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Dr Chris Ogden

Senior Research Fellow

Dr Chris Ogden is Associate Professor in Global Studies at the University of Auckland. His research interests concern the interplay between foreign and domestic policy influences in East Asia (primarily China) and South Asia (primarily India). His latest book concerns The Authoritarian Century: China's Rise and the Demise of the Liberal International Order (Bristol UP) and he was also the Series Consultant for the BBC Documentary Series, India: The Modi Question. For more information, see

Array ( [0] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6733 [post_author] => 31 [post_date] => 2023-02-24 11:51:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2023-02-24 10:51:56 [post_content] => The war in Ukraine has had a revealing impact concerning how the West perceives Asia's two behemoths, China and India, as well as the evolving strategic expectations that the US, the UK and others now have towards these two returning great powers. Towards Beijing, Western insecurities have come to the fore. Not only of an emergent Moscow-Beijing axis that could herald the coming of a Second Cold War, but also a concern that if Russia's invasion of Ukraine is not effectively counteracted, China will then feel emboldened to attack Taiwan. Taken together, these concerns flow into a larger fear that the existing liberal international order is about to be eclipsed by an authoritarian alternative. As a result, international criticism has risen vis-à-vis any actions by China.  Concerning New Delhi, Western assumptions that India would be naturally aligned with the world's democracies have been deeply challenged. Moscow's military action has instead revealed India's long standing strategic partnership with Russia, as shown by the former's unwillingness to criticise the latter's actions in Ukraine. Such a stance has forced Western governments and analysts to reassess their understanding of India’s position in international affairs. And no longer can they strategically take New Delhi for granted. [post_title] => One year on: Shifting western perceptions of China and India [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => one-year-on-shifting-western-perceptions-of-china-and-india [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2023-02-24 12:41:02 [post_modified_gmt] => 2023-02-24 11:41:02 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 6535 [post_author] => 31 [post_date] => 2022-08-18 00:00:17 [post_date_gmt] => 2022-08-17 23:00:17 [post_content] => Western democracies are facing significant political upheavals and domestic crises from populism to coronavirus to Brexit – events which are diluting their core political values. Such upheavals are occurring in unison with mounting authoritarian tendencies across the world, frequently buoyed by economic precarity and the increasing use of technological surveillance. If these trends continue to coalesce and accelerate, they will come to dominate the nature of global politics. At best, the remaining liberal democratic rights enjoyed in the UK and the West will be fundamentally threatened, and at worst they could be entirely subsumed and replaced by repressive authoritarian governments. Underpinning this development is a need to recognise that authoritarianism and democracy are not diametrically opposed political systems but are characteristics that appreciably intertwine, overlap and influence each other. In this way, democracies are not immune to authoritarian tendencies (and vice versa) and are susceptible to such tendencies creeping into everyday politics, as well as being active even in well-established liberal countries. This authoritarian creep is taking place when the liberal international order is currently not only under question but is being virulently contested. Such a contestation now reaches into and affects the political basis of all countries, each of whom are susceptible to being pulled towards the authoritarian zone of the political continuum. Amidst a ‘democratic recession’, a 2021 survey pertinently showed that only 8.4% of the world’s population live in a fully functioning democracy.[1] Signifying a global decline apparent since the 1970s, such ‘democratic backsliding’ is intensifying a broader sense within many populations of an impending authoritarian future. For many people across the world, a phenomenon that ‘could never happen here’ is now taking place, curtailing their freedoms. Such democratic backsliding is increasing globally, which over the last decade has occurred in democracies ranging from – but by no means limited to – Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Israel, Peru, Myanmar, India, Mali, Afghanistan, Serbia, Morocco, The Philippines, and Turkey, as well as crucially in the United Kingdom and the United States.[2] Recognising AuthoritarianismObservers have documented this deeper continuum and inter-connection between different political systems over time through the presence of hybrid regimes. These regimes displayed both authoritarian and democratic traits, resulting in a ‘blurring’ and shifting quality. We can thus see ‘pseudo-democracies’ and ‘democratically disguised dictatorships’ that mimic but do not adhere to democratic practices.[3] Others identify ‘electoral authoritarianism’ whereby elections are held but are biased towards those in power via the widespread abuse of state resources and restricting media access.[4] In turn, we can refer to ‘illiberal democracies’ or ‘semi-authoritarianism’ wherein civil liberties lag behind political liberties, and do not satisfy a full range of ‘democratic conditions’.[5] From this basis, authoritarianism can be defined as “a type of government based upon strong central authority and limited political freedoms”. In these ways, we can identify authoritarian regimes if they display notable and longstanding deficiencies concerning: 
  • a legal system based upon rule by law – this contrasts with systems based upon rule of law that have an independent judiciary, a transparent and participatory law-making process and a legal process that provides reliable oversight of ruling elites;
  • a moribund civil society – the part of a country’s social fabric that lobbies for national causes, including the presence of active trade unions, and which in a democracy would be separate and independent from government and business; and
  • a lack of nationwide democratic elections and universal suffrage – that in a functioning democracy facilitates the peaceful transition and alternation of power between different political actors, and which provides equal access to all citizens.
 Importantly, according to Schedler’s “chain of democratic choice”, a government or regime is considered to be authoritarian if it violates even one of these elements.[6] Such a criterion demands that democracies ought to be assessed to the highest standards possible and avoid any back-sliding at all costs, so as to not enable wider authoritarianism. An Autocratic United KingdomIn the last few years, the underlying nature of the UK’s political system has firmly shifted from the democratic end of the political continuum towards its authoritarian zone. Across a range of factors indicating autocratic tendencies, the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been introducing – through new or planned legislation – a range of powers that negatively impact on the rule of law, civil society and political participation. A Legal System Becoming Based Upon Rule by LawThe present Government has abetted a range of political attacks upon the judiciary and the rule of law, whereby ‘”the courts have been subjected to ministerial and media pressure in the years following their protection of Parliament’s right to vote on the EU deal and their reversal of a prolonged suspension of Parliament by the Prime Minister”’.[7] Such actions are seen to be undermining the constitution, democracy and human rights, and are encapsulated by government criticism of legal decisions in the media. In Parliament, the Government has also sought to marginalise the Commons, has attempted to overturn the parliamentary commissioner for standards and has ignoring breaches of the ministerial code.[8] Recently, Boris Johnson amended the Ministerial Code (meaning that ministers who breach the Code will no longer be automatically expected to resign). Moreover, the Judicial Review and Courts Bill will prevent citizens from being able to challenge how the Government implements and interprets the law. As a leading observer has noted, ‘”the scenario where Parliament passes an Act in order to render a previously unlawful decision of the executive lawful would radically change the optics of the balance of power. It would unambiguously transfer legislative sovereignty to the executive and would … effectively place Parliament in a subservient position to the executive”’.[9] Under an Interpretation Bill, the Government would also be allowed to ‘strike out findings from judicial reviews … mak(ing) the courts overtly and dangerously political’.