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We are an international affairs observer group based out of New Delhi, India, researching upon critical issues related to China, with a special focus on Sino-India relations.

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by Bhavdeep Modi (Project Manager, Red Lantern Analytica)

On March 12, 2021, the Quad, while issuing a joint statement, said that it is “united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific”. It further stated that “today, we pledge to respond to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19, combat climate change, and address shared challenges, including in cyberspace, critical technologies, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as maritime domains.”

This statement by the Quad after its first “leader-level” summit showed the world that in the aftermath of Chinese aggression and expansionism in a post-pandemic world, it has come together to deliver a message of unity.

However, with the world economy battered and a volatile environment in the region, the concerns regarding Chinese expansionism and adventurism continue to rise- the recent European Union (EU) backlash against China, rising tensions with the US, and continuous aggression towards India, are a few examples.

Keeping the Chinese threat in mind, the Quad needs to do more and also explore convergences in other multilateral arrangements that can ensure the peace and stability of the region.

And in doing so, it needs to take cues from India, whose role in the Quad so far, has been nothing less than exceptional.

India, in leading the global vaccination drive, containing China and regrouping the Quad, has shown the world that it is ready to be a superpower while being a responsible team player. New Delhi offers the Quad a rare opportunity to gather an alliance of “like-minded democracies” in an era of multilateralism.

The Chinese Threat

2020 saw the world get engulfed in the coronavirus pandemic. The virus, which spread from Wuhan in China, had various countries blaming Beijing for not containing its spread and also demanded an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. Moreover, recent reports of China planning on weaponizing the SARS coronaviruses back in 2016 have also seen a surge of backlash against Beijing, and for the right reasons.

As the pandemic spread to the whole world, China employed a strategy of deception, distraction, and disinformation to attain its goals of expansionism and establishing hegemony.

China implemented a new National Security Law in Hong Kong, suppressing dissent there and bringing it under Chinese control. At the same time, Beijing took aggressive aerial maneuvers around Taiwan, along with wolf warrior diplomacy, giving rise to concerns of a possible military takeover of Taipei in the future. It has also ramped up the ante against the United States over its militarization of the islands it built in the South China Sea. Of course, the trade tensions with Washington continue. Similarly, countries like France, the United Kingdom, India, New Zealand, the United States, and recently, the EU, have also highlighted the plight of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

However, China’s military move against India at the Line of Actual Control in Galwan in June 2020 is what served as a wake-up call to the world about Beijing’s intentions. It brought the attention of the concerned nations towards Chinese actions in the Indo-Pacific as well.

India, the Quad, and China

The Indo-Pacific, in recent times, has become a region of great power contestation, with two-thirds of container trade of the world passing through the region and rising powers like India, China, Japan, Australia, and France. In Indian EAM Dr. Jaishankar’s words, “The Indo-Pacific naturally means different things to different powers, but it undeniably is a priority for all of them.”

The United States has been continuing its pivot to Asia under Biden; the United Kingdom recently announced a similar pivot to the Indo-Pacific under the “Integrated Review”; the EU also concluded on its idea of the Indo-Pacific, and ASEAN adopted its outlook on the region back in 2019. Apart from these nations, India, France, and Australia have been traditional powers in the Indo-Pacific.

Nonetheless, it is the Chinese overtures in the Indo-Pacific that have caused global concern. It has pledged USD 400 billion to Iran; is pumping money into Pakistan via the China Pakistan Economic Corridor; is building influence in the African continent; and militarizing the South China Sea, thus deploying large naval assets in the region. The shared concern is about Chinese “duality” wherein it combines geo-economic and geopolitics to obtain control of strategic chokepoints (case in point Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka).

India, in this regard, played a leadership role in exposing the Chinese designs to the world. The border standoff with India in 2020 saw New Delhi cobble up diplomatic support against Chinese expansionism, especially in the Indo-Pacific. What eventually the world saw was the Quad coming together in its shared vision for the Indo-Pacific, while also talking about technology, maritime concerns, and building supply chain resilience.

India showed the way by responding to China with an iron hand and banishing the fear of Chinese backlash, leading other countries to start taking similar approaches, thus effectively isolating China.

The Way Forward: Building Multilateralism

Economic recovery and building a coalition on regional security are tantamount to world peace in the post-pandemic world. Major global powers, at this point, accept the need for multilateralism, barring China. Naturally, other major powers are willing to find avenues for building a security architecture in the region, based on multilateralism.

For this purpose, the role of India becomes critical in the world. Even though the world has appreciated India’s role in vaccine development and distribution, and New Delhi standing up to China, more needs to be done. New Delhi offers a host of opportunities that can lead to a win-win situation for both India and the world, especially in the Indo-Pacific.

As the Quad emerges as the most critical security grouping, focus also needs to be made on other multilateral forums for economic and military cooperation, with India as a core player in them.

Firstly, the economic dependence of countries on China and has led nations to look for building supply chains away from Beijing. To accomplish this, the importance of the Blue Dot Network (BDN) comes into play. Hailed as a counter to China’s BRI, the group consists of the US, Japan, and Australia and aims to improve infrastructure investment standards. Since the pandemic, debates around India’s inclusion in the BDN have increased, since the 3 members are New Delhi’s Quad partners as well. India’s inclusion in the BDN provides it with a partner that can provide a solid base to build supply chains, and will be equally effective against rising Chinese “debt-traps” in the region.

Secondly, exploring the possibility of India joining the Five Eyes Alliance, an intelligence alliance comprising of the US, New Zealand, UK, Australia, Canada), makes for a rational choice as well. The Five Eyes Alliance already has a working relationship with India. A US Congressional Committee in 2019 also appreciated India’s role as a third-party partner in the Indo-Pacific. Even in 2020, the Five Eyes, India and Japan jointly supported backdoor entry to apps like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram. While India’s inclusion is still being debated, even in New Delhi, one cannot deny that there is a lot of room for cooperation for the involved stakeholders.

Thirdly, forums like the BDN, Five Eyes, and the Quad have also increased the likelihood of Quad Plus becoming a reality in the future. After the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, the Quad held virtual meetings with New Zealand, South Korea, and Vietnam to discuss the response to the pandemic. This led to anticipation regarding the Quad Plus and even the possibility of France and Germany as possible inclusions in the future. While it yet remains to be seen whether the Quad will get institutionalized and eventually expand, the common concern for China and the rising importance of the Indo-Pacific opens up a lot of doors for countries to converge on in the grouping.

Lastly, with the anti-China threat at an all-time high across the globe, India and the Quad also need to tap the Milk Tea Alliance. With social media being a tool for building diplomatic support, India and others can benefit from the online communities of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and Myanmar.

Thus, to truly build an “open and free Indo-Pacific”, what is required of countries is to better understand India’s ambitions and its vision for the Indo-Pacific and the world. As the global calls increase for building a coalition of “like-minded nations”, the focus of the Quad should be to establish a regional security architecture that, while accepting the Chinese threat, should cater to other geopolitical concerns as well.

by Akshara Bharat (Guest Author)

When Britain ceded Hong Kong back to China in 1997, Beijing pledged to preserve the city’s capitalist system, along with certain democratic freedoms which people of mainland China are deprived of. At present under China’s “one country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong has a status of special administrative region and is free to manage its own affairs, but only until 2047, when the city is expected to fully become a part of mainland China. The entire arrangement was agreed upon by Beijing under the Sino-British Joint declaration of 1984.

The bone of contention here is that China under the leadership of Xi Jinping isn’t waiting for the deal to expire. It has already started stifling pro-democratic voices in Hongkong and is cracking down on the city with a heavy hand, thus crushing all hopes of it ever developing into a full-fledged democracy. China has been chipping away the freedom of Hong Kong bit by bit, ever since the handover took place, fifteen years ago.

The city, however, has been pushing back hard, as the Hong Kongers have time and again erupted into mass protests against Chinese aggression. The latest being in 2019, when tens of thousands of people flooded the streets and protested against the controversial extradition bill, which now stands suspended. The proposed legislation would have allowed the suspects of criminal wrongdoing to be extradited to mainland China, where there is no fair trial and an individual’s rights aren’t worth a dime.

In June 2020, when the entire world was reeling under Wuhan Virus, China bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature passed a draconian national security law that undermines the city’s civil liberties and restricts fundamental rights. By virtue of the law, Beijing in the garb of national security bestowed upon itself the power to stifle any form of dissent and curtail all pro-democratic voices in Hong Kong. The Chinese officials have maintained that the imposition of the law became inevitable in order to restore peace and stability following the massive protests of 2019. However, pro-democratic voices have vehemently condemned the law and have expressed fears that it could mean the end of everything that makes Hong Kong unique from mainland China.

Hong Kong has a legislature with democratically elected representatives, called the Legislative Council, and it has 70 seats. Unlike China, Hong Kong has many political parties, but they are divided into two factions- pro-democracy or pro-China. In every election, pro-democracy political parties have won the popular vote, but unfortunately, they occupy less than half of the seats within the Council. So, when the residents of Hong Kong vote, they only do so for 40 out of the total 70 seats. The other 30 representatives are elected by various business communities of Hong Kong, as big businesses make benefits by being in the good books of Beijing. Hence, these 30 seats are dominated by pro-China political parties.

In the year 1997, when Hong Kong was handed over to China, Beijing made an agreement with the city, that eventually all members of the council will be elected by the people via free and fair elections. However, China has increasingly shown reluctance in granting Hong Kongers a universal suffrage. To further crack down on the political rights of the people, China overhauled the City’s electoral system in March this year. Now, Beijing-appointed politicians will have a greater say in running the Special Administrative Region (SAR), therefore marking the biggest change since the handover in 1997.

“The electoral changes being discussed, if passed, will prevent any candidate advocating democratic reforms to be elected to office,” says Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “The current system is already stacked against democracy advocates, so further changes seem unnecessary, but perhaps reflect Beijing’s obsession with wiping out dissent and exerting complete control.” Such tyrannical measures by China have silenced many voices of democracy in Hong Kong and have prompted many to flee the city.

Moreover, Hong Kong’s status as one of the most prominent global financial hubs appears to be under threat as well. “Beijing’s ideal scenario is to keep Hong Kong as a financial centre without all the freedom. But it seems that you really cannot maintain Hong Kong’s international financial standing while stifling its freedom”, says Victoria Tin-bor Hui at University of Notre Dame.

“This dramatic transformation will not be the end of Hong Kong as a global financial hub, as it has already begun to boost economic integration with mainland China. But it is surely the death of the democratic hopes of most of its 7.5 million people,” CFR’s Jerome A. Cohen writes.

Hong Kong is another Tibet in making. Many countries have expressed grave concerns regarding the worrying state of affairs in Hong Kong. But mere condemnation isn’t going to discourage China from further cracking down on the political and civil liberties of the 7.5 million Hong Kongers.

by Nidhi Goswami (Intern, ICWA, New Delhi & Postgraduate Student at South Asian University)

INTRODUCTION

Regional integration is the phenomenon of the day as more and more countries become party to one regional organization or the other. In the level of analysis, regions are vantage points, below the level of the global and above the national level. Therefore, for the study of International Relations, they are ideal to determine and understand the behavior of states towards other states. As regions are constructed, so are regional groupings are constructed by states. Although, countries that are part of a regional organization, mostly, are geographically contiguous, the delimitations of a region are set by states in the pursuit of their national interest, for realists, in the spirit of cooperation, for liberalists. According to the scholars of regional integration, it is not a nouveau phenomenon and the likes of regional integration initiatives were seen by nineteenth century Europe in the face of the Bavaria-Wurttemberg Customs Union, the Middle German Commercial Union, the German Zollverein, the North German Tax Union, The German Monetary Union and the German Reich (Mattli, 1999) that interestingly were created to achieve economic integration, the aspect of integration that the paper would focus on. However, Walter Mattli terms these regional integration processes as ‘voluntary regional integration initiatives’ (Mattli, 1999), that reaffirms firstly our premise that regions and regional groupings are constructed and that they do not occur naturally and secondly that states delimit or define these regions to achieve their stated objectives.

World Bank scholars Maurice Schiff and Alan L. Winters while focusing on the aspect of trade in regional integration processes, highlight how trade since the 18th century has been considered as a facilitator for creating and maintaining peaceful relations between countries. They attribute the trade dynamics to peaceable relations between countries by highlighting its role in trust-building between states as due to high economic interdependence, the costs of war go up that discourages them further from increasing uneasy frictions between them.

The paper would thus, try to make economic logic of integration its focal point as it deals with the prospects for South Asian economic integration. The paper also highlights the apprehensions of South Asian states that deter them from economic integration.

TRADE IN SOUTH ASIA AND THE ROADBLOCKS

The present status of trade in South Asia is meagre. According to the World Bank, it is one of the least integrated regions in the world with intra-regional trade accounting for even less than 5% of total trade. The region has a distinct geography with India, the largest in terms of area, population and economy at its center and a shared historical affiliation and cultural heritage among almost all the states in the region. The region also is characterized by an institutional arrangement for cooperation i.e., the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC, although, but intra- state economic cooperation remains a distant dream.

World Bank scholars Sadiq Ahmed and Ejaz Ghani discussing the potential for trade in South Asia say that South Asia has since the 1990s, recorded 6% of economic growth per annum and this is remarkable as other developing states in this period had ceased to grow at such a pace (Ahmed & Ghani, 2006). Apart from India, improvements in trade potential were noticed in Bangladesh and Pakistan. To Ehsan and Ghani, these changes were mostly policy induced as it meant greater global integration, macroeconomic stabilization and economic deregulation. This made the South Asian economies more competitive and attractive to foreign investors. But trade protectionism towards the South Asian neighbors remained the characteristic feature of South Asian states. Measuring the level of economic integration of a region in terms of intra-regional trade in goods, capital and ideas South Asia ranks very poorly. Intra-regional investment too remains negligible.

