Technology and Terror: A new era of threat in a borderless online world

Terror requires spectacle to thrive and technology has allowed this opera of violence to find new audiences and locales.

Technology, Terror, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Digital Terror, ISIS, Online Recruitment, Kabir Taneja, Samir Saran, Syria, Islamists, Do-It-Yourself, DIY, Terrorism, Kalashnikovs, Crypto currency, Western, Eastern, Christchurch, VPN
Source: boonchai wedmakawand/ Getty Images

From ISIS attaching a GoPro camera to a home-made armed drone in Syria to Islamists from the Democratic Republic of Congo uploading 4K videos pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, cyberspace and emerging technologies are facilitating terrorist activities at an unprecedented scale. The convergence of technology and terrorism represents the worst kind of feedback loop between the real and the virtual. States, meanwhile, are struggling to respond to this convergence and to balance the imperatives of national security and the freedoms afforded in cyberspace.

Given the complex structural drivers of terrorism and the trade-offs involved in regulating technology, it is imperative that policy makers first assess the real and evolving dimensions of the challenge. The popular conceptual understanding of this menace is that like war, terrorism is simply politics by other means. Whoever the actor may be, terrorism is a violent expression of alternative political values and norms for organizing societies. Motivations may vary but violence is the principal instrumentality for recruiting, propagating and financing this perverse politics. And like mainstream politics, terrorist organizations have co-opted technology as a force multiplier in achieving their objectives.

Like mainstream politics, terrorist organizations have co-opted technology as a force multiplier in achieving their objectives.

As has been suggested by many scholars, terror requires spectacle to thrive and technology has allowed this opera of violence to find new audiences and locales. The Christchurch shootings in New Zealand is perhaps the most obvious example — with the shooter streaming his actions live on social media. New communication platforms afford scale and impact at virtually no cost, a service that terrorists have used with impunity and agility over the years with deleterious consequences for communities and countries.

Some features of the internet, like end-to-end encryption and virtual private network (VPN) have made it easier than ever for terrorist organizations to find recruits and manage outreach and organization. For example, migration of pro-ISIS propaganda from likes of Facebook and Twitter to Telegram was in a large part due to encryption facility offered to all its users. Technology also allows these organizations to transcend the tyranny of geography. An organization in one country can raise funds, recruit and radicalize individuals in another part of the world with ease.

Some features of the internet, like end-to-end encryption and virtual private network (VPN) have made it easier than ever for terrorist organizations to find recruits and manage outreach and organization.

Every communication opportunity online is being exploited by these malevolent actors. From the mainstream platforms such as Facebook and Telegram to chat rooms, betting sites, porn websites and online gaming hubs. These virtual venues are fertile breeding grounds for accidental and purposeful recruits and for propagating violent narratives. The importance of ‘digital terror squads’ was emphatically asserted when, in 2016, ISIS granted its ‘media mujahids’ the same rank as those fighting for the group on the ground. This gave the online radicals pride of place that was traditionally reserved for the fighters delivering carnage on the ground. This is only one of the instances that signify just how integral, sophisticated and important cyber operations are for terrorist organizations today.

Terrorist organizations are also leapfrogging traditional hawala networks to embrace Fin-Tech as a means to finance their operations. Services like e-wallets, digital currencies, crypto-currencies and even crowd funding platforms are being leveraged to raise and launder money and finance terrorist operations. This has rendered most current practices of clamping down on terror-finance obsolete, and today more terror organizations have access to more money than ever before.

Terrorist organizations are also leapfrogging traditional hawala networks to embrace Fin-Tech as a means to finance their operations.

Amidst this worrying convergence of terrorism and technology, states have struggled to respond without threatening the infrastructure of cyberspace or the freedoms and opportunities it affords. Meanwhile, the tech platforms are having troubles of their own. The word ‘social’ in social media is under scanner, with platforms facing multiple headwinds relating to their policies on responding to terrorism, fake news and political interference among others. These platforms host billions of users even as they struggle to differentiate between their ‘social’ obligations to the digital commons and their commitments to markets and investors.

As states, platforms and grassroots organizations combat the threat of tech-enabled terrorism, it is important for them to identify certain guiding principles.

First, it is crucial that they do not unintentionally limit access to technology itself. For many states, the knee-jerk response to some of these challenges is banning access or shutting down tech-based routine operations altogether—as we recently saw in Sri Lanka. Instead, states must co-opt technology and tech-actors, which allows for better surveillance of and enforcement against terrorist activities. Legislations and notifications will have limited influence in this new battle theatre. More technology, better technology and skillful deployment of technology against malign actors is the most potent option for all to embrace and one which most governments have failed to invest in.

States must co-opt technology and tech-actors, which allows for better surveillance of and enforcement against terrorist activities.

Second, the digital commons must witness the creation of new mechanisms and institutions for international cooperation on this vital issue. The challenges of terrorism are cross border — making debates held hostage by ‘regional’ or ‘international’, ‘Western’ or ‘Eastern’ silos irrelevant. States and tech companies need to find new venues and forums to cooperate on these issues in an institutionalized manner, formally or informally.  The traditional distrust between governments and private actors is creating a cleavage that allows terror to flourish and succeed.

The digital commons must witness the creation of new mechanisms and institutions for international cooperation on this vital issue.

Third, technology companies must be more forthcoming about disclosures relating to terrorist activities on their platforms. The obsession with the performance of their shares on the bourses is perversely impacting the global effort to respond to terror. They must create internal mechanisms to share information with law enforcement on a real time basis. They must also publish regular public reports detailing the nature of terrorist activities they have identified, and steps taken to counter them. The reluctance of corporations to be transparent about the mishaps on their platforms and networks is a serious problem.

Technology companies must be more forthcoming about disclosures relating to terrorist activities on their platforms.

Fourth, states, for their part, must remember that tech is only a tool. It is not a substitute for real world and virtual policing. Often states attempt to undermine tech—for example through weaker encryption norms due to their naïve assessment that this would assist in their dispensation of duty. This only undermines utility and safety of technology for millions of benign users; while terrorist organizations will simply migrate to alternative platforms as witnessed in the recent past.

States…must remember that tech is only a tool. It is not a substitute for real world and virtual policing.

Fifth, localized capacity building both by state and tech firms is the need of the hour. While national intelligence organizations are certainly relevant, the first line of defense against tech-enabled terrorism will be local law enforcement. Unless these units are equipped with skills and technology, the terrorist will always remain a step ahead in an upcoming era of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) terrorism.

Localized capacity building both by state and tech firms is the need of the hour.

