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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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Why the new Geospatial Information Bill, 2016 is a death knell for start-ups?

The draft Geospatial Information Regulation (GIR) Bill 2016 recently introduced by the government is complete bad news for Start-up ecosystem and will lead to a license-quota-permit raj 

The government of India, ministry of home affairs recently released a draft bill on geospatial information regulation and invited comments from the public. The reason given by the government is that Pathankot attack in January was due to the precise location being known by the terrorists and that the bill addresses the question of national security. The bill recommends a fine up to Rs. 100 crore and a jail term up to seven years if the map of India is depicted wrongly.

Governments have every right to frame laws to safeguard and enhance national security. The bill has been on the agenda of the Indian government since 2012. The main concern of the government seemed to be Internet giants like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft etc. According to the draft bill, it will be mandatory to take permission from a government authority before acquiring, publishing, disseminating, or distributing any geospatial information about India. It also specifically states that the government will set up a Security Vetting Authority (SVA) in a time bound manner. Where the bill gets it wrong is creating a negative atmosphere and unnecessary roadblocks for start ups.

Amitabh Bagchi, a professor at IIT Delhi, says that companies like Google and Microsoft are at the lowest end of an application stack that may consist of several layers.  Multi billion dollar companies like these get the information available through the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). In December 2014, the Survey of India, the central government’s nodal agency for maps reported that map of India is wrongly depicted by Google in its websites like google.co.in, ditu.google.co.ch (China), google.pk (Pakistan) and google.org (general).

The ones who are likely suffer the most are Start-ups that heavily depend on geolocation services. Companies like Zomato, Swiggy, zop now, gropeher etc have their successes pinned on to the location. In addition, Bangalore based start ups like MapUnity and Latlong that create apps for businesses are genuinely afraid that it will kill them. Big companies like Ola and Uber do not get affected that much. They are big enough to tide over crises. It is the small companies that have every reason to be apprehensive. The timeline for government approval could be up to three months, a luxury which cannot just be afforded by the start ups. Therefore they have come up with a website titled Savethemap.in that informs the user about the bill in the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section. A good public policy is one in which all stakeholders are consulted rigorously and their concerns addressed.

Guru Aiyar is Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Geomap by Caulier Gilles licensed from Creativecommons.org

 

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A representation of the US policy on Pakistan

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

We have long argued that Pakistan is not one geopolitical entity, but two: the putative state (represented currently by a civilian government), and the military—jihadi complex (MJC) that has captured the commanding heights of power. One way in which the MJC continues to thrive is to utilise Pakistan’s foreign relationships for self-perpetuation.

In this regard, Pakistan’s relationship with the US is of special significance. Hussain Haqqani’s Pakistan: between mosque and military (2005) postulated that securing finances from the US is one of three legs of Pakistan’s policy tripod, the other two being a pursuit of religious nationalism and near manic obsession for a confrontation with India.

The US fails to differentiate between the MJC and the putative Pakistani state. Jeffrey Goldberg’s article “The Obama Doctrine” for The Atlantic says this about Pakistan:

He [Obama] questioned why the US should avoid sending its forces into Pakistan to kill al-Qaeda leaders, and he privately questions why Pakistan, which he believes is a disastrously dysfunctional country, should be considered an ally of the US at all.

These lines succinctly sum up the world’s Pakistan conundrum. When the policy response of a two-term president of the world’s most powerful nation-state towards a “disastrously dysfunctional” ally is merely restricted to “private questioning”, we know that Pakistan continues to confound all international stakeholders. US Ambassador Richard Olson’s testimony to the US House Foreign Relations Committee further displays the confusion.

The former US Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill also conveyed his frustration over US policy towards Pakistan. He pins the blame on the lack of continuity between successive administrations on taking tough steps against Pakistan. His argument can be summarised in this flowchart:

A cyclical problem

US policy towards Pakistan: A cyclical problem

MJC’s relationship with the US continues to be a prime concern for India.

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

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Three Indian schools of thought on the India—US partnership

A note on the retaliatory, bandwagoning, and swing power strategies.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter’s recently concluded India visit was keenly tracked — the attention garnered was comparable to President Obama’s last visit to India in January 2015. The visit concluded with an in-principle agreement between the two states on the Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) that provides mutual military logistic support.

