This week’s edition of DRI Asia Review focuses on the past and present of China-India relations—which tells us how the relationship is likely to evolve, barring any major breakthrough in changes in China’s growing intransigent attitude towards its boundary with India. (Prognosis: not too well.) It surveys the state of play when it comes to resolving the ongoing military standoff in Ladakh. At the same time, it also provides you with a quick glance at the extant nature of the economic relationship between both countries. The edition also previews a recently-recorded DRI podcast with a distinguished former Indian diplomat and historian around the early history of China-India relations, and concludes by dispelling a common misconception about confidence intervals in statistics.
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DRI Asia Review
November 12,
China-India Relations:
State of Play
Stalemate in Ladakh
Hindi-language media on China’s new land border law and Pentagon report
FDI equity inflows from China to India
Assessing the early history of China-India relations
Confidence intervals: what they are and aren’t

Welcome to the newsletter of Diplomat Risk Intelligence, the research and consulting division of The Diplomat, your go-to outlet for definitive analyses from and about the Asia-Pacific.

This week’s edition of DRI Asia Review focuses on the past and present of China-India relations—which tells us how the relationship is likely to evolve, barring any major breakthrough in changes in China’s growing intransigent attitude towards its boundary with India. (Prognosis: not too well.) It surveys the state of play when it comes to resolving the ongoing military standoff in Ladakh. At the same time, it also provides you with a quick glance at the extant nature of the economic relationship between both countries. The edition also previews a recently-recorded DRI podcast with a distinguished former Indian diplomat and historian around the early history of China-India relations, and concludes by dispelling a common misconception about confidence intervals in statistics.


LAC of Progress in Resolving China-India Military Standoff
— Flickr, Indi Tourists

Since May last year, Chinese and Indian troops have been engaged in a military standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC, the de-facto though undefined boundary that separates their countries) in Ladakh with ad hoc disengagement pacts only making partial progress in resolving the issue. The latest round of China-India corps commander level meetings held on October 11 failed to deliver results, with each side blaming the other for the current stalemate. Beijing slammed New Delhi for its “unreasonable and unrealistic demands,” while the Indian side decried China for not agreeing to its “constructive suggestions” and not providing any “forward looking proposals.” As noted by The Diplomat’s South Asia Editor Sudha Ramachandran, although previous rounds of talks also did not produce an overarching agreement, statements following them from both sides included a few “positive words,” words that were strikingly absent this time around.

This is a worrying development, especially since both sides have been visibly hardening their military positions in the months between the 12th and the latest, 13th, round of talks across the entire LAC. Ahead of the talks, on October 8, Indian news media reported Chinese soldiers being detained by the India Army after minor clashes in the Tawang sector of the LAC, more than two thousand kilometers away from Ladakh. Chinese state media accounts of the same incident, instead, described it as an “unreasonable” obstruction by the Indian Army to Chinese border patrols troops who took “adequate countermeasures” and returned after “completing their mission.” They dismissed reports of Chinese soldiers being detained as “purely fabricated and inconsistent with facts.”

Meanwhile, over the summer New Delhi sent an additional 50,000 troops and equipment to the LAC. The Indian Army chief General M.M. Naravane, meanwhile, has noted that Beijing has been sending troops to the region “in considerable numbers.” Hong-Kong based South China Morning Post in September confirmed that the People’s Liberation Army had stepped up night drills and brought advanced equipment—including weapons which could “wipe out an artillery emplacement within seconds”— closer to the LAC.

It took nine rounds of talks for both sides to agree to disengage from the north and south bank of Pangong Lake in February this year and create a buffer zone in Gogra after the 12th round of corps commander talks in July. (Disengagement at another friction point, the Galwan Valley which saw deadly clashes June last year, has been completed.) However, talks on Hot Springs, Depsang Bulge, and Charding Nullah junction in the Demchok sector—other points of the current contention—are yet to yield results. News reports indicate that resolution of the friction point in Hot Springs, where China has stationed a platoon-sized military unit, would have been on the agenda of the 13th round of corps commander-level talks; given the overall tone of statements from both sides following the meeting, it is safe to assume that the situation there remains unresolved.

