East Asia Digest | September 2019

I Overview


• Malabar Naval Exercise 2019
• Meeting of Quad Foreign Ministers
• Consumption Tax Hike Comes into effect


• China celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic
• Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi refers to Kashmir in his UNGA speech
• President Xi Jinping of China slated to visit India for 2nd Informal Summit

North Korea:

• North Korea tests an apparent SLBM

Hong Kong:

• Protests continue and mar Chinese National Day

The US – China Trade War

• Negotiations between the US and China


II Developments in Japan 

Malabar Naval Exercise 2019

The trilateral India – United States – Japan naval exercise Ex. Malabar, the 23rd edition of this exercise (which in its earlier editions was an India – US one) kicked off last week off the coast of Japan. Its objective is to further strengthen naval cooperation and inter-operability amongst the Navies of the three countries based on shared values and principles. The Indian Navy has deployed 2 indigenously designed and built ships – INS Sahyadri, a multi-purpose guided missile frigate and INS Kiltan, an anti-submarine corvette. In addition, a P8-I long range maritime aircraft is also part of the Indian deployment. The US Navy is represented by the USS McCampbell, an attack submarine while Japan has fielded the JS Kaga, a helicopter destroyer, and the JS Samidare and JS Choukai, guided missile destroyers. Over time, the scope and nature of Ex. Malabar is getting more ambitious and the present exercise aims at enhancing joint capabilities against submarines.

Meeting of Quad Foreign Ministers

The first ever meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Initiative) met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at New York on 26 September. The Quad groups together – India, the United States, Japan and Australia. The Quad was revived in 2017 and so far has met only at Joint Secretary level. The enhancement of the level of the meeting is a signal that all 4 nations take this exercise very seriously. China has great antipathy towards this grouping of 4 democratic nations in the Indo-Pacific as it fears it is aimed at containing China through an eventual NATO-like structure. 

Consumption Tax Hike Comes into effect

The hike in consumption tax from 8% to 10% came into effect from 1 October. This hike had been announced by the Abe Government some time back.


III Developments in China


China celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic

1 October 2019 marked the 70th Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It was marked by a major military parade in Beijing where General Secretary Xi Jinping took the salute and delivered an important address to the nation. Talking from the same Tiananmen Rostrum where Mao Zedong had proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic, Xi focused on the great strides China has made in these past 70 years in economic development and social progress now ranking as the second largest economy in the world after the United States. Xi also stated that China’s rise cannot be stopped or turned back by any force on earth, implying that the US will not be able to contain China despite the trade war it has launched. Particularly since 1978, when Deng Xiaoping launched the policy of economic reform and opening to the outside world, China has made significant progress on economic as well as social indicators. Its superb infrastructure development whether in highways, aviation sector or in its High Speed Railway is something people in India find awe-inspiring. Celebrations of this significant anniversary took place all over the country.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi refers to Kashmir in his UNGA speech

China once again referred to the changes that India has brought about in Jammu & Kashmir, calling for a return to the status quo during the course of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s speech at the recent high level segment of the United Nations General Assembly session at New York. The fact that he has done so despite India’s several explanations that the move is entirely domestic and has no implications for India’s external boundaries, will be one more difficult issue in the bilateral relationship.

President Xi Jinping of China slated to visit India for 2nd Informal Summit

The 2nd Informal Summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping is slated to take place at Mamallapuram near Chennai on 11-13 October 2019 (although no announcement has yet been made by either Government). The 1st Informal Summit at Wuhan in April 2018 had put the relationship back on the rails after the Doklam incident. The frank discussions between the two leaders was found to be useful by both nations and hence the 2nd such informal meeting is being looked forward to. If successful, it will impart greater balance and ballast to India – China relations.


IV Developments in North Korea


North Korea tests an apparent SLBM

On 1 October, North Korea once again tested some missiles which could possibly be sea launched ballistic missiles, according to South Korean experts who tracked the launch. Simultaneously, North Korea also announced that there would be a resumption of dialogue with the United States at the Vice Minister level. So, North Korea continues to desire rapproachment with the US and will continue talks with them, while at the same time strengthening its weapons and their delivery systems. It will be recollected that the US desires to shut down North Korea’s nuclear plants and its capability of producing nuclear weapons as well as their delivery systems. On the other hand, North Korea believes the only reason the US has come to the negotiation table is its nuclear arsenal. This cat and mouse game is set to continue.

V Developments in Hong Kong


Protests continue and mar Chinese National Day

Protests continue for the fourth straight month in Hong Kong even marring China’s National Day on 1 October 2019. A protestor was shot by HK police – the first time such an incident has happened during the current round of protests. This indicates that HK people continue to be sore with governance in the special administrative zone. In his speech at Beijing, President Xi continued to pay lip service to the “one country, two systems” concept which is the mantra for reunification of China particularly with HK, Macau and Taiwan.


VI The US-China Trade War

Negotiations between the US and China 

Negotiations between the US and China are to resume on their trade and technology war later in October. While this by itself is a good signal, it appears difficult to see any quick end to this imbroglio. The fact that US President Trump has resisted to implement further tariff increases scheduled for 1 October 2019 is also a positive sign by itself. Where the negotiators of the two countries can find meeting ground given their widely disparate opening positions is difficult to see.


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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.