1st India Forum on China

Decoding China’s Quest for Global and Regional Leadership

Also available in Deutsch

The India office of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS) with the collaboration of the University of Goa organized a conference in Goa on December 14th and 15th to decode China’s quest for global and regional leadership.

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Inaugural Session with Peter Rimmele, Ambassador Shyam Saran and the Governor of Goa Mridula Sinha

Inaugural Session with Peter Rimmele, Ambassador Shyam Saran and the Governor of Goa, Mridula Sinha...

About 40 scholars and experts on China from India, Australia, Germany, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and the United States gathered in addition to more than 40 research studentsto deliberate about this topic. The objective was to understand the nature and implications of China’s leadership quest, evaluate its strategic narratives, and assess limitations and constraints faced by China in the pursuit of its regional and global goals.

The conference followed the tenth "All India Conference of China Studies" (AICCS), held at the University of Goa from 12th-14th December. It dealt with China and its maritime domain. In order to give students taking part in the AICCS the opportunity to gain a deeper insight and exchange ideas with distinguished experts and academics, the first India forum on China was held in Goa immediately following the AICCS.

In his introductory remarks, Ambassador Ashok K. Kantha, Director of the ICS, said that the forum should be organized annually to accommodate this highly intriguing topic. This is especially important in the light of Xi Jinping’s speech at the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party emphasizing Chinas willingness to become the leading global power by the middle of the century.

Mr. Peter Rimmele, Resident Representative of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in India, explained in his welcome speech that China's ambitions are viewed increasingly skeptically even in Europe. Consecutively the European Commission, under Jean-Claude Juncker, had decided to introduce countermeasures to avoid China from buying European companies operating in sensitive areas.

Ambassador Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary of India, in his keynote address spoke on China's increasing quest for regional and global leadership. He said that the world is currently undergoing a rapid change, and as the West is more and more shaken by crises, China would increasingly propagate its system as a future model for other states. In its pursuit, China would show both the willingness to cooperate, but at the same time the opposite. This can be seen in China's actions in the South China Sea. Although China prefers a multipolar world, there is also a hierarchical way of thinking anchored in China, which sees China at the top of a future world order. In the long run, however, that would provoke the resistance of other states.

Professor Varun Sahni, Vice Chancellor of the University of Goa, emphasized that China sees its time has come to be the world's leading power. He pointed out, however, that there was a decisive difference between power and leadership. While power relies only on the relative capabilities of a state, leadership means much more. According to him leadership is based on consensus.

The Governor of Goa, Mridula Sinha, emphasized in her inaugural address that globalization has made the economy more interconnected and that countries are interdependent in their growth. She also stressed the need to understand the concept of leadership in today's world order. While China would understand leadership as a hierarchy and dominance, leadership would rather be based on a state abiding by international rules and that other states legitimizing the actions of the leading state.

In the first round of discussion, under the moderation of Ambassador Nalin Surie, Director-General of the Indian Council of World Affairs, the participants outlined a strategic overview of China's quest for regional and global leadership. Professor Prasenjit Duara, Duke University, commented on continuities and novelties in China's conception of the world order. Ambassador Shivshankar Menon, formerly National Security Advisor of India, dealt with the strategic underpinning of China's foreign policy. Ambassador Bilhari Kausikan, former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore, presented China's foreign policy approach in Southeast Asia under Xi Jinping from Singapore's point of view.

The second panel, led by Ambassador Menon deliberated about instruments and drivers of China's great power aspirations. Dr. Chisako T. Masuo, Kyushu University, outlined recent developments in China's maritime administration. Ambassador Anil Wadhwa, former secretary for the East in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India, analyzed Chinese investments in Europe. Dr. Arvind Gupta, director of the Vivekananda International Foundation, examined China's capabilities in cyberspace and its implications for the regional security.

In the third round of discussion, chaired by Professor Manoranjan Mohanty, former chairperson of the ICS, participants addressed the underlying ideology and concepts of China's great power quest. Professor Tansen Sen, NYU Shanghai, discussed how China is rewriting its history using Admiral Zheng He as an example. Ambassador P. Stobdan, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses discussed the role of Buddhism in China's foreign policy. Professor Richard Rigby of the Australian National University dealt with the topic of how Xi Jinping historically underpins his visions for China.

Professor Aparajita Gangopadhay Thakur, University of Goa, chaired the fourth panel discussion on the regional dimension of China's leadership. Professor C. Raja Mohan, Director Carnegie India, dealt with China in India's northwest. Dr. Christian Wagner, Senior Fellow German Institute for International and Security Affairs, spoke about the role of China in South Asia and specifically about the Chinese BRI projects. Dr. Jabin T. Jacob, ICS Fellow, gave an insight into the role of the provinces in China's regional foreign policy.

The fifth round of discussion was chaired by Professor Alka Acharya, former ICS Director, also on the regional dimension of China's leadership. Ambassador P. S. Raghavan, Convener of the National Security Advisory Board of India, discussed the Sino-Russian relationship. Dr. Mordechai Chaziza, Ashkelon College Israel held a presentation on the strategic importance of the Suez Canal for Chinas BRI. Professor David Arase of John Hopkins University Nanjing elaborated about the dynamics in the northeast of Asia and Ambassador R. Viswanathan on China's politics in Latin America.

The final panel discussion was moderated by Major General Dipankar Banerjee, a member of the Forum for Strategic Initiative (FSI), and the participants emphasized the military dimension of China's leadership. Professor Arthur S. Ding, Institute of International Relations in Taipei, revealed Xi Jinping's defense industry reform, while Vice Admiral Anil Chopra, a member of the National Security Advisory Board of India, explained the developments that the Chinese navy is undergoing.

Following the inaugural sessions and the ensuing six panel discussions, summarized by Dr. Garima Mohan, Fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, at the end of the two-day conference. The sessions focused on the internal and external factors that influence China's quest for leadership, the instruments that China uses, the narratives and the response from other states in different regions of the world. The economy, demographics, the survival of the Communist Party and the need of resources were identified as the crucial domestic drivers of the Chinese aspirations. The external drivers were the geographic location, the neighborhood and the space created by the supposed withdrawal of the United States. The most important instruments in China's leadership have been identified as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), civil-military fusion, armed forces, especially the Navy, and trilateral and multilateral fora. The narratives currently being disseminated by China are aimed primarily at highlighting the cultural history and heritage of China. These are exploited by the state insofar that claims on territories are justified with these narratives. The reaction of other states would become increasingly critical as China's involvement in various countries has already led to problems and dependencies. For the next discussion forums, it was suggested to draw more attention to the domestic political conditions, as these could essentially explain the aspirations of China.


Philipp Huchel

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India, December 18, 2017

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Peter Rimmele

Resident Representative India

Peter Rimmele
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