The focus of this entire issue is on the topic of China’s engagement with the wider world through the lens of its geopolitics, its borderlands, and its vast and thriving cultural diaspora. A collection of writers from China, India, Hong Kong, and Canada explore these dimensions of China, in the world and at home, through a variety of approaches of history, international relations, diplomacy, and the cultural production of the Chinese diaspora, and by problematising Chinese IR. Our authors unpack the often recondite narratives that define Chinese growing power and influence.
We visit the border dispute between China and India, offering the Chinese perspective through an extract from a book by the veteran Chinese negotiator, Dai Bingguo, and the Indian perspective from his Indian counterpart, M.K. Narayanan who, like Dai, is an accomplished senior official. The two men had conducted several rounds of negotiations in the first decade of the 2000s, and they came to know each other’s diplomatic styles very well. Dai Bingguo explains that it is imperative for the two countries to settle the border issue and that they must not leave “this historical baggage forever to our younger generations.” Narayanan believes that the search for a composite solution was “likely to prove still more difficult as the century progresses.”
A scholarly Chinese perspective appears in book reviews by two Chinese PhD candidates, Yan Na and Wang Xiaolan, who are writing their dissertations at Shandong University. In her review of Xie Chuntao’s Challenges for China: How the CPC Makes Progress, Yan Na explores a range of topics within the book, such as how the country would attain a sustained development of the economy, how it would develop democracy demanded by the people, how it would improve its cultural soft power, how it would retain social harmony and stability, how it would protect China’s ecological environment, and how it would promote the peaceful unification of the mainland and Chinese Taipei, as well as the issue of preventing corruption and penalising offenders.
In her review of Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Niv Horesh’s China’s Presence in the Middle East, Wang Xiaolan explains that China has desired to be seen as a global power and this has meant being considered a major player in the oil-rich Middle East upon which the Chinese economy is dependent. The overarching theme is that there is a strong Sino-American convergence of interests in the Middle East that might possibly alleviate other tensions between the United States and China in the future, as China becomes more reliant on Middle Eastern oil and on the American security architecture that conditions free navigation across the Hormuz Straits. Yet, the Trump administration’s anti-China thrust undermines these hypotheses.
In a timely editorial commentary, Harish Mehta argues that there is no New Cold War at present, even though many scholars have claimed that there is. Mehta believes that there has been no Cold War ever since the original Cold War ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. There are, however, two new attributes in global geopolitics: first there is a new Cold War Mentality, or mentalité, that is exerting a powerful influence by disturbing international harmony. Secondly, there is a new competition for global leadership between the sole global superpower, the United States, and a rising superpower, China. In the present world order, America dominates the globe in military power, and China dominates in economic power.
We offer a multifaceted collection of research articles on China, starting with a comprehensive study by two Indian university students, Ryan Mitra and Japish Singh Gill, who explore the question: “does the Chinese String of Pearls, as depicted in the academic literature, pose an immediate threat to India?” They answer this question by using both quantitative and qualitative methods, explaining that Indian behavior vis-à-vis China’s activity has been mainly reactionary because of the influence of this ambitious theory. The authors question the viability and necessity of this behavior fourteen years after the publication of the phenomenon of the String of Pearls theory.
In her research article on the borderlands in Chinese International Relations, Nimmi Kurian problematises the roles of subregional policy networks with their own distinctive local governance particularities. She argues that their role as bridge-builders in transborder governance with an innate capacity to jump scales as well as blur traditional jurisdictional boundaries needs to be acknowledged by mainstream research and policy. If it is willing to do so, the “subregional turn” in China’s foreign policy can bring a long-overdue attention to the borderlands both as a missing level of analysis and as a governance actor in its own right, besides nudging Chinese IR towards innovative intellectual pathways.
