Month: November 2017

Time for Aadhaar diplomacy: Delhi GCCS conference an opportunity for India to exercise leadership in the new data economy

Times of India, November 20, 2017

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If India has in the past punched below its weight on digital governance, its hosting of the Global Conference on Cyber Space today promises to change that. The GCCS, conceived in 2011 as the ‘London Process’, is the most influential forum on internet governance and cyber security. That India is the first non-OECD country to curate this platform is indicative of its determination to be a policy entrepreneur on digital issues.

There is good reason India can and should aspire for leadership in this space. It is today the fastest growing ‘data economy’. The characterisation of data as the new ‘oil’ is unsurprising, considering it will contribute billions of dollars to global economic output. But data is better thought of as currency. After all, data is regularly exchanged among developers, advertisers and consumers for services, and its value, like currency, is linked to capability of the geography in which it resides and the precise context in which it is traded.

Research from McKinsey reveals cross-border data flows have quadrupled over the past decade, outstripping trade in goods: data is the new driver of globalisation. By 2020, there will be 5,200 GB of data for every person on earth. The ubiquity of data, however, will also require new global institutions, similar to ones created to manage energy supplies and financial flows in the 20th century. It will necessitate new normative principles on cybersecurity and internet rights.

Today’s digital heavyweights are writing rules to retain their stranglehold over data capture and analytics. Developing countries are the fountainhead of data, but the risk is that data regimes will favour those who have the power to access and analyse it. If the European conquests of Latin America, Africa and Asia teach any lessons, it is that those who possess natural resources do not always benefit from the value they generate.

In the past, control over energy resources and financial institutions were key to exerting power. Platforms like OPEC and the World Bank were instrumental in securing geoeconomic interests of advanced economies. This is unlikely to change unless new actors can conduct ‘data diplomacy’ in order to ensure international regimes do not continue to only serve the interests of a few.

With a billion-plus population, India’s economy is sitting on a digital reserve that is invaluable. Unlike other states where the accumulation of data is largely a private endeavour, India’s unique identity project has stimulated a public data-driven, digital economy.

This public engagement has also made digital development more democratic. No other large database like Aadhaar has been subject to as much scrutiny and debate anywhere in the world. Most technology companies hide behind intellectual property and opaque business practices. Aadhaar, in contrast, has witnessed fierce discussions around privacy, leading to its recognition as a fundamental right recently by the Supreme Court of India.

It has universal security designed as a public service and features that are evolved through open debate and legislative sanction. Additionally, while global companies tend to stifle local innovation (or ignore it), Aadhaar provides an enabling platform for start-ups.

If global rules on data governance are to be different from those of energy and finance, India’s cyber diplomacy must be propositional in forums where the issue is debated.

Like its climate change diplomacy, India must be proactive in carving out its own exceptionalism. This could include bilateral arrangements with cyber powers like the US and EU, creating critical mass for norms on internet governance. Eventually, India could also host annual summits of like-minded emerging markets (a ‘digital OPEC’) capable of improving collective bargaining power over data governance. The power of bilaterals, plurilaterals and multilaterals must all be harnessed.

Second, India must use standard setting to its advantage. This year, WhatsApp announced it would integrate the Unified Payments Interface to offer financial solutions. The integration of Indian standards into digital payments of multinationals has strategic implications. With over a billion users, whatever standards India sets for digital ecosystems have the potential to become the default option across emerging markets.

Third, India’s development assistance strategy must centre around digital spaces. The next billion users will emerge from Asia and Africa. Companies like Facebook and Google are already racing to acquire their personal data, ostensibly for increasing connectivity.

For developing countries however, the tradeoff is control over such data. India can proposition an Aadhaar-based alternative – one that is seen to be a ‘privacy first’ solution that lets governments retain jurisdiction over their data, while allowing indigenous enterprises to flourish. This gives it the capacity to hardwire its influence in emerging markets.

Fourth, unlike natural resources, the wellspring for data is the individual herself. Governing data is unlikely to be a state led affair. Civil society and businesses in emerging markets are equally crucial in framing the rules of the game for digital spaces.

While current models of ‘multi-stakeholderism’ allow for a certain decentralisation of decision making, it is heavily dominated by trans-Atlantic actors. New Delhi must lead in incubating new voices from the developing world, and help shape their views on the regime complex for governing data. This will address some developing country imperatives, such as promoting affordable access, platform security and local content.

