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

*Dr. Dwivedi is an Assistant Professor at a New Delhi based
prominent think tank institution Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA),

**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.


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.

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor or simply CPEC, is the flagship initiative of Chinese investments in Pakistan under the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). Announced in 2014 by Xi Jinping, it is a 15-year package investment in Pakistan by China till the year 2030. The project is valued at $62 billion, as of 2017. This amount is much higher than the total investment injected in Pakistan by the United States in total, till date. Under this initiative, various projects on energy development, infrastructural development, port development and railway lines development have been signed by both the countries. It has been estimated by Pakistani experts that the development of CPEC would lead to creation of at least 2.3 million jobs by 2030. It will serve as the bedrock of growing strategic relations between Islamabad and Beijing, while posing serious threats to various state-actors in the region.

There have been growing concerns among Indian strategic experts & analysts regarding the security implications that are going to emanate from the development of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. These concerns led to India rejecting Chinese requests to join the Belt & Road Initiative on various occasions, citing the violation of its national security and sovereignty. A separate faction of experts and analysts were of the view that joining BRI would give India a much-needed economic boost, especially in the north-eastern states of India, which still remain relatively isolated from developmental projects. However, the security concerns far outweighed the economic advantages that the CPEC posed to India, and India eventually decided to stay out of the Belt & Road Initiative.

To begin with, it would be pertinent to borrow from what James Schwemlein mentioned in a special report for United States Institute For Peace in 2019. He explained China’s investment in CPEC in three ways:

1. The development of CPEC would point to China’s attractiveness as a partner.
2. That China’s economic model can be exported.
3. To use Pakistan as an element of its strategic connection with the United States and India.

China has often managed to win influence over countries by pumping large amounts of money into them, eventually making them dependent on Chinese money. This tactic has been termed as ‘Debt Trap Diplomacy’ in International Relations, a tactic China is adept at playing. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a classic example of the same. Post the stoppage of aid from Washington, Pakistan turned to China. Many analysts believe that China timed the offer of CPEC to Pakistan extremely well. The offer came at a time when Pakistan was in a deep economic crisis as a result of being overburdened with debts taken by it through the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Moreover, CPEC serves China’s strategic interests as well, since Pakistan can serve as a major deterrent to India. This fact has always been leveraged by Beijing in order to balance India and exert its influence in the region. And with regards to the advent of CPEC, security implications for India seem to have increased manifold, something which the Indian policymakers and security analysts have been taking into consideration.

Firstly, the biggest security threat posed by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor stems from the increased naval presence that shall follow post its completion. China has already built a military naval base in Djibouti in order to safeguard its interests in the Indian Ocean. At the same time, a meeting between a top official of the Central Military Commission of China and a Pakistani Lieutenant General in 2018, hinted towards the building of another military base similar to the one in Djibouti, near Gwadar, on the Jiwani Peninsula. These threats are in consonance with China’s ‘String of Pearls’ tactic, which aims to strategically encircle India. In this regard, China already has a naval presence in various countries neighboring India, such as Sri Lanka (the Hambantota Port is a recent example), Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Through this, it can easily pose a threat to the Indian national security, since China has a history of maintaining dual purpose ports i.e. ones that can serve both military and civil purposes. Moreover, the naval base intended to be built on the Jiwani peninsula is only 400 nautical miles away from the state of Gujarat, again posing a serious security threat to India. China had also supplied Pakistan with 8 submarines in order to safeguard its interests in the Indian Ocean and near Gwadar.

In line with the naval threat that is pertinent to India in the wake of CPEC, China’s ‘Malacca Dilemma’ also comes into play. According to this theory, China fears that in case it faces a military confrontation from India or the United States, its foes might attempt to block its trade routes through the Malacca Strait. The Malacca Strait serves as a major trade route for China for its energy imports from the Middle East. In order to mitigate this risk, it has been planning to build a canal at Kra Islands in Thailand. Again, this canal would serve a dual purpose, which means that military naval presence can be expected in the future if and when this canal is built. Moreover, this canal would serve as a bypass to the Malacca Strait and open directly into the Andaman Sea, which is a sovereign part of India’s Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Thus, it could pose a serious security threat to India’s national security and sovereignty.

Secondly, security threats also emanate from China Pakistan Economic Corridor in the sense of military presence of China in Pakistan. In this regard, it has been estimated that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China plans to deploy 30,000 of its soldiers to protect various critical infrastructure that will be built as a part of projects undertaken through CPEC. Moreover, the Corridor enters into the Gilgit-Baltistan area in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) through the Khunjerab Pass, which is a strategic area claimed by India. Again, China has undertaken this project in areas that are considered disputed between India and Pakistan. And since China is an all-weather friend of Pakistan, India will be at a relatively weaker position to stake its claim to these regions.

