lot has been announced by China that sounds promising, but it remains to be seen how it will take shape going forward.

A UUN Report states that not even a single target out of 20 has been fully met. Out of 20 targets, China is on track on 16 Aichi’s targets, three of which are exceeded. In a journal publication on Biodiversity conservation in China, the authors have acknowledged China’s progress in biological diversity conservation in the area, such as Panda conservation and increasing forest cover, however, they have also touched upon the challenges of the lack of comprehensive policy that takes both Economic development and Ecology conservation together. The White Paper on Biodiversity released by China before COP15 reiterated the criticality of governance and biodiversity conservation and raised the latter to national strategy. Therefore, it appears that China’s overall strategy and policies on Biodiversity conservation point towards a direction of aligning it with the economic development that is human-centric. 

China has taken initiatives that shows its intention towards conservation and protection of biological diversity. China’s ecological conservation red line initiative aims at carbon sequestration that address climate change mitigation through protection of at least 25 percent of country’s land and sea. Similarly, China aims to raise its overall forest coverage from 23.04 percent from 2019 to 24.1 percent by the end of 2025, planting 36,000 sq. km of new forest a year. However, the policy doesn’t match the practical outcomes. Many experts have pointed out that the ambitious Ecological Conservation red line initiative lacks any solid legal basis which gives the local governments enough room to bypass regulations, effectively making the redline system a paper tiger. Another study revealed that the much of china’s new tree cover consists of sparse, low plantations and shrubs, that are unlikely to provide the same benefits as natural forests. Even china’s afforestation policy in arid and semi-arid region of northern china, shows that lack of tailoring of local environmental conditions(focusing on use of inappropriate species), have compromised its efforts to achieve environmental policy goals.    

 COP15 Outcomes

After the conclusion of the first round of the COP15 summit at Kunming from 11-15 October 2021 virtually, there are indications of hope through the adoption of the Kunming Declaration. The declaration reiterated the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity: Living in harmony with nature and recalling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to be aligned across environmental, social, and economic dimensions in alignment with the 2050 Vision. The declaration points towards a renewed focus on adopting an effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF) next year in April 2022. Some visible actions by China were also noticed at the COP15; Xi in his address, announced a $233 million(1.5 billion Yuan) Biodiversity protection fund to support developing countries. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the executive secretary of Conference on Biological Diversity, appreciated and applauded the Chinese leadership in supporting the developing countries and enhancing South-South cooperation in an interview with China Daily.

The overall atmosphere at COP15 was positive and highly hopeful as it was only the first meeting to create consensus among the global community on the way forward for the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. The major challenge lies ahead for China when the second meeting will take place at Kunming in April 2021, where significant issues will be negotiated and discussed. If China succeeds in achieving substantial commitments from the global community in the next round of meeting, it will enhance the status of China more with the absence of the U.S at the COP15. It remains to be seen whether China will leverage the opportunity, or this will turn out to be the second Aichi. Concurrently, it is also important to note that climate diplomacy remains one key area wherein the US and China have the potential to collaborate; but for this, both sides must not only engage in hosting/leading discussions, but also implementing and ensuring implantation of declarations and goals pass. 

Abhishek Sharma holds a Masters degree 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.