Experts point out that resolving the crisis at Depsang, which had witnessed two major standoffs between Indian and Chinese forces in 2013 and 2015, is likely to take time. Although the Indian Army has been tightlipped about the situation in Depsang and does not consider it a "friction point," satellite images reveal increased Chinese deployments in the region, hindering Indian troops' access to their traditional patrolling limits inside the LAC.

But increasingly, it is not just the points of contention in Ladakh along the western segment of the LAC that is straining the China-India relationship. Indian news media reported incursions by over 100 PLA soldiers into Barahoti in Uttarakhand on August 30, in the middle sector of the LAC, who remained there for three hours, damaged infrastructure, and left without any resistance from Indian troops. No official statement on these alleged incursions have been released by the Indian government. Uncertainty and the risk of miscalculation, compounded by the lack of mutual trust between the two sides, make the current situation extremely volatile, with some experts refusing to rule out the possibility of a shooting war between the two countries.

The boundary dispute and historical animosity have long characterized China-India bilateral relations. However, in the past, they had not come in the way of deeper economic ties between the two Asian giants. The current China-India economic trajectory does not indicate a departure from this trend.

Bilateral trade grew from just $3 billion in 2000 to $77.67 billion in 2020, and rose by a record 62.7 percent —the highest increase among China’s major trade partners—just in the first half of 2021. From $28.87 billion in 2012, India’s trade deficit had climbed to $56.8 billion in 2017, but declined to $45.8 billion in 2020, the lowest since 2015. However, in 2021, with trade between the two countries all set to hit a record high of $100 billion, India’s trade deficit with China has soared again, already crossing the 2020 numbers (at $47 billion) in the first nine months of 2021. While the Indian government took additional steps to impose economic costs on China last year—including banning more than a hundred Chinese apps as well as imposing conditions on Chinese investments flowing into the country—the likelihood of success of these measures in shaping the outcome in Ladakh in India’s favor remained small from the get-go.


India’s Hindi Press Weighs In on China’s New Land Border Law and Pentagon Report
— Flickr, BXGD

On October 23, China put in place a new land border law, essentially granting the state much greater control over its periphery, especially parts of which remain disputed. The law also allows Beijing to reorganize districts on its periphery—a provision with serious political-military import. Given that Beijing has settled all its border disputes except ones with Bhutan and India, the new measure has irked India considerably. As Brookings’ Shuxian Luo put it in an assessment of this measure, “[w]hile the new law has galvanized speculations as to whether it would be used to justify a more assertive Chinese posture [against India amid the ongoing military standoff in Ladakh], it clearly goes beyond that specific dispute and speaks to a host of problems as Beijing strives to secure its land border amid growing uncertainty in its neighborhood.”

An Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) statement from October 27 about the new law was blunt (and in many ways, reminiscent of how China reacted to India’s decision to reorganize India-administered Kashmir after scrapping its autonomous status in August 2019). It noted: “China’s unilateral decision to bring about legislation which can have implications on our existing bilateral arrangements on border management as well as on the boundary question is of concern to us.” “Such unilateral move will have no bearing on the arrangements that both sides have already reached earlier, whether it is on the Boundary Question or for maintaining peace and tranquility along the LAC in India-China Border areas,” the MEA statement added.

The MEA’s concerns were widely echoed in the Indian media, including in the Hindi-language press. Writing in Dainik Jagran on November 9, think-tank analyst Harsh Pant noted: “It is the prerogative of any country to make changes to its internal laws, but if the changes increase the possibility of regional unrest and instability, then it is natural to be concerned”— presumably an attempt to preempt the argument that India’s August 2019 measures in Kashmir and China’s new land border law are normatively comparable. Pant articulated New Delhi’s concerns with the new law which comes, as it does, at a time when Chinese construction and settlement activities in the eastern LAC—on the periphery of India’s Arunachal Pradesh state (which China claims as its own in entirety, calling it “South Tibet”)—remain of significant concern to New Delhi.

