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Xinjiang: Geographical Implications and Challenges for India

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The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) which geographically borders India’s disputed boundaries with China and Pakistan has been in the limelight due to its religious and ethnically divisive policies carried out by the Chinese government against the domiciled Uyghur Muslims. Significantly, secessionist tendencies in XUAR and the Indian administered Kashmir since the end of the Cold War have created hiccups in their respective nation building process. Hence, against the backdrop of USA’s Islamophobia since 9/11, China and India both have sought to embolden their national policies in rooting out Islamist terrorism, separatism and extremism. However, the existent mutual suspicion in their bilateral relationship has inadvertently made XUAR a geographical and strategic barrier for India.

Terrorism:

India and China have long coveted their traditional global images post independence from their colonial masters.  However, as terrorism seeks to foil their plans, China’s distorted view of terrorism has proved malignant to India’s national security interests. China’s anxieties pertaining to XUAR is linked to separatism and foreign influence. Hence, to insure China’s security concerns in Xinjiang, relations with Pakistan, Afghanistan and their respective terror groups like JeM and Taliban have been reinforced raising India’s security concerns. Also, the Belt and Road Initiative’s (BRI) promotion of Chinese labour emigration into its recipient countries usurps the economic opportunities available to the local populace risking the creation of terror outfits namely in Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan given their domestic resentment against China’s counterterrorism policies in XUAR. This resentment may ensue plausible spill over into the Indian administered Kashmir creating strategic risks for India’s national security. However, India’s security concerns remains to be reciprocated by China given the latter’s all-weather friendship with Pakistan indicative in its prolonged resistance to support India’s bid to blacklist Masood Azhar. Hence, India’s membership to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2017 remains instrumental as India’s security concerns synchronise with SCO’s foundational interests in containing and combatting terrorism, separatism and extremism. However, India’s lacklustre relations with China, Russia and Pakistan in the SCO have emboldened its strategic partnership with the USA enabling India to allay regional security concerns by engaging in Afghanistan’s nation-building process while concurrently cooperating in the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) of the SCO.

Access to Central Asia:  

China’s opportunism in using XUAR as a major connector in the Silk Road Economic Belt has accentuated China’s policies in India’s extended Western neighbourhood viz. Central Asia. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) running through Pakistan-administered Kashmir is a source of economic and security relief to Pakistan which has been sought to be extended to Afghanistan.  The loss of Aksai Chin during the1962 Sino-India war, cession of Shaksgam Valley to China by Pakistan in 1963 and the recent territorial ambitions of China in India’s Galwan valley highlights China’s trepidation in maintaining its territorial integrity by enmeshing its volatile provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet (Xīzàng) within its economic and strategic fold. As a result, India’s options in geographically connecting with the landlocked Central Asian region has dwindled given the Chabahar port interlinkage project remaining in limbo amid growing relations between China and Iran coupled with the unexpected integration of Gilgit Baltistan, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan into Pakistan. Notably, Russia’s activism in securing India’s membership to the SCO was aimed at tackling India’s geographical complexities while balancing China’s interests in Central Asia.  However, India’s capacity building attempts in Central Asia in developing a web of complex interdependence in IT, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, etc. has been asymmetrical vis-à-vis its competitors. Hence, a plausible refurbishment of India’s Connect Central Asia policy is required as the Line of Credit to Central Asian countries, Ashgabat agreement, INSTC and EAEU commitments remains to bear fruit. Meanwhile, political will in rebooting the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI) pipeline could rectify India’s foreign policy errors while ensuing energy diversification. However, the caveat lies in balancing India’s strategic interests with USA as well as with the permanent and observer members in the SCO that harbour anti-USA views. 

Shared Islamophobia: 

India’s union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh harbours second and third generation Indian citizens whose ancestors where Uyghur refugees from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The first wave of immigration occurred during the trade and cultural exchanges along the erstwhile Silk Route while the second wave occurred during the Chinese clampdown on independence movements in the XUAR. India’s silence pertaining  to Chinese policies in the XUAR rests against the backdrop of the Panchsheel principles while Turkey, an another abode for the Uyghur refugees although initially vocal about the treatment of its Uyghur brethren presently maintains occasional protests on the issue given its growing economic ties with China. Interestingly, there has been no convergence between Turkey and India pertaining to the Uyghur refugees; instead Turkey has bolstered critical statements on India’s policies in the Indian-administered Kashmir. As China’s security policies in XUAR have started emulating in the Indian-administered Kashmir by means of continued internet shutdown, changes in immigration and property laws, orchestrated visits of foreign dignitaries and the February 2020 riots in Delhi, Tablighi Jamaat outrage and frequent lynching incidents in the country; oppression of Muslim majority locations is a commonality visible in both countries. India’s amendment to its Citizenship law had raised Chinese fears of secessionist tendencies in the XUAR but India’s approach in stifling dissent against the amendment through internet shutdowns had been approved by China. This overarching sense of ethno-religious nationalism experienced in both XUAR and Indian-administered Kashmir is the result of China and India’s repressive policies underlining their skewed perception of threats to national security.

