Friday, October 30, 2009

China India border: Should we build barriers?

In a commentary in the Economist magazine on 29 Oct 2009, titled, "Himalayan histrionics", the article claims that the real problem between China and India lies in the unresolved border dispute. It points out that China has resolved every other major land dispute with its neighbour, except this one. What has changed in recent years is the situation in Tibet, with the unrest last year, the Chinese seem to feel vulnerable to the porous border.
In truth, the real problem remains the two countries’ long, shared border. Disputes over the western and eastern ends have been unresolved since a bloody war in 1962. In the west, India claims Aksai Chin, a high plateau controlled by China, as part of Kashmir. In the east, China disputes the McMahon Line, agreed by British India and a Tibet then under British rather than Chinese sway. The line is in effect the border today, but China claims a large chunk of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls South Tibet. It includes a revered Buddhist monastery at Tawang, near the 17th-century birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama.

In a “good neighbour” policy, China has now resolved every serious land-border dispute, bar this one. A solution had seemed within reach. In 2005 the two sides laid out the approach. Principles would be agreed, then compromises made, and lastly a line drawn. Only marginal adjustments were expected to the present border. But the prospects of such a deal have crumbled as China has hardened its position. Earlier this year Chinese soldiers crossed the presumed line of control in the west and sent a herder family packing. China has blocked a water project in Arunachal Pradesh financed by the Asian Development Bank. In October it grew shrill over an electioneering trip to the state by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. China has also begun issuing different visas for Indians from Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir.

What has changed the equation is restive Tibet. Anti-Chinese riots last year highlighted the vulnerabilities for China of the vague, porous Tibetan lands. The Communist government, borrowing its impulse from the reviled Manchus of the Qing dynasty, wants once and for all to hammer down the borders of its supersized empire. All the ambiguities of borderlands and the people who wander about them must submit to the central will.
Across the world, even while political boundaries between nations have remained, their character has changed, with increased flow of goods and people. France and Germany, two of the historic enemies in Europe, have not dissolved their border, but opened it to allow greater interaction, ensuring peace and prosperity on both sides. Borders need not be barriers. China and India need to resolve the border question, not by building barriers, but by facilitating people on both side of the boundary to freely interact and pursue their own interest in peace.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The shadow of Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama is expeced to visit Arunachal Pradesh next week. China has not only objected to Dalai Lama's visit, it has also claimed the state as its own. The Chinese and Indian leaders at their summit meeting in Thailand earlier this month, apparently did not raise this issue, and instead agreed to focus on the areas of mutual agreement. Yet, before and after the summit, the Indian government restated its position that the Dalai Lama is a respected guest and spiritual leader, and is free to travel to any part of India, and that he is expected not to engage in politics while in India.

The fact that the Indian and Chinese PMs did not raise the issue of Dalai Lama during their discussions in Bangkok, has been interpreted in two very opposite ways. One view is that Indian side has downplayed its commitment to Dalai Lama by not raising it during the discussions. The other view is that by refusing to make any commitment to China on Dalai Lama, India actually stood up to Chinese pressures both on Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh.

The Wall Street Journal in a recent editorial, "Dalai Lama Lesson", says that India used the issue of Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh to send a signal to China, and compared the 'strong' stand of Manmohan Singh on Dalai Lama, with Barak Obama's refusal to meet the Dalai Lama in Washington recently. In fact the news about Obama declining to meet the Dalai Lama, had come just 24 hours before the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama!

How does the Dalai Lama, who has not been in Tibet for the past fifty years, continue to case his shadow over China, India, the US, and others? How should one look at the question of Tibet? Given the multi-ethnic and multi-identity nature of India, we can hardly support nationalist movement based on any specific identity? On the other hand, given the recognition for the diverse and multiple identities that all Indians have, it is difficult to endorse any attempt to subsume or suppress the different identities. Can one be Tibetan and Chinese, at the same time, as I can be a Bengali and and Indian?

With Arunachal Pradesh and Dalai Lama in the news, it is a good opportunity to discuss these and related issues.

