Category Archives: China-India

China And Russia Fly Too Close For The Quad’s Comfort

A Russian TU-95 bomber and Chinese H-6 bombers fly over East China Sea in this handout picture taken by Japan Air Self-Defence Force and released by the Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan March 24, 2020.

CHINESE AND RUSSIAN nuclear bombers conducting a joint exercise over the Sea of Japan while in Tokyo the leaders of Japan, the United States, India and Australia are discussing regional security sends a particular message of togetherness on the part of Beijing and Moscow.

The aircraft (seen above in a Defence Ministry of Japan photograph) did not breach territorial airspace. However, Japan’s defence minister, Nobuo Kishi said it was the fourth time since November that long-distance joint Russian and Chinese air force flights have passed near Japan. Such flights date back to at least 2019

Beijing has been ambivalent about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite the effusiveness of Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin when they met during the Beijing Winter Olympics in February over their relationship ‘without limits’. It adds another headwind to those buffeting China that Xi could do without.

Nonetheless, the invasion has connected the security situations at Asia’s eastern and western extremes. The meeting of the four leaders in Tokyo under the auspice of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (‘the Quad’) was plain on that point. However, they were as explicit in saying the Quad is not an embryonic ‘Asian NATO’ as Beijing has been about claiming its relationship with Moscow is not an alliance.

Neither assertion cuts much ice with the other. Nor is there much getting around that an alternative international governance model for the region just sounds like another way of describing challenging China’s regional expansion.

The Quad has no formal institutions (unlike NATO). It has conducted joint naval exercises, but it is also looking to advance its soft power by promoting intra-regional cooperation in areas like ‘green’ transport, climate change and cybersecurity.

This modular approach to regional security aligns closely with the Biden administration’s preference for building coalitions of countries and institutions around specific mutual needs — and defining security extremely broadly — rather than traditional security alliances and trade agreements. The newly announced Indo-Pacific Economic Framework fits that mould, too.

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China’s COP Cop Out On Coal

CHINA HAS EMERGED from the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow relatively unscathed, given that it is the world’s top emitter of CO2.

As one of the world’s top two oil producers and exporters, Saudi Arabia took the early heat in Glasgow from activists pushing for an end to the use of fossil fuels. As attention swung to coal, the most polluting of fossil fuels and on which China remains heavily dependent for power generation, India, not China, was most prominent in watering down COP26’s final agreement.

At the last minute, the wording was changed from ‘phasing out’ the use of coal to ‘phasing down’, the same formulation that had appeared in the China-US climate dialogue agreement that the head of the Chinese delegation Xie Zhenhua and his US counterpart John Kerry had forged three days earlier.

Although Delhi put forward the revised wording to the final agreement, Beijing had been instrumental behind the scenes in getting the language changed, reportedly threatening to torpedo the final agreement if it was not. Washington lent its support by not offering any opposition.

Alok Sharma, the Conservative UK politician chairing COP26, offered an emotional apology subsequently, saying he was ashamed by the last-minute change and that China and India would have to justify themselves to the countries most vulnerable to climate change.

The glass-half-full view is that this is the first of the 26 rounds of COP meetings to make any formal commitment on coal. The half-empty view is that the compromise over phasing out its use belies the scale and urgency of the task.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, says that to reach the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5C, more than 40% of the world’s existing 8,500 coal plants would have to close by 2030 and no new ones built.

Last year, China commissioned more coal capacity than the rest of the world retired, according to a study by Global Energy Monitor. This US-based pro-green energy group that tracks fossil fuels says China commissioned 38.4 gigawatts (GW) of new coal plants in 2020, accounting for 76% of the global 50.3 GW new coal capacity and offsetting the 37.8 GW of coal capacity retired last year.

Facing disruptive energy shortages, China hit a new record for daily coal production during COP26. With the sixth plenum coinciding with the second week of COP26, it was inevitable that domestic concerns would be foremost for China’s delegation in Glasgow.

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China Admits Four PLA Losses In Clash With India Last June

CHINA HAS FINALLY admitted that it lost four soldiers during a deadly clash last June with Indian forces along the two countries’ disputed Himalayan border.

The skirmish involving hand-to-hand fighting with sticks and cudgels took place in the Galwan Valley in the Ladakh region of Kashmir. It was the first clash along the remote and ill-defined border to cost lives in nearly half a century.