Conclusion:

Notably, India and China’s attribution to the moral wounds of colonialism and principle of non-interference has not only been a boon in employing harsh policies to stimulate their perceived peaceful rise but also a bane in respect of pursuing policies to maintain their regional hegemony. India’s despotic polarization of Pakistan as regards terrorism and procrastination in settling the issue of Kashmir bilaterally has intensified hostile relations dimming the hopes for any joint collaborative projects in South Asia or Central Asia. Besides, long-standing hegemonic behaviour of India given its demographic, geographic and economic fundamentals overshadowing other South Asian economies, it has leveraged China in dominating the regional state of affairs through economic and strategic partnerships. The resulting growing ties between China and the BRI recipients in South Asia has ignited a cause of concern for India as the regional identity wanes from a India-led ‘South Asia’ to a ‘Greater South Asia’, a geo-economic concept aimed at diminishing India’s role in South Asia. Thus, India’s bold move in abrogating Article 370 from its Constitution in 2019 that provided special autonomy to the State of Jammu and Kashmir in India, changes in FDI laws pertaining to countries  bordering India and the persistent military build-ups across its disputed boundaries with Pakistan and China have although reasserted India’s territorial sovereignty; it has shifted gears in Pakistan and China highlighting the geopolitical importance of India’s disputed territories to its hostile neighbours.     

Aneetta Thomas Peedikayil is a lawyer pursuing M.A (International Studies) from Christ (Deemed-to-be) University, Bengaluru, India.

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East Asia

Centenary of the Chinese Communist Party: 100 years of Prosperity and Greatness

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Since its establishment, the Communist Party of China has made many national contributions and has become the main engine of Chinese progress since the revolution led by Chairman Mao Zedong and the policy of reform and opening up pursued by Deng Xiaoping up to the era of achievements laid down by current President Xi Jinping. In conjunction with the upcoming centenary of the Communist Party of China on July 1, China will launch the Shenzhou-12 manned spacecraft with three astronauts on board to the Chinese space station, whose construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2022, thus becoming the third country in the world to send humans into space with its own potential. Some political scholars from different backgrounds unanimously agree that the Communist Party is behind modern China, through the wise policy of governance and administration and the modern ideas presented by the philosophers of the Chinese Communist Party in economic and political structures and laying foundations for rational competition with countries and blocs opponents of China.

Within a hundred years, China has the second largest economy and is likely to rank first in the coming years, according to World Bank reports, a strong army that possesses advanced weapons capable of harming the enemy and achieving inevitable victories, a society in continuous prosperity through wise policy in poverty eradication and social welfare strategy, a fair and impartial political leadership. These and other elements of power were enough to transform China into a country that preoccupied the West and slew the most powerful countries. Some consider, out of ignorance, that communism is synonymous with backwardness and oppression, but the reality is otherwise. In communist China, human dignity is preserved and a person has value regardless of whether he/ she is poor or rich, and everyone shares the same rights and duties, in addition to freedom of belief and the practice of religious and social rituals. In some countries, cases of racial discrimination based on skin colour appear, the most recent of which was the George Floyd incident, which stirred the conscience of peoples, and cases of permanent indiscriminate killing and disrespect for public morals, which indicates a loophole in holding national security while claiming to maintain global security and spread the ideas of democracy.

The Communist Party of China has 91 million members from all over China, according to a report by the Xinhua News Agency. This number indicates satisfaction with the party’s performance and the great public turnout to contribute to the promotion of its ideas and principles. But according to my humble Chinese experience, it is not necessary to be a member of the Chinese Communist Party to believe in and defend its principles. This party is linked to national identity and constant struggle, so it is enough for you to be Chinese to be represented by this party. The Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921 as a political and revolutionary movement by some revolutionaries who laid its foundations and general principles, including Li Dazhou 李大钊 and Chen Duxiu 陳獨秀. These two revolutionary men emerged from the May Fourth Movement of 1919 and joined Marxism after the victory of the Bolsheviks in 1917. During the turmoil across China in the twentieth century, some cadres of the Chinese Communist Party, including Mao Zedong 毛泽东, Liu Shaoqi 刘少奇 and Li Lisan 刘少奇, began organizing trade unions and founding the Chinese Revolution.

