Tuesday, August 31, 2010



At a time when there is already concern over the increasing assertiveness of the Chinese Navy in the South and East China Seas, the first port call by two ships of the Chinese Navy in Myanmar while on their way back from anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf has aroused considerable interest and some concern in the neighbouring countries.

2.China has a long history of army-army cooperation with Myanmar, including a militaery supply relationship. It has also been helping Myanmar in building an oil/gas terminal at Kyaukpu off the Arakan coast. The new port, when completed, will place three modern ports at the disposal of China----the other two being Gwadar on the Mekran coast of Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka. The Bangladesh Government is interested in securing Chinese assistance for the modernisation of the Chittagong port.

3.Till now, the Chinese authorities and the Governments of Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh have projected these ports as purely commercial ventures with no naval significance. Only Pakistan makes no secret of the significance of Gwadar for the navies of Pakistan and China. It hopes that a modern naval base at Gwadar will give the Pakistan Navy a strategic depth by reducing its dependence on the Karachi port, which is vulnerable to attacks by the Indian Navy. It is prepared to offer the proposed naval base at Gwadar to the Chinese Navy for use by its naval ships visiting the Indian Ocean and the Gulf.

4.Some retired Chinese naval officers are of the view that a viable Indian Ocean fleet for their navy would require forward bases in this area. How to acquire such bases without adding to the alarm of the US, which is already talking of the Chinese assertiveness in the Indian Ocean area as Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, did during his recent visit to New Delhi? The Chinese have not yet openly reacted to his comments though they reacted quickly and vehemently to the comments of Mrs.Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, on the Chinese naval assertiveness in the South China Sea at the recent Asean Regional Forum meeting at Hanoi.

5.The US view of the Chinese intentions in the Indian Ocean are still confused despite the lucid remarks of Admiral Mullen. While he was clear and forthcoming, Ms.Michele Flournoy, the US Under-Secretary of Defence, was not that forthcoming during her visit to Delhi in the third week of August to prepare for the forthcoming visit of Shri A.K.Antony, our Defence Minister, to the US. She avoided any reference to the Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean area.

6.Her remarks could be interpreted as discouraging any Indian expectation of major Indo-US naval co-operation against Chinese forays into the Indian Ocean as one of the possible results of the forthcoming visit of President Barack Obama to New Delhi coming November. She reportedly told the Indian media on August 10: " There has been tremendous progress in the number of joint exercises, but the need is to make them meaningful so that they are reflective of the real world situation....The exercises must prepare both sides to jointly undertake counter-piracy operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. We also have to respond to maritime security and freedom of navigation against those contesting the accepted rules of the world. We will have to work to prevent that. We have to be prepared in terms of capability."

7.The visit of the two Chinese naval ships to the Yangon port in Myanmar must have been under preparation for some time and could not have been the Chinese way of reacting to the pronouncements of US officials while visiting New Delhi. At the same time, the port call in Myanmar proclaims openly the beginning of Chinese activism, if not assertiveness, in the Indian Ocean region.

8.The Chinese have taken note of the speculation in India and elsewhere as to what the port visit portends. Is it an innocent halt while returning home from the Gulf or does it have a strategic significance? Is it meant to convey a message to the US and the Indian Navies that China has core interests in the Indian Ocean too as it has in the South and East China Seas? This subject should figure in the agenda of the forthcoming talks with Mr.Obama when he visits New Delhi.

9.To calm any frenzied speculation over the Chinese intention, the Party-owned "Global Times", in an editoriial on September 1, has proposed a naval trust-building exercise among the Asian navies. The text of the editorial is annexed.

10.This may pleae be read in continuation of my article dated July 24,2010, titled MONITORING CHINA'S NAVAL ASSERTIVENESS at
http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers40%5Cpaper3944.html and article dated August 10,2010, titled "CHINA: A Wake-Up Call for Vietnam & India" at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers40%5Cpaper3974.html (1-9-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

ANNEXURE ( Editorial carried by the "Global Times" on September 1,2010)

Asian navies should trust each other

The Chinese navy's first-ever port call to Myanmar on Sunday (August 29) has triggered plenty of noise and speculation in India.

The Indian press aligns Myanmar with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, where they believe China has helped build port facilities, and conclude that the neighboring giant is aimed at building a "string of pearls" for greater space on the Indian Ocean - long considered India's backyard.

Just like the strong reactions from Japan when China's warships made their way through the first island chain into the Pacific Ocean, every step the fledgling power makes to test its wings has been met with suspicion.

The biggest fear, as some foreign strategists asserted, is that China may flex its muscles from one ocean to another, and eventually become a frightening superpower cruising around the world's blue waters.

What a grand picture these strategists are drawing. Some amateur military "experts" will jump into the air over the slightest mention of such an ambitious plan.

The reality of the situation is much less exciting than their fantasies.

Only two escort ships back from their missions to protect Chinese trade fleets from piracy in waters off the Somali coast visited Myanmar. On the way home, the escort group made port calls to Egypt, Italy and Greece.

Conspiracy theories aside, China's navy has been growing stronger over the past few years, and has been reaching places it has never reached before.

