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Tag Archives | ASEAN

Why is India unable to ‘swing’?

India’s portfolio of capabilities to deliver pain to China (and the US) is not sufficiently developed, constraining India’s ability to swing between US and China.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting in Seoul ended without a decision on India’s membership application, despite India’s energetic diplomatic push. In the end, China managed to get India’s membership bid blocked. Following this, the Indian geostrategic community has been trying to ascertain the motive that led China to oppose India’s entry into NSG.

Broadly, there are two lines of thought to explicate China’s opposition. The first argument goes as follows: China’s opposition is a result of the larger US—China powerplay. China wants to prevent an important partner of the US from growing in stature in global forums and hence it opposed India’s NSG membership. WPS Sidhu argued this point of view as follows:

In reality, it [India’s membership] is a contestation between the US and China to determine the future of the nuclear and world order. China’s public declaration to oppose New Delhi’s formal NSG application is more about keeping India out rather than bringing its “all-weather friend” Pakistan (which belatedly also put in an application) in; it is more about securing the existing nuclear and world order rather than strengthening the non-proliferation regime; and, above all, it is a blatant challenge to Washington’s leadership in shaping the evolving world order.

The implication, if this viewpoint holds true, is that any attempt by India to build closer ties with the US will lead to Chinese opposition for India’s membership in multilateral organisations that have the US as the fulcrum. The view also assumes that China will view India more favourably as India grows without coming in the way of China’s geopolitical ambitions.

The second line of thought argues that China’s opposition is consistent with China’s long-held strategy of containing India. Rajesh Rajagopalan, explains this point of view, as follows:

China’s strategy has been consistent since the 1960s and its sole objective was the containment of India. China containment strategy shows little correlation with the state of US-India relations. China transferred nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan in the 1980s, not exactly a period of close US-India ties. It transferred missiles to Pakistan in the 1990s at a time when India had lost its Soviet ally and its relations with the US were still tense. India’s increasing closeness to the US is the result of New Delhi’s reluctant recognition of China’s containment strategy against India, not its cause.

The implication here is that China will oppose India’s growth as a regional and global actor, regardless of India’s equation with the US. Thus, China will not only oppose India’s membership in multilateral organisations where the US has played a powerful role but will also undermine India’s role in Chinese led initiatives such as OBOR, SCO and BRICS.

Both lines of thought concur that China is determined to pose challenges to India’s rise.  This, despite the fact that India has tried to advance its relationships with both China and the US. Essentially, India has tried to project itself as a swing power —a factor that can tilt the equation in favour of any major power which has India on its side. It is with this objective that India is eager to be a part of every global governance forum led by China, even though India’s national interests clash the least with that of the US.

But if China’s actions are an indicator, it appears as though this strategy of ‘swing’ doesn’t seem to be working. Why is that so? A successful “swing” is the one where a state can demonstrate that it can deliver pain for one and pleasure for the other with equal effectiveness. And here in lies India’s problem — our portfolio of capabilities and stated intentions that can deliver pain to China and the US is not sufficiently developed. While India has amply demonstrated that it can be supportive to both Chinese and US multilateral campaigns, there is no articulation of how costly it can be to ignore India.

Let’s look at the current pain deliverance portfolio of India. In what way can it objectively hurt China?

The first option is to amp-up India’s involvement in China’s neighbourhood. Rajesh Rajagopalan explains India’s involvement in East Asia as follows:

India can imitate what China is doing with Pakistan: build up the military capabilities of others on China’s periphery who share India’s worry about China. They may be too weak to match China, but enhancing their capabilities is one way of forcing China to divert its energies and make it understand the costs of strategic blowback. This can take the form of military assistance as well as training and other forms of cooperation.

ASEAN is also divided on the issue of tackling China. States such as Philippines and Vietnam have longstanding conflicts with China. While they are likely to be more vocal against Chinese hegemony, others in ASEAN will bandwagon with China. The next event that will see tempers rising in the region is the upcoming verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the issue of sovereignty over two island groups claimed by both China and Philippines. In all likelihood, this verdict will not go entirely in favour of either nation; PCA will settle for a mix of equidistance and equitable principles just like it did in the case of India—Bangladesh maritime dispute. Back then, India displayed exemplary maturity in accepting the PCA verdict. India can start projecting its own success story before the verdict comes out in the next couple of weeks. Going ahead, India can prioritise its relationship with the ASEAN nations that are likely to challenge China.

Second, India can look at global Chinese initiatives such as Belt & Road (OBOR) from the dual lens of competition and complementation: in the Indian sub-continent, OBOR should be looked at as an aggressive competitor, using it as an excuse to accelerate India’s own projects of connecting markets in India’s own neighbourhood. Outside the Indian sub-continent, India can look at complementing OBOR. For instance, in East Africa, India can work with China under the aegis of “Many Belts Many Roads” to expand its own reach.