The Communist Party of China supervises the organs of government throughout China according to unified organizational rules and a centralized system of government. When this party was established in 1921, China was dominated by cases of political dependency and rampant extreme poverty. The Republic of China was established in 1912, but it was a weak and crushed country with no influence on the international community, and many groups at that time sought secession and independence. On May 4, 1919, the first public protest against the government was attended by more than three thousand students from 13 colleges in Beijing, denouncing the decision of the Versailles Peace Conference, which transferred concessions in Shandong Province from Germany to Japan. Under the banner of the Communist Party, the Chinese people have waged a long struggle to achieve national sovereignty and enhance China’s international standing at all levels. National dignity is not bestowed but gained. Indeed, the Chinese Communist Party has made great sacrifices in order to achieve national dignity and elevate China to the highest ranks.

Currently, all the streets of China are decorated with red banners that read “100”, the 100th anniversary of the founding, with the sickle and hammer emblem representing the Communist Party, and  posters of Lei Feng 雷锋, who became a Chinese national hero and symbol no less important than the founding cadres of the Communist Party. Also, giant pictures of Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers shouting to go to fight. All these pictures and advertisements raise the national spirit and patriotism of the Chinese people and increase their attachment to the Communist Party, which has become an inseparable part of history, present and future. China has the second largest budget allocated to the military after the United States, which indicates the Chinese leadership’s awareness of the great risks that China can be exposed to in parallel with economic and technological progress. A strong military is an essential part of preserving national sovereignty.

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High time for India to Reconsider the One-China Policy

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Sino-Indian bilateral relations have seen major challenges in the recent years, beginning with the Doklam crisis to the current pandemic situation. The sugar-coated rhetoric of Beijing proved to be mere duplicity after tensions erupted along the Line of Actual Control where soldiers of both the states clashed in mid-2020, resulting in the martyrdom of several Indian jawans including a commanding officer. The other side also saw several casualties, though Beijing has kept the actual count under wraps. More recently, China suspended the state-run Sichuan Airlines cargo planes carrying medical supplies to India for 15 days citing the deteriorating situation in India due to COVID-19. This was after the Chinese government promised all the necessary help for India to battle the pandemic. 

The People’s Republic of China under the leadership of Xi Jinping has been maintaining an aggressive posture with India even while making calls for ‘maintaining peace’. Its support for all-weather friend Pakistan has attained new peaks when it proclaimed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the Belt and Road Initiative passing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, a territory claimed by India, despite New Delhi’s staunch opposition. It is in the light of all these events that the calls of the strategic community in India to review the recognition of One China policy has gained some attention. 

India’s Sensitivity versus China’s Duplicity  

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the Communist Party of China (CPC) claims itself as the only representative of the Chinese nation including the territories of Tibet and Taiwan among others. Any country having formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, also known as Republic of China shall be seen by China as challenging its sovereignty. The same parameter applies to any country recognizing Tibet or similar ‘autonomous regions’ under the Chinese control. This is known as the ‘One China Principle’ or ‘One China Policy’. India was one of the first countries to recognize the PRC in 1949 after the civil war as well as to accord recognition to its occupation of Tibet. However, China claims the whole of India’s Arunachal Pradesh as ‘South Tibet’, a claim that India has always rebuffed. Moreover, it occupies Aksai Chin which it captured during the 1962 war as well as the Shaksgam valley, ceded illegally to it by Pakistan in 1963.

Even after the war and the re-establishment of cordial bilateral relations, China has continued to repeat its illegitimate claims and nibble into India’s territory.  India’s protests fell on deaf ears and this is despite India recognizing the One China Policy. India stopped mentioning the policy since 2010 in its public announcements and publications, however, without repealing it. Taking undue advantage of this China pays little concern to Indian sentiments. This view in India, to challenge China’s One China Policy, has been strengthened by aggressive diplomatic postures of China as well as its regular incursions along the disputed border while continuing to support Islamabad on all fronts – overtly and covertly, encircling India. 

