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India braces for 19th Communist Party Congress in China

Since the early 2000s, as a co-existence strategy, India and China have formulated “enough space in Asia” for both countries. However, with OBOR, China appears to be gobbling up such spaces in Asia and beyond.

Written by Srikanth Kondapalli | Published: October 18, 2017 9:09 am
Xi Jinping, Communist Party Congress, China Communist Party, India China, 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Indian Express Chinese President Xi Jinping is applauded as he walks to the podium to deliver his speech at the opening ceremony of the 19th Party Congress held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (AP Photo)

Global attention has been on the “games of throne” taking place around the 19th Communist Party Congress gathering at Beijing this week which is expected to select the new sixth generation of leaders to steer the country for the next decade and a half. Explicitly, due to the current excessive focus on the political and military leadership selection issues, there will hardly be anything substantial pronouncements on external dimensions at the Congress, except for a few innocuous passages in the work report by the party secretary.

However, going by the previous such Congresses, even such pithy statements provide guidance to the foreign policy establishment of China for the next five years and beyond. The 16th Party Congress in 2002, for instance formulated a “three pillars” foreign policy strategy for China to include relations with major powers, neighbours, and developing countries. The next 17th Party Congress in 2007 extended these three pillars to five pillars to include multilateralism and soft power. The 18th Party Congress in 2012, which brought Xi Jinping to power, reiterated the five pillars in addition to directing the armed forces to play bigger role “commensurate to the international standing” of China.

By 2010, China had become the second largest economy with its outreach extending to faraway nooks and corners of the world. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj noticed during her trip to Beijing in February 2015 that of the five pillars, China is reluctant to include India in the “new type of major power” category.

Since the 18th Party Congress, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s several statements at Politburo meetings and outside have affected several countries, including India. Xi has told his party colleagues that China will not sacrifice its “core interests” even if these contradict with its developmental interests. He is not only likely to be re-elected to all his three powerful positions at the 19th Party Congress – as president, as general secretary of the CPC and as chairman of the Military Commission – there is talk that Xi will remain China’s most powerful leader when the 20th Party Congress meets five years from now.

Xi’s strong security language has been seen mainly as assuaging nationalist domestic constituents, but India has gradually noticed that China’s armed forces and border guards have been ramping up their nibbling activities on the undefined border, in addition to claiming vast swathes of territory in the South China Sea and Japanese-claimed Senkaku islands.

Xi’s first comments on relations with India were encouraging, even if bland. Speaking to the PTI correspondent before embarking on his first visit to Delhi in 2014 after taking over as President, Xi was moderate in his views and suggested the expansion of strategic communication among leaders, maintaining border stability, enhancing economic cooperation and people-to-people contacts. Next in command, Premier Li Keqiang also made his first overseas visit to India.

While such overtures are not lost on the Indian leadership, both the United Progressive Alliance and National Democratic Alliance were surprised with China’s forays in the Depsang plains in April-May 2013, Chumar in 2014 as well as 2015 — both of which took place in the Western sector — as well as in the Barahoti area of the Middle sector in mid-2016; a few months ago, India braced itself as the Chinese brazenly attempted to build a road in Bhutanese claimed Doklam area.

Strategic communication bereft of a serious intent to resolve outstanding issues between the two countries convinced the Indian leadership to firm up on border management.

Following the 18th party injunctions, India also suddenly saw major Chinese forays in the Indian Ocean Region with China opening a naval base at Djibouti, in addition to port facilities built at Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan.

Significantly, China had also dispatched several submarines to Colombo, Karachi and to the Indian Ocean. China’s submarine signals are not lost on India given the German disruption of trade through submarine warfare during the World War II. India, then, will be carefully watching the missions the Communist Party entrusts to the Chinese military both in the continental and maritime spheres. Besides, cyber and space domains will also be watched carefully as new domains for possible conflict, competition or even cooperation between the two “simultaneously rising” countries in Asia.