Finally, simultaneous investments in capacity for strategic communications by states and technology companies is a pivotal step. Unless good actors can combat the narrative appeal of radicalism and terror, most responses with be feeble and patchy. Either the states provide purpose and meaning to individuals, or radical groups will. The old methods of counter-terror will need to be dramatically upgraded and redesigned. The terrorists have developed a lethal cocktail of clicks and Kalashnikovs, even as citizens, states and other organizations, lag behind in recognizing and responding to this heady mix.

Simultaneous investments in capacity for strategic communications by states and technology companies is a pivotal step.

Any good policy response to tech-enabled terrorism must acknowledge that combating it requires an “all of society” approach. This first line of defense is always communities, no matter how the technology may change. Platforms for their part must work with them alongside states to increase awareness about this real and present danger and must transparently share their propositions that can help to balance the trifecta of growth, rights and security.

Indian exceptionalism and realistic responses to climate change

Samir Saran

At a discussion in Washington DC this spring, I was quizzed with a degree of annoyance on the multiple messages coming out of New Delhi with respect to India’s position on a global agreement to combat climate change. In the same discussion there was also an exasperated inquisition on why Indian needs and priorities must hold the world to ransom (as if there were a consensus) and why India imagines that it merits a special space, attention or exception in the climate arena.

The response to these two central propositions on India and climate change must of course come from the officialdom at Raisina Hills, home to Delhi’s executive offices. However, as we move down the road to COP 21 in Paris, it is crucial that any response, if formulated and then communicated (a bigger ‘if’), would need to engage with the most important climate proposition put before India by the world, and its interplay with the country’s development/growth imperatives.

Viewed from New Delhi, and after sifting through the chaff, the proposition for India’s climate change response posed by a large section of OECD countries, and certainly from the influential capitals in Europe, is fairly straightforward:

1. India must be the first country in the world (of size and significance) to successfully transition from a low-income, agrarian existence to a middle income, industrialised society without burning even a fraction of the fossil fuels consumed by other developed countries. China was the last country to enjoy this privilege. India will be the first that will have to cede this option and of course this may well be the new template for other developing countries to emulate.

2. The scale of this transition and the current economic situation in some parts of the world, alongside the complex and privately controlled innovation landscape, means that there is limited ability for the Annex 1 countries (the developed world) to offer any meaningful support in terms of financing or technology transfer. Official Development Assistance (ODA) is a small fraction of what is necessary today, and India will therefore need to mobilise domestic resources to power the non-fossil-fuel-fired Indian story.

3. Even as India adopts this ‘exceptional’ approach to industrialisation, and creates the necessary financial and commercial arrangements to achieve it, mostly through its own endeavors, the developed world and others want to retain the right to judge Indian performance. India will be monitored with an increasingly extensive system of compliance verification, and will be criticised for its missteps on the journey despite the novelty and scale of its undertaking.

My response to the thesis of ‘Indian exceptionalism’ therefore is that India does not seek to be an exception, but the demands imposed upon it that will require it to be exceptional. This is a truth for others to accept, and the climate reality for which India must discover creative policy. Three distinct narratives among various actors in India have so far shaped its response.

The first set of responses is from a group of people I like to call India’s ‘cold war warriors’. This group believes that no matter the contemporary political, economic and environmental reality, an alternate universe can be constructed through the mandate of the UNFCCC. These persons are the architects of the global intergovernmental processes and have faith in them. They believe that an agreement in Paris this December at COP 21, that is sensitive to Indian needs, will somehow assist in the transition required by India and will ensure that India only needs to make incremental changes to its ‘business as usual’ approach to economic growth and development. This group has ignored the changing economic system, which is increasingly disinvesting from fossil fuels politically, and in terms of financial flows and promoting green energy markets. The ‘green’ economic and market realities that will shape India’s future are seen as something that can be circumvented by creatively crafted text and clauses in a legal (read weak legal agreement) agreement in Paris. Despite 20 years of failure to achieve this ‘world of equity’ with ‘differentiated responsibility’ they continue to believe that a global agreement is the end in itself.

The second set of strategies to the proposition facing India are advanced by a group I refer to as the climate evangelists. They believe that 2050 is already upon us. Commercially viable clean energy solutions are available, and these hold the answer to both our immediate and future energy woes. The opportunities that exist in the creation of a new green economy must be grabbed with both hands. This group wants subsidies and incentives for clean energy technology, and taxes and regulation of fossil fuels. These green pioneers are sanguine that sufficient ‘push’ and ‘pull’ will deliver technology innovation and development on the requisite scale. They reject that fossil fuels are necessary as baseline sources of energy and instead insist that the technological revolution is already here, and that India must get on board or be left behind. Their argument is often a moral one: we have a moral obligation to save the earth for its own sake and for future generations – ignoring the fact that at this level of income disparity, inequality and differential access to the right to life, the planet is in fact being saved for the rich to flourish.

The third set of responses is from the group I call the climate realists. The realists understand that the global climate proposition is inherently unfair, and that India could and probably should push back against such an imposition by the developed world. However, they also recognise that no matter how hard they try to construct a ‘fairer’ agreement in Paris, the combined forces of the market, society and technology are all pointing towards a ‘greener’ transition. The political economy of climate change necessitates a transformation, and it is not necessarily in India’s interests to fight against it. Instead, the realists understand that there is an opportunity to lead in constructing a green economy. They believe that this moment can be used to reshape the tax, financial and global governance systems. They also see no contradiction in also ensuring continued flow of investments and emphasis on lifeline sources of energy for India’s poor.

Analysis shows that India does better than Germany, the United States, China and others on per capita coal dependence, with about a third of the consumption levels of the greenest among these three. It also already commits, as a proportion of its GDP, more towards renewable energy off-take than most (except Germany). It therefore does not need to defend its coal consumption. On the other hand, it must certainly be the champion to encourage ‘greener’ performance from others. The equity that it seeks lies in this. The rich must continue to invest more in renewables. This must be demanded and enforced.

Prime Minister Modi’s recent statements suggest that he may be such a realist as well. He is promoting an aggressive renewable energy thrust, while being uncompromising on the point that lifeline energy will continue to rely on coal for the foreseeable future. When he takes coal off the discursive table, he is not foreclosing the right to use coal; instead he is sharpening the focus on India’s impressive credentials around green growth. He invokes religious texts, civilisational ethos and clever political word-play as he seeks a leadership role for India in global climate policy, and sets the agenda with ambitious plans for transitioning to a new energy paradigm. The ‘house always wins’ is a golden Las Vegas adage with a lesson for global politics too: unless we see strong political leadership of the kind being displayed by Prime Minister Modi and President Obama, the house – in this case national officialdom(s) and global bureaucrats – will prevail again. They will construct a new world order with words, commas and full stops, where nothing, not even the climate, can ever change.