Third, India can make its presence felt in BRICS and SCO by taking a strong stand against Chinese hegemony. Quitting these groups at an appropriate juncture can be used to make a point.

These are the three pain deliverance measures that India can implement at its current levels of power. Beyond them, there is little that India can do unless it gets its house in order with a view towards a substantial rise in India’s power in all dimensions — economic, military, maritime and political.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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No One Saw the Joint Statement

ASEAN adopted a rare tough stance on the South China Sea expressed in a Joint Statement and then immediately retracted it, indicating divisions amongst members.

by Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

There was a statement and then there wasn’t. The China-ASEAN Special Foreign Minister’s Meeting, organised after a gap of three years, was convened on June 14th to discuss relevant issues before the ASEAN-China Summit to be held later this year. After the meeting, Malaysia released a Joint Statement on behalf of ASEAN. The statement was remarkable because ASEAN seemed to have strayed away from diplomatic niceties and had taken a stern stance on the South China Sea. AFP reported that the statement read,

“We expressed our serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea…We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation, which may raise tensions in the South China Sea…We articulated ASEAN’s commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region, as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes…This includes “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the UN Charter…”

While the ASEAN refrains from mentioning China by name, the statement is important because it conveys the institution’s anxiety about the tensions in the South China Sea. Generally, the ASEAN calls for all parties to conform to the 2002 Code of Conduct and attempt to solve the issue peacefully. ASEAN does not directly take part in the conflict. Instead, it tries to act as a facilitator to resolve the conflict as it affects the national interests of several of its members and has implications for the whole region. As the South China Sea is an important shipping route, countries around the world are interested in ensuring the freedom of navigation in the areas.

Less than three hours later, the statement was retracted by the Malaysian government who said that it was not the official statement but the media guideline. Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia released individual official statements where they stressed the need for peaceful resolution of the dispute. Officials from Vietnam and Indonesia later said that the retracted statement was in line with the ASEAN standpoint.  The objection to the statement reportedly came from Laos (the current chairman of ASEAN) and Cambodia, both of whom share close relations with China. The episode evokes memories of the 2012 ASEAN Summit when the institution failed to release a joint communiqué for the first time in 45 years due to Cambodia’s objection to inclusion of the South China Sea issue in the statement.

ASEAN’s success as a multilateral institution lay in its unanimity and consensus based decision making. However for the last few years, arriving at the ASEAN consensus is becoming increasingly divisive, particularly on the issue of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei-Darussalem (along with Taiwan) all have contesting claims to the boundaries of the South China Sea, most of which has been claimed by China under its ambiguous nine-dash line. As China began projects of land reclamation, construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, its military modernisation and increasingly assertive posture has worried the other claimants.

China is also using its bilateral relations with countries like Laos and Cambodia to undermine the multilateral consensus of the ASEAN. Some reports also debate if China’s ‘salami slicing strategy’ has now extended to Malaysia by leveraging its purchase of the debt ridden state entity, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (IMDB) reducing domestic pressure on Najib Razak in return for geopolitical payoffs. China denied the use of pressure either to influence ASEAN proceedings in this case or any others. The reasons behind the retraction of the rare tough stance taken by ASEAN remain unexplained. What it does indicate is that the ASEAN countries have failed to reconcile with a common viewpoint on the South China Sea issue.

The incident is also poignant because the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague is set to deliver a judgement on the second round of hearings on the arbitration proceedings initiated by Philippines in 2013. While China contests the validity of an arbitration proceeding, the decision will be an important geopolitical marker, depending on how different countries respond to it.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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China’s interest in Southeast Asia: Implications for India

China’s interest in Southeast Asia:

China’s policy towards Southeast Asia can be termed as one of competition and colloboration. Traditional determinants like geography, cold war ideology, domestic and ethnic politics have been the binding factors in China-Southeast Asia relations. Placing the relations China had exerted its influence over the region and the principal manifestation was the tributary system, which reflected the subordinate status of others in the region.

Post 1949 China emulated  the role of a crusader and a champion of third world freedom and assisted revolutionary communist movements and insurgent groups. With the Sino-Soviet rivalry in late 1960s,  China  had to reassess its ideological leanings. The death of Mao Tse Tung  and the ascendancy of Deng Xiaoping to power, brought in  a paradigm shift in China-Southeast Asia relations.

China’s assurance to the Southeast Asian countries after the 1997 financial crisis, refurbished China’s image amongst the Southeast Asian Country. China’s emphasis on economic modernisation and regional stability, assured the Southeast Asian countries that China would no longer be a threat in the region. An ernest effort undertaken by China to re-assure and re-emphasise its position with the Southeast Asian countries.

