Columns/Op-Eds

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

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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

 

President Xi and Secretary Tillerson: what two speeches tell us about the future of China and the US

Flags of U.S. and China are placed for a meeting between Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and China's Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu at the Ministry of Agriculture in Beijing, China June 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee - RC1A8F925660

Landmark addresses by President Xi Jinping and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were a study in contrast


The past week has been a significant one for speeches. The first was President Xi Jinping’s marathon three-and-a-half-hour-long “report”, inaugurating the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) 19th National Congress. The 68-year-old Xi, widely regarded as the most influential Chinese leader since Chairman Mao, laid his ambition for the Asian giant bare, with his plan for “socialism with Chinese characteristics” in a “new era”.

 

As head of the party, military and state, Xi has accomplished what other world leaders can only dream of: an unprecedented centralization of power. He has the authority to make the world’s largest armed forces and the huge transnational Chinese corporations an instrument of his state policy, and this gives him the muscle to rewrite the rules of international politics.

 

His repeated swipes at President Trump’s “America first” policy, and emphasis on China’s positive role in global governance, sent a clear message: this new era would be Chinese-led, with China able and willing to commit political, military and economic capital to ensure that it happens. Needless to say, the “Chinese dream” – which includes becoming a global tech leader by 2035, reconnecting Eurasia with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and achieving a strong, prosperous society by 2049 – brings with it implications for the rest of the world.

 

Before China can become a global leader, however, it must consolidate its position in Asia – arguably the most important region in the 21st century. What truly defines China’s ambitions in Asia is the BRI – Xi’s signature development strategy, which he called on the country to pursue as a priority. There was an underlying message to those who oppose or question it.

Image: Lowy Institute

China’s proposition

Ostensibly, the BRI is a regional connectivity project, stretching from oil and gas projects in Myanmar to ports in Malaysia and Pakistan, to a military base in Djibouti. This also creates the physical infrastructure for China’s “march west” to capture high-value markets in Europe – an essential part of its rise.

At its core, however, the BRI creates strategic co-dependencies between China and host states, setting the stage for what may be a Sino-centric world order. Already, China is in a position to create norms and rules across the wider region. Its leadership, through institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and initiatives such as the Regional Comprehensive Trade Partnership, significantly aid China in this effort.

While Xi was careful to point out that China’s rise would not be hegemonic, his speech also celebrated China’s militarization of the South China Sea (SCS), regarded by some as detrimental to the smaller littorals in that region.

 

Additionally, several of China’s regional projects have saddled smaller nations with debts they are struggling to repay, as was Sri Lanka’s experience with the Hambantota port. New Delhi, which boycotted the BRI summit in May over these very concerns (alongside the principal concern around sovereignty), was rewarded with a 73-day military standoff in the Himalayas.

 

Xi is confident that other developing countries would benefit from China’s rise. He was clear, however, that China would always protect its national interests – an attitude that will by definition be disadvantageous to many of its neighbours.

A democratic counterweight

Against this backdrop, the second important speech was delivered by the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, a week before he is expected to visit New Delhi. Emphasizing on the importance of “shared democratic values”, Tillerson set out to define America’s “relationship with India for the next century”. Delivered on the same day as Xi’s landmark address, the speech extolled India’s peaceful rise, while chastising China’s disdain for international law and sovereignty.

 

Notably, Tillerson’s critique of the BRI was the strongest the Trump administration has made so far. Earlier in July, an Indo-US joint statement made only an oblique reference to “regional connectivity”, echoing some of India’s concerns. Tillerson, however, was more direct.

Tillerson hailed the US and India as the “eastern and western beacons of the Indo-Pacific”. Having struggled to balance China’s rise in the SCS, the US is keen to prevent the same kind of maritime militarization elsewhere – an objective India undoubtedly shares. Tillerson sees cooperation among the “Indo-Pacific democracies” – namely, India, Japan, the US and Australia – as key to stability in Asia.

 

With an eye on China, Tillerson’s speech is a call to like-minded states to ensure a rule-based multipolar governance architecture. Already, there is clear convergence of norms between the democratic powers – the US and Japan have reiterated India’s position that regional integration must be financed responsibly and must respect sovereignty. Similarly, Japan and India have echoed the US stance on freedom of navigation and peaceful resolution of maritime disputes. India led by example when it peacefully settled its dispute with Bangladesh recently.

 

Leading from behind?

What Tillerson’s speech tells us is that the Trump administration is correct in its reading of the geopolitical currents in Asia. It also tells us, unfortunately, that the US has no coherent response. Tillerson’s vague call for “some means of countering [the BRI] with alternative financing measures” underlines the fact that this and previous American pronouncements have not been matched by actual political actions and propositions. There is little to demonstrate that there has been any serious attempt to put together an alternative to the Chinese-led BRI in Washington, DC.

Unlike China, which is forging ahead on its own with its own roadmap, America is attempting to stitch together an alliance that is heavily limited by the larger political compulsions, both its own and those of its partners. Australia, for example, is still debating the nature of its relationship with China, and refusing to take a clear stance on either the BRI or on a maritime order, while Japan is still unsure about transitioning from its pacifist constitution. The US’s own willingness to engage with Pakistan limits its ability to integrate with India. India will confirm that, while it was staring down the dragon in the Himalayas recently, it was indeed lonely.

 

Xi has transformed China into a military heavyweight. Taking into account Beijing’s relaxed purse strings, no developing country can ignore China’s allure. American reluctance to address China’s rise head-on has already seen it lose influence in Asia, including with strategic partner the Philippines. While Tillerson’s words may constitute fresh rhetoric from DC, they will have limited impact on China’s influence, unless backed by real political and economic investments in the region.

