Tag Archives | China

The South-South Divergence on Global Environmental Regulations

By Ratish Srivastava (@socilia13)

Historically, developing and emerging economies have participated in international negotiations but with time, the alliance has been strained, particularly between India and China.

What does the developing world want?

The developing world is diverse in terms of development, capacity of domestic government and power at the negotiation table in international conferences. The developing world only accepts these regulations as long as the developed world provides the technology and finance mechanism to make this change easier. They also try to make changes in the deal, which could help them cope up with the effect of regulations, for instance, a deal that requires them to reduce the intensity of emissions rather than absolute reductions.

India’s position – Less ambitious domestic climate policy (compared to China), commitment to reduction in intensity of emissions rather than absolute reduction.

China’s position – Enacted various domestic policies, including an emissions trading system.

Shift from North-South Divergence

The North-South are fluid categories that change between unity and polarity. This divide is used by the developing world as a tool for negotiation. The developed world is already industrialised without any regulations on emissions, and these regulations imposed on the developing world hinders the development process.

The North-South divide fails to understand the heterogeneity in the southern countries. The development status and the demand for resources (coal in this case) creates new groups and a complex blend of current and historic emitters at the negotiation table.

Divergence

How the divergence happened?

In the early 2000’s, a global mercury negotiation was held through the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environmental Forum. This event created a large Southern coalition (G77 plus China).

However, as negotiators considered a legally binding agreement, countries formed regional groups like GRULAC (Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries and the African Group). The two largest emitters, India and China formed an alliance, where economic development increased emissions. Cooperation from China and India was important to address the problem of mercury emissions. According to them, the task of nation building is difficult to continue with environmental regulations for an important energy resource like coal.

India and China resisted the regulatory action, moving the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) process for almost a decade. The cooperation lasted until the fifth INC, where China changed its stance completely, and were willing to accept a more stringent measure to cut down on emissions. China reached an agreement, and their decision to cooperate allowed them to play a major role in creating the final text for the negotiation. In the Minamata Convention 2013, China signed the treaty, stressing on their domestic policy measures to address mercury pollution. They adopted the same control standards as Germany, which are considerably high. On the other hand, India did not attend the convention and only signed in 2014 after a change in government. India was criticised by NGO’s for its lack of concern to address the issue with mercury emissions.

The growing divergence arises due to developmental constraints, technological capabilities and in this case, it was China’s aim to meet its domestic climate goals. China, at the time of the conference was consuming nearly half of the global coal. However, it reduced its consumption and installed more non-coal sources, which explains the shift in the fifth INC from its original stance, which also directly targets mercury emissions. India continues to invest in coal, as it plans to expand coal consumption by 2022.

The developing countries with different interests are unlikely now to form coalitions as they look to meet their own domestic climate objectives. Coalitions will form depending upon what resource it is, how much of it is used for fuelling development by the country and the domestic climate policies. This will end up creating a complex blend of current and historical emitters.

Ratish is a research intern (@socilia13) at the Takshashila Institution

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Exploring Mongolia’s balancing behaviour

In the near future, it’s unlikely that Mongolia will position itself as one of the allies in India’s efforts to balance out Chinese influence | by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Mongolia’s supposed volte-face has attracted the attention of India’s strategic community in the last few days. A simplified sequence of events is as follows: In May 2015, Mr Modi made a trip to Mongolia, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister to that country. The most substantial outcome for Mongolia from this visit was the announcement of a $1 billion line of credit. Notably, the $1 billion amount is the second largest credit line issued by the Government of India, since the inception of this assistance programme in 2003-04. This was followed the Dalai Lama’s ninth visit to Mongolia in November 2016 (the last planned visit in August 2014 was cancelled by Mongolian authorities because President Xi was to set foot there on the same dates). China unsurprisingly objected to the November visit: it closed down a key border crossing between the two countries and cut-off talks on providing a $4.2 billion debt to Mongolia. Soon enough, the Mongolian Foreign Minister was made to publicly apologise for permitting the visit. He went on to say that the Dalai Lama will not be allowed to visit Mongolia under the current administration henceforth.