[10] Such changes would usher in a government functioning under principles of rule by law, whereby the judiciary would no longer be separated from the state and would lack the capacity to hold those in power accountable in a transparent or comprehensive manner. Instead, the judiciary would be an extension of the political power and control of those in government. Notably, during the pandemic, government ministers ignored longstanding principles that ‘only Parliament can legislate to create a criminal offence’.[11] Rather, ministers made laws themselves through secondary legislation, and the use of so-called Henry VIII powers, which no peacetime UK government has done for hundreds of years.[12] Government ministers have also announced plans for new laws to contain “ouster clauses”, which would place them entirely outside of the oversight of the legal system.[13] The Government’s politicisation of public bodies, achieved by appointing Conservative donors and Tory former politicians to lead major national organisations such as the Health and Safety Executive, the BBC, Ofcom and the Office for Students compliments this process. Such an undertaking is seen by critics to have a ‘chilling’ impact upon the independence of national bodies and is making them biased towards the Government.[14] An Ever-Weakening Civil SocietyEncapsulating threats to a dynamic and effective civil society, the Police, Sentencing and Courts Bill dramatically limits the ability of the population to protest. It includes making it a criminal offence to block major transport works, hugely expands police stop and search powers without suspicion (if officers think that a protest may occur “in that area”) and makes ‘it difficult to attend a protest without committing an offence’ including provisions against “noisy” protests or simply posting about a protest on social media.[15] The Bill thus ‘provides the Government with the ability to quash public displays of dissent against Government policy at the whim of the Home Secretary’.[16] New preventive “serious disruption prevention orders” will also be used against repeat offenders, which would ban them from attending any further protests.[17] It also targets Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, allowing police to confiscate their homes if they stop in undesignated places.[18] Other legislation also appears to pose a threat to individuals who contradict government policy. As such, the Nationality and Borders Bill contains provisions for the Home Secretary to extend the power of the Government to remove the citizenship rights of dual nationals and naturalised British citizens if doing so is “conducive to the public good”. These threaten the citizenship of up to a quarter of the UK population, creating ‘a massive pool of second class citizens who are mainly ethnic minority and whose status is contingent on good behaviour’ and is backed up by a legal mechanism.[19] The Bill’s “push back” policy towards migrants attempting to cross the English Channel, as well as plans to send them to Rwanda, also breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.[20] In turn, the intended new Bill of Rights, to replace the 1998 Human Rights Act, ‘plans to make universal rights subordinate to ministerial opinion and political whim, mark(ing) a backwards step for British democracy’, and weakening the rights of the population.[21] It also eviscerates ‘one of its most fundamental tenets: basic human rights exist for all and must be enforceable at the instance of all’ and hence weakens universal human rights on the world stage, thus legitimating authoritarian governments to act in a similar way.[22] In turn, the Covert Human Intelligence Sources Act allows ‘government departments, police forces, intelligence agencies and the armed forces to authorise anyone … to commit crimes “in the course of, or otherwise in connection with” any covert operations’, which further reduces the essential human rights of the UK population to government control.[23] Successive measures have also undermined the independence of the media, including freezing the funding of the BBC (leading to £2 billion in cuts) and ongoing plans to privatize Channel 4.[24] The Government has further provided large COVID subsidies to the countries’ biggest newspapers (amounting to between £100-200 million over the last two years), which has skewed the autonomy of these publications, making them reliant upon government aid.[25] Also weakening the scope for unfettered and open public debate, the recent Higher Education Bill furthermore permits the appointment of a state official ‘to determine the parameters of legitimate public debate in higher education institutions,… (which) creates a new avenue for direct state interference in higher education bodies’.[26] The Online Safety Bill similarly empowers the Ofcom regulator (a position appointable by the Government) to censor any online material deemed to be “harmful” (not illegal) or that risks having “a significant adverse physical or psychological impact” on someone with “ordinary sensibilities”.[27] Such deliberations can be tilted towards government policy and could have a negative impact upon ethnic and LGBTQ+ minorities. Government consultations on secrecy laws are also perceived to threaten free speech by curtailing the work of editors and journalists reporting “unauthorised disclosures” to the public.[28] Less-Than-Universal SuffrageThe Government has also enacted legislation that has impacted upon equality of access and participation within the democratic process. Through the Elections Bill, a mandatory requirement was introduced for all voters to have to show a form of photo ID before being allowed to vote. It is estimated that around two million people do not have the correct form of ID, a measure which will disproportionately affect ‘low-income voters and some black, Asian and ethnic minority communities’, who are six times less likely to have a photo ID that richer potential voters.[29] Apart from disenfranchising a significant portion of the voting population, in an act of voter suppression, the Bill also moves the demographic basis of the electorate, arguably towards the incumbent governing party. Similarly, in an act of clear gerrymandering, the greatest beneficiary of planned changes to England’s parliamentary constituency boundaries would be the Conservative Party.[30] The Elections Bill also has an impact upon the independence of the Electoral Commission, whereby the Government can define the body’s priorities, including the regulation of party and election finance. These are seen to favour the Conservative Party at the expense of the Labour Party, and others, as well as to reduce the means by which the Government – and political parties in general – can be held accountable.[31] The move can thus be seen as a further act of voter suppression that introduces biases within the electoral process. In response to these changes, nine of the ten members of the Electoral Commission board wrote to the Government stating that the body’s ‘independence is fundamental to maintaining confidence and legitimacy in our electoral system’, that ‘strong accountability is essential’ and that on a fundamental level the new proposals were ‘inconsistent with the role that an independent electoral commission plays in a healthy democracy’.[32] Further affecting the ability of all citizens to actively participate in democratic practices, are rising levels of corruption in the UK. Turbocharging this process in recent years has been the Coronavirus Act, which allows the Government ‘to introduce regulations without parliamentary scrutiny’.[33] This development has been coupled with increasing levels of cronyism that has provided Tory donors with government contracts worth at least £3 billion, while a quarter of the top donors (who donated more than £100,000) have received a title or peerage.[34] Such practices not only confirm a nexus between political access / power and financial influence, but also how “clientelism” (receiving benefits in return for political support) has become an everyday feature of UK politics. Plans to allow unlimited political donations from UK citizens living abroad (often to target marginal seats), as well as to stack the House of Lords with Tory loyalists (most likely via multiple appointments when Boris Johnson formally leaves office), underscore such biases.[35] Reversing the Back-SlideThere can be little doubt that the UK is experiencing a widespread – and arguably systematic – authoritarian tilt. So pervasive is this phenomenon that observers note that we are seeing the construction of a “new legislative architecture… (that will) culminate in a form of elective dictatorship or authoritarian democracy,… (which will) allow a racialised state-corporate executive to operate without accountability to voters or the rule of law”.[36] It is also confirming that “our democracy is sheathed in a flimsy confidence that demagoguery and authoritarianism are conditions that afflict foreign nations with immature institutions”.