At the time, Delhi acknowledged that 20 Indian soldiers had died, but Beijing, as is its wont, did not announce casualties.

On February 19, the PLA Daily named the four Chinese soldiers killed, the first official recognition of PLA losses. It said all received posthumous awards. A regimental commander who was seriously injured also received military honours.

It also released some video footage of the clash. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying says China has gone public to counter what she calls India’s ‘hyping up’ of the casualties. and to set the record straight.

India and China have now agreed to pull back their troops a bit to lessen the chance of further engagements. A tenth round of disengagement talks at corps commander level was reportedly held this weekend. There has been no progress on settling the dispute.

Update: India’s defence ministry says that the two countries have completed the previously agreed pull-back of their troops who have been facing off across Pangong Lake (see map above) in an area claimed by both sides. The ministry also confirmed that a round of disengagement talks were held at the weekend to review progress on the withdrawal. Further talks will be held to lower tensions at other hotspots along the disputed border.

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RCEP Provides Beijing With A Win-Win

Schematic representation of membership of the East Asia Summit, RCEP, ASEAN, the Quad and the CPTPP or TPP-11. Graphic: China Bystander.

CHINA IS ON the north-northwestern rim of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Yet it will be at the heart of the economic bloc that the trade agreement will cement.

RCEP is due to be signed on November 15 during the virtual twin ASEAN and East Asia Summits. The latter involves the ASEAN Plus Six — the six being China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand — and the United States and Russia. As RCEP does not include India, the United States or Russia, it will have a summit of its own, too.

The 15 RCEP members (China, the ten ASEAN nations, and the four other countries with which ASEAN has free trade agreements, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea) account for approaching 30% of the world’s gross domestic product and one-third of its population. More significantly, they will likely account for most of the world’s economic growth in the coming decades.

Whether that will make this the Asian century rather than the Chinese century in succession to the long American century, is a matter for the future. For the present, it is the world’s engine of growth that will drive the recovery of the global economy from its Covid-19-induced recession.

India withdrew from the RCEP negotiations late on, concerned about both the impact of the dismantling of regional tariffs on its farmers and Chinese imports on its manufacturers. It may return at a later date. Most ASEAN countries would welcome that. Beijing will be indifferent, especially if border tensions with India remain.

The United States was never in, pursuing the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) instead as a geopolitical counterweight to the China-led RCEP as part of President Barak Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the TPP as soon as he took office in 2017 left its successor, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for TransPacific Partnership (CPTPP, also known as TPP-11), a pale shadow of a competitor to RCEP, especially as Beijing moved purposefully to fill the resultant vacuum.

The Trump administration’s putative Indo-Pacific economic grouping based on private sector investment and the Quadrilateral Security Grouping (the Quad: India, Japan, Australia and the United States) never amounted to anything. Many ASEAN nations are uneasy about the Quad, uncomfortable with its security and military focus that pushes them towards choosing between Washington and their neighbour who is often their main trade and investment partner.

There is talk that the prospective incoming US president, Joe Biden, might join the CPTPP, but this Bystander feels it is too late; that horse has bolted. An alternative would be for the United States to seek to join RCEP, on the better-to-be–inside-the-tent theory. That would require a US-ASEAN free trade deal first.

There is more than symbolic significance in the fact that the RCEP is being signed before the next US administration takes office, even if it will not be implemented until the second half of 2021, following ratification by the signatories.

For Beijing, RCEP is an opportunity to write regional trade rules to its advantage, and also diversify its trade at a time of both unsettled relations with the United States and an eastward shift of the global economy’s centre of gravity. A win-win.


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India Targets Chinese High Tech After Latest Himalaya Clashes

INDIA HAS ADDED 118 more Chinese-owned apps to the list of 59, including TikTok, that it banned in June on national security grounds. The newly sanctioned apps include some of the most popular: Alibaba’s Taobao, Ant’s Alipay, Tencent’s game, PUBG Mobile, and Baidu’s search engine.

Announcing the latest bans, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said that the apps were prejudicial to the ‘sovereignty and integrity’ of India and to security and public order. The ministry said it had received complaints about the apps sending users’ data to servers outside India.

Delhi has also recently imposed new restrictions on Chinese investment and informally told its telecoms operators to phase out Chinese equipment from suppliers such as Huawei from their networks.