China’s official response to the events was sullen — an approach that has come to characterise its relations with most of its neighbours. The Chinese Foreign Affairs Spokesperson said:

we hope that Mongolia will truly learn lessons from this incident, truly respect the core interests of China, honour its promise and make efforts to improve the relations between China and Mongolia.” In turn, the Mongolian ambassador to India on called on India to extend support in this moment of crisis.

Now, because of the India angle to this story, some analysts pointed out that India’s inability in extending sufficient help was to blame Mongolia’s spectacular capitulation. Accurate or not, this assessment leads us to the following questions: what does this turnaround say about Mongolia’s capacity to challenge China? And, can Mongolia ever demonstrate balancing behaviour and ally with states such as India in countering China? On examining the recent turn of events closely, two possibilities come forth.

The first possibility: it was Mongolia that initially sensed an opportunity — a visit by the Dalai Lama could signal that his reincarnation could appear in Mongolia. Hence, the Mongolian government permitted the visit, albeit one strictly classified as that of a ‘religious nature’ alone. But when the Chinese stick came down with all its might, Mongolia quickly retracted.

Mongolia has played this game before — this was the Dalai Lama’s ninth visit to the country since 1979 and on each occasion, the Chinese response has been unkind. In 2002, China retaliated by closing the border rail crossing for two days, isolating the land-locked country further. The response in 2011 was milder — a ‘stern representation’ was made to convey Beijing’s displeasure at Ulan Bator. With this history in mind, it is difficult to believe that Mongolia permitted the trip without expecting a pushback from China.

The second possibility: India was, either a failsafe option that Mongolia presumed it could revert to in case the Chinese retaliated, or was the one that abetted the Dalai Lama’s visit. In either case, this possibility relies on a perception that Mongolia can be a balancing power — ready to join hands with weaker sides such as India to challenge the regional hegemon.

If this was indeed the intent from the Indian side, we’re on the right track. However, the same cannot be said about the instrument used. It would take a lot more than a mere increase in Line of Credit (LoC) to get a land-locked country — one that is struggling with a ‘$1 billion budget gap and looming debt repayments’ — on your side. A Line of Credit — whatever the amount extended may be — count merely as an attempt that can at best marginally change incentives of the recipient country. Projects undertaken as part of LoCs come with riders — 75% of the value of the contracts must be sourced from India. And the utilisation rates of LoCs are often slow, because of supply side constraints (read incompetence of Indian exporters) or because of demand issues (read inadequacies of recipient nation’s importers). [Data on lines of credit available in this xls sheet from the EXIM bank website.] 

Probably, the truth lies somewhere in between both the possibilities. What is clear is that China’s response this time around was swift and unforgiving, in continuance of China’s aggressive stance against its neighbours under President Xi. And it came at a time when Mongolia is already struggling economically. Under such circumstances, can Mongolia be one of the allies in India’s project of balancing out Chinese influence in the near future? Can, for instance, Mongolia take the risk of allowing the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama to appear in Mongolia?

Very unlikely, especially if India is unwilling to think beyond Lines of Credit. If India is seriously considering challenging China, that demands it to offer something that can drastically change its partners’ incentives. Perhaps it is time to consider options such as offering unconditional development (if not military aid), or investing in long term developmental projects (like CPEC, minus all the Chinese characteristics) to bolster the capacities of smaller states in China’s neighbourhood. And even that wouldn’t guarantee the balancing credentials of states such as Mongolia, too low on the national power scale to inflict pain to China. Perhaps, a better balancing strategy for India would be to consolidate relations with Vietnam — a country that has the credentials to take the fight to the Chinese in alliance with partners such as India.

Also read: my piece on how India’s Lines of Credit stack up.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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Data story: Lines of Credit supported by India

A brief overview of India’s lines of Credit to other nation-states

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

India’s relationship with Mongolia has been in the news recently. After the Dalai Lama visited the Buddhist country, China suspended ongoing talks to grant a $4.2 billion loan and made Mongolia’s Foreign Minister apologise for permitting the visit. When Mongolia’s ambassador urged India to raise it’s voice against the Chinese overreaction, India’s response was as follows:

We are closely working with the Mongolian government to implement the credit line in a manner that is deemed beneficial to the friendly people of Mongolia by its leadership. We are aware of the difficult budgetary situation that Mongolia is facing due to various factors including high cost of servicing of debt raised by them in the past.

