The Politics of Abandoned Spaces

In the Indian Express, Sushant Singh has a great piece on Miranshah, North Waziristan, close to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border which faced much of the brutality of Operation Zarb-e Azb (an attack launched by the Pakistan Army in areas of FATA to ‘flush out’ terrorism. He points out how the area seems like a Potempkin village:

…there is no buzz in the markets and not a soul on the streets. Dotted with Pakistani flags, much of the town lies in ruin.

But that does not deter Pakistan Army from showcasing the new stadium, schools, orphanages, parks, a hospital and market with glistening coats of paint and freshly poured concrete. The Younus Khan sports complex boasts of a modern cricket stadium, a football field and a nine-hole golf course, but there is no one playing anything at 10 in the morning.

In Islamabad, an evening prior, ISPR DG Major General Asif Ghafoor rattled out other figures of “progress” in FATA: 1,700 km of new roads, seven new cadet colleges, water supply through solar power in every village, canals, hospitals, schools and nine new markets.

The main Miranshah market had around a thousand shops which were razed by the Pakistan Army during the fighting. It has constructed 1,340 modern shops which were handed over to local residents a week ago. But the swanky market complex, which seems to have been transplanted in this tribal area straight from the US, is deserted, barring soldiers with machine guns on guard…

Sushant points out that 9 lakh people were internally displaced during the military operations. This is not new to anyone in the Indian sub-continent where the 1947 Partition, the 1971 Bangladesh War and the Sri Lankan Civil War were just some of the conflicts that led people to flee their homes.

Sushant’s article brought to mind a novel that I finished earlier in the week- The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop- which is set against the 1972 Cyprus coup d’etat. The political violence led to the Turkish Cypriots fleeing to the south and the Geek Cypriots fleeing to the north. The most striking part of the novel and the violence that ensued is that the Turkish military fenced off a tourist destination and it continues to be under the Turkish occupation since. (Here are some almost eerie photos of Varosha now.) There have been reports of Turkey allowing its citizens and people of Turkish origin to settle there again. But we do not know if this is a bargaining chip or rhetoric.

Conflict easily uproots people and spaces. Often, post the conflict, the government steps in reallocate property to those affected. But recourse post the trauma barely suffices.

 

Kowtowing to Chinese Maritime Power Is Not a Good Strategy

I came across an essay titled China is Not Alone in Adding to the Indian Ocean Woes in the Economic & Political Weekly’s 28th April edition.

The article makes three points regarding maritime power in the Indian Ocean region. Each of the three points deserve closer scrutiny and hence this post.

The first point is that maritime power rests not just on managing the maximum number of ships and submarines but also on the control over maritime finance and particularly on maritime services. In the author’s words:

War vessels and merchantmen are the two most visible elements of power at sea. However, the marine service industry, the most important arm of maritime power generally remains obscured. The marine service sector regulates and organises the diverse maritime cluster. This silent force operates in the realm of marine manufacturing, marine legal services, engineering, and technology, and supports the charter, insurance, sale, and purchase of maritime assets. It also determines freight and cargo rates. It is this sector that helped Britain sustain its empire for another 75 years, after the US had become the centre of international manufacturing by the 1870s.

This is a point well made. Given that India’s current approach does not factor in the significance of maritime service industry, effectiveness of India’s exercise of maritime power will continue to be limited in the short-term.

The second point is that India should not solely be focused on China’s maritime expansion in the Indian Ocean:

We are afraid of the Chinese empire-in-the-making while being oblivious to the dangers that the existing American empire poses to the Indian Ocean region. We are so bothered about the Chinese developing a base in Djibouti, but have been oblivious of the fact that France and the US already have a base over there… We do not know how Chinese hegemony will work in the future, but we know the exploitative and heinous character of the French and the British Empires. The question is, why are we not as afraid of the West as we are of the Chinese?