Contrasting role of media in China and India

Over the past few months, there has been a lot items in the media, both in China and India, looking at various implications, and analysing the different possible scenarios in the relationship between the two. While public diplomacy is welcome, yet one has to note the different circumstances in which the media operates in the two countries. In India, the media is by and large free to comment any way they deem fit, consequently, there are newspapers which favour strong relationship with China. On the other hand, there are others who are very apprehensive about the impact of a more powerful China. Some publications may endorse the Indian government's approach to China, while others might urge the government to take a different course. There are those who would like greater restraint on the Tibetans in India, while there are others who call for stronger support for the Tibetans.

However, in China, the media is much more controlled, particularly when the issue is sensitive, or if it could be seen as criticism of official policy. As a result, there are always efforts to try and read between the lines on any major policy item that appears in major Chinese media. The belief being that nothing really significant would get published in the official Chinese channels, without official endorsement.

Two recent reports in Chinese media illustrate this point. A commentary in People's Daily on Oct 14, 2009, was titled "Indian hegemony continues to harm relations with neighbours".
Dating back to the era of British India, the country covered a vast territory including present-day India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh as well as Nepal. India took it for granted that it could continue to rule the large area when Britain ended its colonialism in South Asia. A previous victim of colonialism and hegemony started to dream about developing its own hegemony. Obsessed with such mentality, India turned a blind eye to the concessions China had repeatedly made over the disputed border issues, and refused to drop the pretentious airs when dealing with neighbors like Pakistan... ... ...

To everyone's disappointment, India pursued a foreign policy of "befriend the far and attack the near". It engaged in the war separately with China and Pakistan and the resentment still simmers. If India really wants to be a superpower, such a policy is shortsighted and immature... ... ...

In another recent item, Xinhua interviews one of the senior editors of a major Indian newspaper on the issue of Tibet. The editor of The Hindu, N Ram is quoted in the report "Indian journalist tells Tibet's reality, slaps separatists' lies" on 23 Oct 2009, as
Speaking at the forum, Ram corrected distorted lens made by the propaganda of the so-called "Tibetan government-in-exile" in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama and some Western media.

"A notable feature of recent Western media coverage of Tibet is the way journalism feeds off the disinformation campaign unleashed by the Dalai Lama's headquarters and the votaries of Tibetan 'independence,' without any attempt at independent reporting," said the senior Indian journalist, who paid three trips to Tibet.

The West demanded China "initiate" a "sincere" dialogue with the Dalai Lama to find a "just" and "sustainable" political solution in Tibet, he said.

"But this is precisely what China has done for three decades," he added.

These reports attracted quite a bit of attention among Indian analysts, not just because of their content, but because where they were published and when, given the nature of media in China. Being seen as a handmaiden of Chinese state, such reports are, on the one hand, dissected for its significance as official Chinese policy, and on the other hand discounted for being part of Chinese propaganda. Such an approach to media, not only undermines its credibility, but also devalues public diplomacy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

India beats China on prosperity

India ranked 45 Vs China's 75 on parameters of wealth & well-being

Roger Bate & Barun Mitra

Daily News & Analysis, 27 October 2009
(Please read the original article here.)

Together, India and China account for 40% of the world's population and about 16% of the world's economic output. China bests India in both categories. And as home to glittering cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong, it's generally considered more prosperous than the subcontinent. But is that really the case? Just as an individual's well-being is based on more than his bank balance, a country's prosperity depends on more than rote calculations of its gross domestic product (GDP). And on these less-celebrated, but no less important metrics of prosperity, India surpasses China, on all of them.

If prosperity is defined as a mix of wealth and well-being, India is streets ahead of China, ranking 45th worldwide, while China lags far behind at No 75. In Legatum Institute's recently-released Prosperity Index, which assessed 104 nations comprising 90% of the world's population, prosperity is defined through 79 variables sorted into nine overarching categories.

A growing number of world leaders are rethinking the conventional barometers of prosperity. French president Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance, has charged a commission whose members include five Nobel laureates — including Amartya Sen and Joseph E Stiglitz — to come up with a more accurate measure of a nation's level of advancement than GDP. The blue-ribbon panel recommended a range of new variables to capture not just the cash value of a country's output, but its quality of life as well.