The South Asian states have not been able to extract benefits of their geographical proximity and historical or cultural affinities. Potential also remains unrealized of the gravitational pull of goods, people and ideas that could have facilitated trade within the region. The states of South Asia have experimented with a South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) but even that has not been able to record much success as the number of items included in the ‘sensitive’ lists of trade items is more than the positive ones. Priyanka Kher, in an UNCTAD report notes that the pre-conditions required for successful regional integration as laid down by the World Bank are all almost missing in the South Asian Region thus hampering the integration process (Kher, 2012).The other restraining factors include high trade costs and investment restrictions , insufficient policy-relevant analytical work on gains of regional integration in both trade and investment in order to make informed policy decisions, skeptical mindset from previous failures in regional cooperation, misinformation, and lack of vocal champions for regional cooperation, relative asymmetry in size among the South Asian countries, historical political tensions, mistrust, cross-border conflicts and security concerns, limited transport connectivity, logistics and regulatory impediments (Ahmed & Ghani, 2006). While these are some conventional reasons attributed to the low amount of interest states in South Asia display in integrating, there are some technical economic considerations that also need to be taken into account.

The Backwash Effect of Integration as proposed by Gunnar Myrdal who said that if one part starts growing or developing, it attracts human and physical capital to gravitate to that region and it therefore leaving the other areas disadvantaged. It means that growth in one area could adversely affect the growth in another area. The asymmetry in the size of the states and their economies in South Asia is disadvantageous to the regional integration process. The smaller states in the region are apprehensive of an Indian economic domination of the region as India being the largest manufacturing and service producing economy of the region, in a free trade agreement area could create a pull factor for capital, humans and ideas from all the smaller states of the region with comparatively smaller economies. This would jeopardize the development potential of the smaller states as Indian economy would continue to benefit from this integration at the expense of the other smaller states. According to Maurice Schiff and Alan Winters, this usually produces an opposite effect as states would not be willing to lose out their benefits to other states in the region. As all of these economies are categorized under developing or least-developed countries, the central leadership in these states somehow feels that integration has more costs than benefits.

The second reason could be related to the trade creation and trade creation aspect of integration. It means that trade creation in a regional grouping, because of being preferential, takes the trade away from a state that is not part of the regional agreement. This could be problematic as cheaper and qualitatively better imports from a state could be replaced by average products from a regional partner. This brings inefficiency into the market. This could be exemplified by a hypothetical situation in which after signing a regional trade agreement Bangladesh imports computer parts from India that are average in quality compared to the South Korean imports it previously got that are better in quality and cheaper than the Indian product. This is mainly because India did not have a comparative advantage in computer parts manufacturing but because Bangladesh was obligated under an agreement, it had to make do with average goods from India. The developing industries in these small states require raw materials and production resources at rates that are cost effective.

While dealing with hurdles in economic integration processes, one cannot undermine the role of domestic business and industrial lobbies in hindering free trade between countries. As every state seeks to develop its domestic production capacity, it would not like to be much dependent on other states for the same. Also important is to note that the industries in small states are sometimes not able to compete with products from economically and technologically developed nations. Allowing imports from other states therefore involves the risks of its domestic industries and businesses being subjected to losses as they would not be able to withstand the competition for long. Therefore, the business and industrial lobbies do not support the states’ policies in going in for integration especially when it involves the risk of being subjected to competition from cheaper and better imports from other states of the regional grouping. This could be the case in smaller South Asian states too as their industries are still at a developing stage. Although, this does not deter them from participating in global trade, but the obligations accompanied by entering into a regional trading agreement seem threatening to their individual interests.

However, according to Ahmed and Ghani, if the South Asian countries decide to strengthen the already existing SAFTA, smaller states stand to gain more from it as they will have access to large and rapidly growing markets in India. Smaller states in the region like Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh stand to gain more from it than India (comparing its percentage to its total trade) (Ahmed & Ghani, 2006).

CONCLUSION

So, what is the way forward for South Asian integration? The South Asian regional integration process would involve a multi-pronged strategy of integration important to which are the various theoretical frameworks we have covered in the paper. While a federalist argument would seem more like a distant dream, the functionalist and neo-functionalist ideas on the initiation of regional integration arrangements seem more effectual. This would mean increasing cooperation on various fronts including environmental and energy policy to social welfare policies like combating hunger and terrorism, fighting human trafficking etc. to explore ideas of establishing a common market. But, more importantly the task still at hand is to bring the ‘South Asian Identity’ into the mainstream discourse to nurture the feeling of belongingness and mutual interdependence in the region.

Public Diplomacy and its Impact for India

Public Diplomacy is a spectacle par excellence but never a Tamasha, or a mere
showmanship for the Fourth Estate. The entire process of Foreign Policy maneuvers
undertaken by the Modi denomination falls in the category of sane and controlled razzmatazz
in order to serve the national interest which is an inane comprehension in the diatribes of the
opposition. The entire process is part of a larger Political Interest model which ascertains a
riposte from the State actor or the Regime of the day as the opposition aka the arch antagonist
utilizes the modicum of palsied propaganda and vitriol in order to belittle the Global overarch
of the New Delhi denomination.

The Indian Scenario

PM Modi has been a kind of path-breaking idiom in the seventy years of saintly
somnolence in the establishment. The tack of an artifice is to market a nation which is already
accoutered with the vast and rich heritage and a rich culture which made the outing
comfortable for our Prime Minister. It’s the art of the impossible which the previous Regimes
miserably failed to undertaken in “a must approach” of making the Bhartiya idiom
successfully poised in the larger ideational terrain of Global Politics. What the New Delhi
denomination has achieved is the larger-than-life artifice of launching forth a surging nation
on to a pathway of International prominence and resuscitation of its past glory in order to
create a separate and Unique selling proposition for Indian morality and age old but timeless
ethicality in the realm of Foreign Policy along with a newly expressed readiness for pursuing
a guilt-free aggressive foreign policy.

The speeches in Madison Square Garden, the UN General Assembly, San Jose and
the US Congress have ushered in the theme of Indian hyper-suissance in the Global arena.
International Politics is also about staging a show and presenting a badly imaged nation in a
prim and proper manner which the New Delhi denomination has successfully achieved. The
Linen shirts of all the, heads of states, with, President Donald Trump looking engaged as the
Indian Prime Minister presented the Indian speak in all its resplendent glory, is a visage
which was not witnessed in the past era of international relations. The South East Asian facet
is one mere scintillation and the entire aplomb is about tying up with the United States in the
larger context. Realism ordains a pragmatic approach and life is difficult for Political leaders
as they cannot be judgmental in foreign Affairs like an ordinary denizen. This can be
achieved through the informal convergence of the Quad group of nations, namely, United
States, India, Australia and Japan which goes beyond the mere and direct objective of
Chinese containment. It is here that India and United States share common regional and
global objectives and with the Covid-19’s second wave taking its toll on Indian population,
United States needs to shore up the Indian health tragedy.

The larger professional world which is worth talking about understands the
importance of communication which has been brilliantly achieved in a grandiloquent manner
by the New Delhi denomination. It’s here in the quaint innovation streak along with Global
mobilization buttressed by unparallel presentation which makes the post 2014 Foreign Policy
a successful outing without being muscular or anything which is the much bandied verbiage
traded by several international relations observers.

The India US Relationship

The manner in which New Delhi has maneuvered in the context of the Nuclear
Supplier Groups (NSG) and negotiated New Delhi’s entry inside the dynamics of the global
nuclear trade is also commendable has added to the stature of the Indian nation. With the
Interim National Security Document released in the aftermath of the first hundred days in
office for President Joe Biden, the emphasis is back on reengagement. It can also be surmised
that the importance to values and ethics leading on to a larger convergence of Democracies
and the revitalization of Democratic entities too has come to the foreground. President
Trump, too, had postulated about the new leadership role of New Delhi which has reached
fruition with the New Delhi being a dialogue partner of the negotiating parties in the Doha
round of diplomacy. Thus, the larger notion of New Delhi finding its way through two hostile
neighbors, namely, Pakistan and China with the age of Chinese hegemony and expanse
requires a new re balancing by India. President Joe Biden too states in the Interim National
Security document that China and Russia remain as twin stiff challenges for the United
States. Along with India, US, too insists on an adherence to the ideals of innovation, artificial
intelligence and automated robotics, as, a precursor element of American reengagement with
the advent of the Joe Biden Administration. Thus, in the present context of a freshly elected
Joe Biden administration, cooperation can be furthered in the line of the India’s Covid-19
challenge as pressure mounts on the White House to secure India in the devastating
Pandemic.

*Dr. Dwivedi is an Assistant Professor at a New Delhi based
prominent think tank institution Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA),
linkedin.com/in/manan-dwivedi-9454b939

**Mr. Nayan is a PhD Scholar at Central University of Kerala and
former Research Assistant at IIPA; linkedin.com/in/shonit-nayan-516205143

[Views expressed in the column are personnel and are completely independent of
their respective institutional affiliations.]

By Bhavdeep Modi (Research Manager, Red Lantern Analytica and Post-graduate Student, JSIA, India)

The Galwan clash between India and China in June 2020, and the subsequent 4 months that saw it turn into a border clash, had academics making different predictions. One of the common themes amongst such views was the possibility of an increase in cyber-attacks against New Delhi at the hands of Beijing.In October 2020, we saw a power outage in Mumbai that led to the stock market being closed, trains being shut down and hospitals turning on emergency generators to keep the ventilators working.

Just recently, on the 28th of February 2021, David E. Sanger argued in a piece for The New York Times that “a new study lends weight to the idea that those two events may well have been connected — as part of a broad Chinese cyber campaign against India’s power grid, timed to send a message that if India pressed its claims too hard, the lights could go out across the country.”

While cyber-attacks originating from China is not a new phenomenon, it certainly should ring alarm bells due to the peculiar nature and protocol with which this attack was carried out. It should also force the government and the policymakers to pivot their attention to the increasing threats that India is facing in its cyberspace. Even though the LAC issue has been resolved for now, such instances call for a stronger threat perception coupled with timely policy decisions to strengthen our cyberspace.

The Cyber-attack on Mumbai: How India Responded

Mumbai reported a power outage in the city on October 12, 2020. At that time, various media reports suggested that the outage could have been a result of a cyber-attack by a foreign entity. While the Maharashtra government has admitted to the outage as a result of Chinese intrusion into our cyberspace, the Union Power Ministry has stated that they don’t have any evidence which supports this claim and instead, attributed it to a “human error”.

Now, even though the two claims by the Indian government and the Maharashtra government stand in contrast to each other, the Union Power Minister RK Singh did admit that some sort of a cyber-attack was indeed carried out at that time, though it was not related to the power outage. He further stated that China would definitely deny carrying out such an attack. Despite such a statement that didn’t explicitly call out China for the attack, it does not absolve the possibility of the same.The report published by the US-based group Recorded Future has claimed that the outage was indeed caused by the Chinese group, RedEcho. The report reasons that the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used in the attack are common to Chinese state-sponsored groups, thus, supporting their claim. Thefindings of the report, before being published, were also sent to the Computer Emergency Response Team-India (CERT-In). The Maharashtra government has already launched aninquiry into the same, the report of which is expected soon.

One of the reasons for the Indian government not acknowledging the attack could be to prevent the diplomatic talks between the two Foreign Ministers from falling apart, which have ultimately led to the scaling back of forces by both sides. But, the threat to India’s critical infrastructure at the hands of Chinese state-backed groups cannot be ignored. While the responses have been varied, it would be safe to argue that the threat of Chinese cyber-attacks against Indian critical infrastructure looms large. It would be only reasonable to employ a stronger threat perception to pre-empt such attacks.

China Using Cyber-Attacks as a Tool of Fear

What New Delhi should pay more attention to is that these cyber-attacks are a part of a larger Chinese effort to undermine the Indian state. It needs to be noted here that such efforts gain a higher density when both the countries are involved in a conflict. It allows the Chinese state to gain leverage against its opponent, thus combining a psychological approach along with aggressive diplomatic tactics. As reported in June last year, Chinese state-sponsored cyber-attacks against India increased by 200%. This happened in the aftermath of the Galwan clash, which begs the question “did Beijing increase its cyber aggressiveness against New Delhi to gain political leverage?”.

The past few months have demonstrated China’s shift from “information theft” to more aggressive cyber-attacks aimed at being used as a diplomatic tool or strategic messaging to opponents. It is aimed at being used as a tool of fear. Now one might wonder how this mechanism works.

According to the report published by The Recorded Future, China, while carrying out this cyber-attack on the Mumbai power-grid, placed codes to induce a malware called ShadowPad. Now, these codes can be easily identified and their source/origin can be easily found out.ShadowPad serves as a backdoor access tool. As mentioned earlier, the TTPs used in the attack were very similar to various other Chinese state-backed cyber groups involves in carrying out attacks of distinct types.

Then why would a group risk being identified by placing such decipherable codes? This is where the opinions of various Indian cyber experts need to be noted with utmost sincerity. Lt. General DS Hooda, an army veteran and cyberexpert, stated that “it’s like sending a warning to India that this capability exists with us (China)”. This power outage happened at a time when the LAC clash was at its peak and efforts were being made from both sides to find a peaceful resolution to the issue. Similarly, Vineet Kumar, President of the Cyber Peace Foundation, while talking about China’s intentions, stated that “one of the intentions seems to be power projection”.

Thus, a rational deduction that can be made based on such assertions is that China is using its aggressive cyber capabilities to subtly threaten India. The underlying motive? Stop pressing your border claims so hard, else millions will suffer. It is a lethal combination of power projection combined with the usage of fear psychosis to assert itself as a hegemon. China’s ‘grand strategy’ rests on the premise that it sees itself as a challenger to the US-led World Order and understands India as a regional challenger to its supremacy. Hence, the aggressiveness.

Lessons for India & The Way Forward

The fact that India has witnessed a huge spike in cyber-attacks from Chinese state-sponsored attacks for information theft as well as attacks on critical infrastructure, calls for taking a step back and identifying the fissures in the system is crucial. The first and the foremost issue that the Indian government should focus on is stronger threat perception about China’s actions around cyber-space. In a world where “data is the new oil”, India will need to ramp up its efforts in securing its cyber-space.