Not surprisingly, Japan, South Korea, India and some Southeast Asian countries are concerned.

These countries should be more concerned about the US, the only real super power, which could cause trouble by stoking feelings of discontent.

China has to pay attention to the concerns arising naturally from its neighbors in Asia.

A stronger Chinese navy does not necessarily mean a threat, but an additional peace-keeping force, as is shown in the gulf of Aden.

The fear aimed at the Chinese navy is a dangerous result of neighboring countries' suspicion and mistrust over China's rise.

The process to resolve this mistrust is the same process to resolve the "China threat" theory.

A lack of communications has built up this mistrust and misjudgment.

The Chinese government may try to establish a communication mechanism between navies in Asia.

Only through the better exchange of ideas and explanations can the other countries fully understand the Chinese navy's willingness to cooperate instead of compete.

Asia's navies should not repeat history in the Atlantic Ocean where world powers tried to use their naval powers to conquer each other.



Kim Jong-il, General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and Chairman of North Korea’s National Defense Commission, visited China from August 26 to 30,2010. This is his second visit to China this year. He had earlier visited China in May last. Underlining the significance of the visit, the "China Daily" said in an article: "Never before has Kim paid two visits abroad within a year."

2. The visit by train was first detected by the South Korean intelligence and reported by the South Korean media. Western news agencies picked up news of the visit from the South Korean media. The Chinese and North Korean authorities and the Government/party controlled media of the two countries maintained silence on the visit till the morning of August 30. On the morning of August 30, the Chinese media for the first time commented on the reports carried by the South Korean and Western media on the visit without confirming that he was in China. The confirmation came later that day on the Chinese Central TV after he had returned to North Korea. The TV reported that President Hu Jintao had met Kim Jong-il in Changchun, the capital of the Jilin province, on August 27. It carried visuals of the meeting between the two leaders and a report on a banquet hosted by Mr.Hu in honour of the North Korean leader.

3. Kim's visit was confined to Jilin and Heilongjiang, where he visited several agricultural and industrial establishments---- reportedly in order to learn from the Chinese experience in the modernisation of its economy. In this connection, the Chinese media referred to a visit earlier made by him ----without saying when--- to Vietnam to learn from its experience in modernisation. Kim visited a food processing factory, a high-speed train factory and an elementary school in Jilin where his father, the late Kim Sung-Il, had studied in the 1920s.

4. The "China Daily" reported on August 31 that during the talks with Kim President Hu emphasized that it was a basic experience of China's reform over the past three decades that economic development called for self-dependence but cannot be achieved without cooperating with the outside world. Hu reportedly said:”This is the inevitable path of the times that accelerates the development of a country.” According to Piao Jianyi, chief of the Center of Korean Peninsula Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Kim indicated that North Korea's development will be closely connected with cooperation with China. Piao was of the view that a major party meeting next month in Pyongyang might take important decisions concerning development, probably by drawing inspiration from China's experience.

5. Chinese analysts feel that an important objective of the visit was probably to brief the Chinese leadership on North Korean plans for launching a drive for the modernisation of the North Korean economy. Would that drive be as ambitious as that of China? Would North Korea open up to the outside world---particularly to the West--- as significantly as China had done post-1978? Or would the expected North Korean modernisation and opening-up be in North Korean colours----more gradual with continuing suspicion of the outside world? The answers to these questions are not yet available. They are unlikely to be available in adequate measure even after the coming party meeting next month. North Korea's evolution into a modern economy would most probably come about slowly and almost imperceptibly. There are no indications as yet that its leadership has overcome its paranoia of the West----particularly the US.

6. The second objective was to brief the Chinese leaders about what Kim called "the rising generation" and to reassure Beijing that the expected generational changes would not affect North Korean bonds with China. Kim was quoted as having stated as follows at the banquet hosted by President Hu: "With the international situation remaining complicated, it is our important historical mission to hand over to the rising generation the baton of the traditional friendship passed over by the revolutionary forerunners of the two countries as a precious asset so as to carry it forward through generations."

7. This strengthened speculation that at the party meeting next month Kim might officially indicate his plans for his succession which might involve the elevation of his youngest Swiss-educated son (27 years old) Kim Jong-Un. Why did Kim feel the need to reassure the Chinese that the "rising generation" will be as close to China as the present generation and the preceding one of his father? Was his visit to the Chinese school which his father had attended meant to emphasise the close links of his family with China and calm possible Chinese misgivings about the impact of the Swiss upbringing of Kim Jong-Un on future North Korean policies?

8. The third objective was to discuss with the Chinese leadership a possible return of North Korea to the six-party talks on its nuclear programme and the sequel to the sinking of a South Korean naval ship allegedly by North Korea in March last. The Xinhua news agency reported that Kim told Hu that North Korea remained committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and that it "is not willing to see tensions on the peninsula." According to Xinhua, Kim said he wished to maintain close communication and coordination with China in pushing for an early resumption of the Six-Party Talks to ease the tension on the Korean Peninsula, and to maintain peace and stability there. It quoted Hu as telling Kim that maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula accorded with the common aspiration of the people, and China respected and supported positive efforts made by North Korea to ease the situation. The North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), however, made no mention of the remarks attributed to Kim by Xinhua.

