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Emerging Trends in China’s Foreign Policy Towards India and Southeast Asia

The National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore organized a panel discussion on Emerging Trends in China’s Foreign Policy towards India and Southeast Asia on Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 1530 hours in the NIAS Campus, Bangalore. The panelists were Shri DS Rajan, Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai and Prof. V. Suryanarayan, Senior Research Fellow, Center for Asia Studies, Chennai.

Shri DS Rajan, in his presentation of Chinese Views on India, stressed the importance of referring to original Chinese language materials. Unfortunately the Indian media and scholars do not refer to these language materials.  While the official statements and articles in the party and state-controlled media do provide authoritative accounts on Sino-Indian relations, the semi –official and independent writings in China exhibit certain amount of freedom in their assessment of India. To illustrate, the comments made by Global Times that there will be no stability in Tibet and Xinjiang without Pakistan and the revelations made in a Chinese language blog that the top leadership in Beijing has reached a consensus to “teach India a lesson” and recover “Southern Tibet” (Arunachal Pradesh”) are clues to Chinese thinking among non- official circles. Shri Rajan referred to an observation made by an India scholar in the Journal of the Academy of South Asian Studies, Beijing that there should be no domination of India in South Asia and Indian strategic autonomy should not be against the independence and sovereignty of its smaller neighbours in South Asia. Such opinions appear to mark a nuanced departure from viewpoints expressed in the past by Chinese experts that China will have a “balanced approach” towards South Asia. Shri Rajan Maintained that China’s recent assertiveness towards Japan, Southeast Asia and India should be a matter of great concern to China watchers in different parts of the world.

Speaking on China and Southeast Asia: Emerging Trends, Prof. V. Suryanarayan pointed out that the PRC had always been a key point of reference as far as Southeast Asian countries are concerned. During the cold war years, the PRC projected three complex, but inter-related, images. China was a growing military and economic power; it was the original home of the economically powerful, culturally exclusive and politically aggressive 28 million Overseas Chinese in these countries and it was the most important country, which was lending powerful ideological support to communist struggles in these countries. Over the years, China’s foreign policy has undergone a fundamental transformation. Beijing has not only established diplomatic relations with all countries, it has emerged as a major trading partner of all countries. The Overseas Chinese are the single largest group which has made huge foreign direct investment in China. China has given up the policy of exporting “revolution” to South East Asian countries. However, to maintain that China is a benign factor in Southeast Asian politics will be misreading the situation. Despite the present camaraderie which characterizes China’s relations with Southeast Asia, many countries, especially Vietnam and the Philippines, are apprehensive about China’s long term intentions and goals. The recent assertive postures of China in the East China Sea and South China Sea have to be viewed in this context. Unlike the Bay of Bengal, which is relatively tranquil, the South China Sea, because of conflicting territorial claims and competing naval projection can become a potential flash point. The Southeast Asian countries are keen that the United States should maintain a credible naval presence in the region; they also look forward to New Delhi strengthening its strategic partnerships with Southeast Asian countries and playing a more activist role in the days to come.

Prof. Nagappa introduced the speakers and moderated the discussions. The presentations were followed by a lively discussion in which the faculty members of the NIAS and Bangalore University, former diplomats and leading citizens of Bangalore participated.

(The above report has been prepared by Center for Asia Studies and Chennai Centre for China Studies)

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