Courtesy: lowyinterpreter.org

Britain should shed its China obsession to seize the moment in the Indo-Pacific

Post-Brexit Britain needs to move away from its China-centric policy and step up trade engagements in the region, which offers potential for win-win economic gains. London should also look to join its allies, including the US, India, Australia in the support of regional security to manage the risks posed by Beijing

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

We are living through the Indo-Pacific Century – a moment of great opportunity in world history when the balance of power and wealth is shifting eastward for the first time in hundreds of years.

But 2020 has offered proof that this century will also be a challenging one.

First, the coronavirus pandemic has been the biggest shock to the global economy for decades. Even countries that have avoided the worst of the public health crisis have seen significant negative economic effects. The disease has served to underline how globalisation has connected all of us, for better and for worse.

Second, the pandemic has been accompanied by a more assertive China. In recent months, Chinese troops have had a bloody face-off with India along the border between the two countries in the Himalayas, while Beijing continues to aggressively press its claims in the South China Sea – all this amid its extension of control over Hong Kong through the controversial national security law.

These factors may have contributed to Britain’s decision to ban Huawei from its 5G network, as Australia did earlier. Telecommunications will play an increasingly central role in developing closer security partnerships, and Britain’s choice is a clear indication of the country’s willingness to continue to work shoulder to shoulder with the United States and its other partners. The UK is not alone in this realisation. India, the US and Japan have also banned, or are considering banning, Chinese apps.

This context prompts a vitally important question. How can Britain better partner and work with countries in a region spanning an area extending from India to Japan and reaching down to Australia and the South Pacific, to partake in the growth-led opportunities and manage the risks posed by a prosperous and expansive China?
A London think-tank, Policy Exchange, has announced an Indo-Pacific Commission that we are part of, to examine these issues. Together with other experienced policymakers from around the world, we will discuss and recommend new approaches Britain and its allies can take to further the rules-based order across this strategically important region. Naturally, for the UK, this interest also reflects a new post-Brexit awareness of the importance and potential of the Indo-Pacific, as London looks beyond the European Union to strengthen alliances and explore new markets.
Our advice to Britain, though it applies to other countries, would start with two basic ideas. First, avoid being too China-centric. As the commission’s chairman, former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, has observed, a focus on China alone – both its positives and negatives – would be to overlook the myriad opportunities for trade and other cooperation on political, defence and diplomatic issues with countries including Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia and Singapore in the Indo-Pacific region. Think, for example, of the opportunities that the City of London could explore in South and Southeast Asia in financial innovation, in which it is a world leader.
Second, Britain should reimagine its place in the world order. It might have retreated from “East of Suez” more than half a century ago but this is the time to step up. As the world’s fifth-largest economy, there are potential win-win economic gains to be made in the Indo-Pacific; for example, in entering existing multilateral trade agreements, as well as bilateral agreements with Australia, India, Japan and other growing Asian economies.
Britain also remains a leader in innovation and technology, as shown by the phenomenal global success of entrepreneurs like James Dyson, whose company is now headquartered in Singapore and whose technology and products are considered a global standard for future-oriented innovation. More recently, the leadership role of the UK can be seen by the strides Oxford and Astra-Zeneca are making on a Covid-19 vaccine. Astra-Zeneca has partnered with the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, which is the largest vaccine maker in the world by volume, to manufacture 1 billion doses of this vaccine.
Britain also remains a leader in innovation and technology, as shown by the phenomenal global success of entrepreneurs like James Dyson, whose company is now headquartered in Singapore and whose technology and products are considered a global standard for future-oriented innovation
This is a precursor to the potential of partnership between Britain and the Indo-Pacific countries. This leadership – bolstered by the fact the UK is home to no fewer than six of the top 50 universities in the world – means that the country has the potential to be the knowledge lab for the Indo-Pacific economies, where many young people still see the UK as their key destination for education and business.
Just as the UK should build on existing multilateral trade agreements in the Indo-Pacific, it should also look to join its allies in the support of regional security and defence. What are the most effective ways for London to join partners and allies – notably India, Australia and Japan – to strengthen regional security through defence engagement and presence? One answer can be found in the recent news that British officials are debating whether to base one of the UK’s new aircraft carriers in the Far East, where it would conduct military activities with allies including the US and Japan.

Just as the UK should build on existing multilateral trade agreements in the Indo-Pacific, it should also look to join its allies in the support of regional security and defence

This, of course, builds on what is already happening, with Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force conducting trilateral exercises recently in the Philippine Sea with the Australian Defence Force and the USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group. Britain, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council – and a country with existing defence arrangements with Singapore, India, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Japan – can play a role here, not least in the context of the contested South China Sea. Britain has an opportunity in the Indian Ocean as well. It should seize this new geopolitical moment and participate in the shaping of a new coalition along with India and the US.

This commentary originally appeared in South China Morning Post

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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Celebrating Rafale, rethinking India’s national security

Indian Air Force, Media Wars
Source: Indian Air Force

As five Dassault Rafale fighter jets – the first of 36 India agreed to purchase from France four years ago – landed at Ambala Air Force base, there was understandable celebration among civilians and those who don the military uniform in India. After all, this is the first high profile defence acquisition, barring the American assault helicopters, in decades.

The celebratory mood, however, must not hide the dark reality of India’s inept defence procurement process. The Indian Air Force, hobbled by fleet depletion and aircraft well past their fly-by-date, first communicated its desire to procure 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) to the Ministry of Defence in 2000.  After two decades, three prime ministers, four Governments, and a dizzying number of flip-flops and somersaults, the first five Rafale fighter jets finally landed in India on 29th July.

Opportunistic media hype apart, the arrival of these jets should be a moment of sombre national introspection. A nation that set out to procure 126 aircraft is able to obtain just five after two decades, that too by having to throw away piles of files that prevented any progress. This is a saga of a nation with an incompetent ‘system’.

The arrival of these jets should be a moment of sombre national introspection. A nation that set out to procure 126 aircraft is able to obtain just five after two decades, that too by having to throw away piles of files that prevented any progress

India is unprepared for the ensuing decade that will witness a world in upheaval and where national security will demand a significant share of resources and human capital. The Biblical ‘Four Horsemen’ have long symbolised the end of times. An honest enquiry into India’s national security preparedness will be defined by the four horsemen whose arrival portend the coming of the Apocalypse.

First, as the MMRCA saga shows, is India’s institutional inability to quickly arrive at a decision, which is invariably followed by inadequacy when it comes to swift execution of that decision.

