I Overview

China:

  • ​71st Anniversary of Establishment of India – China Diplomatic Relations
  • National Security Education Day marked in China​​​​​
  • Xi Jinping inaugurates the Boao Conference
  • China’s Economy Expands

Japan:

  • ​PM Suga visits The White House
  • Few domestic travelers in Japan’s Golden Week
  • Japan’s Opposition Speaks Up Against Holding Olympics
  • Japan to approve Moderna Vaccine soon

South Korea:

  • President Moon Jae-in to visit U.S. on May 21
  • Cardinal Cheong passes away
  • Lee Jae-yong inherits leadership of Samsung empire
  • South Korean exports jump 41%

North Korea: 

  • US Administration completes review of North Korea policy 

Taiwan:

  • Taiwan Economy grew 8.16% in Q1
  • Taiwan awaits invitation to attend World Health Assembly


II Developments in China

71st Anniversary of Establishment of India – China Diplomatic Relations

1 April 2021 marked the 71st anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between India and China. At one point of time in the past, there were efforts to mark this anniversary year but those had quickly dissipated due to tensions in relations stemming from Chinese military aggression on our northern borders. Relations have remained cool since then. India has insisted that if there can be no peace on our borders then the rest of the relationship cannot stay as it was earlier. The Chinese playbook is to do what it has done militarily on the ground – which according to them, India will have to swallow and accept – while the rest of the relationship will continue merrily as it has over the past few decades. In this way, the Chinese will have a win-win situation – where China wins twice. Many in India still do not get this and keep asking why we cannot keep economics separate from politics and disagreements on the border as we did for the past 3 decades. The reason we cannot accept that kind of argument is because, it is China which has decided to ramp up the military ante on the border rather than discuss and negotiate a boundary resolution as well as maintain peace and tranquility. In other words, China is now attempting on the India – China border what it has done successfully in the South China Sea namely, nibble away at territory thereby not sparking a full conflict but significantly changing the status quo on the ground while ensuring that relations do not get ruptured. India shall have to stick to its guns that if there cannot be peace on the borders then the rest of the relationship also deteriorates. No amount of writing letters at the leadership level or offers of medical assistance to fight the pandemic change the indisputable facts on the ground. Indians must judge China by its actions not by its words.

National Security Education Day marked in China

15 April each year is marked as National Security Education Day in China. The official Chinese media carried a lot of information and analysis about the country’s national security outlook. Naturally, in all this coverage the thoughts and ideas of the current great leader Xi Jinping received pride of place. Hong Kong too marked the day indicating how it is now increasingly under rule from Beijing and any thought of it being a separate entity has been shed forever. A new Research Center for Overall National Security Concept was established in Beijing at the China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations. It appears to many analysts and observers of China that almost everything these days is related in one way or the other to national security. 

Xi Jinping inaugurates the Boao Conference

The annual Boao Conference was inaugurated by Xi Jinping on 20 April. Its theme this year was “A World in Change : Join Hands to Strengthen Global Governance and Advance Belt and Road Cooperation”. Overtly, Xi argued that the world is in a phase of fluidity and transformation, instability and uncertainty are on the rise, much remain to be done to achieve universal security and common development. However, there is no fundamental change in the trend towards a multi-polar world, with economic globalization showing resilience and calls for upholding multilateralism growing. Xi also announced that once the pandemic subsides China intends to host the 2nd Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations. He ended by calling for international cooperation on global governance and spelt out how China would push forward with its Belt and Road project which aims at common development of the world. 

It is important to interpret such speeches by reading between the lines too. What such an analysis reveals is that despite the ravages of the pandemic and perhaps because of them, China has not changed any of its immediate goals of reducing the gap between itself and the United States, of continuing to attempt to replace the US as the pre-eminent power in the world, while not changing the overall structure of world governance created by the US at the end of the 2nd World War. China relentlessly pursues these objectives. 

China’s Economy Expands

China’s GDP in Q1 of 2021 grew by 18.3% over the same period of 2020. However, when compared with Q1 of 2019, GDP growth is a mere 0.6% which may indicate a major slowing of Chinese growth. China’s own National Bureau of Statistics stated that “domestic economic recovery is yet to solidify”. 

Other data recently released shows – inbound investment in Q1 rose almost 40% to US $ 45 billion, March 2021 industrial output was up 14.1% compared with a year ago, retail sales jumped 34.2% compared to the year earlier, exports increased by 38.7% while imports rose at a 19.3% rate.
 
III Developments in Japan

PM Suga visits The White House

On 16 April, Japanese PM Suga became the first foreign leader to be hosted by President Biden at the White House. The two countries reiterated and renewed their alliance, pledged that free and democratic nations working together can address global threats like Covid-19 and climate change, and resist challenges to the free and open rules-based international order. The U.S. restated its unwavering support for Japan’s defense including the provision of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, the fact that such security guarantees also apply to the Senkaku Islands. The two leaders expressed their desire to deepen defense cooperation, their concerns over Chinese activities that are inconsistent with the international rules-based order. North Korea and Taiwan issues were also referred to in the joint documents released by the two sides. The Indo-Pacific as well as the Quad mechanism received several mentions in statements to the media by both leaders. With this visit, strong US – Japan ties of alliance will continue in the increasingly uncertain global situation following the Covid-19 pandemic which has roiled the world. 

