The Quad summit as seen from China

Welcome to today’s The India China Newsletter, which comes to you after a longer-than-planned six-day hiatus, thanks largely due to the demands of covering the Quad summit on Friday and its aftermath. Readers who enjoy podcasts may find of interest a couple of episodes we at The Hindu put out over the past few days, one analysing the outcomes and another looking ahead to Thursday’s U.S.-China meet in Alaska and the implications for India and the Quad.

In this issue, I’ll look at:

- Some of the reactions in the Chinese media to the first Quad leaders’ summit, which has gotten quite a lot of attention in the Chinese press

- China’s new travel rules that are linking the issuing of visas to Chinese vaccines

- Is China’s Party-State model becoming a source of inspiration for India’s current government?

China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday had an interesting response to the Quad meet, spelling out more directly its concerns beyond the boilerplate ‘we hope it’s more conducive to stability’ message we heard last week:

Q: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Saturday that the goal of the US and its key allies is to make sure that they have the capabilities and operational plans to offer credible deterrence to China or anybody else who would want to take on the United States. What is the foreign ministry's comment?

Zhao Lijian: China has always been a builder of world peace, a contributor to global development, and a defender of the international order. China's development means better protection for world peace, as it represents opportunities for the world, not challenges. China has always firmly upheld the UN-centered international system and the international order we champion is the one based on international law, not the one defined by individual countries to maintain their hegemony. In the era of globalization, forming enclosed small cliques with ideology as the yardstick is the sure way to destroy the international order and after all, is unpopular and will end in total failure. The United States should treat China and China-US relations in a right mentality and in an objective and rational manner, stop interfering in China's internal affairs, and work with China to focus on cooperation, manage differences, and place China-US relations back on the track of healthy and stable development.

Q: The four countries of the Quad held their first summit on March 12. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the four leaders discussed the challenge posed by China and believed democracy could out-compete autocracy. Do you have any comment on that?

Zhao Lijian: For quite some time, certain countries have been so keen to exaggerate and hype up the so-called "China threat" to sow discord among regional countries, especially to disrupt their relations with China. However, their actions, running counter to the trend of the times of peace, development and cooperation and the common aspirations of the countries and peoples in the region, will not be welcomed or succeed. Exchanges and cooperation between countries should help expand mutual understanding and trust, instead of targeting or harming the interests of third parties. Certain countries should shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice, refrain from forming closed and exclusive small circles, and do more things that are conducive to solidarity and cooperation among regional countries and regional peace and stability.

COMMENT: The phrases in bold caught my attention: the dig at the “rules-based order” emphasis and the reference to “closed and exclusive small circles”. Here’s a thought to ponder: how different ‘a closed circle’ is the Quad from, say, BRICS?

More on the ‘rules-based order’, Qian Feng at Tsinghua University had this to say on inconsistencies within the Quad:

Media in the US and other Western countries have been criticizing India's "degraded" democracy for a while. They lambaste it by saying that India's democracy is becoming more and more authoritarian. Whether it is the growing influence of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India, the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, the mistreatment of Muslims, or the internet shutdown during the farmers' protests, India has attracted a lot of criticism from the West. Under such context, the Quad members still hypocritically stand together, emphasizing that they are like-minded allies. But in fact, these are just slogans used to achieve their geopolitical purposes.

A few more opinions that caught my eye follow below. Because of time constraints, these are rough translations that relied on Google Translate that I fixed up in places. Please consider this a rough translation that is true to the meaning conveyed in the original pieces but is neither literal nor exact.

Shi Lancha and Zhang Qianhe in Guancha argue the prospect of the Quad coming together on supply chains, despite challenges that remain in this endeavour, should be taken seriously by China:

At this meeting, in addition to replaying the old tune of "free and open Indo-Pacific"… strengthening the flexibility of the industrial chain and supply chain was a priority issue. The "India-centered supply model" mentioned by the Economic Times actually refers to the plan of the four countries to deepen supply cooperation in vaccine production in order to balance China's vaccine diplomacy…

The strategic framework declassified by the Trump administration long planned to promote the implementation of the Indo-Pacific strategy in a dual approach to security and economy, but policy differences between the four countries, the differentiation of interests, coupled with vague goals, has led the long-term industrial economic agenda to lag behind the military and security agenda.

A large part of the reason why this Quad summit is extraordinary is that it uses "vaccine cooperation" as the fulcrum, focuses on the supply chain issues of the industrial chain, and clearly highlights the status of India as a potential manufacturing centre.

Lou Chunhao of CICIR in Global Times (Chinese):

The U.S.-Japan-India-Australia video Summit and the upcoming visit of the U.S. Defense Secretary to India have made observers once again focus on India's positioning in the Indo-Pacific and even the global landscape. Those who are familiar with Indian history know that India has never lacked the dream of a great power... However, it is difficult for those who understand the national development process in India to deny that because of the lack of an accurate grasp of the national development task, India will experience strategic losses… The most obvious sign is failing to achieve stable domestic economic and social development but blindly pursuing the so-called dream of a great power. The ideology of India's foreign policy over the past few years seems to be repeating the mistakes that have been made in history. In the past few years, India has actively exaggerated its "democratic country" status, and even joined the so-called "democratic camp" led by the United States, and at the same time exaggerated its ideological competition with China…

The sharp deterioration of Sino-Indian relations in 2020 has further stimulated the smearing of the Chinese system by some in the Indian strategic community. Former Indian Foreign Secretaries Vijay Gokhale, Shyam Saran and other former civil officials who had been in high positions have raised the idea of an ‘ideological battle’ against China…

However, with the changes in the domestic politics of the United States and India, the differences in the perception of "democracy" between the United States and India are increasing….Not long ago, in response to demonstrations by farmers in India, a number of heavyweight members of the India caucus of the United States Congress stressed that "democratic norms must be maintained, farmers have the right to peaceful demonstrations and access to the Internet". A TIME magazine article pointed out sharply, "If India under Modi's rule cannot reverse the decline in democracy, the relationship between the United States and India may be as Kissinger originally described, like a couple who cannot survive".

Second, development is the top priority for India's rise, and China is one of India's most important development partners. From the end of the Cold War to the time when the BJP came to power in 2014, India's positioning of its own identity was more from the perspective of economic development… However, with the rise of domestic economic nationalism and the deepening of strategic doubts about China, India has gradually deviated from the track of development and cooperation with China, and even adopted many discriminatory economic and trade policies against China. However, the structure of China-India economic and trade relations determines that India is more dependent and more vulnerable.

Liu Zongyi in an interview with Guancha on the border situation:

While not withdrawing, the Indian side also launched a sneak attack at the end of August and early September, occupying the south bank of Pangong Lake to obtain bargaining chips against China. Why did they withdraw now? Mainly because of the difficulties of internal and external affairs…

In foreign relations, there are two main reasons. The first is Sino-US relations, because after Biden came to power, the situation in which the Modi government wanted to use the United States to put pressure on China has undergone a major reversal… So, Indians are very worried about the current situation. In addition, India's confrontation with China and its proximity to the United States has caused its relationship with Russia to be very bad…. If this situation of internal and external difficulties continues, the so-called "strategic autonomy" that India expects to maintain will be completely lost. He will be a small partner in the American camp.

COMMENT: A number of commentaries in recent weeks have attributed the (partial and still in-progress) disengagement along the Line of Actual Control to India’s supposed concerns about the Biden administration. The evidence seems thin, but no signs yet of reviewing this line of argument even after the first Quad leaders’ summit…

I reported for The Hindu on Tuesday on China’s new announcement on ‘facilitating’ travel, according to notices put out by several Chinese embassies, for travellers who take ‘China produced’ vaccines.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry had this to say:

Q: Regarding China's announcements on visa facilitation in certain countries where Chinese vaccines are not being used, I'd like to understand what are the purpose and utility of these announcements. Has China approached these countries for recognizing Chinese vaccines? If not, then who do you think will benefit from these announcements?

Zhao Lijian: So far, many countries and international organizations have floated the idea of linking vaccination status with opening up international travels. Some have already rolled out specific arrangements to implement such ideas. Our proposal to facilitate the travel of those who have been inoculated with Chinese vaccines is made after thoroughly considering the safety and efficacy of Chinese vaccines. We believe this is a meaningful exploration of facilitating international travel once mass vaccination has been achieved. It is not linked to the recognition of Chinese vaccines.

Q: That's fine. It's a meaningful attempt to open up the travels. But if the Chinese vaccines are not available at all in these countries, and China is not approaching those countries for using the Chinese vaccines, then how can anybody from those countries get inoculated by Chinese vaccines and get the benefit of the announcement? Also, would it not be better if China recognizes the WHO-approved vaccines, for most of Chinese vaccines are also in the process of approval by WHO? Wouldn't it be more useful?

Zhao Lijian: I can understand what you were suggesting. But as I just said, China's proposal is a meaningful step we are trying to facilitate international travel. This is an arrangement made by the Chinese side unilaterally. It is a different thing from vaccine recognition. As to your question about China approving other countries' vaccines, I already stated China's position yesterday.

Perhaps understandable in Hong Kong - where the first notice was issued - or in some countries that use Chinese vaccines, but I’m still scratching to my head to figure out why the Chinese Embassy in India, a country where Chinese vaccines aren’t available, would put this out too — barring the obvious explanation when things don’t make sense — sometimes its down to bureaucracy.

And finally…

Historian Ram Guha writes on the unlikely parallels between the Right and the Left in their national projects:

Like the Chinese Communists under Mao, the Bharatiya Janata Party under Narendra Modi wishes to build a “party-State”. It has assiduously created a cult of the Great and Flawless Leader; it demonises opponents and critics as anti-national; at periodic intervals, it claims that there are assassination plots against the prime minister and, most worryingly, it demonises Indian Muslims just as the Communists have demonised non-Han communities in China.

Although neither side likes to acknowledge it, the hard Left and the hard Right have always had a great deal in common.

That’s it for this issue. The newsletter will be back later this week — and it promises to be another eventful week, with the U.S.-China meeting in Alaska and the U.S. Secretary of Defence in Delhi, among other developments worth keeping an eye on.

Thank you for reading!