Eye on China: Indo-Pacific – Wang Yi’s Message – Tibet Act – Trade Deal – Xi in Macau – Debt Worries

Eye on China is a weekly bulletin offering news and analysis related to the Middle Kingdom from an Indian interests perspective. This week we cover Chinese ambassador to India’s PTI interview; Beijing’s view of protests in India; Wang Yi’s foreign policy assessment & Europe visit; China inducts a new aircraft carrier; and much more.

I. India-China Ties

There were a bunch of interesting developments to cover this week. But before I get into those, it’s worth highlighting that the 22nd round of SR-level talks are set to be held in Agra on December 21. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi will be traveling for those talks. But days ahead of the talks, reports said that China had sought to raise the Kashmir issue at the UNSC but its attempts were thwarted by the the P4 along with Germany and Indonesia.

Meanwhile, in an interview to PTI, China’s ambassador to India Sun Weidong reiterated Beijing’s position on a number of issues. There’s little new there. But this is noteworthy: “China is willing to work with all parties, in the spirit of mutual understanding and accommodation, to continue consultations and resolve the concerned issues with India.” He also talks about the new trade mechanism, but unfortunately, there still are no details about the date of the meeting or the structure of the mechanism that have been made public. Sun’s interview also covers Xinjiang and Hong Kong quite extensively. He denies the presence of detention centers, terming the approach as “preventive counter-terrorism.” On Hong Kong, he argues: “what is happening in Hong Kong bears the hallmarks of ‘color revolution’.”

Interestingly, all this was happening at the time that India and the United States were holding their second 2+2 dialogue in Washington.

Indo-US 2+2: The second edition of the 2+2 dialogue between India and the United States concluded in DC this week. As expected the two sides signed the Industrial Security Annex. The agreement is part of the India-U.S. General Security of Military Information Agreement, and will provide a framework for exchange and protection of classified military information between the US and Indian defence industries. But that’s not all. There were a bunch of other deals inked, which are well covered in this report by Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury. Here’s a snapshot:

The US will be part of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure; a 2005 Science and Technology (S&T) Agreement was updated; a Young Innovators Internship Programme; both sides have agreed to cooperate for exchange of information in Space Situational Awareness; the tri-service Tiger Triumph exercise is now going to be an annual affair; both sides are exploring placing Indian Liaison Officers in key US Commands; talks will continue on BECA and establishment of Maintenance Repair and Overhaul facilities in India.

During the presser after the talks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo added: ”And on China, we discussed the risks that Chinese-built communication networks, including 5G, pose to our treasured freedoms and how China’s unfair and predatory economic activity in the Indo-Pacific presents a risk to those very freedoms.”

Both sides underscored the importance of a “free, seamless, and peaceful Indo-Pacific.” Rajnath Singh, specifically, highlighted the utility of “maritime domain awareness cooperation.” Jaishankar, meanwhile, highlighted the discussions on counter-terrorism, working together at FATF and trade, but there wasn’t anything substantial announced. On Afghanistan, Pompeo said that “we have consistently throughout our efforts to develop intra-Afghan negotiations and peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, we’ve shared with our Indian counterparts the path that we’re headed down. We’re very transparent. We understand the concerns, too, that India has, rightful concerns that they have about a terrorism emanating from Pakistan, and we assured them that we would take that into account.”

One last thing that’s worth noting is that Pompeo began with talking about shared values being “a great foundation for our expanding partnership” and the first question at the presser was around the Citizenship Amendment Act controversy in India.

China on CAA: The reason to highlight that last bit in a China newsletter is the fact that Beijing is clearly watching what’s happening across India. In part, it is grumbling; and in part, it’s finding space to use the Indian state’s action to justify some of its policies. For instance, there’s been much criticism in the Western press of the situation in Kashmir and the state’s handling of the CAA protests. But that’s not good enough from a Chinese perspective. Sample these two pieces in Global Times and CGTN. Both basically make the same argument; there’s a double standard on the issue of human rights in the West, with India getting a pass because it is critical to the Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China.

Here’s Global Times: “China and India are treated differently not because India is a democratic country under the Western concept, nor is it because of the deep-rooted ideological prejudice of Westerners toward China. The West applies double standards on China because the US cannot accept the fact that China is rising.”

And here’s the terrible piece by someone called Tom Fowdy for CGTN. I call it terrible because it is rife with inaccuracies: “India is given a green light to do what it wants because it has become the bedrock of the new “Indo-Pacific” policy in a bid to try to contain China. Therefore, oppression of Muslims is suddenly no longer a moral atrocity, showing how the media “select and deselect” the issues they want people to care about, which also raises questions about their narrative concerning Xinjiang, too.”

Finally, there’s People’s Daily, which capitalised on trigger happy Indian officials shutting down the Internet as the first step of dealing with any challenge to argue: “The internet shutdown in India has once again proved that the necessary regulation of the internet is a reasonable choice of sovereign countries based on national interests, and a natural extension of national sovereignty in cyberspace…The internet cannot be independent of national sovereignty.”

Tech & Investments: Finally, here are some stories around trade and investments. First, a lot of Chinese investment over the last few years has focussed on the tech sector in India. Quartz reports that “Alibaba and its fintech affiliate Ant Financial, have invested in at least six Indian startups, five of which have become unicorns. For Tencent, the number is 12, of which seven have achieved unicorn status…This means the two companies have divvied up almost half of the 31 unicorns India has so far.” Next up is the smartphone sector in India, which Chinese firms are dominating. In fact, Nikkei Asian Review notes that “Xiaomi’s shipments in India have already surpassed those in its home market in terms of volume, with India becoming the biggest buyer of Xiaomi smartphones.” Finally, Reuters reports that Chinese automakers Great Wall Motor and Changan Automobile are accelerating plans to build cars in India after the initial success of rival SAIC Motor. This is a good report, which puts together data that I’ve covered over the past month or so.

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