In this regard, the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In) and the National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) should enhance their efforts to identify potential targets for Chinese cyber groups. It has been observed that Chinese cyber groups have targeted the critical infrastructure of various countries to gather classified information, thus threatening their national security. This power outage is just one example of China going an inch further by blowing off the lights of the biggest business hub of India, Mumbai. Naturally, securing the current critical infrastructure should be a key for India’s cybersecurity strategy in the future.

On a similar note, it is equally important to acknowledge that India is overflowing with Chinese hardware in the power and rail sectors. This has raised concerns in recent times, with military experts calling on the government to reduce dependence on Chinese hardware. The Indian government has already taken measures in this regard. For example, information technology contracts are being reviewed by the government, especially the ones with China. Economic decoupling from China, on the whole, has been underway since the Galwan clash. However, we’ll have to admit that a complete decoupling, especially reducing our dependence on Chinese hardware, will be an expensive task.

For this, the focus must be on PM Narendra Modi’s Atmanirbhar Bharat policy, where financial and research impetus can be provided to Indian firms involved in the production of critical hardware. While this may take some time, the time is ripe to make strides in this direction to achieve our long-term goals on the domestic as well as foreign fronts.

As for our actions in foreign policy, India should make efforts to step up its cyber diplomacy by partnering up with other countries in the domain of technology and cybersecurity. The US, of course, shall prove to be a natural partner in this regard. But, India should also look beyond the US to build its cyber-space capabilities. Japan, according to Anne-Leonore Dardenne for South Asia LSE, seems to be a country that India can have deep relations with for cybersecurity. Both countries share a common vision of free and secure cyberspace, and also are in favor of having a rules-based order. Australia, coincidentally, has also been on the receiving end of aggressive cyber-attacks by Chinese cyber groups. Needless to say, India can tap the QUAD to undertake stronger cyber diplomacy, since the issue has been stated as a common concern at the recently held QUAD Meeting of January 2021 after the Biden administration took over.

Thus, India should take this lesson from these instances that China can indulge itself in hybrid warfare to gain an upper-hand in conflicts, even if they are of limited capacity. It is a grey-zone that the government should appreciate and hence formulate a strategy accordingly. In the contemporary times, it is important that coordinated efforts are made in the cybersecurity sector. Understanding realities, having a clear chain-of-command and an explicit national security doctrine are a few measures that the government should undertake in order for India to be considered a credible technological power across the globe.

Sources
1. https://www.mha.gov.in/division_of_mha/cyber-and-information-security-cis-division
2. https://thewire.in/world/india-china-hackers-border-tension-power-grid-malware-recorded-future
3. https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/chinese-cyber-attack-why-maharashtra-should-worry-1774905-2021-03-02
4. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/amidst-heightened-border-tension-chinese-hackers-targeted-indias-power-through-malware-us-firm/article33960990.ece
5. https://go.recordedfuture.com/redecho-insikt-group-report
6. https://www.cfr.org/blog/emergence-cyber-diplomacy-increasingly-post-liberal-cyberspace
7. https://www.hoover.org/sites/default/files/research/docs/segal_chinese_cyber_diplomacy.pdf
8. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/90675/1/Dardenne_Cyber-security-Author.pdf
9. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/28/us/politics/china-india-hacking-electricity.html
10. https://www.firstpost.com/world/australia-hit-by-sophisticated-cyber-attacks-indian-firms-may-be-on-list-a-look-at-why-china-could-be-the-prime-suspect-8500151.html

Contemporary academic arena dealing with international politics is flooded with research analysing the rise of China. The issue has gained prominence because of China’s unprecedented growth in the twenty-first century. The sinologist across the spectrum from left to right has been arguing the rise of China as per their own beliefs, interest & of course the sponsors of the project. If we categorise them broadly then one group of scholar can be seen arguing the China’s rise a “threat” whereas other group of scholars will be always defending the China’s rise as peaceful. The book under review Constructing China : Clashing Views of People’s Republic by Mobo Gao a sinologist who is expert on Chinese Language as well as a scholar of Asian Studies & keeps on writing about China. He has been a vocal critique of hegemony western thoughts, that you will find while reading any of his work and you will also get a glimpse of the same in this book.

The book is divided into 11 chapters heralded by an introduction, that looks at the various aspect of China’s Rise along with its analysis & counter-analysis. Besides, giving us a glimpse of the content in book, the writer discusses the hegemony of west over the Knowledge & argues that how these knowledge cannot rightly explain the issues of non-Western countries. He further went to highlight the hypocrisy of the scholars who see the west & east with different lenses. For instance, he argues that white settlers in Australia or America who wiped out the indigenous people call themselves as Australian of American whereas they give call the Chinese people in the same countries as overseas Chinese. The author goes onto a provide a detailed theoretical framework in Chapter 1 & tries to critically examine the knowledge that has been produced by the west about the other countries in general and China in particular. Chapter 2 onwards, author tries to explain the various theme of that has been used to construct the knowledge about China. In Chapter 2 & 3, Gao, exposes the false construction of China as a state & Chinese identity by west with the historical facts, he went on to argue that China as a multinational state & Chinese identity as a fusion of many ethnicity that was due to quasi-modern character. In the very next chapter, he highlights the influence of west over the neo-enlightenment scholar of China & their urge to get validation from west. He explains the intellectual bankruptcy of Xin Qimeng narrative that helped west in constructing China. He takes this argument into next Chapter were he identifies the agents including Xin Qimeng who have been involved in constructing the knowledge of China in the collaboration of west. Moving ahead in Chapter 6,7, & 8 , Gao makes a courageous effort to present the positive picture of Mao era’s most criticised adventures, The Cultural Revolution & Great Leap Forward wherein he argues that CR was not a politically motivated vendetta due to conflict in Chinese leadership but indeed a revolution that went on to transform the various aspect of the Chinese society including education and intellectual ideas however the author did admit that GLF was a failure but goes on to present different reasons for it and has tried to defend Mao Tse-Tung who is mainly accused for the so called disaster. He also highlighted the selective and manipulated data used by the western and westerly influenced scholars to construct the negative image of China after it started to get engaged in global capitalism wherein he also argues that China never wanted to hide the data of GLF rather they themselves presented the “report of the damage caused by disaster in China 1949-1995” that had included the official data of China’s premature death in 1959-60. The author also denies the role of leadership in manufacturing the ‘the great famine’. As author says, he has produced the alternative knowledge of the CR & GLF. In the very next Chapter author highlights that the knowledge constructed about China by the west is to suit their national and transnational interests. While discussing about these two, he also argues that the national interest and transnational interests of west can be same but China being a developing country. He highlights how the issue of democracy and authoritarianism is manipulated to question the Chinese establishment wherein the evidence of USA supporting the autocratic regimes do exists. The author has also pointed out that how reform led by current leader Xi is being targeted as an more totalitarian regime but in reality the reform led by Xi is an attempt to address the domestic issues like corruption & recession and to strengthen the legitimacy of Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He argues that west often uses the media and academicians to doctor the truthto produce a falsified knowledge of China. Now, in final two chapters author turns his views towards the geopolitics and foreign policy wherein he tries to present the Chinese views of the both land and sea disputes of China with the border. The author has tried all the possible way to convince the reader that China’s disputes with the neighbouring country is just a narrative constructed by westerners in reality China is an non aggressive country and has settled disputes with the most of the neighbours. The author also claims that SCS dispute is mainly because of USA involvement in the region.

After reading this book one will easily construct a positive knowledge of China. The book from Mobo Gao is indeed a remarkable contribution in the field of Chinese studies and is indeed on the side of China’s peaceful rise. Gao with numerous historical facts and figures to bust the myths that were used to construct the China threat perception. The book also has an underlying agenda to establish the current leader Xi Jinping the next great leader after Mao. Considering the main motive of the book i.e. to counter the knowledge constructed by China but the alternative knowledge constructed in the book is again “in the politics of production and consumption of knowledge”. In this highlight I would like to highlight some of the drawback in this alternative knowledge created by China. The author in itself is contradictory at certain point. For example, he himself pointed out that Liu Shaoqui was alone on his death bed without any family member but then went onto explain that he was treated well. Besides, Gao’s explanation of China’s foreign policy behaviour in Chapter 10 and Chapter 11 also has some point of contradiction from the facts. As he pointed out that China has settled the territorial dispute except India and Bhutan but it’s not true, China still has still has a disputed land border the recent being the claim over the Rui Village of Nepal. In order to prove China non aggressive over the issue of territorial expansion author claims that China didn’t attack Vietnam over the land disputes but he misses out that it was a border conflict at Ussuri River in 1969 that finally concluded the Sino-Soviet split. Besides, to legitimatize the claim on territories like Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, the author refers to the Qing era rule and negate the any treaties made with a colonial power. However, He himself has identified Qing as non-Chinese regime. Besides, Tibet was an independent state post Xinhai Revolution and in fact Tibet was an independent Empire since the time of SongtsenGampo (604–650 CE) except some periods in time where it came under Chinese occupation. The independence of Tibet also validates that even if China don’t want to accept the Colonial era agreement of border with India, then it must also recognize that it is Tibet that has the authority to engage in the discussion over the border with both India, Bhutan and Nepal what author has called the only unsettled territorial disputes.

Another knowledge that Gao has constructed the knowledge that East Asia and Indo-Pacific is Chinese sphere of influence and USA is infiltrator, based on pre-modern claims. But, then Japan can also claim the Indo-Pacific as its sphere of influence base on modern era claims. Subsequently, with such claims I see South Asia as an Indian sphere of influence and it is China who is infiltrating the region.

Concluding, I shall argue that the book did counter the knowledge constructed by west to contain the China and serve western interest but at the same time the alternate knowledge created by the author is to serve the Chinese interest and not towards serving the interest of Asia or non-Asian country in general.

Abhishek Ranjan, Research Scholar, East Asian Studies, JNU

The inclusiveness of a Free and Open Indo Pacific construct vis a vis China
The term Indo-Pacific is comparatively a very recent and an evolving concept in the domain of international relations which consists of some of the most powerful economies of the world. Though the concept of a Free and Open Indo Pacific(FOIP), reflects an inclusive image of the region, manifesting much cooperation and coordination between the stakeholders in terms of trade, security and international order, how inclusive does it remains for the largest and one of the major players of the region?
What is Indo Pacific?
Geographically, the stretches of Indo-Pacific can be marked from the eastern shores of Africa to the western coast of the United States, given some variations in the definitions with respect to each actor and its own geographic positioning in the ocean. It can be simply understood as what the name itself suggests, as a zone of the merger of the two major oceans of the world i.e. The Indian and the Pacific Ocean. As Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Shinzo Abe during his visit to India in 2007, had for the very first time introduced the term in his parliamentary address as the “Confluence of the two seas”.
When pondered Geo-politically, even though the indo – pacific space has always existed, what recent advancements in the international order led to the term being increasingly used in the lexicon of foreign affairs reports, speeches, white papers etc? The answer to this question comes with certain political connotations and practical implications depending on the transnational imaginations, deepening economic links, great power competitions and the perceived rise of China.
Strategically speaking, the emergence of the concept can be understood as the direct consequence of the rising insecurities of a relatively declining USA vis a vis the rising dragon, China. Along with US, the fears of this realistic Sino-centric state in the pacific and the Indian ocean is also increasingly warred by the other super powers of the region such as Japan, Australia, some of the South East Asian nations and last but not the least, India.
Why Indo – Pacific?
Strategically and politically speaking, the construct of the Indo –Pacific can be very conveniently stemmed back to the consequences that lead to this region gaining traction in the last few years from the other powerful nations in the globe. The reasons for the same can be seen via multiple dimensions as follows:
1) In order to enhance globalization, trade interdependence, connectivity of the maritime domain and the addressal of counterterrorism, non-proliferation and cyber issu
2) To strengthen the shared commitment to maintain and strengthen a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific in which all nations are sovereign, strong and prosperous.
3) Focus on the shared support for a free, open and inclusive region that fosters universal respect for international law, freedom of navigation and overflight and sustainable development is the other aspect which is most talked about in the formal setup, and
4) And lastly plus most importantly, the global anxieties with respect to the rise of China, leading to an intensification of the regional competition and a discursive stability, particularly concerning the Asian regional order.