The latest bans follow clashes last weekend between Indian and Chinese forces in the Himalayas and the reported death by mine blast of one Indian soldier, a member of the ethnically Tibetan elite force that patrols the high-altitude border, the first casualty since at least 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese troops were killed in June during a high-altitude confrontation in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley.

China has said that no Indian soldier had died in the latest skirmishes but may be hiding behind semantics.

State media is ramping up its condemnatory rhetoric, which does not bode well for next week’s meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Russia which both China and India’s defence ministers are attending.

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India Hardens Anti-China Stance High And Low

IT HAS BEEN nearly half a century since there has been a deadly clash along the disputed Himalayan border between India and China, despite regular jostling between the forces of both sides.

Tensions have been elevated in recent months but the Indian army’s announcement that 20 of its soldiers died as a result of a skirmish with PLA forces in the Ladakh region of Kashmir at the start of the week is a shock for two reasons.

First, the two sides had agreed a week earlier to respect the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that runs through the remote Galwan Valley. Second, local reports say the Indian soldiers were bludgeoned to death in a fight involving clubs and rocks.

China has not confirmed Indian claims of casualties on its side, as is its won’t, but said in a statement published on the official Weibo account of the PLA Daily that Indian forces had crossed the border, provoking the skirmish.

India has accused China of sending thousands of troops into the valley and says it occupies 38,000 square kilometres of Indian territory. In May, it accused Chinese forces of setting up a tented camp and moving heavy equipment onto the Indian side of the LAC adding another 60 square kilometres.

However, the proximate cause of the latest tensions appears to be India’s construction of a new road along the LAC, a belated tit-for-tat for an attempt by China in 2017 to extend a border road through a disputed area, which is the world’s longest disputed land border.

Indian and Chinese officials are meeting to defuse the latest incident, but broader talks on settling the border are probably needed to de-escalate the situation. The history of repeated break-downs of such discussions is not encouraging, however.

If this is Beijing using the cover of the Covid-19 pandemic to push a foreign policy agenda more nationalistically, just as it appears to be doing with Hong Kong, in the South and East China Seas and with Taiwan, then the prospects of de-escalation are further reduced.

Meanwhile, there is no physical evidence that China is backing away. Its heavy weaponry remains at the border. For its part, India would lose face if it stopped its road-building in the region, although it could slow it down as an olive branch if it so chose.

Separately but no less worryingly for Delhi, Nepal’s parliament has approved a controversial new map that shows disputed territories along the India-Nepal border as belonging to Nepal, a cartographical land grab that some in India see China’s hand behind.

India’s offer of new credit deals to Sri Lanka and Mauritius looks ever more like an effort to steer both island nations away from pro-China positions as India hardens its anti-China stance.


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Light, Fleet And Super: Building China’s Aircraft Carriers

China's first indigenous aircraft carrier under construction in Dalian in Liaoning province

CHINA LAID DOWN its long-term plan to develop an indigenous carrier fleet as long ago as 1987. It took a quarter of a century for the first carrier, the Liaoning, to be commissioned into service, in September 2012.

China’s first carrier was a half-way house in as much as it was a refitted unfinished Soviet vessel, the Varyag. In late December, the defence ministry confirmed the open secret that a second and entirely indigenously designed carrier was being built.

Like the Liaoning, this is being constructed in Dalian, as shown in the satellite image above. Work started in late February or early March, using the same dry dock used to convert the Varyag into the Liaoning.

The new carrier looks to be similar in shape to the Liaoning, though its upper deck may be slightly longer to fit on more planes. It will be conventionally powered, with a ‘ski-jump’ launch for its aircraft. Its displacement has been reported at 50,000-53,000 tonnes, about half the size of the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz and new Ford-class carriers.

Whereas the Liaoning was primarily intended to learn the ropes of building and operating a carrier, the second ship is being built with the intention of operational deployment on ‘combat patrols and humanitarian missions’.

It may start trials as soon as at the end of this year, but it will probably be at least two years after that until it is commissioned. The Liaoning spent more than a year in sea trials and the new carrier will be more complex, particular in terms of its systems, and especially the systems need for carrier groups to operate missions.

These will be domestically developed for the first time, and so need extensive testing. Commissioning the new carrier in December 2018 would be a splashy way to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Mao’s birth.