The Rafale story serves as a demonstrator of the Indian state’s woeful (in)capacity – of its severe budgetary constraints; its inept (and self-serving) bureaucracy; its crusty defence establishment riddled with turf wars, ego battles and a vaulting sense of entitlement; and its incompetent political class that has spectacularly failed to rise to the defence of India by putting national security above party politics.

These stakeholders must be reminded of history’s abiding lesson: No nation has achieved its full potential without first establishing a strong national security industrial base. In recent times, India has set itself on the path to realising this goal with an overwhelming dependence on foreign powers. Even then, it has repeatedly stumbled due to procrastination by the ‘babu-neta’ combine.

Second, the inability to be honest with oneself. This is marked by the inability to read history correctly and to recognise India’s real enemy. Despite the obvious lessons New Delhi should have drawn from its defeat in 1962, it has largely privileged placating Beijing only to further fuel China’s untenable ambitions. As part of this perverse posture, India’s custodians of discourse have downplayed the bloody nose India has given China on at least two occasions last century and even the significant battlefield losses inflicted on China this summer.

India’s many dalliances with China, be it at BRICS or over the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), were shaped by the romanticism of co-creating an ‘Asian Century’. That should have ended with Doklam in 2017. It was a promise China never meant to keep or maybe never even made at all.

India’s many dalliances with China, be it at BRICS or over the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), were shaped by the romanticism of co-creating an ‘Asian Century’. That should have ended with Doklam in 2017.

We have hidden facts from 1962 onwards from all, and we continue to hide facts about Chinese behaviour and action even today. Since 2013, Chairman Xi has made abundantly clear his absence of interest in Asian multi-polarity. In Doklam, he shouted it through a megaphone for all the world to hear. China apologists do not hear and do not care.

They fail to assess China as an implacable neighbour and Xi as afflicted with an insatiable lust for power and territory. They ignore the China that views India as a civilisational foe and the Communist Party that seeks to undermine its neighbour’s political, economic and social architecture. Instead, these ‘experts’ crowd out other views from powerful pages, explaining Beijing’s malfeasance as a consequence of India’s sovereign decisions, internal politics and enhanced partnership with America.

What will it take for India to admit, unambiguously, that its neighbour is a long-term geopolitical rival and an existential threat? The tangential elements of this outlook are in place: India’s rejection of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and, more recently, its digital avatar. But the question is: Will such tactical moves serve as the cornerstone of a long-term strategy? Or, since the elephant in the room can no longer be ignored, is the template for Wuhan 2.0 being drafted by the blind men (and women) who have over the decades led India to its China conundrum?

Third, the inability to sense and seize an opportunity. Many countries have realized, or are beginning to, that they hedged their bets in Asia incorrectly. Their misplaced mission to socialise China into a rules-based international order having totally failed, they are now confronted by the reality of an imperial Beijing. Can New Delhi leverage this opportunity?

In 1972, China sensed America’s need to counterbalance the USSR and used that moment to sneak past the Iron Curtain. The Great Thaw was less a Henry Kissinger masterstroke and more a Mao success. The historic photograph in The Washington Post of a grinning President Richard Nixon with an inscrutable Paramount Leader Mao Zedong told the story best.

Beijing thought ahead and seized the moment, letting Washington foolishly believe it had stolen a march over China. Neither Nixon nor Kissinger could look beyond their immediate political imperative; China looked into the future, almost into the next century.

The lesson from that singular act of China was, and remains, that shadows of the past should not be allowed to precede India’s foray into a new world order. In 1971, Nixon ordered the US Seventh Fleet’s Task Force 74 into the Bay of Bengal as a nod to America’s ‘tilt’ towards Pakistan and to signal opposition to the Indo-Soviet Treaty.

But history moves in unpredictable cycles. The contrast between then and now is striking: The US has sent a carrier battle group into the region at a time when India and China are locked in a border confrontation. This time round, the group is exercising with Indian naval forces, bolstering a US-India partnership dedicated to resisting China’s coercive tactics and ensuring that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open. Clearly, 2020 is not 1971.

Asia has come a long way since the 1970s. In the retail market of the region’s geopolitics, India still commands a premium. As prospects of a two-front war become increasingly probable, can India shed its coy reluctance and operationalise arrangements that will welcome American naval presence in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal? A US frigate or two would send the signal to Rawalpindi to behave if India and China do engage militarily in the Himalayas. It would, in the medium term, also allow India and the US to manage the inevitable increase of Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.

The first step towards this would be operationalising, even if for optical purposes, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement by inviting US ships exercising in the region to use Indian facilities. This should further expand into the Indian Ocean with India facilitating an agreement on the Chagos Islands by leveraging its bilateral relations with Mauritius. A US presence at Diego Garcia is in India’s interest. It always was; now more than ever before.

Simultaneously, and before it’s too late, India must militarise its southern tip, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands: An air base and a naval docking facility are passé; India needs its very own Diego Garcia in its own national waters. If India does not do it now, very soon a rising crimson tide will leave it with no political room to have any choice. Far from matching China on the seas, if the Rafale saga is a pointer, Indian boats may need Chinese permission to leave the lagoons as our hardware would be weak and partnerships non-existent.

Although there is bi-partisan consensus in the US on Washington’s China policy, it is worth recalling that Joe Biden was part of an Administration that once harboured imaginations of a ‘G-2’ world. Drawing the US into the Indian Ocean and India’s seas will stymie such inclinations as well as get rid of the shadows of 1971 that lurk in some minds.

Although there is bi-partisan consensus in the US on Washington’s China policy, it is worth recalling that Joe Biden was part of an Administration that once harboured imaginations of a ‘G-2’ world

From the seas to the mountains, India must use the response to China’s hostility to its advantage – boldly, robustly and openly. For instance, the Quad can be taken beyond maritime security if India were to invite its partners for mountain exercises in the Himalayas next summer. China has militarised the Line of Actual Control (LAC). India militarising its Himalayan zone and creating special multilateral training and collaboration programmes would be an apt sovereign response.

The ongoing confrontation in Ladakh reminds us that claims over territory have to be backed up by connectivity, military presence and control. We may need to prepare for a highly militarised and un-tranquil LAC in the coming years.

As always, our commentariat will be pleading and pushing for ‘inaction’ as a policy option, in the mountains and in the seas. The underlying argument will be consistent with the ones deployed in the past – our actions must not provoke the dragon. The fact remains that China’s belligerence is not predicated on India’s actions, it flows from Beijing’s hostile and expansionist worldview.

Last, though not least, the inability to take its citizens into confidence. India is the only nation with great power ambition that has not adopted a formal and declared national security strategy. What passes for one is the frail doctrine of ‘strategic autonomy’, open to multiple subjective interpretations. Like ‘Panchsheel’, ‘Non-Alignment’ and ‘South-South Cooperation’, it is just another convenient phrase. It serves as a shield for indecisiveness, not as a lighthouse for agile decision-making.