The US Dept of Defence described the agreement as a signal that “Our countries and militaries are closer than ever before – brought together by shared values and mutual interests”. The non-official stances were far more conservative, with some commentators highlighting the hesitation from India’s side in aligning itself with the US.

From the Indian side, the visit attracted the attention of all watchers of India’s foreign policy. These numerous views can broadly be classified into three categories. Classifying and reflecting on these viewpoints is a good point to start thinking about what India should do in this game of international relations.

The first school of thought is retaliatory in nature. The underlying principle behind this line of thinking is that why should India support the US when it continues to support and even encourage Pakistan’s military—jihadi complex, an irreconcilable adversary? This perspective has further found an availability heuristic: our minds are fresh with the news of approval on the sale of F-16 to Pakistan, further confirming the bias that the US continues to play a double-game with India. This position was conveyed, amongst others, by Bharat Karnad. He says:

the Bharatiya Janata Party government of Narendra Modi is not proving as adroit in maintaining distance from the US. Modi seems smitten by America, and losing the plot on how to further the national interest.

This retaliatory school of thought is low on realism. That’s because the optimal scenario from a US perspective is not the one where it blocks equipping Pakistan militarily, but a scenario where the US military-industrial complex can be a service provider to India and Pakistan, both. In that sense, a simmering localised conflict between India—Pakistan is not an adverse outcome for the US. And this will continue to be the case until the US is forced to reconsider its India partnership for much stronger reasons such as challenging China in East Asia or the Indian Ocean Region. In such a case, it would be in the direct interest of the US to ensure that India is focused on one common enemy only. Until that happens, US will continue to secure its partnerships with both India and Pakistan — its support to the military—jihadi complex is a bitter reality that India has to come to terms with.

Bandwagoning is the second school of thought. This position was conveyed most effectively by K Subrahmanyam, the most famous of India’s strategic thinkers. The perspective is as follows:

We don’t have any clash of national interest with the Americans. There are some issues that usually arise because of America’s dealings with third parties such as Pakistan. But at a time when the government-to-government relationship was not good, we still saw about two million Indians settling in America. If things improve, this trend will get stronger. India has to leverage this situation and change the US-EU-China triangle into a rectangle. Until then it is in our interest to help America to sustain its pre-eminence. After all, in a three-person game, If America is at Number One, China is at Number Two and we are lower down, it is in our best interest to ensure that it is America that remains Number One.

The idea here is that at least in the short term, India must align itself with the US and use this partnership to increase its own power. This assumption ignores the scenario that an alignment with the US can actually decrease India’s power if it is put on a collision track with China, or pushed to participate in conflicts of little interest or purpose.

The third school of thought is a marginal cost-benefit strategy which sees India’s role as that of a swing power. Pratap Bhanu Mehta speaks of this position when he says:

Its (India’s) interests have always been to do business with both countries so that both take it seriously. This is a sophisticated game. But an open declaration of a political and defence alignment with the US forecloses those options. We will come to be unwittingly identified with American rhetoric and designs for Asia. And the overblown rhetoric emanating from Washington about positioning India in its pushback of China will reduce our options.

My colleague Nitin Pai also agrees:

despite an alignment of interests, it must not always side with the United States. It must swing. To paraphrase Henry Kissinger, India’s options toward the United States and China must always be greater than their options toward each other… until New Delhi demonstrates that it can deliver pain for one and pleasure for the other, it won’t be seen as swinging. It will be mistaken for sleep-walking.

The cost of this strategy is that with neither US or China backing India completely, their conduct with Pakistan becomes a determinant for India’s success as an international player.

Regardless of which of the three schools of thought the Indian government aligns itself with, the highest common factor for all the three is a substantial and rapid rise in India’s power — economic, military, maritime and political. Unless that happens, India’s options with any major power will always remain less than their options with each other.Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.
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India: A vital player in South China Sea

South China Sea is one of the most difficult and contentious maritime conflicts in the Asia Pacific. Several scholars have echoed the sentiments that the South China Sea conflict would be worst case threat to peace and stability in the region. The concerns are further strengthened with China’s continued military build up, despite the 2002 Joint Declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea. China’s assertive posture in the South China Sea is of great concern especially with India unfolding its Act East Asia Policy.