India is also pondering about the endgame around China’s One Belt One Road initiative launched since September 2013. While India joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and consented to the building of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor — the two projects that dovetail with the OBOR — the nationalist BJP government was unable to come to terms with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that passes through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.

Strategically, if China’s intent through OBOR is to “set up a different kitchen” through a Sino-centric global order, then New Delhi is concerned about leadership issues in the region. Since the early 2000s, as a co-existence strategy, India and China have formulated “enough space in Asia” for both countries. However, with OBOR, China appears to be gobbling up such spaces in Asia and beyond. The 19th Party Congress is expected to further clarify on this issue.

This party Congress is also likely to reiterate China’s support to the globalisation process, for which Xi Jinping campaigned at Davos earlier this year. Indeed, both China and India have been supporting such processes at the G-20, Doha Rounds and WTO meetings. Nevertheless, while China is dependent on Western markets for exports, India is predominantly concerned about financial flows.

Also, India is aware that despite several promises, total Chinese investments in India so far do not exceed more than $4 billion even as India lost to China nearly $400 billion in trade deficit in the last decade.

Srikant Kondapalli is a professor of international studies, with expertise on China, at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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  1. K
    Oct 20, 2017 at 1:31 pm
    There could be an important and valid reason for China playing down the Doklam imbroglio. For, in FY 2016-17, while export from India to China was mere Rs. 68,417 crore, Import from China was whopping Rs. 4,11,124 crore: China might have made Pyrrhic victory, but it would have definitely lost on its export front.
    1. P
      papa imran
      Oct 18, 2017 at 10:37 pm
      muslims of india unite. lets find this c raja mohan guy. sodomize him, rape his daughter in front of him. cut the b r e a s t s of his wife and feed it to the holy cows of varnasi. lets destroy somnath, demolish kashi and stampede at kedaranath. lets reclaim the throne of India. muslims of India unite and rebel against the Indian state.
      1. N
        Oct 18, 2017 at 10:35 pm
        China would be best served by becoming a democratic nation. Communist party has served it's role well over a long spell, and China is now an economic power. A totalitarian regime is unfit for a nation which is economically vibrant. It risks committing mistakes of the kind attributed to Hitler. Indian newspapers should advocate such viewpoint in its news columns, so that the dormant Chinese intellectuals can break the shackles, fear and myopia which has engulfed them for so long. A democratic China would be perceived as far more friendly, and less of an economic threat, as anyone doing business with them ends with a huge trade deficit. It would also be much more approachable and negotiable.
        1. Rajan Karunakaran
          Oct 18, 2017 at 4:40 pm
          China being 2nd larges economy in the world , both India and China be part of mutual development . Both should treat each other with mutual respect. India should avoid being non aligned country and impression shall not be created that India is a part of US Japanese plan of encirclement of Chana. India was the 1st country to recognize Peoples republic of China. Let the co-operation between both the countries increase .
          1. B
            Oct 18, 2017 at 9:14 pm
            India not having allies suits China, which is bullying us on the border. We need strong friends, and luckily Modi has made us firm allies of the USA and Japan. Interestingly, why don't you preach to China not to ally with Pakistan and Nepal to encircle India?
          2. S
            Subramanian Chandramouli
            Oct 18, 2017 at 4:19 pm
            Chinese congress may be important to this J NU propaganda professor. But to us it is not so because commies will continue to be mass killers of masses opposing them.
            1. m
              manu, kazhakuttom
              Oct 18, 2017 at 5:54 pm
              what about mass killings by citizens other than communists??Who killed innocent muslims,dalits in north and central india ??Whether it is Hindutva terror and Islamic terror, many lost their lives, more than what communists killed.
              1. Chetan
                Oct 18, 2017 at 7:15 pm
                during the cultural revolution the chinese communist govt killed anywhere between 1.5 million to 10 million (the real figure will never be known) of its own people. earlier during the chinese civil war more than 1.5 million chinese were killed by the communist forces. during its rule of china till now there are no accounts of the atrocities committed by their govt. how many people have died in your so called "hindutva terror"??? please go and check your senses with a doctor.
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