Tag Archives: India

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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SAIC Sails Into India

In what may be a  preview of China’s manufacturing future, or at least a slice of it, SAIC Motor and its U.S. partner, General Motors, have started local production of the first Chinese-designed car for the Indian market. The two will start selling a version of SAIC’s Sail, seen above in a company handout picture, in India next month. Sedan and hatchback versions of the small car, already a popular seller in China, are being produced at GM India’s plant in Talegaon about 100 kilometers outside Mumbai. Production of a SAIC passenger van is due to start by the end of this year. SAIC has a 50% stake in GM India.

Foreign carmakers that have got a toehold in the difficult-to-penetrate India market have done so by having  a tight small car focus and country-specific models. South Korea’s Hyundai has found success that way despite being a late arrival in the  market. So, too, has America’s Ford now it has stopped reselling European models and launched its India-only Figo. GM had tried selling Daewoo-designed models in India but without much success, in part because they were more expensive than local competitors. SAIC not only brings a design but lower-cost manufacturing expertise.

One test for this particular step in Chinese carmakers’ tenuous steps in globalization is whether what works for car buyers in one of Asia’s two big emerging markets will work in the other. Another will be whether it is successful enough for SAIC to overcome GM’s caution about extending the partnership, a necessity in China, to a worldwide relationship.

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Carrier Chess

A passing symmetry to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to China that caught this Bystander’s eye: his country has sold unwanted aircraft carriers to both Beijing and New Delhi. India’s INS Vikramaditya, the former Admiral Gorshkov, started sea trials this week while China’s Varyag completed its seventh sea trial last month. China’s is of more recent vintage, but India’s is likely to be able to deploy more advanced fighters and helicopters at sea. For both countries, though, it is all about a symmetrical projection of power at sea.

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Another Indian Trader Feared Abducted In Yiwu

Indian press are reporting that an Indian trader from Mumbai has gone missing in Yiwu. The city in Zhejiang southwest of Shanghai is an import-export trade hub for small manufacturers of electronics components, and is where the bizarre abduction in January of two Indian businessmen with allegedly unpaid bills caused a diplomatic rumpus between New Delhi and Beijing.

There are few details of the latest incident. The Times of India says the Mumbai trader, whose name is being withheld by Indian diplomats, was seized at a local restaurant on the night of May 19. Two days later the Indian embassy in Beijing issued a warning to Indian businessmen to be careful in their dealings in Yiwu as their “freedom of movement could be curtailed” if they got embroiled in legal disputes with local traders. The advisory prompted a retort from the foreign ministry saying that it would affect “bilateral economic exchanges between the two countries”.

The Hindu newspaper says that “dozens” of foreign businessmen have been held captive by Yiwu traders after business deals encountered problems. They are usually released, the paper says, after outstanding debts are settled. The cases usually aren’t made public. This latest one, if indeed it turns out to be in the same vein, again casts a harsh light on the realities of conducting commerce in China, especially away from the big international cities with their sharp-suited lawyers and their contracts.

Footnote: Forty-five Chinese have been arrested in Nigeria on charges of illegally selling textiles in a Kano market.

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An Odd Legal Dispute Takes A Bizzare Turn

The strange case of Shyamsunder Agrawal and Deepak Raheja, the two Indian businessman who have caused a rumpus between Beijing and New Delhi, has taken another odd turn. We wrote about the confused details in January, and have become none the clearer about the truth since, but in short, the two were facing some rough local justice in Yiwu, the electronics components trading town, in connection with some unpaid bills before Indian consulate staff intervened to have them removed to Shanghai, where the case could be sorted out in the courts.

The two have since had their passports returned but are barred from leaving the country until the outstanding debt of $1.6 million is cleared. (They claim it is their employer, who has reportedly absconded to his native Yemen, who is responsible.) The Indian diplomatic service has said it can no longer afford to pay for the hotel. Indian press reports say the pair have been thrown out on the street and have gone on hunger strike, demanding to be repatriated. One report says they have threatened suicide if their demand is not met within a week. Chinese officials are insisting they can’t leave the country until the debt is cleared one way or another, as the Shanghai court has ordered though it has yet to make its final ruling.

There may be no greater import to this case than it shows how the civil legal system, for all its recent improvement, remains ill-equipped to handle a case as messy as this. It also throws a light on the realities of conducting commerce in China, especially away from the bright lights of the big international cities and sharp suits of the lawyers and their contracts. This Bystander would wager, with low knowledge but high confidence, that there wasn’t much paperwork around the original transactions. What has been produced in court, the pair say, they signed later and under duress.

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