China’s rise in the Indo Pacific
China’s rise has been ubiquitous and in multiple forms. Its foreign policies have been pretty aggressive as compared to that of USA’s. Courtesy to its sturdy presence throughout the parts of Africa and Eurasia, that are well endowed with oil and minerals, it seeks to secure the port access throughout the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea as well, which connect the hydrocarbon-rich Arab-Persian world to the Chinese seaboard. Given its favorable location in the map, China’s continental power expands from Central Asia to the South China Sea, from the Russian Far East to the Indian Ocean which is quite evident and not so favorable for the other actors in the region. String of pearls, Belt and Road initiative (BRI), China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Maritime Silk Road, the both covert and over military and naval operations, its modification of the national boundaries in Oceania, Southern and South east nations, and last but not the least, the growing investments and market dominance, have become an ever greening concern for the bothered nations that fall in and around the sphere.
The construction Indo- Pacific and China’s exclusion
With its vast land mass and fast-growing economy, along with its ambition to pursue regional hegemony, China is viewed as a natural candidate to dominate Asia. And the other superpowers, especially USA, Japan, India, Australia and the South East Asian nations that have an important role to play in the region definitely cannot afford this. Hence the very construct of the Indo Pacific germinates primarily from this contest of Asian hegemony and rivalry.
The notion of Indo Pacific is a product of Pentagon’s AirSea Battle plan, also known as ‘pivot to Asia’ (Medcalf, Heinrichs, and Jones 2011) serving the dual purpose of both constraining the rise of a ‘peer competitor’ in Asia and preventing regional integration from being ‘inward looking and exclusive’ (Ciorciari 2011). With US recognizing the importance of the role of Indian ocean in accordance with the Pacific, the role of the Indian peninsular lying in the epicenter of the Indian ocean, made it strategically and commercially more viable for USA as well as India to optimally explore and utilize the caveats of the region. This lead to increased number of joint naval and military exercises in the troubled regions and strengthening of the security ties, along with the enhanced trade and commerce, in turn, fitting with the very clever anti china image of the US.
Likewise, growing concerns over China’s increasing dominance when coupled with USA’s growing interest in the region and a rising India, gave impetus to other major nations such as Australia and Japan and other South East Asian nations to delve their attention towards the dynamics of the Indo Pacific sphere. As early as 2007, while visiting India, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2007) proposed ‘a dynamic coupling’ of the Pacific and the Indian Oceans ‘as seas of freedom and of prosperity’. The importance Australia places on the Indian Ocean can be observed in the 2013 Defence White Paper, which is considered the country’s first official document to cite “Indo-Pacific.” Similarly both Japan and Australia have essentially made efforts to not only cooperate with US alone, but attach a similar importance to India as well, given its vast economy, its steady development, growing proximity with the US, location of the nation, political dimensions and already thriving bilateral and multilateral ties with both the nations.
India’s perception of Indo Pacific.
In the backdrop of the several perspectives held by the various partner nations with regard to India, with countries like the US, Australia, Japan and Indonesia perceiving Indo-Pacific as Asia Pacific plus India, trying to embed India into the strategic dynamic of Asia Pacific, hence wanting India’s presence in the South China Sea, East China Sea, basically to counter China, India stands different .It seeks to cooperate for an architecture for peace and security in the region, ‘An Arch of Freedom’, as Japan terms it. But does it’s actions reflect the same?
Given China’s growing proximity with Pakistan, the continuous violations of the global norms and the upsurge in border tensions to India’s recent exit from RCEP in November 2019, India’s policy has majorly been two folded i.e. Hedging and Balancing. Given the long-standing mistrust between India and China, a strategic logic is not far below the surface. For example, the 2007 India’s Maritime Military Strategy defines the South China Sea as a maritime area of interest for India (Scott 2013). Since the 1990s, India has expanded its joint naval exercises with all South-East Asian countries and extended its military presence in the western Pacific through multilateral exercises with the US, Japanese, Australian and Singaporean navies, Quad is again a very visible projection of the same. Although not explicitly mentioning its strategy, analyzing India’s actions and keeping in mind the recent advancements, it’s pretty visible that India’s indo-pacific strategy is not very inclusive of China.
The way ahead
Although, but naturally, China keeps vary of all the developments in the Indo – Pacific, it still continues to play its cards in its own way in assessing the international environment by signing numerous FTAs with the ASEAN and other small nations, joining the multilateral organizations, through its soft power diplomacy and increasing its market dominance and investments. China has undoubtedly emerged as an indispensable force in the global order. Yet considering the turmoil around the Strait of Malacca, increasing counteractions by its neighbors and the growing insecurity in the region, it cannot afford the exclusiveness in the region. Similarly excluding China from the regional order is no way the solution for the looming instability in the region. Indo Pacific is a discourse in action. Both the inclusiveness and exclusiveness of nations, the growing anxiety, mistrust and other dilemmas are subjected to the social actions and constructions created by the stakeholders. But for the time being, the current position and conceptions of the nations in the region is not at all even close to the nomenclature it was supposedly endowed with, i.e. a ‘Free, Open and an inclusive Indo-Pacific.’ But then again, as Shakespeare quotes, “What’s in a name?”

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a bilateral project under Beijing’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a programme to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks along six corridors with the aim of improving regional integration, increasing trade and enhancing economic growth.
It was jointly launched on April 20, 2015 by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

CPEC is essentially a combination of infrastructure projects (network of roads, pipelines, power plants, industrial parks) currently under development in Pakistan. Initially, it was valued at $46 billion but the revised value has seen an increase of $16 billion, and now reportedly stands at $62 billion.

CPEC aims to serve the dual goal of improving the infrastructure within Pakistan and to further integrate the countries of the region for China. Under this program, Pakistan will prove to be an international interlinkage and the hub for international trade.

Pakistan will witness rapid enhancement and modernisation of the country’s infrastructure and economy including energy projects and transportation networks (road, rail, air).
According to PWC, Pakistan will be the world’s 20th largest economy by the year 2030. Reportedly, it will also record a creation of 700,000 to 800,000 jobs until then.

China will enjoy increasing its market by being connected to the Middle East, Africa and Asia through the shortest routes – Gwadar Port will facilitate trade from Persian Gulf and Africa to Western and Northern China reducing the distance by several thousand kilometers. Furthermore, it will witness economic development of relatively backward regions like Xinjiang, amongst others.

Thus, CPEC seems to be a strategic move by China to increase it’s economic influence. At the same time, it threatens the Indian National Security and sovereignty as it passes through Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

In the current scenario of world dynamics, we always come across the power struggle in the International Order between USA and China. As China has grown exponentially from the onset of the 21st century, it was hard not to see this struggle come into the fray. With the battle for the international supremacy in balance, some out of the box diplomatic manoeuvres were anticipated. One such practice being linked with China is the ‘Assassin’s Mace’ project. This paper tries to link the ‘Assassin’s Mace’ theory with the Chinese Foreign Policy that is being practiced by the People’s Republic of China since the end of the second part of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. China being an important architect of the modern world in terms of technology, culture, and trade, has highly sought to recapture the glory of their past. The Assassin’s Mace, according to researchers, is a super weapon designed by China to tip the balance of the International World Order in their favour.
According to the Pentagon, the Assassin’s Mace can be defined as technologies that an inferior military banks on, in order to outclass or outwit a superior power, when in conflict. It’s like a silver bullet, that helps in providing the decisive blow to an opponent. But these theories emerge from the shroud of ambiguity that surrounds the whole functioning and the operations of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army). It has been quite evident that after the onset of the 21st century, China has seen a massive campaign to modernize its military forces. This campaign has been quite successful, as it has helped China in asserting a dominating power within the Indo-Pacific region. Moreover, their breakthroughs within the missile component of the People’s Liberation Army’s Second Artillery Force (SAF) has caused alarm and deterrence within the US Army.
The vulnerability and inability to sense the strategies of the PLA has rung alarm bells within the Pentagon. This has led to the popularisation of the term, ‘Assassin’s Mace’ in popular and military context. But the problem related to this is that the Pentagon still does not have enough proof to back up their theory of Assassin’s Mace to be a weapons programme designed to outclass the USA. Furthermore, the lack of data related to this factor from the mainland adds more to the myth and ambiguity of this term.
The Idea behind Assassin’s Mace
Assassin’s mace, known as shashoujian is a swift and decisive moral victory over a seemingly powerful opponent. The term has its roots in the ancient Chinese folklore in which the hero in order to defeat a powerful adversary wields a blunt and heavy mace. This mace ensure a swift victory over the opponent. This ancient Chinese thought ties in with the modern ambitions of the Republic. While omitted from many discussions about Chinese military modernization in recent Western books and essays on the PLA, the shashoujian concept is a component of China’s strategic culture that influences grand strategy, in addition to Chinese national security policy and PRC military affairs.
According to researchers the massive push that the Chinese government has generated in the area of military and technology co-relates to this folklore. They support their theory based on massive strides China has made in the aforementioned areas. The theory gained prominence especially after the successful launch of the Anti-Satellite ballistic missile SC-19 on January 11,2007. This led the scholars to believe that China has progressed aggressively in strategic areas under a shroud of ambiguity. The prominence did not rely alone on the fact that China had a successful launch, but it also depended upon the fact that the USA had significant interests on space platforms, in order to function commercially and financially. As of September 2013, out of 1084 operational satellites, 461 are owned and operated by the United States and with the fiscal 2013 budget of $9.7 billion, military space programs are the primary means of precision navigation, global communications, reconnaissance, and early missile warning for the US national defence.
China’s Prowess in Strategy, Technology and Military
China has amassed a lot of power over this last decade with the help of their surge in the research and development department within the military. One of the biggest developments within the military was the setting up of a new service branch known as the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force. This branch has been tasked to pursue advancements in cyber, space and electronic warfare capabilities. This, the researchers argue, has been one of the initial steps in pivoting towards fifth-generation warfare concepts. These concepts have been said to become the foundation on which the strategy to outclass the USA depends upon. The reason being, the US still remains the undisputed leader in terms of technology and military spending, given their wealth of resources and advantage in terms of having a long-standing military and scientific front. On the other hand, China has always banked on its large territory and population to defeat it’s enemy. But in the modern world, the means of war have changed. And in order to achieve the dominance within the International Order, China has undertaken massive steps in order to improve its technology so that they can surge in the field of military, space, and electronics.
And as the Wall Street Journal, cited “executives at Chinese and Western companies,” put it, “China’s technology sector is reaching a critical mass of expertise, talent and financial firepower that could realign the power structure of the global technology industry in the years ahead.” The article then quoted a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers as saying, “Traditionally Chinese companies were fast followers, but we are starting to see true innovation…”
China is known to hold the largest standing army in the world and coupling it with the surge of advancements in the field of weaponry has made the country a serious contender in the race for arms. The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) has been one of the most successful developments by the PLA’s Strategic Support Force. One of the most potent one of those has been the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile, the DF-21D. this weapon is one of a kind and has the potential to alter the war at sea dramatically. With a range speculated to be over 1000 nautical miles from the Chinese mainland, the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile places in doubt the freedom of the US to project power in the region to protect its allies and interests.
Another potential development, which have all the major powers in the world worried, is the breakthrough in High Power Microwave Weapons. Helmed by Huang Wenhua, the deputy director of National Science and Technology Progress, this weapon can serve as a disruptor of all electronic communications being used by the opponent. The PLA over the years has grown exponentially. With sheer deterrence and aptitude, they have achieved in setting up an army that has the potential to ravage war on any front. As their defence spending has increased double fold within this decade, their capabilities and weaponry potential has increased too.
For long, China has been seen as a sleeping dragon, in the sense that everybody knew about the ability of the mainland, but it seems as though the country was given the benefit of the doubt. Nobody had expected them to come out as a challenger for the global dominance due to their plight after the second world war. But the facts point towards the opposite. The way China has developed its military capability, technological capability, and economical capability, shows its desire to dominate the international realm once again and the possibility that the theory of assassin’s mace might be true after all.

On December 19, 2020, it was reported that the Afghan National Directorate for Security (NDS) had exposed a deep espionage ring being operated under the aegis of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Among the arrests made by the NDS were one Li Yangyang and a woman named Sha Hung, who were caught in Kabul with explosives, ammunition, and even drugs like ketamine. This revelation went on to reveal the deep penetration of Chinese espionage agents in Afghanistan, something that has become a cause of concern for the South Asian region.

Now, one might argue that such arrests of spies are a common occurrence in the sphere of geopolitics. While they would not be wrong in positing such an argument, this expose goes much beyond a simple espionage ring. It is upon a closer study that one identifies China’s ominous designs at establishing a regional hegemony.

If various reports and analysis are to be believed, it would be safe to say that China, while indulging in espionage activities and working in tandem with known ‘devils’ in Afghanistan, is something that poses a risk to the region and especially, India. It has been argued that these Chinese spies were in regular contact with leaders from various terrorist outfits like the Haqqani Network (HQN), Taliban, and even Al-Qaeda. In this regard, a recent data leak had also highlighted the extent of Chinese espionage activities around the world. Moreover, the nexus between China and these terrorist organizations also forces one to look at the deeper nexus between China and Pakistan.

China’s Great Game and The Nexus

The ongoing US withdrawal from Kabul after the Afghanistan Peace Deal, 2020 is being closely watched by China. The reduction in US troops is being seen as an opportunity by China which it can exploit. By building its influence in Kabul, it can counter the US influence in the region and at the same time, posit itself as the leader of Asia. And to achieve this, Beijing is working in tandem with Islamabad.

The first issue that demands attention here is China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The connectivity tool being used by China to gain influence around the world is something that it has been wanting to extend to Afghanistan as well in the recent past. Kabul offers a unique opportunity to China through which it can extend the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It’ll help China to attain its dual strategic goals of exploiting Afghanistan’s mineral resources and at the same time, encircle India. Looking at the larger picture, it will also help Xi to realize his ‘China Dream’, at least in the region, if not the world. Thus, Beijing sees Kabul as an empty playground for it to establish its hegemony in Asia and at the least, project itself as a challenger to the US-led World Order.

The second goal that China wants to achieve in Afghanistan has more to do with its domestic policy on Uyghurs. The repression of millions of Uyghurs in the so-called Chinese ‘re-education’ camps is a well-known fact. According to various recent reports, China has been working with terrorist organizations like HQN, Taliban, and Al-Qaeda to track Uyghurs in various sparsely populated areas of Afghanistan. According to Manish Shukla, a defense analyst, Pakistan has been acting as a mediator for China to strike deals with these “devil groups”. Simultaneously, China is allegedly trying to spruce up false Uyghur terrorist groups in Afghanistan. China’s end goal, you might ask. “It is believed the Chinese agents were in Afghanistan to create a false ETIM, hopefully attract some Uyghur expatriates, perform terrorist attacks, and blame the Uyghur community, thus justifying repression in Xinjiang”, reasons Massimo Introvigne.

These two larger goals of China reveal yet another problem for the Indo-Pacific region i.e. the China-Pakistan nexus. China establishing deep espionage networks and playing buddy with terrorist organizations at the behest of Pakistan is something that might very well give teeth to the increasing threat of terrorism across the world. Moreover, this nexus is helping to derail the peace process in Afghanistan. China has reportedly lured the Taliban for investment negotiations, a process of which Pakistan is a part too. At the same time, Pakistan is also sponsoring Islamic State Wilayat Khorasan (ISKP), an ISIS affiliate terrorist organization in Afghanistan. Both China and Pakistan fear the negative implications of the US-Taliban Peace Deal and to prepare for a contingency plan, Pakistan might just be willing to use ISKP as a hedging strategy against the Taliban.

Therefore, both China and Pakistan, either way, are joining hands with globally designated terrorist outfits to achieve their own sinister goals.