[37] Such conditions are not restricted to the smaller international actors, with there being rising authoritarian tendencies across all the international system’s largest great powers from China and Russia, to the United States and India. Beijing is at the vanguard of normalising such a process, with a political system that rests upon rule by law, a near non-existent civil society, demonising minority groups and the systematic repression of human rights. Even though what we are currently witnessing in the UK is a far milder version of such traits, ultimately authoritarianism in the UK is legitimising China’s preferred new world order, which seeks to replace the liberal international system with a new authoritarian version and an Authoritarian Century.[38] Regardless of where the UK lies on the political continuum relative to other countries, it is clear that autocratic values and outlooks are now deeply embedded across the UK’s legal and governing structures, signifying the country’s ongoing democratic decline. Importantly, all of the measures noted above can be accelerated by further government legislation, meaning that they are at the thin end of an ever-more highly authoritarian wedge. In this way, plans by Conservative Prime Ministerial candidates to abandon all European legislation by the end of 2023 would drastically reduce the human and working rights of the population.[39] Similarly, the threatened use of contract workers to break strikes would fundamentally undermine the right to protest, could potentially be against international law and are regarded to observers to be “undemocratic and unsafe”.[40] Such moves would only fast-track the UK’s democratic decline and authoritarian descent, as well as a potential future downgrading by leading global bodies such as Freedom House. In order to prevent any greater slippage toward authoritarianism, populations need to be actively (and regularly) informed concerning their rights, and how such rights were originally won historically, through publicity campaigns and mandatory ongoing civic education classes as both children and adults. Influential individuals – such as television producers, directors, authors, artists, musicians, teachers, journalists and any kind of elected official – need to pre-emptively use their positions now to insist upon the production and promotion of such necessary educational campaigns. Without such a knowledge base, citizens will be evermore susceptible to different narratives, especially in periods of tumult that frequently serve to accentuate and speed up a country’s assimilation to authoritarianism. The ever-escalating cost of living crisis in the UK, the country’s imminent descent into a long recession and the increasing potential for widespread civil unrest, all signal such a period of substantial turmoil and uncertainty.[41] Chris Ogden is Senior Lecturer / Associate Professor in Asian Affairs at the School of International Relations, University of St Andrews. His latest book The Authoritarian Century: China’s Rise and The Demise of the Liberal International Order. [1] The Economist, Global democracy has a very bad year, February 2021,[2] AFP, US added to “backsliding” democracies for first time, The Guardian, November 2021,[3] Diamond, L.J. (2002) ‘Thinking about hybrid regimes’, Journal of Democracy, 13(2): 23. Brooker, P. (2014) Non-Democratic Regimes, London: Palgrave Macmillan.[4] Schedler, A. (2002) ‘The Nested Game of Democratization by Elections’, International Political Science Review, 23(1): 103-122.[5] Zakaria, F. (1997) ‘The Rise of Illiberal Democracy’, Foreign Affairs, 76(6):22.[6] Schedler, A. (2002): 103-122.[7] David Hencke, Johnson’s Culture War Against Judges Having a “Chilling Effect” on Rule of Law, Byline Times, June 2022,[8] Professor Meg Russell, The Owen Paterson standards row reflects worrying broader trends in our politics, UK in a Changing Europe, November 2021,[9] Nafeez Ahmed, Enabling Acts’, Byline Times, January 2022,[10] Gina Miller, Boris Johnson’s War on Judges is a Fiction – the Truth is, the Attack is on All of Us, The Guardian, December 2021,[11] David Renton, Partygate and the Excuse that Doesn’t Excuse a Thing, Byline Times, April 2022,[12] UKIACE, What are the Henry VIII Powers?, UK in a Changing Europe, September 2020,; Renton, D. (2022).[13] Annette Dittert, The Politics of Lies: Boris Johnson and the Erosion of the Rule of Law, New Statesman, July 2021,[14] Robert Booth, Tory Intrusion “Chilling” Independence of National Bodies, Critics Claim, The Guardian, November 2021,[15] George Monbiot, Imprisoned for 51 Weeks for Protesting? Britain is Becoming a Police State by Stealth, The Guardian, December 2021,[16] Ahmed, N. (2022) ‘Enabling Acts’.[17] Jun Pang, England and Wales’s Police Bill Threatens Anyone With a. Cause to Believe In, openDemocracy, December 2021,[18] George Monbiot, The UK is Heading Towards Authoritarianism: Just Look at this Attack on a Minority, The Guardian, January 2022,[19] Colin Yeo, a top immigration barrister at leading human rights firm Garden Court Chambers quoted in Ahmed, N. (2022) ‘Enabling Acts’.[20] Editorial, The Guardian View on Human Rights and the Borders Bill: the Wrong Path, The Guardian, December 2021,[21] Editorial, The Guardian View on Raab’s Bill of Rights: Liberty Bent on Prejudice, The Guardian, June 2022,[22] Haroon Siddique, UK’s New Bill of Rights Will Curtail Power of European Human Rights Court, The Guardian, June 2022,[23] Ahmed, N. (2022) ‘Enabling Acts’.[24] Brian Cathcart, 10 Favours the Government Has Done Its Press Friends At Our Expense, Byline Times, February 2022,[25] Cathcart, B. (2022)[26] Ahmed, N. (2022) ‘Enabling Acts’.[27] Ibid.[28] Duncan Campbell, How a Proposed Secrecy Law would Recast Journalism as Spying, The Guardian, July 2021,[29] Josiah Mortimer, The Conservatives are Fundamentally Rewriting Britain’s Electoral Rules, Byline Times, May 2022,; Bob Kerslake, With All Eyes on Ukraine, the UK is Set to Quietly Disenfranchise 2 Million Citizens, The Guardian, April 2022,[30] Ben Walker, English Boundary Changes – Notional Results, New Statesman, June 2021,[31] Letters, Elections Bill is a Dangerous Assault on Democracy, The Guardian, September 2021,[32] Peter Walker, UK Elections Watchdog Warns Bill Threatens Its Independence, The Guardian, February 2022,[33] Dittert, A. (2021).[34] Sam Bright, How Political Corruption Works in the UK, Byline Times, November 2021,[35] Letters We Cannot Stand By As the Tories Quietly Erase All Checks on Power, The Guardian, October 2021,; Robert Peston, Revealed: Secret Plan to Pack Lords With Tory Loyalists, ITV News, July 2022,[36] Ahmed, N. (2022) ‘Enabling Acts’.[37] Rafael Behr, Tory MPs Call it Reform, But The Elections Bill Looks More Like a Heist, The Guardian, 8 September 2021,[38] Ogden, C. (2022) The Authoritarian Century: China’s Rise and the Demise of the Liberal International Order (Bristol: Bristol University Press),[39] Adam Forrest, Brexit: Liz Truss Warned New Plan to Ditch Thousands of EU Laws By End of 2023 Will Cause “Chaos”, The Independent, July 2022,[40] Rowena Mason, Gwyn Tophan and Denis Campbell, Boris Johnson Plans to Break Rail Strikes by Allowing Use of Agency Workers, The Guardian, June 2022,;amp;amp[41] Institute for Government, Cost of Living Crisis, August 2022, [post_title] => The thin end of the wedge: The UK and escalating global authoritarianism [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-thin-end-of-the-wedge-the-uk-and-escalating-global-authoritarianism [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-08-17 14:50:17 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-08-17 13:50:17 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 4985 [post_author] => 31 [post_date] => 2020-09-15 09:23:12 [post_date_gmt] => 2020-09-15 08:23:12 [post_content] => China’s actions in the South China Sea have become increasingly visible and forceful in the last couple of years, and appear to be marking an assertive and self-confident turn in Chinese foreign policy. Whilst seen from Beijing’s perspective as being simply an attempt to re-gain lost territory, for its regional neighbours China’s behaviour is regarded as belligerent and aggressive, and a source of ever-mounting friction. Better appreciating the nuances of China’s ‘zhoubian’ (peripheral) diplomacy – in particular from the perspective of East Asia’s largest power – has never been timelier for politicians, analysts and other actors across the world. At the very core of China’s ‘zhoubian' diplomacy is the understanding that ‘preserving regional stability … aids China’s continued economic growth and modernization, as do its undergirding principles of being “amicable, tranquil, and prosperous” (mulin, anlin, fulin).’[1] These inter-connected principles can be further disaggregated to include: 
  • grounding bilateral/regional relations upon cooperation rather than conflict;
  • utilising trade as the central pillar to build successful bilateral/regional relations; and
  • aspiring to positively resolve all outstanding territorial disputes with its neighbours.
