East Asia Digest | November 2019

I Overview


• Japanese PM Abe to visit India in December for Annual Summit
• Japan-South Korea decode to continue with their bilateral GSOMIA
• Japan hosts G-20 Foreign Ministers Meeting


• Fourth Plenum of 19th Central Committee held at Beijing
• US Vice President Spence elaborates on US Policy towards China
• India and China announce 70 activities to mark the 70th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations

Hong Kong:

• Huge victory for pro-democracy candidates in District Council Elections
• Hong Kong protests continue and get more violent

The US – China Trade and Technology War:

II Developments in Japan

Japanese PM Abe to visit India in December for Annual Summit

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is scheduled to visit India in mid-December 2019 for the Annual Summit between the Prime Ministers of India and Japan. Indications are that the venue of the Summit is likely to be Guwahati, Assam as Japan has undertaken several infrastructure development projects in the north east of India which aid connectivity with south east Asia. Moreover, PM Modi likes to hold such meetings outside Delhi as they help highlight some of the States of India and promote their international interaction and assist them in their efforts to attract foreign investment. It is also desirable that India and Japan step up efforts in the Afro-Asia Growth Corridor which may be an idea whose time has come. However, the slowing world economy including the slump in India’s GDP growth may be a cause for concern for both nations. The India – Japan relationship has developed into one of the most important ones amongst Asian nations and the two PMs are likely to give this a further impetus through their discussions in Guwahati.
Japan – South Korea decide to continue with their bilateral GSOMIA
Late last week, South Korea decided not to pull out of its bilateral General Security of Military Information Agreement with Japan providing a rare fillip to their bilateral relations. However, there was no doubt that this development in an otherwise testy relationship was the outcome of some deft diplomacy by US Defense Secretary Mike Esper. The governments of the two nations, which are both close allies of the United States, continued their very public rancor and bickering even thereafter with South Korea blaming Tokyo for not adhering to agreed timelines on announcing this move. Apparently, with Washington prodding them on, the two nations are now working towards a bilateral meeting between PM Abe and President Moon on the soon to be held trilateral meeting with China.
Japan hosts G-20 Foreign Ministers Meeting
Japanese FM Motegi hosted the Foreign Ministers of the G-20 countries at Nagoya on 23 November 2019 as part of Japan’s duties as the current host of the G-20 forum. The meeting concluded with a call of urgent reform of the WTO even as the United States was represented only by Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan. At a press conference after the meeting Motegi stated that as far as RCEP is concerned all original 16 nations who were negotiating the treaty must be included in it (an effort to get India to participate in RCEP and also have its concerns met). External Affairs Minister Jaishankar had several important bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the G-20 Foreign Ministers talks. 

III Developments in China

Fourth Plenum of 19th Central Committee held at Beijing
Finally, the 4th Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China was held at Beijing on 28-31 October 2019. Analysts had been commenting on the fact that there was a huge time lag between the 3rd and 4th Plenums speculating about its implications for Xi Jinping’s leadership. The 4th Plenary Session focused on the theme of “System of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” and was presided over by Xi who also delivered the keynote speech of the plenum. Within this broad theme the specifics dealt with included strengthening the capacity of the Chinese Communist Party, organizational integrity and modernizing China’s system of governance. In simple words what Xi has done over these past years is to once again ascertain the control of the Party over different levels of government in China. This recentralization process is set to continue after the 4th Plenum indicating that Xi has merely strengthened his hold on the Party. It further implies no relenting on the control over corruption which is a Xi leitmotif. Apart from many other reduction in GDP growth rate, with the focus on quality over quantity, and this will continue.  Political reform is on the backburner.
US Vice President Spence elaborates on US Policy towards China
US Vice President Spence is becoming the spokesperson of the Trump Administration in voicing policy towards China by delivering the Frederic V. Malek Memorial Lecture at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC on 24 October 2019 almost exactly a year after his seminal remarks in October 2018 on China. Reiterating the Trump policy of holding Beijing accountable and to establish a more fair, stable and constructive course for US – China relations, VP Pence reiterated the resolve to level the playing field for the American worker against unethical Chinese trade practices. In order to protect IPR and national security the US Administration has taken steps to curtail illegal behavior of Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE. Pence also clearly articulated that Beijing has still not taken significant action to improve the economic relationship and that its behavior has become even more aggressive and destabilizing. While saying that the United States is not attempting to confront or even contain China, Pence has clearly articulated that President Trump is not going to lay off his actions aimed at a more responsible China which will not aim at debt diplomacy, mercantilist trade or indulge in theft of intellectual property. Pence has drawn the battle lines clearly and indicated that the US is not going to lay off.
India and China announce 70 activities to mark the 70th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations
India and China have agreed to mark the 70th Anniversary of the establishment of Diplomatic Relations on 1 April 2020, by conducting 70 activities in both countries. A listing of the activities has been made public by both sides. While such activities will add to the positive atmospherics between the two nations, India must get more serious in attracting greater numbers of Chinese students and tourists since that will help in balancing the rising trade deficit which is dictated by the composition of trade. A concerted effort is required by the private sector and government to increase the number of Chinese tourists and student coming to India which must be followed earnestly and consistently.

IV Developments in Hong Kong

Huge victory for pro-democracy candidates in District Council Elections
District Council elections in Hong Kong on 24 November 2019 saw a 70% turnout of the electorate a staggering figure never experienced before in that island city. Early results show that pro-democracy candidates have won big in these elections clearly indicating the wishes of the Hong Kong people including on the student led protests which have roiled HK over the past 6 months. What remains to be seen is how Beijing will interpret these results and what policies it will follow thereafter?
Hong Kong protests continue and get more violent
The protests in Hong Kong have in the meanwhile not merely continued into their 6th month but also got more violent as police have had to increasingly fire at the protestors who have now moved to the University campuses in the city particularly that of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. In the meanwhile the US Congress has already passed legislation requiring the US President to certify annually to Congress that the nature of the polity and economy in HK continue to be as mandated in the Basic Law of that city.

V The US-China Trade and Technology War

Even though the APEC Summit in Chile has been called off and shifted to Spain, there is still chance of a ‘phase – one’ trade deal between the United States and China by early December 2019. There are also doubts whether such a deal will have anything important for the two protagonists to dial down the tariff hikes which have already been implemented. China appears to have hunkered down to play its usual waiting game without making any serious concessions. Whether that would enable President Trump to proclaim victory is doubtful. It appears to us that the trade and technology war seems likely to continue into 2020 a US Presidential election year. India must implement policies to win from the continuing trade and technology war.

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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.