IPCS Discussion

China, East Asia and the Indian Ocean Region: Review of IPCS Forecasts

11 Feb, 2015    ·   4831

Teshu Singh reports on the proceedings of the discussion

On 4 February, 2015, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), in collaboration with the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi, and the India International Centre, conducted a review of the second set of IPCS Forecast 2015 series papers. These forecasts – that focused on East Asia, the Indian Ocean Region, and China – were reviewed by Amb Skand Tayal and Dr. Siddharth Varadarajan. 

The discussion progressed as compiled below:

Amb Skand Tayal 
Former Indian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea & Visiting Faculty, Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University

In the evolving geopolitics of the region, we will have to take Russia’s role into consideration in the coming times. China and Russia have already signed gas deals worth $ 400 billion. The deal has weakened the US’ role in the region. China –Japan relations will be crucial in 2015 and the manner in which both countries mark the 70th anniversary of the victory in World War II and the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Aggression will be carefully watched. Inter-Korea relations will not witness much change. The US’ role in East Asia is extremely important as Washington is trying hard to bring North Korea to its forefront. Japan is trying to reinvent itself in the region. The Japanese foreign policy postures towards North Korea are not aggressive but rather uncompromising.

In contemporary times, India has shown interest in the East Asian region; the vision document of ‘U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region’ stands testimony to this. Many South Korean companies are ready to invest in India, especially in the ship-building sector. There is a lot of economic churning taking place in terms of regional economic arrangements – such as the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and the Asia Pacific Free Trade Area (APFTA) – in the East Asian region. Hence, it will be prudent for India to make a cost benefit analysis before joining any initiative.

The Sino-Indian relationship can witness a breakthrough this year. However, it is still unclear as to which sector China intents to invest the $ 20 billion that Xi Jinping promised during his India visit. Concrete ground work needs to be done on the India-China border issue before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits China. Perhaps, the contours of Sino-Indian relations will be set this year.

China’s domestic politics will be dominated by the issue of dealing with corruption, and the Uyghur terrorism in the Xinjiang province. China will follow aggressive economic diplomacy in the form of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Asia Pacific Free Trade Area.

China has already addressed the ‘Malacca Dilemma’ issue and the second oil pipeline via Myanmar is operational. Additionally, China will never declare an ADIZ in the South China Sea because doing so would mean antagonising all the ASEAN members. 

The PLA-Navy will continue to expand in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). China’s main objective in the IOR is to deal with the challenges to the Maritime Silk Route (MSR). The end of ‘piracy’ in the coming years looks bleak.

Dr Siddharth Varadarajan
Journalist and Analyst

Any type of development in US-Russia relations will have an impact on US-China relations. East Asia’s defining characteristic is the US-China relationship; and for the time being, US-China relations will have negative suffrage. China-Japan relations will also be important for the region and the manner in which they address the historical question will be crucial. China after having reached one level of rapprochement during the APEC summit will not let the bilateral relations ebb.

The 2015 wild card will be India, and how it reacts to the developments in the South China Sea and the Asia Pacific region will be closely watched. India should, in the coming year, try to go beyond the vision statement on the Asia Pacific. 2015 will not give New Delhi a definite answer to Sino-India relations. Sino-Indian relations are very much dependent on US-China relations. The linkage of Sino-Indian relations is fluid; whenever US-China relations are bad, Indo-US relations reach plateau. Needless to say, India forms the weakest part of the triangle. Modi’s China visit will be closely watched in this regard. India-Japan relations are also important and whether they agree to plus 2 remains to be seen.

India has endorsed the New Silk route but not the MSR. India’s challenges and opportunities vis-a-vis the two routes are immense. New Delhi has raised the ‘Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace’ issue and is wary of foreign navies’ presence in the IOR. Subsequently, New Delhi would have to accept the fact that the MSR infrastructure will continue, as many of India’s regional neighbours have already accepted China’s proposal.

•Russia’s role is important in the East Asia; the agreement between Russia and North Korea is already going. 

•In East Asian geopolitics, nothing is a given. The international community has witnessed the changing economic dynamics in Japan and China.

•All players know that containment and contesting in the region is an expensive option. South Korea and Japan have never been good friends but they still belong in same line of alignment.

•In the coming years, India needs to influence East Asian politics. India has covertly given up a balanced position but there remains a challenge: whether or not we can keep our foreign policy option neutral.

•The oil and gas pipeline through Myanmar is nothing but an alternative to avoid the Malacca Dilemma. The MSR is the soft power projection in the IOR to dilute the ‘String of Pearls’ argument propagated by the US.

•China has been very assertive in the SCS. Until now, it has followed ‘salami slicing’, but given its stakes in the region, one cannot rule out the possibility of an ADIZ in the region.

•In contemporary times the establishment of a port in a foreign country does not mean much. The port signifies that the foreign country is a hostage in the port country. The host country can use the port whenever it wants; for instance, the case of US naval vases in the Philippines. 

•India is like a giant aircraft carrier with its landmass projecting right into the heart of the Indian Ocean. It should take advantage of its geography and strengthen its own naval prowess.

•India will eventually overcome its apprehensions vis-a-vis the MSR. Here, it is pertinent to mention the Indonesian example wherein the new government is in the process of constructing 29 ports following the seventh century Sri Vijaya Empire model, through which the Empire controlled the two crucial entry and exit points in the Indian and Pacific Ocean respectively. To this end, they are accepting Chinese help.

Rapporteured by Teshu Singh, Senior Research Officer, IPCS