From a realist perspective, this argument makes sense. Increase in power of the other states affects India’s ability to achieve its own objectives. The law of the jungle is indeed the nature of international relations but even so — and this is what the article misses — a bigger animal eats the smaller animal only when it is hungry. And as things stand, there’s only one state with the hunger for expansion in Indian Ocean. So, India must swing on this issue with the US and other powers to restrict the most imminent threat. This collaboration is also necessary to address the first point — building a maritime ecosystem (including a maritime services industry) of its own.

The third point the article makes is:

We cannot move ahead on the presumption that the Chinese empire will be bad. Who knows, it may be a little better and more peaceful than the wretched, iniquitous world that Anglo-American capital has created. The Indian navalists must be a little more judicious and not allow the Indian Navy to be used as a projectile to counter China.

Now this argument is far removed from reality. There is enough evidence to suggest that a Sinocentric world order will not align with India’s quest for yogakshema — peace and prosperity for all Indians. For a start, look at the way China has alienated — simultaneously and purposively — a new generation of peoples in all of its neighbouring countries. Then look at how the Chinese Communist Party has imposed one language on a diverse set of its own peoples. And finally, just glance at its social credit system to see the Chinese vision for the future.

Of course, the US conduct on the liberal international order that it carried forward from Europe has hardly been untainted. But the failings of the US cannot not be used to give a free pass to China.The reason is that irrespective of what the US does, India is fundamentally aligned with the norm of a liberal international order, for its own national interests. We must question the US when it deviates from this norm. But in a Sinocentric world, this norm itself will cease to exist.

This is what I wrote in Pragati a few days ago:

Legitimacy for the Chinese way of reordering the world is constrained by an essentially hierarchical Chinese worldview — one that divides the world between ‘civilisation’ and ‘non-civilisation’ depending on the extent of sinicisation a region has gone through. This makes the idea of a Pax Sinica a repulsive proposition to most states, let alone illegitimate. So, even if China were to become the most powerful state in the world, it is unlikely that it will become the most authoritative actor.

 

 

The Good Chinese Policeman

Over the last few months, I’ve been catching up with Mandarin sitcoms, because they’re are interesting cases of soft power- and not in the least because I enjoy soppy sitcoms.

One show that really piqued my interest is called When a Snail Falls in Love (如果蜗牛有爱情). The show is about a team of officers in the Ling Police Department who deal with major crimes particularly drug and human trafficking. It moves into a how a huge family-owned corporation is used as a front for dealing drugs. As networks are often proved for illegal activities overlap, this drug route is also shown to have links with human traffickers across the borders of Thailand and Cambodia. The series ends with a bunch of cliff-hangers in Myanmar where a corrupt military officer with an appetite for violence is seen pitted against our protagonists from the Ling Police Department.

A number of scenes piqued my interest from a geopolitical perspective:

The entire season begins with Captain Ji Bai travelling undercover in a train in Myanmar. When a couple of thugs extort a man on the train, he jumps to the rescue, uses his superior physical prowesses to knock them out. When the police finally arrive on the scene, he flashes his Beijing City Police id card and is walks away scot-free.

In one of the final episodes our heroine, the criminal profiling intern Xu Xu witnesses a cruel officer shooting a Chinese offender in his charge. Xu Xu bursts into a tears and an impassioned speech about how the villain had chosen to abuse his power rather than trust in the rule of law which was always the case in China. This was moving untill I realised that it how the narrative ran contrary to reality. How much ever this show may be fiction, China remains a rule by law and not a rule of law.

The entire show is an interesting study of not only Chinese soft power, but the narratives that it posing. If you watch the show China appears as an Asian power, and its representatives are morally sound and work in a meritocratic system whose efficiency is laudable. Chinese police are easily able to cross borders and track down criminals even if they are embedded in another state’s mechanisms. The police officers travel to Myanmar through Chinese built trains and our leading pair often stares into the sunsets over shots of ports. I don’t doubt that the trains were necessary for the plot and I will assume that ports make for easily framed shots instead of jumping into conclusions about China’s projection of port infrastructure.