The new carrier is also likely not the only one that China will add to its fleet. A December 2013 report by New York-based Duowei News sourced to Central Military Commission officials said the PLA-Navy planned to commission two Liaoning-pattern aircraft carriers — known as Type 001s — by 2020.  Wang Min, the Liaoning provincial Party boss, spoke in 2014 of plans for the construction in Dalian of two more carriers.

Assuming the carrier now being built could vacate its dry dock by the end of this year, allowing work on the next carrier to start in early 2017, that deadline might not slip more than a year or so.

That would give China a trio of similar carriers, which fits the pattern across many navies of having carriers in sets of three, one on operational deployment, one in maintenance and one for training. Collectively, they would have 90-100 aircraft and comprise a formidable maritime force in nearby waters such as the East and South China Seas, and beyond towards the Indian Ocean.

India and China are engaged in a competitive race to build their blue-water fleets as they jostle for regional power. All of which makes what is going on at the Jiangnan shipyard on Changxingdao, the island opposite Shanghai at the mouth of the Changjiang river, even more interesting.

Jiangnan Shipyard, Shanghai as seen on Google Earth, January 3, 2016

Seven years ago, Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported that state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corp., the owner of the yard, was building four new docks there (seen in the image above) for the construction of two indigenous mid-sized aircraft carriers – i.e. suggesting something larger than the Liaoning and its sister Type 001s.

One question is, how much larger. The Liaoning and its sister ship(s) fall into the category of light aircraft carriers, at least in terms of capabilities if not necessary displacement. Light aircraft carriers are the Bantamweights of aircraft carriers, as much aviation-capable patrol ships as anything.

The so-called Type 002s to be built in Shanghai could still be in that class, just more offensively capable, with more fighter aircraft and a stronger supporting group comprising destroyers and frigates, logistics and supply ships and possibly submarines.

Or they may be large enough to be considered fleet carriers, albeit still far smaller that U.S., French or Japanese fleet carriers. If China is to have a blue-water navy capable of projecting force far from its shores, it will need fleet carriers — and eventually supercarriers if it is to fulfil its long-term ambition of matching the U.S. Navy.

Another question is, which launching mechanism will be used? A Shenyang J-15 fighter jet cannot take off from the Liaoning’s ski jump both fully armed and with a sufficient fuel load to carry those weapons a useful distance. That could restrict the carriers’ aircraft to air-to-air missions to the exclusion of air-to-ground attacks. That, in turn, could diminish the effectiveness of the advanced Shenyang J-33 fighters being developed for the carriers.

Ski-jump launchers also limit the deck space available for parked aircraft. Ski-jump-launched planes need a longer take-off run than catapult-launched ones.

If China’s carriers are to be deployed operationally as intended such shortcomings will have to be addressed. One or both of the new Type 001s might use a hybrid solution of including so-called ‘waist’ catapult launchers along with a ski jump, as some Russian carriers do.

Or there could be a straight switch to catapult launching, which has been the standard for the U.S. Navy. Either solution would be a significant design change, requiring extended testing time. At best, this Bystander believes, catapult launching would happen for the second of the indigenous carriers.

The Type 002s could skip a generation of launchers and go straight to electromagnetic launch systems (EMALS), of the sort the U.S. Navy is currently testing to replace its catapult launchers. That, though, might be a too courageous leap for the conservative PLA — and aircraft carriers are expensive and high-profile assets on which to experiment. Nor do we have any sense of how far China has got with developing EMALS technology, if at all.

The third question is perhaps the biggest of all. Will the Type 002s be conventionally or nuclear powered? Why that matters is that nuclear-powered carriers would vastly extend the scope and range of PLA-Navy operations.

One straw in the wind that the propulsion system may be the latter is that the Jiangnan yard has a history of building new types of vessels that are firsts for China. Will China’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier be added to its honour roll?

This Bystander thinks that, eventually, it will, but that it will be not the first Type 002 it builds. It could be the second, although we lean slightly towards that being conventionally powered, too, and the transition to nuclear carriers and supercarriers starting after that.

The PLA-Navy already has a dozen nuclear-powered submarines; in fact, it decommissioned its first nuclear submarine in 2013, after three decades of service. That same year, China Shipbuilding Industry Corp. started state-funded research on core technologies and safety considerations for future nuclear-powered surface vessels.

