East Asia Digest | October 2019

I Overview


• Enthronement of Japanese Emperor Naruhito
• Typhoon Hagibis hits Japan


• 2nd India-China Informal Summit at Mamallapuram
• Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s visit to China
• Chinese President Xi visits Nepal

  • 9th Xiangshan Forum held at Beijing

Hong Kong:

• Protest and Violence continue in Hong Kong
• HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam visited Japan for the Enthronement Ceremony

The US – China Trade and Technology War

• A ray of light in the trade and technology war

II Developments in Japan 

Enthronement of Japanese Emperor Naruhito
The enthronement ceremonies to mark the rise to office of new Japanese Emperor Naruhito took place at Tokyo on 22-23 October 2019. While he became Emperor on 1 May 2019 upon the abdication of his father Emperor Akihito, the current ceremonies were aimed at the rest of the world with foreign dignitaries being invited for them. Prince Charles of the UK, King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, King Felipe VI of Spain, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan, China’s Vice President Wang Qishan, US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao joined India’s President RN Kovind amongst guests from about 180 countries. A court banquet was held on the evening of the 22 October while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hosted a grand banquet the next day.
Typhoon Hagibis hits Japan
One of the worst typhoons of the season named Hagibis hit Japan on 12-13 October 2019 resulting in the death of at least 50 people and flooding large parts of central Japan, causing destruction its wake. High winds also lashed Tokyo and other parts of Japan.

III Developments in China

2nd India – China Informal Summit at Mamallapuram
President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Modi held their 2nd Informal Summit at Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu on 11-12 October 2019. Coming about 18 months after the first such Summit at Wuhan in April 2018, the meeting of the two leaders has imparted a sense of balance, of being on an even keel and being forward looking to the relationship between the two most populous countries of the world. While a number of negative factors preceded the Summit including China’s very strong reaction to India’s abrogation of Article 370, its taking this issue to the UN Security Council, its strong support of Pakistan on this and other issues, its invitation to Pakistan PM Imran Khan to visit China a few days before Xi came to India, the atmospherics from the “Chennai Connect” and the photo-ops there seemed to have done much to calm the environment in which India – China relations are assessed. There were 5 major takeaways from the Summit : (a) the two leaders discussed overarching issues of national development visions and how they are to be achieved, thereby engaging in strategic communication (b) it was agreed that differences should not be permitted to evolve into disputes so that the India-China border areas continue to be relatively peaceful (c) establishment of a High Level Mechanism on Trade, Investment and Services which would work towards reducing the trade deficit India faces with China (d) continuing importance to enhancement of people-to-people contact and exchange as an important pre-requisite for better relations (e) the top two leaders of India and China have themselves taken charge of the relationship, which may not help resolve each and every issue between them but will enable a wider perspective on these issues and the relationship itself.
Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s visit to China
Pakistan PM Imran Khan visited China on 8-9 October days before President Xi came to India for his 2nd Informal Summit with PM Modi. The optics of China and Pakistan consulting closely prior to the India visit captured the close partnership between them. Imran Khan met with President Xi, Premier Li Keqiang and Chairman of the National People’s Congress Li Zhanshu, who are the top three leaders of China today further underlining the importance that China pays Pakistan. The 2 governments discussed the latest situation in J&K as also next steps in the China – Pakistan Economic Corridor project. The fact that PM Khan was accompanied on this visit by the Chief of Army Staff Gen Bajwa was also significant. It projected that both were on the same page vis-à-vis relations with China and also displayed who holds real power in Pakistan. PM Imran Khan was also Chief Guest at the closing ceremony of the Beijing Horticulture Expo 2019. Pakistan is now increasingly in a tight grip with China with its economy too entirely reliant on China’s largesse. The fact that a few days later the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) castigated Pakistan on its efforts to implement the action plan mandated for it by that body and gave it a few more months to implement the plan showed how far into a corner Pakistan has driven itself with its policies.
Chinese President Xi visits Nepal
After his meeting with PM Modi at Mamallapuram, President Xi Jinping made a formal State visit to Nepal on 12-13 October 2019. It was the first time in 23 years that a President of China was visiting that nation. It was also an indicator of China’s rising and increasing profile in South Asia. Apart from meeting the President and Prime Minister of Nepal, Xi also had meetings with leaders of the Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal. Nepal has already supported China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) under which the Chinese will undertake further infrastructure development in Nepal including in roads, highways, power, education and civil aviation sectors. That there are no free lunches is a lesson Nepal will need to learn.
9th Xiangshan Forum held at Beijing
The 9th Xiangshan Forum which is China’s equivalent of the Shangri La Dialogue was held on the outskirts of Beijing on 21-22 October 2019. In his keynote address Gen Wei Fenghe, Defense Minister of China stated that China would shoulder its international responsibility as a major country and pledged to support peace, stability and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region. At the same time he blasted hegemony and power politics. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attended for the first time ever spoke highly of Russia – China defense cooperation and criticized the concept of the Indo-Pacific stating that it did not have a clear geographic explanation nor a strategic target. 530 participants from 76 official delegations including 23 defense ministers and 6 army chiefs are attending this year’s Forum. The US has for the first time sent a delegation led by their Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.

IV Developments in Hong Kong

Protest and violence continue in HK

After a relatively peaceful 2 week period in Hong Kong, protests once again rocked the island city on the week end of 19-20 October 2019 indicating that its troubles may not yet be over and that there is a deep wellspring of support for the over 4-month long protests in that city. Despite a strong warning from President Xi a few days earlier that bones may be crushed in HK if the protests continue, the fact that the organisers found sufficient support to carry out fairly large demonstrations is an indication of their resolve and the depth of their feeling.
HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam visited Japan for the Enthronement Ceremony
The embattled Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam visited Tokyo on 21-22 October to attend the Enthronement Ceremony of Japanese Emperor Naruhito. Protestors appealed to the Japanese Government to rescind her invitations to no avail. There was no meeting between her and the newly enthroned Emperor of Japan.

V The US-China Trade and Technology War

A ray of light in the trade and technology war
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He led a Chinese delegation to the United States in early October 2019 for yet another round of negotiations on the trade war between the two countries. On 11 October 2019 a cease fire seemed to have taken effect when the US suspended a tariff hike on $250 billion of Chinese imports from 25% to 30%. In return, China is reported to have promised to $ 40 – 50 billion of US farm products. In the meantime the US Government blacklisted 28 Chinese entities over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Reports are that the two sides are working towards a trade deal which could be signed when Trump and Xi meet in mid November 2019 at the APEC forum.

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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.