9. Despite these remarks, Chinese analysts are not optimistic about the chances of an early resumption of the Six-Party talks. The “China Daily” has quoted Zhang Liangui, Professor of international strategic research at the Central Party School, as saying as follows: "The US and the DRPK have different expectations on the talks. While the US seeks denuclearization of the peninsula, the DPRK wants to get the UN sanctions on it lifted.”

10. Chinese analysts described as a surprise Kim’s leaving Pyongyang for China when former US President Jimmy Carter was visiting the North Korean capital to secure the release of an American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was sentenced in April to eight years in jail for entering the country illegally. Lü Chao, Director of the North and South Korea Research Center at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said in an interview: "Carter has a good reputation in North Korea. Kim has met him before. But perhaps Kim missed this meeting on purpose to show his toughness and send a message that it will not bow to US pressure after a series of military drills between the US and South Korea."

11. Two interesting editorials carried by the Party-owned “Global Times” on the visit on August 30 and 31 are annexed. ( 31-8-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-Mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

ANNEXURE (“ Global Times” editorials)

North Korea's reform and opening-up ( published on August 31,2010)

The fact that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited China last week was finally confirmed by the two governments Monday.

Although foreign media continues to speculate about Kim's "succession plan" and whether he brought his son along, there are signs that the North Korean leader is showing an increasing interest in the economy.

In his two visits within about a three-month span, Kim visited a number of cities that are on the frontier of China's booming market economy.

Earlier, he also visited Vietnam, and inspected Russian cities that were undergoing social transformations.

This points to North Korea having a strong interest in opening up and developing its economy. In fact, the country has made several experimental attempts in the past decade or two, including setting up a special economic zone and conducting currency reform.

It is hard to imagine that any country wants to stay poor and isolated. The international community should not marginalize North Korea out of prejudice.

China's rising economy is taking place just across a river from North Korea. There is no reason the North Korean leadership is not willing to learn from China.

Kim Jong-il's latest visit shows his attention to the economy has been growing.

The outside world complains that North Korea has shut itself in. But, they may think otherwise when they consider the existence of a South Korea-US alliance, and the fact that the media in South Korea, the US and Japan have been openly discussing how to overthrow the North's rule.

The West always sees North Korea as one of the world's major threats. But how could a country like North Korea be strong enough to launch a "suicide attack" against them?

Living in the shadows of South Korea, Japan and the US, North Korea has to wrap itself up tighter in order to fend off military threats, and threats of political and cultural infiltration.

North Korea's opening-up will help relieve tensions in Northeast Asia. But, the knot does not only lie on the North's side. Other countries in this region must redouble their efforts to untangle the knot.

These three nations should not bully North Korea any more. China should also try hard to pull North Korea out of its international turmoil.
If the US does not cooperate, South Korea and Japan will have to reconsider their roles. Do they really want to be trapped in a knot made tighter by the US?

China-North Korea's stable relationship ( published on August 30,2010)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has become a hot topic in international news media over the past few days, as they speculate about Kim's "secret" trip to northeastern China, and his political mission.

With anonymous sources saying that Kim met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, and Kim likely asked Beijing to concur with North Korea's long-anticipated leadership change, Western media has also been trying to illustrate a "special" relationship between the two countries.

Actually, in today's China, the media seldom uses the word "special" to describe the two countries' relations. It does not necessarily mean China is deliberately shunning the long historical ties the two countries share.

Beijing has long made it clear that it aims to keep the peace on the Korean Peninsula via a normal China-North Korea relationship.

North Korea has become a marginalized member of Northeast Asia. When China, South Korea and Japan compete with each other and become further involved with each other's economies, the North is like a forgotten island.

Many in China have begun to complain that the isolated North Korea brings too much trouble for China in international relations, and the two countries' relationship should not go back to a "special" status.

However, as a result of historical and geopolitical reasons, the current China-North Korea relationship is not a simple one. This also explains why Kim Jong-il visits China frequently.

Every coin has two sides. The China-North Korea relationship gives other interested countries too much hope of bringing North Korea back to the negotiation table over the North's nuclear weapons program.

The other countries unrealistically expect China has a strong hand to teach its little brother a lesson when it gets naughty.

Perhaps they do not know that North Korea has a strong mind to make its own decisions. Also, China's diplomatic principle is to not interfere with another country's internal affairs.

However, North Korea is an active variable in Northeast Asia, and keeping a stable relationship with it will give China an edge in taking the initiative in international affairs in this region.

The seeming trouble made by North Korea is actually a reflection of Cold War mentalities that separate the Korean Peninsula into the North and the South, and the US has a big part in the region's confusion.

China is not a passive player in Northeast Asia. A stable relationship with North Korea does not mean China has to be an enemy of Japan, South Korea or the US.

As long as China carefully balances international relations in this region, the China-North Korea relationship will not become a negative factor, but a positive boost toward Northeast Asia's peace and prosperity.

China will continue to encourage and help North Korea open up to the world, which will be conducive to the peace in Northeast Asia.