The Modi Government has realised the importance of the South China Sea both in terms of its geo-economic and strategic interests. To further strengthen the relationship with South East Asian countries, India pledges to be a credible  security provider. At the  2014  East Asian Summit, India along with the United States and Vietnam affirmed its support to safeguard maritime security and freedom of navigation. Further, India has been very vocal in the settling the dispute through peaceful means and in a accordance with the UNCLOS.

south china sea

Several reasons have been attributed to India’s interest in the South China Sea (SCS) (1) The increased trade with East Asia and the sense for recognition on the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) from the Indian side beyond its geographical expanse and the importance of the Indo-Pacific region (2) Reducing dependency on the major powers for India’s avowed maritime needs (3) India’s fear of growing China’s assertiveness in the Indian Ocean region (4) The importance of forward maritime presence and naval partnership  is seen critical to deter India’s adversaries in the region (5) Securing the trade-transit route which passes through the South China Sea all vital to India’s growing trade, energy and security interests ( Raja C Mohan, Samudra Manthan).

As India unfolds its  maritime security posture and interest, there is a strong commitment from the Indian side to realign with several South East Asian countries. India is seen as a a vital player in the region, and Southeast Asian countries are keen to partner with India both economically and strategically. India’s inertia to expand towards to East unfolds, this is also a step to contain China’s expanding maritime interest. India’s participation in several East Asian forums is seen as a counter balance move initiated by the Southeast Asian countries. Thus India is welcomed as an external balancer along with the Untied States.

Indian Navy 2007 Doctrine defined “South China Sea as an area of strategic interest” for India and the recent Act East Asia strategy has further reiterated India’s commitment to move beyond the Indian Ocean into the South China Sea. At several occasions India stated that it could or would deploy India Navy to the South China Sea to defends its energy interests.

With India’s maritime discourse expanding and 55% of India’s trade passing through this region, it is imperative that India pursues its interest in the region. The Indo-Pacific trilateral with India, Japan and United States further revitalises India’s presence in the region. Thus the adoption of  the Indo-Pacific region into the strategic framework has cumulatively  summed up the  relevance of South China Sea for India.

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar@Takshashila. Priya tweets @priyamanassa.

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Budget 2016 – Higher education remains in focus

In this year’s union budget, the Finance Minister (FM) announced an increase of 7.1% in the allocation towards education. Overall, Rs 72,394 crore have been allocated in 2016-17 for education, as against Rs 67,585.5 crore in the revised estimate of 2015-16. The revised budget for 2015-16 reduced the overall education allocation to Rs 67,585.5 crore from Rs 69,074.76 crore as was pegged in the budget estimate.

Out of the total outlay of Rs 72,394 crore, Rs 43,554 crore has been earmarked for school education and literacy and Rs 28,840 crore for higher education. While school education saw an increase of 2.4%, higher education sector received a raise of 14.4% in the planned outlay as compared to the last year. This is indicative of central government’s focus on higher education in comparison with school education. In fact, the preference for higher education is also substantiated by the fact that while the demand for grants by the department of higher education has been met with matching budget allocation for two consecutive years, there has been a shortfall of roughly 20,000 crore in the case of elementary education.

Higher Education Budget Trends

Indeed, Mr. Jaitley announced the setting up of a Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) with an initial capital base of Rs 1,000 crore. He stated that the aim of HEFA is to finance improvement in infrastructure in top institutions. While HEFA is much needed and could go towards supporting better research and development infrastructure, details on it are missing from the budget documents and it is not clear yet to which institutions this money will be allocated.

As noted by the FM, HEFA will be set up as a not-for-profit and could leverage CSR funds. It is interesting to see how the Government defines the agenda for CSR funds for its own schemes and initiatives, whether it is the Swachha Bharat mission or now the HEFA.

