China-India Brief #109

Published Twice a Month
January 24 2018 - February 13, 2018

Centre on Asia and Globalisation
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

Guest Column

China, India, and American Manichaeism

By Kashish Parpiani

China, India, and American Manichaeism 

In the recently released National Security Strategy, the Trump administration criticized China for “using economic inducements and penalties, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed its political and security agenda.” It accused Beijing of having “geopolitical aspirations” that “endanger the free flow of trade, threaten the sovereignty of other nations, and undermine regional stability.” In contrast, the same document lauded India’s “emergence as a leading global power and stronger strategic and defense partner” and underscored Washington’s commitment to “increase quadrilateral cooperation with Japan, Australia, and India.” Many deem this manichaean rendering –– of China and India as binaries –– as the writing on the wall recognizing India’s emerging role as a “balancer” to China. In reality, the US has long construed India and China in manichaean terms ––praising the former’s “emergence” to cultivate it as a balancer whilst condemning the latter’s “aspirations” in order to contain it. The earliest evidence of this dates back to the Cold War.

Speaking in Washington D.C. on May 4, 1959, then-Senator John F. Kennedy deemed India to be following “a route in keeping with human dignity and individual freedom,” while “Red China” sought a “route of regimented controls and ruthless denial of human rights.” Emphasizing India’s “role as a counter to the Red Chinese”, Senator Kennedy construed India and China to be in a race “to demonstrate whose way of life is better.” Displaying no qualms over where Washington’s chips must fall, Senator Kennedy said, “We want India to win that race. We want India to be a free and thriving leader of a free and thriving Asia.” Similarly, the Trump National Security Strategy argued that a “geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order” is currently underway in the ‘Indo-Pacific’. It also underscored Washington’s interest in seeing a “free and open Indo-Pacific” –– where the US would “support its [India] leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region.”

Over the years, this manichaean rendering has been a recurring theme –– from lauding the Indo-US “shared heritage of pluralist federalism, born in a struggle against colonialism,” and mutual pledges of “chalein saath saath, forward together we go,” to urging China to become “a responsible stakeholder” and arguing for China to “face consequences and international condemnation” for its trampling on civil liberties.

However, US efforts to court India have often sputtered. According to Aparna Pande of the Hudson Institute, India’s colonial experience gave rise to a fixation with preserving “strategic autonomy” leading to an “unwillingness” to seek formal alliances with major world powers like the US. Thus, India has been hedging its bets trying “to stay friends with everyone,” especially with respect to the evolving Sino-American rivalry. As a result, while India has sought increased cooperation with the US without the “restrictive expectations” of a formal alliance, it has also become the second-largest contributor to the Beijing-driven Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and sought membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), using both as a “counterweight to unrepresentative global institutions” of the US -led liberal world order.

Further, according to veteran CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, American courtship of India into its grand strategic calculations of balancing the rise of China has often been “constrained and hindered by America’s complex relationship with Pakistan.” For instance, the US Pacific Command (PACOM) which extends from China to Australia and from Hawaii to India sees its jurisdiction precariously end along the Indo-Pakistani border, probably another testament to Washington’s view of India as a “natural balancer” to China. The US has been courting successive Indian governments “since 2002 to post a liaison officer at the Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii” to explore force interoperability and defense personnel exchanges. However, the Atal Behari Vajpayee government deferred the proposal with a request to post an Indian Liaison Officer at the US Central Command (CENTCOM) instead, the combatant command that covers India’s historic rival, Pakistan. A similar US request for an Indian liaison at PACOM was made to the Manmohan Singh government in 2005, which too was stalled by a counter-request for the posting of an Indian Liaison Officer at CENTCOM because “many areas of Indian concern” were said to be to the “west of the PACOM/CENTCOM divide.”

Most recently, speaking at Carnegie India in New Delhi, US Ambassador to India Kenneth Juster outlined his vision for a “durable” US-India partnership. To enhance relations “from the strategic to the durable,” he said, “Over time, we should expand officer exchanges at our war colleges and our training facilities, and even at some point post reciprocal military liaison officers at our respective combatant commands.”

However, in stark contrast to previous administrations, Ambassador Juster’s rather passive invitation stands in the backdrop of the Trump administration increasingly isolating Pakistan via erratic presidential tweet-storms and suspension of military aid. Compounding the growing US-Pakistan divide is the opportunism shown by China, which has increased its cooperation with its “all-weather friend”, with the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the development of the warm-water deep commercial seaport in Gwadar. The Pakistani prime minister recently inaugurated the Economic Free Zone at Gwadar Port which is reported to be operated by the China Overseas Port Holding Company.