The government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to give in to the bullying attempts by China by allowing the Army to go ahead with offensive countermeasures against Chinese incursions in 2017 as well as in 2020, in addition to taking measures including banning dozens of Chinese mobile applications. It has also started actively taking part in initiatives like Quadrilateral Dialogue as well as strengthening relations with ASEAN states. However, a dominant section within the strategic community in India feel that these measures are not enough to knock China into its senses. 

Challenging the One China Policy 

The most significant among the measures suggested in this regard has been to review India’s adherence to the One China policy. In an atmosphere where China does not recognize the One India policy comprising of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territories, experts argue the need of reciprocity. Initiatives such as providing greater global visibility and access for Tibetans including the 14th Dalai Lama, using Buddhist history and traditions as a trump card since New Delhi has the advantage of having the Dalai Lama on its side, provides legitimacy for India unlike China. India can facilitate the appointment of the next Dalai Lama and extend protection for the existing and the next Dalai Lama. The repeal of the recognition for Chinese occupation of Tibet can also send major tremors in Beijing but that seems to be a distant dream. The new democratic Tibetan government under President Penpa Tsering should be given greater official acknowledgment and publicity. India has already taken small steps in this regard by acknowledging the involvement of the elite Special Frontier Force (SFF), majorly comprising of exiled Tibetans, in a game changing operation to shift the balance against China during the recent border crisis. The funeral of an SFF commando attended by a Member of Parliament and leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ram Madhav was an overt signaling to China that Indians are not refraining from openly recognizing Tibetan contributions to the state of India. Another sensitive issue for China is the Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslims being allegedly tortured and deprived of their basic human rights in the ‘re-education camps’ by the CPC and a state sponsored genocide being carried out against them. India can take up the issue vigorously at international forums with like-minded countries, increasing the pressure on China. Similarly, the pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, pro-Mongol movements such as the protest against Mandarin imposition in the school curriculum of Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, can also be encouraged or given moral support. India, a country which upholds its virtue of unity in diversity must take a strong stand against the ‘cultural assimilation’ or ‘liberation’ as the Chinese say. This is nothing but cultural destruction imposed by China using the rhetoric of ‘not being civilised’ and branding the non-Han population as barbaric in China and the regions it illegally occupies.

India can also stir the hornet’s nest by engaging more formally with the Taiwanese leadership. Taipei has always been approached by New Delhi keeping in mind the sensitivities of China in mind. However, it does not have to do so for a power that bullies both the nations with constant threats and provocations by its action. It is a well-known fact that Taiwan is a center of excellence in terms of the semi-conductor industry and high-end technology. Engaging more with Taiwan will not only hurt Beijing, but also will help India counter the strategic advantage possessed by China in terms of being the major exporters of electronic goods and telecommunication hardware to India. India can also attain more self-sufficiency by boosting its own electronics industry using the Taiwanese semiconductor bases. India can use this leverage to shed its overdependence on China in critical sectors, balance the trade deficit to some extent, while also securing its networks from Chinese intelligence. India must also focus on working with the states having stake in the South China Sea such as Philippines and Malaysia who regularly face aggression in their airspace and Exclusive Economic Zones from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces and China’s maritime militia, questioning their territorial sovereignty, imposing the One China Policy. New Delhi must pressurize China by working with the western nations, whose legislators have openly declared support for the Tibetan President in exile, to question China’s occupation of Tibet and attempts at homogenizing the population. Long term measures and strategies will have to be sought to end the dependence on China while seeking alternatives and becoming self-reliant over time. 

However, India will face several serious challenges to implement the above-mentioned measures. There is a deep lack of mutual trust among major powers like USA, UK, France and Russia through whom India can build a coalition. The American President Joe Biden is seemingly interested in partly co-operating with China and has a softer stance unlike the former President Trump. Nevertheless, the QUAD is a welcome step in this regard and India must undertake a greater role in pressurizing China through such forums, albeit not openly. India also has a serious issue of possibly having to incur heavy economic losses on having to limit Chinese goods and investments and finding similarly cheap and easy alternatives. These fault lines are exactly what is being exploited by China to its advantage. Thus, the Indian state and its diplomacy has the heavy task of working between all these hurdles and taking China to task. However, since China seems remotely interested in settling the border disputes like it did with its post-Soviet neighbours in the previous decades and instead gauge pressure against India. So, New Delhi will have to pull up its sleeves to pay back China in the same coin.  

The views expressed are solely of the author.

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Who would bell the China cat?

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If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.

China’s tit-for-tat response

The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”

Bitter truths

Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20. 

Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.

India’s role

India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.

India’s main problem

Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.  

Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.

The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is  thrice  the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.

Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”

It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.

History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.

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