Few domestic travelers in Japan’s Golden Week

Japan’s Golden Week of 5 consecutive holidays around 1 May saw very few people traveling outside their homes as is normal during this period. This is due to the Covid-19 pandemic and fears among the people of contracting the disease. Naturally, this will also impact negatively on the economy as domestic travelers usually boost overall demand during this period.

Japan’s Opposition Speaks Up Against Holding Olympics

Japanese Opposition parties are beginning to speak up opposing the holding of the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer.  It is feared that holding the Games would lead to a Covid-19 spike both amongst visitors, sportspersons and the Japanese populace. The Tokyo Olympics have already been postponed by a year since 2020 and all indications are that it will have to be postponed further.

Japan to approve Moderna Vaccine soon

The Japanese Government is reported to be considering approval to the Moderna vaccine as early as mid-May 2021 for use in Japan. So far only the Pfizer vaccine has approval in Japan.

IV Developments in South Korea

President Moon Jae-in to visit U.S. on May 21

President Biden has invited South Korean President Moon Jae-in to visit him at the White House and hold discussions on matters of mutual interest on 21 May 2021. After the visit of the Japanese PM and coming close on its heels, this indicates President Biden’s commitment to shoring up ties with allies which is a departure from the policy of former US President Trump. While President Moon wants Biden to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un this is unlikely to be the approach of the U.S. side. Moon has also called on the Biden Administration to cooperate with China on North Korea and climate change. 

Cardinal Cheong passes away

South Korea’s Cardinal Cheong Jin-suk passed away at the age of 89 on 27 April 2021. He was a towering figure in the Korean Church and a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea. The funeral was held on 1 May. 

Lee Jae-yong inherits leadership of Samsung empire

Lee Jae-yong eldest son of late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee inherited the mantle of leadership of the Samsung empire when the company’s regulatory filing showed that he had inherited 50% of the shares of Samsung Life from his father. Given the cross shareholding pattern amongst the Samsung group companies, the inheritance of Samsung Life shares makes Lee Jae-yong the actual leader of Samsung Electronics. The share holding pattern also implies that the family supports Lee Jae-yong’s leadership of the group. No change in the current management of the group companies is expected. 

South Korean exports jump 41%

South Korea’s exports jumped 41.1% in April 2021 as compared to same month of the previous year on strong sales of chips and automobiles. Exports amounted to US $ 51.1 billion in April this year. Imports rose by 33.9% to US $ 50.8 billion. Shipments to India have more than doubled. 

V Developments in North Korea

US Administration completes review of North Korea policy

The Biden Administration has just completed a review of US policy towards North Korea. While complete denuclearization remains the goal, the Biden policy will comprise pressuring Pyongyang to give up nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that will explore diplomacy but will not seek a grand bargain with Kim Jong-un. A spokesperson said that the new policy comprises a “calibrated practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy”. Apparently, the U.S. had consulted South Korea throughout this policy review process and had informed Seoul of its conclusions in advance. 

VI Developments in Taiwan

Taiwan Economy grew 8.16% in Q1

Taiwan’s economy grew 8.16% in Q1 of 2021 as per latest statistics share by the government in Taipei. 

Taiwan awaits invitation to attend World Health Assembly

Despite its stellar performance in battling the Covid-19 pandemic, Taiwan is still waiting for an invitation to attend the annual World Health Assembly later in May. The meeting is to take place at Geneva. Beijing has, in the past, objected to inviting Taiwan. 

 


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(The views expressed are personal)
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About the Author

Ambassador Gautam Bambawale

Former Ambassador of India to Bhutan,
China and High Commissioner to Pakistan and Distinguished Visiting Fellow- AC

Ambassador (Retd) Gautam Bambawale was a member of the Indian Foreign Service from 1984 to 2018. He was India’s Ambassador to Bhutan, Pakistan and China.

Bambawale was stationed in Washington DC in 2004-07 during the Indo-US nuclear deal which transformed ties between the two countries. He has been India’s first Consul General in Guangzhou (China) 2007-09. He was Director of the Indian Cultural Centre, Berlin 1994-98.

Ambassador Bambawale worked in the Prime Minister’s Office 2002-04. At the Ministry of External Affairs he was Joint Secretary for East Asia from 2009-2014. Bambawale has dealt with China for 15 years of his 34 year diplomatic career. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and German.

Ambassador Bambawale is currently Distinguished Professor, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Symbiosis International University, Pune and teaches a course on Diplomacy and International Governance at the Symbiosis School of International Studies. He has an M.Phil. in Economics from the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune.