AAS-MAKAIAS Conference


“India and China in Southeast Asia”,

Kolkata,  November 24-25, 2013


The two day conference witnessed presentation of papers by scholars on India and China in addition to the Inaugural and Valedictory sessions.

The conference commenced with the inaugural address by Shri Sitaram Sharma.

The keynote address was delivered by Prof. Jayanta Ray. He spoke about the linkages between India and China since several centuries. He congratulated the organisers for convening a conference on the relevant theme and subthemes.

Professor Swaran Singh, President AAS and Dr. Sreeradha Dutta welcomed the participants.

The first session witnessed presentations by Ms. Amrita Pritam Gogoi and Prof. Sangeeta Thapliyal.

 Ms. Gogoi spoke about the ethnic issues and issues of migrants The developmentalist model in India, according to her, that is deeply rooted in colonial pedagogy, has been unable to address the unique socio-historical experiences and practices particularly of the North-eastern region. This inefficiency creates not just problems in policy  implementation but also triggers displacement, ecological imbalance that even perpetuates ethnic conflicts. Her paper traced the impact of certain policy implementations particularly in Assam to understand the ecological, social and economic peculiarities in policy making concerning the region.

Prof. Sangeeta Thapliyal discussed how India and China have interacted in the Trans Himalayas. She articulated that South Asian analysts have regarded Himalayas as the sentinel of India’s security. It was regarded as a buffer or neutral zone between the two neighbours. This statist understanding ignored the cultural, ecological boundaries and natural transit routes.The Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan region has represented an assimilation of ideas and institutions from Indic and Tibetan civilisations. It has been a transit routes for people, cultures and trade. In adapting to these, the individual cultures represent unique techniques of the survival through creative adaptation by indigenous people when confronted by larger civilizations such as the Indic or Tibetan. However, the region is confronted with claims and counter-claims of the neighbours often clashing with each others’ interests. The paper would look at how India and China have interacted in the Trans-himalayas.

In the next session, Professor B.R. Deepak spoke about India’s interests in South China Sea. According to him, even though Indian presence in the area started in 1988 when Vietnam permitted ONGC Videsh (OVL) to explore oil and gas in Block 06.1 in partnership with BP, which now contributes to almost 50% of the gas requirement of Vietnam, it was the allocation of block 127 and 128 to OVL in 2006 that made China furious and even threatened the use of force. Indian interests in the South China Sea undoubtedly have acquired global significance with the nature of South China Sea conflict, and also the US ‘rebalancing to Asia’ in recent times. Even though India has pronounced time and again that its interests there are purely economic, however, with Vietnam allocating India 7 more blocks to India during the visit of Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party to India recently will certainly create uneasy calm in China, which has already disputed the Indian presence in South China Sea.  Also with India’s close proximity of relations with  Japan and the US, India would require a hard balancing act between all the stakeholders in the region. Will India succeed?

Dr. Krishnendra Meena in his paper spoke about the Indo-Pacific region and sais that it holds promise for India as an important player as the Indian state constantly reflects on its northern neighbour, China. India has been proactive in the Indian Ocean as well as the newly imagined Indo-Pacific space. The imagination of the Indian military establishment indicates an expanding sphere of influence for the Indian navy. The areas of interest for the Indian navy have been outlined in the recent strategy documents and doctrinal monographs (IMSS 2009 and INBR 2009). The area of interest includes the entire Indian Ocean Region and the western Pacific as well the South China Sea which form integral parts of the Indo-Pacific geopolitical formulation. The frequent military exercises since 2002, in the region with actors regional and extra-regional has improved India’s strategic profile in the Indo-Pacific space.

Dr. Subhadeep’s paper on India’s Southeast Asia Security Policy and the China factor spoke about how the spread of communist struggle in the rest of Southeast Asia (both mainland and maritime) made the region immensely significant during the Cold War period for both the communist and capitalist powers. In the post-Cold War period, the rise of the ‘Asian Tigers’, the gradually rising Southeast Asia under multiple ASEAN forums and its subsequent integration with rest of East Asia and the world beyond has made the region gain an independent and important identity in the new millennium. He discussed the China factor in India’s engagement in South East Asia.

 Swaran Singh and Reena Marwah  presented a joint paper on India’s economic engagement in the Indian Ocean: The paper highlighted that recent maritime discourses have  opened enormous new opportunities in terms of ocean floor resources and ocean surface for transportation purposes. They also highlighted several new challenges in implementing this paradigm shift in favour of multilateralism; where westphalian nation states have to increasingly work in clusters rather than singular entities even to achieve their basic national objectives of development and security.

The paper discussed and compared China and India’s engagement with IOR – ARC countries and provides insights for both countries.

In the next session, Dr. Sanjay Bhardwaj spoke on Bangladesh-China Strategic Relations: Security Implications for India. His paper focussed on Bangladesh’s strategic relations with China and its possible security implications for India in the context of its ‘small state insecurity perception.  Beginning with the small state insecurity perception of Bangladesh the paper aimed to explore the possible reasons behind the small state fear psychosis. In this context it has examined Bangladesh’s strategic relations with China. From its liberation war days to the post-cold war era of multilateral developments, Bangladesh has shared several phases of strategic relations with China. The geo-strategic location of Bangladesh, the Indian power asymmetry, the retrospective Sino-Indian rivalry, China’s military aid to Bangladesh has been observed in their proper context. As the region is more India centric, Bangladesh’s strategic relations with China have generated security concerns for India as she has not been sharing a healthy bilateral relation with China. Since both India and China are rising at the same time, their interests clash in many common sectors. At the same time the geo-strategic location of Bangladesh is very significant for India’s security. Bangladesh’s geographical proximity to India’s eastern sector and its feasible accessibility over the Indian Ocean region has also been identified in the paper as a security concern for India. Though there is less possibility of any direct military threat from Bangladesh, China’s growing military cooperation with Bangladesh is certainly a matter of concern for India. The beginning phase of Bangladesh-China relation was more India-centric. However, in early 1990s the Sino-Indian rapprochement has redefined the nature of Bangladesh’s strategic relations with China. The scope of the study includes these new developments where economic diplomacy is playing a major role.