 Former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao commented that this ‘zhoubian’ diplomacy intended to show China to be ”a good neighbour and a good partner, to strengthen good neighbourly ties, to intensify regional cooperation, and to push China’s exchanges and cooperation with its neighbours to a new high.”[2] From its inauguration in the mid-1990s, ‘zhoubian’ diplomacy also generally emphasised ‘a restrained, non-confrontational mode of competition’ as the principal modus operandi of China’s diplomacy towards its region.[3] Significantly, a key part of such an attitude was also ‘the desire for “international status” (guoji diwei) so as to achieve power, security and respect’, which also informed Chinese foreign policy narratives.[4] Such aims – at least in the 1990s when China’s brisk economic ascent became vividly noticeable – were exhibited by how the dogma of ‘peaceful rise’ was abandoned in favour of ‘peaceful development’, due to concerns that the term ‘rise’ could unintentionally imply ‘violence’ or a ‘challenge’.[5] Such anxieties also relate back to the Confucian convention of seeking ‘datong’ or harmony, which has an enduring and considerable bearing upon the nature of China’s peripheral relations policy.[6] Such a concern also informed the notion of charm offensive (meili gongshi), ‘a term and strategy used in Chinese diplomacy to proactively project an image abroad of China as a trustworthy, benevolent, and benign partner’.[7] Such a phrase is utilised to reassure countries worried about China’s rapid economic and military rise that China does not intend to menace their stability or that of the wider Indo-Pacific region. These viewpoints also have the implicit goal of offering an alternate image to its neighbours that diverges with the United States (US) whose foreign policy – including in East Asia – has invariably included using military force, explicit alliances and arms racing. Much of this determination rests upon how, from the late 1970s onwards, China abandoned its prior Cold War policy under Mao Zedong of supporting revolutionary movements across South East Asia. In contrast, his heir Deng Xiaoping’s makeover of foreign and domestic policy came to rest upon economic modernisation and development, which could be appreciably amplified through maintaining a stable periphery. This strategy was also based upon a yearning to counteract Beijing’s mounting international isolation after 1989 following the suppression of protesters in Tiananmen Square, and to counterbalance efforts by the US (alongside its regional allies Japan and South Korea) to restrain China’s ambitions to become a great power. Tensions and TrialsChina’s current re-assertion of its great power status is having an influence upon Beijing’s regional policy. A central part of these dynamics is the modernisation and improvement of China’s military capabilities. Through a ‘revolution in military affairs’, Beijing is enhancing the country’s military capabilities, including the development of stealth and hypersonic technologies, as well as asymmetric capabilities such as anti-satellite weapons and anti-ship ballistic missiles. Such innovations inform a central plank of its military attitude towards the Indo-Pacific regarding the policy of ‘area denial’, which ‘seeks to fashion a protective buffer around a country’s continental and maritime periphery, so as to deter military attacks against its mainland’.[8] They also feed into the aim of facilitating a ‘blue-water strategy’ (lanshui zhanlue) for China’s maritime capabilities, which would give Beijing the capacity to manoeuvre in all of the world’s oceans, and to safeguard the country’s vital trade and energy routes.[9] This transformation and incremental expansion is creating frictions and challenges within Chinese foreign policy. Importantly, military strength allows China to defend vital sea routes, so as to assist the import and export of raw commodities and manufactured goods but also to preserve the gas and oil supplies necessary for supporting the Chinese economy. China’s fear of these trade and energy routes being impeded informs the strategic calculus behind such an approach. Improved military capabilities can furthermore be used to bolster territorial claims so as to compel competitors or to vigorously dominate areas of disputed land or water. When seen collectively – defending trade and energy routes in combination with supporting efforts to recover lost territories – China’s peripheral relations can be regarded as being much more complex than simply a benign, win-win engagement with the region. They also result in frictions between China’s rejuvenation and development goals, which other countries can profit from, and China’s territorial and status ambitions, which other countries would only lose from. Such a juxtapose results in major tensions and trials for both China and the region. These strains have expressed themselves in several disputes across China’s periphery, which capture the numerous dimensions crucial to Beijing’s ‘zhoubian’ diplomacy in terms of - 1) trade, 2) energy, 3) territory and 4) status. These aspects are mutually inter-dependent, in that advantages made in one sphere can lead to gains in the others, which makes China’s disputes in the South China Sea of such strategic importance. Additionally, because of this interlinking the importance of winning such contestations is essentially magnified – and undoubtedly magnified again by domestic nationalism – especially regarding the issue of status and image, and China’s complete reestablishment as an internationally prominent power. In these ways, as much as energetically – and at times forcefully – chasing claims for small islands in the South China Sea goes against the central pillars of China’s ‘zhoubian’ diplomacy, they are also deeply symbolic of its wider foreign policy aims and interests. The South China Sea DisputeThe South China Sea dispute has been an enduring concern within China’s peripheral policy. Around 3,500,000 km2 in size – including the various islands that dot the area – it is claimed by China and Vietnam, while Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines all have intersecting declarations to its contiguous areas and their accompanying Exclusive Economic Zones.[10] Such claims have been included on Chinese maps for many centuries, and are placed within the ‘nine-dash line’ (jiuduan xian) professed in 1947 that distinguishes China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea (amounting to about 80 per cent of its total area), and also incorporates Taiwan (another ‘lost territory’ yet to be reclaimed after the Chinese Civil War of 1945-49). China officially asserted sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands in 1951 during Allied peace treaty talks with Japan.[11] China’s territorial claims can be seen below.[12]  Concerning the dispute, China has signed various agreements with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), who members include all the other countries who have claims in the South China Sea. These agreements - the Declaration of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea signed in 2002, and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation signed in 2003 ‘formally commit(ted) China to enforcing the principles of non-aggression and non-interference’.[13] Such attitudes were fundamental to the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’, which have played a central part within Chinese foreign policy since the 1950s. Notably, ASEAN and China signed another agreement in 2011 that stated China’s re-adherence to the Declaration of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea, which signposted to observers that this Declaration could not be expected to completely restrain Chinese behaviour vis-à-vis the dispute.[14] In 2016, the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that China (as well as the other countries with contending claims) had no legal claim to the South China Sea.[15] China’s claims were seen to contravene the ‘United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS)’, as they would comprise China appropriating territory that falls within the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zones of five South East Asian countries. Regardless of this decision - which Beijing declined to accept - and reflective of the trade, energy, territorial and status foundations inherent to China’s ‘zhoubian’ diplomacy, together with a more self-assured regional diplomacy, China’s 2019 Defense White Paper announced that: ‘the South China Sea islands … (are an) inalienable part of the Chinese territory.  China exercises its national sovereignty to build infrastructure and deploy necessary defensive capabilities on the islands and reefs in the South China Sea, … it firmly upholds freedom of navigation and overflight by all countries in accordance with international law and safeguards the security of sea lines of communication.’[16] In line with this opinion, China has erected infrastructure upon various islands reclaimed from the sea, includes the building of fuel storage depots, missile launch capabilities, heliports, administration and service buildings, military landing strips, naval port facilities and electronic listening arrays.[17] From this basis, the islands now have the potential to be used as military staging areas and - seemingly supporting such an argument - also encompass defensive capabilities such as air-defence guns, satellite communication antennas, anti-submarine defences and full radar capabilities.[18] Such expansions have been supplemented by more recurrent sea and air patrols in the region to reduce other claimants’ access to the islands. An Enduring, and Multi-Faceted, ImportanceThe significance of the disputed maritime area and accompanying islands reflects the central pillars of China’s ‘zhoubian’ diplomacy and are symptomatic of its worldview concerning the Indo-Pacific concerning 1) Trade Security; 2) Energy Security and its 3) Regional/Global Status. So vital are these different factors to the success of China’s foreign policy, as it continues to ascend the ranks of international power, that they will persist for several decades to come. Trade Security:The South China Sea is at the centre of the Indo-Pacific region, interlinking Asia to India, Africa, the Middle East and Europe to the east and North America to the west. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has estimated that 70 per cent of the total value of world trade, as well as 33 per cent of all world trade by volume passes through the South China Sea. This trade is valued at three trillion dollars annually.[19] Highlighting its centrality to China’s economy, and to its modernisation and development goals to rebecome a great power, in excess of 60 per cent of all China’s trade transits the South China Sea.[20] The South China Sea is also an essential route for China to have much-needed oil and gas supplies shipped to it from the Middle East. Energy Security:The South China Sea and its myriad small islands are argued to house vast energy resources, such as the Chunxiao field, which is said to contain a possible seven trillion cubic feet of oil.