 

Hardening fault-lines

 

The speeches by Xi and Tillerson are a study in contrast, and are reflective of the complex times in which they are given. At a time when US primacy is waning, Asia is rapidly emerging as the centre of global economic growth. The geopolitical implications are significant, and the institutional arrangements in Washington to manage this development are missing or feeble.

 

Both politicians sought to address this paradigm and were distinct in their tenor. Xi was imperious and forthright; with no signs of hesitation, he appeared certain that China was a power whose time had come and that he was destined to deliver “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.

 

Tillerson, on the other hand, voiced anxiety around managing a rapidly changing environment. It was a plea for collective action; to serve ambiguous goals; on behalf of a country whose policy of “leading from behind” is fast turning into, as US diplomat Richard Haass puts it, “leaving from behind”. The fate of the international order depends on which narrative ultimately prevails. Writing the script for this era will require a strong hand. As things stand currently, we know from whom the ink flows.

Original link is here

After Doklam, India and China must begin anew at the Xiamen BRICS meet

India will have to learn the fine art of staring down the dragon to preserve its political space, while embracing China for some important economic opportunities. At Doklam, it did the former; will a different India turn up at BRICS?

Hindustan Times, September 3, 2017, Opinion

Original link is here

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PM Modi with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma after the welcome ceremony at the 7th BRICS Summit in Ufa.(PTI)


Leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) have gathered this past weekend for the ninth annual BRICS summit in Xiamen, China. The prolonged Himalayan standoff between India and China will cast its shadows on this meet and will certainly add a new dimension to discussions on the future of this plurilateral.

The BRICS emerged out of a global order dominated and managed by the United States (US) post the break of the Soviet Union. The US led institutions catalysed global trade and financial flows, which in turn also helped in the organic growth of most of the BRICS economies. Despite their growth, their marginal role in management of key global institutions created an undesirable asymmetry in world affairs. BRICS came about as a vehicle to respond to this, and together they hoped, they would be able to loosen the vice-like grip the Atlantic system had on existing governance institutions.

There were two unstated principles that shaped the ethics of the BRICS formation. First, each nation placed a premium on sovereignty and its importance in the conduct of world affairs, and second, each state sought greater pluralism and equity in decision-making processes in a multipolar world.

The China and India standoff at Doklam compels us to revisit these organising principles. The Doklam incident was a contest around sovereign concerns. These concerns are rooted in history and muddied by China’s determination to implement a political and economic arrangement across Asia that is insensitive to the territorial rights of India. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the associated China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are but thinly veiled attempts to shape an Asian order that plays by the Chinese rulebook alone. While BRICS symbolises a multipolar world, BRI and CPEC are the harsh face of an undesirable and unipolar Asia.

Further, China’s latest attempt at creating a ‘BRICS Plus’ platform, comprised of states who happen to be key actors in the BRI, makes it clear that it sees BRICS as an adjunct of the BRI and merely as a vehicle to catalyse its larger ambitions.

These events make it clear that we must shed the romantic notion that ideological convergence is possible within BRICS. Each member must see the group for what it is—a twenty first century ‘limited purpose partnership’ among states to achieve specific sets of outcomes. There is nothing inherently improper about such an alliance, however, if progress is to be made, it will be predicated on creating effectively designed institutions.

The most successful BRICS endeavour has been the creation of the New Development Bank. The time has come to build on this initiative and focus on creating more institutions for greater cooperation in issues such as finance, urbanisation, sustainable development and the digital space. This could include setting up a BRICS credit ratings agency, a BRICS research institution and institutionalising the process of managing the global commons such as the oceans and outer space.

It is obvious that each of the BRICS members will have their own reasons for being at Xiamen. Russia continues to see it as a geopolitical bulwark against the US, all the while tacitly acquiescing to Chinese leadership. South Africa will present itself as the leading voice of the African world and will raise issues of peace and development for the continent at the summit, while Brazil, which is undergoing a period of domestic turmoil, is unlikely to be too innovative or demanding. China is far more certain of what it seeks.

For India, this year’s summit becomes important. India will have to learn the fine art of staring down the dragon to preserve its political space, while embracing China for some important economic opportunities. At Doklam, it did the former; will a different India turn up at BRICS? Forums like Xiamen allow India and China the chance to begin anew.

As we enter the second decade of BRICS, Xiamen would have to be the arena where the members recommit to upholding the founding principles of the BRICS. Thereafter, they must chart a new roadmap for greater institutionalisation of the group’s interests.

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

The views expressed are personal

 

Opportunity knocks, Aadhaar enters

Economic  Times, August 29, 2017

Original link is here 

The Supreme Court’s verdict affirming the fundamental right to privacy should not come as news to technology companies. The court merely codifies what should have been an article of faith for Internet platforms and businesses: the user’s space is private, into which companies, governments or non-state actors must first knock to enter.

The technical architecture of Aadhaar and its associated ecosystem, too, will now be tested before a legal standard determined by the court. But GoI should see this judgment for what it is: a silver lining. The verdict bears enough hints to suggest the court sees the merits in a biometrics-driven authentication platform.

In fact, Justice DY Chandrachud impresses upon the possibility of better governance through big data, highlighting that it could encourage “innovation and the spread of knowledge”, and prevent “the dissipation of social welfare benefits”. The court’s words should spur GoI to create a ‘privacy-compliant Aadhaar’.

But this requires systematic thinking on the part of its architects. The private sector, too, will have to put ‘data integrity’ and privacy at the core of their consumer offerings and engagement.