 Mongolia as a Factor in India’s New Role in East Asia was the title of Dr. Sharad Soni’s paper: India, in its new role in East Asia, seeks to build on the “Look East” policy formulated by the former Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao in the 1990s. In the current scenario, it is widely believed that India’s destiny is interlinked with that of Asia- be it East Asia (Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia), West Asia, Central Asia or South Asia.  India in the geopolitics of the Asian continent offers a realistic opportunity to forge a mutually advantageous regional cooperation which, in turn, could sustain its eagerness to participate in the endeavours for various regional integration, including the East Asia Summit. India’s participation till 2013 at eight East Asia Summits is further evidence of its growing collaborative role in the region. There have been increasing interlinkages and inter-dependence between various countries that represented the East Asia Summit as they all are trying to realize the common goals for advancing security and prosperity in a cooperative framework. India is also pushing for a wider role at regional and sub-regional levels. It is more so because such cooperation serves the twin objective of mutual economic benefits as well as a strong matrix that enhances the stake of all nations in secure, peaceful and mutually supportive co-existence. And that is where Mongolia, a Northeast Asian country, is being viewed as a major factor for enhancing India’s stake in East Asia particularly in the Northeast Asia. The recent push to boost India-Mongolia relations owes much to Ulaanbaatar’s “third neighbour” policy and is driven by strategic concerns. India, on its part, has been patiently expanding its defence and security links with Mongolia as part of an effort to build strategic ties with China’s neighbours in line with New Delhi’s “Look East” policy. Moreover, Mongolia’s proximity with India remains to be a significant factor to balance off the equation with China. It is in this context that the whole argument of this paper focuses on highlighting Mongolia as a significant factor in India’s new role in East Asia.

 Dr. Amrita Dey, presented her paper titled, Myanmar and the 2014 ASEAN Chairmanship: Examining its Role in Promoting Regional Cohesion. With a year to go for Myanmar to assume the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Myanmar in chair needs to be ready to respond to queries on how the commitments in the ASEAN Community building efforts are being met. Myanmar will need to set an ASEAN theme for 2014 that reflects the future focus of ASEAN’s work. Another challenge Myanmar can take up is to lead the review of the ASEAN Charter and regional cooperation processes. Myanmar, at the helm of ASEAN in 2014 will chair in addition to the two ASEAN Summits- important high-level meetings with ASEAN Dialogue partners, including the East Asian Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum and Post-Ministerial Conferences and the individual summits with Dialogue partners including India, China, the United States and the United Nations.    Within the ARF, Myanmar’s close relationship with Beijing will raise question of its ability to deliver impartially on the South China Sea problem. Of course, given the fact that Myanmar ‘genuinely’ intends to counterbalance more than two decades of dominant Chinese economic influence within its borders and the growing anti-Chinese sentiment of the Burmese people (soon after coming to power, Thein Sein suspended construction of the Myitsone Dam, a deal worth US$ 3.6 billion) through greater integration with USA and other Asian allies, the prospect of a ‘just’ and peaceful conflict resolution to the problem seems plausible. Myanmar as the head of ASEAN will also have to deal with its internal issues in a comprehensive way. For instance, its own problem with the communal violence in the Rakhine state resulted in thousands showing up at Thailand’s doorstep, where they were refused entry—an act in violation of not only International law but also the ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights. The challenges of handling such controversial and problematic issue within a greater ASEAN context will impact on Naypyitaw’s capability to handle other inter-state issues, the one surrounding Indonesia’s integration of its periphery, prior to the elections in 2015; or Malaysia’s violation of human rights against its minority and indigenous people.

Myanmar’s own tryst with democracy needs a push as it prepares to lead ASEAN. Here, it should seek cooperation from countries that have been through similar political transitions, such as Indonesia. Pro-democracy activism as promoted and propagated by Aung San Suu Kyi will be extremely relevant at this time to sketch Myanmar’s roadmap to ‘Sustainable reform’.  Above all, it’s worth examining how Myanmar in ASEAN’s chair works towards eradicating unconventional security issues- drug trafficking, terrorism from the region and how it works with ASEAN to integrate the two great Asian civilizations- India and China, keeping all their differences at bay. Her paper examined the challenges lying ahead of Myanmar as it assumes the chairmanship of ASEAN of 2014 and to study the allegations often thumped on ASEAN that small powers chairing the organization have often weakened the process of regionalization.

Dr. Satyabrat Sinha  highlighted the Role of India’s Northeast Region (Barrier, Buffer, Bridge) In Strengthening India’s Social And Political Linkages To Southeast Asia. The paper aimed to evaluate, to what extent the intended aims of the LEP have had an impact on North East India and in what ways? Has the LEP had any impact on trade, connectivity and growth of the North East Region? Do all the states of North East India fare similarly or have some states done better and some worse than others? What are the lessons for the North Eastern Region?

Several other presentations also highlighted India’s prospects for closer engagement with countries in South East Asia and the importance of the North East states in furthering India’s Look East Policy.

The Valedictory Session, chaired by Prof. Swaran Singh was addressed by members of the delegation from Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, Kunming. The main speakers were Mr. Li Tao and Professor Guo Suiyan.

A brief report of the conference was presented by Dr. Reena Marwah. On behalf of MAKAIS, Dr. Sreeradha Dutta thanked all the participants.

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