IR Professor Interview Series: Chris Ogden

In this interview, we sat down with Lecturer Chris Ogden, who specialises in national identity, security, and domestic politics in East and South Asia. East and South Asia. If you enjoy this interview, please be sure to listen to the full audio.

Image courtesy of stu smith, © 2010, some rights reserved.

Image courtesy of stu smith, © 2010, some rights reserved.

FAR: Could you give us a bit of background as to your academic career and your areas of study?

CO: I’ve been in St. Andrews for about three and a half years. Before that I was doing an PhD in Edinburgh about Hindu nationalism and Indian foreign policy. In general, my interests are in Indian foreign policy, Chinese foreign policy, and the kind of interplay between the two… general emergent powers, and Asian security.

FAR: What are you currently working on?

CO: I just finished a book on Indian foreign policy which will come out in May. I’m also currently formulating another, more theoretically driven book about the comparative rise of India and China through the prism of great powers, where I ask whether they will emerge as other great powers have done or whether they will represent a sort of new kind of great power that we have not seen before.

FAR: There is a common refrain about Indian foreign policy: in that they do not really have one, how would you respond to that?

CO: Well, they of course have a foreign policy. However, in terms of having a strategic doctrine, outlook, or even just a plan; that is much less clear. For example, they do not release Defence White Papers, like China or the United States does. Quite often their policy is very ad hoc, so I do think that that is actually a fair assessment.

FAR: Where do you think that stems from?

CO: Quite often it stems from a kind of over-centralisation of power. In the earliest days of Indian foreign policy there were not so many voices and there was quite a limited access to debate, with little dialogue between the ministries. In a sense that has continued into the present day: there were some nuclear tests in 1998 for example where only a very small number of people knew the tests were even happening.

FAR: Do you see Indian foreign policy changing in the near future?

CO: It is quite possible that the government will change in May. Currently, there is a coalition led by the Indian National Congress that has been the traditional dominant party, though they are facing a threat from a coalition led by the BJP. Now whether things will change if they come to power is a big question. If you look at the last time they were in power in the late 90’s, they did not so much change the direction of Indian policy as they accelerated it. They accelerated the push for nuclear self-reliance as well as closer relations with the United States and generally were much less afraid to promote India internationally. So, if they come to power, there is certainly a chance that the BJP will do this.

FAR: Now, while your focus is in Asia, it seems that your focus is more on the two great continental powers of that area: China and India. Could you elaborate as to why that is?

CO: A lot of it stems from things that I’ve studied. When I was a postgraduate student, I studied the international relations of East Asia. It was certainly a popular at the time to be thinking about the rise and threat of China. Now, when I was doing my dissertation at that stage, I thought it might be good to look at India, many of the motifs that have defined China seemed to be equally true for India as for China. Then, quite happily for me, people have moved from talking about just the rise of China to the rise of both. So there have been contemporary trends that have fit my research interests.

FAR: How do you think the two rises compare then?

CO: There is an overall narrative of an Asian Century. We can say that India’s embrace of liberal economics is about 15-20 years behind that of China. China probably has greater momentum and China is also at a stage where it may convert its economic prowess into other means, which India is slowly doing but not as much. That said, they both have similar trajectories and pose similar questions about whether they will be able to influence the norms and values of the international system in the future.

FAR: Where do you see Japan fitting into this world of rising Asian powers?

CO: In the 70’s and 80’s, you saw a lot of talk about the rise of Japan: Japan threat, now of course it’s about the China threat and I would even posit that in the future we may see an India threat narrative come about. Within all of this, Japan has been somewhat forgotten, but there are growing tendencies for Japan to reassert itself regionally. They could become clearer about their military strengths for example; referring less to having a self-defence force and instead just having an army. For its navy, Japan already would have the fourth most powerful navy in the world in terms of general capabilities. I think that as China grows and becomes more of a regional hegemon, this will spur greater competition between them and Japan as Japan’s nationalist tendencies start to re-emerge.

FAR: Another issue that has run through Asia, especially for China, is the issue of Taiwan, Now, there is currently a conference going on in Nanjing between the People’s Republic and Taiwan, for I believe the first time since 1949. Where do you see that relationship going in the future?

CO: Certainly this is an initial meeting and regardless the level of tensions between the two remains quite high. I think over time however, ties will get closer. Economic ties are certainly already closer. There is also a certain generational change; many of those who fought against the Communists and fled to Taiwan are now dying off. By comparison, the younger generation seems much more focused on the gains to be made from closer ties. There is also perhaps an effort within China to recast the history between the two nations and emphasise a much more anti-Japanese story; the Nationalists and the Communists did after all unite to fight the Japanese in the Second World War and it was the Japanese who first took Taiwan. Overall, I think there will be greater assimilation, I don’t think China is going to decide to take Taiwan by force, perhaps we simply don’t live in that age anymore.

FAR: Finally, I thought we’d come to a couple personal questions: where do you get your news?

CO: Predominantly BBC, Guardian, probably Channel 4. For India, major newspapers, Times of India, Hindu, there’s some very good left-leaning magazines. In China, its more kind of People’s Daily, official line.

FAR: Its interesting actually, I don’t think you could say we in the West know all that much about Indian media, what do you think of it in terms of quality, but also in what’s being said?

CO:  I’d say quite good in terms of quality. They can be quite populist, though really in the same way that our media can sometimes be that way. But there are some very good investigative pieces, very good at uncovering political corruption as well as thinking about the nature of the political system. Also, we should remember that all media in India is blossoming, huge increases in print and internet publications, so really I think we’ll see a broadening of quality, perhaps it will become much more accessible to Western audiences, certainly more than Chinese media.

FAR: Are there any books you’d recommend to students?

CO: In terms of academics, there’s a book by Peter Katzenstein called The Culture of National Security. It was certainly a major influence on me about thinking how different phenomena can affect foreign policy.