Beyond the shrill prime time media wars that shape the foreign policy outlook of India’s voters, they largely have no metrics through which to judge the actions of their elected Government. India’s 1.3 billion citizens deserve far better. But since that awareness is denied to them, they applaud the landing of five fighter jets while awaiting another 31 on some unknown date, even as the country faces off Xi’s forces in the north and a ‘terror factory’ to its west.

Beyond the shrill prime time media wars that shape the foreign policy outlook of India’s voters, they largely have no metrics through which to judge the actions of their elected Government

The question is, should we ignore the four horsemen and continue marching straight into a geopolitical Apocalypse?

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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Letters from Peking: What Galwan Valley taught us this summer

Galwan, Huawei, Battlefield, Determination, Chinese Space, Atmanirbhar Bharat, Mandarin, App Ban, Escalate costs, misinformation, propaganda, Washington, Xi Jinping
Getty

There are five major takeaways from the ongoing crisis in Ladakh that will inevitably shape India’s China policy significantly. The first is that Xi Jinping’s China is at a stage—and in a year—where it has simply ceased to care about global public opinion or parameters of reasonable conduct. It has little interest in healthy relations with India and considers the diminishing of India’s role, growth, weight and presence as a key foreign policy objective.

Xi Jinping’s China is at a stage—and in a year—where it has simply ceased to care about global public opinion or parameters of reasonable conduct. It has little interest in healthy relations with India and considers the diminishing of India’s role, growth, weight and presence as a key foreign policy objective.

From its blatant support of terrorist infrastructure directed against India to its defence of terror states, the Chinese world view sees an India under siege as necessary and useful for its own strategic comfort. By seeking to grab territory by force, it has announced it considers India an adversary and will seek to harm it more directly. Some in India can continue to sink their heads deeper in the sand and avoid reading the letter from Beijing, but the message is clear—the “Hu & Wen” days of “partnership”, of an “Asian Century for all”, of “BRICS for a better world” are passé. This is Imperialism with Chinese Characteristics.

The second takeaway is that China is perfectly at ease with the coexistence of commerce and conflict, trade and war. It has perfected the ability of sleeping with its enemies and selling to them as well. Beijing has successfully done so with the Americans for decades. It has inveigled successive regimes in Washington to underwrite and create the biggest geopolitical risk to a world order crafted by the US and its allies. With this experience, China believes it can attack India, abuse Indians and support violence against Indian interests, all while conducting economic statecraft and everyday business. The Chinese are smug in their belief that actions in Ladakh will not hinder trade with India but may even win it negotiating space vis-à-vis a diminished India. It is for New Delhi to puncture this notion.

Beijing has successfully done so with the Americans for decades. It has inveigled successive regimes in Washington to underwrite and create the biggest geopolitical risk to a world order crafted by the US and its allies

The third takeaway points to the Chinese strategic ability to manipulate and game democratic societies. China creates dissent and discord through misinformation and propaganda. This summer, it has weaponised the openness of the Indian public sphere. And it will continue to do so. Delegitimising the government and political system of the enemy is a central objective of long wars, and there should be no doubt that this is an epic struggle, which may have started in the Himalayas but will travel to maritime Asia and the Pacific. India cannot ignore the propensity of the Chinese to turn Indian democracy against India itself.

China creates dissent and discord through misinformation and propaganda. This summer, it has weaponised the openness of the Indian public sphere. And it will continue to do so

In the recent episode, if the Chinese attempt at information warfare was thwarted, it was only because of the inability of Chinese influence operations to overcome the domestic media/social media bulwark. This provided a teflon coating to the national leadership that the Chinese found hard to breach. But such dynamics cannot be taken for granted forever. They have to be future-proof and individual-agnostic.

The fourth takeaway is simply: “No way, Huawei”. India must attach costs to Chinese ambitions. Even though there is stark asymmetry between the economic and military capabilities of the two countries, the defender has the advantage of being able to deploy specific tools that even unequal realities. Banning Chinese apps and making this tendency viral globally must be an Indian priority.

We must also draw lessons from recent history. India was the lone significant absentee when the nations of the world presented themselves at the court of Emperor Xi in 2017, at the Belt and Road Forum. Today, India is no longer alone and there is a considerable coalition against BRI. Similarly, India’s app ban and digital wall against China must be evangelised and turned into a global endeavour, particularly in the developed world—the key geography that matters to Beijing.

India’s app ban and digital wall against China must be evangelised and turned into a global endeavour, particularly in the developed world—the key geography that matters to Beijing

The final takeway relates to the unpredictability of the actions of the 16 Bihar Regiment, their dogged resistance and their fierce aggression. Besides economic costs, battlefield costs must also be imposed. Towards this, 16 Bihar and its brave soldiers inflicted costs that the Chinese are still assimilating and factoring into their land grab programme. Causalities in the battle theatre were the ‘unknown unknown’ even for the Mandarins in Beijing. As the defender of sovereign territory, India will need to be ready to escalate costs for Chinese adventurism.

Battlefield grit and determination will be of utmost importance in the dark days that may define the Himalayan relationship. Similarly, interdiction and disruption capability in the oceans will be crucial. To count on others to intervene and assist in these objectives may be a bonus but must not be our core strategy. Atmanirbharta to handle China across terrains and domains is what India needs. To this end, it is time to shed inhibitions and build capacities and partnerships—where feasible—that will deny China space, literally and figuratively. Politics of presence is the essence of sovereignty. India must be present through roads, infrastructure and potent force in the mountains and in the seas, which may well be the next theatre of action.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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Resisting Chinese encroachment

India must not contribute to the digital and economic rise of the same power that harms it

 Chinese encroachment, China Tech, apps, Hegemony, Xi Jinping, Huawei, Samir Saran

On June 29, the minister for electronics and information technology and law and justice, Ravi Shankar Prasad, tweeted that “For safety, security, defence, sovereignty & integrity of India and to protect data & privacy of people of India the government has banned 59 mobile apps.” After the usual partisan bluster surrounding this move subsides, India must operationalise and strengthen this momentous decision. India, its people, and its territory that are now increasingly digital, must be protected from China’s encroachment and influence.

This long-term response has to be shaped by three ideas. First, India must not contribute to the success, proliferation and performance of digital weapons that will be ranged against it. China’s tech must be recognised as one. Second, it must wean itself away from an iniquitous trade relationship that makes it dependent on a country that seeks to harm it. And, third, India needs to step out of the shadow that stunts its own economic growth, diminishes its political clout and limits its digital ambitions.

