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#269, 9 November 2008

China's Security Policy

Chair: Maj Gen (Retd.) Dipankar Banerjee
Speaker: Jonathan Holslag, Director of Research, Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies

Introductory Remarks

As China is rising, it is important to know China's future trajectory in world affairs and the kind of role it is likely to play. International relations today are characterized by deep economic interdependency that influences strategic relations, interactions between international states, and global power equilibriums.
Jonathan Holslag

An assessment of the Sino-Indian relations in light of the global economic interdependence must proceed on three dimensions. First is the economic dimension. At present, there is little room between China and India to supplement each other. The supposed complementary rather than clashing nature of India's stronghold in the IT sector and China's strength in manufactures are not effective anymore. China is now positioning itself as a very strong competitor to traditional India's strong economic stronghold. For example, regarding the IT industry, China has a number of IT projects which amount to US$400 million now whereas it is also specializing in education. These will render the traditional division of labor between China and India ineffective. There is no scope for deepening the relations.

The second area is the political dimension. Though there are several bilateral exchanges between government leaders of the two countries, the story is the opposite when it comes to public perception. For example, a poll in 2002 revealed that 66 per cent of Indians among 2,000 interviewed regard China as a benevolent and a constructive partner. However, by 2007, the number decreased to 22 per cent. It is noteworthy that despite the Chinese President Hu Jintao's and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's visits, the percentage went down. It means that political optimism at the political level has not yet permeated into the overall society. The third dimension is the military field. Though trade and economic intimacy give the impression of mitigating traditional security dilemmas in the region, in reality it is not so. Apart from confidence-building measures at the borders and a few joint military operations and upcoming naval operations, no meaningful progress has been made beyond these. A recent Chinese government proposal along with other South Asian countries to the Indian government to work together against piracy in the Arabian Sea was rejected by the Indian government. It means that India is reluctant to involve the Chinese in the Indian Ocean because India consider this as part of its area of influence. There exists superficial cooperation vis-a-vis issues problem areas such as smuggling and drug trafficking however, when it comes to the heart of security challenges such as the instability in Myanmar and Nepal, significant collaboration is hard to be found.

How is China going to back up its economic charm with its military and security policy? China watchers have been quite conservative in their assessment. They regard China as a country growing into a continental power, albeit still obsessed with Taiwan. However the world needs to know about Chinese side. An intense debate is ongoing within China concerning how and to what extent it should project its power.

A recent instance of the abduction and killing of five Chinese nationals in Sudan raised a debate in Beijing whether China should deal with Sudan unilaterally or in collaboration with other sources. Last year, the Central Party Committee held a special meeting for handling these challenges. The conclusion was very outspoken. Whenever problems occurred regardless of the regions, China should be able to defend its economic assets which included its workers and assets..

How should China protect its economic interest? Should China work in tandem with global institutions or solve the issues unilaterally? At this stage, the Chinese military in particular is very much divided about theses issues. The need to work together with the African Union or some other alternatives - so called working within a broader framework - has been raised. But there is also a criticism about relying on these for it is not considered enough to play a role in solving and protecting Chinese economic interests. The Chinese government including its Ministry of Foreign Affairs must try to find solutions by working with local governments whenever it is necessary. At first, it is important to step up military diplomacy especially to foster stronger intelligence with these African countries. A second element is that China needs to increase military exchanges with these countries. So far, China has little cooperation with military exchanges with African countries. A final dimension is whether the Chinese government will continue to engage in state-centric diplomacy. It would be hard to expect fundamental changes from China about this.

How is China reforming its military establishment? What is the impact of military capability? China is developing a blue water navy to protect is supply lines and other strategic regions. There have been military modernizations regarding these but these are still experimental and China is not suddenly going to manifest an autonomous presence for instance in the Indian Ocean though there is a strong Chinese desire to do this. Five major articles by prominent security experts from China claimed that China should develop its autonomous presence and expand its activities in the Indian Ocean. There are also signals that Chinese military will play a more important role in the future. Therefore, with this divided internal debate, external powers such as the US and India can be crucial in influencing future Chinese trajectory. Whether the US or other external powers will adopt an aggressive policy or an engagement policy is the key point. So far the US unilateral policy toward Africa and military operations has deepened this security dilemma. It could be applied to India in the same context. China is concerned about India's conventional military arsenal. So far there have been few activities in engaging China.
Thus, more significant steps towards engaging China and setting up more concrete forms of mutual understanding about threats and challenges, not only in Africa but also in other regions in the world, need to be undertaken. There is a need to reach a broader mutual understanding communication should be improved to foster mutual trust and understanding. In this process, the US has to play an important role. It should encourage China to become a more constructive international player. Meanwhile, Sino-Indian cooperation is essential for long-term regional stability.


The EU and China

Regarding the future direction of EU-China relations, it is doubtful if the EU and China can act together often; it is also unrealistic to think the EU will act with the US always. The EU wishes to have a more multilateral form of world engagement and prefers a more independent diplomacy For instance, on the Taiwan issue, and several other issues as well, Brussels has taken a slightly different position from that of Washington. For the future, it is one of the priories for the EU to diversify its strategic partnerships rather than merely focusing on Washington. In Brussels and other member states of the EU, the younger generation is frustrated with the EU's foreign policy and are demanding a more concrete,effective foreign policy.

European perspective on 'China threat'

The conception of China being more exclusive than India is unfair. India is also exclusive in certain ways. For India's neighboring countries, for example, Indian diplomacy is regarded as fairly exclusive.. There is a growing concern in Europe and even in Washington about India's diplomatic and strategic assertions. The reason why China's rise is perceived as a threat while India's emergence is not is a question of perspective.

EU arms sale to China would be worrisome to some countries like the US and Japan. However, the EU has been selling arms to China under the guise of dual-use technology for quite a long time. This is a matter of concern more for the US and Japan rather than EU.


The term "Chindia" linking China and India does not yet reflect the reality since there are many dimensions between China and India that are hard to bring together. Chindia remains a myth.

EU's policy toward India

The EU and China have genuine cooperation in many areas where India still lags behind. The EU and China have interacted with each other in other countries as well which has not been the case in EU-India relations say in Nepal or Myanmar. With China, Brussels has deeper interactions on regional issues, while there is no concrete European policy towards India yet. This is frustrating to younger generations and young scholars in Europe. In this regard, it is obvious that while Europe uses the democracy argument to praise India over China, in substantial terms its relationship with China is far deeper than it is with India. Ultimately, trade and commerce trump any substantial foreign policy based on identity of values.

Concluding Remarks

China and India will be very significant and important international players in the near future. So far China seems to handle its foreign relations in a very skillful way while pushing its national interests while India still lags behind in this respect. The Chinese have not only have actively participated in ASEAN+3 and other regional frameworks but also dominated these in many ways. India needs to know how to better handle strategic issues and formulate its own methods to deal with world affairs


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