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China’s interest in Southeast Asia: Implications for India

China’s interest in Southeast Asia:

China’s policy towards Southeast Asia can be termed as one of competition and colloboration. Traditional determinants like geography, cold war ideology, domestic and ethnic politics have been the binding factors in China-Southeast Asia relations. Placing the relations China had exerted its influence over the region and the principal manifestation was the tributary system, which reflected the subordinate status of others in the region.

Post 1949 China emulated  the role of a crusader and a champion of third world freedom and assisted revolutionary communist movements and insurgent groups. With the Sino-Soviet rivalry in late 1960s,  China  had to reassess its ideological leanings. The death of Mao Tse Tung  and the ascendancy of Deng Xiaoping to power, brought in  a paradigm shift in China-Southeast Asia relations.

China’s assurance to the Southeast Asian countries after the 1997 financial crisis, refurbished China’s image amongst the Southeast Asian Country. China’s emphasis on economic modernisation and regional stability, assured the Southeast Asian countries that China would no longer be a threat in the region. An ernest effort undertaken by China to re-assure and re-emphasise its position with the Southeast Asian countries.

Thus Southeast Asia house great powers competing  for economic and strategic benefits. This has constantly compelled the ASEAN countries to choose between the regional challenger and the dominant power.The Southeast Asian countries often are tossed between the heavy weights, nevertheless they are coping with their own strategies and interest in identifying and engaging with India, Japan, US and China.

Asymmetry in relationship between China and Southeast Asia exists. China’s exerts high influence in the Mainland Southeast Asia which comprises of Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. All these countries in some form or the other  is dependent  and remain a  soft underbelly of China. China maintain unique relations with each of the countries in the region.

Myanmar is critical from the perspective of “client state”, While in the case of Cambodia and Laos, China plays the role of a dominant external actor. Vietnam-China relations continues to remain complex and there are completing claims between the two countries. Vietnam has protested the recent deployment of advanced missile system on a disputed South China Sea island and  has condemned this  erroneous action of China.

China rarely resonates historical tributary system with maritime Southeast Asia.Interestingly the maritime countries in Southeast Asia Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia of these several of them enjoy the patronage of Untied States thus posing a constant challenges to China. Competing and overlapping claims continues to exist between China and maritime Southeast Asian countries on the issue of South China Sea.

Countries in dispute have wrangled over the territory for centuries and there is a steady increase of  tension. China by and large have claimed the largest portion of the territory. The recent  deployment of China’s advanced missile system which  is claimed  purely as a self-defence mechanism is not viewed as a benign advancement. United States has called for tangible steps to  reduce tension in the region.

How could India strategies its Southeast Asian Interest:

India’s engagement  in Southeast Asia was accelerated with the announcement of India’s Look East Policy in the 1990s. With increased bilateral operation in areas of trade and commerce, people to people contact and capital flow. India-ASEAN partnership has been upgraded to areas of strategic partnership. The enhanced India’s engagement in the region is welcomed by the Southeast Asian countries, as a counter check against growing China’s assertiveness in the region. India’s Act East strategy is an initiative to expand Indian diplomacy and an initiative to involve the large Indian diaspora present in the region.

The Look East Policy was an initiative started by the Late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao which focused on economic engagement with ASEAN countries and India.  Southeast Asia connects Indian and the Pacific Oceans that includes vital maritime chokepoint and hence extremely critical from India’s geo-strategic interest and hence India works to evolve a peaceful regional order. India has interestingly maritime borders with three Southeast Asian countries Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia. Interestingly India has no unilateral or hegemonic policy towards the region.

US President  Obama has urged India to an Act East  Asia policy .  Several   joint statements have been released both by India and Untied states  calling for  safeguarding maritime security, freedom of navigation and  countering piracy and maritime terrorism.  The ASEAN countries along with United States have welcomed India’s participation in there region. They have legitimised India’s status as a great power in Asia and looks forward for India’s support in maintatining the regional order and stability

The Southeast Asian countries see India as a great power and calls for more proactive engagement from the Indian side. This is indeed a great opportunity for India,  how much will the political leadership encapsulate the opportunity to shape Asia is something that has to be seen.

Priya Suresh is a research scholar @Takshashila Institute. She tweets@priyamanassa

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The Prophecies of Reason

Why the constitutional justification for the ban on cow slaughter needs to be revisited

By Madhav Chandavarkar

The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, 1995 was recently passed by President Pranab Mukherjee. It amended the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976 to ban the possession and selling of beef. It also extended the ban on cattle slaughter to bulls, bullocks and unproductive cows that could previously be declared fit-for-slaughter. The amendment has resulted in a wide outcry by many against what they perceive to be a majoritarian imposition of Hinduism. They call the amendment an unjust restriction of rights and say it is unconstitutional. This is however, not technically accurate; Article 48 of the Constitution of India, a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, provides that the “State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.” It is probably surprising to most that the legitimacy of anti-cattle slaughter laws is ostensibly drawn from “modern and scientific lines” but the Constituent Assembly debates on the introduction of Article 48 throw light on this dichotomy.