The Threat to India and South Asia

The nefarious China-Pakistan nexus in Afghanistan is an issue that directly threatens Indian national security. During the ongoing Intra-Afghan Peace Talks, India assured Kabul of its active involvement in its peace talks with the Taliban. However, India has maintained that it will only be involved in the process through the Afghan government and will not engage with the Taliban, as it views the latter as being a radical fundamentalist terrorist group aided by Pakistan.

With China and Pakistan playing tricks to get an upper hand in Afghanistan post the US withdrawal, India stands at risk. India has undertaken numerous infrastructure development projects and military training projects in Afghanistan, which stand to be threatened if this nexus derails the peace process. Moreover, their collaboration with terrorist outfits like HQN, Taliban, and Al-Qaeda will provide the latter with economic teeth to expand their terrorist activities in India and even the globe. Pakistan recently losing the economic support of Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and UAE is something that has led it to look for alternatives. For this, they have turned to China and even Turkey in recent times. Whatever the case, India will be at risk.

Thus, India will need to recalibrate its strategy for Afghanistan to mitigate this risk and at the same time, maintain peace in the region. Yesterday, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval visited Afghanistan to discuss terrorism and building peace in the region with his Afghan counterpart. Afghan Charge D’Affaires Tahir Qadiry stated on Twitter that both advisors also discussed the strengthening of a regional consensus on the Afghan Peace Process. In this game of espionage and deals with the devils, building cooperation with like-minded nations will be a key to India’s countering strategy against the China-Pakistan nexus in Afghanistan.

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  • 1.Petition to UN on Turkey’s Surveillance State
  • 2.Statement of Solidarity with Dr. Gulshan Abbas

Editorials

by Bhavdeep Modi (Project Manager, Red Lantern Analytica)

On March 12, 2021, the Quad, while issuing a joint statement, said that it is “united in a shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific”. It further stated that “today, we pledge to respond to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19, combat climate change, and address shared challenges, including in cyberspace, critical technologies, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as maritime domains.”

This statement by the Quad after its first “leader-level” summit showed the world that in the aftermath of Chinese aggression and expansionism in a post-pandemic world, it has come together to deliver a message of unity.

However, with the world economy battered and a volatile environment in the region, the concerns regarding Chinese expansionism and adventurism continue to rise- the recent European Union (EU) backlash against China, rising tensions with the US, and continuous aggression towards India, are a few examples.

Keeping the Chinese threat in mind, the Quad needs to do more and also explore convergences in other multilateral arrangements that can ensure the peace and stability of the region.

And in doing so, it needs to take cues from India, whose role in the Quad so far, has been nothing less than exceptional.

India, in leading the global vaccination drive, containing China and regrouping the Quad, has shown the world that it is ready to be a superpower while being a responsible team player. New Delhi offers the Quad a rare opportunity to gather an alliance of “like-minded democracies” in an era of multilateralism.

The Chinese Threat

2020 saw the world get engulfed in the coronavirus pandemic. The virus, which spread from Wuhan in China, had various countries blaming Beijing for not containing its spread and also demanded an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. Moreover, recent reports of China planning on weaponizing the SARS coronaviruses back in 2016 have also seen a surge of backlash against Beijing, and for the right reasons.

As the pandemic spread to the whole world, China employed a strategy of deception, distraction, and disinformation to attain its goals of expansionism and establishing hegemony.

China implemented a new National Security Law in Hong Kong, suppressing dissent there and bringing it under Chinese control. At the same time, Beijing took aggressive aerial maneuvers around Taiwan, along with wolf warrior diplomacy, giving rise to concerns of a possible military takeover of Taipei in the future. It has also ramped up the ante against the United States over its militarization of the islands it built in the South China Sea. Of course, the trade tensions with Washington continue. Similarly, countries like France, the United Kingdom, India, New Zealand, the United States, and recently, the EU, have also highlighted the plight of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

However, China’s military move against India at the Line of Actual Control in Galwan in June 2020 is what served as a wake-up call to the world about Beijing’s intentions. It brought the attention of the concerned nations towards Chinese actions in the Indo-Pacific as well.

India, the Quad, and China

The Indo-Pacific, in recent times, has become a region of great power contestation, with two-thirds of container trade of the world passing through the region and rising powers like India, China, Japan, Australia, and France. In Indian EAM Dr. Jaishankar’s words, “The Indo-Pacific naturally means different things to different powers, but it undeniably is a priority for all of them.”

The United States has been continuing its pivot to Asia under Biden; the United Kingdom recently announced a similar pivot to the Indo-Pacific under the “Integrated Review”; the EU also concluded on its idea of the Indo-Pacific, and ASEAN adopted its outlook on the region back in 2019. Apart from these nations, India, France, and Australia have been traditional powers in the Indo-Pacific.

Nonetheless, it is the Chinese overtures in the Indo-Pacific that have caused global concern. It has pledged USD 400 billion to Iran; is pumping money into Pakistan via the China Pakistan Economic Corridor; is building influence in the African continent; and militarizing the South China Sea, thus deploying large naval assets in the region. The shared concern is about Chinese “duality” wherein it combines geo-economic and geopolitics to obtain control of strategic chokepoints (case in point Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka).

India, in this regard, played a leadership role in exposing the Chinese designs to the world. The border standoff with India in 2020 saw New Delhi cobble up diplomatic support against Chinese expansionism, especially in the Indo-Pacific. What eventually the world saw was the Quad coming together in its shared vision for the Indo-Pacific, while also talking about technology, maritime concerns, and building supply chain resilience.

India showed the way by responding to China with an iron hand and banishing the fear of Chinese backlash, leading other countries to start taking similar approaches, thus effectively isolating China.

The Way Forward: Building Multilateralism

Economic recovery and building a coalition on regional security are tantamount to world peace in the post-pandemic world. Major global powers, at this point, accept the need for multilateralism, barring China. Naturally, other major powers are willing to find avenues for building a security architecture in the region, based on multilateralism.

For this purpose, the role of India becomes critical in the world. Even though the world has appreciated India’s role in vaccine development and distribution, and New Delhi standing up to China, more needs to be done. New Delhi offers a host of opportunities that can lead to a win-win situation for both India and the world, especially in the Indo-Pacific.

As the Quad emerges as the most critical security grouping, focus also needs to be made on other multilateral forums for economic and military cooperation, with India as a core player in them.

Firstly, the economic dependence of countries on China and has led nations to look for building supply chains away from Beijing. To accomplish this, the importance of the Blue Dot Network (BDN) comes into play. Hailed as a counter to China’s BRI, the group consists of the US, Japan, and Australia and aims to improve infrastructure investment standards. Since the pandemic, debates around India’s inclusion in the BDN have increased, since the 3 members are New Delhi’s Quad partners as well. India’s inclusion in the BDN provides it with a partner that can provide a solid base to build supply chains, and will be equally effective against rising Chinese “debt-traps” in the region.

Secondly, exploring the possibility of India joining the Five Eyes Alliance, an intelligence alliance comprising of the US, New Zealand, UK, Australia, Canada), makes for a rational choice as well. The Five Eyes Alliance already has a working relationship with India. A US Congressional Committee in 2019 also appreciated India’s role as a third-party partner in the Indo-Pacific. Even in 2020, the Five Eyes, India and Japan jointly supported backdoor entry to apps like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram. While India’s inclusion is still being debated, even in New Delhi, one cannot deny that there is a lot of room for cooperation for the involved stakeholders.

Thirdly, forums like the BDN, Five Eyes, and the Quad have also increased the likelihood of Quad Plus becoming a reality in the future. After the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, the Quad held virtual meetings with New Zealand, South Korea, and Vietnam to discuss the response to the pandemic. This led to anticipation regarding the Quad Plus and even the possibility of France and Germany as possible inclusions in the future. While it yet remains to be seen whether the Quad will get institutionalized and eventually expand, the common concern for China and the rising importance of the Indo-Pacific opens up a lot of doors for countries to converge on in the grouping.

Lastly, with the anti-China threat at an all-time high across the globe, India and the Quad also need to tap the Milk Tea Alliance. With social media being a tool for building diplomatic support, India and others can benefit from the online communities of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and Myanmar.

Thus, to truly build an “open and free Indo-Pacific”, what is required of countries is to better understand India’s ambitions and its vision for the Indo-Pacific and the world. As the global calls increase for building a coalition of “like-minded nations”, the focus of the Quad should be to establish a regional security architecture that, while accepting the Chinese threat, should cater to other geopolitical concerns as well.

by Akshara Bharat (Guest Author)

When Britain ceded Hong Kong back to China in 1997, Beijing pledged to preserve the city’s capitalist system, along with certain democratic freedoms which people of mainland China are deprived of. At present under China’s “one country, two systems” policy, Hong Kong has a status of special administrative region and is free to manage its own affairs, but only until 2047, when the city is expected to fully become a part of mainland China. The entire arrangement was agreed upon by Beijing under the Sino-British Joint declaration of 1984.

The bone of contention here is that China under the leadership of Xi Jinping isn’t waiting for the deal to expire. It has already started stifling pro-democratic voices in Hongkong and is cracking down on the city with a heavy hand, thus crushing all hopes of it ever developing into a full-fledged democracy. China has been chipping away the freedom of Hong Kong bit by bit, ever since the handover took place, fifteen years ago.

The city, however, has been pushing back hard, as the Hong Kongers have time and again erupted into mass protests against Chinese aggression. The latest being in 2019, when tens of thousands of people flooded the streets and protested against the controversial extradition bill, which now stands suspended. The proposed legislation would have allowed the suspects of criminal wrongdoing to be extradited to mainland China, where there is no fair trial and an individual’s rights aren’t worth a dime.

In June 2020, when the entire world was reeling under Wuhan Virus, China bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature passed a draconian national security law that undermines the city’s civil liberties and restricts fundamental rights. By virtue of the law, Beijing in the garb of national security bestowed upon itself the power to stifle any form of dissent and curtail all pro-democratic voices in Hong Kong. The Chinese officials have maintained that the imposition of the law became inevitable in order to restore peace and stability following the massive protests of 2019. However, pro-democratic voices have vehemently condemned the law and have expressed fears that it could mean the end of everything that makes Hong Kong unique from mainland China.

Hong Kong has a legislature with democratically elected representatives, called the Legislative Council, and it has 70 seats. Unlike China, Hong Kong has many political parties, but they are divided into two factions- pro-democracy or pro-China. In every election, pro-democracy political parties have won the popular vote, but unfortunately, they occupy less than half of the seats within the Council. So, when the residents of Hong Kong vote, they only do so for 40 out of the total 70 seats. The other 30 representatives are elected by various business communities of Hong Kong, as big businesses make benefits by being in the good books of Beijing. Hence, these 30 seats are dominated by pro-China political parties.

In the year 1997, when Hong Kong was handed over to China, Beijing made an agreement with the city, that eventually all members of the council will be elected by the people via free and fair elections. However, China has increasingly shown reluctance in granting Hong Kongers a universal suffrage. To further crack down on the political rights of the people, China overhauled the City’s electoral system in March this year. Now, Beijing-appointed politicians will have a greater say in running the Special Administrative Region (SAR), therefore marking the biggest change since the handover in 1997.

“The electoral changes being discussed, if passed, will prevent any candidate advocating democratic reforms to be elected to office,” says Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies. “The current system is already stacked against democracy advocates, so further changes seem unnecessary, but perhaps reflect Beijing’s obsession with wiping out dissent and exerting complete control.” Such tyrannical measures by China have silenced many voices of democracy in Hong Kong and have prompted many to flee the city.

Moreover, Hong Kong’s status as one of the most prominent global financial hubs appears to be under threat as well. “Beijing’s ideal scenario is to keep Hong Kong as a financial centre without all the freedom. But it seems that you really cannot maintain Hong Kong’s international financial standing while stifling its freedom”, says Victoria Tin-bor Hui at University of Notre Dame.

“This dramatic transformation will not be the end of Hong Kong as a global financial hub, as it has already begun to boost economic integration with mainland China. But it is surely the death of the democratic hopes of most of its 7.5 million people,” CFR’s Jerome A. Cohen writes.

Hong Kong is another Tibet in making. Many countries have expressed grave concerns regarding the worrying state of affairs in Hong Kong. But mere condemnation isn’t going to discourage China from further cracking down on the political and civil liberties of the 7.5 million Hong Kongers.

Public Diplomacy and its Impact for India

Public Diplomacy is a spectacle par excellence but never a Tamasha, or a mere
showmanship for the Fourth Estate. The entire process of Foreign Policy maneuvers
undertaken by the Modi denomination falls in the category of sane and controlled razzmatazz
in order to serve the national interest which is an inane comprehension in the diatribes of the
opposition. The entire process is part of a larger Political Interest model which ascertains a
riposte from the State actor or the Regime of the day as the opposition aka the arch antagonist
utilizes the modicum of palsied propaganda and vitriol in order to belittle the Global overarch
of the New Delhi denomination.

The Indian Scenario

PM Modi has been a kind of path-breaking idiom in the seventy years of saintly
somnolence in the establishment. The tack of an artifice is to market a nation which is already
accoutered with the vast and rich heritage and a rich culture which made the outing
comfortable for our Prime Minister. It’s the art of the impossible which the previous Regimes
miserably failed to undertaken in “a must approach” of making the Bhartiya idiom
successfully poised in the larger ideational terrain of Global Politics. What the New Delhi
denomination has achieved is the larger-than-life artifice of launching forth a surging nation
on to a pathway of International prominence and resuscitation of its past glory in order to
create a separate and Unique selling proposition for Indian morality and age old but timeless
ethicality in the realm of Foreign Policy along with a newly expressed readiness for pursuing
a guilt-free aggressive foreign policy.