[21] While the exact amount of hydrocarbons is currently uncertain, the prospective benefits to Beijing – in terms of fulfilling its ever-expanding energy needs, as well as the lower costs that such deposits would offer in regard of both transportation and safeguarding, in addition to lessening its reliance upon unpredictable regions such as the Middle East – are clear. Acquiring such resources is seen as critical to safeguarding its continuing wealth and stability. Regional / Global Status:China’s actions in the South China Sea have a significant status element from the perspective of Beijing. In this way, analysts note how China uses its territorial disputes in the South China Sea as ‘diplomatic instruments to send signals to other states and to test their commitments and responses’.[22] Motivating such an approach is the broader objective of declaring China’s dominant regional position, whilst checking the presence of the US in the Indo-Pacific. As such, the construction of critical military infrastructure also aims to discourage US naval vessels in the area.[23] Encompassing all of these factors is the further impetus of using the dispute to display China’s growing military proficiency. Such shows of strength also play to the domestic nationalist audience as proof of China ‘standing up’ and affirming her historical civilisational rights, whereby China’s true ‘natural position lies at the epicentre of East Asia’.[24]  [1] Ogden, Chris (2019) A Dictionary of Politics and International Relations in China (Oxford: Oxford University Press).[2] Quoted in Beeson, Mark and Li, Fujian (2012) ‘Charmed or Alarmed? Reading China’s Regional Relations’, Journal of Contemporary China 21 (73): 37.[3] Deng, Y. and Wang, F. (2005) China Rising: Power and Motivation in Chinese Foreign Policy (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield), viii.[4] Ogden, Chris (2017) China and India: Asia’s Emergent Great Powers (Cambridge: Polity), 104.[5] Glaser, Bonnie S, and Evan S Medeiros (2007) ‘The Changing Ecology Of Foreign Policy-Making In China: The Ascension And Demise Of The Theory Of “Peaceful Rise”’, The China Quarterly, 190: 304.[6] Lampton, David M. (2004) Following The Leader: Ruling China, From Deng Xiaoping To Xi Jinping (Berkeley: University Of California Press), 110.[7] Ogden (2019).[8] Ogden (2019).[9] Tseng, Katherine Hui-Yi (2017) Rethinking South China Sea Disputes: The Untold Dimensions And Great Expectations (London: Routledge)[10] ‘Stirring Up the South China Sea’, International Crisis Group, Asia Report, 223, April 2012,[11] Fravel, M. Taylor (2010) ‘International Relations Theory and China's Rise: Assessing China's Potential for Territorial Expansion’, International Studies Review 12: 293.[12] Ralph Jennings, ‘Why China Never Draws a Boundary Line Around Its Claim in the South China Sea, Forbes, October 2017,[13] Shambaugh, David (2005) "’China Engages Asia: Reshaping the Regional Order’, International Security 29 (3): 75.[14] Fravel (2011): 311.[15] The Hague, The South China Sea Arbitration. Permanent Court of Arbitration, 1-2, July 2016,[16] DWF, ‘Full Text of 2019 Defense White Paper: “China’s National Defense in the New Era” (English & Chinese Versions)’, July 2019,[17] Pradt, Tilman (2016) China's New Foreign Policy: Military Modernisation, Multilateralism and the China Threat (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan), 137-139.[18] Pradt (2016): 137-139.[19] ‘South China Sea: US unveils first sanctions linked to militarisation’, The Guardian, August 2020,[20] ‘How Much Trade Transits the South China Sea?’ China Power, August 2017,[21] Smith, P. (2009) ‘China-Japan Relations and the Future Geopolitics of East Asia’, Asian Affairs: An American Review, 35 (4): 234.[22] Akos, Kopper and Tamas Peragovics (2018) ‘Overcoming the poverty of Western historical imagination: Alternative analogies for making sense of the South China Sea conflict’, European Journal of International Relations 25(2): 372-373.[23] ICG (2012): 11-13.[24] Jacques, M. (2012) When China Rules the World, Second Edition (London: Penguin), 347. [post_title] => FPC Briefing: Beyond Territory: China’s ‘Zhoubian’ (Peripheral) Diplomacy in the South China Sea [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => beyond-territory-chinas-zhoubian-peripheral-diplomacy-in-the-south-china-sea [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-09-15 09:25:48 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-09-15 08:25:48 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw )[3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 3131 [post_author] => 31 [post_date] => 2019-01-07 16:46:46 [post_date_gmt] => 2019-01-07 16:46:46 [post_content] => Over the last decade, the rise of authoritarian tendencies represents an increasing illiberal wave in international politics. Such a wave is not limited to smaller countries but increasingly typifies the political leadership and underlying nature of the international system’s foremost powers, in the guise of the United States (US), Russia, China and India, who are normalizing authoritarian-populism as a dominant global political phenomenon. In this regard, we must recognise that authoritarianism and democracy are not opposing political systems but are fundamentally inter-related on one continuum, whose characteristics co-exist and significantly influence each other.  China is at the vanguard of this phenomenon and provides a clear counterpoint to western liberal democracy. With western democracies heavily reliant upon China’s continued economic growth and facing significant political upheavals and crises, in particular, Brexit, the essence of the liberal world order may soon be on the verge of capitulation to China’s preferred authoritarian basis.Authoritarian and populist tendencies are escalating in the international system, transforming the nature of domestic and global politics. Permeating the domestic proclivities of countries ranging from Hungary, Poland and Turkey, to Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines, ‘nearly six in ten countries … seriously restrict (their) people’s fundamental freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression’[1]. Authoritarian-populism is now also a shared phenomenon among the world’s most influential countries, and the rise of authoritarian tendencies among the great powers characterises an increasing illiberal theme in international politics over the last decade[2].‘Anti-elitist’, assertive and nationalist-minded leaders all currently lead the world’s great powers – the United States (US), Russia, China and India – with each proactively proclaiming a common nationalistic goal of restoring their countries’ past glories and status. Via their economic, military and diplomatic strength, as well as substantial, growing and evermore vocal populations, it is these four major powers - more than any other countries - that will determine and delineate the foundations of world politics – and of the prevailing world order itself – in the decades to come.As such, in the US, the populist President Trump openly questions civil liberties, attacks the media, and side-lines and undermines major bureaucratic and legal bodies. In China, President Xi’s repressive government has increased internet surveillance, imprisons human rights activists, and threatens and re-educates religious activists. In Russia, an autocratic President Putin silences liberal opposition groups, restricts free speech, and controls media outlets. And in India, Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist rule is typified by heightened state censorship, the frequent banning of non-governmental organisations, and increased violence towards minority groups.A range of key factors critically binds these four leaders together; primarily their highly personalistic leadership styles, their desire for centralized political control, their appeal to mass public audiences, and their sustained intolerance of dissent. Of note too is that even before President Trump gained power, the US was downgraded to the status of a “flawed democracy” in the Economist’s Democracy Index 2016[3]. India holds a similar standing, whilst Russia and China are considered authoritarian. The Index bases its comparison across a range of factors, including the electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties, underscoring the commonalities between these countries.Given the vital role that these great powers perform as the shapers and creators of global institutions - and therefore of accepted behaviours and practices in the international sphere - as they become more authoritarian in nature so too will the dominant world order. Moreover, how they understand, demonstrate and deploy authoritarian-populist traits via their autocratic leaders has the potential to threaten the stability of democratic societies throughout the world, including in Britain and the European Union. Critically, we need to see that authoritarianism and democracy are not opposing and exclusive political systems but that they are fundamentally inter-related on one continuum. In this way, there is no fixed, binary divide between democracies and authoritarian regimes but instead, they are essentially fluid, inter-connected and impermanent entities, whereby democracies can display particular authoritarian inclinations and vice versa.Chinese-Style AuthoritarianismThrough a one-party state dating from 1949, the Chinese Communist Party presently rule with an authoritarian political basis that seeks to inhibit political pluralism, sanction political participation, imprison opponents (including political, ethnic and religious groups, most notably China’s Uighur population), and use state apparatuses to strictly monitor, control and command their population. China’s specific political nature relates to core elements of its specific world vision, in particular a set of desires pertaining to centralized control, territorial restoration and restored recognition, along with the continued impact of Confucian beliefs concerning harmony, peace, hierarchy, respect and benevolence - principally across East Asia. These various factors are informed by particular leadership styles, especially the more assertive and nationalistic Xi Jinping, who in October 2017 pertinently stated that ‘no one political system should be regarded as the only choice and we should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries’[4].China’s authoritarian-populism is deep-seated in nature and is the hallmark of the country’s bureaucratic, legal and security institutions. These elements produce a political basis that critically contrasts to core dynamics integral to the current world order orientated around Western liberalism, as based upon democratic practices, tolerance, the rule of law, and protecting individual (rather than collective) human rights. As China’s stature increases, via the country’s ongoing economic, military and diplomatic rise, its global pre-eminence will allow the country to influence the functioning of the international system and threaten the predominant parameters of the current world order. This will allow for the realisation of Xi’s ‘Chinese Dream’ that ‘is a dream about history, the present and the future’, and inter-connects China’s longstanding values with its ambitions. By enabling a new world order, China’s supremacy in 1) economic, 2) institutional and 3) normative terms will be paramount and echo the country’s specific domestic values, which are deeply historically engrained in the mind-sets of its leaders, thinkers and people.EconomicsWith China now possessing the world’s largest economy[5], it is acquiring a system-determining capacity that allows it to cast its own vision of authority, order and control throughout the contemporary international structure. The country’s gradual embrace of liberal economics – often merged with specific Chinese values and characteristics based upon state control and a blurring between public and private ownership – has given it this ability. This has resulted in an economic system defined as being authoritarian-capitalism that diverges from the western liberal economic ideal. In addition, China’s ever-increasing demand for resources, markets and energy has made the world’s composite national and regional economies dependent upon it as a major import and export market, cheap labour provider and fruitful foreign investment destination[6].Beijing’s wild success in rapidly transforming the economic fortunes of its population, pulling hundreds of millions out of poverty and conducting its international trade in a non-ideological manner, also acts as an inspirational developmental model for countries across Africa and Asia – particularly those with authoritarian regimes. By doing so, China deeply questions the legitimacy of western liberalism’s declaration that economic growth inevitably leads to democracy, and – by presenting a viable alternative to it – shows that such a world order can be usurped and replaced.  