Overall, When a Snail Falls in Love is a good watch- it is informative about the way the Chinese perceive themselves and other nations. It is brilliantly shot and the fighting scenes are not over the top (as they usually are in a lot of Asian dramas). When a Snail Falls in love isn’t the fluffy romance that the title suggests (even if the actors are very easy on the eyes) and I would highly recommend you watch it. Here’s the trailer:

Why has the US Policy Orthodoxy on Iran Sustained for Four Decades?

On 8th May, the US President announced that the US was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. The US would also be reimposing the sanctions on Iran that were in place prior to the deal. Essentially, we are back to a hostile Iran-US relationship after a short break where a change seemed likely. Now, this hostile policy orthodoxy in the US vis-a-vis Iran has sustained itself for nearly 4 decades. And one of the foreign policy mysteries for me has been: why is that the case?

After all, Iran is one of the most “normal” states in West Asia. It is also a regional power and now there is even some alignment between US and Iranian interests in Afghanistan and over ISIS. And yet, the foreign policy of the US towards Iran hasn’t change for nearly forty years. What are the possible reasons? I asked this question to my colleagues. I’m summarising some of their responses and my own views on them.

The oft-repeated reason given is the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. It is argued that this highly televised, 444-day imbroglio is the reason behind the perception of Iran as a ‘rogue state’ in the US. I doubt if that is the case. Even though this crisis might well be the reason that set the current policy orthodoxy in motion, it does not sufficiently explain why the orthodoxy would continue for four decades. In fact, in the same year the US embassy in Islamabad was burnt. Two Americans died as a result. And yet, there was no break in the US-Pakistan relationship. So, it doesn’t seem logical that another contemporary incident of a similar nature, one in which no American hostage was killed, can create and sustain a policy orthodoxy for four decades. 

The second reason given is that the hatred towards Iran is sustained by Iran’s own acts of hostility towards the US. Indeed, Iran has often taken up the gauntlet on various occasions. But again, this reason doesn’t sufficiently explain why the policy orthodoxy did not change even after Iran demonstrated its willingness to change as part of the P5+1 negotiations. The North Korean example shows that the US that a change in relationship terms is possible even with a state belonging to the ‘axis of evil’.

The third reason given is Trump. That’s an easy one to contest though. Long before Trump came into the picture, this policy orthodoxy was still going strong.

The fourth reason give is “follow the money”. The argument is that pro-Israel and pro-Saudi lobbies in the US ensure that there is no foreign policy change in the US on the Iran issue. There is some weight in this argument and it could help explain the longevity of the policy orthodoxy. If that is case, the emergent hypothesis is that the policy change is incumbent on the Iran-Saudi Arabia-Israel triangle. Unless Iran can patch up with at least one of these two West Asian powers, the US will keep the heat on. 

In any case, this question needs methodical research. I think it’s just one of those questions in foreign policy which is not raised enough. Someone should do a study of the kind Nicolas Blarel has done to explain the orthodoxy and change in the India-Israel relationship. Or perhaps, I have been ignorant. If you know of a study that tackles this question systematically, please point me to it!

 

 

Another Iron Lady Rises

It seems that every other day, some or the other elderly authoritarian strongman strengthens his grip on power. A particularly egregious example is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, or as some sections of the Internet might call him, Gollum.

Gollum Erdogan has come a long way – from footballer to moderate democrat to neo-Ottoman and world-famous misogynist. He has overseen an increasingly hardline and nationalist foreign policy, shifting from pro-EU and pro-Kurdish peace to notably combative stances with both. He has also turned from Bashar Al-Assad’s “brother” to a deadly rival, supporting rebel forces in the Syrian Civil War. Finally, under his watch, Turkey has adopted a much more belligerent attitude towards Greece, with vessels clashing in the Aegean Sea and no peace deal in sight for Cyprus.

Domestically, Erdogan has crushed dissent and the free press, shifted Turkey from a parliamentary to a Presidential style of government, and adopted rather conservative social policies. He’s also made a name for himself internationally with a string of misogynistic statements, claiming that working women are “deficient” and insisting (on International Women’s Day, no less) that a woman is “above all else a mother“.