That is precisely the rationale behind the Prosperity Index. So, while it's true that China outperforms India on several economic indicators, including the level of foreign direct investment, the population's savings rate, the unemployment rate and even entrepreneurship, India bests China in critical non-economic categories. These categories demonstrate how citizens benefit from freedom, sense of community, and governmental integrity that a democratic system fosters.

These characteristics put India in a much better position to deal with economic challenges in the future. Take "democratic institutions," a category which evaluates everything from the civil and political protections afforded a citizenry to the relative level of power and independence granted to the executive and judicial branches of government. On this metric, India ranked 36th — 64 places higher than China, with its repressive regime.

Or consider "personal freedom," which encompasses freedom of speech and religion, national tolerance for immigrants and ethnic and racial minorities, and the amount of satisfaction that a country's citizens express with their level of freedom. Once again, India scored far better, ranking 47th, compared to China's 91st.

Indians also demonstrate more confidence in their country's governance. The index measured levels of political participation, citizen approval of elected officials, and popular perception of government integrity and corruption. Again, India outpaced China, ranking 41st - 52 spots higher. India especially excels in the "social capital" category. The index considered the
percentage of the citizenry who volunteered, gave to charities, helped strangers, felt they could rely on family and friends for support, or were otherwise active in community organisations. While China hovered in the bottom third of nations, India ranked a stellar fifth, behind the wealthy western countries New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden, and Australia.\

"A growing economy is necessary, but not sufficient, for national prosperity," concludes the Legatum report. "Without additional factors such as an accountable government, healthy citizens, strong social capital, and respect for civil and political liberties, a nation cannot achieve sustainable prosperity."

China may enjoy economic supremacy over India at present. But given its strong and free political and civil society, India's citizens are much better positioned to enjoy not just marked levels of economic growth, but also a level of prosperity unattainable in authoritarian China.

Roger Bate is the Legatum Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. Barun Mitra is a founder and director of the Liberty Institute, a non-profit, independent public-policy research and educational organisation based in New Delhi, India.

The 2009 Legatum Prosperity Index released on October 28. It is the world’s only global assessment of wealth and wellbeing; unlike other studies that rank countries by actual levels of wealth, life satisfaction or development, the Prosperity Index produces rankings based upon the very foundations of prosperity – those factors that help drive economic growth and produce happy citizens over the long term. The summary of the report can be read here.

The Economic Times newspaper also carried a news item on the index, titled "Indians beat Chinese at prosperity game" on 27 Oct 2009.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

China at 60: Mao, Marx, and Military

China marked the 60th anniversary of Communist rule on Oct 1, with a big parade in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Almost a week after, analysts across are still trying to decipher the significance.

2009 is also the 20th anniversary of the student protests in Tiananmen Square. This is also the 20th year since the fall of the Berlin Wall, which signalled the beginning of the collapse of Soviet Union and the Communist empire.

With protests in Tibet last year, in Xinjiang province this year, and the drastic drop in Chinese exports due global economic slowdown, it was perhaps not a surprise that the Chinese leadership sought to return to their roots.

"Only socialism can save China and only reform and opening up can ensure the development of China, socialism and Marxism," said President Hu Jintao, who swapped his dark business suits for the charcoal-grey button-up tunic favoured by Mao Zedong, reported the Financial Times.
In the Olympics opening ceremony last year, film director Zhang Yimou was able to inject style and imagination into this tradition to fashion a vision of a modern China - a sort of hi-tech and creative authoritarianism. In contrast, Thursday's parade represented a retreat into Communist slogan and kitsch. Many of the floats looked like relics from the 1950s, with mottos such as "Socialism is Great".
The commemoration of the Communist revolution was an annual feature in the first decade after Mao took power. After the Party marked the occasion in a big way only on the 25th and 50th anniversary. No doubt China today is very different from the days of Mao. At the same time, while showcasing the power and glory of the revolution, the parade also ended up highlighting the deep undercurrents. The People's Republic, celebrated the occasion, sans its people!
central Beijing was completely deserted after unprecedented security measures kept the public away and ensured no unexpected incidents ruined the parade. Ordinary citizens were told to watch the show on television and blocked from getting anywhere near the festivities.
I could not but think of all the official parades in India, during various times of strife and conflict, where either people came to fill the stands despite security threats, or on other occasions, officials went out of the way to try and get people to attend.