Beijing’s planned Social Credit System[7], which will come into force in 2020, inter-links educational achievements, financial behaviour and social media activity to produce a transparent and publicly available social score, will extend the Chinese state’s capability to control its people.  The technologies central to this control are being exported to other countries[8], and their underlying principles are evident in the west, such as for credit scoring or screening terrorists[9].InstitutionsBy binding members together around particular values, practices and understandings, and providing their instigators with a managerial role to govern and regulate international affairs, multilateral regimes aid the creation and maintenance of world orders. Such institutions innately reflect the specific interests, concerns and values of their creators, and are vehicles to disseminate particular visions of the world onto the global stage, as displayed by the western-originated International Monetary Fund, World Bank and United Nations. For most of the latter half of the twentieth century, these institutions encapsulated the US-led vision of a western-orientated world order resting upon an image of international security via liberal free trade and democratic politics.Underscoring this system-ordering potential, and also its differentiation from existing groupings, China’s beliefs concerning multi-polarity, global governance, human rights, peaceful development and non-intervention are engendering a new form of world order. China’s creation of different regimes, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB, a multilateral development bank founded in 2015), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, a Eurasian security organization initially initiated in 1996), encapsulates how its differing attitudes are inculcating a Chinese-led world order. Such an order inherently challenges rival western institutions, and - by extension - the very liberal values upon which they have been crafted, imagined and legitimized.NormativeDrawing upon how leading great powers not only create world order but also provide leadership, as well as territorial, financial and existential security, a Chinese world order would necessarily change the very conduct and nature of global affairs. China’s domestic identity, history and behaviour pertaining to the acceptance of an autocratic and benevolent form of single- party rule all critically inform this discussion. So too do the wider realization and enactment of the notion of tian xia (“all under heaven”) that seeks to create a China-centred world order that is built upon tenets of hierarchy, paternalism and harmony in its various diplomatic relations across the world.China’s underlying indigenous authoritarian values, practices and ideas have already altered the structure and workings of the international system, and as China becomes increasingly influential and powerful, they will lead to further significant transformations. Moreover, because authoritarian-populism is increasingly present in the politics of the great powers – as well as in many medium and lower tier countries – it acts as an enabling and legitimizing mechanism for China’s worldview. Such a convergence, accompanied by the weakening of western liberalism, the challenge that China poses to it, and the US’s continued retreat away from leading global affairs, illustrates how China’s authoritarian world order is becoming both feasible and achievable.Thinking AheadThe international system is currently experiencing a period of transition as economic, institutional and military power is being amassed by China, which is depleting the relative influence and stature of western countries and their associated values and worldviews. Moreover, Beijing is now able to articulate an alternative vision of world order premised upon different economic, institutional and normative conditions that are becoming increasingly legitimate in the eyes of many world leaders. Growing authoritarian and populist traits across the world – and its dominant great powers – accelerate this trend, as do pressure from domestic populations negatively affected by globalization, increased migration and growing economic disparities.To effectively counteract the risk posed to their country by the authoritarian-populist wave, leaders in the UK - particularly in the context of Brexit - must remain aware that political systems are inter-connected and evolutionary in nature, and that such systems are all highly susceptible to:
  • Shock: Periods of tumult – in the form of a profound economic shock, recession or depression – will only serve to further accentuate and speed up a country’s assimilation to the authoritarian-populist wave. In such an atmosphere, nationalist tendencies will rise as domestic pressures and international uncertainties increase, especially in countries experiencing a deep identity crisis, such as the UK post-Brexit;
  • Slippage: In order to prevent them from being replaced by other worldviews, national values - and thus values underpinning particular world orders - require regular maintenance. Populations need to be actively (and regularly) informed concerning their rights, and how such rights were originally won, in order to better sustain the liberal world order. Without such a basis, citizens will be evermore vulnerable to alternative narratives; &
  • Isolation: countries separated from dominant economic and political groupings are more exposed to the core factors personifying the authoritarian-populist wave. This means not only nationalist forces – and more extreme political beliefs – but also alternative sources of financial and trade security, which China (and also the US) may be willing to provide but only subject to a tacit acceptance of its preferred worldview.
[1] Quoted in People Power Under Attack 2018 (Monitor Civicus),[2] Economist, Democracy Index 2016: Revenge of the “Deplorables” (London: Economist Intelligence Unit),; Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2017 - Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy (Washington DC: Freedom House),; Polity IV, Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions 1800-2013 (Vienna, VA: Center for Systemic Peace), 2014,[3] Economist, Democracy Index 2016: Revenge of the “Deplorables” (London: Economist Intelligence Unit).  Accessible at[4] Quoted in Tom Phillips ‘Xi Jinping Heralds “New Era” Of Chinese Power at Communist Party Congress’, The Guardian, October 2017,[5] See ‘Country Comparisons – GDP (Purchasing Price Parity)’, CIA World Factbook, 2017,[6] See ‘Foreign Direct Investment’, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 2018,[7] Celia, Hatton, ‘China “Social Credit”: Beijing Sets Up a Huge System’, BBC News, October 2015.[8] Rui Hou,  ‘The Booming Industry of Chinese State Internet Control’, openDemocracy, November 2018,[9] Jimmy Tidey, ‘What China Can Teach the West About Digital Democracy’, openDemocracy, October 2017, [post_title] => FPC Briefing: The Authoritarian-Populist Wave, Assertive China and a Post-Brexit World Order [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => fpc-briefing-the-authoritarian-populist-wave-assertive-china-and-a-post-brexit-world-order [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-13 15:06:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-13 15:06:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 2419 [post_author] => 31 [post_date] => 2018-01-19 12:50:30 [post_date_gmt] => 2018-01-19 12:50:30 [post_content] => Following the landslide general election victory by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in May 2014, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) proclaimed a ‘renewed energy, vigour, and planning in India’s engagement with the rest of the world’[1].  Under Narendra Modi, India’s foreign policy priorities have indeed become more self-assured, visionary and global in scope, displaying a dynamism and energy often absent in previous regimes. Further reflecting the greater pragmatism, self-confidence and assertiveness associated with the diplomatic style of both Modi and the wider BJP, Indian officials now explicitly and consistently seek to present their country as ‘a confident, articulate, (and) rising power … no longer content to merely react to international developments’[2]. Evermore proactive and pre-emptive in their diplomacy, India’s diplomatic footprint has also substantially increased. This expanding bandwidth has been accompanied by a significant upswing in political missions, visits and summits under Modi, which have vastly exceeded those of Manmohan Singh during the previous ruling government. At the core of this approach, the BJP are less ambivalent in promoting India internationally, and more explicit in achieving greater status, recognition and power on the global stage. A negotiation style typified by the BJP’s frequently hard-nosed and nationalist bravura has also meant that ‘pragmatism, not principle, and delivery, not doctrine … (are) the marks of Modi’s approach’[3].  Strong personal drive and focus underpins such a style, whereby India’s Prime Minister follows a mantra of ‘thinking big’ in all possible ways concerning India’s place in the world.

Three Core Strategic Priorities

Concerning foreign affairs, the BJP’s 2014 election manifesto clearly stated that; ‘the vision is to fundamentally reboot and reorient the foreign policy goals, content and process, in a manner that locates India’s global strategic engagement in a new paradigm’[4]. At the heart of this vision are three core strategic priorities that have all been solidified under the Modi regime concerning the basic guiding orientation of Indian foreign policy. These policy preferences – achieving great power recognition; constructing a multipolar world order; and pursuing the “Act East” policy – are now fully evident across New Delhi’s various international diplomatic activities. They are each internationally focused and aim to augment India’s global standing through specific bilateral and multilateral ties. 

Achieving Great Power Recognition

Making India one of a handful of the world’s great powers has been the first major strategic priority of the Modi regime. As Modi announced to his supporters in 2014; “I assure you that this country [India] has a destiny”[5], which would play a significant role in international politics. The BJP’s tapping into nationalist sentiments across both its supporters, and India more generally, has underpinned such assertions, whereby India aims to be at the upmost level of the international hierarchy. Encapsulating these narratives, upon gaining office Modi furthermore declared that the twenty-first century was to be “India’s century”[6] during which the country’s status ambitions would be fulfilled. Gaining self-sufficiency in its international affairs is the mainstay of this priority. In particular, via the concept of ‘strategic autonomy’, New Delhi seeks to possess sufficient amounts of power to independently express its own interests and its own vision of the world order.  Prevalent within such narratives is increasing India’s position as a large developing economy that can be of potential benefit to the current global economic system, as well as bolstering ‘Brand India’ as a means to enhance her domestic modernisation programme. A slew of innovations such as ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Digital India’, and ‘Start Up India’ has accompanied this focus, and are all intended to boost foreign direct investment, create jobs, enhance workforce skills and increase production standards.  So as to reinforce this aim, New Delhi has also sought new trade and energy partners across Asia, Africa and South America. These ties have included heightened Saudi Arabia relations, as well as major investment promises worth $35 billion and $22 billion respectively from Japan and China. In combination with ensuring her energy and trade security, the ongoing cultivation of India’s defence and multilateral capabilities is also required to achieve greater strategic autonomy. Modi has further sustained, refreshed and intensified relations with the US. Underscoring these sentiments, when Narendra Modi and President Obama met in 2014 they issued a statement broadcasting that ‘we will have a transformative relationship as trusted partners in the 21stcentury’[7].  Since then, relations have centred upon deepening cooperation in the fields of defence, trade, civil nuclear affairs and Asian security. Indian officials have also noting mutual ties concerning ‘shared values of freedom, democracy, universal human rights, tolerance and pluralism, equal opportunities for all citizens, and rule of law’[8], which underscore the political commonalities between them. Close ties to an established great power such as the US is also central for fulfilling India’s status aspirations. In June 2015, the Indo-US ‘New Framework for Defence Cooperation’ was formally renewed for ten years, and led to the signing of a ‘Master Information Exchange Agreement’ between the Pentagon and India’s Ministry of Defence to share aircraft-carrier technology heavily desired by New Delhi.  The highly significant ‘Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement’ has also been signed, which allows both sides mutual access to military supplies, spare parts and services. With the new Trump administration, both countries further declared themselves to be ‘democratic stalwarts … resolved to increase cooperation, enhance diplomatic consultations, and increase tangible collaboration’[9].

Constructing a Multipolar World Order

At the core of the BJP’s wider vision of global politics is constructing a multipolar world order, whereby multiple powers – not just one – compete for influence.  Within this worldview, the multiple poles are argued – in addition to the US – to be China and Russia, and potentially the EU, as well as India once the country has fully reached great power status. It is underpinned by collective cooperation concerning mutual development, equality, and non-intervention - all of which are core, longstanding principles within Indian foreign policy. When they came to power in 2014, the BJP further argued that India was a vishwaguru (‘world guru’) capable of actively re-crafting, rather than passively acquiescing to, international affairs – a sentiment central to this foreign policy priority. With this proactive image in mind, Modi’s diplomacy has encompassed an approach of ‘multi-alignment’ that is centred upon engaging with regional multilateral institutions, and creating specific strategic partnerships. As part of this latter process, in 2015 for instance, India entered into new strategic partnerships with Canada, Mongolia, Oman, Seychelles, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. India’s strong economic profile (with an average rate of 7.5% between 2014 and 2016)[10] heightens such linkages, as does her growing middle class population who provide a potentially major consumer market for the goods of any external trading partner. As India’s economic prowess increases, so too has her voice in any discussion of global financial governance. Ensuring better ties with other great powers is also central to achieving this foreign policy priority.  The most longstanding of these are with Russia, who has been a steadfast strategic partner of India since 1947, providing it with economic, military and political support. Under Modi, the relationship remains firmly ‘rooted in longstanding mutual trust, characterized by unmatched reciprocal support to each other’s core interests’[11]. In 2015, the two sides carried out joint exercises for both their naval and ground forces. Crucially, both sides also subscribe to a similar world order vision that seeks a ‘system based on the central role of the United Nations and international law, common interests, equality, mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of countries’[12]. Along with China, Russia also subscribes to being part of India’s vision of creating a multipolar world order. Elsewhere the BJP’s assertive pragmatism has been highly visible towards China. At the core of Modi’s attitude to Beijing is the conviction that their ‘simultaneous re-emergence … as two major powers in the region and the world, offers a momentous opportunity for (the) realisation of the Asian Century’[13]. Both sides cooperate in a variety of multilateral settings, which reflects a shared strategic preference for a multipolar world order. Major trade and investment deals have bolstered relations but have been offset by continued friction concerning their ongoing border disputes. Here however, the BJP has been very forceful in its use of India’s military capabilities, especially along the Himalayan border and has strongly responded to infiltrations by Chinese troops (which have occurred at several junctures). Indian officials have also openly pledged that Arunachal Pradesh (which the two sides dispute) is an indisputable part of India, and to which the Indian Home Minister openly visited in 2015. In order to put greater diplomatic pressure on Beijing, New Delhi has also pursued an unprecedented policy of coalition-building with the US, Vietnam, Japan and Australia. The final part of the priority to achieve multipolarity is institutional, whereby India is now more willing to take the lead in creating, joining and running groupings. Pointing to this new-found self-confidence, in October 2014 India helped set up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, as well as the New Development Bank in July 2014. In 2017 India also became a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which Modi deemed to be ‘a logical extension India’s age old ties with the region; … India’s engagement … will help us build a region which is an engine of economic growth for the world; (and) is more stable’[14]. These efforts point to an international system that is in flux and which concurrently enhance New Delhi’s strategic preference for evoking a multipolar world order.

Pursuing the ‘Act East’ Policy

Following the ‘Act East’ policy has been the third priority of the Modi government, which extends the ‘Look East’ policy first introduced under P.V. Narasimha Rao to create deeper common military, economic, and diplomatic ties with South East Asia. Act East seeks to realise the core assumption of the twenty-first century being the Asian Century, as well as inter-connecting India to the Asia-Pacific region through the new formulation of the ‘Indo-Pacific’. India’s continued domination of the Indian Ocean Region is a major feature of this policy, whereby the region is considered to be essential to ensuring her economic, military and territorial self-sufficiency, as well as India’s modernisation of its naval capabilities towards a blue-water capacity. Within these parameters, and as a means to counter the presence of competitors in the region, the Modi government has carried out sustained and frequent diplomacy included the formation of strategic partnerships with Singapore and Vietnam. Concerning the latter, New Delhi has offered a US$100 million line of credit, considered the transfer of BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, and signed treaties on coast guard cooperation. In turn, the lucrative ASEAN-India Free Trade Area entered into force in July 2015, which delivered a further foundation for the proactive diplomacy that is the hallmark of the Act East policy. Amplifying other particular bilateral relations has also been imperative to the Act East policy. Thus, within the Indo-Pacific region, Modi has elevated ties with Japan to that of a ‘Special Strategic and Global Partnership’. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 2015 visit to India saw the announcement of the ‘Vision 2025’ statement ‘which reflects a broad convergence of their long-term political, economic and strategic goals’[15] and centred upon professed political congruence concerning pluralism, tolerance, the rule of law, and democracy. India invited Japan to become a permanent participant in the India-US Malabar naval exercises, which Tokyo took up in 2016, and pointed to a heightening triadic relationship between these countries. The addition of an explicit security element to India-Japan relations epitomized a noteworthy step-change in relations, whilst their intensifying political and strategic conjunction continued to be reinforced by economic ties. These included the signing of a major infrastructure deal for Japan to build a bullet train system from Mumbai to Ahmedabad. Further afield, relations with Australia have ameliorated the desired pursuit of the Act East policy, as well as wider strategic linkages with the US and Japan. The first Indian prime minister to visit Australia since 1987, Modi’s 2014 mission acknowledged a bilateral relationship ‘anchored in shared values, expanding economic engagement, converging strategic interests and a growing shared agenda in regional and multilateral institutions’[16]. Signing agreements on security, defence and counter-terrorism cooperation, and the sale of uranium to India, have all enhanced relations. In turn, India and Australia’s first ever bilateral naval exercise in 2015 - AUSINDEX-15 - further advanced ties, as did the trilateral India-Japan-Australia security dialogue held since 2015, and as will their first bilateral Army-to-Army exercises in 2018. Officials have additionally noted how ‘Australia and India share a commitment to democratic values, rule of law, international peace and security, and shared prosperity’[17].  These elements show a major increase in India-Australia relations, primarily via the dynamism central to Modi’s diplomatic style but also based upon their shared values and interests.