It’s quite interesting, therefore, that one of his rivals in the June 24 snap election is Meral Aksener, a veteran politician whose supporters describe her as a “she-wolf” and “iron lady”. Aksener has pulled no punches in her campaign, lampooning Erdogan for his misadventures in Syria, and has sworn to restore Turkey’s “malfunctioning democracy”.

Aksener, however, also has somewhat of a dark past. In the late 90s, as Interior Minister, she presided over a string of deep-state atrocities. She also comes from an unabashedly hard-right background, but is expected to attract secularist votes from parties disgruntled with the relatively Islamist Erdogan.

In order for Aksener to win, Erdogan will need to fail to capture an absolute majority in the first round of elections, in which six candidates are in the fray. If she gets through to the runoff, a consolidation of opposition voters could push her over the top and end his 15-year grip on power.

Whether that will result in Turkey becoming more liberal or democratic, however, remains to be seen.

The latest advertisement for nuclear weapons

Here’s what has happened in the past few months.

North Korea demonstrated that it has nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to the United States. After it did that, the president of the United States set aside age-old policy and decided to meet the North Korean leader, ahead of possible lifting of sanctions against that country.

Iran froze — or perhaps slowed down — its nuclear weapons programme because it signed a deal with the United States and Europe in 2015. After it did that, the president of the United States reneged on the deal, advised Iran not to pursue nuclear weapons, and is coercing the international community to re-impose sanctions.

The message is simple and inescapable. Possessing a nuclear arsenal is necessary if you wish to resist being bullied by the world’s great powers. Donald Trump’s actions are an advertisement for nuclear weapons.

He’s not the first US president to do show countries around the world the value of possessing nuclear weapons. Previous US presidents invaded Iraq (that didn’t have a nuclear bomb) ostensibly to punish Saddam Hussein for sheltering al Qaeda terrorists, while bankrolling Pakistan, that was sheltering al Qaeda terrorists, but also had a nuclear arsenal. Under another US president, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi who had given up his nuclear programme, came to a sticky end.

Therein lies the root cause of the failure of nuclear non-proliferation. It invests too much energy in technical compliance and technology controls, even as the NPT-sanctified nuclear weapons states create powerful, perhaps existential incentives for the possession of a nuclear arsenal.

It’s now almost certain — even more than before — that the Iranians will develop a nuclear arsenal. That’ll cause the Saudis to bring their arsenal out of the closet. That in turn might cause Erdogan’s Turkey to want one too.

It will be tremendously foolish to continue to flog the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty as a meaningful way to reduce nuclear risks. A more promising way forward for this century would be to attempt a Global No-First Use (GNFU) framework aimed to reduce risks than limit ownership.

Who’s More Powerful in Asia: US or China?

The Lowy Institute’s new Asia Power Index makes for intriguing reading. For starters, it offers a good definition of power.

“Power is defined as the capacity of a state or territory to direct or influence the behaviour of other states, non-state actors, and the course of international events. It is the capacity to impose costs and confer benefits that shape the choices of others.”

The authors then assess the overall power of 25 key Asian states based on their weighted average across eight specific measures of power. These are:

  • Economic resources
  • Military capability
  • Resilience
  • Future trends
  • Diplomatic influence
  • Economic relationships
  • Defence networks
  • Cultural influence

The findings offer much food for thought. For instance, while the US and China are neck-and-neck on the measure of economic resources, there is a serious gulf between them with regard to military capability. Add to that the fact that while the US tops the defence networks measure, China ranks a low eighth. This is indicative that despite China’s rapid military upgradation and attempts at projection of might, Beijing is a long way off from catching up with Washington.

The two surprising areas where China trumps (pun intended) the US, however, are diplomatic influence and economic relationships. While the latter in Asia is understandable, one wonders whether the former is merely about Donald Trump’s America First approach or is a systemic change underway.