A research article by John Ranjan Mukherjee, a retired lieutenant-general of the Indian army who had served extensively in India’s North East, explains the causes of the deterioration of Sino-Indian relations. He recommends a slate of measures that both sides can take to restore normalcy. Both nations must harmonise their foreign policies, to the extent feasible, so as to avoid belligerency and to facilitate a resolution of their territorial dispute. India would have to be prepared to follow a policy of give and take in reference to the actual dispute while bearing in mind the sentiment of the Indian people, particularly those of Arunachal Pradesh. At the same time, India must ensure that it is well-placed to negotiate with China from a position of strength.
The scholar of postcolonial studies, Julie Banerjee Mehta, investigates the acts of resistance demonstrated by the diasporic Chinese novelists. She shows that they have displayed resistance in innovative ways by employing food to assert cultural agency and différance. She explains that the novels of the Chinese-Canadian writer, Judy Fong Bates, performs resistance effectively, and that Fong-Bates explores the fast-evolving Chinese-Canadian identity, as she confronts the dislocation, dysfunction, disempowerment and dispossession that is symptomatic of the larger Asian-Canadian immigrant experience through foodways. Fong-Bates’ works are animated by a momentous historical event: the implementation of the exclusionist immigration policy of the Chinese Head Tax that caused hundreds of Chinese-Canadians to suffer ignominy and shame.
We present a diverse range of book reviews on the domestic and foreign policies of China. Kamaran Mondal reviews three recent books: John Wong’s Zhu Rongji and China’s Economic Take-off, Jong-Wha Lee’s Is This the Asian Century? And John Keane’s When Trees Fall, Monkeys Scatter: Rethinking Democracy in China. These three works have a common thread: they explain the economic reform and political system that was subjected to long term experiments that helped China to emerge and occupy a niche in a competitive global world. The book on Zhu Rongji offers an historical explanation and comparative analysis of China’s economic growth and its future prospects, in general, and Zhu’s contribution to China’s economic take-off, in particular. The book on the Asian Century also argues that China’s strong and sustained output growth has driven the miraculous transformation of a rural, command economy into global economic superpower. The book on democracy explains that China is neither an authoritarian regime nor a Western style liberal democracy, rather that Chinese democracy can be called “democracy made in China” or “phantom democracy.” China is, in fact, a complex one-party polity infused with elements of democracy made in China, and supported by hundreds of millions of people.
Toh Han Shih, in his review of Graham Allison’s Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?, explains that the book lists a few scenarios that may spark a war between the two countries. The current Sino-U.S. trade war is eerily similar to one particular scenario cited in the book, which is the escalation of economic conflict to military war. This hypothetical scenario occurs with the U.S. president complaining of China’s huge trade surplus with the United States, and demands China reduce the imbalance. The United States threatens to impose sanctions on some Chinese goods, to which China responds by “delaying” some U.S. food exports to China. Beijing sells some of the U.S. Treasury bonds it owns, causing turbulence in the bond markets and a rise in interest rates. And so, war appears to loom.
Anjana Basu’s review of Rita Chowdhury’s Chinatown Days explores a period in Sino-Indian relations against the canvas of their border war in 1962 when, unable to tackle the threatened Chinese incursions, India turned on the Chinese within their grasp, rather in the same way the Americans did to the resident Japanese during the Second World War. Many of them were rounded up, accused of spying, and deported.
The journal welcomes articles on Asia in general, on India (as well as India’s North East), and India’s role in world affairs; South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia (Japan, the Koreas, Taiwan, and China); and the policy towards Asia pursued by the United States, Russia and the West, as well as West Asia, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. The journal’s focus is on diplomacy, conduct of foreign policy, international relations, soft power (use of film and the arts as tools of diplomacy), diplomatic history, war and peace, defence issues, geo-strategy, national and global economic issues, peace studies, informal diplomacy and Track Two diplomacy, revolution and counterrevolution, terrorism and counterterrorism, colonialism and decolonisation, and hegemony and resistance. The journal carries articles on contemporary world affairs, and major events and policies of the twentieth century that are still shaping the world today and are being revisited in light of the new historical material that is declassified and becomes available from time to time.