New Leaders, Old Policy as Chinese Ruling Party Convenes

On Thursday, 270 delegates of the Chinese Communist Party will gather in Beijing for the Eighteenth Party Congress where the next generation of China’s leaders will take office. The whole process will be concealed from domestic and international observers and in all likelihood the most difficult decisions were made behind closed doors months earlier. In fact, the incoming president, Xi Jinping, and premier, Li Keqiang, were probably chosen years ago.

This opaque process and the heavily censored personal histories of the new leaders have left China watchers and other governments wondering what foreign policies China’s next generation of leaders will pursue. They should look for answers in China’s past practice.

China adopted a more pragmatic foreign policy after beginning its reform and opening policies in 1978. No longer would ideology play the determining role. Instead, multilateral relations would be driven by recognition of the complexity of the international system and would seek to create a stable environment for China to develop its domestic economy. Read more “New Leaders, Old Policy as Chinese Ruling Party Convenes”

As China Rises, India Intensifies Ties with Maldives

During a high level meeting on Sunday in the Maldivian capital of Malé, India and the Republic of Maldives agreed to measures that will see the intensification of their defense and security cooperation. Indian defense minister A.K. Antony met with his Maldivian counterpart Mohamed Nazim, where both nations pledged to create a united front to battle the challenges presented by terrorists and nonstate actors.

The main areas in which India and the Maldives will increase their cooperation include regional counterterrorism, anti-piracy and maritime security in the Indian Ocean.

“Maldives will stand side by side with India to ensure that maritime security of Indian Ocean is ensured, that the stability in the region is maintained and above all, that the threats that our two countries face, particularly from terrorist groups and other nonstate actors are eliminated,” said Nazim.

During his visit, Antony inaugurated a military hospital that was built with Indian assistance. He also conveyed that India had decided to extend the deployment of its ALH Dhruv helicopter, which has been operating in the Maldives since 2010, for another two years.

In the areas of dialogue and military cooperation, it was also announced that India will station a defense attaché in the Maldives. Furthermore, a team of flying instructors will be deployed to the Maldives to assist with the training of helicopters pilots. Simulator training at the Hindustan Aeronautical Limited facility in Bangalore will also be available to Maldivian pilots.

In a rare and honorable ceremony that further highlights the strength of Indo-Maldivian ties, defense minister Antony was accorded the Guard of Honor, something that is usually only reserved for the heads of states.

Antony stated that “India is proud of our partnership and engagement with Maldives and deeply value the friendship of the people of Maldives. Maldives can always count on India as a sincere friend.”

This is an opportune visit from India, as it is at a time when China is expanding its activity and spreading its influence in the Maldives. Due to its geographical location in the Indian Ocean alongside major shipping lanes, the Maldives is of strategic interest for both China and India. China has recently opened an embassy in Malé, which symbolises its increasing interest in the Maldives. However, it is yet to be seen whether or not the Maldives become another platform on which the Sino-Indian rivalry will play out.

This story first appeared at, September 17, 2012.

India Poised to Compete for Chinese Foreign Investment

China aside, the smart money in Asia right now is on India as the emergence of the nation as a destination for foreign investment becomes more understood.

India’s main problem, however, remains one of perception — it has a noisy, democratic media that loves to blow up scandals and bad news.

By comparison, China pushes its troubles under the carpet through extensive media censorship. That has worked for China to a large degree and has served to underplay inherent financial and political problems in the country but that’s not to say they don’t exist.

In India, everything is aired publicly, creating a disparity of news information when the two are compared — China good, India dirty. Read more “India Poised to Compete for Chinese Foreign Investment”

A Sino-Indian Conflict of Himalayan Proportions?

Sino-Indian relations are currently set on a positive course. Meetings between high level officials, including a goodwill visit by Indian naval ships to Shanghai, have projected the image of a healthy bilateral relationship. Furthermore, in what could only be a reassuring sign for China, India was not willing to completely align with the United States’ strategic shift toward the Asia Pacific. There is one issue within Sino-Indian relations, however, that could push their relationship toward a gridlock: the increasing militarization of the Himalayas along the border between China and India.

