I Overview


• 5th Plenary Session of Central Committee of CPC held
• China’s Reaction to Malabar Naval Exercises
• India – China Border Imbroglio Continues
• G-20, SCO and BRICS Summits held virtually – PM Modi and Xi both attend


• Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visits Tokyo
• Japanese start-up Ispace Inc. to design lunar landers for NASA
• Japan’s Consumer Prices fall at fastest rate in October 2020
• Australia and Japan conclude Reciprocal Access Agreement

South Korea:

• Chinese FM Wang Yi visits Seoul

Hong Kong:
• Chief Executive Carrie Lam presents Annual Policy Address
• HK Economy expected to shrink in 2020

US -China Trade and Technology War:

• China congratulates Biden

II Developments in China

5th Plenary Session of Central Committee of CPC held

The 5th Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was held at Beijing on 26-29 October 2020. The convening of the Plenum had been reported in last month’s East Asia Digest. The main focus of this meeting was to approve China’s 14th Five Year Plan for 2021-25 as well as the Long Range Economic and Social Objectives for the nation through to 2035. General Secretary Xi Jinping explained the key objectives in a major speech, thereby signaling that his control over the Party and the country is complete. 

Highlights of China’s economic situation so far include –

  • China’s GDP will surpass 100 trillion Yuan (US $ 14.9 trillion) in 2020
  •  55 million people in China lifted out of poverty over last 5 years
  • China’s basic medical insurance has covered 1.3 billion people
  • China’s basic old age insurance has covered nearly 1 billion people
  • More than 60 million new jobs created in urban areas over last 5 years

The goals set for the 14th Five Year Plan have not been revealed as that would be done at the next National People’s Congress meet in March 2021. It has been hinted that China will pursue quality growth rather than mere high growth and hence no target for GDP growth will be set for the next 5 Year Plan. However, it has been mentioned that per capita GDP of a moderately developed country will be aimed for. The Plan will also aim at reducing the earnings gap between rural and urban residents aiming for greater equality and reduction of discrepancies in income and wealth. The need to boost domestic demand is well articulated in the documents as well as the need to build a knowledge economy with focus on innovation. 

Overall, the Plenum was laudatory in its references to the work of the Communist Party, which is normal for such meetings, especially in achieving economic goals and targets. 

One takeaway for us in India is how much attention, care and importance is given in China to its domestic economic development which is looked at as the fundamental pillar on which the power and strength of China is based. 

China’s Reaction to Malabar Naval Exercises

When asked about the 4-nation Malabar Naval Exercise off the coast of India by the Quad nations earlier this month, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated, “we hope the relevant countries’ military exercise could be conducive to regional peace and stability, instead of working in the opposite way”. So, while having noted the inclusion of Australia in these exercises, China has reacted relatively low key also indicating that there is not much they could do about the conduct of the exercise itself.

India – China Border Imbroglio Continues

As anticipated, the situation on the border in Ladakh continues to fester with several rounds of meetings and discussions not really leading to any significant de-escalation and disengagement of forces. Both Armies have now prepared to winter through the hostile climate at the border. While both sides will continue to talk to give the impression that they are still communicating, there is little doubt that there is no meeting of minds between the two sides. The implications of China’s military action in Ladakh will need to be factored into a recalibrated policy toward that country by New Delhi. It cannot be business as usual. 

G-20, SCO and BRICS Summits held virtually – PM Modi and Xi both attend

The Indian media has made much out of the fact that PM Modi and President Xi of China were participating together in 3 Summit level meetings held recently. However, since these were all virtual meetings with no face to face interaction the media noise should be viewed as efforts to force a story out of nothing. The fact that the Covid pandemic is still raging in most parts of the world and that these meetings were all virtual imply that the international community is marking time and combating the public health crisis facing the globe. The virtual meetings are being held only for the sake of ensuring continuity. One fact which has struck several observers is how hollow the statements of China’s leaders sound especially when they talk of cooperation in various fields, globalization and similar topics. Meanwhile, RCEP has also come into effect without India being part of it, a decision we had arrived at in 2019 itself. 

III Developments in Japan

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visits Tokyo

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Tokyo on 24 – 25 November 2020 and held discussions with Japanese FM Motegi, called on PM Suga and also met Chief Cabinet Secretary Kato and former PM Yasuo Fukuda and LDP Secretary General Nikai. Differences between the two sides on the issue of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands were publicly aired in a press conference between the Foreign Ministers of the two countries. A proposed visit to Japan by President Xi Jinping earlier this year was postponed due to the pandemic and has not yet been decided on even as relations between the two countries continue to remain tense over the disputed territory. 

Japanese start-up Ispace Inc. to design lunar landers for NASA

Japanese lunar exploration start-up Ispace Inc. will design lunar landers for NASA for its probes in 2021 and 2022. The company is developing a lunar lander development site in Colorado. In the long run, Ispace Inc. hopes to discover reserves of water on the moon using probes installed on its lunar landers. Such commercial cooperation is part of the Artemis Accords initiated by the US in which eight other nations are currently members. India is not a signatory to the Artemis Accords. 

Japan’s Consumer Prices fall at fastest rate in October 2020

Core consumer prices fell 0.7% in Japan in October 2020 their sharpest decline in over nine years, indicating the fragile nature of the economic recovery in the country. This is the third straight month that consumer prices have declined in Japan. Economists say that the economy could easily slip back into recession if there is even slight pressure say from greater corona virus infection cases. 

Australia and Japan conclude Reciprocal Access Agreement

Australian PM Scott Morrison made a one-day visit to Tokyo on 17 November during which the two nations concluded a Reciprocal Access Agreement (RAA) enabling the two sides to station troops in each other’s country, if found necessary. Japanese PM Suga has been invited to visit Australia early next year to sign the agreement after its ratification by both countries. 

IV Developments in South Korea

Chinese FM Wang Yi visits Seoul

Chinese FM Wang Yi visited Seoul after Tokyo earlier this week in an effort to repair ties between the two countries hit a few years ago by the decision to station US missiles in South Korea to which Beijing had strongly objected. China’s chief envoy called for greater cooperation between the two countries in trade, efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic and on nuclear issues. He called on the President of South Korea. 

V Developments in Hong Kong

Chief Executive Carrie Lam presents Annual Policy Address

In a lengthy speech of over 2 hours on Wednesday 25 November, HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivered her annual policy address to the Legislative Council (LEGCO) bereft of Opposition members who had either been disqualified from participation by new rules and regulations or had boycotted the session. The Chief Executive attempted to display a government back to work after months of protests against the now withdrawn extradition bill. Most analysts believe that she was unable to clear the air over the basic nature of HK’s political framework where increasing interference from Beijing has undermined the Basic Law of the Special Administrative Region. 

HK Economy expected to shrink in 2020

HK’s GDP is expected to contract by 6.1% in 2020 – one of the worst economic performances by the city in recent times – even as it combats the global coronavirus pandemic as well as unending political upheaval which Beijing has attempted to put down with a heavy hand. 

VI US -China Trade and Technology War

China congratulates Biden

Even as President Xi sent his congratulations to President-elect Biden of the US, China continues to prepare for tense relations between the two major powers. Chinese commentators have argued that a weak President Biden may even push the two nations closer to war. There can be little doubt that the relationship will not be decided upon by personalities but by objective factors which have brought the two into a competitive framework. This will continue under President Biden.

(The views expressed are personal)

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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.