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India and Asia’s ‘concert of powers’ October 6, 2011

Posted by sandygordon in : Gordon, Sandy, India , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

The CIA has assessed that India is a ‘swing state’ in Asia. By that it means that how India, as a rising power, chooses to lock into existing security structures will have important implications for the Asian security order.

India’s emergence is especially important in the context of the rise of China and apparent relative decline of the US. This confronts Australia with stark choices between its economic imperative not to alienate China and its long-standing strategic reliance on the United States.

Leading Australian analysts such as Hugh White (Power Shift) and Coral Bell (Living with Giants) have advocated that China and India be inducted into a ‘concert of powers’ consisting of those two plus the other big powers – the US, Japan and Russia. They thus hope to mitigate the perturbations that might otherwise be associated with China’s rise.


Half of the ‘quadrilateral’ – Bush meets Abe, Camp David, 2007.


China, India: defence co-operation rapprochement offers potential for regional stability July 13, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India , comments closed

Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This article was first posted in Future Directions International on 29 June 2011


China and India have recommenced bilateral defence co-operation and exchanges, after nearly a year’s suspension since an Indian lieutenant-general was refused a visa to enter China in July 2010. The eight-member Indian delegation was headed by a major-general. It visited China from 19-23 June and engaged in discussions with Chinese officials in Beijing.


Uneasy neighbours August 28, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : India, Merrington, Louise , comments closed

Louise Merrington

Reprinted from Inside Story. Read the full article

In August last year the Chennai Centre for China Studies, a hawkish Indian foreign-policy think tank, published a copy of an article it clearly hoped would create a furore. Translated from a Chinese website, the article detailed how China could split India into ten or twenty ethnically based states by funding insurgents and supporting restive neighbours like Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan. As expected, controversy ignited across India.

With their usual tendency to manufacture outrage, India’s voracious tabloids and twenty-four-hour television stations began baying for Chinese blood. And in a typical display of the Indian media’s tendency to eat their own, they also turned on the Hindu’s Beijing correspondent, Ananth Krishnan – one of only four Indian correspondents in China – when he dared to suggest that not everything on China’s internet can be associated with the Chinese government.

Coming on top of a series of low-level skirmishes on the India–China border, the controversy illustrated just how deep anti-China feeling still runs in large sections of Indian society. The roots of the hostility lie in the still-disputed border and a three-month conflict – nearly fifty years ago – that many people outside India have never heard of. As the furore showed, the relationship between the two countries might have evolved in many ways over the last six decades, but some things haven’t changed.


India ‘Looks East’ as history July 7, 2010

Posted by southasiamasala in : Gordon, Sandy, India , comments closed

Sandy Gordon

This paper was presented  at a workshop titled ‘India Looks East’ hosted by the Australia India Institute and Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore, at the University of Melbourne, on 4 July 2010.

India’s Look East policy was initiated out of failure: the failure of India’s Cold War strategy of ‘playing both ends against the middle’ while at the same time attempting to adopt a pro-Soviet ‘tilt’; and the failure of India’s command economy, which by 1990 had managed to command only 0.4% of world trade – insufficient to cushion India from the 1989-90 oil shock.  While the collapse of the Soviet Union was no fault of India, it left New Delhi searching for an alternative set of economic and strategic approaches. The ‘Look East’ policy seemed to fit both needs.

India, however, initially had a hard job to claw its way back into those parts of Asia to its east.  ASEAN itself was borne out of concern about an encroaching communist bloc and tempered in the fires of the Vietnam War.  It viewed India’s still clunky economy and former Soviet bloc ‘tilt’ with suspicion. (more…)

Is the Indian media reading China right? September 9, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Venkatesan Vembu

In recent weeks, there’s been a perceptible escalation in tension between India and China, focused principally on a border dispute that has dragged on for decades. Media reports in both India and China have struck a shrill note (see here for a summary), which has effectively drowned out efforts by officials in both countries to lower the pitch.

The recent posting of an ‘essay’ on a Chinese-language website (original post inaccessible, but it has been replicated here), which outlined a strategy for China to ‘balkanise’ India, and the Indian media’s hysterical reaction to it only served to reinforce the enormous ‘trust deficit’ that exists between the two countries – and revealed that passions on both sides remain highly inflamed.

