India, China Foreign Ministers review disengagement, and a landmark in China's poverty battle

Welcome to today's The India China Newsletter.

In this issue, I'm looking at:
- India’s and China’s foreign ministers speaking today to review the on-going disengagement along the Line of Actual Control (LAC)
- Is the eastern sector the next troubled front along the LAC?
- A K-pop band gets in trouble in China for showing a map that showed Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India
- The big story in China today: a major landmark in its fight against poverty

India's External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar tweeted this evening:

Both last spoke (as far as we know at least) in September in Moscow. That meeting turned out to be a turning point of sorts, as it came after tensions had risen to their highest end-August after the June clash in the Galwan Valley, and the call, in a sense, marked the start of the disengagement process. That, however, turned out to be much slower than the "quick" disengagement they spoke of, and finally only began earlier this month, after broad modalities were agreed in January when military commanders met.

We don’t have a readout of their call as I write this. At a briefing today, the Ministry of External Affairs, I report for The Hindu, said the first phase of the disengagement at Pangong Lake was "a significant first step".

India's Army chief yesterday sounded a note of caution, my colleague Dinakar Peri reports for The Hindu:

On the first phase of disengagement completed at Pangong Tso, he stated that it was a good outcome of the 10 rounds of military talks. However, there were pending issues in eastern Ladakh and other parts along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), including Depsang Plains, he pointed out.

“End of the day, we have achieved a lot. We still have a long way to go. We now have to move on to the stage of de-escalation. After that de-induction of troops, which went to the higher reaches,” he observed.

Gen. Naravane asserted that there was trust deficit with China. “We will be wary and cautious and closely watch the moves that happen on either side of the LAC.”

To a question if India had more tactical leverages such as the domination of the peaks on the Kailash range that have now been vacated, he said ‘they do’, without elaborating. “Every agreement is premised that they are observed in letter and spirit. We will trust but we will verify.” Systems have been put in to verify that these heights were not reoccupied.

Shishir Gupta in the Hindustan Times says the next concern could be in the eastern sector, which hasn’t been in focus with the tensions in Ladakh:

The concern of the national security planners is the rapid infrastructure upgrades that the PLA is undertaking across Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. There is evidence to show increased troop and equipment sheds and better road communication across Naku La in north Sikkim. The PLA simultaneously transgressed into the Naku La sector in May 2020 with both armies engaging in fisticuffs. The PLA created Naku La as a friction point around six years ago with the intention to convey that while Beijing recognises Sikkim as part of Indian territory, the border still is unresolved.

The other area of concern is the rapid military-infra upgrade across the Upper Subansiri district in Arunachal Pradesh with the PLA constructing at least three new bridges, a new 66-kilometre road and troop sheds in the area.

“It is a matter of concern as it shows that the PLA is focused on the LAC despite disengaging from Pangong Tso. It clearly shows that the Indian Army has to maintain vigil all along the unsettled border including the central sector across Uttarakhand,” said a senior official.

Meanwhile, the popular K-pop group BTS, which has legions of fans in China, is in hot water over a map that showed Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India, and not as Chinese maps do. This, of course, comes amid an unprecedented wave of online attention on India and the border, as this newsletter has been describing this week. From Global Times:

South Korean K-pop agency Big Hit Entertainment, which manages idol group BTS, raised eyebrows among Chinese netizens for using an incorrect map that failed to indicate South Tibet as part of China, but instead showed it as Indian territory. The issue arose about four months after the hit boy band BTS's controversial remarks on the Korean War (1950-53).

Big Hit Entertainment on Tuesday released a financial information report. On the eighth page, the company showcased its revenue in different countries and regions in 2020, using the incorrect map as a background. A blogger who found that the map excluded South Tibet from Chinese territory later posted the issue in a discussion group on Chinese social media platform Douban.