The credit line being referred to was the US $1 billion committed to Mongolia during PM Modi’s visit in May 2015. Meant to finance the ‘development of railways and related infrastructure projects’, this was the second-largest single line of credit by India since the programme started in 2003-04. This data point got me interested in this creature called Line of Credit. This post gives a basic overview of India’s Lines of Credit.

What is a Line of Credit?
A LOC is a ‘soft loan’ (not a grant) provided at concessional interest rates to developing countries and has to be repaid by the borrowing government. Besides serving the foreign policy aim of increasing India’s presence in critical geographies, LOCs are meant to promote exports of Indian goods and services — they come with a conditionality that a minimum of 75% of the contract value must be sourced from India.

One important factor to consider while looking at LOC figures is that the utilisation rates are typically low (the mean utilisation rate currently stands at 42%).  There are primarily two reasons: one, demand side issues such as inadequacies of recipient nation’s importers, insecure conditions, or lack of statutory clearances by the recipient government. Two, because of supply-side issues such as incompetence of Indian exporters, customs restrictions,  or lack of clearances from the Indian government.

Because a LOC is a soft loan (not a grant) and suffers from slow utilisation, regardless of the size of the amount approved as part of a LOC, it merely counts as an attempt to change the recipient country’s incentives at the margin. Which means, if a country is extremely critical to India’s national interest, it would require the government to do a lot more than announce billions of dollars worth of credit lines. Especially because China can match any LOC figure that the Indian government attempts — a direct outcome of continuous economic growth.

 

Nevertheless, how do India’s LOCs stack up? The summary is in the image below (click to expand the image). The data used to create these infographics can be downloaded from here.
locs

Also read: My colleague Pavan’s excellent Pragati Infographic: Foreign Aid going out of India.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

 

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Mythicising China’s strategic behaviour

From great wall to great iron via Sunzi bingfa

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Because we don’t understand China’s strategic priorities well enough, we often resort to historical antecedents, writings, even quotable quotes (remember Deng Xiaoping’s “lie low”?), to explain China’s strategic behaviour. This reductionist tendency is no longer the preserve of the non-Chinese. Chinese strategists themselves selectively pull out cultural myths that can project China as an eternally peaceful and responsible global power. Strategic culture myths serve another function: when on the backfoot, Chinese strategists often use cultural myths to imply that China has a totally different perspective on war and strategy that the West is incapable of understanding.

Given how frequently strategic culture myths are used in the Chinese context, I was delighted to read the chapter “Myth busting: challenging the conventional wisdom on Chinese strategic culture” by Andrew R Wilson, professor of strategy at the US Naval War College. The book is a Routledge edited volume titled China’s Strategic Priorities (ed. Jonathan Ping and Brett McCormick). The author identifies five myths that are believed to be the core elements of China’s strategic culture — the Great Wall myth, the Sunzi myth, the Good Iron myth, the Zheng He myth, and the myth of shi.

In the author’s words,

these myths enjoy little historical basis and even less explanatory power for understanding contemporary Chinese strategy. At best they are reductionist and misleading. And yet these five myths in their various forms and combinations continue to dominate today’s discussions of Chinese strategic behaviour [China’s strategic priorities, page 8].

I found this dismantling of China’s strategic culture myths very useful and constructed a mind map that can help China watchers (maximise the image to see the text). Maybe this will be instrumental in diffusing the mysticism surrounding China’s strategies.

China's Strategic culture myths. (Based on Andrew R Wilson's chapter in China's strategic Priorities)

China’s Strategic culture myths. (Based on Andrew R Wilson’s chapter in China’s strategic Priorities)

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

 

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Changing alignments in East Asia

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)
Early indications about a Trump Presidency’s impact on partnerships in East Asia

Since Woodrow Wilson, the goal of American foreign policy has been to prevent regional hegemony.

believes Seth Cropsey, Director of the Centre for American Seapower at Hudson Institute. Assuming this was true, the goal is now being reconsidered seriously in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential elections. All through the election season, Trump has indicated that the next administration would be more inward-looking — provision of the common good of security, and promotion of free trade, will not be the guiding principles of US foreign policy anymore.