The contrast was particularly glaring, when one remembers the modern, high tech, and synchronised brilliance that was on display at the opening of the Beijing Olympics just one year ago.
The celebrations began with a military parade of goose-stepping soldiers that showed off 52 new weapon systems, including what the state new agency called the "trump card", an anti-ship ballistic missile. Chinese fighter jets flew over Beijing in bright blue skies free from the thick smog of the past two days.
The military were followed by a civilian procession of 180,000 performers, grouped around floats representing all the country's provinces, its important industries and key concepts such as 'socialist democracy'.
The content of the pageant was a visual reminder of the contradictions inherent in modern China, as it moved swiftly from paeans to Marxism, Mao Zedong thought and socialism to lauding the nation's economic rise and the unleashing of market forces over the past three decades. (Reported the Financial Times.)
Another report in the Financial Times, reminded the readers
Sixty years ago, few would have believed Mao Zedong's Communist party could have come so far. It owes its survival to its ability to adapt. Mao took the country down several blind alleys. Millions died through famine in the Great Leap Forward or were brutalised in the Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping loosened the state's hold on the economy, unleashing China's extraordinary potential. But the party never loosened its grip on power. When students demonstrating in Tiananmen Square threatened to spark widespread rebellion, Deng had no hesitation in sending in the troops.
Xingyuan brought these two items from Financial Times to my notice.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

India: Learning To Live With China

The 60th anniversary of Communism in China, has coincided with a lot of items in Indian and other international media, looking at various flash points in the relationship between the two of the largest countries in the world. Here is the latest by an Indian journalist.

Indrani Bagchi, the diplomatic editor at the Times of India, has written a detailed analysis in the Crest, the weekend paper, titled "CHINESE CHECKERS: Learning To Live With China". She quotes some of the strategic experts as follows:
  • "With neighbours, China has been trying to prevent clashes, but that seems to have changed with India recently.” (Susan Shirk, China specialist).
  • “The steady emergence of India as a powerful player is not looked upon favorably by China. China’s strategic culture is to distrust strong, powerful neighbors and prefer small, weak, subordinate or client buffer states. A theme dominant in all Chinese commentaries over the last few years is that India’s growing power — backed by the US — would bring about a shift in the Asian balance of power detrimental to China.” (Mohan Malik, professor Asian security at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Honolulu).
  • "China has generally been muted with the countries on its periphery. Except India. China’s response has been atypical." (Ashley Tellis, Influential American strategic analyst).
  • "India’s 1962 burden stems from the fact that the defeat of Sela-Bomdilla was papered over and the nation never had the chance of a catharsis." (K Subrahmanyam, Strategic affairs expert, former National Security Advisor, India).
Following is an excerpt from the article.

There was a surprise in store this week for those who chose to brave Arunachal Pradesh’s damp cold and the three-hour rough ride from Tawang up to Bum La Pass, on the border with Tibet. They were greeted by “happy” arches erected by Chinese soldiers on the other side, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in power. The Chinese were preparing to receive Indian soldiers for a celebratory lunch — and some unfinished business on border management.

Most of this bonhomie is likely to evaporate in just over a month’s time when the Dalai Lama reaches the 400-year-old Tawang gompa (monastery) to offer prayers. Historically, this region has had a close relationship with the Tibetan people. The sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, for example, was born in Tawang. So, it’s not unnatural for the current Dalai Lama (the 14th) to want to pay obeisance at the Tawang gompa. Still, anything that’s seen to accommodate the breakaway Tibetans gets Beijing’s hackles up, especially when it’s on land claimed by the Chinese.

And so it alternates — blow hot, blow cold — in the uncertain relations between India and China: one day, it’s jaw-jaw, another day it’s claw-claw. The inscrutable Chinese and the argumentative Indian find each other equally indecipherable. It’s not surprising, therefore, that India’s China policy rides a trough-peak roller coaster.

