Archive for July, 2014

A short piece for Reuters and their rather wonderfully named ‘Expert Zone’ looking at Sino-Indian relations in Afghanistan. Builds on the earlier paper published on this topic through RUSI and part of an ongoing project.

Afghanistan a building block for China-India ties

By Raffaello Pantucci

JULY 30, 2014

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters, images used in the piece can be found here)

The appointment of a former ambassador to Kabul and New Delhi by China to the role of Special Envoy for Afghanistan highlights China’s thinking of what it can do in Afghanistan.

China is not seeking a leadership role in the country, but is rather looking for regional partners to support its efforts. A key partner is being sought in New Delhi where the Narendra Modi administration has welcomed Xi Jinping’s early overtures for a closer broader relationship. The opportunity presents itself that Afghanistan’s two largest Asian neighbours might be on the cusp of closer cooperation to help the nation onto a more stable footing.

It is clear that there are issues with Sino-Indian collaboration on Afghanistan. First among these are differing perceptions on Pakistan and its responsibility and role in Afghanistan’s current predicament. For China, Pakistani security forces are trying to deal with a monster within their country with links across the border. For Indian authorities, it remains a Frankenstein’s monster of Pakistani construction that is, therefore, fundamentally theirs to address. China’s particularly close relationship with Pakistan plays into this divide, raising concerns in New Delhi as well as complicating China’s approaches to Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, all three sides (China, India and Pakistan) seem to have found some way of working through these concerns, as there has been considerable movement and public discussion (including this project the author has been working on) between China and India in particular about their future collaborations in Afghanistan.

All of this highlights how divergent views on Pakistan aside there remains substantial scope for cooperation between the two in Afghanistan. In particular, both sides agree that terrorism in Afghanistan is a problem that needs to be addressed and a part of this is through the strengthening of Afghanistan’s security forces. Neither power is going to send forces, but there does seem to be the possibility of some agreement to increase their security training contribution. While this has to be managed carefully, it is clear that there is a need to do something to support the Afghan National Security Forces post-2014, and in particular with the more than 100,000 men under arms who will become unemployed in line with the Chicago declarations of shrinking the ANSF from 350,000 to around 228,500.

One idea would be that China and India step in to find a way to support the transformation of some of these men into a ‘mineral protection corps’ or some other paramilitary role that means they will continue to retain jobs rather than becoming unemployed men with arms and military training. This is a logical lead for China and India given it is most likely to be their national firms that are coming in to rebuild Afghanistan and profit from its mineral wealth.

Beyond this, the most obvious strand of cooperation between the two in Afghanistan lies in focusing on developing the country’s economy and building the nation’s technocratic infrastructure. This works through governments ensuring their state-owned firms (those most likely to be investing substantially in Afghanistan’s economy in the future given their higher risk threshold and capacity to make major infrastructure investments adjacent to mineral extraction projects) maintain a certain level of coordination when building infrastructure and that they agree to not go below certain thresholds of corruption when entering into deals within the country.

Given it is state-owned firms that make the most investments in Afghanistan, it is more likely that governments in either country will be able to drive policies forwards in this direction. They can further consolidate this with support to Afghanistan’s bureaucratic future through the creation of a large pool of scholarships at their technical universities for young Afghans. This will have the effect of building a soft link between the nations as well as provide Afghanistan with the needed technocratic capability that will help it build institutions to confidently rebuild the country.

The net result of these efforts is likely to be incremental. Neither China nor India are going to take the lead in Afghanistan having watched the West flounder for the past decade. At the same time, both have an interest in rebuilding Afghanistan and have many of the necessary levers of power to make a difference. The longer-term benefit of this cooperation is a tangible result for the increasingly warming Sino-Indian relationship — something that will only strengthen the hands of both powers in Asian affairs. Afghanistan could become the starting point of a new Asian order, increasingly led by billion-person giants China and India.

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Another piece for Longitude, the Italian’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs magazine. Part of a special edition on borders it looks at China’s western land relations, building on the work I have been doing on this subject as part of the China in Central Asia project. It is done in conjunction with Sarah Lain, my new co-editor on the site and RUSI colleague.

Related to Syria, I spoke to La Presse about Syrian Chechen leader Omar al Shishani and Newsweek about threats to aviation.

Creeping Encroachment, China’s Western Surge

While many are concerned with territorial disputes in Southeast Asia, the fact that China is quietly expanding its presence westward often goes unnoticed. Beijing has now become a huge player in Central Asia’s Great Game.

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A PDF of the article can be found here: Longitude China Central Asia Borders

New piece for my institutional home RUSI, looking at Xinjiang again. Been travelling in the region, so more to come soon.

China’s Domestic Insurgency

RUSI Analysis, 23 Jul 2014

By Raffaello Pantucci, Senior Research Fellow

Five years on from the most lethal rioting seen in China for decades, Beijing has still not managed to refine its strategy towards Xinjiang. Problems in the province increasingly resemble a domestic insurgency needing a comprehensive preventative approach.
Khotan Mosque Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region

The 2009 Urumqi riots marked a watershed for Beijing’s policy towards the region. Largely ignored by the capital as a backwater that was ruled over by strongman governor Wang Lequan, the scale of the riots in Xinjiang obliged then President Hu Jintao into the embarrassing situation of having to leave a G8 Summit in Italy to come and take charge of the situation. In the wake of the rioting, numerous senior security officials in the province were sacked and a year later the 15-year provincial head Wang Lequan moved back to Beijing. At around the same time in 2010, the government announced a new strategy towards Xinjiang, focused heavily on economic investment and developing the province’s trade links with Central Asia.