Thus, China’s idea of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) under the Belt & Road Initiative is not just aimed at economic cooperation with Pakistan, but to also serve the purpose of Chinese expansionism in the region. Recently, we have seen India and China engaged in the LAC Standoff, and in the past too, India and China have been embroiled in various border disputes such as Doklam and even the 1962 Sino-India War. To this date, China claims the state of Arunachal Pradesh in north-east India in its entirety, along with the region of Ladakh. India has taken some steps in the right direction by starting naval engagements with countries like Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka. At the same time, India has increased its cooperation with Japan, which shares similar security concerns as India, with respect to China. Recently, India and Japan also held naval exercises in the Indian Ocean, much to the dismay of Beijing. On the same note, India and Australia have also pledged to tighten their ties in the domain of maritime security.

The recent acceleration in the melting rate of the Arctic and the resultant ice-free seasons have opened up new avenues for the region. While this puts the natural ecosystem and the native tribes at risk, it allows states and other actors to exploit resources which were otherwise inaccessible. The surge in Arctic investment has come from both littoral and non-littoral states. Traditionally, the stakes were largely limited to the ‘Arctic Eight’ – namely, Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States of America- which together comprise the permanent members and policy implementers of the Arctic Council. However, as the Arctic ice mass melts and gives way for scientific exploration and economic exploitation, participation in Arctic affairs from peripheral and non-arctic states like India, Italy and more notably, China, is rising markedly.

Increasing Chinese Presence in the Arctic

Since 1925, when it first joined the Spitsbergen Treaty on the Arctic, China has undertaken multiple scientific expeditions and has increased its presence in Arctic governance. The Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration (CAA), which has been organising scientific expeditions with the Ukrainian-built non-nuclear icebreaker Xue Long ( Snow Dragon) and Xue Long 2, is soon expected to operate a nuclear-powered icebreaker, allowing it to navigate through even severe winters. In 2013, it became a permanent observer to the Arctic Council, although without unanimous support. Besides establishing multiple stations in the region, the PRC has proposed to build an “Arctic Silk Road” (ASR) as part of its One Belt One Road (OBOR) project through cooperation with Arctic states.

China’s interest in Arctic investment can be understood in light of its concerns stemming from other domains. A major fraction of China’s oil imports originates from the Middle East which is politically unstable, creating vulnerabilities in its energy security. The melting Arctic with a plethora of untapped resources offers a stable source of energy resources, especially as a populous China struggles to balance its increasing natural gas-imports gap and maintain the momentum of its economic growth. Besides, the Arctic Circle offers a gateway to three trade routes: the Northeast passage, the Northwest passage and the Transpolar Sea Route. For the Chinese government, this provides an alternative to the strategically vulnerable oil import routes passing through the Suez Canal and the Malacca chokepoint. Chinese engagement in the Arctic hinges on these advantages offered by the region.

China’s Arctic Policy

Notwithstanding its increasing participation in the region, there, however, appeared to be no well-defined concrete Chinese Arctic Strategy. Chinese officials maintained a low profile and adopted a cautious approach and it’s Arctic Diplomacy did not take a formal form until recently when the PRC released its first official White paper on the Arctic in 2018.

The policy considers the Arctic to be an issue area with global implications, having vital bearings on the “shared future for mankind”. Accordingly, it places China as an important “Near-Arctic” stakeholder and an active builder for the region. It stipulates that as a signatory of UNCLOS and the Spitsbergen Treaty, China has the right to enjoy “rights of scientific research, navigation, overflight, fishing, laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and resource exploration and exploitation” in the area. Important to note here is the PRC’s recognition of itself as a “Near-Arctic State” in the document, a term hitherto absent in the lexicon of International Affairs. China is not a littoral state to the Arctic and does not enjoy the right to vote in decisions of the Arctic Council. Conscious of its disadvantageous status, Chinese diplomacy in the Arctic pushes for cooperation over confrontation. Yet it fosters a sense of entitlement to partaking in Arctic governance given its geographical proximity to the region and its position in the UN Security Council. Accordingly, it posits the image of a “Near-Arctic State” to advance its role as an Arctic stakeholder and that of a “responsible power” to advance its role as a prudent Asian power in global affairs. The advancement of such statements and images is essential since, given the geopolitics of the region, China’s Arctic diplomacy is based on ‘soft power’ rather than ‘hard power’. The PRC’s repetitive emphasis on the “shared future for mankind in the Arctic” in the document and in its official negotiations can be understood along the same lines of creating a more inclusive Arctic narrative which allows for greater Chinese footing without alarming other states.

Is the Arctic Imperative?