In the early days, the effects of this new strategy are most clearly visible in East Asia. After Obama decided to suspend efforts to pass his signature Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal through the Congress, Vietnam too will not ratify the deal in the national assembly anytime soon. Trump’s victory also caused panic in South Korea’s financial markets, prompting an emergency meeting of the National Security Council. Australia too followed suit — signalling support for Chinese-led Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific.

The framework below gives an idea of how East Asian states are recalibrating their strategies over the past few weeks.

tpp-trump-duterte

Given that the US and China are overwhelmingly powerful in the region, bipolarity exists in East Asia. Further, there are two axes of alignments — political and economic. Based on their relationships with these two major powers, East Asian states can be assigned to one of the four quadrants. There are two bandwagon quadrants (where a state aligns with US or China both, politically and economically) and two hedging quadrants (where a state aligns with one major power in political engagements and aligns with the other in economic arrangements). Grey points indicate positions of East Asian states before Trump’s presidency and black points indicate recent shifts. I haven’t classified all the East Asian states in this framework, yet.

This framework indicates that countries like Australia and Philippines are already moving towards the hedging quadrants. With TPP faltering, a lot of states might follow the Australian trajectory —  economic alignment with China and play a waiting game on geopolitical alignment.

Countries such as North Korea and Japan will find the realignment tougher, and will look out for more options. Faster movement on India—Japan cooperation is an example. No surprises that a landmark nuclear deal between the two countries took place once it was clear that Trump would be the next US president.

Interesting days ahead for East Asia watchers. China can be expected to be strident in the days to come.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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The Trumping of Marrakech

The 22nd Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCC negotiations at Marrakech have barely been in the mainstream Indian news simply because it is hard to find the media space between the withdrawal of the Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes and the U.S Presidential elections. The COP 22 negotiations were to represent the optimism of a hard fought climate deal and design the implementation strategy for the Paris Deal. However, they have been largely overshadowed in light of contemporary geopolitics.

On November 4th, the outcome of the 2015 Paris negotiations came to fruition as 176 countries (the largest number to sign an international instrument since UNCLOS) deposited their instruments of signature at the United Nations. India had jumped on the bandwagon by ratifying the climate deal on the symbolic date of Gandhi Jayanti.

Multilateral negotiations for the climate deal saw India change its stance from a disrupter to a norm follower- a stance it has echoed in other multilateral negotiations including nuclear proliferation and the WTO negotiations. India had resolutely refused to sign any climate deals that did not involve Western nations in pulling their weight. Indian diplomats had claimed that in order to allow their citizens dignity of life through economic development, they could not commit to energy cut back of the scale required and insisted that countries responsible for the emissions take the lead.

However, this was not a viable position for long. Once China, the world’s largest contributor to carbon emissions joined with the US to cut down on emissions, India would have found its disruptive stance an even more unpopular and isolated position. India has shifted its stance and declared its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). However India’s new stance also stresses on its reliance on the rest of the world in bridging its energy needs through technology and help. Over the last year, steps have also been taken within the country to support its stance at the COPs. By streamlining its civil aviation rules and signing the CFC cutdown treaty, India has shown its willingness in combating climate change.

However, all of that now stands to change. The biggest shadow over the Marrakech COP is the US Presidential elections. While hyperbole has shown anti-Trump supporters protesting even at Marrakech, Donald Trump’s record on climate change shows little promise. He has repeatedly dismissed climate change and global warming as hoaxes and even gone on record to state that climate change was a conspiracy pioneered by the Chinese to reducing American manufacturing potential. Trump has stated that he would roll back the Paris Agreement. But speculation about Trump’s potential climate policy will lead us down a road that goes nowhere.

The Paris Agreement was ratified by President Obama on the sidelines of the G20 summit. In a show of US-China alignment, leaders of both countries deposited the Paris deal together is Hangzhou. The Paris Agreement also does not allow countries to withdraw from it for a period of three years. Therefore, there is little danger of Trump rolling back the Paris deal.