In the post, the blogger reminded the company to review and correct the map, so as not to arouse hostile sentiment between people on both sides. Established in 2005, Big Hit Entertainment manages multiple entertainment stars including soloist Lee Hyun and idol groups BTS and TOMORROW X TOGETHER (TXT). The company had not made any announcement about this issue as of press time.

China has repeatedly emphasized that the South Tibet belongs to China, and has never recognized the so-called "Arunachal Pradesh" as claimed by India. The incorrect map irritated many Chinese netizens. "Is it that hard to find a correct map, or it just doesn't want to?" a Chinese netizen asked. Some Chinese netizens argued that it was the agency's fault and the idols under its label should not be blamed, but some others responded that the company is a repeat offender against China, considering the controversial Korean War speech that BTS made in October 2020.

A drone in company in China has honoured its employees for their contribution to the PLA in the Galwan clash, which sheds some light on the use of drones:

A Chinese drone company whose products are used by the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) in border defense missions honored two employees who were involved in the conflict between Chinese and Indian troops in the Galwan Valley in June last year, as they fearlessly supported the PLA in dangerous reconnaissance missions.

Zhao Bo and Shi Zhilong, two employees of the Shenzhen-based drone company Keweitai Enterprise Development Co, acted valiantly and supported the PLA troops in drone reconnaissance missions despite dangerous conditions and the harsh environment at an altitude of more than 5,000 meters in the Galwan Valley, the company revealed in a statement on Wednesday, giving the two awards and urging others to learn from their example.

Zhao and Shi also helped the PLA medical teams in aiding the wounded and prepared meals for the troops when kitchen squads became shorthanded, the statement said, noting that Zhao suffered a fracture in his left foot and a sprain in his right hand, and Shi suffered from serious altitude sickness during the process.

Both employees said they were proud of their deeds, according to the statement.

According to Keweitai's public WeChat account, the company's multi-rotor drones are widely used by the PLA Xinjiang Military Command to monitor and control the border, and by the PLA troops in Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region to transport supplies to isolated border defense outposts.

In yesterday's newsletter, I mentioned the new Galwan footage that China put out to show India as the “aggressor” as well as the repeated claims in the media there that India had transgressed the LAC claims. Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin made that point again today:

In the video, an Indian Captain named Soiba Maningba Rangnamei faced the camera. He was quite eye-catching and therefore benefited from the video. He was applauded by Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh. Before that, he was commended with the "Gallantry Award" in January. Rangnamei is from one of the Naga tribes, an ethnic group native to northeastern India and northwestern Myanmar. In order to integrate into the mainstream society of India, they often showcase their warfare prowess with acts. In the video, it can be clearly seen that Rangnamei and Indian soldiers were forcibly crossing the river and charging ahead. Qi and PLA soldiers were clearly stopping them in the river. The river is usually the demarcation of the border, or line of actual control. The video is solid evidence that the Indian army was destroying peace on the border area and trying to change the status quo there.

COMMENT: As I said in yesterday’s newsletter, in my view the depictions in the Chinese media of where the LAC that both sides abided by prior to 2020 in Galwan don’t seem to be accurate. Given that the section of the river where the footage is shot, as the map in yesterday’s newsletter shows, is where it runs from NW to SE, while the LAC here is roughly running from NE to SW, Hu Xijin’s comment on the river being the LAC doesn’t make much sense.

As I also said yesterday, India should come out and respond to this narrative that has widely taken hold in China. India should also clarify where the LAC is in Galwan Valley, which still remains a source of some confusion even among the experts in India. This will not only make clear who transgressed but also signal publicly where Delhi believes the LAC is in Galwan Valley, which both sides should abide by, just as it has done so on the north bank of Pangong Lake. As I also said in yesterday’s newsletter, there are reasons why Delhi perhaps won’t do that.

The big story in China today was an event held to mark what Xi Jinping called 'a complete victory' in 'eradicating absolute poverty'. This is the official Xinhua news agency report on the event:

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced on Thursday that China has scored a "complete victory" in its fight against poverty.

Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, said absolute poverty has been eradicated in the world's most populous country.