Four years on from launch of this strategy, the violence and problems in the region continue. Once largely contained in the southern part of the region (the part that is still predominantly Uighur, the Turkic ethnic minority resident in Xinjiang who chafe under Beijing’s rule) and mostly focused on attacking symbols of the state, anger from Xinjiang is now expressing itself in brutal attacks on civilians in Beijing, Kunming and Guangzhou. In April and May incidents took place in the provincial capital Urumqi involving bombs and targeting of random crowds at a market and train station.

It is unclear the degree that the violence in the province is being orchestrated from outside China. So far the evidence offered by the Chinese government seems to suggest that the connection with outside groups is focused on people within the province consuming radical online material produced by extremists outside the country.

Beyond this, the strongest tangible evidence of connections between outside China and the trouble in Xinjiang seems to be focused around the repeated incidents of Uighurs reportedly trying to flee the country and coming into trouble either at the border or once outside. In late January, eleven were killed in Kyrgyzstan in a mysterious clash in which a group of Uighurs confronted border guards. In March a group of some 200 Uighurs were found in Thailand. Claiming to be Turkish, they demanded repatriation to Turkey, only to be discovered to be Uighur and claimed by the Chinese authorities. Then in mid-April a group of Uighurs were caught crossing into Vietnam, only to attack the Vietnamese border guards trying to repatriate them.

Heavy Security and Investment

China’s security forces are clearly uncertain as to how to deal with this problem. The security focus is on hardening public security, with armed police being deployed in major cities, vigilance being increased among public workers at sensitive sites and heavier security checks on public transport. In Urumqi, there is a pervasive security presence and reports from the south of the province suggest an even more robust display of strength and counter-clashes there. The government has focused heavily on curbing radical material online and persuaded the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a multilateral regional body linking China to Central Asia, to focus its efforts on countering online radicalisation and the dissemination of extremist material.

At a more strategic level, in June the government held a second major work conference on Xinjiang, with a major conclusion that the current approach of heavy economic investment was not ample to resolve the problems. President Xi has spoken of increasing regional ethnic integration and improving educational attainment in the province. He also highlighted the importance of religious tolerance, of focusing on economic benefits reaching minorities in the province and other messages that seemed to suggest a desire to push beyond the traditional dual track approach of economic investment paired with the heavy hand of state security. Whether these messages are getting through on the ground is not always clear, however, with stories circulating of authorities in the province telling officials they could not fast during Ramadan – something that seems at odds with a tolerant approach to religion. It is also not clear that the approaches towards affirmative action in terms of companies in the region hiring minorities is new, with similar proclamations having been made before.

Deepening Disenfranchisement

Rather, indications from the ground (in terms of attacks or reports of people trying to flee) and discussions with locals in the capital Urumqi suggest that many Uighurs continue to feel alienated from modern China. None of this excuses the sort of actions like the savage attack in Kunming, but it does show a deep disenfranchisement clearly exists among China’s minority Uighur community.

There is a need for China to offer an appealing alternative to its Uighur community and to develop a strategy that gives people a sense of belonging within the modern Chinese state. Doing this is not an easy prospect, but it is clear that the current approach is not bearing fruit. The Chinese leadership in Beijing is clearly starting to think in this direction: something highlighted by the President’s comments in June, but this has not translated into effective action on the ground.

Five years on from the most violent rioting to face China in years, Beijing is still seeking a solution to its problems in Xinjiang. Other countries with similar problems have faced them for decades before they are able to manage them into a less menacing form and for China a negative outcome is not an option. It seems likely that China is going to face an equally challenging struggle to resolve Xinjiang’s troubles.

Been travelling so quiet for a while, but a longer Occasional Paper I have been working on for a while as part of a bigger project finally lands with my institutional home RUSI, it offers some practical ideas for Chinese and Indian cooperation in Afghanistan. More on this topic to come. Related, I spoke to the BBC (and featured on the Today show) about Uighurs, Xinjiang and the incident in Kunming earlier in the year. On Syria/Iraq and jihad, I spoke to NBC about ISIS online and music strategy, with CNN about ISIS leader Omar al Shishani, with Belgian outlet Knack about foreign fighters, with the Sunday Mail about plotting coming back to the UK from Syria, with the Birmingham Mail about recruitment to Syria and links to previous plots in the UK, and with Voice of Russia and Daily Beast about the emergence of the Caliphate in Iraq/Syria.

A Roadmap for Sino-Indian Co-operation in Afghanistan

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As NATO and Western powers begin to take a backseat in Afghanistan’s future, one of the most pressing questions is what role regional powers, particularly China and India, can play in helping the country to become a prosperous and stable nation.

Download the paper here (PDF)

Numerous efforts are already underway through multilateral and bilateral forums, yet the key to regional co-operation in securing Afghanistan’s future lies through closer interaction between Beijing and New Delhi.

This paper – which draws on a research project spanning a number of workshops in Beijing, New Delhi and Qatar, and involving influential thinkers and experts from China, India, the UK and Afghanistan – maps out specific ideas that policy-makers in Beijing and New Delhi can explore as avenues for co-operation.

Post-2014 Afghanistan will remain a major regional concern for at least the short to medium term. The earlier that China and India can develop workable collaborative undertakings, the sooner they can forge a stable and prosperous neighbourhood.

The paper is co-authored with Dr Shisheng Hu, Director of South Asia and Oceania Studies at the China Institute for Contemporary International Relations and Lieutenant General (Rtd) Ravi Sawhney, Distinguished Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation. Many thanks to RUSI colleague Edward Schwarck for his support in drafting this paper.