China also does rather well on the measure of resilience, which includes threats to internal stability, scoring 85.9 to the US’s 91.4. In the short-term, I’d agree with the authors on that. But I’d contend that Xi Jinping’s personalised control over the Party-state structure poses a serious threat to long-term stability.

India, meanwhile, ranks 4th in the overall assessment, just a shade behind Japan. And there’s some very good advice being offered for New Delhi to rise up the table, i.e. focus on converting its sizeable resources base into strategic gains and improving defence networks.

India-China Collaboration on Railway Line in Afghanistan?

After the Xi-Modi Wuhan summit, there is a lot of buzz around the possibility that India and China might take up a joint economic project in Afghanistan.

This prospect has got many people excited. All prominent news agencies have reported this and yet there is little clarity on what exactly this project is all about. The MEA’s press release on the Wuhan summit in fact does not mention Afghanistan at all. The MEA spokesperson has been quoted in Times of India saying that the identification of this project is still in progress. The Hindu’s report vaguely mentions the possibility of a road link to Chabahar from Aynak via Hajigak.

But Praveen Swami in Business Standard has the most clear view about what this project might be. He writes:

Earlier this week, President and Prime Minister agreed to explore joint China-India work on a railway line in Afghanistan, with one spur carrying Mes Aynak’s ore to Torkham, and over the into Pakistan; the other in a great north-western arc, into Hairatan.

I created this google map to understand how this railway line might look like. Please note that this is only an illustration – I have no more details other than the above article.

Based on the May 4, 2018 report in the Business Standard [Click to expand]

Won’t such a project pass through Taliban-controlled areas? What is the security situation like in the areas that this railway line might pass through. To check that out, I overlaid the Jan 2018 BBC illustration showing areas under Taliban/government control over the route map. That looks as follows.

The speculated railway line pass through areas with Taliban presence [Click to expand]

The areas marked in brown are under full-Taliban control. Areas in grey are in full government control. The orange areas are government-controlled areas having open Taliban presence. The darker shade indicates higher risk (attacked at least twice a week). Lightest shade of orange represents areas that are attacked once in three months on an average.

As is clear from this graphic, India, China, and the Afghan governments have a tough challenge ahead of them if they are serious about this project.

The Chinese Leadership’s Prowess is Overrated

Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to meet one of India’s most experienced China hands. A diplomat by profession, he has served in China, speaks Mandarin fluently, and follows developments in China even after his retirement.

During his talk, he warned us:

Indian elites tend to see Chinese leaders as superheroes — as ten-feet tall men who can do no wrong. Such a view ignores the many grievous mistakes that the Chinese leadership has committed over the years. And bad memories stick for longer than the good ones.

According to him, the two big mistakes of the Chinese leadership are their treatment of the Uighurs and the Tibetans. I have two more to add to this list.

One, the treatment meted out to rural migrants in cities is fomenting a quiet unrest in several cities. The Economist has an article on the increasing discontent:

The younger generation are products of China’s one-child policy, which went into force nationwide in 1980 (although in the countryside, families were sometimes allowed two). They are among the first to suffer its unintended consequences. The one-child policy contributed to a drastic change in the sex ratio because female fetuses were aborted by parents who wanted their only child to be a boy. The ratio of boys to girls at birth soared in the 1980s, peaking in 2005, when there were 122 baby boys for every 100 baby girls, one of the most distorted ratios ever seen [..]

Among Chinese men generally, a common response to the shortage of women is for prospective grooms to buy an apartment and car before marriage—a sort of reverse dowry. One survey found that three-quarters of young women in big cities took this into account before accepting a man’s offer. Alas for migrant swains, they cannot afford such a bride price, especially in expensive cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou. It is usually difficult for people without a city’s hukou to buy government-subsidised housing there. Young migrants are therefore at a threefold disadvantage. There are fewer women of marriageable age. Those who come from their own background tend to marry richer rivals. And the men cannot compete in the marriage market by buying property.