However, it is important to remember that INDCs are, at the end of the day, voluntary mechanisms based on good faith. They are non enforceable and bear little penalties in international law though the effects of climate change may seem apparent to everyone but Trump supporters. What is possible is that Trump will not prioritise the INDCs or fund the Clean Energy Plan, the brainchild of the Obama Administration. This is particularly important in terms of signalling for other countries. Countries like Saudi Arabia whose economies depend on conventional sources of energy could take the lethargy of the United States as a signal to disregard the Paris Deal. This would mean that the hard won negotiations of the last seven years have come to nought. Trump’s disregard for climate change will also stir the Chinese to take the lead on the issue. Already, Chinese officials have stated that they are committed to their climate change declarations despite political changes in other countries. China has also set up its national carbon emission trading market and has reportedly reduced its carbon intensity by 20% between 2011 and 2015.

What does this mean for India? India directly faces the effects of climate change as much of its agriculture is contingent on the monsoons. It has shifted its stance from norm disrupter to norm follower as a way to break out of the climate chakravyuh. However, if the United States will not stick to its INDC and China will, which path will India choose? Several commentators are already questioning India’s stance considering its close ties with the US. However, a comprehensive definition of security would require India to stick to its INDCs as the country is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. India needs to exercise its strategic autonomy and continue with tackling its INDCs.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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Don’t Hold Your Breath for the G-20

The G-20 Summit this weekend will see world leaders descend upon Hangzhou. How much will be accomplished considering the G-20 has been meandering since 2010?

By Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

Over the last few months, Chinese media has depicted the G-20 Hangzhou Summit as a major upcoming milestone in global governance. Media Reports claim that the Summit’s agenda includes issues ranging from global taxation, innovation, growth, investment, climate change, trade barriers to even anti-corruption. How much will the G-20 be able to deliver on?

The Answer: very little.

It will do us well to question what the G-20 has actually achieved in the last six years. It was the primary coordinating agency after the 2008 Financial Crisis and came up with the standstill policy. At the 2010 Seoul Summit, there was a 6% quota rebalancing to emerging countries in the composition of the executive board of the IMF. The 2011 and 2012 Summits were overshadowed by the Eurozone Crisis. At the Cannes Summit, it was suggested that the IMF would provide additional financing to Europe as a whole rather than a single country. Japan led the pack with 60 billion dollars while the BRICS countries followed suit but the US remained aloof from the efforts. In 2013, the G-20 for the first time, addressed political contentions, particularly the Syrian civil war and the use of chemical weapons. In 2014, the Brisbane Summit saw leaders pledge to lift GDP by 2% by 2018. However, there is little evidence to prove that most countries are departing from their national policies to meet their commitments. The 2015 Agenda simply reiterated the need for meeting past commitments.

Thus, broadening of its agenda beyond international financial reform has also meant that the G-20 has had little impact on anything. The counter argument is that the G20 is a deliberative body rather than a decision making one. However, the purpose of deliberations is to drive decisionmaking at some level. The G-20 always possessed a feature of complementarity: it was to work alongside other major international institutions. However, reform of international institutions has proven to be a long arduous task and the G-20’s assumption of other tasks (comparable to the agenda of multiple other international institutions) will bear little fruit.

The main problem with the G-20 is that it is unable to deal with the power politics amongst its members. Given the unanimity requirement in the organisation, an issue is pushed off the agenda if there is a considerable opposition from several G-20 members forming an issue specific coalition. Agenda Setting dynamics within the G-20 generally pit developing and developed countries against each other. On the other hand, China which is the global growth engine and the US, still the global superpower, both seek to dominate the G-20 agenda. This is addition to individual countries attempting to carve out special deals for themselves. This cacophony of voices is one of the reasons that the G-20 has failed to deliver.