While the Arctic is gaining increasing significance as an economic hotspot, how much regard does it really warrant when placed in the larger national strategy of the PRC? Despite increasing funds being devoted to Arctic research, it still fails to account for even one percent of the central government’s total allocation for scientific research. The Antarctic, where China’s legal rights are at par with others, continues to garner much greater interest and larger funds from the PRC. Even though Chinese leaders visit Nordic nations much more often now, the subject of these diplomatic missions rarely ever includes the Arctic. It is also important to note the caution that the Chinese government practices in its Arctic affairs by maintaining scientific cooperation as the foremost theme. The Arctic is hardly ever mentioned in the public reports of Chinese diplomatic missions with Arctic nations. Even when called upon, Chinese leaders and their counterparts only go so far in exchanging views and avoid making any further commitments. The Arctic Silk Road (ASR) itself comes with challenges. The lack of concrete plans while giving flexibility in dialogue and implementation, also prevents a thorough understanding of the project in the participants. Besides, the Chinese identity of the project implies that most potential participants remain sceptical. China’s Arctic Strategy, though taking stronger root now more than ever, is still in its formative stages and it is yet to be seen how it unfolds.

Rising Apprehensions

While some have welcomed Chinese investment, not all Arctic countries are equally willing to cooperate with China, nor do their visions always harmonisewith those of the latter. Although China maintains a low profile in Arctic affairs, it is widely acknowledged that China’s Arctic policy is a multi-faceted strategy designed to expand its stronghold and that its supposedly civilian and scientific endeavours in the Arctic circle carry military interests at their core. In November 2019, Danish Intelligence authorities warnedthat Chinese expeditions into the Arctic serve not just scientific purposes but “dual purposes” involving military activities. China’s claim of being a Near-Arctic state has been repeatedly rejected by the USA. In spite of increased collaboration with China, Canada did not offer support to China’s inclusion in the Arctic Council as a Permanent Observer. Similarly, despite warming relations and increasing collaboration with China, Russia has maintained an ambiguous position on the matter. Besides, the PRC faces competition from other non-arctic nations garnering interest in Arctic matters like Brazil, Japan, South Korea, EU and more notably, India, which has a nifty research program of its own. Given the contestation for a greater voice in the Council by non-arctic members, Beijing’s relations with these members will intensify as geopolitical competition in the Arctic unfolds further.

China’s Algeria Connect:

In May 2020, a spokesman for the Algerian President stated that China & Algeria share “distinguished relations”. He stressed on the help China provided to the African nation during the Algerian War (1954-62) and Algeria’s help to China for gaining a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Algeria established a comprehensive strategic partnership with China in 2014 and, signed an MoU on cooperation under the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) at a summit in 2018. Trade between the two nations reached a record $9.1 billion dollars in 2018.

Trade between the two nations spans both infrastructure and defense. Algeria is the 3rd largest recipient of Chinese FDI with $2.5 billion dollars. Chinese are particularly interested in infrastructure projects in Algeria, taking up mega projects such as the Algiers Mosque, the East-West Highway and even in aerospace. A recent $6 billion-dollar deal has been finalized for a phosphate plant, that will yield $2 billion dollars every year, while creating at least 3,000 jobs. Huawei and ZTE have gained significant shares in the Algerian market, with Houari Boumediene Airport in Algiers becoming the first eLTE enabled airport in Africa. Infrastructure projects between Chinese and Algerian firms have been taken up in the fields of commercial vehicle manufacturing, electronics, mining and even maritime transport. Shaanxi Automobile Holding Group, a state-owned truck manufacturing company, has now control over 70% of the market.

In the area of defense, China has been making rapid gains, slowly becoming a major export hub for cheaper defense technology and equipment. Chinese has been establishing a foothold through defense exports to the African continent and Algeria is no exception. In 2016, Chinese defense exports to Algeria peaked at $511 million dollars. Various weapons orders were fulfilled, including three C-28A frigates.

But why is China investing so heavily in Africa? Well, there are numerous reasons for it. Firstly, China wants to reduce US influence in the continent. Trade between Africa & China was 3 times higher than Africa-US trade in 2017, which clearly shows a money & power shift in the African continent. Secondly, this particular tactic will also help China to gather the backing of African nations across all multilateral organizations, especially the UN. Another long-term goal that China aims to fulfil in Africa, is establishing its first overseas military base. China, currently, is in an expansionist mode. They are fulfilling this aspiration by either flaring up border disputes (Galwan and Vladivostok are two recent examples) or investing so much money in poor countries that they eventually become dependent on Chinese aid/money. Ultimately, Xi dreams of ending US unipolarity.

#expansionistChina #Huawei #ChinaAfrica #Algeria

China’s 2019 Defense White Paper & how it is influencing current actions by China under Xi:

China released China’s National Defense in the New Era last year in 2019. Until this paper, the previous papers containing China’s defense strategy, focused solely on presenting China as a peace-loving country which wants to have amicable relations with its neighbors and the world in its entirety. It never talked about China’s defense policy in specific sectors or areas, say South China Sea or Taiwan, to name a few. But this paper elaborates, in detail, about the areas in which China is aiming to forward its defense policy.