The presence of China’s hardware and platforms in India’s digital ecosystem constitutes a long-term security threat. Arriving at this conclusion requires no strenuous leap of logic. A level-headed assessment of China’s stated intentions and observable actions is enough. China has manipulated democratic means to transmit its propaganda and advertised its way to ensure suitable reportage and headlines. It has leveraged WeChat to interfere in Canadian politics, and to intercept content beyond its jurisdiction, and adopted western social media platforms to target dissidents abroad, exacerbate racial tensions in the United States (US), interfere in Taiwan’s political processes and spread disinformation about the coronavirus. China has entrenched the influence of its tech platforms in key global institutions such as the United Nations in an attempt to redraw the rules of information flows and the ethical applications of emerging technologies like facial recognition systems.

China has entrenched the influence of its tech platforms in key global institutions such as the United Nations in an attempt to redraw the rules of information flows and the ethical applications of emerging technologies like facial recognition systems.

These are fundamental to China’s great power ambitions — they assist Beijing to expand its “discourse power”, develop indigenous technologies, create lock-ins through standards and infrastructure, weaponise its economic and technological interdependence, and emerge as a technology superpower. Relations with India are inconsequential to Beijing’s imagination of the world. India has to look out for itself. This new mindset to review engagement with China tech is a vital first step to protect itself.

China will continue to gather information on Indians. More worrisome is the insidious ability of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to interfere in or influence India’s political and social spheres. During the Doklam stand-off, the security establishment discovered that the Chinese-owned UC Browser was filtering certain news on Android handsets in India to shape perceptions and outcomes — classic information warfare in the digital age. Recently, we have seen content critical of China being taken down on one of the banned apps and moderation of other incidents and images as well.

This is not unique to Chinese platforms. But far-reaching national security legislations, and subservience to a one man-led party that is inimical to India, make their continuance untenable. Indian democracy, howsoever flawed, must steer clear of the digital “tea rooms” owned by the CPC.

Will this Indian decision cause economic harm to Chinese platforms? In terms of revenues, clearly it will not. In terms of value, tremendously so. Platforms rely on network effects to scale — every additional user drives up valuations and the aggregate data that they produce feeds into other commercial and research and development activities and product development. Indian eyeballs and data should not fuel Chinese malfeasance directed against them.

Similarly, India must bar China’s telecommunications infrastructure from its 5G networks. It is time to say “No way Huawei”. Countries such as Singapore, the US, Australia and others have already signalled different degrees of intent to manage the Dragon. New Delhi’s decision should strengthen this trend and encourage others. Political trust is increasingly going to shape the direction of technology flows. India must work with its allies and partners through new initiatives such as the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to compete with and contain China.

India must bar China’s telecommunications infrastructure from its 5G networks. It is time to say “No way Huawei”

India’s actions will invite consequences. China will respond using other aspects of the economic relationship. India’s dependence on electronics, pharmaceuticals and other industrial inputs are well-documented and easy pickings. China’s response could manifest itself along the Line of Actual Control or through cyber intrusions. China’s ability to impose costs must serve to motivate India.

Bilateral trade is healthy when there is a balance. With China, it is a doubled-barrelled shotgun trained between India’s eyes. It is important that we fix this now as a three trillion dollar economy. Otherwise, all our future growth will only serve to strengthen the entity which seeks to weaken us.

India’s decision has come at a time when economic activity is already under siege from the Wuhan virus and when major economies are also questioning their dependence on China. A reconfiguration of value chains is inevitable. Public opinion favours this and the short-term pain will be acceptable to many. As India restarts its pandemic-stalled economy, let us create value chains that are not of dubious origin.


This commentary originally appeared in Hindustan Times.

Emperor Xi reinvents Chinese Checkers: Only CPC Wins

China Military,. adeventurism, G-20, superpowers, Xi, China, South China Sea, Past Tutelage, Xi Jinping, Exceptionalism
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The current violent confrontation between India and China in east Ladakh along the Line of Actual Control should come as a surprise to none. This was inevitable. An inexorable chain of events was set in motion in 2017 when New Delhi rejected Beijing’s imperial invitation to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) event presided over by President Xi Jinping. A second rude rebuff followed later in the summer of that year when India stood up to China’s efforts to reorganise  Himalayan political geography on the Doklam plateau. India must be prepared to strongly repel the backlash from Beijing on our mountains, in our waters and through our digital platforms.

The Indian commentariat is needlessly agonising over the drivers of the latest Chinese actions. Let us stop theorising and be bold enough to accept that China is just being itself. India has made decisions like independent nations do as an exercise of their sovereignty. To argue otherwise would be tantamount to ignoring the sum total of Beijing’s behaviour during the ‘Made in China’ pandemic: The acceleration of territorial revisionism in the South China Sea; the subjugation of Hong Kong through the stoutly contested national security law; repeated violations of Taiwanese airspace; heightened naval aggression around Japan’s Senkaku Islands; and its most recent encroachment in Nepal.

There is a pattern to this madness; a reason for this seemingly inexplicable restlessness.

In Jiang Zemin’s 2002 report to the 16th Party Congress, the Communist Party of China (CPC) presciently foresaw a 20-year “period of strategic opportunity” for China – linked to its entry into the WTO and America’s misguided interventions in the Middle East that enabled Beijing to play a deft game of Chinese Checkers — and build national power. Emperor Xi, anointed to office for life with a heavenly mandate, is now exercising that power as a counterpoise to the diminishing clout of American influence, and the weakening resolve of a wavering EU and unsure Europe. This is the moment for the Xi Dynasty (like the Mao Gang in another era) to take charge of the wheel and steer China to its centennial objective of world domination by 2049.

The new version of Chinese exceptionalism shaped and directed under Xi’s tutelage is linked to China’s past identity, largely a product of myth-making. It has willed itself into believing that it does not need to work within the matrix of international laws, rules and norms. It has decided that the time when China would “hide and bide” its motivations and capabilities is past.

The new version of Chinese exceptionalism shaped and directed under Xi’s tutelage is linked to China’s past identity, largely a product of myth-making. It has willed itself into believing that it does not need to work within the matrix of international laws, rules and norms

The CPC is now externalising the authoritarian idiosyncrasies it wields at home. Medievalism is the hallmark of Chinese external assessments. This is evident from its insatiable urge to redraw boundaries as an adventure sport and from its estimation of its population (as well as others) as mere fodder. This behaviour is exemplified in China’s ‘hostage diplomacy’ with Canada. Chen Weihua, the European Union bureau chief of the China Daily, offered an unsympathetic glimpse into how China views the issue: “People often fail to note that Meng is worth 10 Kovrig and Spavor, if not more.”