Thus Southeast Asia house great powers competing  for economic and strategic benefits. This has constantly compelled the ASEAN countries to choose between the regional challenger and the dominant power.The Southeast Asian countries often are tossed between the heavy weights, nevertheless they are coping with their own strategies and interest in identifying and engaging with India, Japan, US and China.

Asymmetry in relationship between China and Southeast Asia exists. China’s exerts high influence in the Mainland Southeast Asia which comprises of Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. All these countries in some form or the other  is dependent  and remain a  soft underbelly of China. China maintain unique relations with each of the countries in the region.

Myanmar is critical from the perspective of “client state”, While in the case of Cambodia and Laos, China plays the role of a dominant external actor. Vietnam-China relations continues to remain complex and there are completing claims between the two countries. Vietnam has protested the recent deployment of advanced missile system on a disputed South China Sea island and  has condemned this  erroneous action of China.

China rarely resonates historical tributary system with maritime Southeast Asia.Interestingly the maritime countries in Southeast Asia Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia of these several of them enjoy the patronage of Untied States thus posing a constant challenges to China. Competing and overlapping claims continues to exist between China and maritime Southeast Asian countries on the issue of South China Sea.

Countries in dispute have wrangled over the territory for centuries and there is a steady increase of  tension. China by and large have claimed the largest portion of the territory. The recent  deployment of China’s advanced missile system which  is claimed  purely as a self-defence mechanism is not viewed as a benign advancement. United States has called for tangible steps to  reduce tension in the region.

How could India strategies its Southeast Asian Interest:

India’s engagement  in Southeast Asia was accelerated with the announcement of India’s Look East Policy in the 1990s. With increased bilateral operation in areas of trade and commerce, people to people contact and capital flow. India-ASEAN partnership has been upgraded to areas of strategic partnership. The enhanced India’s engagement in the region is welcomed by the Southeast Asian countries, as a counter check against growing China’s assertiveness in the region. India’s Act East strategy is an initiative to expand Indian diplomacy and an initiative to involve the large Indian diaspora present in the region.

The Look East Policy was an initiative started by the Late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao which focused on economic engagement with ASEAN countries and India.  Southeast Asia connects Indian and the Pacific Oceans that includes vital maritime chokepoint and hence extremely critical from India’s geo-strategic interest and hence India works to evolve a peaceful regional order. India has interestingly maritime borders with three Southeast Asian countries Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia. Interestingly India has no unilateral or hegemonic policy towards the region.

US President  Obama has urged India to an Act East  Asia policy .  Several   joint statements have been released both by India and Untied states  calling for  safeguarding maritime security, freedom of navigation and  countering piracy and maritime terrorism.  The ASEAN countries along with United States have welcomed India’s participation in there region. They have legitimised India’s status as a great power in Asia and looks forward for India’s support in maintatining the regional order and stability

The Southeast Asian countries see India as a great power and calls for more proactive engagement from the Indian side. This is indeed a great opportunity for India,  how much will the political leadership encapsulate the opportunity to shape Asia is something that has to be seen.

Priya Suresh is a research scholar @Takshashila Institute. She tweets@priyamanassa

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China deploys missiles to contested South China sea islands

China has recently deployed the  advance surface-to-air missile system to one of its contested islands in the South China Sea. The recent satellite images show tow batteries of eight surface-t0-air missile launchers as well as radar system on woody island, a part of the Parcel island chain in the south china sea. There are several claimants to the dispute and the Woody Island has been claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. On several occasion there has been agreement on the peaceful settlement of the dispute. The missiles arrived in the Woody Island over weeks and according to news reports the missle were visible from 14 February.

Heightened tension and anxiety is seen among the claimants countries as well as United States. Recently president Obama and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) had several rounds of discussion to  ease the tension, but none of the dialogues ever had a mention of China’s assertive posture in the region

Though there have been several mechanism to thwart the tension and halt to the construction and militarisation of the disputed areas, the tension continues. US has pledged to conduct the freedom of navigation patrols for a free and smooth passage of ships were several countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines and Taiwan have their contested claim over the isalnd.

China sending its missile is not something unusual and it has deployed missiles on several occasions. The South China Sea issue intertwines several countries to dispute with China. Several countries like  Brunei, Vietnam, Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and China are intertwined in the dispute over the South China Sea. Since 1950 China has laid its  claim over the Woody Island and the recent deployment probably is seen as a provocation.

US  has raised concern over the deployment, Japan and Vietnam have joined hands with US in condemning this deployment. South China Sea is a contested area with countries competing over the trade routes and mineral deposits. Does this deployment by China confirms China’s assertiveness  or as the Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi claims that an act to distort China’s image by the western media.

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar @Takshashila. She tweets at priyamanassa

 

 

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