For starters, GoI must account for Aadhaar’s biggest shortcomings — its centralised design and proliferating linkages. A central data base creates a single, and often irreversible, point of failure. GoI must decentralise the Aadhaar database.

Second, Aadhaar must be a permission-based system with the freedom to opt-in or out, not just from the (unique identification (UID) database but from the many services linked to it. This must be a transparent, accessible and user-friendly process.

With a ‘privacy-compliant’ Aadhaar, GoI would not merely be adhering to the Supreme Court verdict, but also be on the verge of offering the world’s most unique governance ecosystem. Take Beijing’s efforts, for instance.

In 2015, the Chinese government unveiled a national project to digitise its large, manufacturing-intensive economy and to create a digital society. The ‘Internet-plus’ initiative aimed for the complete ‘informationisation’ of social and economic activity, and harvest the data collected to better provide public and private services to citizens.

China has no dearth of capital or ICT infrastructure. But the ‘Internet plus’ initiative has struggled to take off in any significant way. The project suffered from a fundamental flaw: Beijing believed by gathering information — from personally identifiable data to more complex patterns of user behaviour — the State would emerge as the arbiter of future economic growth, consumption patterns and, indeed, social or political agendas.

If a project like Aadhaar is to succeed, its underlying philosophy must be premised on two goals: first, to increase trust and confidence in India’s digital economy among its booming constituency of Internet users; and second, to ensure that innovations in digital platforms also result in increased access to economic and employment opportunities.

A privacy-compliant Aadhaar creates trust between the individual and the State, allowing the government to redefine its approach to delivering public services. The Aadhaar interface, that the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and other innovations rely on, could well generate a ‘polysemic’ model of social security, where the same suite of applications cater to multiple needs such as digital authentication, cashless transfers, financial inclusion through a Universal Basic Income, skills development and health insurance.

But such governance models should not be based on a relationship of coercion or compulsion. It is heartening that India’s political class has embraced the court verdict.

A key reform missing in current debates about the UID platform is GoI’s accountability for its management. Aadhaar, to this end, should have a chief privacy officer who will be able to assess complaints, audit and investigate potential breaches of privacy with robust autonomy.

A privacy-compliant Aadhaar, with a bottom-of-the-pyramid financial architecture, would inspire confidence in other emerging markets to also adopt the platform, with Indian assistance. Companies and platforms must internalise that promise of black box commitments towards privacy and data-integrity may no longer suffice. These commitments must be articulated at the level of the board, and communicated to each user that engages with them. Overseers of data integrity must be appointed to engage with users and regulators in major localities.

The writer is Commissioner, Global Commission on the Stability of cyberspace

How India and the US can lead in the Indo-Pacific

the interpreter, Friday, August 18, 2017

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Although the Pacific and Indian Oceans have traditionally been viewed as separate bodies of water, India and the US increasingly understand them as part of a single contiguous zone. The US Maritime Strategy (2015), for example, labels the region the ‘Indo-Asia-Pacific’, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump referred to it in their recent joint statement as the ‘Indo-Pacific.’

India and the US have a strong stake in seeing this unified vision become a reality. It would increase the possibility that they could promote liberal norms and structures such as free markets, rule of law, open access to commons, and deliberative dispute resolution not just piecemeal across the oceans, but rather in a single institutional web from Hollywood to Bollywood and beyond. Given the region’s economic and demographic dynamism and the importance of its sea lanes to global trade and energy flows, the significance of such a liberal outcome cannot be overstated.

India and the US have publicly called Indo-US cooperation the lynchpin of their strategy in the region. But it has not been as productive as it could be. Robust maritime cooperation between the two countries began only after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which demonstrated the increasing capabilities of the Indian Navy. Even since then, however, India has generally not been a proactive partner, and in fact often has refused US offers of cooperation. In some cases it appears to have done so out of concern for Chinese sensibilities. For instance, a senior Indian official recently suggested that New Delhi had rejected numerous US Navy requests to dock ships at the Andaman Islands in part because of China’s ‘displeasure’ about the US presence in the Indian Ocean.

The US, for its part, has repudiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership, once touted as the economic bedrock of its Asia strategy, and is distracted by Russian machinations in Europe and the Middle East, and the continuing war in Afghanistan. In addition, bureaucratic divisions between US Central and Pacific Commands hamper Indo-US cooperation west of the Indo-Pakistan border, where the US-Pakistan relationship dominates.

China has taken the real initiative in constructing a wider Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Its strategy is multi-faceted. China erodes the autonomous politics of sub-regional groupings, using its economic leverage to create differences amongst ASEAN members, denying strategic space to India through economic projects like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, and using North Korea to limit Japanese and US influence in East Asia. China also employs institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, construction and finance projects linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, and trade agreements such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to create a network of physical infrastructure and strategic dependence across the region. This network includes ports in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Pakistan; oil and gas projects off the coast of Myanmar; and a military base in Djibouti.

China’s strategy will increasingly put it in a position to create institutions, generate norms, and make and enforce rules in a zone stretching from East Asia to East Africa. Although Chinese preferences are uncertain, it seems unlikely that such a Sino-centric model will adhere to the liberal norms and practices that the US and India hope will take root in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. Indeed, Chinese behaviour, which includes territorial reclamations, rejection of maritime-dispute arbitration, establishment of an air-defence identification zone, and confrontations such as the ongoing Sino-Indian standoff over borders in Bhutan, suggest an authoritarian approach to the region.

Recognition of these dangers has been a central driver of US-India strategic cooperation. If the US-India partnership is to confront them effectively, however, the two countries must think more creatively about how better to work together, particularly in the defence sphere.