Global Power India

The core strategic aim underpinning Modi’s three foreign policy priorities is to augment, heighten and embolden India’s position as a significant and important international actor. As such, whether is it about increasing India’s status (to become a great power), crafting a new form of world order (based upon multipolarity) or establishing itself as a major Indo-Pacific player (via the Act East policy), India’s global focus is the hallmark of the current BJP government. Within these dynamics, the other major powers, especially in Asia, are of especial focus as seen concerning the emphasis on enhancing relations with the US, Russia and China, as well as second tier countries such as Japan and Australia. Such a focus fits with New Delhi’s desired future self-image as a major Asian global power. Augmenting New Delhi’s national power resources flow into these dynamics, such as through sustaining high rates of economic growth with which to attract others to India, bolstering her domestic development and thereby enabling her to gain an ever greater say in the management and nature of global governance. Enhancing India’s trade and energy security links to this growth, so as to fuel her continued economic expansion, as does the continued acquisition of superior military capabilities and higher levels of security cooperation with other countries through new agreements or more inter-force exercises. India’s ever-increasing diplomatic presence also bolsters her general global standing, which is aided by having a proactive and assertive leader, in the guise of Narendra Modi, who is able to forcefully and visibly promote India’s interests on the international stage in a manner not seen for several decades. In these ways, the global edge is what defines Indian foreign policy and will continue to do so in the coming years and decades, especially if the BJP wins the next Indian general elections scheduled for 2019, which looks increasingly likely. Such a victory will act as a reinforcing mechanism that will essentially legitimise this approach. This edge also has repercussions for those countries who are not placed – or who are not perceived to be placed – within the higher echelons of world affairs, or who do not have something obvious to offer New Delhi in either economic, military or diplomatic terms.  This observation will have a definitive impact for the UK, which – given the current uncertainties surrounding the pathway to an eventual Brexit, whatever that may be – appears to be significantly weakened in the aftermath of the referendum result to leave the EU. Such doubts do not offer any clear succour to Indo-UK relations, and suggest a downgrading of relations as New Delhi focuses on those countries that will be its probable peers and competitors in the new Asian-centric world order. [1] MEA, Ministry of External Affairs, Annual Report 2015-16 (New Delhi: Policy Planning and Research Division, Ministry of External Affairs, 2016), i.[2] MEA (2016) Annual Report 2015-16, i.[3] Ian Hall, “Is a ‘Modi Doctrine’ Emerging in Indian Foreign Policy?”, Australian Journal of International Affairs 69 (3): (2015): 258.[4] BJP, Election Manifesto 2014 (New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party, 2014), 39.[5] Quoted in “India, 20 Others Set up Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank,” Indian Express, 24 October 2014,[6] Quoted in Annie Gowen and Rama Lakshmi, “Modi Promises a ‘Shining India’ in Victory Speech,” The Washington Post, 16 May 2014,[7] MEA, “Vision Statement for the US-India Strategic Partnership: Chalein Saath Saath: Forward Together We Go,” Ministry of External Affairs, September 29 2014,[8] MEA, “India-US Joint Statement During the Visit of Prime Minister to USA (The United States and India: Enduring Global Partners in the 21st Century),” Ministry of External Affairs, June 7 2016,[9] MEA, “Joint Statement – United States and India: Prosperity through Partnership,” Ministry of External Affairs, June 27 2017,[10] World Bank, “GDP Growth (Annual %) - India”, The World Bank,[11] MEA, “India-Russia Joint Statement during the Visit of the President of Russia to India: Partnership for Global Peace and Stability,” Ministry of External Affairs, October 15 2016,[12] MEA, “India-Russia Joint Statement”.[13] MEA, “Joint Statement between India and China during Prime Minister’s Visit to China,” Ministry of External Affairs, May 15 2015,[14] MEA, “Speech by Prime Minister at SCO Summit’, Ministry of External Affairs, June 24 2016,[15] MEA, “Joint Statement on India and Japan Joint Vision 2025: Special Strategic and Global Partnership Working Together for Peace and Prosperity in the Indo-Pacific Region and the World,” Ministry of External Affairs, December 12 2015,[16] MEA, “Joint Statement on the State Visit of Prime Minister of Australia to India,” Ministry of External Affairs, September 5 2014,[17] MEA, “India-Australia Joint Statement During the State Visit of Prime Minister of Australia to India,” Ministry of External Affairs, April 10 2017, [post_title] => FPC Briefing – Thinking Big: Modi’s Foreign Policy Priorities for India [post_excerpt] => Dr Chris Ogden sets out the dominant foreign policy priorities of the current BJP government led by Narendra Modi. These collectively concern enhancing India’s standing on the world stage in order for it to become a major Asian global power, and consist of three major elements – achieving great power recognition; constructing a multipolar world order; and pursuing the “Act East” policy to enhance its relations across the Indo-Pacific. Through Modi’s vigorous leadership, India is becoming a self-assured, assertive and proactive international actor keenly focused upon its relations with the big powers, such as the United States, Russia and China. Such efforts are based upon relations that have something tangible and clear to offer New Delhi in economic, military or diplomatic terms. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => modi-foreign-policy [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-13 15:58:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-13 15:58:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 983 [post_author] => 31 [post_date] => 2017-01-11 12:51:58 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-11 12:51:58 [post_content] => Dr Chris Ogden sets out some of the political and strategic challenges facing US-China relations ahead of the coming Trump Presidency. According to Dr Ogden both during and after the 2016 US presidential elections, China featured significantly in the campaign of eventual victor Donald Trump. In the President-elect's eyes Beijing is Washington’s most dangerous strategic competitor that threatens the US’s ability to control and lead the world. Following on from his victory, Trump has continued to directly condemn China, and has in many ways accelerated his attacks on Beijing. In doing so, the new American leader appears to be at best questioning, and at worst shattering, several of the key understandings that were thought to have underpinned US-China relations, which serves to suggest that the world's two largest economies are entering a stormy period. [post_title] => FPC Briefing – The Coming Storm: US-China Relations Under Trump [post_excerpt] => FPC Senior Associate Dr Chris Ogden sets out some of the political and strategic challenges facing US-China relations ahead of the coming Trump Presidency.According to Dr Ogden both during and after the 2016 US presidential elections, China featured significantly in the campaign of eventual victor Donald Trump. In the President-elect's eyes Beijing is Washington’s most dangerous strategic competitor that threatens the US’s ability to control and lead the world. Following on from his victory, Trump has continued to directly condemn China, and has in many ways accelerated his attacks on Beijing. In doing so, the new American leader appears to be at best questioning, and at worst shattering, several of the key understandings that were thought to have underpinned US-China relations, which serves to suggest that the world's two largest economies are entering a stormy period. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => fpc-briefing-the-coming-storm-us-china-relations-under-trump [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-14 11:51:03 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-14 11:51:03 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )[6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 942 [post_author] => 31 [post_date] => 2014-03-26 12:02:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2014-03-26 12:02:56 [post_content] => FPC Senior Research Associate Dr Chris Ogden analyses what a possible victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the upcoming April/May 2014 Indian Parliamentary elections would mean for India. He examines the implications of a new BJP- led coalition (or outright majority) on India’s domestic and foreign policy, building on the experience of its past coalition from 1998-2004. [post_title] => FPC Briefing: Carpe Diem- India’s 2014 General Elections and the BJP-led NDA [post_excerpt] => FPC Senior Research Associate Dr Chris Ogden analyses what a possible victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the upcoming April/May 2014 Indian Parliamentary elections would mean for India. He examines the implications of a new BJP- led coalition (or outright majority) on India’s domestic and foreign policy, building on the experience of its past coalition from 1998-2004. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => fpc-briefing-carpe-diem-indias-2014-general-elections-and-the-bjp-led-nda [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-06-21 15:35:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-06-21 15:35:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ))

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