New Delhi has been playing down media reports of Chinese “incursions” in an apparent bid not to ruffle feathers in Beijing. Almost simultaneously, the ministry of external affairs was lashing out at China for stapling not stamping visas to the passports of Kashmiri Indians, a signal that J&K was disputed.

The rise and rise of China represents one of contemporary history’s tectonic shifts. For an India that fancies itself as an emerging superpower, learning to live with an assertive China is one of its greatest foreign policy challenges, especially as its ambitions are sometimes aligned with the Chinese and sometimes at odds. A People’s Daily commentary (Sept 15) points out, “India is still a lesser power than China in terms of its economic and military might, both conventional and non-conventional.”

How can New Delhi and Beijing achieve a steady state of equilibrium that gives both sides the comfort of predictability, and a resultant confidence in each other? That’s a question nagging not just India’s foreign policy mandarins, but students and practitioners of diplomacy worldwide. As one of the architects of India’s China policy (who will be unnamed as will be many interviewed for this story) says: “For India, coping with the rise of China is not a luxury; they’re right next door.”

Indian policy makers find China’s approach to India quite mystifying. On the border, China has vastly superior military machinery. Its economic muscle is much bigger. And yet it appears keen to avoid any confrontation along the 4,056-km undemarcated border. But on many issues of bilateral import, China takes a far more belligerent stand — like seeking to nix India’s bid for a place at the UN Security Council; mounting a last-minute scramble to stop the nuclear deal in Vienna; trying to keep India out of an Asian economic community; blocking ADB from giving Arunachal money for a water project; and denying Arunachal residents Chinese visas.

Please read the full article here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Time for India to play hardball with China

Jude Blanchette, of Atlas Economic Research Foundation, USA, sent the following note:

A new piece appearing in Foreign Policy magazine by Indian journalist Kapil Komireddi argues that India must begin playing "hardball" with China. Komireddi only hints at what this entails (something about the Dalai Lama).

"Indian democracy vexes Beijing. If India can guarantee fundamental rights to its diverse citizens while managing a growth rate not far from China's, why, someone is bound to ask, can China not do the same? For many in the West, China's economic prosperity is a precursor to political freedom for its people. But this theory, as China scholar Minxin Pei has argued, ignores the important fact that an authoritarian state is less likely to loosen its hold on a wealthy country than it would be to forego the control of an impoverished one. This accounts for China's censorship at home and the promotion of secessionism abroad. But it also means that it is China, and not India, that is more fragile and insecure. The Dalai Lama is India's trump card. All India has to do is play hardball."

Read the complete article, "Time for India to play hardball with China" by Kapil Komireddi in Foreign Policy magazine, 2 Oct 2009.

Challeges for China at 60: Change at home

Frank Ching, a Hong Kong-based writer whose book, “Ancestors: 900 Years in the Life of a Chinese Family,” was republished few months ago in paperback, writes in Yale Global on the Challenges for China at 60. Ching says that while cagey about its internal affairs, and always warning foreigners of interfering in China's internal affairs, be it Tibet, human rights or media freedom, China does not hesitate to tell others to restrain their sovereign rights.
China, a significant beneficiary of globalization, is happy to go out into the world, but seems less willing to let the world come in, according to writer Frank Ching. In fact, China, which asserts that it does not interfere with the internal affairs of other countries, appears to do the exact opposite, especially with regard to issues surrounding alleged separatism in China. Notably vocal whenever a foreign leader meets with the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama or a country grants him a visa, Beijing claims that such actions “grossly interfere” with China’s internal affairs and “hurt the feelings” of the Chinese people. For a country that prides itself on having signed more human rights treaties than the US – certainly a mature approach to international affairs – such a reaction seems oddly truculent. Indeed, as Ching argues, globalization is a two-way street where the benefits hopefully compensate, even outweigh, the loss of sovereignty. Rightly or wrongly, China seems yet to agree with such logic. – YaleGlobal
Read the complete article here.