The core elements of Indo-US defence partnership include movement toward the adoption of common platforms and weapons systems as well as shared software and electronic ecosystems; closer cooperation on personnel training; and the convergence of strategic postures and doctrines. These elements can realise their full potential only if the two countries enable large-scale US-India data sharing, which will significantly enhance interoperability between their two militaries. This, in turn, will be possible only through the signature of the so-called Foundational Agreements, which provide a legal structure for logistical cooperation and the transfer of communications-security equipment and geospatial data.

India has historically resisted signing these agreements. But many Indian objections are rooted in domestic political calculations rather than substantive strategic concerns. Moreover, with the 2016 signature of the logistics agreement known as LEMOA, India may have crossed an initial hurdle. Perhaps a concerted effort to reconsider objectionable language, without fundamentally altering their substance, could make the remaining agreements palatable to Indian leaders. Given the impact this would have on India’s ability to cooperate with the US to meet the Chinese challenge, it could get serious consideration in New Delhi.

India and the US can take a page from China’s military strategy. Much has been made of the dangers of China’s anti-access/area denial capabilities. But India can also leverage its geography to impede access to the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. For example, with US assistance, it could transform the Andaman and Nicobar islands into a forward-deployed base for surveillance and area-denial assets. This would exploit natural Indian advantages, hamper China’s ability to expand its reach and consolidate its gains across the region, and not require India to shoulder unrealistic burdens in far-off areas of operation.

India and the US also need to take a diplomatic and developmental approach to the region that is geographically holistic and offers credible alternatives to Chinese projects; they should not adopt disparate strategies east and west of the Indian Ocean, or promote projects that are rhetorically attractive but lack financial and diplomatic ballast. Recent announcements of pan-regional projects such as the Indo-Japanese Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, and the revived US Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor and New Silk Road initiative, are welcome developments. It will be essential to ensure that these projects continue to receive adequate support, and to create synergies between them that can help to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Additionally, India must cultivate political relationships in its close neighborhood with countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and the ASEAN members to project its influence into the Indian Ocean. Regional states have already begun to fall prey to China’s ‘debt trap’ diplomacy. For instance, Sri Lanka has struggled to service its debt owed to China for the construction of the US$1 billion Hambantota port, which has put the government in Colombo under considerable political and economic duress. India should offer its neighbors sustainable infrastructure projects and strong economic incentives that can provide an alternative. These efforts will be more likely to succeed if the US, Japan and Australia support them diplomatically and through co-investment in economic ventures.

None of these measures will be easy to implement; they will face resource constraints, political opposition, and strategic competition. But the stakes – who gets to construct the legal, economic, and military architecture of an integrated Indo-Pacific region – are enormous. Without bold policy from the US and India, the answer will be China.

There’s a standoff between China and India in the Himalayas. Both sides explain

Mount Everest (2nd R), the world highest peak, and other peaks of the Himalayan range are seen from air during a mountain flight from Kathmandu April 24, 2010. REUTERS/Tim Chong (NEPAL - Tags: ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL) - RTR2RWME

A dispute high in the Himalayas threatens years of diplomatic progress


Original link is here

Indian and Chinese forces are locked in a stand-off high in the Himalayas, where the borders of India, China and Bhutan come together. In recent years, observers have grown used to such disputes being worked out peacefully, with a mutual face-saving solution. But as time goes by, concerns that this incident could mark the beginning of a longer term downward trend in Sino-Indian relations are rising.

 

To help understand the origins, significance and potential resolution of the Doklam stand-off, we asked Professor Wang Dong from Peking University, and Doctor Samir Saran, the Vice President of India`s Observer Research Foundation, to present their perspectives on these questions.

What is the origin of this dispute?

Wang Dong: On 16th June, 2017, the Chinese side was building a border road in Dong Lang (or Doklam), which is close to the tri-junction between China, Bhutan and India, but belongs to Chinese territory.

 

On 18th June, 2017, Indian border troops, in an attempt to interrupt China’s normal road construction, illegally crossed the demarcated and mutually recognized Sikkim section of the border into Chinese territory, triggering a standoff that has thus far seen no ending. In the past, border standoffs between China and Indian all occurred in disputed areas. This time, however, the standoff took place along a demarcated borderline which has been established by the 1890 Convention between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibetand has been accepted by successive Indian governments since independence in 1947. Given that the Doklam Plateau is located on the Chinese side, as accurately stipulated in the Convention, and that the Doklam area has been under China’s continuous and effective jurisdiction, it is crystal clear that the Doklam standoff is caused by Indian border troops illegally trespassing into Chinese territory. Indian border troops’ illegal intrusion into Chinese territory has not only unilaterally changed the status quo of the boundary, but also gravely undermined the peace and stability of the China-Indian border area.

 

There is no legal basis in India’s claim that New Delhi acts to assist Bhutan in defending its territory. Nothing in the Friendship Treaty between Bhutan and India justifies India’s cross-border intervention. India’s incursion into Chinese territory under the excuse of protecting Bhutan’s interests has not only violated China’s sovereignty but also infringed upon Bhutan’s sovereignty and independence. It should be noted that in fact it is pressure and obstruction from India that prevented Bhutan from concluding a border agreement with China and thus completing negotiations of establishing a diplomatic relationship between China and Bhutan. The bottom-line is that India has no right to hinder boundary talks between China and Bhutan, much less the right to advance territorial claims on Bhutan’s behalf. Indeed, India’s behavior will set a very bad example in international relations. Does New Delhi’s position suggest that China also has the right to intervene on behalf of another country which has territorial dispute with India?