Supplementing this behaviour are two critical tools: an expansionist military and modern methods of engagement. Xi has overseen what is arguably the most wide-ranging modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army: purging it of corrupt or disloyal officials, ensuring its transition to a capable and expeditionary naval force; undertaking crucial administrative and organisational reforms; and reaffirming its absolute loyalty to the CPC and its ideology. In parallel, Xi has presided over China’s long-term efforts to securitise and weaponise global supply chains, flows of technology, finance and data, and institutions of global governance. The all-pervasive Chinese state is but an instrument for the benefit of the CPC.

Time and again India has confronted these realities at 14,000 feet above sea level and soon it may have to defend its blue waters against the rising crimson tides. At one level, Beijing is merely attempting to ‘remind’ India of Asia’s geopolitical hierarchy—that failure to kow-tow to the Middle Kingdom carries consequences. More worryingly, Beijing may have concluded from India’s history that heightened aggression along the LAC will invariably bring India to the negotiating table—that India will grant China greater political concessions, market access or economic bargains as the price for “peace and tranquillity”. The Indian state will have to dispel and disprove this Chinese assumption.

China is also using this moment to send a message to its other neighbours in the East and South China Sea. While a similar escalation in those waters by China carries the risk of drawing in American military response, the attempt to reorganise boundaries  on the Himalayas conveys the same intent. China is demonstrating to the world the limitations of decaying American power without having to actually confront it. In its neo-Confucian assessment an Indian capitulation may signal the final rites of Pax Americana. Beijing may be in for a surprise on both counts, provided countries are able to correctly assess the deeper import of recent Chinese actions.

China is also using this moment to send a message to its other neighbours in the East and South China Sea. While a similar escalation in those waters by China carries the risk of drawing in American military response, the attempt to reorganise boundaries  on the Himalayas conveys the same intent

India must begin with the daunting acknowledgement that the world’s second largest economy is its primary long-term geopolitical and geoeconomic rival. It must also internalise that it will not be able to negotiate its way into any favourable outcomes with China. While nations must talk and unofficial summits like Wuhan and Mamallapuram are important, India must have the singular purpose of investing in and developing robust political, economic, digital and military tools that should, for the short to medium-term, be able to protect territory and rebuff the northern marauders.

For too long, Delhi has been hesitant to impose costs for China’s military adventurism, preferring instead to settle matters diplomatically. In doing so, India has failed to realise that while Xi’s China is irrational, it is not an entirely unpredictable actor. It sees capitulation and a preference for negotiation as a sign of weakness. Delhi must be creative about how it imposes costs for this behaviour—creating unconventional and asymmetric options that help in ‘area denial’ operations in the Himalayas. Accelerating roads and infrastructure is one part, building emplacements is the second. The politics of ‘sharp’ presence (physical) is the only vocabulary understood in those terrains.

For too long, Delhi has been hesitant to impose costs for China’s military adventurism, preferring instead to settle matters diplomatically. In doing so, India has failed to realise that while Xi’s China is irrational, it is not an entirely unpredictable actor

The adage ‘it is the economy stupid’ has never been more relevant. Obsession with building India’s economic heft must override all other considerations. China’s rise was underwritten by its strategic co-option of globalisation. In an era where global flows of data are outstripping trade in goods, and where technology supply chains are being jealously guarded, India’s goal should be to emerge as one of the centres of the topography of digital globalisation. India did well to reject the BRI; it must now ensure that it rejects BRI’s digital avatar as well.`

The banning of Chinese goods may be important signalling but will have little impact on the northern neighbour due to the asymmetry in trade. Zealous protection of India’s digital backbone and networks (5G) and billion people plus digital platforms from Chinese encroachment and intrusion, either openly or by stealth, must be the clear-eyed strategic objective. But India cannot do this alone. And here is where its own period of strategic opportunity begins. In a powerful dissent against the Xi regime, Tsinghua University professor Xu Zhangrun laments the consequences of Beijing’s global assertiveness: “Instead of embracing a [global] community,” he writes, “China is increasingly isolating itself from it.” The challenge for India is to capture this moment – to shed (self) righteous theories of foreign policy in favour of pragmatic, even cynical, partnerships that bolster its economy, provide it with technology, arm its military and support its global ambitions.

That India is still debating Non-Alignment as a choice is a sad reflection of its inability to grasp the reality that stares it in the face, its failure to read the writing on the wall, its myopic disregard for what the future holds. When Non-Alignment was conceived it was an attempt by the leadership of the day to carve out a space for India in a world dominated by two superpowers. Does its propagation allow similar space to India now? Or does a string of strategic partnerships (not of the variety that exists in the dozens) serve India’s interests better?

That India is still debating Non-Alignment as a choice is a sad reflection of its inability to grasp the reality that stares it in the face, its failure to read the writing on the wall, its myopic disregard for what the future holds

Indeed, the time for hiding behind ‘strategic ambiguity’ is over. This stands true for New Delhi’s involvement with international institutions as well. How will India take advantage of its seat in the UN Security Council, its upcoming presidency of the G-20, its chairmanship of the WHO, its position in the Global AI Alliance, or its leadership of the International Solar Alliance? India now increasingly finds a place on the high table of global governance. Question is, can it make the most of these arenas? Can Delhi marshal its diplomatic resources to convince the international community that events in the Himalayas carry global consequences, and that silence now, only emboldens China’s perverse great power ambitions in other geographies and domains? Will New Delhi develop the appetite to call out China on Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong in international forums? And can it incubate a discursive space that will challenge ‘wolf warrior’ propaganda?

London Conference 2019: Managing Technological Disruptions – Governance and Accountability

 

London Conference 2019: Managing Technological Disruptions – Governance and Accountability

While technological competition is becoming a branch of geopolitics, technology can also help states address common challenges.

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14 June 2019

Speakers

Dr Samir Saran, President, Observer Research Foundation
Terah Lyons, Founding Executive Director, Partnership on AI
Stuart Russell, Professor of Computer Science, University of California, Berkeley
De Kai, Professor of Computer Science & Engineering, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Chair: Christine Foster, Managing Director for Innovation, The Alan Turing Institute

The pace of technological change has to date outstripped the capacity of international society to agree common rules for its management and governance.

Part of the challenge lies in its inherently double-edged effects. While technological competition is becoming a branch of geopolitics, technology can also help states address common challenges.

Technology is opening new domains of warfare, but also enhances resilience to natural disasters and cross-border threats. It can threaten democratic processes but also provide the means for transparency and greater accountability.

