Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

The battle in Beijing


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- Coronavirus threat and its implications for India and the rest of the world.


The coronavirus epidemic poses a challenge to China’s place in global affairs, its political leadership.

The possible implications of coronavirus crisis

  • The Chines leadership might not be able to escape the blame: If the epidemic turns into a pandemic, as some analysts bet, China’s all-powerful leader Xi Jinping might not be able to escape the blame.
    • And will likely come under considerable political pressure.
  • It could also turn into a systemic threat: Some also speculate that the backlash against the government’s mishandling of the crisis could turn into a systemic threat against the dominance of the Chinese Communist Party.
  • Speculations as perennial hope among China’s critics: Sceptics, however, dismiss above speculation as merely reflecting the perennial hope among Beijing’s harshest critics who can’t wait to see a China without the CCP.
    • Realist’s stand: Realists point to the massive mobilisation of state power by President Xi in limiting the spread of the virus.

Handling of the crisis by China

  • Initial faltering response: To be sure, there were major failures in the initial faltering response to the crisis.
    • Cover-up attempts from the lower level: The attempts at the lower levels to cover-up or underplays the crisis and the inadequate appreciation at the higher levels of the potential consequences are common to all large bureaucracies. The party-state in China is not an exception.
  • Praise for handling the crisis: China’s handling of the crisis had drawn much respect, grudging or otherwise, from the international community.
    • Whether it is the lockdown of Hubei province and its capital Wuhan, from where the virus began to spread.
    • Or in deploying thousands of doctors and health workers in the province and building massive hospitals for treating the infected.
  • Possibility of some political impact: Yet, there is no question that a crisis of this magnitude -will have some political impact.
    • The party-state is certainly having some difficulty in containing the public outrage against the initial failures.
  • Efforts to shield top leadership from blame: The CCP, however, is bound to shield the supreme leader from any damaging criticism and in fact, celebrate a triumph in containing the spread through a determined effort.
    • Responsibility will be affixed on provincial officials in Hubei and a purge of some kind may have already begun.

Addressing the economic consequences of the crisis

  • International dimension: Nearly two decades after the SARS epidemic -China is now a much larger economy and its interdependence with the world has only deepened.
    • This interdependence, in turn, lends a strong international dimension to China’s crisis.
  • Optimist’s hope of future uptick: Optimists hope that a sharp drop in economic activity in the current quarter will be followed by a steep uptick in growth in the next when the virus is contained and normalcy returns.
  • Pessimist’s fear of economic disruption: Pessimists suggest that the economic disruption — in terms of the impact on internal and external trade and the breakdown of the global supply chains- could have lasting effects.
    • Reinforcing the disruption: Some suspect that the disruption could reinforce the slowdown driven by a number of other internal and external factors including the trade war with the US.

China’s response to the rest of the world

  • Channelling of resentment against the West: Some in the West hope that a prolonged economic crisis might turn the people against the CCP. For now, though, Beijing is channelling the resentment against the West.
  • Terming evacuation as an over-reaction: Beijing has criticised the advisories from various countries against travel to China and the cancellation of flights as over-reaction.
    • Lukewarm response to evacuation efforts: China has also been lukewarm to efforts of various countries to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan and Hubei.
    • India evacuated students: India has managed to convince Beijing to let India airlift its students from Wuhan.
    • Pakistan has declared that it will not evacuate its students as a gesture of political solidarity with China in a time of crisis.
    • South Asian neighbour’s response: Many of India’s other South Asian neighbours are torn between the reluctance to offend Chinese sentiment and the mounting domestic pressures to bring students back.
    • Cooperation with the US: While being critical of the US travel restrictions against China, Beijing has certainly been open to cooperation with the US in dealing with the crisis.
  • India’s offer to help other countries in evacuation: The external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said last week that India has been willing to bring back students from all the neighbouring countries.
    • Balancing between Delhi and Beijing: The logic of balancing between Delhi and Beijing has prevented most of the smaller neighbours from requesting Indian assistance.
    • The Maldives has been the only exception.
  • The response of the East and Southeast Asia: Beyond South Asia, many countries in East and Southeast Asia have been hesitant to be seen as rushing to cut themselves from China.
    • What is making these countries hesitant: Deep economic interdependence and massive flows of Chinese tourists led to much dithering among the East Asian countries in their early responses to the crisis.


India must explore all potential cooperative engagement with Beijing as well as its other international partners on pandemics-an important but the under-addressed challenge for national, regional and international security.

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