However provocative the ‘essay’ may have been, the over-the-top Indian media and popular response to it, without the faintest attempt at verifying the authenticity of the original post or the extent to which its message reflected official Chinese mindsets reveals a disquieting vacuum in Indian understanding of China.


The China-India border issue: mired in the international politics of competing perceptions, mythmaking, and obfuscations August 27, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India , comments closed

Guest author, Dibyesh Anand, University of Westminster

The recent warming up of international relations between China and India, as evidenced by frequent exchanges of high level visits and a massive increase in trade, has failed to replicate the fraternal relations of early 1950s, and the biggest hurdle in this is the unresolved border dispute. The legacy of the 1962 border war is very much alive as the nationalist narratives in both countries adopt a register of blame rather than critical examination and mutual understanding. Recently, the media in both the countries played up the disagreements; even a minor action by one country or statement by a leader gets amplified and sensationalised. There is no tangible evidence that allows commentators to ascribe responsibility to one or the other side and a fruitful way forward is to shift away from cataloguing blame to a critical understanding.


Almost half a century on from the war, the dominant thinking in India continues to vacillate between accusing China of ‘stabbing in the back’ and blaming Jawaharlal Nehru for his naive and idealistic foreign policies. Even though a serious researcher can recognise the highly ideological and problematic nature of such a framing, Indian policy makers and politicians find it very difficult to shift away from it because the border issue is as much about national legitimacy as it is about state security. Revisiting the China-India border relations with an open mind is likely to be perceived as a betrayal of national interest by the general public that has been socialised into a victimisation paradigm. While democratic politics, and fear of being accused of selling out, engenders a conservatism amongst the Indian negotiators, there is hardly any statesman today who can bring about a radical shift of perception. Chinese actions, real as well as perceived, in Tibetan regions and countries around India (especially in Pakistan), increase the distrust and paranoia in India about China’s intentions.

The revisionist scholarship of Neville Maxwell and a few others who put the blame solely on India, and describe the 1962 war in terms of pre-emptive self-defence or punitive expedition by an aggrieved China, is refreshing but should be read with caution because they avoid a serious engagement with the domestic and international compulsions of the Chinese leadership in 1950s and 1960s. Chinese commentators who rely upon the Revisionist historians to buttress their claims do not offer a criticism of Chinese leadership during the war. Re-examination of what went wrong with China-India relations continues to consider Communist Party leadership of the time as beyond scrutiny and in this sense remains as blinkered as the dominant Indian position. A lack of self-reflection on the border issue comes mainly from a warped nationalism in India; in China it is a product of a political system that frowns upon dissent.

While the Chinese position on the illegality of the McMahon Line has remained constant, the exact details of their claims to territories has shifted regularly. The principle behind the Chinese claim – lands that belonged to Tibet belong to China unless China has come to a different settlement through negotiations – is not as straightforward as it appears. In its zeal to modernise the historically and culturally complicated Sino-Tibetan relations, China ignores the fact that the ideas of sovereign statehood, clear boundaries, and distinct national identities were imposed in the Himalayan region only in twentieth century through the aegis first of British imperialism and then the postcolonial state-building.

Contrary to the widely held view of the Himalayan region as an impregnable natural barrier, the Himalayan region until the middle of the previous century was a zone of interaction through movements of people, goods, and ideas facilitated by a pluralistic yet shared sense of Tibetan Buddhism-influenced culture. The geopolitics of boundary formation and the state projects of nation-building did not appreciate the desires and interests of people living on the borders and in this China, as much as India, is guilty. Both countries are what I call ‘postcolonial informal empires’, accepting cultural differences in the borderlands but intolerant of any political difference.

The only durable way out for China-India is a willingness to forget history, and to negotiate seriously because it is not sovereignty but wellbeing of borderland peoples that should be the primary concern. Sovereignty claims without development and wellbeing serves no one’s long term interests; greatness lies not in the exercise of coercive control, but in a capacity to negotiate, compromise and move on.

This contribution first appeared in The East Asia Forum, a sister ANU web log.