Ships that need to be at sea for long periods without refuelings, such as polar vessels and aircraft carriers, are likely candidates. However, unlike building hulls of aircraft-carrier size and strength, scaling up nuclear propulsion from a submarine to an aircraft carrier is not a trivial task.

Going from starting research to commissioning something as large, complicated and expensive as an aircraft carrier within a decade strikes us as far too tight a deadline to hit. But nuclear-powered Chinese supercarriers on the high seas in 10-15 years from now seems eminently likely.

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The China-Aligned Movement

PRESIDENT XI JINPING’S will be arriving in Indonesia for the 60th Anniversary of the Bandung Conference by way of Pakistan. There could be no more apt metaphor for how China’s place in the world has changed.

At Bandung in 1955, Zhou Enlai and India’s Jawaharlal Nehru bestrode the emerging movement of African and Asian leaders summoned by Indonesia’s President Suharto to come together in ‘non-aligned’ anti-colonial solidarity — a “meeting of the rejected” as the American author Richard Wright who attended the conference described it.

Six decades on, Xi arrives having just announced $46 billion in Chinese investment in Pakistan, partly for energy but also to construct transport, energy and communications links between the western Chinese city of Kashgar and the blue-water port of Gwadar.

It is just one leg in the southern corridor of a grand Chinese scheme to create a new network of land and sea routes between East Asia and Europe. This New Silk Belt and Maritime Economic Road is such a central part of Xi’s foreign-policy initiative that the Politburo has set up a leading team to oversee its implementation .

As this Bystander has noted before,

to Beijing, Pakistan looks a lot like a corridor from the high plateau of China’s western reaches to the blue water ports of the Arabian Sea and thus access to shipping routes to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. The distance is relatively short, less than 1,500 kilometers as the crow flies, but at the northern end the terrain is difficult, the weather harsh, borders unsettled and security uncertain.

Road and rail links are patchy, particularly north of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, and frequently disrupted. Nor is there yet a motorway connecting the capital to the southern port city of Karachi, let alone to Gwadar on the Gulf of Oman close to the border with Iran and where China is developing a deep-water port and naval base.

Xi described his trip to Pakistan, his first, as being like visiting his brother’s home. The two countries don’t seem familial allies, even if they have been discussing turning Pakistan into an energy pipeline for China since at least 2006. Not that they couch it in such terms: Xi calls it an “all-weather strategic partnership of cooperation”.

In the meantime, Beijing has been dancing delicately with its regional rival, Delhi. Xi’s bounteous trip to Pakistan, though, will make Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China next month — a reciprocal visit for Xi’s trip to India last September — an uncomfortable one. It will be telling to see whether China is more a bestower or receiver of gifts on that occasion.

Modi has been taking a more assertive line with China than his predecessor, particularly in the Indian Ocean. He has also aligned India more closely with the U.S., signing a strategic agreement with Washington during President Barack Obama’s visit earlier this year.

Beijing blatantly cosying up to Pakistan will sit ill with India. Non-aligned no more — on either side. Bandung in 1955 seems not only a very different time, but a very different world.

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China-India Relations In The Modi Era

THE INITIAL FOREIGN policy focus of India’s new prime minister Narendra Modi has been on his country’s regional neighbours. Though China is one of them, it has received the least public attention despite recent talk of “a new age of co-operation” between the two, as Xu Changwen, a researcher at the Ministry of Commerce-affiliated think tank, the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, recently described it.

Beijing’s initial reaction to Modi’s landslide victory was muted if respectful. A degree of awkwardness for the world’s largest non-democracy in congratulating the world’s largest democracy on a successful transition of power would have been inevitable, even if China and India weren’t both competitive neighbours. Nor would have the eviction from office of the faction-riddled and corrupt Congress Party after a long run in power been an event on which the leadership of the Party in China would want to linger.

However, Beijing does see an opportunity to reset relations between the two countries now the world’s largest democratic election has put in office a politician who while India’s most controversial is also its most business-friendly. The hope is that the change may open the door to progress on trade and investment relations that could offset years of diplomatic strategic mistrust of Beijing on Delhi’s part.

Modi’s campaign promises set high expectations that he will push ahead the economic reforms that had stalled under the previous coalition government. He will have the advantage of not having to worry about coalition partners, but he will find the structural constraints, corruption and slow global economy just the same as his predecessor left them. Nor will Modi be in any hurry to abandon India’s aspirations to be a regional power. Significantly, Modi’s first foreign trip as prime minister was to Bhutan, a former Indian client state that has its own long-running territorial dispute with China.