The earnings of the youngest ones have deteriorated the most. Mr Tian looked at earnings by age. He found that the highest earners are those in their mid-30s (between 32 and 36). That remained constant in all his surveys. But there was a significant change among workers in their mid-20s (22 to 26). In 2008 these younger migrants were earning almost as much as the best-paid. By 2015, they were earning much less.

Mr Tian’s survey includes a question about where respondents place themselves in society on a scale from top to bottom. Between 2006 and 2015 the migrants he questioned gave, on average, ever lower assessments of their social position. Initially, the younger ones (aged between 22 and 26) were the most likely to describe themselves as being in the top half of society. By 2015 they were more inclined than older migrants to put themselves in the bottom half. Mr Tian concludes that those born in the 1990s are the most disappointed of the migrants he has studied [The Economist, 3rd May 2018].

The second mistake is the way China has treated its neighbours. Its arrogant conduct has turned away even potential partners over the last few decades. Nitin Pai had written how alienating a young India has been one of the biggest mistakes of the Chinese leadership.

It is widely accepted that China was the victor of the brief border war of October 1962. While Beijing did achieve its political and military objectives – of teaching the Indian government of Jawaharlal Nehru a lesson – that was a strategic self-defeat for China. Why? Because it turned a country of young people (in 1962, half of India’s population was less than 19) into believing that China is the enemy.

Unfortunately, in the past few weeks, official statements from the Chinese government and commentary appearing in official media are taking us close to another 1962 – even if no shots are fired over the Doklam region. Contrary to what Beijing might think, threats of war and reminders of 1962 strengthen India’s national resolve to stay firm. The more strident the rhetoric from Beijing , the stronger is the public opinion in India to confront China.

Half of India’s population is under 26. Almost 70 per cent of the Indians surveyed in the above-mentioned poll were already “quite concerned” about China’s growing military power and its territorial disputes with India. Whatever the stakes on the remote Himalayan slopes, they are likely to carry an imprint of China as an adversary and an enemy well into the rest of their lives. Is it really in China’s interests to alienate half a billion people across its borders for the next several decades? Will it be easier or more difficult to achieve President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” under these conditions? How does it help China if India is pushed into a tighter embrace of the United States? [SCMP, 25th July 2017]

These four mistakes need to be kept in mind when we discuss China’s out-of-ordinary development feats. Far too often, we tend to see China through a “rational actor model” lens, to borrow Graham Allison’s landmark classification.The reality is far more complex. The four mistakes show that Chinese leaders have not always made consistent, value-maximising choices. Perhaps it is our lack of knowledge about China that makes us ascribe rationality to every decision of the Chinese leadership. 

Trade Policy as a Tool for Coercion

The ongoing trade war between the US and China has highlighted, once again, how trade policy can be deployed as a tool of coercion. Whether it will be effective is not something that I know enough about. But what interests me is this: what are the conditions under which bilateral trade policy can be used as a tool for coercion?

The zeroth condition is that there must be a substantial trade relationship between the to-be-coercive state and the to-be-coerced state. Failing this condition, trade can at best be used as a tool for inducement but not coercion. For example, India cannot use trade as a tool for coercion with Pakistan because there is barely any trading relationship between the two states.

The next condition is that the coercive state must be an overwhelmingly large market compared to the coerced state. Product bans and raising tariffs can be potent tools only if the losses incurred to the coerced state are significant. It is precisely because of this condition that helped imperial China intimidate many of its small neighbours. The message to all its tributary states was clear and consistent across centuries: we have everything in abundance here. It is you who needs access to our market. So, pay tributes and kowtow to the Emperor or you shall never have trading rights.

Robert Blackwill & Jennifer Harris have earlier described how Russia has repeatedly used trade as a tool for coercion against its smaller neighbours.

In the recent past, Georgian wines, Ukrainian chocolates, Tajik nuts, Lithuanian and even American dairy products, and McDonald’s have all fallen afoul of sudden injunctions… While dealing a significant blow to the Ukrainian economy, Moscow’s geoeconomic moves served, first, to remind Ukraine— and others in the region— of the consequences of decreasing ties to Russia in favour of the European Union; second, to reinforce Russia’s role as an economic regional hegemon; and third, to prevent the continued expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to Russia’s borders. Facing Russian threats on countless levels, Ukraine halted its plans to sign deals with the EU at the November 2013 Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius. [War by Other Means, Blackwill & Harris]

The third condition is that the coercive state should have a bilateral trade deficit with the coerced state. This is counterintuitive — most people regard trade deficit as a liability rather than an asset. But it is this deficit which lends a dimension of intimidation to trade policy. This is precisely the reason why the US could use this tool in the first place against China. There are a range of goods on which the US runs a bilateral deficit with China.

My contention is that the presence of all three conditions is necessary for the use of trade policy as a tool for coercion. Seen from this lens, the US trade war against China satisfies conditions one and three but does not meet condition two. Hence, its effect on China is likely to be limited.

In general, trade policy’s effectiveness as a coercive tool additionally depends on what is being demanded from the coerced state. It also depends on the ability of the coercing state to incur the losses resulting from retaliatory actions by the coerced state. 

PS: Read Anupam’s piece that warns about the economic losses emerging out of protectionist policies.

Blogging Is Not Dead Yet

In the first episode of this weekly podcast, Amit Varma and Hamsini Hariharan discuss the launch of Pragati Express, and their favourite pieces for the week. Here are some of the pieces that were spoken about in this podcast:

  1. The Freedom Fighters of Pakistan by Chintan Girish Modi
  2. Breaking New Ground by Manoj Kewalramani
  3. A Strong Law is Not Enough by Rishi Majumdar
  4. We Will Not Protect You by Alok Prasanna Kumar
  5. I Want My Free Sub by Gaurav Sabnis
  6. The Future of The Internet on the Seen and the Unseen

 

Who made Xi move half-way across the country?

Ananth Krishnan points out that Xi Jinping’s decision to travel halfway across his own country to meet Narendra Modi (who had travelled completely out of his own country) for an informal summit in Wuhan is remarkable, and no one in Beijing expected it. It’s been quite a journey for their India policy, from threatening to order military attacks to perhaps ordering a six pack for a chillout session between the two leaders this month.

Were they really impressed by India’s resolute stance of not backing down at Doklam, of not signing up for the Belt and Road Initiative? Perhaps. What really made Xi travel halfway across his country is a man halfway across the world. A certain Mr Donald Trump. Washington is putting extreme pressure on Beijing on two counts: North Korea, and more importantly on trade.

It took Trump to remind Beijing that their projection of power ultimately relies on their economy, and that in turn relies on the goodwill of China’s trading partners. Most importantly, on the United States. A trade war will not only have unsettling effects on the Chinese economy in the short term, it can take the wind out of China’s economic sails in the longer term. The wise men in Beijing ought to have expected this. If they didn’t, then their wisdom is overrated. If they expected this, then they ought to have cautioned Xi Jinping against getting all on the front foot and antagonising India, Japan and Vietnam all at once. If they did and Xi didn’t heed their advice, then his astuteness is perhaps more limited than is made out to be.

In any case, India must expect that Xi’s front-footedness is China’s long-term strategy. Trump’s mercurial policy positions have caused Beijing to buy time and space by reaching out to India and Japan. The moment the pressure is off — for Trump can as quickly change his mind — it’s likely that Beijing will resume pushing the envelope again. New Delhi can certainly hope that Beijing has learned that it is not a good idea to antagonise your neighbours as you set out to confront your distant adversary. Yet if you were sitting in Beijing you might reckon it’s important to suppress your neighbour’s power to create trouble, before you confront your main adversary.

It is in India’s interests to have better relations with China and the United States than they have with each other. So the chillout at Wuhan is a good thing. Modi, however, must be keenly aware that a China reset in Delhi does not mean a India reset in Beijing. There’s nothing to indicate China’s fundamental approach towards India has changed. Or that it will change. For now all the chilling out is contingent on the extent and duration that the United States maintains pressure on China.