Also, India has cited “security concerns” of China’s road building as a justification of its illegal incursion into Chinese territory, a position that runs counter to basic principles of international law and norms governing international relations. Given the fact that India has over the years built a large number of infrastructure facilities including fortifications and other military installations in the Sikkim section of the border area (that actually dwarves the very little infrastructure China has built on its side of the boundary) that poses a grave security threat to China, does India’s stance imply that China could also cite “security concerns” and send its border troops into India’s boundary to block the latter’s infrastructure buildup?

As Confucius says, “Do not do unto others what you do not wish others to do unto you.” New Delhi should heed the sage’s wisdom.

 

Samir Saran: The dispute was triggered by China’s construction activities on the Doklam plateau, which is at the tri-junction of Bhutan, India and China. India and Bhutan both acknowledge Doklam as a tri-junction and, as such, the boundary points of all three countries around it should be settled through consultations. In fact, the India-China Special Representatives dialogue agreed to do precisely this in 2012. China’s military activity seeks to change facts on the ground, rendering any diplomatic or political boundary negotiation moot. Now, China may unilaterally assert where the tri-junction actually lies, but in an age where maps are drawn, scrutinised and contested on social media, it behoves Beijing to adopt a statesmanlike approach to this dispute.

 

India sought to prevent China from pursuing such construction on the Doklam plateau for two reasons: first, in keeping with the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty, India coordinated with Bhutan on all matters, including security issues, of mutual interest. India is acutely conscious of the fact that it is the net security provider in South Asia, and that military activities cannot but, be conducted through mutual consultations, no matter how big or small your neighbour is. One wishes the leadership in Beijing too embraced this principle. By asking China to desist from unilateral activity in Doklam, India sought to reassure its smaller neighbor that it will not allow Beijing to unilaterally change the boundary situation to Bhutan’s detriment. Second, the military implications of China’s infrastructure activity in the region, located close to the narrow Siliguri corridor which connects mainland India to its north eastern states, are worrisome for India. By intervening, India is making it clear that it will act forcefully to protect not only its territorial claims but also its sovereignty and national security interests.

 

On a more strategic assessment, this dispute is perhaps a harbinger of the Himalayan fault-line that is bound to get sharper as India’s economy grows and China continues to seek greater political and normative influence in the sub-continent. China must internalize that a multi-polar world will also necessarily see a multi-polar Asia emerge and its attempt to become the sole determinant of political outcomes in the region may be challenged.

What issues are shaping perceptions about the wider meaning of this stand-off?

Samir Saran: There is little doubt that the border dispute is the byproduct of a larger rivalry between China and India, both of whom can decisively steer the future of Asia. New Delhi is wary of China’s ambition to “hard-wire” its influence in the region through infrastructure and connectivity projects in order to emerge as the sole continental power. Already, India-China ties have deteriorated as a result of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor – which passes through the disputed Pakistan occupied Kashmir – seen by India as a clear affront to its sovereignty.

 

A unipolar Asia does not serve India’s interests. Accordingly, India is determined to be a reliable partner to its South Asian and other regional interlocutors. New Delhi realizes it must leverage its fast growing economy and military capacities to offer trade partnerships and security arrangements to other countries on the continent. By coming to Bhutan’s assistance on this border, New Delhi is making it clear the dispute will not be resolved without accounting for Bhutan’s interests. The subtext of the most recent iteration of the Malabar naval exercises, which sees participation from the US and Japan (and possibly Australia in the future), was a signal to China that unilateral militarization, such as the kind China engaged with in the South China Sea, will not be acquiesced to.

India understands the importance of being able to resolve bilateral disputes with China in a peaceful manner. We are the two biggest countries in Asia —with land and maritime borders extending in all directions — and how both countries manage their differences will determine the region’s stability. New Delhi has steadfastly abided by a rule based international order, often against its own interests. In 2014, for example, India accepted an adverse arbitral ruling regarding an UNCLOS dispute with Bangladesh. In comparison, China has run roughshod over its neighbours in the South China Sea, going so far as to threaten war with them. By highlighting the need to peacefully resolve the current border dispute, India is telling China, “Look, we have a problem here. For our sake and the region’s, we should adopt a mature and sensible attitude towards its resolution”.

 

Wang Dong: The root causes of the standoff in Doklam are multiple. First of all, since Narendra Modi took office as Prime Minister of India in May 2014, India has gradually shifted away from its traditional non-alignment policy, and moved closer to the United States and its allies such as Japan and Australia. Many Indian officials and analysts believe that Beijing has been taking the side of Pakistan in the ongoing India-Pakistan conflict. They also regard China as a stumbling block to India’s efforts to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Second, India’s misperception may also come from the fact that India has always been highly sensitive, sometimes even paranoid, about infrastructure projects initiated by China in border regions, whereas it has failed to account for its own much more intensive military infrastructure buildup along the border area.

While the “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor” has become the flagship project of China’s much touted “Belt and Road Initiative”, India views it as a part of the “New String of Pearls” strategy attempting to besiege India. Third, India’s swelling nationalism in recent years, exacerbated by a deepening threat perception against China, may have misguided its policy deliberations. After the standoff in Doklam occurred, a senior Indian military leader claimed that ”India is no longer the India of 1962”—an indication that India has not completely come out from its psychological shadow as a victim in the 1962 Sino-Indian border conflict. Indian leaders should resist the temptation to play up its domestic nationalism, and avoid making wrong decisions that will have a severely negative impact on the Doklam logjam as well as the future of Sino-Indian relations.

Despite repeated urging and warning from the Chinese side, India so far has refused to fully withdraw its border troops. If India continues to refuse to do so, it is likely to lead to the worst case scenario: the outbreak of an armed conflict between the two countries. However, this will be a heavy blow to the diplomatic achievements made by the two countries over the past 30 years.

 

Moreover, India will also have to pay a heavy price for its diplomatic blunder. Since the Bharatiya Janata Party took the power in 2014, domestic Hindu nationalism has been on the rise. If New Delhi fails to gain an upper hand should a military conflict break out, the ethnic and religious tensions in India are likely to be intensified, causing domestic upheaval and imperiling the political status of the BJP. Enormous demands for domestic infrastructure development in India may also be delayed, and ultimately India may miss the opportunity for economic development. On the other hand, even if China prevails in a military conflict, China’s relationship with India will suffer. The conflict will also likely create enduring enmity between New Delhi and Beijing, lock the two major powers into a lasting geostrategic rivalry, and inflict great damage to important pillars of a multipolar world such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the BRICS, and Group of 20 (G20). Therefore, it is necessary for China and India, the two most important developing countries in the world, to solve the Doklam standoff peacefully, avoid sending bilateral relations into a downward spiral, and maintain regional peace and stability.

What are the chances of it getting out of control?

Samir Saran: India acknowledges the importance of a diplomatic resolution, but is also wary of being perceived as indecisive or incapable of standing up to Chinese aggression. It is aware that the reputational costs of ceding to Beijing (or being seen as such) will be just as damaging as any loss of territory. Rhetoric from New Delhi has been strong. Reports also suggest the Indian military has reinforced its positions in the area’s surrounding the disputed region.

The Indian government has demonstrably been more sober about the dispute than Beijing. So it is unlikely that India will seek to escalate the conflict. On the other hand, New Delhi is just as unlikely to withdraw unilaterally and, to this end, may be willing to continue standing up to China were tensions to escalate.

 

Wang Dong: At present, the nature of the Doklam standoff is abundantly clear: it is caused by the illegal incursion into China’s territory by Indian border troops to obstruct China’s normal road construction. Thus, the top priority is for India to withdraw its troops back to its own boundary. Although China has the will to resolve the Doklam standoff peacefully and has so far exercised maximal restraint, the Chinese government has made it clear that it is determined to steadfastly safeguard China’s sovereignty “whatever the cost”, should India refuse to withdraw troops and thus peacefully resolve the standoff.

What should be highlighted is that China does not wish the Doklam standoff to get out of control, and it will endeavor to peacefully resolve the standoff. Nevertheless, the root cause of the standoff is India’s illegally trespassing the border into Chinese territory, so the initiative to resolve the deadlock lies in the hands of India.

How can the parties de-escalate the situation?

Samir Saran: Neither India nor China can afford to ignore the geopolitical implications of their actions. If the contest is to be resolved, the situation at Doklam must be de-escalated through the mutual withdrawal of troops, followed by a summit level conversation between the two countries. While a National Security Advisor level meeting amongst the BRICS countries has already taken place in July, possibly opening up space for a dialogue, the importance of the issue implies that it will have to be taken up at the leadership level. This is probably a good time to reinvigorate the Special Representatives dialogue process on boundary settlement. Both sides will have to dial down the rhetoric and more importantly, offer face saving concessions in order to placate domestic sentiments and larger strategic anxiety. This face-off is also a reminder of the need for both countries to create new constituencies, from among industry, think tank/ academia and civil society more broadly, that seek a stronger bilateral relationship.

 

Wang Dong: China and India will both benefit from cooperation, or get hurt from confrontation. China consistently holds a clear stance on the Doklam standoff that the precondition and basis for any dialogue between the two sides would be India’s withdrawal of its border troops first. In recent weeks, India seems to indicate its willingness to solve the deadlock through diplomacy and negotiations. Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval has just attended the BRICS NSA meeting in Beijing, and has met with both President Xi Jinping and State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

The longer the standoff lasts, the worse the damage it would inflict on bilateral relations between the two countries. Now the ball is in the court of India. New Delhi should take responsible measures to correct its wrongdoing and de-escalate tensions. Provided that India withdraws its personnel that have illegally crossed the border and entered into Chinese territory that will set the stage for both sides to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff. Apart from negotiations at government level, public diplomacy including dialogues between think tanks and could also help to break the tit-for-tat logjam and send out signals to each other for further reducing tensions and settling the dispute. In a sense, the standoff is a symptom of the deepening security dilemma between China and India in recent years. In the long run, both sides need to exercise political will and wisdom to correctly gauge each other’s strategic intentions, reverse the worsening security dilemma, and chart a positive-sum trajectory of China-India relations that will greatly contribute to a stable and prosperous multipolar world. 

 

Trump’s stand on the Paris deal may help India

Trump’s belligerence towards the Paris accords may ironically become its undoing.

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 Narendra Modi, Donald Trump, Paris climate agreement, climate pledges, international funding, environment, energy security needs, Paris proposal, developed world, poverty eradication, climate responsibility, climate negotiator, Modi, Paris Agreement, 2022, India, renewable energy capacity, EU, US, carbon space, climate negotiator, climate narrative, sustainability, ethics, morality, colonisation, exploitation, narratives, climate orientalism, OECD, fossil fuel, prudentialism, Basel norms, Old Boys Club, roadblocks, carbon imperialism, Paris accords, Western shackles, growth, development

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-President Donald Trump summit offers an opportunity to place in context President Donald Trump’s outburst against India earlier this month, as he announced the decision of the US to step away from the Paris climate agreement. If Trump then alleged that India was making its climate pledges conditional on international funding, the India-US joint statement this week strikes a more sobering note, calling for a “rational approach that balances environment and.. energy security needs.”

Both leaders may have succeeded in moving past this moment of bilateral friction but the Paris proposal from the developed world to India was, and remains, simple and stark. First, India would have to create a development pathway that lifts its millions out of poverty, without the freedom to consume fossil fuels. Second, it would have to discover this new pathway by itself. And, finally, despite its self-financed attempt at balancing poverty eradication and climate responsibility, India would be monitored every inch of the way.

In the past India has been accused of being an intransigent climate negotiator. Under Modi, however, India decided to change its climate narrative. Modi positioned India as a country willing to lead in creating a green model that could then be exported to the rest of the world. It helped, of course, that India had already begun its transformation. Eight months before the Paris Agreement, India had installed 77 GW of renewable energy capacity. By 2022, India aims to expand its renewable energy capacity to 175 GW and will soon have built up the equivalent of German renewable energy capacity, despite having a size of economy a third smaller than Germany.

This transformation underway in India is accompanied by attitudes and decisions in the EU and the US that border on an imperialistic approach to monopolise all available carbon space.

In the past India has been accused of being an intransigent climate negotiator. Under PM Narendra Modi, however, India decided to change it’s climate narrative.

With a distinctly condescending tone, developing nations are told by their richer counterparts that demands for “sustainability” are premised on ethics and morality, discovered belatedly by the developed countries, after colonisation and exploitation of nations, communities and, indeed, of the carbon space. And as with acts of colonial egregiousness, reparations for carbon colonisation are unavailable.

President Trump’s outbursts, though disappointing, were part of a continuum of narratives emanating from the West in the recent past. The attacks against China, India and other developing countries prior to the Copenhagen meet in 2009 and their subsequent vilification sowed the seeds of “climate orientalism”, something that legitimised the current action of the US. In the last seven years, the OECD has added 58 GW of the ‘dirtiest’ form of energy. Germany still burns three times more coal per capita than India. And as of 2016, when measured against the US, India still obtained a higher percentage of its energy from renewable sources. And yet, the hypocrisy of the West has not stopped at the water’s edge of fossil fuel usage.

A small group of developed countries have taken control over the regulatory frameworks and financial flows of the world. The competitive prudentialism of the Basel norms has led to the prioritisation of capital adequacy over credit enhancement. The continued squeezing of sectoral limits driven by the ‘Old Boys’ Club’ in Basel has led to further roadblocks for the developing world to access capital. The risk assessment through black box techniques has meant that the capital that reaches the developing world is priced significantly higher. There is no denying that carbon imperialism exists.

But Trump’s belligerence towards the Paris accords may ironically become its undoing: By highlighting coal and gas, the US president has turned attention on the need for traditional sources. The India-US joint statement cleverly takes advantage of this political impulse and suggests that US energy exports (including coal and gas) should be available to fuel India’s economic development. If ever there was a window of opportunity to dismantle Western shackles on growth and development avenues for the developing world, Trump’s statement personifies it.

This commentary originally appeared in The Hindustan Times.

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

In Armed Conflict With India, Why China Would Be Bigger Loser

Original link is here

The ongoing standoff at Doklam Plateau is less a boundary incident involving India, China and Bhutan and more a coming together of geopolitical faultlines in Asia that were long set on a collision course. China’s wanton aggression, and India’s refusal to be intimidated by it, stem from the different realities they live in. China believes it is destined to lead Asia, and indeed the world, by a process in which other actors are but bit players. India is strongly convinced of its destiny as a great power and an indispensable player in any conversation to re-engineer global regimes.

It is against the backdrop of these competing ambitions that China’s provocations on the Doklam Plateau must be viewed. As the race to establish an Asian order – or at least determine who gets to define it – intensifies, China will test Indian resolve and portray it as an unreliable partner to smaller neighbours. The current differential in capabilities allows China to provoke and understand the limits of India’s political appetite for confrontation, and create a pattern of escalation and de-escalation that would have consequences for New Delhi’s reputation. Its border transgressions are aimed at changing facts on the ground, and allowing for new terms of settlement. For China to engage in a game of chicken, however, would be counterproductive.

In case of an armed conflict, the bigger loser will be China. The very basis of its “Peaceful Rise” would be questioned and an aspiring world power would be recast as a neighbourhood bully, bogged down for the medium term in petty, regional quarrels with smaller countries. For India, a stalemate with a larger nuclear power will do it no harm and will change the terms of engagement with China dramatically.

Through the Doklam standoff, China has conveyed three messages. The first is that China seeks to utilize its economic and political clout to emerge as the sole continental power and only arbiter of peace in the region. Multipolarity is good for the world, not for Asia. When India refused to pay tribute in the court of Emperor Xi Jinping, through debt, bondage and political servility that the Belt and Road Initiative sought from all in China’s periphery, it invited the wrath of the middle kingdom. Confrontation was but a matter of time.

The second message from Beijing is that short-term stability in Asia does not matter to China, because it does not eye Asian markets for its growth. Through road and rail infrastructure along the Eurasian landmass and sea routes across the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean, China hopes to gain access to an eighteen trillion dollar European market. Given this reality, no Asian country can create incentives for China to alter its behavior simply with the promise of greater economic integration.

And finally, Beijing has signalled that Pax Sinica is not just an economic configuration, but also a military and political undertaking. Its aggressive posture in the South China Sea, disregard for Indian sovereignty in Jammu and Kashmir, divide and rule policy in the ASEAN region, and strategic investments in overseas ports such as Gwadar and Djibouti are all indicative of its intention to establish a Sino-centric economic and security architecture, through force if necessary. The election of Donald Trump in the United States and political divisions in Europe has only emboldened China’s belief that the reigns of global power are theirs to grab.

Given these stark messages from the eastern front, what can New Delhi do?

The options are limited. The first is to acquiesce to Chinese hegemony over Asia. In the past, India’s foreign policy has attempted to co-opt China into a larger Asian project, from Nehru’s insistence on China’s position on the United Nations Security Council to facilitating its entry into the World Trade Organisation. It is clear today that it was the wrong approach and continuing to play second fiddle to the Chinese will not only involve political concessions but also territorial ones to China-backed adversaries like Pakistan.

The second option for India is to set credible red lines for China by escalating the cost for its aggressive maneuvers around India’s periphery and to increase the cost of “land acquisition” for the Chinese.

Pakistan’s approach vis-à-vis India may prove to be enlightening in this respect. Its development of Tactical Nuclear Weapons (TNW) to offset India’s superior conventional abilities and a wide range of asymmetric warfare techniques have ensured that India is disproportionately engaged in regional affairs. For long, the Indian commentariat and diplomatic corps have believed the boundary dispute with China should be suppressed because the bilateral relationship is worth more than just territorial skirmishes. In doing so, they have normalised Beijing’s behaviour, which now allows it to turn the tables and make unsettled boundaries a ceaseless source of tension for India. It is time, therefore, to elevate the boundary dispute as a matter of primary strategic concern and to articulate options to counter Beijing’s threats on the eastern flank. It has done the former by staying away from a project that paid little heed to its sovereignty and territorial concerns. It is time to muster steel and to put together a blueprint for the latter.

China is attempting, vainly, to draw India into a conflict that it believes will prematurely invest it with the label of “first among equals” in Asia. Ironically, Beijing has failed to acknowledge that India does not have to behave like a 10 trillion dollar economy when it is not one – skirmishes, like the one at Doklam Plateau, can be swiftly and aggressively countered by India with little or no loss to its reputation. After all, it would be defending its sovereignty, and in the process, goading China’s smaller neighbours into a similar path. If China wants to be relegated to a disputed regional power, it has only to needle India into a new season of skirmishes and into exacerbating – politically, militarily and diplomatically – Beijing’s multiple land and maritime disputes in Asia.

(Samir Saran is Vice President at the Observer Research Foundation, India.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

 

AI replicating same conceptions of gender roles that are being removed in real world

June 17, 2017, Economics Times, ToI

Original link is here

By Vidisha Mishra & Samir Saran

A recent article in The Guardian (goo.gl/UajcTp) estimated that the sex tech industry, which is less than adecade old, is already worth $30 billion. This estimate is expected to grow exponentially as industry gears up to unveil hyper-realistic female sex robots customised for men. This has two main implications: first, considerable money, time and effort are dedicated towards modelling machine behaviour to cater to male preferences by objectifying the female form. Second, the technology needed to drive these innovations are designed in most cases by male coders.

The gender equation is reinforced in another manner. While lines of code are written by men, artificial intelligence (AI) is often female. The fact that Siri, Alexa, Amelia, Amy and Cortana are all designed as hyperintelligent yet servile female chatbots is not coincidental.

On the other hand, women’s participation (and, therefore, data sets from women) in certain media fora is highly under-represented. A 2015 paper by the Observer Research Foundation’s Sydney Anderson (‘India’s Gender Digital Divide: Women and Politics on Twitter’, goo.gl/bovMGp) found women’s voices to be “significantly under-represented” in online political conversations.

So, it is not surprising then that when Microsoft released the ‘millennial’ chatbot Tay in March 2016, she quickly adapted to her male-dominated ecosystem and started using racist slurs and sexually offensive language on Twitter. As coders and consumers of technology are largely male, they are crafting algorithms that absorb existing gender and racial prejudices.

AI is replicating the same conceptions of gender roles that are being removed in the real world. For instance, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa are essentially modelled after efficient and subservient secretaries. This seemingly innocuous assignment of female characteristics to AI personalities has dangerous implications. These chatbots reportedly receive sexually-charged messages on a regular basis. More damaging still is the fact that they are programmed to respond deferentially or even play along with such suggestions. Essentially, sexual harassment that has now been made illegal in physical workplaces is normalised by AI.

Voices of disembodied, supportive AI tend to be female as both men and women find them less threatening. This comfort in issuing orders to a female voice is inherently problematic that tech companies have now acknowledged. Not only are companies investing in developing male bots and genderless bots, reportedly when someone asks Cortana, “Are you a girl?” she replies, “No. But I’m awesome like a girl.” Similarly, Alexa has been described as a ‘self-identified feminist’.

While feminist female chatbots are encouraging, they can hardly solve the inbuilt sexism by design of AI. In 2015, Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that the Google search engine was less likely to show ads of highly paid jobs to women as compared to men. A 2016 study discovered that data-mining algorithms associated words like philosopher, captain, warrior and boss with maleness, while top results for ‘she’ were homemaker, nurse and receptionist.

As AI grows in influence and gender biases continue seeping through algorithms, existing inequalities will be exacerbated. In India, for instance, the legal sector is gradually embracing AI, which is expected to improve speed and efficiency by automating tasks such as document drafting, undertaking legal research and due diligence. Similarly, news-writing bots are now functioning in the world of journalism.

In both cases, AI will autonomously generate output by identifying story angles based on algorithms with ‘built-in’ criteria. When cases involving sexual violence and their portrayal in traditional news media are already under scrutiny, it’s important to question how male-hegemonic data sets will impact future news stories and court coverage of sexual assault and other topics requiring greater gender sensitivity. Since only 29% of internet users and 28% of mobile phone owners in India are women, improving access to basic information and communication technology services and infrastructure remains critical.

There is nothing inherently empowering or sexist about technology. It just reflects the values of its creators.

(The writers are with Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi)

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