Episode 2 of C3S Interview Series on “中华人民共和国成立七十周年纪念” (70th Anniversary of the Founding of People’s
Foreign naval officers gather for a group photo on the deck of the naval training ship Qi Jiguang before a naval parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the founding of China’s PLA Navy in the sea near Qingdao in the eastern China’s Shandong province on April 23, 2019. Image Courtesy: AFP photo / Hindustan Times
C3S Interview 003/2019
In the run up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of People’s Republic of China on October 1 2019, Ms. Asma Masood carried out a series of C3S interviews with scholars working and studying in China. They share their first hand views on the Chinese landscape in light of the country’s achievements, challenges and projections for the coming decades. This interview, the second in the series, was conducted with Mr. Nagamalleswara Rao, PhD scholar on International Politics, Shandong University, PRC; Member, Young Minds of C3S. He shares his insights on China’s maritime power and the country’s perceptions of India.
The celebration of the 70th founding anniversary of the PLAN was certainly a big event here in the city of Qingdao. The Chinese government takes great care when organizing these ceremonial events and attaches pride in doing so. The Chinese cultural attachment towards ‘keeping face’ (miànzi 面值) indeed has a place of great importance within society, politics, and the workplace. The fear of losing face influences the Chinese authorities to organize events on a grand scale. In addition, certain measures are brought out before these events, which include sending cautionary notices to the international students to avoid travelling to the city or near event gatherings. At this point it must be stated that most Qingdao people are friendly and accommodative to foreigners. In the absence of any grand event being conducted, foreigners are allowed to visit ports, navy museums and foreign navy ships, most of which I have been to myself.
I see intense enthusiasm for the upcoming PRC National Day among the residents of Qingdao, especially in open markets, middle-schools and universities. My conversations with some Chinese friends and locals, revealed one complaint- that “the local government spends too much on beautification (of the city), which is unnecessary”.
Q2: In your recent article on “China Aims for Impactful Offshore Defense in the ‘New Era’”, you write that China, in attempting to “shape the normative security order…has been confident about experimenting traditional Chinese models, though the international response has mostly been unsupportive.” How would you foresee a shift in this international response in subsequent decades, especially in some developing countries which are presently warming to China in other areas such as economic ties?
The international responses to China’s normative posture meet contrasting poles- We see some positive international notes on China’s push to reform global institutions; on the other hand there are international actors which are unsupportive of China’s interest in creating new security architectures. One would not call it a negative response, but rather a cautious approach.
There is a shift in perceptions taking place in developing countries, primarily influenced by China’s soft power profile, and there is no doubt the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) would play a big role. Some policies by other states in lieu of Chinese sensitivities are counted positively by China, such as regarding the ‘China Model’ and the ‘One China Policy’. These are manifested in shifting diplomatic ties to China (PRC) and fast track agreements, while maintaining close consultations with the local political elite.
Within the ambit of economic ties, the international response would be on a transactional basis and depend on what China offers in return, for e.g., China’s desire for partnership-based digital alliances, regional markets integration, financial mobility, Most Favored Nation status, etc. In this respect, China would “win” the hearts of some developing countries, if not all.
Q3: The 2nd informal summit between Modi and Xi is to take place in the coming October at Mammallapuram- a peninsular site. The venue also signifies the relevance of the maritime domain and India-China relations. Given your ongoing study of Chinese strategies, where does China’s viewpoint lie when approaching the country’s maritime security interests vis-a-vis India? On a parallel note, is there scope for enhanced maritime cooperation between the two states in the time ahead?
With regard to maritime security interests, China favours ‘bilateral political settlements’ or regional mechanisms to settle disputes. Examples include the DoC with ASEAN members on the South China Sea, instead of the UNCLOS. Whereas in the broader Indo-Pacific Region, China chooses to go with general international norms. Speaking of Chinese maritime strategies one must be aware of and understand what underlies Chinese maritime ambitions. Building a “two ocean” navy with visible footprints could be a major one, which signifies boosting maritime capabilities and ties.This could guarantee accessibility, operability, rapid action capability, and visible military presence.
To the question where does China and India’s viewpoints lie, it depends on two things: firstly, primary area of focus in their security interests; and the point where the navies meet.
Today the direction and the focus of maritime strategies of China and India are shifting from “impactful offshore defence” to “decisive far sea defence”, at least on the paper. Be it ‘China’s Maritime Silk Road’ and India’s ‘Act East Policy’ or idea of ‘Indo-Pacific Region’.
Secondly on where the two navies actually meet, where they are comfortable to meet and what outcome it brings: When China heads to the West, the first stop lies in Indian Ocean; whereas in India’s Eastward journey the South China Sea becomes vital. Both these areas are considered as “backyards” by either country and when they see extra-regional players enter with relatively more power and influence each time it naturally adds complexities and influences the status quo.
Let us not forget there is a strong domestic determination to provide leadership or have some kind off hold on maritime affairs. Thus for New Delhi, Beijing’s actions appear as an “aggressive”, and for Beijing, New Delhi’s posture would translate as “complex”. In this respect, India’s maritime security partnership with the US, Japan and Australia, and its arms sales to Vietnam and other South-East Asian countries are seen as “ambitious” and “containing”/“balancing” efforts in China. China constructing ports in Gwadar (Pakistan), Hambantota (Sri Lanka), Chittagong (Bangladesh) and Kyaukphyu (Myanmar) and providing defence equipment as part of “Hexiao Gongda” (“Uniting with the small, to counter the big”) is viewed as “insensitive”and “impinging on security needs” by India.
The positive side is China and India shares similar views on non-traditional security issues- piracy issues, seaborne terrorism, freedom of navigation for commercial ships, and Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs).
Talking about maritime cooperation between India and China: Yes, definitely there is a big room to share, but it may not go beyond ceremonial exchanges, considering the mistrust and inadequate information. The key issue between China and India is how to prevent their differences from becoming disputes. Unless there is free and frank exchange of ‘intentions’, ambitions (specifically- the navies’ strategic goals) and intelligence sharing on both sides, we cannot have high expectations. Second, the scope of maritime cooperation depends not on simply stating principles such as mutual interest and “Win-Win cooperation” but actions that impact trust deficit.
Q4: Where do the perceptions of the Chinese public about Indian people lie, when seen from the cusp of a new decade?
Perceptions about Indian people in China are different from that of the Indian view about China and Chinese people. Whenever I say here that I am from India, the Chinese mainly conjure two images: that of an exotic India, and a promising but an ‘arrogant’ Indian. The Chinese believe that India is “poor” with “dirty” roads (thanks to media); at the same time, I also hear about Indian colours (Holi/saris), Yoga, Buddhism, Bollywood, curry, martial arts, IT, and the Army (the ‘Daredevils Motorcycle Display Team’).
My response would be incomplete if I do not point my Chinese faculty’s opinion on Indians.
They view Indian diplomats as “arrogant” and “tough to deal with”. Did I mention another Chinese opinion? : “Indians ask difficult questions!”.
(The views expressed are the interviewee’s own.)