Xi made the announcement while addressing a grand gathering held in Beijing to mark the country's accomplishments in poverty alleviation and honor its model poverty fighters.

Over the past eight years, the final 98.99 million impoverished rural residents living under the current poverty line have all been lifted out of poverty. All the 832 impoverished counties and 128,000 impoverished villages have been removed from the poverty list.

Since the launch of the reform and opening up in the late 1970s, 770 million impoverished rural residents have shaken off poverty when calculated in accordance with China's current poverty line.

China has contributed more than 70 percent of global poverty reduction over the same period.

With such achievements, China has created another "miracle" that will "go down in history," Xi said.

I report for The Hindu how this landmark was measured, how important this is for Xi’s legacy-building, and how infrastructure and connectivity were two key elements in poverty reduction in remote impoverished counties. You can read the report here:

China’s elimination of absolute poverty is defined according to the government’s poverty line of $2.30 in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) per person a day, which is higher than the international poverty line of $1.90 PPP. According to the World Bank, China has lifted more than 850 million out of poverty since its reforms began in 1978, unleashing years of double-digit GDP growth.

The World Bank defines the poverty line for lower middle income countries at $3.20 PPP and for upper middle income countries, such as China, at $5.50 PPP. According to the World Bank, 373 million people in China are living below the upper-middle-income poverty line of $5.50.

Indermit Gill at the Brookings Institution says this measurement isn’t reflective of China’s current economic status:

Actually, China is almost as well off today as the United States was in 1960 when it became a high-income economy (using the World Bank’s classification). Around that time, the U.S. first adopted an official definition of poverty, classifying people as poor if their daily consumption was less than $21.70 in 2011 prices, four times what the World Bank today considers reasonable and about 10 times what China believes is adequate. In a forthcoming paper, my colleague Eric Dixon and I estimate that in 1960, using the $21.70 cutoff, fewer than a quarter of all Americans lived in poverty (Figure 1 is extracted from that paper). But by this criterion, between 80 and 90 percent of Chinese people would today be considered poor. If our numbers are correct, China is years—if not decades—behind schedule.

What really struck me in the coverage in China is how much 2012 is emphasised - when Xi came to power - and not 1978, the start of reforms. Since the focus is on the last 100 million, that is somewhat expected, but the way it has taken precedence over 1978 is still striking. This is a commentary from Xinhua:

Ending absolute poverty in the world's most populous country is nothing less than a history-making moment.

Alleviating poverty is a common and enduring challenge to humanity. China has a population of 1.4 billion and has used the past decades, since 2012 especially, to tackle the challenge with unparalleled efforts.

The result: bringing close to 100 million people out of poverty in eight years and a farewell to absolute poverty.

The Communist Party of China (CPC), inspired by socialist ideals to eliminate poverty, improve people's livelihood, and realize common prosperity, has put poverty fight as a top policy goal. The CPC's efforts came from a simple and clear purpose -- to deliver real benefits to the people. The efforts are neither for scoring political points nor creating a battlefield to compete with other countries' systems or governance.

Besides the numerical target, China ensured the impoverished people have "two assurances" (adequate food, adequate clothing) and "three guarantees" (access to compulsory education, basic medical services, and safe housing). The country has conducted the strictest assessment to ensure that the quality and standards of the poverty relief work are not compromised.

Over the last eight years, unabated attention and a sustained push from Chinese President Xi Jinping have ensured continued momentum. Under his leadership, efforts against poverty have been woven into every fabric of Chinese life, in which reducing poverty is a consensus and constant call to action.

Alibaba and Wanda were among the big companies that were praised for their role at the event in Beijing, which is some good news for Alibaba. Global Times reports Wanda’s Wang Jianlin was at the event, but there’s no word in this report on whether Jack Ma was there.

And finally, here’s a short clip that captures the flavour of the event:

Thank you for reading this issue! This newsletter will be back next week, and wish you all a great weekend.