India Becoming a Threat in Chinese Imagination

Hemant Adlakha, professor of Chinese at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and Honorary Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Delhi.

As the new year gets underway, and Chinese foreign policy analysts join their counterparts around the world in assessing the events of 2017, the emerging international relations (IR) discourse in Beijing is quite a revelation — at least to the Japanese and Indian strategic affairs community.

While most Chinese believe Japan to be the second biggest threat to China’s “peaceful rise,” according to a few Chinese experts, the rising global profile of India, especially under the “right-wing” nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has gone unacknowledged. Continue reading “India Becoming a Threat in Chinese Imagination”

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Fluffy Ambassadors: China’s Panda Diplomacy

Preethi Amaresh, Research Officer, Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S)

The giant panda has proven itself to be an instrument of foreign affairs and its use as a soft power tool has played a part in International relations. Pandas are considered to be a symbol of peace for China. China’s policy of sending pandas as diplomatic gifts was revitalized in 1941 when Beijing sent two pandas to the Bronx Zoo as a “thank you” gift on the eve of the United States entering World War II. This stimulated the relationship between countries, which in turn increased China’s soft power in the panda-receiving country. Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, often engaged in panda diplomacy in the 1950s, sending the bears as gifts to North Korea and the Soviet Union.

According to one theory, the movement of pandas from China to another country means that the other country accepts the extension of “China” on its territory. It all began in 1941 where Soong Mei-Ling (First lady of the People’s Republic of China) sent the first batch of pandas as gifts to the U.S. In 1949, after the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, more giant pandas were shipped abroad. One well-known example is when the Chinese government presented two pandas to U.S President Richard Nixon during his visit to China in 1982, which turned out to be an enormous diplomatic success with respect to China’s establishment of relations with the U.S.

Pandas presented by China to Japan are considered to be a symbol of the friendly ties between Japan and China. Recently during a visit to China, the American first lady, Melania Trump, also engaged in Panda Diplomacy at the Beijing Zoo. The pandas, Cai Tao and Hu Chun, Which have captured the hearts of millions in Indonesia are considered to be part of China’s long-running ‘Panda Diplomacy’ programme, arrived at Jakarta, in November 2017 from China to their new home in a multi-million dollar sanctuary. This also signifies a strong bilateral relationship between China and Indonesia.

The tragedy of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 escalated tensions between Malaysia and China. But the arrival of the Pandas, Feng Yi and Fu Wa, in 2014 was seen as a healing touch in the relationship between the two nations after China had openly reprimanded Malaysia for the way the disaster was handled.

The panda is considered to be an emblem of China similar to how the dragon is the symbol of its nationalism. The giant panda is listed as an endangered species in the World Conservation Union’s Red List of Threatened Species. With only about 1,600 left in the wild, breeding programmes in China are considered to be incredibly important in ensuring the future of such beautiful animals. Panda cubs born to the giant pandas which are given on a loan as a token of friendship and goodwill to the other countries have to be sent back to the Chinese breeding programme to expand the gene pool before they turn four.

The panda bears unlike China’s Confucius Institutes, remain well-liked when it comes to governments across the world and they are eager and happy to welcome them. Pandas have been used as themes for Chinese movies like The Story of Panda, Taotao, Little Panda Learns to be a Carpenter and Hollywood movies such as the Kung Fu Panda series. The most recent one is Born in China, which released on the World Earth Day, 2017, and is a story about the adventures of three animal families, a majestic panda, a savvy golden monkey and an elusive snow leopard.

Chinese have also opened various restaurants chains in different cities in the name of the Pandas. Restaurant chains such as Panda Express and Panda Inn, also run in the U.S. Fast food chain Panda Express, which serves an American-Chinese cuisine, also plans to make an India entry in the cities of Mumbai and Bangalore in partnership with Jay Singh and Sanjay Mahtani (JSM). China also launched a Giant Panda Festival to promote regional economy in 2016 and in 2017, China celebrated the 49th Chengdu International Panda Lantern Carnival in Sichuan Province.

With the world’s largest economy in PPP terms and growing assertiveness in its foreign policy, China is set to have a deep-rooted impact on the international order in the future. Its changing outlook in international communication and soft-power construction reflects China’s transformation from a “quiet achiever” to an “assertive player” at the world stage. During the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China, General Secretary Xi Jinping stated that China would improve its capacity for engaging in International communication in order enhance the country’s soft power.

China’s reach across the globe has become more extensive, thus increasing the relevance of panda diplomacy to a whole new level. At the 19th Congress, Xi also noted that China’s economic policy should be improved for the progress of the cultural sector. This shows that pandas are not just about conversation but have become increasingly linked with economic and political ambitions.

Until today, Panda diplomacy has not been established between India and China. Perhaps, it is because there is yet to be a consolidation of trust between the two countries. It remains to be seen whether it is the inability of the pandas to adapt to Indian climate or whether political climate is the issue.

Book Review: Xi Jinping’s China

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Jayadev Ranade. 2018. Xi Jinping’s China (New Delhi: Knowledge World Publishers). pp. xi+394. Rs. 1,400. ISBN: 978-93-86288-90-5

This work is a collection of pieces written by the author in various online platforms and as part of other edited volumes. The reader does not have the benefit of an introduction that ties in all the chapters together but the fact that the book releases right after the conclusion of 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing in October certainly helps provide context.

All the big issues are covered here – from Xi Jinping’s rise to power as General Secretary of the CPC and his consolidation of power over the past five years, the murky details of the fall of Xi’s rival Bo Xilai, and China’s military reforms and reorganization. Alongside, a host of relatively arcane issues such as China’s annual sessions of its equivalent of a national parliament and Xi’s new rules for propaganda, media control – thought control, no less (the infamous Document No. 9) – are also examined. Continue reading “Book Review: Xi Jinping’s China”

A Secret Visit, Sino-Tibetan dialogue and Related concerns

Tshering Chonzom, PhD, Associate  Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Credible sources have confirmed that Samdhong Rinpoche, a prominent Tibetan leader, recently visited Gyalthang (redubbed as Shangri La recently), his hometown in Yunnan province of China. According to the source, the purpose of the visit was to meet his family. In all likelihood, the visit took place sometime in November; specifically mid-November, according to the article in The Wire that first broke the news about the visit. Earlier, on November 6, the Dalai Lama appointed Samdhong Rinpoche, along with Sikyong Lobsang Sangay (the current president of the Central Tibetan Administration, or CTA, in Dharamsala) as his trusted “representative” or “personal emissary” for an indefinite period.

Samdhong Rinpoche preceded Lobsang Sangay as head of the CTA and played an instrumental role in pushing for the Dalai Lama’s middle way approach (MWA) during his tenure as president. It was during his leadership of the CTA that Sino-Tibetan talks resumed in 2002, after almost a decade of impasse. He also has a close bond with the Dalai Lama; Samdhong Rinpoche’s residential quarters are located within the premises of the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala.

So, given Samdhong Rinpoche’s recent trip to China, is a formal Sino-Tibetan meeting in the offing? Is it possible for China to take up the Tibet issue so promptly just after the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party? Continue reading “A Secret Visit, Sino-Tibetan dialogue and Related concerns”

Book Review: Cadres of Tibet

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Jayadev Ranade. 2018. Cadres of Tibet (New Delhi: Knowledge World Publishers). pp. xi+199. Rs.1,120. ISBN: 978-93-86288-92-9.

As the blurb of this book says, while information about the Tibet Autonomous Region is plentiful in China’s official media, there is comparatively little about the people who actually govern the province in China. This book tries to fill this important gap in knowledge and the author is to be commended for taking on an onerous task.

The importance and significance of the work can be understood when one considers that the best-known international repository of information on Chinese leaders, China Vitae run by the American think-tank, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has no data on a significant number of the officials that this book includes.  Members of the Standing Committee of provincial Communist Party Committee are not insignificant political leaders, even if there is an informal hierarchy among Chinese provinces based on GDP, history, ethnic composition and so on. However, China Vitae does not have entries for many members of the TAR Standing Committee and even if a name were available, the data is not up to date, including even for the Party Secretary Wu Yingjie who took up his post in August 2016. Ranade, by contrast, goes into granular detail on Wu’s career in Tibet and his public statements (pp.19-23) as he does also for at least a few previous Party Secretaries, including former Communist Party of China (CPC) General Secretary and PRC President, Hu Jintao who served in Tibet from 1988-1992. Continue reading “Book Review: Cadres of Tibet”

The Many Ironies of India-China Economic Relations

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Pickpockets are not uncommon in crowded places in India. Victims are generally realists and tend to resign themselves to their misfortune quickly often not even bothering to go to the police. Not so, however, actor-turned-politician Manoj Tiwari, head of the Delhi unit of India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party. When he lost his iPhone Seven Plus at a demonstration, he promptly complained at the local police station. Politicians in India are often able to get the police to expend extra effort on their behalf, so Tiwari’s response was not really surprising.

What was surprising was the fact that the politician had lost his phone at a protest against Chinese-made goods organized by an affiliate of the BJP’s parent organization, the right-wing hyper-nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. And as American as Steve Jobs might have been, the iPhone is the quintessential made-in-China product.

Such ironies are a dime a dozen in the India-China relationship. Continue reading “The Many Ironies of India-China Economic Relations”

Competing for Influence: China’s Strategic Constraints and Challenges in the Indian Ocean

Chetananand Patil, Research Intern, ICS

The Indian Ocean is increasingly becoming a platform for the new emerging competition between major powers with China making its forays into the region, India seeking to preserve its dominance and the US keen to contain rise of China. Conventional wisdom perceives Chinese presence as a threat for the region and especially for India as it challenges Indian supremacy in its own backyard. Although China’s increasing presence cannot be overlooked or seen in idealist terms, there are certain limitations to its expansion which places Beijing in a strategically disadvantaged position vis-à-vis India.

The most important aspect that needs to be taken into account regarding China and the Indian Ocean Region is that China has no maritime territorial claims in the IOR and the region is not its strategic backyard. For Beijing, to protect maritime sovereignty in the South China Sea is the first priority Continue reading “Competing for Influence: China’s Strategic Constraints and Challenges in the Indian Ocean”