High on the roof of the world in the eastern Himalayan Mountains, China and India are involved in what increasingly appears to be an arms race. Since their war in 1962, there has been an ongoing dispute along their 3,225 kilometer long Himalayan border. The disputes are mainly related to the status of the Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh (which is still displayed on Chinese maps as within Chinese territory and referred to as “Southern Tibet”). Read more “A Sino-Indian Conflict of Himalayan Proportions?”

Floods Leave Credibility Crisis for Chinese Government

In the aftermath of the worst rainstorm to hit China’s capital in the last six decades, there has been widespread anger against the Chinese government, which is accused of censoring the death toll.

The death toll was previously reported to be 37, however, after a public outcry, Chinese authorities increased this number to 77 after claiming that mudslides made investigation and verification difficult.

The rainstorms affected nearly two million people and caused approximately $1.6 billion in damage, according to China’s state run news outlet Xinhua. The worst hit area was Beijing’s Fangshan District, a rural community on the city’s mountainous outskirts. Officials reported that 38 people died in this district, yet residents who compiled their own toll online claimed that this number was closer to three hundred.

Chinese censors have been busy deleting any negative postings online, such as the above example, to ensure that the only news broadcasted is related to the relief effort. The Chinese government is wary that a perceived failure to cope with the flooding could create instability during the country’s leadership transition, set to take place later this year.

“The newspapers have turned a disaster, a defeat, into a heroic song of praise. Officials do this so readers will forget the disaster, the dead and the toppled houses. Ahead of the Eighteenth Party Congress, no negative coverage is allowed,” commented Li Datong, a veteran editor living in Beijing.

On the Chinese microblog Sina Weibo, there have been numerous reports about disappearances and an outcry about the lack of information issued from the government. China’s propaganda department has attempted to censor these messages but has been outpaced by the sheer number of comments and criticisms.

“Why are we always playing games with statistics?” wrote novelist Xu Kaizhen on Sina Weibo. “Announcing the correct death toll is responsible and moral.”

“In addition to making the city beautiful, [officials] should also have built a working drainage system. They only know how to turn on the tap of positive propaganda, not realizing that public opinion is the most important drainage system,” one blogger in a now deleted post wrote, remarking on the failed drainage system in Beijing.

“We need to commemorate the people who have died in tragic events. But there are so many of them now, and they go uninvestigated, unaccounted for. Nothing happens after these incidents and the people die and no figures are given to the public? No acknowledgment? No explanation? We know we cannot expect the government to do this work, so we have to do it. Civil society needs to do it. Now people are using the Internet… to do the job the government does not want to do,” said Li Chengpeng, a writer from Sichuan Province.

Li Chengpeng provides chilling insight into what may turn into a great credibility crisis for the Chinese government. In an age where social media and microblogs connect an estimated 538 million Chinese Internet users, allowing the instant flow of information, the Chinese government has to be more transparent. If they are unable to provide complete information for their citizens, they risk increased social upheaval and a subsequent challenge to their credibility as the leaders of China.

This story first appeared at, July 27, 2012.

China Trumps ASEAN in the South China Sea

In the aftermath of the recent ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) that was held in Cambodia last week, it cannot be helped but to feel a sense of disappointment about the outcome.

The summit, which was attended by 27 foreign ministers, was intended to end with a decision regarding the simmering tension in the South China Sea, including the conflicting claims that China has with many ASEAN states. For the first time in 45 years, however, there was no final communiqué at the conclusion of the summit. Furthermore, even though ASEAN foreign ministers announced that they intended to agree on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, no such code was produced.

The summit was a prime example of a great power influencing the conduct of a regional organization for its own benefit. The chair of the summit, Cambodia, refused to allow the Philippines to include language in the final communiqué which referred to its recent naval standoff with China over the Scarborough Shoal. As decisions made within ASEAN are based on consensus, a final communiqué was not produced due to Cambodia’s decision. Cambodia insisted that such disputes should be managed bilaterally, which is also China’s policy. Read more “China Trumps ASEAN in the South China Sea”