The Defense White Paper starts off by targeting US, accusing it of bringing uncertainties to the regional security of Asia at large. It specifically mentions the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems in Republic of Korea as being a factor in undermining strategic interests of the region. In this regard, if we start looking at the present scenario, China has indeed shifted its entire focus on its relations and activities with the US. The recent developments between US and China point out to the growing concern about USA in the minds of the Chinese ruling elite. Recently, USA moved its most agile navy assets, USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Raegan, to the waters of South China Sea. Both the ships carry with them F/A-18Es (supersonic jets) and B-52 bombers. On 14th July, US issued a statement rejecting China’s claims over South China Sea, a stance which US, till date, had never officially taken. China reverted to the statement strongly, claiming that the Chinese Army is fully capable of giving the US a ‘befitting reply’. It also stated that China’s defense capabilities easily rival that of the US.

In addition to the increasing tensions between US & China over South China Sea, we have seen in the recent past that both the countries have locked horns over host of issues like COVID-19 pandemic, the Hong Kong Crisis, and the US-China Trade War. More recently, USA sanctioned Chen Quangduo and other powerful Chinese politicians for human rights abuses against Uighurs in the Xinjiang area, to which China reverted with sanctions against US politicians, including Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. This shows that China is following the strategy put out in the Defense White Paper of 2019 against USA with utmost sincerity.

Apart from its US strategy, the Defense White Paper covers various areas where China aims to get involved in. It states that China aims to defend waters of East China Sea, South China Sea, and the Yellow Sea, and that it would “resolutely respond” to security threats in these waters. It also mentions its increasing involvement in Taiwan by sailing ships and flying aircraft around it, warning the ‘separatist forces’ there.

Interestingly, the White Paper nowhere mentions Hong Kong, which is curious because the recent developments point out to China’s increasing focus on this area by implementing the National Security Law. It is part of a whole set of expansionist actions that are being undertaken by China, including staking its claim to the border areas with India. Based on these aspects, it can be very well assumed that China might just come up with an action plan for exerting stronger control over Taiwan in the future, since the area of Taiwan is something that the White Paper explicitly mentions of focusing on. It also is in line with Xi’s grand strategy of making China not only a reginal hegemon, but also emerging as a contender to US’ unipolarity.

#chineseexpansionism #Taiwan #USChina #Xinjiang #NationalSecurityLaw #hongkong #XiJinping #CoronavirusPandemic #humanrights #SouthChinaSea #IndoChinaFaceoff

Recently, the US arrested and charged Jun Wei Yeo, an alumnus of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore, for being a Chinese intelligence agent. He pleaded guilty to the charge of being an ‘illegal agent of a foreign power’. Jun Wei Yeo had been accused of using his political consultancy firm as a front to acquire non-public information for the Chinese government, for which he had been actively recruiting people to write confidential reports. It has been reported that he had been using LinkedIn, a widely popular career networking site with over 700 million users worldwide, for his recruitment purposes. He admitted in his statement that he had posted fake job advertisements through his LinkedIn profile, which resulted in him receiving over 400 CVs. He also admitted that 90% of these applicants were US military and government personnel with high-level security clearances.

In the modern times, cyber warfare is being considered as the fifth dimension of warfare. 20th century is often identified with nuclear warfare whereas the 21st century is now being touted as the century of cyber warfare. In the past, we have seen cyber warfare being utilized by countries to achieve major political goals. With the number of people online growing at a lightning fast pace, countries have been relying more and more on developing their cyber warfare and cyber espionage capabilities. The biggest example of cyber warfare is the use of STUXNET virus against Iran in 2003. Believed to be jointly developed by Israel and the US, the virus managed to destroy the centrifugal system at the Natanz Nuclear Facility in Iran. At that time, Iran was developing weapons-grade uranium in order to further its nuclear weapons program. To this date, US denies having developed the STUXNET virus.

But in the past decade, the world has witnessed China’s tremendous growth in the domain of cyber warfare and cyber espionage. If one looks at the list of ‘Significant Cyber Incidents’ by Centre for Security & International Studies (CSIS), a US based think-tank, one would find that the majority of cyber-attacks between June 2019 & June 2020, have purportedly been carried out by China. The arrest of Jun Wei Yeo is just one of the many examples where China has been accused of being involved in cyber espionage and cyber warfare. In the recent past, China has been accused of carrying out a host of cyber-attacks against various countries like USA, India, Mexico, UK, and many others. The attacks have mostly targeted ministries of the government, while also targeting various multinational corporations and their senior management, and NGOs.