Article 48 was originally tabled by Seth Govind Das, who intended it to be a part of the Fundamental Rights chapter rather than the Directive Principles. This was however, rejected by the Assembly as fundamental rights were intended to protect the rights of humans rather than animals. Pandit Thakur Dass Bhargava then proposed that it be included in the Directive Principles of State Policy (the Articles in this chapter, though un-enforceable, place a duty on the government to achieve its objectives). Bhargava, Das, and many other speakers justify the inclusion of the Article during the debate but they largely relied on poor reasoning and the religious zealotry of most of the speakers is easily apparent. The dissenting opinions given by the two Muslim speakers stand out in contrast; their pleas that the ambiguity about the religious nature of the Article be removed are grounded in reason and are eerily prescient when read today. I urge all interested parties to themselves read the full debate; it is not overly lengthy and the interjections by the Vice-President, who is the convener of the debate, will elicit smiles from some readers.

The rationale behind Article 48, as provided by Bhargava and his colleagues, is ostensibly economic. Bhargava begins by describing how agricultural production can be increased by measures such as the construction of dams, the usage of machines, and the proper utilization of water. While these seem in line with modern thinking he goes on to state that the most important measure is improving the health of cattle but fails to provide any reason why this is the case. Then, seemingly forgetting his earlier suggestions, Bhargava comes to the conclusion that “the whole agricultural and food problem of this country is nothing but the problem of the improvement of [the] cow and her breed.” He justifies the necessity of the Article by citing statistics about how the cattle population fell drastically between 1940 and 1945 but neglects to mention that this can be attributed to the need for army rations during World War II.

Seth Govind Das, the next speaker, is unapologetic in his primary motivation for tabling the Article; he readily admits that he is a “religious minded person” and has “no respect for those people of the present day society whose attitude towards religion and religious minded people is one of contempt.” However, he does attempt to also justify the Article on cultural and economic grounds. Das argues that India’s ancient history has endowed it with a culture that is impervious to the imposition of new cultures only to contradict himself by stating how this culture is in need of protection. His economic justification mirrors that of Bhargava’s but with slight alterations; Das says that cow milk is essential to removing infant mortality but only substantiates this claim with the unanswered question: “How can they [children] be saved without milk?”

Das and Bhargava were both aware that this amendment would have religious repercussions, and they both resorted to the same argument to circumnavigate them. This was to cite how the ban of cow slaughter by Mughal emperors was an example of how the Muslim community also recognised the necessity of preserving cows. This argument fails to take into account the political expediency of minority rulers acquiescing to the customs of the majority of their populace. Das, in fact, quotes Babur’s instruction to Humayun to “refrain from cow-slaughter to win the hearts of the people of Hindustan” without recognising this expediency.

The speeches of the rest of the supporters of Article 48 degenerate further into impassioned pleas and obvious zealotry, and away from reasoned arguments and logic. Only Professor Saxena acquits himself favourably in this regard, but his argument that Article 48 is needed because half of India’s national income is derived from cattle wealth is woefully outdated.

It is at this stage that the Vice-President allowed dissenting opinions to be voiced, the first of which was that of Mr. Z.H. Lari. Mr. Lari makes it clear that he neither supports nor opposes the Article, and readily admits that Islam only permits the slaughter of cows and does not necessarily require it. His primary concern is the possibility that Bakrid celebrations will be marred by arrests made as a result of this Article. In fact, Lari states that he is in favour of the Article being included as a fundamental right as that would make it clear that the Hindu majority wished to preserve cattle for religious reasons. He makes the valid point that modern and scientific agriculture would mean mechanisation, and not a blanket ban on cattle slaughter. Lari is extremely conciliatory in his language, stating that his motivations are not “anger, malice or resentment” but a “regard for cordial relations between the communities” and a desire to avoid “any misunderstanding between the two communities on this issue”

Syed Muhammad Saiadulla is the last speaker. He begins his stance by accepting and honouring Hindu sentiments regarding the slaughter of cows and states that he would not object if Hindus want to “place this matter in our Constitution from the religious point of view.” However he is wary of an economic justification and predicts that it would “create a suspicion in the minds of many that the ingrained Hindu feeling against cow slaughter is being satisfied by the backdoor.” It is safe to say that this prediction has come true, as many people, wisely or unwisely, have gone past the point of suspicion. Saiadulla then used examples from his home state of Assam to prove that “in order to improve the economic condition of the people…useless cattle should be done away with and better breeds introduced.”