In view of this deepening China-Pakistan axis, the US manichaean rendering is beginning to germinate amongst the top-brass of India’s armed forces. For instance, Business Insider recently reported India’s Naval Chief Admiral Sunil Lamba’s call to acquire additional anti-submarine warfare equipped P-8 Poseidon aircraft from the US. This was reported to be aimed at deterring Chinese submarine activity that had been sighted “four times every three months.” Further, Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat recently proclaimed the time to be right for India to “shift focus” from its border with Pakistan to “its northern border” with China. Lastly, Indian Air Force Chief Marshal B. S. Dhanoa recently hosted the Chief of US Air Force General David L. Goldfein for talks on the importance of asserting “a rules-based order” in the “critical sea lanes” of the Indo-Pacific. The meeting was reported to have assumed greater “significance” owing to General Terrence O’Shaughnessy, currently serving as Air Force Commander at PACOM, also participating in it.

In summation, the Trump National Security Strategy should not be seen as a major departure from the past, as the assertion of a "geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order" playing out in the Indo-Pacific bears seminal resemblance to the manichaean rendering of the Kennedy-esque conception of a “free” India and “Red” China. However, with the Trump administration’s alienation of Pakistan, coupled with Beijing’s opportunistic courtship of Islamabad into its sphere of influence, the Indian armed forces increasingly seem to be acclimatizing to American manichaeism.


The author is a Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in Mumbai. His research interests are US Grand Strategy, US Civil-Military Relations, & US Foreign Policy in the Asia-Pacific.


The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy or the National University of Singapore.


News Reports

Bilateral relations

India looks to pile pressure on China, seeks overhaul of UN sanctions committees
Hindustan Times, February 8 
India has launched a diplomatic drive for more transparency and accountability in the way the United Nations (UN) sanctions terrorists, or other entities. The near-term objective of this ambitious project is to “raise the bar” for China, said an official familiar with the push, and make it difficult for Beijing to hold or block such an effort from the safety of anonymity. India’s permanent representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin launched the drive Tuesday (February 6), as he questioned the functioning of sanctions committees, saying these formed the “subterranean universe” of the security council.

Doklam was tip of the iceberg! '426 Chinese incursions into India in 2017'
Business Standard, February 6
There were 426 incidents of transgression by Chinese soldiers in Indian territory in 2017, which also saw a one of its kind 73-day-long stand-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Sikkim sector, than the number of such incidents in the previous year, Parliament was told on Monday. "In the year 2017, the number of transgressions were 426 as against 273 in the year 2016," Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply, adding that the transgressions took place due to different interpretations of the border.

India, China may face new border flare-up: Experts
The Straits Times, February 5
Stratfor, an American geopolitical intelligence platform and publisher, in an assessment of recent satellite imagery of two Chinese and two Indian airbases, said a "strategic build-up has accelerated" particularly on the Chinese side since the Doklam stand-off was resolved on August 17 last year. The Stratfor analysis concluded stating "it is only a question of time until a new flashpoint along the LAC emerges".

India-China ties a 'Cold-War-like' bond in the making: US expert
The Economic Times, February 3

India and China have a "Cold-War-like" relationship in the making, but New Delhi is unlikely to join something framed as a US-led front to contain Beijing, Alyssa Ayres, a former American diplomat has said. "India and China have had a strong commercial relationship, but that is increasingly less satisfying for India, for many of the same reasons the United States is dissatisfied with its trade relationship with China," she said.

To Counter China, A New Tunnel At 13,700 Feet In Arunachal Pradesh
NDTV, February 1
To ensure faster movement of troops in Tawang, a strategically located town in Arunachal Pradesh bordering China, the government plans to build a tunnel at an elevation of 13,700 feet. The tunnel will go through the Sela Pass, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced today while presenting the Union Budget. Mr Jaitley said the government was developing connectivity infrastructure in border areas to secure the country's defence..

News Reports

China and India in the Regions

Japan takes the lead in countering China's Belt and Road Initiative
South China Morning Post, February 10
Japan, faced with the abrupt disengagement of an inward-looking United States under President Donald Trump, now finds itself playing the leading role in pushing back against China’s grand plans to extend its influence throughout Asia and into Europe. To do so, Tokyo is increasingly joining up with other countries and especially India, launching a US$200 billion infrastructure plan, and even boosting its military efforts in the broader Indian Ocean area in what is seen as a deliberate bid to counter Beijing’s growing heft.

