The development and foreign policies of China and India are frequently compared. These two nations play a central role in bridging the gap between the developed and developing world, as interdependence continues to shape the international community. In the fifth event of the “China and South Asia’s Future” seminar series, master degree candidates from Tsinghua University’s Department of International Relations offered their views on China and India’s role in their varied regions of expertise. They were joined by a panel of Chinese experts on South Asia to discuss how both countries’ regional diplomacy is viewed within China. Carnegie’s Lora Saalman moderated.

  • Italy and Nationality Theft: Piotr Spalek, who hails from Italy and Poland, noted that brands from the West are seen as status symbols within China. Chinese consumers tend to find Chinese products to be inferior. This often results in the decision to buy a fake foreign brand, rather than a comparable domestic brand that is real. One of the countries hardest hit by this trend is Italy, which due to the high reputation of its brands has become the target of fake Italian trademarked goods. Spalek noted that the theft of nationality, rather than a brand itself, is a unique twist on intellectual property-related allegations usually leveled at China. These goods, improperly designated as foreign, risk decreasing the value of real imports by diminishing the reputation of Western brands, he added.
  • Preserving the Arctic: The Arctic is thought to contain 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil resources and 30 percent of its natural gas resources. With increasing temperatures making Arctic passage easier, Simen Willgohs, from Norway, noted that non-littoral states have begun to penetrate the region, while other states have sought to preserve the right to future shipping. China, he said, is seeking permanent observer status on the Arctic Council and is increasing its research and capabilities in the Arctic, revealed by its confidential study conducted in 2009. The Arctic is likely to see increasing tensions, given conflicting land claims, unclear legal frameworks, energy exploitation, and the risk of oil spills, shipwrecks, and environmental disasters, Willgohs contended.
  • Iran as a Bargaining Chip: Iran is a nation of strategic importance, with copious natural energy reserves. Ali Hussein, who is from Iraq, compared Chinese and Indian political, economic, and military relations with Iran since 1979, stressing that the two countries share some similarities when it comes to Iran. Both have at various times voted for and against Iran when the country has been faced with sanctions for its alleged nuclear weapons program. He emphasized that while neither China nor India wish to see Iran have nuclear weapons, they both agree on its right to peaceful nuclear energy. Furthermore, both see Iran as a diplomatic “bargaining chip,” particularly vis-à-vis the United States.
  • Indian Expulsion from Uganda: Doryn Negesa, who hails from Uganda, discussed the expulsion of Indians in 1972, under the regime of Idi Amin Dada. She explained that this act, based on accusations that India was sabotaging the Ugandan economy and engaging in corruption, demonstrated the underlying tensions between the two countries. She added that Indians in Uganda were largely disliked for their control of sugar cane plantations, tea estates, and factories, along with the majority of small businesses. Indians were permitted to return in 1986 and there are now more than 20,000 Indians living in Uganda, who are once again dominating business ventures. She worried that history might repeat itself. Saalman asked how this scenario compares with that of Chinese businesses in Africa. Negesa argued that the Chinese presence has been much better received, attributing this to the Chinese policy of non-interference and investment in local infrastructure.
  • BRICS versus IBSA: While Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) have garnered international attention, the organization formed by India, Brazil, and South Africa (IBSA), is less well known, argued Mariana Bohlke, who hails from Brazil. Reviewing the established objectives of BRICS and IBSA, Bohlke argued that the two groups complement one another. BRICS prioritizes peace, stability, and cooperation in industrial development while IBSA focuses on defense, human rights, and social development. The two overlap in a number of significant arenas, including health, education, climate, transportation, energy, and security. Saalman asked Bohlke as to the impact of IBSA excluding two chief BRICS members, and Bohlke suggested that IBSA has been more successful when it comes to targeted projects and building ties among countries largely dwarfed by the political and economic might of China and Russia.
  • Loans-for-Oil in Venezuela: Iris Marjolet, who is from France, discussed China’s loans-for-oil deals in Venezuela. China is the second largest oil consumer in the world, while Venezuela has the largest global reserve of crude oil, remarked Marjolet. The latter wants to open new markets to avoid dependence on the U.S. market and to spur economic development. China has stepped in to fill this role with an estimated 300 loans and investments. However, given the fact that Venezuela is ranked as the fourth riskiest sovereign credit country in the world, with an inflation rate of over 27 percent and possible domestic tensions, Marjolet suggested that the China Development Bank faces potentially major losses if the end of Chavez’ rule results in instability.
  • The U.S. Pivot to Asia: Zhang Weiyu, who is from China, described domestic perceptions that the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership is an effort to form a political alliance to isolate China. Increased tension in the South China Sea may be attributed to the heavy attention traditionally paid by China to land security and its relative disregard for its maritime littoral, added Zhang. While noting that diplomacy remains important, she suggested that a “surprise action of diplomatic means” may be necessary to caution both large and small powers from infringing upon China's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Two Chinese panelists took a more conciliatory tone, noting that China might be willing to compromise, but U.S. interference makes such an action difficult. Any concessions on the part of China would be seen as for U.S. benefit, rather than as a concession to regional neighbors, they contended.
  • Chinese and Indian Navies: Tim Schipper, who comes from the Netherlands, described the potential for cooperation between the Chinese and Indian navy. Schipper acknowledged both incidents demonstrating mutual distrust, as well as cases of cooperation, such as their signing of an MOU in 2006 on joint exercises, counter terrorism, anti-piracy, as well as search and rescue operations. He emphasized that both countries have shared interests in ensuring safe shipping routes through the region. In spite of their strategic distrust and significant military expenditures, China and India are likely to continue training, exercises, and visits, particularly maritime escorts and anti-piracy operations, Schipper said.
  • North Korean Defectors: Tasharni Jamieson, who hails from Australia, detailed how North Koreans have been defecting since the end of Korean War, with unofficial estimates as high as 100,000-300,000 refugees. These defectors have an uncertain legal status, Jamieson said. In accordance with a 1961 agreement between China and North Korea, China regards defectors as illegal economic migrants, requiring forced repatriation. While the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees maintains the principle of non-refoulement of refugees, China has no refugee adjudication process that would allow for the determination of refugee status. China’s policy contravenes its obligations under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, argued Jamieson. Yet, she stressed that China faces challenges in changing its approach, namely concerns over intervention, China-North Korean relations, and instability in North Korea.