The sheer size of India’s market lends it enormous bargaining power in conversations on cyberspace. To become a key stakeholder in the digital economy, New Delhi must advance these goals by investing in global institutions, normative principles, technical standards and new voices.

 

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

How India has actually done a great job in dealing with the Dragon

Hindustan Times, November 1, 2017

Original link is here

Despite the power differential, India successfully raised the cost of China’s land grab activities at Doklam, a feat that even the U.S. has struggled to accomplish in East Asia. While China was relentless in the pursuit of its goals, and had the resources to spend, India managed to call its bluff, and simultaneously allayed Bhutan’s concerns.

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The benefits of low-key diplomacy must not be underestimated. By engaging China away from the media glare, much to the vexation of New Delhi’s foreign affairs press, the Indian government successfully arrived at a favourable compromise.(AP)


If recent news reports are to be believed, China is back on the Doklam plateau in a veritable redux of the 73-day standoff that began in June this year. For its part, the foreign ministry has denied any change in the status quo following the “mutual disengagement” in late August. Those now skeptical of the government’s apparent inability to tackle China fail to appreciate that Doklam was never just a “stand-off”. It is part of a continuum of geo-political struggles – the current one is only naked in its manifestation as an outright territorial brawl — between the heavyweight and revisionist China and the defender India. It will not be the last, either.

Defusing the crisis at Doklam was never likely to reduce tensions across the 4,000 km border that India and China share. These border disputes are only symptoms of the Chinese determination to assert itself and claim pole position in an Asia that plays by Beijing’s rules. It was but a matter of time until China, rebuffed in its earlier attempt to needle India, decided to press New Delhi harder. By utilising its time-tested technique of ‘salami slicing’, and through the coercion of India’s smaller neighbours, China continues to seek to dent India’s credibility as a regional power.

China’s perception of, and strategy towards, India is shaped by the gaping asymmetry of power between the two countries. At $11 trillion, China’s economy is roughly five times the size of India. Were China to grow 2% and add over $200 billion to its GDP, India will have to grow by 10% to remain at the same place. In real dollar terms it may well be a decade or more before India begins to close this gap. In terms of security capabilities, this gap is most visible in defence expenditure, with China’s being approximately four times larger at $215 billion, compared to India’s $55 billion.

Even though the prognosis might appear grim, smaller countries have successfully deployed denial and deterrence strategies against larger opponents, for instance China against the U.S., in the past. Despite the power differential, India successfully raised the cost of China’s land grab activities at Doklam, a feat that even the U.S. has struggled to accomplish in East Asia. While China was relentless in the pursuit of its goals, and had the resources to spend, India managed to call its bluff, and simultaneously allayed Bhutan’s concerns.

The lessons from this incident for India’s foreign policy establishment are seminal, and can help shape future responses to Chinese aggression.

During a discussion in the US last month, a defence expert asked me if any other country has entered Chinese-claimed territory and stopped construction, as Beijing alleged, or intervened on behalf of a beleaguered third party as India claims. The subtext of the question was clear: India’s defiance of China was a unique moment. This is the first lesson: the spectre of an invincible, fire-breathing dragon must not awe India. New Delhi must, and can, stand up to China when its national interests are at stake and cleverly deployed political muscle will succeed in some instances.

The second takeaway is that the benefits of low-key diplomacy must not be underestimated. By engaging China away from the media glare, much to the vexation of New Delhi’s foreign affairs press, the Indian government successfully arrived at a favourable compromise. That this diplomacy was backed by a resolute security posture on the ground only bolstered New Delhi’s credibility, both at the negotiating table, and among regional partners. Deft and quiet diplomacy works and should be pursued as the first option.

Third, by participating in the BRICS summit in Xiamen shortly after the crisis, and investing in the future development of this group, India showcased the future direction of its relationship with China. For New Delhi, the lesson was that it is both possible, and necessary, to be politically assertive with China in some cases, while co-operating on others. Until the asymmetry between India and China is bridged, every Indian government will have to walk this tightrope.

Finally, New Delhi must realise the significance of creating new normative principles to manage regional affairs to get around the asymmetry of power with its neighbour. While boycotting China’s Belt and Road Initiative Summit in May, India cogently argued that regional integration must be premised on sustainable infrastructure investment norms and respect for sovereignty. That the US the EU and Japan have endorsed India’s position underlines the importance of “norm-fare” in the years ahead as an expansionist China continues to pursue its own version of the Monroe doctrine.

Samir Saran is vice president at the Observer Research Foundation and tweets at @samirsaran