East Asia Digest | December 2019

I Overview


• India – Japan Annual Summit Postponed
• PM Abe to visit China for Trilateral Summit
• PM Abe to meet South Korean President Moon


• 22nd Round of Special Representatives meeting on Boundary Issues held
• China’s attempt to raise Kashmir again at UN Security Council thwarted
• Macau marks 20th anniversary of return to China
• Annual Central Economic Work Conference held

Hong Kong:

• HK protests continue

The US – China Trade and Technology War:
• Phase – 1 Trade Deal in sight


II Developments in Japan

India – Japan Annual Summit Postponed
The Annual Summit between the Prime Ministers of India and Japan which was scheduled to take place at Guwahati 13-15 December 2019, was postponed as a result of the unrest in Assam and other north eastern States of India in opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act. No new dates for the Annual Summit have been announced. If the Summit does not take place in calendar 2019, it will be one of the few occasions when the Summit has not taken place on schedule. Of course, there could be two Summits in 2020. Keeping in mind that these Annual Summits do help in keeping India – Japan relations on track and providing them the impetus required in maintaining momentum in ties, the postponement is not good news.

PM Abe to visit China for Trilateral Summit
PM Shinzo Abe is scheduled to visit China 23-25 December 2019. In Beijing he is scheduled to hold talks with President Xi Jinping while he will meet Premier Li Keqiang in Chengdu which will also be the venue for the China-Japan-South Korea Trilateral Summit on December 24. There Abe will have meetings with the Chinese Premier on bilateral subjects too. It will be interesting to see how PM Abe tackles growing Chinese power and influence in these sets of meetings.

PM Abe to meet South Korean President Moon
Another testy relationship between Japan and South Korea will also be on display at Chengdu, where PM Abe is scheduled to have a meeting with South Korean President Moon. In the run-up to this meeting Japan’s METI (Ministry of Economy & Trade) eased sanctions against South Korea as a signal of that nation’s goodwill. METI granted a 3-year bulk permit to a Japanese company to transport photoresist (a chemical used to make semiconductors) to its business partner in Korea. The Japanese Government had earlier made exports of this and two other chemical products much more controlled in retaliation for the downward slide in relations with South Korea.

III Developments in China

22nd Round of Special Representatives meeting on Boundary Issues held
The 22nd Round of Boundary Discussions between the Special Representatives of India and China were held at New Delhi on 21 December 2019. Foreign Minister Wang Yi is the Chinese Special Representative while NSA Ajit Doval is the Indian SR. While the main focus of these talks is boundary resolution, they have also been about maintaining peace and tranquility in the India – China border areas. The Special Representatives also discuss other important issues in bilateral ties thereby imparting guidance and stability to the relationship and ensuring implementation of higher level discussions between the PM of India and the President of China.

China’s attempt to raise Kashmir again at UN Security Council thwarted
China once again attempted to raise the Kashmir issue at the UN Security Council by proposing a closed door meeting on the subject before the Council goes into its year end Christmas and New Year recess. However, India was able to pull out all the stops and get its friends in the P-5 to block the proposal. Not merely did the US oppose the Chinese ploy, but France too came out strongly against it. It appears that China will not let this matter rest as it impacts territory. Perhaps, India too shall have to take certain well thought and pre-meditated steps to show its displeasure to China.

Macau marks 20th anniversary of return to China
China resumed sovereignty over Macau on 20 December 1999 and President Xi Jinping visited the Special Administrative Region on Friday 20 December 2019 to mark the 20th anniversary of this important event for the Chinese nation. In a sense it was also a pat on the back for the Macau authorities who have ensured that the “one country, two systems” model has worked better there than in Hong Kong. Indirectly, it was also a rebuke aimed at Hong Kong where the protests continue well into their sixth month. It is a fact that the long drawn out protests in HK have not had an echo in Macau.

Annual Central Economic Work Conference held
The annual Central Economic Work Conference which takes stock of the economy at the end of the calendar year and sets out targets for economic work for the coming year was held at Beijing 10-12 December 2019. President Xi made an important speech at this Conference. Even as the Chinese economy slows down, it continues to maintain a significantly high growth rate of about 6% per annum which ensures it grows at a very healthy rate. This provides a rising level of income and wealth to the average Chinese person, which is the main social compact between the Communist leadership of the country and its people. With this economic heft, China is also playing a more important role in global economics and politics as well as becoming more assertive in its foreign policy.

IV Developments in Hong Kong

HK protests continue
After the election victory of pro-democracy forces in HK’s district council election earlier, the protests there continue even if at a slightly lower ebb due to the Christmas – New Year period. This weekend there was a major protest at a shopping mall in Yuen Long even as police entered the mall to take down the protestors. There is every likelihood of the protests getting larger in the new year as people return to the city.


V The US-China Trade and Technology War

Phase – 1 Trade Deal in sight
All indications point to the possibility of the United States and China arriving at a Phase – 1 trade deal in their ongoing trade and technology war. The contours of the Phase – 1 deal will have to be studied closely once it has been arrived at to provide an accurate analysis of what it means for each of the combatants and the rest of the world. However, the very fact that the US Trade Representative was making such an announcement led to a rise in stock markets across the globe including India. Given the closely intertwined nature of their economies, large trade flows between them and the intricate problems that they face, this will not be the end of the US – China trade and technology war. It is our view that the two sides will not find it easy to reach a negotiated settlement. In the meanwhile, India must continue its search for areas in which it can gain or benefit from this battle between the two largest economies in the world.

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About the Author

Ambassador Gautam Bambawale

Former Ambassador of India to China and Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre Former Ambassador to Bhutan, China and High Commissioner to Pakistan

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.