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”


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”

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”

19th National Congress of the CPC: Xi Jinping Firmly in Charge

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

Xi Jinping is officially China’s strongest leader in decades. The Communist Party of China’s Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) was unveiled at the end of the 19th National Congress of the CPC in Beijing yesterday with Xi Jinping reelected General Secretary for a second term. The 7-member PBSC includes besides Xi and his Premier Li Keqiang, at least four of Xi’s close allies in key positions. Also, in a departure from Party norms it offers no choice of potential successors to take over from Xi in 2022 when again according to norms, he is supposed to step down from power.

This composition of the PBSC in favour of Xi is the culmination of a series of steps he has taken over the past five years, foremost of which was a popular and far-reaching anti-corruption campaign that netted hundreds of senior Party and military officials including a potential rival and a former PBSC member, no less. Continue reading “19th National Congress of the CPC: Xi Jinping Firmly in Charge”

China Diary: First Impressions

Monish Tourangbam, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal University, Karnataka & South Asian Voices Visiting Fellow, Stimson Center, Washington D.C.

As an academic actively teaching and writing on issues of international relations and geopolitics, visiting the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has always been a priority on my bucket list. So, when an opportunity came to visit the PRC, I embraced it with an open mind, with an intention to listen, observe and learn. A trip spanning less than two weeks is hardly an adequate time to even start scratching the surface of a country that is often associated with opacity. Hence, these are mere first impressions that in no way can be seen as definitive impressions.

One is often struck by the geographical nearness of China to India, and yet the political distance, in terms of a complex adversarial and competitive relationship, and divergent political systems. Continue reading “China Diary: First Impressions”

The Doklam Standoff and After: Whither India-China Relations?

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

The standoff between China and India in the Doklam area of Bhutan has been resolved with each government putting out differing versions of the exact terms of the settlement. But it is certain that status quo before 16 June this year has been restored. The Chinese have stopped their road construction in the area, which had led to the Indian action in the first place and Indian troops have pulled back to their positions.

The Chinese government has sought to sell the deal as a case of the Indians having blinked, of having bowed to Chinese threats and coercion. It is doubtful that the line has much purchase even within China where the netizen community might have constraints on their conversations but are not stupid and not entirely without access to information from the outside world. Continue reading “The Doklam Standoff and After: Whither India-China Relations?”