The speeches in Madison Square Garden, the UN General Assembly, San Jose and
the US Congress have ushered in the theme of Indian hyper-suissance in the Global arena.
International Politics is also about staging a show and presenting a badly imaged nation in a
prim and proper manner which the New Delhi denomination has successfully achieved. The
Linen shirts of all the, heads of states, with, President Donald Trump looking engaged as the
Indian Prime Minister presented the Indian speak in all its resplendent glory, is a visage
which was not witnessed in the past era of international relations. The South East Asian facet
is one mere scintillation and the entire aplomb is about tying up with the United States in the
larger context. Realism ordains a pragmatic approach and life is difficult for Political leaders
as they cannot be judgmental in foreign Affairs like an ordinary denizen. This can be
achieved through the informal convergence of the Quad group of nations, namely, United
States, India, Australia and Japan which goes beyond the mere and direct objective of
Chinese containment. It is here that India and United States share common regional and
global objectives and with the Covid-19’s second wave taking its toll on Indian population,
United States needs to shore up the Indian health tragedy.

The larger professional world which is worth talking about understands the
importance of communication which has been brilliantly achieved in a grandiloquent manner
by the New Delhi denomination. It’s here in the quaint innovation streak along with Global
mobilization buttressed by unparallel presentation which makes the post 2014 Foreign Policy
a successful outing without being muscular or anything which is the much bandied verbiage
traded by several international relations observers.

The India US Relationship

The manner in which New Delhi has maneuvered in the context of the Nuclear
Supplier Groups (NSG) and negotiated New Delhi’s entry inside the dynamics of the global
nuclear trade is also commendable has added to the stature of the Indian nation. With the
Interim National Security Document released in the aftermath of the first hundred days in
office for President Joe Biden, the emphasis is back on reengagement. It can also be surmised
that the importance to values and ethics leading on to a larger convergence of Democracies
and the revitalization of Democratic entities too has come to the foreground. President
Trump, too, had postulated about the new leadership role of New Delhi which has reached
fruition with the New Delhi being a dialogue partner of the negotiating parties in the Doha
round of diplomacy. Thus, the larger notion of New Delhi finding its way through two hostile
neighbors, namely, Pakistan and China with the age of Chinese hegemony and expanse
requires a new re balancing by India. President Joe Biden too states in the Interim National
Security document that China and Russia remain as twin stiff challenges for the United
States. Along with India, US, too insists on an adherence to the ideals of innovation, artificial
intelligence and automated robotics, as, a precursor element of American reengagement with
the advent of the Joe Biden Administration. Thus, in the present context of a freshly elected
Joe Biden administration, cooperation can be furthered in the line of the India’s Covid-19
challenge as pressure mounts on the White House to secure India in the devastating
Pandemic.

*Dr. Dwivedi is an Assistant Professor at a New Delhi based
prominent think tank institution Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA),
linkedin.com/in/manan-dwivedi-9454b939

**Mr. Nayan is a PhD Scholar at Central University of Kerala and
former Research Assistant at IIPA; linkedin.com/in/shonit-nayan-516205143

[Views expressed in the column are personnel and are completely independent of
their respective institutional affiliations.]

By Jim Aristopoulos (Social anthropologist and Historian)

During the last decades, we have witnessed the economic rise of Far Eastern countries with the so called “Asian Miracle”. China is the main protagonist in this historical process. China has achieved this by binding ports in many countries in the Western world and transferring most of the goods internationally. Because of this, China has reached a level of economic dominion in most places in the world. There is, however, an aspect of economic life that China has not achieved a monopoly in – shipping. In this part of international trade industry, Greece, a Mediterranean country of only 11 million people, happens to rank first. Effectively, Greece is a great economic rival to China’s economic world dominion in this one industry.
For a country like Greece, which represents only 0.15% of the world’s population (compared to China 18.47%), it is really impressive that ships owned by Greeks represent about 21% of global shipping.
But how did Greek shipowners manage to create the largest international merchant fleet and remain at the top of global shipping, facing crises, adversity and challenges in an extremely competitive environment, with positive growth rates?
Unlike most Greek entrepreneurs, shipowners have, from the beginning, treated shipping as an export sector, incorporating – even the so-called “traditional” – models of management of multinational groups, while adopting a unique, special and extremely aggressive business philosophy, aimed at development and expanding into new markets and sectors, as top consulting firms admit in the City of London, the world’s most important financial center for shipping.
Although Greek seafaring is based on small and medium-sized companies, which are usually family businesses, it has unique advantages, such as flexibility and adaptability to changing economic conditions, and has been able to respond immediately to all major post-war crises by showing resilience to changes in trade standards (technical, technological, environmental, etc.) and international standards, world trade trends and international freight market requirements.
Assistant Professor of Maritime History at the University of Piraeus, Tzelina Charlaftis, has authored books entitled “History and Shipping, 16th-20th century” (Stachy Publications) and “History of Greek-Owned Shipping, 20th century”. He revealed that in 1875, Greek shipping was at its peak with 70 seagoing cargo ships carrying cargo between the Black Sea, the Western Mediterranean and Northern Europe. The records of that year show that the Greek fleet consisted of 2,500 sailboats, with most of the fleet based in the Cyclades, where the island of Syros turned into a shipping center with 800 registered sailboats.
In the book “The History of Greek-owned Shipping,” he claims that from the creation of the Greek state until the end of World War I, Greek ships increased their capacity tenfold, crossing the Mediterranean into the Black Sea and the Atlantic Ocean into the North Sea.
In early 20th century London, Greek shipowners set up business networks and sought to penetrate the world’s financial centers. In the period 1915-1919, Greek shipowners made the gradual leap into the Atlantic and the New World (the Americas), while in the interwar period, they strengthened their position in world shipping by taking advantage of the decline of the British fleet and other European shipping countries. Until 1939, Greek shipping was on the rise and spread more than any other period since Roman times!

The advantages and disadvantages that Greece and China have in terms of shipping
If we look at the map of Greece, we will see one of the main reasons for its advantages in the shipping sector.
First of all, 80% of Greece is covered in mountains – there are many advantages to having a mountainous landscape, and there are some negative aspects as well. For example, it’s quite hard to grow large quantities of food in mountainous regions. So, the Greeks have traditionally turned to the sea in order to fish (since it’s a country surrounded by sea) and engage in maritime trade in order to get food like wheat and resources like gold.
Also, Greece is a nation with over 5,000 islands, hundreds which are populated. This implies that having a big shipping industry was vital for the population centers in these islands.
Another advantage Greece has is its geostrategical position.
Not only is Greece geostrategically located between three major continents (Europe, Africa and West Asia) by being in the East Mediterranean, but it is also quite close to the Suez Canal, one of the most important trade routes in the world. At the same time, it also has a short land connection to some of the wealthiest European nations on earth.
All these factors imply that Greece has been destined to be a maritime and trading nation ever since it made its geographical boundaries. As such Greece has been a seapower for many milleniums, forming not only a great shipping industry whose roots lie in ancient customs of focusing on the sea and transports of goods, but also a great navy, which has never faced defeat in any battle since its modern formation in 1821.
This is a clear advantage over China, whose investement on the sea is quite recent. In China’s most important historical periods, they had been a land power, whose economy was mostly based on agriculture and livestock.
However there are clearly some advantages on the part of China which have an obvious impact for them in terms of competition.
70 years ago, the image of China was that it was a huge but poor country, with no trading partners, diplomatic relations and no external backers – a Giant in isolation, doomed to pursue self-sufficiency.
In 2021, however, the economic power of China, when it comes to its global real estate portfolio, has exceeded to the point that has granted the country great capital that runs at about $14 trillion. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, its GDP growth has not ceased at all, unlike Greece.
These capital advantages and this economic growth have given the Chinese the chance to buy about a dozen ports in Europe, such as the port of Genoa in Italy, the ports of Marseille, Nantes and Le Havre in France, as well as the port of Marsaxlokk in Malta, those of Bilbao and Valencia in Spain and many more. Among the ports that have been bought by COSCO is the port of Piraeus in Greece, exploiting the chance of doing so after the Greek economic crisis in 2010. The Chinese have invested in buying the greatest port in the East Mediterranean, which might cause a form of dependency of the Greek shiping industry on Chinese companies.
Many Greek shipowners, such as Evangelos Marinakis, have already expressed their concerns about the effects of COSCO’s monopoly on Piraeus. Furthermore, COSCO, like most of China’s businesses, are state-controlled, which implies that the achievements of Chinese businessmen are a direct benefit for the state as well, giving out the fact that China’s regime lacks a clear distinction between private sector and state-owned businesses when it comes to economy.
This is not the case with Greece, where Greek businessmen and shipowners consider the state a parasitic bureaucratic Frankenstein that destroys private initiative. This mentality however has historically led many Greek shipowners to tax evasion and enact their influence on many political leaders in Greece – there have been laws that have granted them tax exemptions of a high degree, something that has caused the Greek state to lose a great amount of tax revenue for many years now.

What will happen in the future and how will this shipping rivalry between China and Greece play out?
Given the fact that China’s investments in Southern Europe shall continue to spread, there is no doubt that the economic influence on Greece shall increase. The Greek shipping industry has two main issues to face in the future: the first is the fourth industrial revolution, and the second is the fear that China might overtake Greece as top shipping nation by 2030.
Already on March 31, 2015, the Shanghai International Shipping Institute officially released its 2030 China Shipping Development Outlook which analyses the future of China’s shipping industry. According to the text, China’s total shipping volume will reach 6.2 billion tons, which will account for 17% of the world’s shipping volume.
China is expected to exceed Greece in terms of total fleet capacity by 2030, and China’s ship financing will account for 30% of the world volume.
These facts have troubled Greek shipowners who believe in investing in the fourth industrial revolution. The so-called fourth industrial revolution, which already greatly affects the daily lives of people on land, makes the first, but dynamic steps in shipping.
This period, for some representatives of the shipping industry, is more important than the “steam revolution” in shipping in the 19th century, and the transition, then, from sail to coal – a development that gave a huge boost to shipping, increased speeds, increased ships and strengthened safety.
People are now turning to green technologies, while communication capabilities and automation are slowly but steadily reducing the number of sailors.
The picture is similar in shipyards and ports since automation has become mainstay. Unmanned terminals in ports are constantly multiplying, while in shipyards the demand for workers is declining due to the dynamic entry of automation, robotics and communication in industry.
“Green ships”, autonomous ships, smart ships, smart materials, digitisation, interconnection, cybersecurity, blockchain and information dissemination, artificial intelligence and robotics – these are the next challenges for the shipping industry, which seems to be entering a long period of transformation.

The International North-South Transport Corridor route via India, Iran, Azerbaijan/or/and Armenia (if possible) and Russia. (Source with permission: CSIS Reconnecting Asia, Competing Visions)

On March 8, the Indian Ambassador to Iran Gaddam Dharmendra announced that India is planning on connecting the Chabahar port (a seaport in southeast Iran, heavily invested in by India) and the Indian Ocean with Eurasia and Helsinki through the territory of Armenia, creating an International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), adding that New Delhi is planning to make Chabahar the most important and busiest port in the region. This announcement spread enthusiasm in the Armenian press and some government circles. On this occasion, Deputy Prime Minister Dikran Avinian met with the Indian ambassador of Armenia on March 16 and discussed ways to boost trade between the countries and Armenia’s role in the north-south trade corridor. However, until now Armenia has been far from playing an active role in this project. The government lacks a clear strategy and its infrastructure requires huge foreign investments which are conditioned with the political stability in the country. This article will analyze the main geopolitical and economic goals behind India’s regional ambition and whether Armenia can fit within New Delhi’s Eurasian vision.

What is the INSTC project, and why it is vital for India?
The INSTC project was originally decided between India, Iran and Russia in 2000 in St. Petersburg and subsequently included 10 other countries: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Oman, Syria and Bulgaria as an observer. It envisions a 7,200-km-long multi-mode network of ship, rail and road routes for transporting cargo aimed at reducing the carriage cost between India and Russia by about 30-percent and bringing down the transit time from 40 days by more than half.
The objective of the corridor is to increase trade connectivity between major cities of the member states. The primary goal of the project is to reduce costs in terms of time and money and increase trade volumes between member states. A study conducted by the ‘Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Associations in India (FFFAI) found the route is, “30 percent cheaper and 40 percent shorter than the current traditional route.” It is estimated that the corridor will facilitate carrying 20 to 30 million tonnes of goods per year. INSTC will help India gain smooth access into Central Asia via Iran and beyond.

Geopolitically and geo-economically, the INSTC is also being seen as New Delhi’s counterweight strategy to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China is India’s competitor in the region. The corridor is going to leave a deep impact on India’s engagement with Eurasia, as India—the fifth-largest economy in the world—looks forward to fostering deeper and stronger ties in the region. INSTC also serves another one of India’s geopolitical interests as it bypasses archrival Pakistan and strengthens its cooperation with Russia and other members of the project.
Iran plays an important role as a transit hub in this project. To connect Eurasia to the Indian Ocean, India agreed to invest up to $635 million to develop the Iranian deep-sea port of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman which is only 300 kilometers from Gwadar, the major Pakistani trade hub port heavily invested in by China. Predicting that Chabahar will change the regional economic dynamics, Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammed Eslami called for assistance from India in developing the project. New Delhi successfully convinced the US not to impose any sanctions on Indian investment in Chabahar. To facilitate trade between India and Iran, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in 2015 for the construction of the Chabahar-Zahedan railway project. The railway project is being said to align with New Delhi’s interest in creating an alternate trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Viewed from New Delhi, if implemented this would have been a strategic victory over China, which has been interested in having a major stake in the infrastructure sector of Iran.

According to Mher Sahakyan, founder and director of the China-Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research, INSTC is also full of challenges. The project might create an uneasy situation in which Iran might have to make a strategic choice between India’s INSTC and China’s BRI. Russia’s position is not so easy either. The INSTC and Russian interests converge as Russia would be connected to the Persian Gulf through railroads. However, Moscow faces Western sanctions due to its military and political involvement in Ukraine, making it harder for Moscow to make major investments in infrastructure projects in other INSTC member states. Furthermore, Russia is also participating in China’s BRI through the New Eurasian Land Bridge and the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor. However, according to Mher Sahakyan, Moscow doesn’t want to be a junior partner with Beijing, and for this reason it values INSTC and Russo-Indian cooperation, as Russia sees India as a partner for balancing power with the Asian superpower, China. In this context, the INSTC could become an important economic and strategic tool connecting Russia with the Gulf region and the Indian Ocean. Within this context, viewed from Moscow, the unblocking of trade routes between Armenia and Azerbaijan would further facilitate the project.