Chinese construction activities in Arunachal Pradesh also figured in the latest Pentagon report on Chinese military power to the U.S. Congress that was released on November 3. Last week’s DRI Asia Review had delved into aspects of the new report, which was also the subject of an opinion piece by Prashant Dixit on November 8 in Amar Ujala, another leading Hindi newspaper. Summarizing (somewhat simplistically, one adds) what the Pentagon report—which Dixit described as “shocking”— had to say about the overall political-military direction Beijing seems to be moving towards, he also flagged what the report had to say about Chinese activities in Arunachal Pradesh.

That said, like most things having to do with the China-India LAC dispute, what exactly has transpired in Arunachal Pradesh remains anybody’s guess. Speaking at an event on November 11, the Indian Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat contradicted both the Pentagon report— as well as the MEA—noting “[t]he present controversy … that the Chinese have come across into our territory and built a new village is not true.”


The Soundless Wailing Water, Climate Change, and Security Risks in the Asia-Pacific

In the context of national and international security, climate change acts as a threat multiplier and exacerbates existing issues and geopolitical conflicts such as conflicts between states over natural resources (most commonly, water), migration due to scarcity/sudden extreme weather events (floods, droughts) causing undesirable/illegal influx of “climate refugees,” and conflicts over territories with abundant natural resources (for example, conflicts over upper riparian regions). Climate change will also give rise to new, unprecedented situations which could potentially lead to competition and conflicts among nations. In this edition of DRI Trendlines, we analyze multiple streams of data to show security in the Asia-Pacific stands to be transformed by climate change.

Read excerpt

Access report here


FDI Equity Inflows From China to India, FY 2012–2020
— Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India. Graphics: DRI


Fraught Frontiers: China-India-Tibet and What Lies Ahead
Mao Zedong and Jawaharlal Nehru, Beijing, October 23, 1954
— Flickr, Public.Resource.Org

A very interesting coincidence from the past year and a half is that just as China-India relations have rapidly sunk to a record low—now at its worst in about half a century—the recent past has also seen several new books (some, years in the making) appearing on the complex historical relationship between the two Asian behemoths. The Cold War cast a long shadow over the relationship, as Tanvi Madan’s “Fateful Triangle: How China Shaped US-India Relations During the Cold War,” and Francine Frankel’s “When Nehru Looked East: Origins of India-US Suspicion and India-China Rivalry,” explain masterfully. Both books were published last year.

But if past is indeed prologue—and like all cliches, this one too holds more than a germ of truth—then it may well be the case that China’s annexation of Tibet in 1950-51 would prove, with the benefit of (hard-to-attain perfect) hindsight, to be as momentous as the Cold War in determining what lies ahead for the China-India relationship.

In a new book “The Fractured Himalaya: India, Tibet, China 1949-1962,” former Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao—one of India’s most distinguished experts on China, first as a practitioner and then as a scholar—provides an exceedingly refreshing account of the early years of the China-India relationship. From the Indian side, the relationship was primarily (though not solely, one adds) shaped by independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Nehru’s strategic weltanschauung— shaped by idealism and pragmatism in curious and varying measure—and Mao Zedong’s machinations in Tibet (not to mention a convoluted colonial legacy that rendered the China-India boundary question an aura of intractability) in many ways drew the contours of the future and how the relationship would be pursued by New Delhi in the decades ahead. Rao masterfully details what she calls the “human quotient” of the early years of China-India relations, based on detailed archival work and deeply informed by her decades of experience as an Indian diplomat, which included serving in Beijing as India’s ambassador.