The G-20 is important for corridor diplomacy however, G-20’s importance boiling down to corridor diplomacy cannot be regarded as a success in any sense of the term. The main problem with the G-20 was that it was a minilateral envisioned to have taken the most important powers into consideration for effective deliberation. However, this minilateral is not small enough to align nations’ strategies and is beset by concerns of national interest.  The 2016 G-20 agenda is too wide a net for any effective outcomes. The only way forward is for the G-20 to prioritise its most important issues and stick to its original mandate: answering systemic economic challenges.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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Repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir will need extremely deft political approach

The repeal of AFSPA from the civilian areas of Kashmir is imperative to resolve the present impasse

By Guru Aiyar(@guruaiyar)

The killing of Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani on July 8 by the security forces has once again set the cauldron of Kashmir on fire. All the gains made in Kashmir after the assembly elections last year and subsequent government formation have been completely frittered away. What more, Prime Minister Modi and Nawaz Sharif’s meet in Delhi on May 27 to improve bilateral relations is a dead letter now, especially after recent sabre rattling against Pakistan. What can surely improve the situation in Kashmir is partial revoking of the AFSPA from urban centres and keeping it alive on the areas close to the Line of Control (LoC) and northern areas bordering China.

The Act was imposed in Kashmir in July 1990 after full blown eruption of militancy in the valley. Twenty six years of the Act in force has come at a very high cost, both to the Indian forces as well as people of Kashmir. An Amnesty International report last year  detailed that AFSPA has claimed more than 43,000 lives, about half of them being militants. Slightly less than one third of total killed were civilians and the rest being security personnel. The record of prosecutions of security personnel is abysmally low against allegations of abuse and torture. No one denies that the security forces are doing a yeoman’s sacrifice. But, there is no suppressing the fact that they have been operating under near impunity  which is one of the factors for festering insurgency.

Repealing the Act is an extremely challenging task—one that needs political courage, confidence and a statesmanlike approach to problem solving. Next comes the incentive—gains that are to accrue should the act be repealed. Like any complex jigsaw, the aim should be to break it into minor solvable puzzles. There are two aspects to repealing the act—“why” should it be done, and “how” it can be done? It is easy to answer the first question. The first time time any government came closest to was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) I when it appointed a commission under a retired Supreme Court judge Justice BP Jeevan Reddy Commission. The commission, which had a retired General from the army, unanimously recommended that the act be repealed. It termed the act “too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars.” 

There is no need to reinvent the wheel while debating about repeal of the act. The question “how to do it” can be answered by first repealing the act from major urban centres and hinterland of Kashmir. Omar Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir had precisely suggested this in 2013. To assuage the concerns of the security forces, they can be made to operate under  Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) 2008 with adequate safeguards. 

The situation now has got caught in a vortex of political conundrums. The politicians claim that it is the army who is objecting to the repeal of AFSPA. The army, on its part claims that the situation is not ripe to repeal the Act. But when the situation was ripe in 2010, what was it that prevented the army from acceding? Simply raising the fear of Pakistan in the minds of politicians naturally propels them to persist with the status quo.

Wajahat Habibullah, a retired bureaucrat articulated this very clearly  when he stated that there no need for the army in civilian areas of Kashmir. The AFSPA can continue in areas on the LoC with Pakistan and to counteract the menacing presence of the Chinese army on the northern areas of Kashmir. There is no need for the army to be in the civilian areas in Kashmir. It is time that political will gets asserted unequivocally. Even if the army and defence ministry is overruled, this will be a game of brinksmanship to get a political consensus by the ruling party—not only from within, but even across the spectrum. Prime Minister Modi’s acid test will be to retrieve the present situation which is on the verge of disaster. It is an extraordinarily tough call. But extraordinary situations demand completely ‘out of the box’ solutions. In all probability, the prime minister would like to be remembered as the statesman who solved Kashmir.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow with Takshashila Institution, an independent think tank on strategic affairs and geopolitics and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image – Indian Soldiers in Kashmir by Barry Pousman licensed from creative commons.

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Why is India unable to ‘swing’?

India’s portfolio of capabilities to deliver pain to China (and the US) is not sufficiently developed, constraining India’s ability to swing between US and China.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) meeting in Seoul ended without a decision on India’s membership application, despite India’s energetic diplomatic push. In the end, China managed to get India’s membership bid blocked. Following this, the Indian geostrategic community has been trying to ascertain the motive that led China to oppose India’s entry into NSG.