The FM also said that, “an enabling regulatory architecture will be provided to ten public and ten private institutions to emerge as world-class Teaching and Research Institutions”. To give teeth to its commitment of promoting research, the government has also pegged Rs 236 crore under a new sub-heading research and innovation with announcement of schemes such as “IMPRINT” “Unnat Bharat Abhiyan” and “Uchhatar Avishkar Abhiyan”. However, it is interesting to note that barring Rs 10 crore for Unnat Bharat Abhiyan, which is aimed at identifying development challenges in rural India and coming up with sustainable solutions, the remaining Rs 226 crore is directed towards research and innovation in technology and engineering related challenges. Importance given to research in social sciences is thus trumped by that set for natural sciences.

Nidhi Gupta is a Programme Manager at the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @nidhi1902

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Taming our roads

Traffic cops need to be armed only with a camera.

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Technology does not solve any problem if the stakeholders are not serious about solving it in the first place. But technology does make the job easier if the social capital exists. While we have strong debates and opinions about loftier things like Freedom of Speech and Nationalism, rarely do we have national debates on the state of our urban infrastructure. Yet it is the most tangible aspect of the government action (or inaction) which affects more than half of the country now. Urban spaces are different than villages in the sense that they are harder to govern without formal institutions. A village can form a group of elders fairly easily and they can act as interlocutors for disputes and also for matters related to management of community resources. A city works on a different scale. No one knows everybody and everyone cannot agree to anything. Hence, respected institutions and very clear rules that can be followed without much hand-holding is an explicit need of a city.

Traffic in Indian Cities is a beast that needs to be tamed. It is a perfect example of people coming together and causing disharmony instead of cohesion. No one follows the rules even if it will make everyone happier by following them. Behavioral Sciences study these kinds of interactions and place significant weight on initial conditions. With the same set of rules and participants but with different initial conditions, systems tend to move towards very different equilibrium. Hence a mere change in rules like increasing the penalty, etc. will not change the situation much. A focused effort needs to be put in to change the fundamentals and arrive at a new stable point. But who will make the change?

Three agencies need to come together to achieve this. The municipal corporations need to update and maintain the infrastructure. The RTO needs to license and maintain records of vehicles and authorized drivers. And finally the traffic police need to enforce the rules on the road. The key ingredient that is missing in most cities is the ability to track and recover fees. Technology can help in this regard. Bangalore already has a system which can send challans to the offenders at their doorstep or over email. The traffic cops need use this data more effectively. Unless people are convinced that they cannot get away with breaking traffic laws there will not be a change in the behavior.

 

Siddarth Gore is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institution and he tweets @siddhya

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Northeast Asia looks at India

The Geo-strategic significance of Northeast Asia dates back to the cold war  period  and continues to be relevant even in the current context. The region houses several important powers like China, Japan, the Koreas and there is a strong presence of United States in the region.

Economically vibrant region, Northeast Asia continues to attract the interest and attention of great powers. Though India is traditionally not a part of the region, today it is gaining relevance and credence an an important strategic player. This opportunity seems to be extremely critical, as the regional powers like Japan and South Korea sees India as potential player who could possibly alter the dynamics of the region.

Northeast Asia is becoming increasingly unstable with unresolved disputes and shifting alignment in the face of China’s growing presence in the region.  Though India-China relations is often seen in the light of cooperation and competition, the regional powers see India’s rise  probably as a swing in balancing China or leading to a multipolar order.

How is India seen as a vital player in Northeast Asia: 

India’s presence in the Northeast Asia is typically welcomed by South Korea, Japan and the United States. United States sees India’s presence as vital to the Northeast Asian security order. Unlike the past, US is today convinced of an expanded security role for India beyond the Indian Ocean Region. United States has made an ernest effort to conceptualise a strategic interconnection for India beyond the Indian Ocean and the Asia Pacific. A means to justify India’s role in Northeast Asia. Further United States has deliberately boosted politico-diplomatic engagement between India and the regional powers in Northeast Asia.  India has been welcomed in  the East Asian forums and institutions- probably a counter weight to China in the regionIn terms of security role, India has been involved in periodic naval exercises with the United states and Japan. The most recent has been the  Exercise conducted in Northeast Asia. Most of India’s allies in the Northeast Asia are formal and informal partners with United States. This strategic entente has brought India into the foray of partnership with Japan and South Korea.