But Rao’s interests are far from limited. Since her retirement from the Indian foreign service a decade later, she has pursued a second career as a leading diplomatic historian, and has taught at Brown and Columbia Universities among other academic stints. At the same time, she has also founded and nurtured the South Asian Symphony Orchestra, a unique initiative to culturally integrate South Asia through music. (You can sample some of the orchestra’s excellent performances here.) Rao is also an avid collector of antiquarian texts, primarily about India and a few of its neighbors, and writes an extremely interesting newsletter about them.

For the latest episode of DRI Future Tense, Rao spoke with DRI’s Director of Research Abhijnan Rej about her book, how she sees China-India relations evolving, South Asia and music, and her fascination with old texts.

Listen to the podcast

DRI Report

Afghanistan and Taliban 2.0 International Security and Geopolitical Implications

In this edition of the DRI Monthly Report—the second and concluding part of a major Diplomat Risk Intelligence project on Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15, and based on exhaustive in-house research and interviews with 10 leading experts—we look at the Taliban’s relationships with key terrorist organizations and Afghanistan's neighbors. We also examine the Taliban’s convoluted relationships with major regional powers who could prove to be key in granting the new regime in Kabul a veneer of international legitimacy provided, of course, that their own interests are guarded by Taliban 2.0.

Read excerpt

Access report here


Confidence Intervals
— Flickr, David Lofink

Anyone who has ever read any scientific journal, article or reviewed scientific findings, has come across the term “confidence intervals.” It is mostly used in conjunction with “estimates” or “predicted value.” Any forecasting or prediction done through basic statistical methods or machine learning is incomplete without specifying the uncertainty, in quantitative terms, of those predictions. This uncertainty is specified through confidence intervals. Very simply put, a confidence interval is an “educated guess” about a certain characteristic within a population.

Whenever we are interested in predicting or forecasting, the scenario is as follows: There is some “true value” of the quantity of interest that will remain unknown since we do not have data for the entire population. We do, however, have a sample from which we can make predictions and extrapolate to the whole population. Let’s consider a common example in surveys: Door-to-door surveyors ask a random sample of a thousand voters whether they support the incumbent president in their country. They apply the relevant statistical analysis, come up with an estimate of the “true” proportion of voters who support the president, say, 36 percent, along with a 95 percent confidence interval for that estimate, say, between 33 percent and 39 percent. What this means is that if we randomly sample from the “true population” (all possible voters of that country) 100 times and record their responses, then approximately 95 of the 100 confidence intervals produced from those samples, calculated using the same confidence procedure, will capture the true proportion of voters who support the president. (Note that this “true proportion” is an unobservable quantity that can only be known with a 100 percent certainty if each and every voter of the country is surveyed.)

Confidence intervals are as important as the forecasted value, but are commonly misinterpreted. In the above example, we cannot say that we are “95 percent confident” that the true proportion of voters who support the incumbent president is captured between the specific interval (33 percent, 39 percent); nor can we state that the probability that the “true proportion” lies in that interval is 95 percent. It simply means that if we make 100 confidence intervals using the same estimation method, then 95 of them will contain that true value. After calculating the confidence interval, there is no “probability” that it captures the “true value.” It either does or it doesn't.

As such, confidence intervals should only be used if certain assumptions (for example, random sampling and normal distribution) are met. If those assumptions are not met, the interval provides only a vague index of reliability. So, in a nutshell, given that the assumptions of a model are met and estimation is somewhat robust, the 95 percent confidence interval is the answer to the prompt: "Give me an interval that will contain the true value of my estimate in 95 percent of the instances of an experiment that is repeated a large number of times."

DRI’s Director of Research Abhijnan Rej, DRI Research Analysts Malvika Rajeev and Rushali Saha contributed to this edition of DRI Asia Review. Translations of Hindi media articles were provided by an in-house linguist.

Diplomat Risk Intelligence (DRI) is the research and consulting division of The Diplomat, the Asia-Pacific’s leading current affairs magazine.

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