China & Cyber Warfare: A Historical Context

According to LyuJinghua, a senior fellow with Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, China’s academic discussion on cyber warfare started in the 1990s when it was called ‘information warfare’. China, at that time, had seen the use of high technologies by US in the Gulf War, in Kosovo, Afghanistan & Iraq. It was during this time that the ruling elite of the Chinese Communist Party saw it fit to invest in developing information technology. In fact, Brigadier Saurabh Tewari, in a piece for United Services Institution, a Delhi-based think-tank, wrote that the Central Military Commission of Chia had set up a 100-member elite corps to devise ways of hacking. China’s National Defense Paper in 2004 elaborated that “…information has become the key factor in enhancing the warfighting capability of the armed forces.” It has to be noted that this attitude in policy making came after the STUXNET attack against Iran in 2003. It was at this juncture of world history that the world actually started paying attention to the extent of the power of cyber weapons.
It was the year 2013 when China addressed cyber warfare publicly; in a report called ‘The Science of Military Strategy’ by the Academy of Military Science. Post the publication of this study, the Chinese government started investing heavily in the domain of cyber space. It is interesting to note here that China not only focused on developing military cyber capabilities, but also worked on enhancing them in the sphere of economics, diplomacy and social development.

China’s Cyber WarfareApparatus& Capabilities

According to China’s National Defense in 2004, China’s modernization plans for its armed forces include the development of a fully networked architecture capable of coordinating military operations on land, in air, at sea, in space and across the electromagnetic spectrum. In the past decade, China had a sweeping military modernisation programme that has tremendously transformed its capability to fight wars in the cyber domain. Xinhua News agency had reported back in 1999 that PLA Science & Engineering Institute serves as the centre for military research related to technology. The Institute also provides advanced information warfare networking training to members of the PLA and even, recent college graduates.

Prior to 2016, the General Staff Department used to be the command organ of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). However, following the military reforms of 2016, the GSD was disbanded and its operations were consolidated into the Joint staff Department of the Central Military Commission.

In the year 2015, the PLA created the Strategic Support Staff (SSF) in order to enhance the cyber warfare capabilities of China, while also focusing more on developing China’s capabilities in the domain of space warfare. The SSF integrated the various organs responsible for conducting cyber warfare and espionage for the Chinese government, which were previously under the GSD. It is believed that the SSF still operates these departments. Following points will highlight them, though their names are the ones which were used as per GSD, since the current names under the apparatus are unknown:

1. GSD 4th Department: It was the offensive arm of the GSD, additionally responsible for conducting Research & Development of cyber warfare techniques and strategies.

2. GSD 3rd Department: This department was responsible for gathering signals intelligence, also known as SIGINT. It mainly focused on defensive operations carried out by the PLA.

3. Technical Reconnaissance Bureaus: There were 5 such bureaus, located in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Beijing, Lanzhou, and Jinan. They were responsible for gathering SIGINT. However, their focus was on collecting SIGINT against strategic targets.

4. PLA Information Warfare Militia Units: These units were first established in the year 2002. They had recruited personnel from commercial IT sector, as well as academia, and were responsible for carrying out electronic warfare, psychological warfare and deception operations.

China’s abilities in the cyber space were established in 2015, when Edward Snowden provided a tranche of documents to a German weekly magazine, revealing that China had been able to extract a major chunk of information and data on the development of F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter Jet. The F-35 is a 5th generation fighter jet, being the most advanced in the current lot of fighter jets in production in the world. It is developed by Lockheed Martin, and it was alleged that the Chinese stealth fighter jet J-31 is a replica of the F-35. The Chinese have gone so far to say that the J-31 is superior to F-35.

Apart from this, the Wikileaks documents also revealed that a hack, purportedly carried out by a unit of the PLA, had managed to steal information about US’ B-2 stealth bomber, the F-22 jet, space-based lasers, missile navigation & tracking systems, as well as submarine/anti-air missile designs. This just goes on to show the extent of the capabilities of Chinese cyber espionage and warfare.

Chinese Cyber Threat To India

In 2017, an Indian Air Force Sukhoi 30 fighter was downed, which a lot of analysts believed was due to a cyber-attack carried out by China. In 2018, a report to the National Security Council Secretariat mentioned that 35% of the total cyber-attacks against India, were carried out by Chinese entities. Most of the hacks originating from China have targeted various ministries of the Indian government such as Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Finance & Corporate Affairs, amongst others. Personal details of the ministry’s personnel have often been compromised, while hacking of their websites is something that has happened numerous times.

