DPG China Monitor

China Monitor

Date: September 01, 2023
This was an eventful month, with a number of high-level meetings aimed at resolving the border standoff central to the normalisation of India-China relations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping had an informal conversation on the sidelines of the 15th ‘BRICS’ Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 22-24, 2023. The two sides issued divergent readouts on the meeting. PM Modi reiterated India’s position that observing and respecting the LAC was essential for the normalisation of bilateral relations.

Earlier, the 19th round of India-China Corps Commander Level Meeting was held on August 13-14, 2023. India reportedly pressed for access to all old patrolling points and early disengagement from the remaining friction points, Depsang Plains and Demchok. An overall de-escalation of troops from the Ladakh region was also part of the discussion. The meeting concluded without any tangible outcome, even as both sides described it as positive and constructive.

India lodged a strong protest with China over a new official map in which Beijing laid extensive claims on India’s territory in Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. In a statement, India emphasised that Chinese claims have no basis and that such actions will only impede efforts to resolve the boundary question.

Technical teams setup for the delimitation of the disputed border between Bhutan and China met in Beijing on August 27, 2023. The establishment of the joint technical team was the outcome of the 13th Expert Group Meeting on Bhutan-China boundary issue held in Beijing from August 21-24. The two sides reportedly agreed to implement the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on a “three-step road map” for expediting boundary negotiations.

To mark the second phase of CPEC, Pakistan and China signed two important agreements during the month, that included the Second Phase of the Karakoram Highway and establishing an export exchange mechanism.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg on August 23, 2023. President Xi assured that Beijing would support Bangladesh in “opposing external interference” and would deepen economic cooperation including through the Belt and Road Initiative. These remarks came following the US public call for “free and transparent” elections in Bangladesh scheduled for later this year, including visa ban against individuals that the US holds responsible for “undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh”.

In his address at the 15th ‘BRICS’ Summit, on August 23, 2023, President Xi highlighted that in an age of turbulence and transformation, it is imperative to adhere to the BRICS spirit of openness, inclusion, and win-win cooperation. He described the expansion of BRICS membership as “historic” and in line with the interests of emerging markets and developing countries. Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have been invited to join the BRICS from January 1, 2024.

A Global Times editorial rejected Western reports that cited differences between BRICS regarding the group’s expansion, arguing that the West has underestimated BRICS’ commitment to cooperation and solidarity. It urged the US-led West to meet BRICS halfway, stating that anti-Westernism has never been on the agenda of the BRICS. 

President Biden issued an executive order on August 9, 2023, restricting US investment in China's semiconductor, microelectronics, quantum information technology, and artificial intelligence sectors. Reacting to this, a People’s Daily editorial cautioned the US that “containment and suppression cannot halt China’s development”. Meanwhile, as part of continuing US-China trade and economic consultations, US Commerce Secretary, Gina Raimondo, met Chinese Commerce Minister, Wang Wentao, in Beijing on August 28, 2023. Secretary Raimondo is the fourth senior member of the US Administration to visit China in the last three months.

Taiwan continued to be a source of tension between China and the US. Beijing strongly condemned Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te’s transit through the US, and the PLA held a military exercise around Taiwan on August 19, 2023.

The joint statement issued after the US-Japan-ROK leader’s summit held at Camp David on August 18, 2023, expressed concern about China's “dangerous and aggressive” actions in the South China Sea, and reaffirmed the “importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”. In response, China expressed strong dissatisfaction and asked the US to refrain from creating division and confrontation that would undermine regional peace and stability.

Continuing the deepening trend of the China-Russia strategic partnership, the two countries held their third joint naval patrol in international waters near the Aleutian Islands, Alaska (US).

President Xi visited the PLA’s Western Theater Command, Air Force in Southwest China's Sichuan Province. In his address, Xi reiterated the importance of accelerating the modernization of the armed forces, improving military readiness, and maintaining CPC’s control over the PLA.

The Central Military Commission (CMC) has appointed Wang Houbin, a former deputy commander of the PLA Navy, as the new commander of the PLA Rocket Force (PLARF). He has no previous experience in serving in PLARF. This step was following the initiation of an anti-corruption investigation into the former commander of the PLARF, Li Yuchao.

Owing to unfavourable demographics and rising tensions with the US-led West, which threaten foreign investment and trade with China, analysts believe China has entered a period of significantly slower economic growth.