Modi is a nationalist. His foreign policy rhetoric will continue to reflect that even as he seeks to advance India’s economic interests. The hardline against Pakistan he pursued as a candidate will continue to prove domestically popular. That is what he is most likely to speak about for now as it will take some time for European nations and the U.S. to rehabilitate him diplomatically, though Washington is expected to expedite the process by inviting him speak to a joint session of the U.S. Congress during his visit to the U.S. for the U.N.’s general assembly in September. However, getting his posturing on Pakistan right will be a difficult balancing act. He risks pushing Pakistan more towards China if he gets the tone wrong.

Modi’s nationalist leanings — and the even more pronounced ones within his party — could also trigger stronger posturing on India’s direct territorial disputes with China. Last February, during a campaign trip in Arunachal Pradesh, over much of which which China claims full sovereignty, Modi criticised Beijing’s “expansionist mindset” and reiterated India’s territorial claims over the state. Nonetheless, this Bystander feels that, given the overwhelmingly domestic focus of his campaign, Modi in office is likely to be more pragmatic and less ideological in foreign policy than Modi on the campaign trail. Nonetheless, the new Modi government has allocated $830 billion for infrastructure development in Arunachal Pradesh.

That suggests, at best, a degree of cautious cooperation with China. The litmus test may come in the proposed visit of President Xi Jinping to Delhi later this year, which will be closely watched for signs of a start on the work to strike a grand bargain to settle bilateral territorial disputes.

More immediate rapprochement is likely over trade and investment, and especially at the state level to which Modi wants to devolve more central government powers. That would be a particularly wrenching change for Delhi’s small — India’s diplomatic corps is one-fifth the size of China’s — but tight-knit foreign policy elite. Traditionally it has had neither the time nor taste for advancing India’s commercial interests. India’s multinationals, when entering new foreign markets, have not had enjoyed the cheap credit and diplomatic support their Chinese state-owned counterparts expect.

When Modi was running Gujarat, China was one of three countries he visited in 2011 (Indonesia and Japan were the other two) to pitch for inward foreign investment in his state. Much of China’s $900 million of direct investment in India has gone to Gujarat. A national Modi government is likely to encourage more Chinese investment in sectors such as energy and infrastructure, but it is likely to be states such as Gujarat and West Bengal that cut the deals.

One sticking point will be India’s growing trade deficit with China, now running at an annual rate of $27 billion on total trade of some $65 billion. Beijing is more likely to use that as a lever for more direct investment by Chinese firms in India for local production that would be a substitute for Chinese imports of manufactures. The proposed low-tax special economic zones and manufacturing hubs that the Modi government has just approved in principle would be a step in that direction.

There are also global issues on where the two countries will make common cause, notably climate change and international trade rules. There will, though, also still be plenty of areas of competition between the two regional powers. Both will compete for influence in South Asia and resources in Africa to fuel their economies. We expect Modi to be more assertive on territorial disputes than his predecessor and to seek closer ties with Japan and South Korea, if only to increase Delhi’s leverage with Beijing.

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India Fears Encirclement By An Electronic String Of Pearls

Word from our man in Delhi that Indians are getting in a tizzy about their country being ringed by Chinese-built IT infrastructure and communications networks, already being likened to an electronic  string of pearls. India’s intelligence agencies have raised concerns that contracts awarded to Huawei and ZTE to build telecoms networks and data centres in India’s neighbours such as Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives pose a threat to national security because they could compromise the integrity of India’s telecom and internet networks. Intelligence officials suspect Huawei and ZTE of maintaining close links with the PLA. A similar concern has been expressed in the U.S. and Europe.

Indian intelligence services want Delhi to offer technical expertise and assistance to countries like the Maldives to forestall the advances of China, which many Indians also suspect of being behind the islands’ recent decision to terminate the  contract of an Indian company developing  an airport there. India’s communications ministry also is pushing Indian companies to bid for telecoms and IT infrastructure contracts, and presumably is lobbying for financing and diplomacy to support them.

Our man tells us that last year the ministry quietly told Indian companies not to buy Chinese made telecoms equipment, regardless of how cheap it is, for fear it had spying capabilities built in to it. With China friendly not only to Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives but also Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Pakistan, it doesn’t take much for Indians to feel encircled.

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