Even though such attacks haven’t led to any casualties or massive infrastructural losses, it needs to be noted that China can undermine India through its highly developed cyber attacking capabilities in times of military conflict. This potential risk has become increasingly important to look at, since India has been embroiled in a border conflict with China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) since May 5th 2020. Moreover, a serious cyber concern that has sprung up for India, is the development of the BeiDou navigation system by China. BeiDou has been launched as a rival to USA’s GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, and Europe’s Galileo. It is now being offered as a ‘free service’ to Asian countries by China. But a host of defence experts have opined that this ‘free lunch’ extended by China could have ulterior motives. Once any country starts operating BeiDou, it’ll become extremely easy for China to track its critical infrastructure. Moreover, the BeiDou Navigation System has already been integrated into PLA’s modern command system and guidance packages. It is estimated that its location services are precise to 2.6m in the Asia-Pacific, as compared to GPS’ 5m.

The BeiDou navigation system is being already used by over 30 countries in the Middle East, Europe and Asia. But in this regard, use of BeiDou by Pakistan becomes extremely important to study. Pakistan is the only country in the world which is using the exact version of BeiDou as being used by China’s PLA. This means that China is relatively at a higher tactical ground against India, since it can use BeiDou to track users of the system by placing malware in transmissions. It was also reported by New York Times in 2018 that they had reviewed a confidential plan prepared by Islamabad and Beijing to strengthen their cooperation in the space sector. The United States has long accused China of militarising space. The fact that BeiDou’s exact version is being used by Pakistan, leaves India in a weaker position to defend itself.


All in all, India needs a two-pronged approach to the cyber threat emanating from China. On one hand, it needs to focus on cyber-attacks that target ministries, multinational corporations and NGOs through various hackings; and on the other hand, it needs to focus on more complex, military related threats that are emanating from China’s growing cyber attacking capabilities, especially in the domain of space. India has taken some steps in this regard, especially by establishing CERT-In as the nodal agency to deal with cyber threats such as hacking and phishing. India has also been in the process of developing Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), with operational name as NaviC (Navigation with Indian Constellation). It covers India and an additional area of 1500 kms around it, with plans of further extension. In comparison to China’s BeiDou using 18 satellites, IRNSS uses 7, which means that the former has a wider range. But India plans to add 4 more satellites in order to expand NaviC’s reach. In this particular regard, Indian policymakers have been focusing on expanding public-private partnership in the domain of cyber security, since a lot of Indian cyber security firms have been hired by US government in the past. It will give India a much needed boost in the cyber security domain.

File name : UN-Letter-on-Blasphemy-Ahmed-Shaheed.pdf

[pdf-embedder url=”/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/UN-Letter-on-Blasphemy-Ahmed-Shaheed.pdf”]


With the tides of religious intolerance striking the globe with utmost audacity, countries like Pakistan have come under the scanner for their deplorable state of human rights as a result of religious violence. In this context, the blasphemy laws in Pakistan have again caught the attention of the international community, which are being used as a tool to target minorities in Pakistan. This has led to a surge in the award of death penalties in the recent times which, as evidence suggests, have often been politically motivated. As a result, grave human rights violations are being committed against minority sects and religions at the behest of Islamabad.

In order to bring attention to these violations and regressive policies in Pakistan, our organization, Red Lantern Analytica, has written a letter to the appropriate individuals and organizations, namely- Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Mrs. Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Ms. Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights; and Dr. Fernand de Varennes, UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues. Through our demands to them (stated later in this document), we have called for strict action to be taken against Pakistan.

Recently on January 9, 2021, Dawn reported that three people in Pakistan have been awarded the death penalty under the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. Rana Nouman Rafaqat and Abdul Waheed were accused of disseminating blasphemous content on social media via fake profiles, while Nasir Ahmad was accused of posting blasphemous videos on YouTube. Despite disallowing the accused to produce witnesses for the reason of them being blood relatives, the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) under Judge Raja Jawad Abbas convicted the three accused of blasphemy and awarded them death penalties, in proceedings spread over a span of three years.

Such reports of the accused being granted death penalties under the controversial blasphemy laws (Section 295 (B) and 295 (C) Pakistan Penal Code) in Pakistan have become a frequent phenomenon. This letter has been written to draw your attention to the blatant violation of the fundamental rights of freedom of speech, thought, information, and religion guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan under Articles 19 and 20. Moreover, evidence suggests that these death penalties, in several instances, have been politically motivated which involves the abuse of blasphemy laws under the Pakistan Penal Code.

Recent years have seen a surge in awarding death penalties in Pakistan for blasphemy. In 2019, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published its key findings and recommendations on the abuse of blasphemy laws to award death penalties to the accused in Pakistan.

This document highlights various cases wherein people in Pakistan have been awarded the death penalty under blasphemy laws. For example, academic Junaid Hafeez was awarded the death penalty after spending 5 years in solitary confinement for blasphemy. The report also points out the lengthy process of trials in such cases and the creation of “a culture of impunity for violent attacks following accusations”. In this particular regard, in March 2019, Professor Khalid Hameed was murdered by a student over alleged anti-Islam remarks.