What does tech governance in a multipolar world look like? How can a regulatory balance be achieved that enables creative aspects of technology to flourish while mitigating the potential for disorder? What are the emerging technologies that demand early regulatory action? What responsibilities should private actors in the tech sector have when they operate across different jurisdictions?

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US-India Partnership for a Green Future

 

Climate Finance,Climate Mitigation,Emission,Green Future,US-India

US-India Partnership for a Green Future

Climate change is one of the most formidable challenges for this young century. As the World Economic Forum’s The Global Risks Report 2020 makes clear, failure to mitigate and adapt to climate change is the single most impactful and second-most likely risk facing the international community over the next 10 years. How effectively governments, businesses and societies can work together to make a tangible impact on this global challenge will determine the future of our planet.

As shown in Figure 1, the United States (US) and India contribute almost 20 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although the two countries differ markedly in both per capita emissions and incomes, India and the US must take concrete action according to their capabilities to develop solutions that can boost economic growth and mitigate the catastrophic consequences of climate change. The best way to achieve these twin goals is to invest in infrastructure for a resilient and low-carbon future; cooperate in key areas that produce relevant knowledge; foster innovation exchange; strengthen technical assistance bilaterally and for others; and catalyse capital investments for energy access, energy efficiecy, and renewable technologies.

Source: 2019 Emissions Gap Report, United Nations Environment Programme

Both the US and India have taken important strides together to advance their strategic partnership in the domain of climate action and policy. However, existing efforts continue to rely mainly on an incremental approach to tackling climate change. Such measures are welcome but insufficient. As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of the human and economic costs associated with weak international cooperation, delayed action, and the lack of investments in important infrastructure and capabilities. Climate-induced disasters may make the current pandemic look meek, and the world could ignore this risk at its own peril. Thus, it is vital for India and the US to double down on efforts to drive structural change, hurdle institutional barriers, and overcome the inertia inhibiting green growth and development.

In line with these goals, the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and The Asia Group (TAG) convened a joint roundtable in October 2019 to advance recommendations to strengthen the US–India partnership for a green future with a special focus on climate mitigation, renewable energy, and climate financing. Across these topics, it is clear that both countries face a number of complex and overlapping challenges and opportunities. Even as recent policy efforts have strengthened each country’s capacity to tackle these challenges, this report seeks to identify policy recommendations to support this progress.

By the global ball and value chain

While MNCs are choosing well-established regional supply chain in East and Southeast Asia for now, India must look to the future.

 global supply chain, value chain, economic statecraft, downstream suppliers, production-linked incentive, Covid-19, territorial aggression, debt-trap diplomacy, institutional capture, global corporations, new wave of investments, patterns of trade

Of the many ways the post-Covid world will look different, the rapid confluence of trade, technology and national security will rank high among them. The US’s assertion in the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) that ‘economic security is national security,’ EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s call this February for ‘tech sovereignty’, and China’s focus on ‘self-reliance’ in strategic technologies portend a new age for geo-economics. All three areas have acquired a sharper edge in the middle of the pandemic.

India must signal to its citizens, businesses and the international community how it plans to respond to this moment being shaped by three developments. First, the weaponisation of economics and trade, a trend prevalent among partners and rivals alike. Second, the measurement of national power will now be based on the ability to control global digital flows comprising technology, information, human capital and finance. Can India be an influential actor?

The decoupling of supply chains due to the sharpening US-China trade war makes this an imperative. GoI seems to have sensed this moment and is attempting to seize it.

And third, old industrial tools like import substitution and market restrictions will need radical repurposing for these times. Can India devise a new mantra compatible with the latest version of globalisation? All of this translates into one layered question: How can India first attract large investments, then grow and develop its technology sector, and finally share and export ‘Digital India’ to other geographies?

This will be based on India’s ability to manufacture for, and service, the growing digital markets, as well as shape the norms, rules, standards and topography of global physical and digital supply chains. The decoupling of supply chains due to the sharpening US-China trade war makes this an imperative. GoI seems to have sensed this moment and is attempting to seize it.

Dislocations in trade and technology are an opportunity to attract global investors. India has done poorly in the past. A September 2019 Nomura report suggested that of the 56 companies relocating out of China, only three have opted for India. Nevertheless, decoupling is a long-term process. While MNCs are choosing well-established regional supply chain in East and Southeast Asia for now, India must look to the future.

Beijing’s economic statecraft underpins its efforts to shape the world in its own image through territorial aggression, debt-trap diplomacy and institutional capture.

In this regard, India’s decision to announce three interrelated schemes on production-linked incentive (PLI) for manufacturing of components and semiconductors, and electronics manufacturing clusters, is important. These replace the earlier ‘merchant export from India’ scheme, and align India’s support for its nascent electronics industry with WTO rules. This new regime for manufacturing and export is designed specifically to draw in large global manufacturers like Apple and Samsung, facilitating the relocation of a part of their production base and downstream suppliers to India.

The ability of just a few global investors to help India integrate into global supply chains (GSCs) should not be underestimated. For example, the market value of the hardware Apple produces in China was nearly $220 billion in FY2019, of which it exported $185 billion, dwarfing India’s total electronics exports of $8.8 billion in the same year. Apple has over 800 production facilities globally, over 300 of which are based in China. Even minor relocations of these value chains to India will be beneficial. The reported relocation of certain processes to India by Apple contractors Wistron and Foxconn, among the largest and most sophisticated Taiwanese electronics manufacturers, will bring with them their own secondary supply chains.

Such opportunities will multiply for India — such as the Britain-proposed ‘D10 alliance’ (a club of 10 democracies) on 5G and emerging technologies — begin to reorganise patterns of trade to favour nations ‘politically trustworthy’. The logic driving disengagement with China on crucial supply chains is obvious. Beijing’s economic statecraft underpins its efforts to shape the world in its own image through territorial aggression, debt-trap diplomacy and institutional capture. Part of India’s response to this reality will be political muscularity along the border and in the oceans. The other, more durable, response will be an obsessive nurturing and growth of the economy.

These ventures are also a litmus test for GoI’s resolve for reform.

This must be dictated by a strategy that enhances India’s ability to integrate into the production and manufacturing of strategic technologies, to secure value from global data flows, and to grow Indian platforms and digital propositions for the world. Growing and new investments from US blue-chip tech giants like Apple and Facebook into India’s manufacturing base and digital platforms augur well.

But these ventures are also a litmus test for GoI’s resolve for reform. In 1982, GoI’s integration of Suzuki into the domestic market for automobiles spawned a new wave of investments into this sector making it one of the world’s most competitive. As the realignment of supply chains accelerates post-Covid-19, investors from around the world will be closely watching the performance of these major global corporations in India before making their own decisions.


This commentary originally appeared in Economic Times.