Japan remains key to Asia Pacific, and  the recent interaction between India-Japan has strengthened the links further. The cold war politics drew India into an alignment different from that of most of the states of East Asia. and this created a sense of disjunct in terms of understanding each other.  The most complex of the India-Japan relation was the incomprehensible meaning on the  values and cultures that existed in both the countries.

However the perceived separation between the two countries are drawing to a close, the Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe has called for a deeper, broader, action-oriented partnership with India. Both the Prime Ministers of Japan and India have unswervingly committed to a peaceful, open, equitable, stable and rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. Both the Prime Minsters have committed to an extended bilateral cooperation in spheres of security, stability and sustainable development. Several areas have been identified in terms of cooperation-people-to-people, tourism, infrastructure collaboration,civil nuclear energy and educational collaboration. Crucial areas in terms of transfer of Defence Equipment and Agreement concerning security measures for the protection of classified military information  further deepens the strategic ties between India and Japan. The participation of Japan in the India-US Malabar Exercise  has further forged the long term commitment with Japan and to deal with maritime challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.

India-South Korea relations is gaining credence in the recent years. Ideological differences through the cold war deterred the relationship between India and South Korea. But the recent “New Asia Diplomatic initiative” by South Korea and India’s “look East Asia Policy” has further elevated the relationship between the two countries.

While India and Japan have expressed concerns over North Korea’s continuous development of Nuclear weapons and have urged North Korea to comply with the international regimes. India is seen as a constructive  and viable partner in the security network in Northeast Asia. Is Japan, South Korea and Untied States subtly engaging India to contain China.

India at this juncture stands to benefit as this bilateral and multilateral engagement with North East Asia and United States is seen as a positive move towards India’s “Act East Asia Policy”.

Priya Suresh is a Research Scholar @Takshshila Institute. She tweets @priyamanassa.

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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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Should autos be allowed surge pricing?

If you don’t restrict the market you don’t need to restrict the price.

The Mumbai auto drivers followed their brethren in Paris and New York and went on a one-day strike against the growing number of cab-aggregator services in the city. The strike itself is a testimony to the popularity of these new and innovative means of urban transportation. It shows that people are interested in trying out new options if it helps them save time and money. The resistance from the entrenched players is obvious but what is not obvious is what the government will do about it. The confusion begins right from the start, is this public transport or private transport?

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Source: Flickr

We generally refer to autos and taxis as public transport even if they are privately owned. Perhaps because the government mandates many things that the autos need to do. The color, the fare, the uniform, even the number of autos that can be on the roads is fixed by the government. In fact, the increase in the permit charges from 200 to 10000 is one of the reasons for the strike. But why would a government try to restrict the number of autos (by increasing the price of the permit or not allowing more permits)? If there are more people who want to commute by autos, then shouldn’t there be more autos on the road? The reason generally given is to protect the livelihoods of the auto drivers. Then why are the auto drivers themselves striking against the decision?

The auto drivers in Mumbai are one of the best in the country when it comes to plying by meter. But will they be now tempted to do surge pricing as well? The way to control surge pricing is not by capping it. But by allowing more vehicles and drivers to offer their services. This is beneficial for both drivers as well as passengers. The central government sent out an advisory in July of 2015 and Karnataka State Government has come out with its own policy for regulating the cab-aggregators. Both policies have focused on treating this new phenomenon like traditional auto or a taxi service. Which it is most definitely, not.

Safety should be the chief concern of these regulations. Other operational parameters like prices, hours of service, etc. should not be unnecessarily regulated. Urban public transport is in desperate need of innovation and the government should do all it can to support it. Greater use of such services will result in less vehicles on the road and easing of pressure on the current municipal transport systems. Both would benefit the poor who are dependent on fast and cheap public transport for their everyday needs. Creating a regulatory framework which puts safety and ease of compliance at its heart would be a step in the right direction in this regard.

Siddarth Gore is a Research Scholar at the Takshashila Institution and he tweets @siddhya

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