Viewed from Yerevan, an intersection point between Russian, Chinese, and Indian interests in the South Caucasus, Armenia needs foreign direct investments to revive and build its poor infrastructure connecting South Armenia to Iran through railroads. The next section will analyze why Armenia is far behind Azerbaijan in playing a crucial transit role and what steps must be taken to revive Armenia’s historic role along the Eurasian trade routes.

Armenia’s proposal: a strategy or a “pipe dream”?

According to the November 9 trilateral agreement, transport routes between Armenia and Azerbaijan should have been unblocked. However, this does not mean Armenia will join regional infrastructure projects as its infrastructures remain underdeveloped and in need of renovation and updates. If Armenia joins the project and INSTC passes through its territories, then it would have passages to both the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf. This would make it easier for Armenian shippers to enter international markets and export their products through simplified procedures over both land and sea.

Armenia’s vision of the North-South corridor (roads and railways) connecting Northern Armenia to the South and Iran. (Source: Stratfor, January 2, 2016)
For this purpose, Armenia aimed to construct the “North-South” transport road, 550-km long, to facilitate communication with Iran and Georgia and beyond. Part of the construction roads are being implemented by the Chinese company Sinohydro Corporation (under the 2009 loan agreement with the Asian Development Bank). The construction work was to be completed in 2016, however, it began with a delay of three years. According to this agreement, Armenia received $40 million. The second tranche amounted to $50 million; negotiations are underway to provide the third tranche.

While, in the south, Armenia has proposed construction of the Armenia–Iran Railway Concession, also called Southern Armenia Railway. The project remains ink on paper with no financier as the economic feasibility is doubtful, though Armenia continues to try to find sponsors and private investors to make the project economically more viable. Before the feasibility study was completed by Dubai-based Rasia FZE investment company, the Southern Armenia Railway was anticipated to be a 316 kilometer railway linking Gavar, 50 kilometers east of Yerevan near Lake Sevan, with the Iranian border near Meghri. Following a meeting on September 3, 2013 with former Armenian President Serge Sarkissian, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that Russian Railways could invest about RUB 15 billion in the development of the Armenian Railway. The feasibility study results indicated that the Southern Armenia Railway would cost approximately $3.5 billion US to construct; the lengths were reduced to around 305 kilometers from Gagarin to Agarak, providing a base operating capacity of 25 million tons per annum. The railway will have 84 bridges spanning 19.6 kilometers and 60 tunnels of 102.3 kilometers, comprising 40-percent of the total project length. As the key missing link in the International North-South Transport Corridor, the Southern Armenia Railway would create the shortest transportation route from the ports of the Black Sea to the ports of the Persian Gulf.

According to the study, Southern Armenia Railway would establish a major commodities transit corridor between Europe and the Persian Gulf region, based on traffic volume forecasts of 18.3 million tons per annum. Moreover, the Armenian-Iranian branch of the railway will connect with the longer branch Tabriz-Tehran-Gorgan (Iran) – Etrek-Bereket-Gyzylgaya (Turkmenistan) – Zhanaozen-Aktau-Nur-Sultan-Dostyk (Kazakhstan) – Urumqi (China). This railway is of strategic importance because it will connect Armenia as a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) not only to other member states but also Iran, India and China.

However, this may turn into a “pipe dream” since Armenia’s main regional partner Iran seems reluctant to provide a loan for the construction of the Armenian part of the railway – which is approximately 250 kilometers. The Iranian part of the railway is around 60 kilometers. Besides, it is notable that Armenia’s state railway company is largely owned by the Russian “Southern-Caucasus Railway” company. That is, all developments are dependent on Russia’s political will and developments in Armenia.

According to Mher Sahakyan, the implementation of the North-South road corridor has a geopolitical advantage as it will also increase the security of Armenia. It is worth mentioning that one of the main important factors to winning a war is to facilitate the fast movement of military units and equipment and supply routes. In this context, Sahakyan argues that the North-South road will strengthen Armenia’s security and the combat readiness of the Armenian army. However, Armenia is far from implementing this project in the short term, as Azerbaijan has emerged as a strong competitor and trustworthy partner in the project.

Existing railways and transit roads of INSTC connecting major Eurasian cities to each other. (Source with permission: CSIS Reconnecting Asia, Insights on India, May 3, 2021)
Azerbaijan’s advantageous position

Unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan is heavily involved in the project, building new train lines and roads to complete missing links in the INSTC.
Founder and director of the “Armenia – Iran strategic cooperations development center” foundation Pooya Hosseini argued in an interview that Azerbaijan is creating every condition and making every effort to have the corridor pass through its territories, thereby increasing its role in international and regional processes while keeping Armenia under further economic blockade and isolation.

In 2005, Azerbaijan’s accession to the INSTC agreement paved the way for connecting India to Russia via Iran and later Azerbaijan by linking the Iranian railroads to the West of the Caspian Sea. This railroad has another positive factor that can link India to Europe via Turkey by connecting the Iranian-Azerbaijani railroads to the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad. Anticipating cargo transit through its territory in the range of 15 to 20 million tons at full capacity, Baku has been especially active in upgrading infrastructure and building new roads and railways by attracting foreign and local investments. In 2019, Azerbaijan planned to invest $1 billion in its railway infrastructure by 2022.

Azerbaijan also has another advantage: a new railroad that has been constructed in Iran covering a 164-kilometer span between Rasht and Astara via Anzali, Iran’s other major Caspian port city. The line is also supposed to enable travel between Baku and Nakhichevan. For this reason, Azerbaijan has agreed to jointly finance the project, with each side contributing $500 million. According to a Center for Strategic and International Studies report, Baku has also provided a $1.5 billion soft loan to Iran for the construction, which started in the first half of 2018 and will run through 2022. Iran has started construction work to complete the missing link of the Qazvin-Rasht-Astara road and railway (205 kilometers) including the Rasht-Astara section (164 kilometers). The project involves the construction of 369 kilometers of bridges and railway lines to link the southern sections to the northern ones.

Azerbaijan, despite being India’s archrival Pakistan’s strategic partner, with its advanced railroad systems is playing a greater role in implementing India’s Eurasian vision in the INSTC than Armenia, which is in dire need of investments to revive its role in these trade networks.

Conclusion

According to Hosseini, Armenians must take into account the geopolitical factors too. Political and geopolitical interests are shifting; new developments are occurring in the region and such developments would have an impact on international trade. Recently, the Pakistan-Azerbaijan-Turkey axis has pushed India to increase its interest in Armenia and would like to see the INSTC passing through the Armenian territories, keeping in mind that Armenia is also the only country in the EEU that has a land border with Iran. Taking into account Iran’s desire to become a full member of the EEU in the future, as well as India’s interest in the EEU structure and possible future membership, Armenia’s chances of joining regional trade projects would be high.

Meanwhile, in addition to the geopolitical component, Armenia will be able to be involved in the transport corridor if it successfully finishes the construction of its North-South road corridor. The building of the North-South Corridor will provide Armenia with an opportunity to strengthen its economy, security and geopolitical position. However, given Azerbaijan’s advantage concerning its infrastructures, Armenia must engage in India and seek trade partners and investors to invest in the North-South corridor which is very costly for the Armenian government. Hosseini argued that Armenia can attract investments from India only through three decisive factors: strengthening political relations with New Delhi, increasing its economic activities and engaging lobbying efforts. Thus, the Armenian side should organize business forums and invite Russian, Iranian and Indian entrepreneurs and investors for this purpose. If Armenia uses these three factors proportionally, the chances of being part of such important international projects increase.

By joining such projects, Armenia would not only be freed of trade isolation imposed by Turkey and Azerbaijan, irrespective of the unblocking of trade routes between Yerevan and Baku according to the November 9 trilateral statement, but also become a crucial player in international trade routes and attract the interest of rising regional powers. This project should be a top national security priority for Armenia as it must take serious measures to end its isolation and attract foreign investments in the road and railway projects. If Armenia does not develop a coherent strategy, then its projects would turn into no more than a “pipe dream.”

The inclusiveness of a Free and Open Indo Pacific construct vis a vis China
The term Indo-Pacific is comparatively a very recent and an evolving concept in the domain of international relations which consists of some of the most powerful economies of the world. Though the concept of a Free and Open Indo Pacific(FOIP), reflects an inclusive image of the region, manifesting much cooperation and coordination between the stakeholders in terms of trade, security and international order, how inclusive does it remains for the largest and one of the major players of the region?
What is Indo Pacific?
Geographically, the stretches of Indo-Pacific can be marked from the eastern shores of Africa to the western coast of the United States, given some variations in the definitions with respect to each actor and its own geographic positioning in the ocean. It can be simply understood as what the name itself suggests, as a zone of the merger of the two major oceans of the world i.e. The Indian and the Pacific Ocean. As Japanese Prime Minister Mr. Shinzo Abe during his visit to India in 2007, had for the very first time introduced the term in his parliamentary address as the “Confluence of the two seas”.
When pondered Geo-politically, even though the indo – pacific space has always existed, what recent advancements in the international order led to the term being increasingly used in the lexicon of foreign affairs reports, speeches, white papers etc? The answer to this question comes with certain political connotations and practical implications depending on the transnational imaginations, deepening economic links, great power competitions and the perceived rise of China.
Strategically speaking, the emergence of the concept can be understood as the direct consequence of the rising insecurities of a relatively declining USA vis a vis the rising dragon, China. Along with US, the fears of this realistic Sino-centric state in the pacific and the Indian ocean is also increasingly warred by the other super powers of the region such as Japan, Australia, some of the South East Asian nations and last but not the least, India.
Why Indo – Pacific?
Strategically and politically speaking, the construct of the Indo –Pacific can be very conveniently stemmed back to the consequences that lead to this region gaining traction in the last few years from the other powerful nations in the globe. The reasons for the same can be seen via multiple dimensions as follows:
1) In order to enhance globalization, trade interdependence, connectivity of the maritime domain and the addressal of counterterrorism, non-proliferation and cyber issu
2) To strengthen the shared commitment to maintain and strengthen a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific in which all nations are sovereign, strong and prosperous.
3) Focus on the shared support for a free, open and inclusive region that fosters universal respect for international law, freedom of navigation and overflight and sustainable development is the other aspect which is most talked about in the formal setup, and
4) And lastly plus most importantly, the global anxieties with respect to the rise of China, leading to an intensification of the regional competition and a discursive stability, particularly concerning the Asian regional order.

China’s rise in the Indo Pacific
China’s rise has been ubiquitous and in multiple forms. Its foreign policies have been pretty aggressive as compared to that of USA’s. Courtesy to its sturdy presence throughout the parts of Africa and Eurasia, that are well endowed with oil and minerals, it seeks to secure the port access throughout the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea as well, which connect the hydrocarbon-rich Arab-Persian world to the Chinese seaboard. Given its favorable location in the map, China’s continental power expands from Central Asia to the South China Sea, from the Russian Far East to the Indian Ocean which is quite evident and not so favorable for the other actors in the region. String of pearls, Belt and Road initiative (BRI), China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Maritime Silk Road, the both covert and over military and naval operations, its modification of the national boundaries in Oceania, Southern and South east nations, and last but not the least, the growing investments and market dominance, have become an ever greening concern for the bothered nations that fall in and around the sphere.
The construction Indo- Pacific and China’s exclusion
With its vast land mass and fast-growing economy, along with its ambition to pursue regional hegemony, China is viewed as a natural candidate to dominate Asia. And the other superpowers, especially USA, Japan, India, Australia and the South East Asian nations that have an important role to play in the region definitely cannot afford this. Hence the very construct of the Indo Pacific germinates primarily from this contest of Asian hegemony and rivalry.
The notion of Indo Pacific is a product of Pentagon’s AirSea Battle plan, also known as ‘pivot to Asia’ (Medcalf, Heinrichs, and Jones 2011) serving the dual purpose of both constraining the rise of a ‘peer competitor’ in Asia and preventing regional integration from being ‘inward looking and exclusive’ (Ciorciari 2011). With US recognizing the importance of the role of Indian ocean in accordance with the Pacific, the role of the Indian peninsular lying in the epicenter of the Indian ocean, made it strategically and commercially more viable for USA as well as India to optimally explore and utilize the caveats of the region. This lead to increased number of joint naval and military exercises in the troubled regions and strengthening of the security ties, along with the enhanced trade and commerce, in turn, fitting with the very clever anti china image of the US.
Likewise, growing concerns over China’s increasing dominance when coupled with USA’s growing interest in the region and a rising India, gave impetus to other major nations such as Australia and Japan and other South East Asian nations to delve their attention towards the dynamics of the Indo Pacific sphere. As early as 2007, while visiting India, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2007) proposed ‘a dynamic coupling’ of the Pacific and the Indian Oceans ‘as seas of freedom and of prosperity’. The importance Australia places on the Indian Ocean can be observed in the 2013 Defence White Paper, which is considered the country’s first official document to cite “Indo-Pacific.” Similarly both Japan and Australia have essentially made efforts to not only cooperate with US alone, but attach a similar importance to India as well, given its vast economy, its steady development, growing proximity with the US, location of the nation, political dimensions and already thriving bilateral and multilateral ties with both the nations.
India’s perception of Indo Pacific.
In the backdrop of the several perspectives held by the various partner nations with regard to India, with countries like the US, Australia, Japan and Indonesia perceiving Indo-Pacific as Asia Pacific plus India, trying to embed India into the strategic dynamic of Asia Pacific, hence wanting India’s presence in the South China Sea, East China Sea, basically to counter China, India stands different .It seeks to cooperate for an architecture for peace and security in the region, ‘An Arch of Freedom’, as Japan terms it. But does it’s actions reflect the same?
Given China’s growing proximity with Pakistan, the continuous violations of the global norms and the upsurge in border tensions to India’s recent exit from RCEP in November 2019, India’s policy has majorly been two folded i.e. Hedging and Balancing. Given the long-standing mistrust between India and China, a strategic logic is not far below the surface. For example, the 2007 India’s Maritime Military Strategy defines the South China Sea as a maritime area of interest for India (Scott 2013). Since the 1990s, India has expanded its joint naval exercises with all South-East Asian countries and extended its military presence in the western Pacific through multilateral exercises with the US, Japanese, Australian and Singaporean navies, Quad is again a very visible projection of the same. Although not explicitly mentioning its strategy, analyzing India’s actions and keeping in mind the recent advancements, it’s pretty visible that India’s indo-pacific strategy is not very inclusive of China.
The way ahead
Although, but naturally, China keeps vary of all the developments in the Indo – Pacific, it still continues to play its cards in its own way in assessing the international environment by signing numerous FTAs with the ASEAN and other small nations, joining the multilateral organizations, through its soft power diplomacy and increasing its market dominance and investments. China has undoubtedly emerged as an indispensable force in the global order. Yet considering the turmoil around the Strait of Malacca, increasing counteractions by its neighbors and the growing insecurity in the region, it cannot afford the exclusiveness in the region. Similarly excluding China from the regional order is no way the solution for the looming instability in the region. Indo Pacific is a discourse in action. Both the inclusiveness and exclusiveness of nations, the growing anxiety, mistrust and other dilemmas are subjected to the social actions and constructions created by the stakeholders. But for the time being, the current position and conceptions of the nations in the region is not at all even close to the nomenclature it was supposedly endowed with, i.e. a ‘Free, Open and an inclusive Indo-Pacific.’ But then again, as Shakespeare quotes, “What’s in a name?”