Broadly, there are two lines of thought to explicate China’s opposition. The first argument goes as follows: China’s opposition is a result of the larger US—China powerplay. China wants to prevent an important partner of the US from growing in stature in global forums and hence it opposed India’s NSG membership. WPS Sidhu argued this point of view as follows:

In reality, it [India’s membership] is a contestation between the US and China to determine the future of the nuclear and world order. China’s public declaration to oppose New Delhi’s formal NSG application is more about keeping India out rather than bringing its “all-weather friend” Pakistan (which belatedly also put in an application) in; it is more about securing the existing nuclear and world order rather than strengthening the non-proliferation regime; and, above all, it is a blatant challenge to Washington’s leadership in shaping the evolving world order.

The implication, if this viewpoint holds true, is that any attempt by India to build closer ties with the US will lead to Chinese opposition for India’s membership in multilateral organisations that have the US as the fulcrum. The view also assumes that China will view India more favourably as India grows without coming in the way of China’s geopolitical ambitions.

The second line of thought argues that China’s opposition is consistent with China’s long-held strategy of containing India. Rajesh Rajagopalan, explains this point of view, as follows:

China’s strategy has been consistent since the 1960s and its sole objective was the containment of India. China containment strategy shows little correlation with the state of US-India relations. China transferred nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan in the 1980s, not exactly a period of close US-India ties. It transferred missiles to Pakistan in the 1990s at a time when India had lost its Soviet ally and its relations with the US were still tense. India’s increasing closeness to the US is the result of New Delhi’s reluctant recognition of China’s containment strategy against India, not its cause.

The implication here is that China will oppose India’s growth as a regional and global actor, regardless of India’s equation with the US. Thus, China will not only oppose India’s membership in multilateral organisations where the US has played a powerful role but will also undermine India’s role in Chinese led initiatives such as OBOR, SCO and BRICS.

Both lines of thought concur that China is determined to pose challenges to India’s rise.  This, despite the fact that India has tried to advance its relationships with both China and the US. Essentially, India has tried to project itself as a swing power —a factor that can tilt the equation in favour of any major power which has India on its side. It is with this objective that India is eager to be a part of every global governance forum led by China, even though India’s national interests clash the least with that of the US.

But if China’s actions are an indicator, it appears as though this strategy of ‘swing’ doesn’t seem to be working. Why is that so? A successful “swing” is the one where a state can demonstrate that it can deliver pain for one and pleasure for the other with equal effectiveness. And here in lies India’s problem — our portfolio of capabilities and stated intentions that can deliver pain to China and the US is not sufficiently developed. While India has amply demonstrated that it can be supportive to both Chinese and US multilateral campaigns, there is no articulation of how costly it can be to ignore India.

Let’s look at the current pain deliverance portfolio of India. In what way can it objectively hurt China?

The first option is to amp-up India’s involvement in China’s neighbourhood. Rajesh Rajagopalan explains India’s involvement in East Asia as follows:

India can imitate what China is doing with Pakistan: build up the military capabilities of others on China’s periphery who share India’s worry about China. They may be too weak to match China, but enhancing their capabilities is one way of forcing China to divert its energies and make it understand the costs of strategic blowback. This can take the form of military assistance as well as training and other forms of cooperation.

ASEAN is also divided on the issue of tackling China. States such as Philippines and Vietnam have longstanding conflicts with China. While they are likely to be more vocal against Chinese hegemony, others in ASEAN will bandwagon with China. The next event that will see tempers rising in the region is the upcoming verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) on the issue of sovereignty over two island groups claimed by both China and Philippines. In all likelihood, this verdict will not go entirely in favour of either nation; PCA will settle for a mix of equidistance and equitable principles just like it did in the case of India—Bangladesh maritime dispute. Back then, India displayed exemplary maturity in accepting the PCA verdict. India can start projecting its own success story before the verdict comes out in the next couple of weeks. Going ahead, India can prioritise its relationship with the ASEAN nations that are likely to challenge China.