Island paradise becomes latest flashpoint in India-China rivalry
Today, February 7
A power struggle in the Maldives is taking centrestage in a wider battle for regional influence between India and China. President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency on Monday (February 5) after the Supreme Court ordered him to free political prisoners and opposition politicians he’s thrown in jail. Security forces then stormed the court and arrested two judges, as well as a former leader. The remaining judges later annulled the previous ruling, the Associated Press reported Wednesday (February 7).

India Moves to Counter Growing Chinese Presence in Indian Ocean Region
Voice of America, February 2
India has signed a pact to build naval infrastructure in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Seychelles to counter growing Chinese influence in the region. The Indian foreign minister has also made an unusual visit to Nepal where Communist parties friendly with China are due to take power. Analysts said the two moves in the past week underline India's concerns about looming Chinese presence both in the Indian Ocean and in its immediate neighborhood.

India's Modi courts ASEAN leaders to counter China's Belt and Road
Nikkei Asian Review, January 25
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations here Thursday (January 25), seeking to strengthen trade and other bonds amid the growing influence of regional rival China.

India, Vietnam talk with eye on China
The Economic Times, January 25
Amid uncertainty over the security situation in the South China Sea, where there has been no let-up in Chinese construction in disputed waters, India and Vietnam discussed maritime cooperation on Wednesday (January 24) and vowed to further expand their defence ties.  India's involvement in building Vietnam's defence capabilities figured prominently in PM Narendra Modi's bilateral meeting with his counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, ahead of the India-Asean summit. 

News Reports

Trade and Economy

India, China to curb bitcoins
Deccan Chronicle, February 6
India is planning steps to ensure cryptocurrencies are illegal within its payments system, while at the same time appointing a regulator to oversee unregulated exchanges that trade in “crypto assets,” a finance ministry official said on Monday (February 5). Meanwhile, China plans to stamp out all remaining cryptocurrency trading in the country by blocking access to overseas-based websites and removing related applications from app stores.

India needs to be extra cautious in RCEP trade deal: CEA Arvind Subramanian
Livemint, February 1
India needs to be extra cautious and take into account geostrategic issues while moving ahead with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal as it will also mean opening up the market to China, chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian said. India has a $50 billion trade deficit with China. Tensions between the nations have been high in the past over Chinese military intrusions, most recently in the Doklam area of Bhutan.

India 6th wealthiest country with total wealth of $8,230 billion
Livemint, January 31
India has been ranked sixth in the list of wealthiest countries with total wealth of $8,230 billion, while the United States topped the chart, says a report by New World Wealth. The US tops the list as the wealthiest country with total wealth of $64,584 billion, followed by China ($24,803 billion) and Japan ($19,522 billion).

China smartphones dominate India market due to localisation
ET Telecom, January 29
Chinese smartphone brands are dominating Indian market thanks to successful localisation, a global tech industry analysis firm has said. Smartphone maker Xiaomi led the Indian market with shipments close to 8.2 million units in Q4 2017 overtaking Samsung which shipped a little over 7.3 million smartphones to take second place, Canalys said.

India faces rising competition from China, Brazil in ICT: Economic Survey
The Economic Times, January 29
The share of information and communication technology (ICT) in India's services exports "declined marginally" between 2006 and 2016, contrary to the trend in nations like China, Brazil, Russia and the Philippines, indicating rising competition for India from such countries, the Economic Survey said today. The Economic Survey, tabled in Parliament, cited World Bank database as on January 19, 2018, to say that ICT accounted for 67 per cent of India's services exports in 2016, compared with 68 per cent in 2006.

News Reports

Energy and Environment

Chinese solar firm LONGi to invest $309 million in Andhra Pradesh facility
Livemint, February 9
LONGi Green Energy Technology Co. Ltd will be the first Chinese company to set up a solar equipment manufacturing facility in India, the company said in a statement. LONGi will set up the facility in Andhra Pradesh with an investment of around Chinese renminbi (RMB) 1.94 billion ($309 million) for manufacturing 1GW of monocrystalline silicon cells and modules each. Such modules account for nearly 60% of a solar power project’s cost.