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a bilateral project under Beijing’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a programme to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks along six corridors with the aim of improving regional integration, increasing trade and enhancing economic growth.
It was jointly launched on April 20, 2015 by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

CPEC is essentially a combination of infrastructure projects (network of roads, pipelines, power plants, industrial parks) currently under development in Pakistan. Initially, it was valued at $46 billion but the revised value has seen an increase of $16 billion, and now reportedly stands at $62 billion.

CPEC aims to serve the dual goal of improving the infrastructure within Pakistan and to further integrate the countries of the region for China. Under this program, Pakistan will prove to be an international interlinkage and the hub for international trade.

Pakistan will witness rapid enhancement and modernisation of the country’s infrastructure and economy including energy projects and transportation networks (road, rail, air).
According to PWC, Pakistan will be the world’s 20th largest economy by the year 2030. Reportedly, it will also record a creation of 700,000 to 800,000 jobs until then.

China will enjoy increasing its market by being connected to the Middle East, Africa and Asia through the shortest routes – Gwadar Port will facilitate trade from Persian Gulf and Africa to Western and Northern China reducing the distance by several thousand kilometers. Furthermore, it will witness economic development of relatively backward regions like Xinjiang, amongst others.

Thus, CPEC seems to be a strategic move by China to increase it’s economic influence. At the same time, it threatens the Indian National Security and sovereignty as it passes through Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

In the current scenario of world dynamics, we always come across the power struggle in the International Order between USA and China. As China has grown exponentially from the onset of the 21st century, it was hard not to see this struggle come into the fray. With the battle for the international supremacy in balance, some out of the box diplomatic manoeuvres were anticipated. One such practice being linked with China is the ‘Assassin’s Mace’ project. This paper tries to link the ‘Assassin’s Mace’ theory with the Chinese Foreign Policy that is being practiced by the People’s Republic of China since the end of the second part of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. China being an important architect of the modern world in terms of technology, culture, and trade, has highly sought to recapture the glory of their past. The Assassin’s Mace, according to researchers, is a super weapon designed by China to tip the balance of the International World Order in their favour.
According to the Pentagon, the Assassin’s Mace can be defined as technologies that an inferior military banks on, in order to outclass or outwit a superior power, when in conflict. It’s like a silver bullet, that helps in providing the decisive blow to an opponent. But these theories emerge from the shroud of ambiguity that surrounds the whole functioning and the operations of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army). It has been quite evident that after the onset of the 21st century, China has seen a massive campaign to modernize its military forces. This campaign has been quite successful, as it has helped China in asserting a dominating power within the Indo-Pacific region. Moreover, their breakthroughs within the missile component of the People’s Liberation Army’s Second Artillery Force (SAF) has caused alarm and deterrence within the US Army.
The vulnerability and inability to sense the strategies of the PLA has rung alarm bells within the Pentagon. This has led to the popularisation of the term, ‘Assassin’s Mace’ in popular and military context. But the problem related to this is that the Pentagon still does not have enough proof to back up their theory of Assassin’s Mace to be a weapons programme designed to outclass the USA. Furthermore, the lack of data related to this factor from the mainland adds more to the myth and ambiguity of this term.
The Idea behind Assassin’s Mace
Assassin’s mace, known as shashoujian is a swift and decisive moral victory over a seemingly powerful opponent. The term has its roots in the ancient Chinese folklore in which the hero in order to defeat a powerful adversary wields a blunt and heavy mace. This mace ensure a swift victory over the opponent. This ancient Chinese thought ties in with the modern ambitions of the Republic. While omitted from many discussions about Chinese military modernization in recent Western books and essays on the PLA, the shashoujian concept is a component of China’s strategic culture that influences grand strategy, in addition to Chinese national security policy and PRC military affairs.
According to researchers the massive push that the Chinese government has generated in the area of military and technology co-relates to this folklore. They support their theory based on massive strides China has made in the aforementioned areas. The theory gained prominence especially after the successful launch of the Anti-Satellite ballistic missile SC-19 on January 11,2007. This led the scholars to believe that China has progressed aggressively in strategic areas under a shroud of ambiguity. The prominence did not rely alone on the fact that China had a successful launch, but it also depended upon the fact that the USA had significant interests on space platforms, in order to function commercially and financially. As of September 2013, out of 1084 operational satellites, 461 are owned and operated by the United States and with the fiscal 2013 budget of $9.7 billion, military space programs are the primary means of precision navigation, global communications, reconnaissance, and early missile warning for the US national defence.
China’s Prowess in Strategy, Technology and Military
China has amassed a lot of power over this last decade with the help of their surge in the research and development department within the military. One of the biggest developments within the military was the setting up of a new service branch known as the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force. This branch has been tasked to pursue advancements in cyber, space and electronic warfare capabilities. This, the researchers argue, has been one of the initial steps in pivoting towards fifth-generation warfare concepts. These concepts have been said to become the foundation on which the strategy to outclass the USA depends upon. The reason being, the US still remains the undisputed leader in terms of technology and military spending, given their wealth of resources and advantage in terms of having a long-standing military and scientific front. On the other hand, China has always banked on its large territory and population to defeat it’s enemy. But in the modern world, the means of war have changed. And in order to achieve the dominance within the International Order, China has undertaken massive steps in order to improve its technology so that they can surge in the field of military, space, and electronics.
And as the Wall Street Journal, cited “executives at Chinese and Western companies,” put it, “China’s technology sector is reaching a critical mass of expertise, talent and financial firepower that could realign the power structure of the global technology industry in the years ahead.” The article then quoted a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers as saying, “Traditionally Chinese companies were fast followers, but we are starting to see true innovation…”
China is known to hold the largest standing army in the world and coupling it with the surge of advancements in the field of weaponry has made the country a serious contender in the race for arms. The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) has been one of the most successful developments by the PLA’s Strategic Support Force. One of the most potent one of those has been the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile, the DF-21D. this weapon is one of a kind and has the potential to alter the war at sea dramatically. With a range speculated to be over 1000 nautical miles from the Chinese mainland, the Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile places in doubt the freedom of the US to project power in the region to protect its allies and interests.
Another potential development, which have all the major powers in the world worried, is the breakthrough in High Power Microwave Weapons. Helmed by Huang Wenhua, the deputy director of National Science and Technology Progress, this weapon can serve as a disruptor of all electronic communications being used by the opponent. The PLA over the years has grown exponentially. With sheer deterrence and aptitude, they have achieved in setting up an army that has the potential to ravage war on any front. As their defence spending has increased double fold within this decade, their capabilities and weaponry potential has increased too.
For long, China has been seen as a sleeping dragon, in the sense that everybody knew about the ability of the mainland, but it seems as though the country was given the benefit of the doubt. Nobody had expected them to come out as a challenger for the global dominance due to their plight after the second world war. But the facts point towards the opposite. The way China has developed its military capability, technological capability, and economical capability, shows its desire to dominate the international realm once again and the possibility that the theory of assassin’s mace might be true after all.

On December 19, 2020, it was reported that the Afghan National Directorate for Security (NDS) had exposed a deep espionage ring being operated under the aegis of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Among the arrests made by the NDS were one Li Yangyang and a woman named Sha Hung, who were caught in Kabul with explosives, ammunition, and even drugs like ketamine. This revelation went on to reveal the deep penetration of Chinese espionage agents in Afghanistan, something that has become a cause of concern for the South Asian region.

Now, one might argue that such arrests of spies are a common occurrence in the sphere of geopolitics. While they would not be wrong in positing such an argument, this expose goes much beyond a simple espionage ring. It is upon a closer study that one identifies China’s ominous designs at establishing a regional hegemony.

If various reports and analysis are to be believed, it would be safe to say that China, while indulging in espionage activities and working in tandem with known ‘devils’ in Afghanistan, is something that poses a risk to the region and especially, India. It has been argued that these Chinese spies were in regular contact with leaders from various terrorist outfits like the Haqqani Network (HQN), Taliban, and even Al-Qaeda. In this regard, a recent data leak had also highlighted the extent of Chinese espionage activities around the world. Moreover, the nexus between China and these terrorist organizations also forces one to look at the deeper nexus between China and Pakistan.

China’s Great Game and The Nexus

The ongoing US withdrawal from Kabul after the Afghanistan Peace Deal, 2020 is being closely watched by China. The reduction in US troops is being seen as an opportunity by China which it can exploit. By building its influence in Kabul, it can counter the US influence in the region and at the same time, posit itself as the leader of Asia. And to achieve this, Beijing is working in tandem with Islamabad.

The first issue that demands attention here is China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The connectivity tool being used by China to gain influence around the world is something that it has been wanting to extend to Afghanistan as well in the recent past. Kabul offers a unique opportunity to China through which it can extend the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). It’ll help China to attain its dual strategic goals of exploiting Afghanistan’s mineral resources and at the same time, encircle India. Looking at the larger picture, it will also help Xi to realize his ‘China Dream’, at least in the region, if not the world. Thus, Beijing sees Kabul as an empty playground for it to establish its hegemony in Asia and at the least, project itself as a challenger to the US-led World Order.

The second goal that China wants to achieve in Afghanistan has more to do with its domestic policy on Uyghurs. The repression of millions of Uyghurs in the so-called Chinese ‘re-education’ camps is a well-known fact. According to various recent reports, China has been working with terrorist organizations like HQN, Taliban, and Al-Qaeda to track Uyghurs in various sparsely populated areas of Afghanistan. According to Manish Shukla, a defense analyst, Pakistan has been acting as a mediator for China to strike deals with these “devil groups”. Simultaneously, China is allegedly trying to spruce up false Uyghur terrorist groups in Afghanistan. China’s end goal, you might ask. “It is believed the Chinese agents were in Afghanistan to create a false ETIM, hopefully attract some Uyghur expatriates, perform terrorist attacks, and blame the Uyghur community, thus justifying repression in Xinjiang”, reasons Massimo Introvigne.

These two larger goals of China reveal yet another problem for the Indo-Pacific region i.e. the China-Pakistan nexus. China establishing deep espionage networks and playing buddy with terrorist organizations at the behest of Pakistan is something that might very well give teeth to the increasing threat of terrorism across the world. Moreover, this nexus is helping to derail the peace process in Afghanistan. China has reportedly lured the Taliban for investment negotiations, a process of which Pakistan is a part too. At the same time, Pakistan is also sponsoring Islamic State Wilayat Khorasan (ISKP), an ISIS affiliate terrorist organization in Afghanistan. Both China and Pakistan fear the negative implications of the US-Taliban Peace Deal and to prepare for a contingency plan, Pakistan might just be willing to use ISKP as a hedging strategy against the Taliban.

Therefore, both China and Pakistan, either way, are joining hands with globally designated terrorist outfits to achieve their own sinister goals.

The Threat to India and South Asia

The nefarious China-Pakistan nexus in Afghanistan is an issue that directly threatens Indian national security. During the ongoing Intra-Afghan Peace Talks, India assured Kabul of its active involvement in its peace talks with the Taliban. However, India has maintained that it will only be involved in the process through the Afghan government and will not engage with the Taliban, as it views the latter as being a radical fundamentalist terrorist group aided by Pakistan.

With China and Pakistan playing tricks to get an upper hand in Afghanistan post the US withdrawal, India stands at risk. India has undertaken numerous infrastructure development projects and military training projects in Afghanistan, which stand to be threatened if this nexus derails the peace process. Moreover, their collaboration with terrorist outfits like HQN, Taliban, and Al-Qaeda will provide the latter with economic teeth to expand their terrorist activities in India and even the globe. Pakistan recently losing the economic support of Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and UAE is something that has led it to look for alternatives. For this, they have turned to China and even Turkey in recent times. Whatever the case, India will be at risk.

Thus, India will need to recalibrate its strategy for Afghanistan to mitigate this risk and at the same time, maintain peace in the region. Yesterday, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval visited Afghanistan to discuss terrorism and building peace in the region with his Afghan counterpart. Afghan Charge D’Affaires Tahir Qadiry stated on Twitter that both advisors also discussed the strengthening of a regional consensus on the Afghan Peace Process. In this game of espionage and deals with the devils, building cooperation with like-minded nations will be a key to India’s countering strategy against the China-Pakistan nexus in Afghanistan.