In 2020, Reuters reported that a Christian man by the name of Asif Pervaiz was sentenced to death for sending derogatory messages against the Prophet Muhammad. Asif Pervaiz had contended that he was being forced to convert to Islam by his supervisor and that the charge against him was fabricated.

The problem of the abuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan is two-fold. The first issue is the abuse of these laws for politically motivated executions. This issue has been corroborated by the facts stated herein already. However, the second issue is a complex one that demands closer study and in fact, a stronger consideration given its gravity.

This issue pertains to the ‘blasphemy legislation’ that exists in Pakistan. The USCIRF published yet another policy update titled ‘Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law’ in October 2019 which highlights how Pakistan’s “blasphemy law remains a key challenge to ensuring religious freedom for the country’s religious minorities”. It traces the origins of the law to the blasphemy laws of colonial India, which were carried forward by the Pakistani government after Partition in 1947, and were later tightened under the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s.

The blasphemy laws in Pakistan find their teeth from Section 295 (C) of the Pakistan Penal Code which provides for the death penalty to any person who ‘defiles the sacred name of the Prophet’. Using this draconian law, the authorities have undertaken a high number of executions. The National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCPJ) reports that at least 1400 people have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan between 1987 and 2018. Moreover, the USCIRF report on blasphemy also states that it is aware of at least 80 people who are imprisoned for blasphemy in Pakistan, out of which half remain either on death row or life imprisonment. Such high numbers of death penalties being awarded by Pakistani courts go on to prove the extent of the abuse of blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

This highlights an even more challenging problem of the ‘existence’ of such laws in Pakistan itself.

The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees certain fundamental rights to its citizens, such as the freedom of speech, thought, information, and religion. The blasphemy laws under the Penal Code violate these very fundamental rights in the crudest possible way, leading to grave, state-sponsored human rights violations.

Furthermore, these violations extend to the sphere of international law as well. The International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which was ratified by Pakistan in 2010, provides that the death penalty can only be awarded only in the most serious of cases. Thus, the fact that Pakistan is still operating under a law that provides for the death penalty for blasphemy, itself places it in direct contravention of ICCPR. In specific terms, Pakistan has violated the following provisions of the ICCPR, namely- article 2(1), article 5(1): discrimination on the basis of religion or belief; article 6: right to life; article 18(2): freedom from coercion; article 19: freedom of opinion and expression; article 20: incitement for racial/religious discrimination, violence or hostility; and article 27: rights of minorities.

It would be worthy to note here that Pakistan was also elected recently to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for a two-year term from 2021-2023. Its election received flak from countries, parliamentarians, academia, and civil society organizations alike, given Islamabad’s dismal human rights record. The USCIRF report mentioned earlier also demanded the US government to redesignate Pakistan as “a country of particular concern” for its abuse of blasphemy laws.

Such decisions and judgments by Pakistani courts have led to widespread human rights violations, especially the minority communities in Pakistan, such as the Ahmadis (considered to be non-Muslims in Pakistan), Shia Muslims, Christians, and Hindus. At the same time, these blasphemy laws have been abused to persecute Muslim academics who dare to expose the misdeeds of the Pakistani government.

Numerous calls have been made (including the USCIRF) for Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy laws, but without any success. The USCIRF 2019 report mentioned earlier also states that the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also goes on to support and defend the blasphemy laws, referring to one of his campaign speeches from 2018 in Islamabad. Pakistan’s then Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in 2011 for being a critic of blasphemy laws. This fact goes on to show the regressive temperaments for blasphemy laws in Pakistan that extend not just to the public alone, but the head of state as well. It further highlights the obstacles that lay ahead in the fight to repeal these laws.

This evidence clearly establishes the deplorable state of blasphemy laws in Pakistan which has resulted in politically motivated death penalties and targeting of minorities. In this regard, Red Lantern Analytica, in their letter, have urged the abovementioned individuals and organizations to despatch a fact-finding mission to Pakistan to identify the exact number and nature of such death penalty convictions; impose sanctions on Pakistan for violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it has ratified; call a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and pressurize Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy laws; ensure that the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) takes suo moto cognizance of the issue and constitute a special committee to investigate the matter (the committee may include the following as its members: Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights; and Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity); and ensure that the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity intervenes in the issue and seek clarification from Pakistan.

Given all the evidence, the Special Rapporteurs of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) addressed in the letter should take prompt and strict actions against Pakistan.