Both Lari and Saiadulla’s requests to clearly state the religious motivations in Article 48 were rejected on the grounds of secularism. It seems that the Assembly’s efforts to avoid favouring one religion have been counterproductive. There is now a Constitutional justification for Hindu fundamentalists to enforce their beliefs on the population that has the cloak of economic reasoning. The Indian economy is now drastically different that the one in 1948 and the need for the prohibition of cattle slaughter must be re-examined. This revision must also include a debate about the liberties of non-Hindus and non-religious Hindus to eat and sell beef or enjoy economic activities of their choice. Bhargava mentions in his speech that he does “not want that due to its [the Article] inclusion in the Fundamental Rights, non-Hindus should complain that they have been forced to accept a certain thing against their will.” However, he follows this by opining that “there will be absolutely no difference if the spirit of the amendment is worked out faithfully, wheresoever this amendment is placed.” It is unclear as to what the spirit of Article 48 actually was and whether it was worked out faithfully, but it is clear that non-Hindus are now complaining that they have been forced to accept a certain thing against their will.

Madhav Chandavarkar is a Research Associate with Takshashila Institution. His Twitter handle is @MadChap88

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Bites from the classroom: Part 1

Girisha Shankar reflects on some concepts in the policy space.

International trade: going beyond “win-win”

A very commonly held view is that trading is good and makes everyone involved better off. However, it can also be argued that this kind of trading is good for countries or entities that are on equal footing or for those who produce commodities that are similarly valued. It may not hold good in cases where the two entities (or countries) involved in trade produce goods that are dissimilar in value. For example suppose country A is specialised in growing mangoes while country B is specialised in making cell phones. If the two countries are trading on these, invariably country B stands to gain compared to country A – since the cost of a cell phone is disproportionately higher than that of a mango.

One can argue that apart from the monetary benefits, both countries are actually better off – Country A gets to enjoy cell phones while country B enjoys taste of mangoes. But assuming an extreme case of country A being only specialized in growing mangoes, it would have to work harder and produce more to be able to equal B in value.

One answer to this could be that there is a higher incentive for country A in investing in its competency building for producing something that can match or better the value of a cell phone.

In practice however, this may not always work out this way. Country A may not really be successful in reinventing itself to create something that is comparable in value of a cell phone. Let me take a real life example of the Indian software industry. Most of Indian software houses are engaged in providing services, though these houses know very well that the software products would perhaps fetch far higher income. Even after a quarter century of being in business, there hasn’t been a big success software product story from Indian shores. On the other hand, some of the other countries quickly turned around – e.g. Israel, Cambridge in UK, Dublin in Ireland etc.

In summary, trading can increase the incomes for both countries involved in trading, but the gains may not be similar. So for the countries involved in trading, the outcome may not be exactly win-win, but rather “small win-huge win”.


In defense of an incremental approach to policy making

Nandan Nilekani has talked about need for minimalist policy programs, mentioning that they could be helpful in building much needed consensus in formulating the policy. In R V Vaidynathan Ayyar’s book, Public Policymaking in India, Lindlom’s incrementalism talks about a similar approach for policy – taking short steps at a time.

This method is often questioned because it is slow in achieving the desired benefits. Here I would like to introduce an analogy from the software development process that is commonly used. This model is called the iterative development model. It is typically used in times of uncertainty when the customer’s requirements are not very clear. The model essentially builds the software incrementally – at each step producing something that can be demonstrated to the customer to seek feedback. The feedback can be used in the subsequent increments (also known as iterations) for course corrections. This model is very effective in ensuring that the final product converges to what the customer needs. However, this also has an overhead in the multiple iterations involved and multiple consultations with customers – in this case, citizens – which is not always easy.

The environment where the policy gets formulated and finally gets implemented is far more uncertain than a typical software development environment. A comprehensive analysis of the policy problem is unrealistic in such a case. At best, only a part of the problem might be figured out. Secondly, a policy would certainly build on top of something existing already – seldom on a clean slate (Ref: pg 142, Ayyar).

It is also worth noting also that the Government machinery (especially the executive) is quite risk averse such that it has no incentive in introducing something bold rather than attempting to introduce something smaller that is satisficing (Ref: pg 129, 130, Ayyar).

In such cases, the incrementalism referred above is quite useful. Each iteration resulting in a small incremental policy that can be introduced for implementation, feedback taken and suitable corrections made.

Girisha Shankar is an alumnus of Takshashila’s Graduate Certificate in Public Policy. This post is part of a series of opinion snippets. The views expressed here are the author’s.

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