Second, India can look at global Chinese initiatives such as Belt & Road (OBOR) from the dual lens of competition and complementation: in the Indian sub-continent, OBOR should be looked at as an aggressive competitor, using it as an excuse to accelerate India’s own projects of connecting markets in India’s own neighbourhood. Outside the Indian sub-continent, India can look at complementing OBOR. For instance, in East Africa, India can work with China under the aegis of “Many Belts Many Roads” to expand its own reach.

Third, India can make its presence felt in BRICS and SCO by taking a strong stand against Chinese hegemony. Quitting these groups at an appropriate juncture can be used to make a point.

These are the three pain deliverance measures that India can implement at its current levels of power. Beyond them, there is little that India can do unless it gets its house in order with a view towards a substantial rise in India’s power in all dimensions — economic, military, maritime and political.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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No One Saw the Joint Statement

ASEAN adopted a rare tough stance on the South China Sea expressed in a Joint Statement and then immediately retracted it, indicating divisions amongst members.

by Hamsini Hariharan (@HamsiniH)

There was a statement and then there wasn’t. The China-ASEAN Special Foreign Minister’s Meeting, organised after a gap of three years, was convened on June 14th to discuss relevant issues before the ASEAN-China Summit to be held later this year. After the meeting, Malaysia released a Joint Statement on behalf of ASEAN. The statement was remarkable because ASEAN seemed to have strayed away from diplomatic niceties and had taken a stern stance on the South China Sea. AFP reported that the statement read,

“We expressed our serious concerns over recent and ongoing developments, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and which may have the potential to undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea…We emphasized the importance of non-militarization and self-restraint in the conduct of all activities, including land reclamation, which may raise tensions in the South China Sea…We articulated ASEAN’s commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region, as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes…This includes “full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resorting to the threat or use of force, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law, including the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) and the UN Charter…”

While the ASEAN refrains from mentioning China by name, the statement is important because it conveys the institution’s anxiety about the tensions in the South China Sea. Generally, the ASEAN calls for all parties to conform to the 2002 Code of Conduct and attempt to solve the issue peacefully. ASEAN does not directly take part in the conflict. Instead, it tries to act as a facilitator to resolve the conflict as it affects the national interests of several of its members and has implications for the whole region. As the South China Sea is an important shipping route, countries around the world are interested in ensuring the freedom of navigation in the areas.

Less than three hours later, the statement was retracted by the Malaysian government who said that it was not the official statement but the media guideline. Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia released individual official statements where they stressed the need for peaceful resolution of the dispute. Officials from Vietnam and Indonesia later said that the retracted statement was in line with the ASEAN standpoint.  The objection to the statement reportedly came from Laos (the current chairman of ASEAN) and Cambodia, both of whom share close relations with China. The episode evokes memories of the 2012 ASEAN Summit when the institution failed to release a joint communiqué for the first time in 45 years due to Cambodia’s objection to inclusion of the South China Sea issue in the statement.

ASEAN’s success as a multilateral institution lay in its unanimity and consensus based decision making. However for the last few years, arriving at the ASEAN consensus is becoming increasingly divisive, particularly on the issue of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei-Darussalem (along with Taiwan) all have contesting claims to the boundaries of the South China Sea, most of which has been claimed by China under its ambiguous nine-dash line. As China began projects of land reclamation, construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, its military modernisation and increasingly assertive posture has worried the other claimants.

China is also using its bilateral relations with countries like Laos and Cambodia to undermine the multilateral consensus of the ASEAN. Some reports also debate if China’s ‘salami slicing strategy’ has now extended to Malaysia by leveraging its purchase of the debt ridden state entity, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (IMDB) reducing domestic pressure on Najib Razak in return for geopolitical payoffs. China denied the use of pressure either to influence ASEAN proceedings in this case or any others. The reasons behind the retraction of the rare tough stance taken by ASEAN remain unexplained. What it does indicate is that the ASEAN countries have failed to reconcile with a common viewpoint on the South China Sea issue.

The incident is also poignant because the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague is set to deliver a judgement on the second round of hearings on the arbitration proceedings initiated by Philippines in 2013. While China contests the validity of an arbitration proceeding, the decision will be an important geopolitical marker, depending on how different countries respond to it.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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