On October 1, 2019, China gloated over its array of advanced weaponry by demonstrating a rich parade through the streets of Beijing on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of China’s Communist Party. Meanwhile, two weeks earlier, Khaltmaagiin Battulga, the president of China’s neighbor Mongolia, paid his first state visit to India. One can draw a conjecture that these two events were connected. They shed some light on the geopolitical destiny of Mongolia that is geographically sandwiched between Russia and China. Like many central Asian countries that fall on China’s periphery, Mongolia is desperate to forge new alliances to neutralize its neighbor’s growing hegemony in Asia and forego the risk of becoming its client state. The risk is quite detrimental in the case of Mongolia because its economy is irredeemably dependent on mining, the product of which is almost exclusively bought by China. With the tiny population of three million and a gross domestic product of $12 billion, Mongolia had to helplessly accept a bailout package from IMF in 2017 in the face of declining global commodity prices. Henceforth, over the last few years, Mongolia has been trying to find the so-called “third neighbor” states that can help in balancing the disproportional relation it currently shares with China.
In this way, the US can obviously play a crucial role by leading a constellation of Asian democracies like Japan, Taiwan, and Mongolia to provide some concrete resistance to China on multiple fronts. A meeting that took place in July 2019 in Washington between the US President Donald Trump and Battulga may offer a suitable subtext for the same. However, one must acknowledge the limitations of material and diplomatic resources of Mongolia and the unreliability of the US as a strategic partner. The US’s abandonment of its Kurdish allies in northern Syria in the late 2019 further substantiates this claim. In this context, one may argue that Russia should be a more logical choice for Mongoliato counter China since they both share a border and Russia can also be a powerful friend. However, one must not forget the emerging anti-Western pact that Russia is trying to forge with China. More importantly, one must not forget the complex history that these three neighboring nation-states share with each other.
In fact, one may speculate that the most decisive element in Sino-Mongolian relations is Moscow. Alternatively, Mongolia was one of the biggest clients and a quasi-satellite state of the Soviet Union for more than sixty years. The Soviet and later Russian support empowered Mongolia to emancipate themselves from the control of the Qing Dynasty and prevent several Chinese attempts on numerous occasions to regain control over certain parts of Mongolia. Besides Russia, Sino-Mongolian relations largely stand on two delicate pillars: precarious historical relation and the Mongolian memory of Chinese oppression; China’s treatment towards minorities, especially the Mongol minority in China. In 2014, when the Chinese president Xi Jinping paid his first official visit to Mongolia where he addressed the Mongolian parliament. He referred to Mongolia as a historical sibling. He emphasized that the more China and Mongolia facilitate a dialogue, the stronger and closer their relationship becomes. However, in 2016, Mongolia was again reminded of the uncertain dangers of existing in China’s orbit. Being a predominantly Buddhist country, Mongolia invited the Dalai Lama for a visit. Consequently, it faced the wrath of China in the form of potential tariffs that couldbe critical for its economy forcing Mongolia to humiliatingly apologize to China. It is in this context that one needs to understand why Mongolia is hesitant to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and there have been extremely limited achievements for Mongolia under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The Shanghai Pact or the SCO is a Eurasian political, economic, and security alliance, the creation of which was announced on June 15, 2001 in Shanghai by the leaders of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Later India and Pakistan also joined as full-time members in June 2017. However, despite the pressure from China, Mongolia has consistently refused to join the SCO for a variety of reasons. First, the main aims of SCO are to deal with the problems of terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism. However, Mongolia is hardly a victim of any of these problems. Second, Mongolia is wary of the disproportional influence that China and Beijing possess in terms of agenda setting power and financial aspects of the SCO. Third, India is the only democratic country that is a part of the SCO. Moreover, the aspiring members of the SCO are Turkey, Afghanistan, and Iran. Mongolia is the only democratic country in the orbit of Russia and China and henceforth, it must want to uphold and protect all the political and religious freedoms that exist in their state.
Nonetheless, one can claim that Mongolia’s diplomatic aspiration is to be included in as many regional organizations as possible (e.g., ASEAN, APEC, OSCE, East Asian Community) because such inclusions can help Mongolia to beyond the status of a landlocked country and become a more connect nation-state in the international community. However, Mongolia must critically assess the tangible benefits of such initiatives. It must not forget the neoliberal implications that often emanate from supranational organizations in the form of deep socio-economic inequality, and rentier extractive capitalism. This is why it becomes extremely complicated for Mongolia to join China’s SCO and take an active part in BRI. The concessional loans that China offers under BRI are extremely attractive but many central Asian nation-states like Mongolia are already disenchanted by tangible benefits of BRI. A layer of further complexity is also added due to the intricacy of Mongolia’s relationship with China.
In the end, one can pontificate that the regional structure changes for Mongolia are inevitable with the rise of China and the increasing cooperation of Russia and China. That is why, Mongolia must critically evaluate its BRI experience and check whether it fulfills the criteria of successful civil society engagement and mutual diplomatic consultation or not. It also needs to reassess its strategy of acquiring as many “third neighbor” states as possible. In any event, Mongolia’s foreign policy must be development oriented and more attuned to today’s realities.