Politics / Globalisation

Our Common Digital Future

GCCS, 2017

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For a medium considered to have revolutionised communications, it is ironic that the many struggles around the governance of cyberspace stem from a lack of communication — communication among states, between states and citizens, and between those that create technology and those that consume it. Normative processes that will determine the future of cyber governance have greatly benefited by bringing together actors who represent diverse geographical, political, economic and social realities. One of the most important among these processes is the Global Conference on Cyberspace (GCCS).

Conceived in London in 2011, the GCCS is the largest gathering of all stakeholders on cyberspace issues. It has already managed to bring into this fold key interlocutors from government, civil society, industry and academia. The fifth edition of the conference, convened by India, is a significant landmark in the evolution of the London Process. GCCS 2017 is the first time that the gathering is hosted by a non-OECD economy. This very fact leads to an opportunity for the internet community to engage with a wholly new demographic and different set of issues animating the next billion internet users. That India hosts this process now is a message in itself and augurs well for greater degree of pluralism in the agenda, grammar and ambitions of this process.

This idea is reflected in the four main pillars for GCCS 2017 — inclusion, growth, diplomacy and security. This volume of essays captures some of the critical debates on these issues from foremost leaders, visionaries, founders and young minds in technology, policy and governance. While previous editions of this conference have been designed as high-level stocktaking exercises, this edition has the potential to go a step further and create an independent norm-setting initiative led by diverse and emerging economies. The essays in this volume are intended to guide this endeavour.

The multiple goals of policymaking — providing access, securing the medium and spurring economic activity — are no longer mutually exclusive. These are all interlinked interests. There is perhaps no better example that is more illustrative of this phenomenon than the opportunity presented by digital payments. Digital payments have immense potential in promoting financial inclusion to those at the bottom of the pyramid and in banking the unbanked. It can enable micro entrepreneurship and serve as the backbone for services in the digital age. At the same time, digital transactions have sometimes come under the shadow of technological vulnerabilities and in the unsafe practices of users who make them. Governments today have to juggle policy priorities that are often at odds with each other — providing access cannot ignore concerns around security and securing the medium cannot come at the cost of stifling innovation. Reconciling these challenges in pursuit of one goal is the digital trilemma for cyberspace policymakers today.

Addressing these challenges will require policymaking that is both technologically and socially dynamic. It will require normative guidance that is targeted and yet inclusive. With formal multilateral processes such as the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Communication Technologies ending in a lack of consensus this year, initiatives such as the GCCS assume more importance. The conference can serve as a forum to make the global discourse around cyberspace more representative and plural — this year we will witness some of the normative conversations begun by bodies like the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace and have these ideas deliberated upon.

The essays in this volume, covering a range of topics from cyber conflict to digital connectivity, aim to bring a diversity of interests and perspectives on to the same table, in the hopes that they will guide discussions for future gatherings and maybe even answer some of the long contested issues for policymakers today.

Asia is not only home to the largest number of internet users in the world, it is also poised to lead the world in technology, innovations and regulatory policy — it is therefore only fitting that GCCS 2017 is being stewarded by India. The process will benefit from the democratic ethos of policy conversations in India and will allow voices that have remained on the sidelines to have their chance to shape our common digital future.

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.

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Intelligent interlocution

Economic Times, ET Commentary, 24 October, 2017

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On Tuesday, the former chief of the Intelligence Bureau, Dineshwar Sharma, was appointed as the Government of India’s representative for Kashmir, in a bid to, in the words of Union home minister Rajnath Singh, “open a sustained dialogue” with stakeholders holding various shades of opinion in the beleaguered state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Dialogue, however, is rarely easy in Kashmir. History, religion, external actors, changing demographics and a technology-driven news environment have turned Kashmir into a perpetually simmering tinderbox of violence and cacophonous opinions.

In his book, Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder, Soas political scientist Gilbert Achcar famously wrote that the US and the Arab world were caught between two ‘barbarianisms’: Islamic fundamentalism and the military muscle of a superpower.

Kashmir, unfortunately, finds itself similarly trapped: a tragic painting of what ails many other parts of the world. A reality where the brutal response to ‘jihad’ and the ‘jihad’ itself affect similar populations.

The first ‘barbarianism’ results from poor state capacity in responding to incidents of terror, violence and unrest in J&K. Each time violence erupts in Kashmir, it generates an exasperatingly similar set of reactions.

Absent of any political guidance, and clever and contemporary security responses, the state police and army resort to brutal methods of crowd control, generating further outrage and disaffection.

Even as angry prime-time anchors fall over themselves to carry the banner of nationalism to garner TRPs, the Valley feels victimised twice over.

The second ‘barbarianism’ is the rabid violence of the extremists, who draw their self-perceived virility from social media where their perverse actions are extolled and eulogised. In turn, tech-savvy, disgruntled and often indoctrinated young men from Kashmir fall prey to the illusion of ‘Azadi’ (freedom) and the romanticism of a transnational jihad. Trapped in the futile narrative of a ‘colonising’ India and an occupied ‘Kashmir’, the aspirations of the state’s citizens remain unfulfilled and democracy mostly defeated.

The Vale Beyond the Veil

Caught between these two extremes, successive central governments in New Delhi have consistently failed to create a political opening to quell this recursive violence. If the Narendra Modi government is intent on making a sincere attempt to free Kashmir from this pattern, it must take stock of past failures and the lessons that they offer.

For one, the rest of the world is largely unsympathetic to separatist and radical movements, especially in areas where Islamic ideologies have taken hold in the post-9/11scenario. It is less likely than ever that the ‘Kashmir conflict’ will be ‘internationalised’, or other parties will seek to mediate.

This, however, may not be a bad thing as it has created enormous space for dialogue, which, in the case of Kashmir, is repeatedly wasted away by unimaginative State policy. Poor governance, failure to empower and create local institutions, and the lack of sustainable economic integration has left the Kashmiris disillusioned and secluded.

Second, despite the predictability of protests and uprisings, the Indian State’s inability to engage with the Valley manifests itself repeatedly through its failure to build police capacity that responds humanely. A larger failure in recent times has been the lack of capability to control the narrative. More often than not, sophisticated separatist propaganda successfully hijacks public perception and imagination.

Add to this, the vicious social media debates between the political parties at the Centre to use the travails of Kashmiris as a useful prop to score brownie points for, or against, the ruling dispensation. Internet shutdowns and curbs on media freedom only fuel the feeling of isolation at one level, and reveal the helplessness of the state machinery at another.

Finally, New Delhi has continued to invest political capital in a select few elite families, in the hope that they may manage the conflict. This is an unfortunate ‘colonial’ tactic. Outreach involves reaching out to disaffected communities and addressing local concerns, and in discovering new voices and new leadership that have astake in the future. Presumably, this is what Dineshwar Sharma hopes to achieve as special interlocutor.

But he has his work cut out. The predominant discord that has manifested in the past year with a spate of violence has seen the coming together of ideas and actors that are sometimes indigenous and organic, sometimes controlled and contrived, and many a times angry and irrational.

The spontaneous discord that emerged this past summer, though, may have been different and new. The response to it must also be novel. It must discard antiquity, manage malevolence and empower new and young democratic voices.

Talk Peace, Not Piece

The Indian State’s failure so far reflects lazy politics. A successful counterterrorism strategy requires outreach, minus the fear and threat of violence that the state today invokes. At the same time, conversations are meaningless if the State cannot create sufficient peace for dialogue to take place.

The key is to find a balance. Perhaps a consensus in Kashmir will require, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, “an abandonment of all beliefs, values and policies. So that it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects”.

The writer is vice-president, Observer Research Foundation

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


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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.

Original link is here

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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).