India, China to lead the emerging nations’ green bonds market in 2018
ET EnergyWorld, February 8
India and China are set to emerge as the leaders in the green bonds market among the emerging nations in 2018, according to Moody's Investors Service. Global green bond issuance will achieve record heights in 2018 with total issuance set to eclipse $250 billion, up over 60 per cent in 2017. "The growth in aggregate issuance will be supported primarily by China and India, which have accounted for a combined $53 billion of issuance since the inception of the green bind market," the US-based agency has said in its latest report on Green Bonds.

Asia's 2018 refined oil product demand to rise 2 pct – Woodmac
Reuters, January 30
Asia’s fuel demand will grow by 2 percent in 2018 as the region’s economies expand at a healthy level, forcing refiners to upgrade and install new capacity, energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie said on Tuesday (January 30). In a demand environment in which overall global oil consumption is expected by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to grow by below 1.5 percent a year, Asia has become the focal point in finding new customers. Wood Mackenzie said China and India alone represent 40 percent of global demand growth.

India ranks 177 out of 180 in Environmental Performance Index
The Hindu, January 24
India is among the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index 2018, plummeting 36 points from 141 in 2016, according to a biennial report by Yale and Columbia Universities along with the World Economic Forum. “Of the emerging economies, China and India rank 120 and 177 respectively, reflecting the strain population pressures and rapid economic growth impose on the environment,” the report noted.


The Economics of Diplomacy in Sri Lanka
IAPS Dialogue, February 7
Under President Mahinda Rajapaksha, Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was heavily tilted in favour of China and in its infancy the current government attempted to renew relations with India and the west at the expense of China. However, the economic stakes of isolating China were too high and the government has since resorted to a more balanced foreign policy that attempts to positively engage both super powers equally. China continues to be a key financier of its development while India remains a vital regional ally.

As Maldives Burns, Lessons For China and India’s Limited Options
South China Morning Post, February 7
Could foreign powers have been behind the coup in the Maldives? How might it affect the regional balance of power? What are the options of other countries to respond? There is no indication as yet that any of the big powers with interests in the region – India, the United States and China – played an active role in these events. But the outcome of the coup could have a major impact on them, and they are watching events closely.

Turmoil in Maldives: What India must do
The Indian Express, February 6
The unfolding crisis in Maldives draws attention to the perennial question about whether and when India should intervene in the internal politics of its neighbouring countries. Before we discuss the current context in Maldives, where President Abdulla Yameen is defying the nation’s Supreme Court and the international community by refusing to release jailed members of Parliament and restore their rights, it is important to put away some misconceptions about India’s approach to sovereignty and intervention.

China's effect on Asean-India ties
The Straits Times, January 27
For the past 15 years, China has loomed large in the evolution of Asean-India ties. India and China are competing to ensure their strong footholds in the new strategic horizons with Asean as the core. A free and open Indo-Pacific region, which has been promoted by the Donald Trump administration in the past few months, has dramatically upped the ante and sharpened their focus and engagement with the group. It remains to be seen what will be the outcome of this intensified engagement - whether it will further strengthen Asean's profile in the regional scheme of things or further drive a wedge among its members.

The Quad will damage India-China Relations
IAPS Dialogue, January 26
The 31st ASEAN Summit 2017 was held in Manila under the theme of “Partnering for Change, Engaging the World.” The theme is relevant for the Association of South East Asian Nations in general and for India and China in context of realization of the Asian Century in particular. However, the message from the summit was contradictory to its theme. At the heart of this contradiction is the emergence of the Quad, which will create disunity between India and China.

Books and Journals

Great Powers, Grand Strategies: The New Game in the South China Sea

Naval Institute Press, January 2018

Edited by Anders Corr

The author is the publisher of the Journal of Political Risk. In addition to visiting all South China Sea claimant countries, he has undertaken field research in Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Brunei. Dr. Corr conducted analysis for USPACOM, CENTCOM, EUCOM, SOCPAC, and NATO, including work in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Ukraine.

Great Powers, Grand Strategies offers the analysis of a dozen experts on the "big picture" approaches to the South China Sea dispute. By exploring the international dimensions of this regional hotspot, Bill Hayton, Gordon Chang, Bernard Cole, James Fanell, and others examine how the military, diplomatic, and economic strategies of the major global actors have both contributed to solutions and exacerbated the potential for conflict. As editor of this volume, Anders Corr seeks to juxtapose the grand strategies of the great powers to determine the likely outcomes of the South China Sea dispute, as well as evaluate the ways to possibly defuse tensions in the region.



Compiled and sent to you by Centre on Asia and Globalisation and
the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore