Politics / Globalisation

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.

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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

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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.


Global Perspectives: G20 Leaders Summit


German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacts as she receives guests at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, June 29, 2017. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

Editors note: This global perspectives roundup is a new feature of the Council of Councils initiative, gathering opinions from global experts on major international developments. In this edition, Council of Councils members offer their perspectives on the upcoming G20 leaders summit, which will be held in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7–8.

Tom Bernes, Centre for International Governance Innovation (Canada)

The upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, will face new challenges as U.S. President Donald J. Trump makes his first appearance. The forum, which has been promoted by national leaders as their primary platform for international economic cooperation, will have to contend with a U.S. president whose stated policy objective of “America First” stands in direct contrast to the central objective of the G20. A look at the history of the G20 summit speaks to the belief of its members that answers to global challenges must be found through active collaboration. This is likely to be tested in Hamburg. As was witnessed at the G7 and NATO summits in May, surprises are likely.

Since its initial success in forging a response to the global economic crisis of 2008, the G20 has struggled to clearly define a medium-term program that resonates with the global community. Some observers have even questioned whether the G20 can continue to serve as a useful forum that engages the world’s most important leaders.

“Some observers have even questioned whether the G20 can continue to serve as a useful forum that engages the world’s most important leaders.”

Two of the major accomplishments of the G20 will draw close scrutiny in Hamburg as the United States has directly challenged them. The first is the issue of climate change: following U.S.-China leadership, the G20 has supported the Paris Agreement. The United States announced in June its intention to withdraw. The second is the issue of protectionism, which the G20 at every meeting has pledged to resist. Again, the United States has expressed its opposition to such a pledge and imminent decisions by the Trump administration on steel and aluminum risk setting off a trade war. Yet another area of potential concern are the reforms embraced by the G20 to secure greater global financial stability. U.S. decision to roll back much of the Dodd-Frank regulations established after the 2008 financial crisis puts at risk the gains made since the crisis shook the world economy.

How will leaders respond to these issues in Hamburg? A forceful rejection of U.S. positions by the other members of the G20 could give renewed vigor to their efforts to promote a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable global economy. But it would also lead to increased tensions with the United States. Will the G20 gain new momentum through a renewed sense of purpose in response to (and in opposition to) the new U.S. attitude, or will it see a decline in relevance by papering over these fundamental differences?

Sunjoy Joshi and Samir Saran, Observer Research Foundation (India)

Despite the evident geopolitical shifts across the world and the political churn among its member nations, the G20 remains one of the most relevant organizations in the architecture of global governance. Recent global developments both provide an opportunity and pose a challenge for the body if it is to remain influential.

The G20’s most important task is to ensure that it stays true to its core mandate, maintaining global financial stability and managing structural reforms in an inextricably integrated world. The G20 was premised on and motivated by the realization that the “one country, one vote” approach of the United Nations is not the most effective way to respond to critical problems requiring real-time responses. The credit crisis of 2007–2008 demonstrated that certain international challenges need to be addressed efficiently and speedily, which, in effect, catalyzed the institutional preeminence of the G20.

At a time when many members of the G20 are finding themselves trapped by domestic compulsions that are forcing them to rethink the G20’s core mandate, the G20’s temptation to maintain its relevance by anchoring itself in a different agenda needs to be resisted.

The global economy is hardly out of the woods. The G20 is a special-purpose policy forum that was created to respond to globally catastrophic problems by nations that have capacity and wherewithal. This is hardly the time for the G20 to expand its membership by conjuring up new partnerships, such as with African countries. Expanding the group’s partnerships at this juncture would just create another G77—and for what purpose?

“This is hardly the time for the G20 to expand its membership by conjuring up new partnerships, such as with African countries.”

It is also time to recognize that some of the fundamental structural challenges that the G20 is attempting to address cannot be adequately treated unless certain micro-issues are addressed as well. These micro-issues, such as the ongoing transformation in global energy systems, cyberstabilty of financial structures, and the implication of technology on employment and jobs, among others, do need to be on the table, but the temptation to make all issues of global concern a part of the G20 agenda must be resisted. This would only dilute the ability of the G20 to serve its founding purpose. Matters better brought up at the UN General Assembly and/or at other multilateral institutions should not be under the purview of this group.

The G20 should instead narrow its scope to sectors that implicate the global financial and trading systems and additionally only focus on those issues that concern politically disruptive global trends.

The G20 is at a crossroads. It should choose the path that will allow it stay relevant to the core purpose for which its members first came together.

Steven Blockmans and Daniel Gros, Centre for European Policy Studies (Belgium)

Leaders meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg will try to build on the outcome of the recent G7 summit in Taormina, Italy, and seek agreement on three baskets of issues: economic priorities, including growth, trade, digitalization, jobs, finance, taxation, and corruption; sustainability priorities, including development, climate, energy, health, and gender; and security priorities, including counterterrorism, migration, and refugee flows.

The G20 summit is of particular importance to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, as chair, will get a last chance to shine on the international stage ahead of the German federal elections in September. But a success is not guaranteed, especially for the second basket, given President Donald J. Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the historic Paris Agreement on climate change. A statement by the other nineteen G20 leaders of their unwavering commitment to the Paris accord seems possible and would be welcome. Unfortunately, reaching consensus on the first and third baskets will also not be easy given the U.S. retreat from its historical multilateral approach toward trade and Russian—and, to some extent, Chinese—intransigence on cybersecurity, corruption, and the rule of law.

This summit will also provide a test of whether Brexit ushers in a new role for the United Kingdom on the global stage. U.S. bilateralism might, on the surface, enhance the UK’s global role, since it is a trusted partner of the United States. But U.S. unilateralism is rendering multilateral venues like the G20 less suitable to serve brexiting Britain’s aims to go global. Moreover, the twenty-seven members of the EU (EU27) will carefully monitor the extent to which the UK, still a member, remains loyal to EU positions.

“But U.S. unilateralism is rendering multilateral venues like the G20 less suitable to serve brexiting Britain’s aims to go global.”

The Hamburg summit provides an opportunity for Merkel and her newfound partner, French President Emmanuel Macron, to position the EU27 as a reference point for those that want to invest in effective multilateralism. In a volatile world, stability and predictability are a premium that Chancellor Merkel and the other standard-bearers of the rules-based EU can provide. How much their leadership can make the Hamburg summit a success is an open question that will shape not just the future of the G20, but also the role of the EU and Germany in the world.

Ye Yu, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China)

Since its participation in the first G20 summit in 2008, China’s concerns about the forum and global governance have expanded from procedural issues to more substantive ones: the push for equality among members, the redistribution of voting power in international financial institutions, and comprehensive challenges confronting globalization, such as climate change and extremism.

China would like to see G20 countries work together to contain anti-globalization sentiment. A global alliance against the United States is not the best option. Instead, China expects the G20 to pull the United States back toward seeking an enlightened self-interest rather than pursuing an “America First” stance at the cost of all other countries. As the Economist noted, Trump’s economic policies are narrow-minded, out-of-date, takes for granted that “fair trade” means reducing manufacturing deficits, and ignores the destructive challenges the world will confront as artificial intelligence technology advances. The G20 should convey a more comprehensive message about the trends of globalization and shape the public discourse about the limitations of protectionist trade measures.

“China expects the G20 to pull the United States back toward seeking an enlightened self-interest rather than pursuing an “America First” stance at the cost of all other countries.”

China would also like to see G20 members be more supportive of its initiative to spur momentum of globalization. Encouraged by its huge success in launching the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in 2013 and hosting the 2016 G20 summit, China is more confident and willing to exhibit a more constructive role in global governance, though not by itself. China started the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, along with the AIIB, to offer an alternative approach to globalization. Unlike a top-down approach to negotiating trade liberalization, the Belt and Road Initiative puts a renewed focus on regional and global infrastructure connectivity. China emphasizes the openness of the initiative and calls for all countries to participate according to their own development strategies. Infrastructure has been a G20 priority for quite a few years, but China would like to see more concrete cooperation on projects and less suspicion about its intentions.

Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, South African Institute of International Affairs (South Africa)

This year Germany has made Africa the focus of its G20 presidency. Its anchor initiative is the Compact with Africa, which aims to bring together international financial institutions, bilateral partners, and African countries to create an enabling environment for private investment. Already seven African countries have signed up: Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, and Tunisia. Driven by the German Finance Ministry, this initiative has received the G20 finance ministers’ political backing in Baden-Baden in March this year.

While this G20 commitment to Africa should be seen in a positive light, concerns have been raised in South Africa about the extent to which it may compete with rather than complement Africa’s own continental initiatives. In addition, its policy prescriptions may be critiqued for their focus on orthodox approaches to economic development, which have not always had the desired results. It is also regarded as shifting responsibility for development assistance from the public to the private sector. Nevertheless, if the G20’s political backing is able to leverage private investment in the countries that have decided to join, this will be an important step in the direction toward creating productive economies that are able to provide decent livelihoods for their citizens.

“While this G20 commitment to Africa should be seen in a positive light, concerns have been raised in South Africa about the extent to which it may compete with rather than complement Africa’s own continental initiatives.”

But G20 issues not specific to Africa are of equal import to the continent. An unequivocal commitment to open trade, although there has been backsliding on protectionist measures for some years, will be crucial for Africa, especially as it tries to build up its manufacturing capacity. Inclusive growth cannot be achieved with closed economies.

Germany has also focused on the need for a framework of norms and standards on the digital economy and e-commerce. However, this may have the unintended consequence of placing greater burdens on African states, making it even more difficult for them to bridge the digital divide. Often, the solutions more so reflect the conditions of the industrialized world and do not sufficiently consider unintended consequences in developing countries. This is the challenge for G20 developing countries as the dynamics among the G7 change. The G20 by its nature is not inclusive; it can, however, build legitimacy provided its leadership in setting agendas and norms reflects not only industrialized countries’ realities, but also those of emerging and developing economies.

Sook Jong Lee, East Asia Institute (South Korea)

The G20 summit in Hamburg is a timely venue for major country leaders to show their commitment to the liberal international order. Following the global disturbance caused by Brexit, U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” foreign policy has the potential to weaken global governance. Trump’s revival of protectionist trade measures, reduced willingness to support collective security, and decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate are threatening the open and liberal order. Now is the time for other major countries to provide additional leadership in response to numerous transnational challenges, including peace and security, terrorism, refugees, and environmental problems.

“Now is the time for other major countries to provide additional leadership in response to numerous transnational challenges, including peace and security, terrorism, refugees, and environmental problems.”

Against this backdrop, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is committed to seizing the opportunity by hosting the summit, with hopes to strengthen the world economy and enhance its stability and resilience through multilateral cooperation. The fifteen agenda items that fall under the broader goals of building a resilient economy, improving sustainability, and assuming responsibility for physical and human security are all worthy of serious attention and require collective effort to make meaningful progress. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to assume a greater role by filling the gap left by U.S. retrenchment. French President Emmanuel Macron will likely bring a spirit of liberal progressivism aligned with the current G20 goal of promoting inclusive and sustainable growth. For this summit to prove successful, it is crucial for leaders to demonstrate their solidarity and willingness to combat economic and sociopolitical threats together. At the same time, leaders should develop resilient, cooperative frameworks that can provide members with greater flexibility when weighing domestic policy options.

With seven Asian countries in the G20, China, India, and Japan are expected to increase their roles by assuming responsibilities in line with their respective comparative advantages. Middle powers like South Korea and Indonesia can also promote G20 goals by incorporating them into their regional multilateral initiatives. Asian countries have been relatively insulated from the rise of extreme populism and believe that their futures lie in a more open and interconnected world. Asian members should contribute more to the G20 to further strengthen the forum.

The G20 was created to make economic global governance more democratic and effective. Major states should now assume more responsibility in making the world safer, as well as more economically inclusive and politically harmonious. Each member country must remember that they owe their power and international standing not only to national achievements, but to the global community as a whole. Since no single country can replace the United States, which has provided public goods for the last quarter century, all G20 member should assume their share of the responsibility to manage global challenges.

Fyodor Lukyanov, Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (Russia)

Despite clear political differences among its members, the G20 has been able to send a positive message of global cooperation since its creation twenty years ago. The G20 was founded in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis and upgraded following the 2008 global financial crisis, and the fact that twenty of the most powerful economies came together to seek solutions to instability had its intended effect.

The global economy faces acute problems of a purely political nature. It was feared in 2008 that protectionism would be the spontaneous reaction of several governments; it is now the deliberate and official policy of the most powerful member of G20, the United States. Although one can argue that the Trump administration is not consistent in its claims and deeds, it is vocal and consistent on economic issues. If the United States proclaims “America First,” it is just matter of time until the rest of the world will turn to more mercantilist thinking as well.

It remains an open question the extent to which member states will be able to agree on anything at the upcoming summit. G20 summits have always been overshadowed by various crises, but the number of controversies in which member states are now involved is remarkable. Recent escalation in the Gulf has added another nuance to the already bleak picture. There is a chance that this G20 will have an impact that is the opposite of what its 2008 iteration had: it could be a disappointing demonstration of disagreement on all fronts. Germany, which is deeply committed to good governance, will no doubt do its best to refocus G20 commitment on global cooperation—particularly the Paris Agreement—but Chancellor Angela Merkel has no magic wand.

“It remains an open question the extent to which member states will be able to agree on anything at the upcoming summit.”

While Russia hasn’t been the biggest promoter of free trade and openness, it is now concerned by looming protectionism and would like to keep a moderately liberal global economic system in place. Moscow will also use this opportunity to communicate with the many international leaders in attendance. Most public attention will be given to the prospective meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald J. Trump, but no positive outcome is expected. Trump will be unable to move on U.S.-Russian relations, even if he would like to, because Russia’s policy remains toxic in U.S. domestic politics. His handshake with Putin, though, will no doubt cause another political tsunami in Washington, which will further undermine their prospects for interaction.

Heribert Dieter, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Germany)

The G20 set high targets for itself in the early stages of the 2008 global economic and financial crisis, but, despite grand declarations, it has achieved relatively little. Risks in the financial markets have risen rather than fallen, and the G20 countries have no coherent strategy. For now, the United States continues to take a unilateral approach, not taking into account the preferences of other G20 states. The European Union is pursuing its own financial policy, which it has not coordinated with those of the other G20 countries.

The early, resolute G20 announcements were followed by only half-hearted attempts to regulate financial markets more strictly. In the midst of the crisis, expectations arose that there would be coordinated international supervision of financial markets. That concept has not been implemented. Today, G20 governments are unable to agree on common rules. Hopes for a new global financial architecture have been shattered.

There are many reasons why the G20 has not succeeded in providing a common set of financial rules. The preferences of G20 countries are divergent; therefore, the group has been unable to accomplish its core mission.

Equally poor has been the performance of the G20 in promoting a liberal regime for international trade. The declarations of earlier summits were never matched by a liberal trade policy among the G20’s members. Many important economies demonstrated a robust interest in trade that was “fair” rather than “free.” A spirit of protectionism characterized the trade policy of some G20 countries, and the advent of the Trump administration has made the departure from an open multilateral trading system more visible than before. Discrimination and protectionism are once again features of the trade policies of G20 countries.

The Hamburg summit will not result in any major agreement on joint economic policies. For the time being, G20 governments differ on fundamental issues of global governance. Neither on finance nor trade, let alone climate change, will Hamburg deliver any significant improvement over the status quo. Worse, there might be open conflict over protectionist measures the Trump government might implement.

“For the time being, G20 governments differ on fundamental issues of global governance. Neither on finance nor trade, let alone climate change, will Hamburg deliver any significant improvement over the status quo.”

At the same time, the position of Germany, the host, has been severely weakened by the failure of the Merkel government to acknowledge the harms Germany’s enormous current account surpluses has had on other economies. Berlin’s unwillingness to implement measures that would reduce the surplus—for instance, a temporary tax cut—undermines the credibility of its calls for enlightened multilateral cooperation.

Yasushi Kudo, Genron NPO

The arrival of President Donald J. Trump’s administration is expected to limit the ability of the G20 to address global issues through international cooperation. President Trump’s avowed “America First” policy and his preference for bilateral deals will continue to undermine the raison d’etre of the G20, which supports multilateralism by sharing the burden of leadership among its member countries. In addition, overt and covert moves by superpowers to bolster their influence by making use of the fragile international environment are likely to erode the foundation of the established frameworks that have hitherto sustained the world order.

“The arrival of President Donald J. Trump’s administration is expected to limit the ability of the G20 to address global issues through international cooperation.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel apparently intends to make “open markets, and free, fair, sustainable, and inclusive trade” a key focus of the summit this year. Given the instability of the international order, it may not be meaningless for the leaders of the world’s major economies to come together for dialogue and impress upon the world that they are making continuous efforts for the common good. Regrettably, there is no other positive meaning to be found in the present state of the G20, and this year’s summit will likely achieve nothing substantial. As shown by the wording of the communiqué issued at the G7 summit in Italy in May, the G20 will be another political show that uses ambiguous rhetoric to conceal instability and potential confrontations.

That said, the G20 forum remains important. Globalization, the maintenance of a liberal international order, and multilateral cooperation are of vital importance to the common interests of the world. At a time when there is a desperate need to rectify inequalities and instability, the role of the G20 will be much larger than before. Such being the case, it is becoming necessary to solidify cooperation among G7 members and other democratic states that share fundamental values in order to ensure that the G20 can continue to carry out its role.

The presence of the G7, whose members share the universal values of freedom, democracy, and international cooperation based on multilateralism, is vital for the reinforcement of global governance and the preservation of a liberal international order. Moreover, the G7-initiated global economic governance and international financial system form the foundations of global governance. Unified G7 attempts to take initiative in this area in the long term may hold the key to maintaining global stability. Indeed, the significance of the G7 democracies’ concerted endeavors to strengthen global governance should not be underestimated.

Original link is here

US and India — Balancing the rebalance

Sunjoy Joshi and Samir Saran, June 19, 2017, Raisina Debates, ORF Website

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Following the ascension of Trump, a swirling ocean of newsfeed has persistently threatened to overwhelm the US rebalance to Asia.

Modi and Trump

New Delhi and Washington, DC, have officially confirmed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be meeting President Donald Trump for the first time on 26 June, as the two countries aim towards “a new direction for deeper bilateral engagement” and “consolidation of (their) multi-dimensional strategic partnership.” A pithy, succinct line that could do with some unpacking.

Significantly, the meeting precedes the G-20 gathering in Hamburg, with the prospect of President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel once again locking horns. Modi had recently visited Germany, Spain, France and Russia, creating ground for some interesting dynamics as he heads to meet Trump.

Reasons for anxiety on the strategic front are aplenty. Following the ascension of Trump, a swirling ocean of newsfeed has persistently threatened to overwhelm the US rebalance to Asia that had just about put the US-India relationship on an even keel. Now, the aggressive Trump take on outsourcing and associated visa regimes, as well as the differing public declarations regarding the Paris Agreement by Trump and Modi, are threatening to rock the boat.

These are not necessarily uncharted waters. Practically every new US presidency has begun with some uncertainty over the India-US relationship. The reasons are obvious. India’s fractious democracy has invariably confounded investors, financiers, market movers and strategists alike. However, given time, every US administration has learnt that India as a democracy demands strategic patience.

Invariably, after a year or so spent courting other global actors, the merits of investing in and developing the India partnership become obvious to every US president. Most recently, President Barack Obama’s early and brief dalliance with the G-2 made way for the Pivot to Asia and the signing of the Asia Pacific vision document with India in 2015.

Hence, any skepticism regarding the future of this relationship is easily overstated. The experience of the past few administrations in both countries also reveals that it was the lead taken by the political leadership that has been responsible for the flowering of the relationship — at times even to the chagrin of their own bureaucracies and the commentariat. Whether it was the 123 Agreement of 2008, or the January 2015 “Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region,” the strategic political push from the very top was unmistakable.

Just like the 123 agreement, the Joint Vision of 2015 was also, in many ways, a first for India. It had put itself out, almost on a limb, to boldly join the US in articulating a joint vision not just for the bilateral partnership, but also for Asia and beyond. And it did so unabashedly by proclaiming this as a righteous union of the “world’s two largest democracies” — a rare instance when India used normative virtue as the foundation for a bilateral agreement.

This was also that unique occasion when India, known for its wariness and hedging its alliances, stepped out and signed on to a vision for the entire sweep of the Asia Pacific. In doing this, it recognised the Indo Pacific not just as a sub-region of the Asia Pacific but also as a geostrategic maritime domain in its own right. PM Modi’s Act East Policy found resonance in the American Pivot to Asia proposition.

However, the normative appeal of the US now looks a trifle jaded. This is especially so when viewed in the light of the ambivalence cast on the centrality of the Asia-Pacific by an ‘America First’ policy. The paradox is that this is happening at a time when the contests of the region are simultaneously moving westwards, thanks to a host of geopolitical developments. Given these trends, what the United States may today perceive to be “faraway” concerns are moving ever closer to its spheres of influence.

The first and obvious challenge is the rise of China, which through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is seeking to integrate the Eurasian landmass and build a bridge between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Any scenario in which China becomes the primary strategic influencer of outcomes in the Indian Ocean challenges the US status as the predominant Asian power.

Alongside this, we are witnessing the return of Vladimir Putin to Afghanistan, as his newfound penchant for a partnership with Pakistan begins to upend Cold War assumptions that have shaped US presence in the region. In addition, the sudden sharp schism within the Gulf Cooperation Council in an already complicated West Asia is significantly testing the US resolve in the region.

Therefore, at a time when there is evidence of a fair amount of rebalance in this part of the world, there is certainly the need for a “consolidation of (the India-US) multi-dimensional strategic partnership.” It becomes imperative then to move beyond the vagaries of the 24X7 news cycle and reiterate the strategic repositioning of the India US partnership based on three key points of cohesion.

First, taking a cue from the 2015 document, the India-US relationship is increasingly based on a cohesion of norms. Logically this translates into an imminent convergence on international law, dispute resolution, and a host of matters related to global governance including the provision of Global Public Goods (GPG). The two sides need to reaffirm the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight throughout the region, including the South China Sea.

Even while admitting that there may be differences between us on the issue of freedom of navigation, there can be little doubt that the region has the same importance in our geo-economic calculus. India’s three largest trading relationships lie in East Asia and 55% of its trade flows through the South China Sea.

Can this vision progress to a normative framework co-created with other countries in the region? For instance, can the US and India propose a guidance document on the Blue Economy with other like minded countries? This would stipulate normative approaches to key issues such as infrastructure investments, coastal security, dispute resolution, and community led consultative processes.

That leads to the second cohesion, a shared understanding around Asian connectivity over land, sea, and the digital domain. There is need for an alternative blueprint to the BRI that the US and India, with other partners, must propose — one that connects East, South, Central Asia and Africa.

This framework must integrate a host of bottom up initiatives to explore sustainable and innovate ways to fulfill Asia’s aspirations for infrastructure, employment, and economic opportunities, rather than tie countries down to binding commitments around finance and repayment of debt. The possibilities are endless and encompass hard infrastructure, digital connectivity, knowledge clusters and value chains that straddle the two oceans, from Palo Alto to Bengaluru, Tokyo to Tel Aviv and every place in between.

The cohesion in norms and connectivity then necessitates the third — a cohesion of power. Over time, the individual assessments, approaches and responses to the politics of the region will increasingly harmonise.

Some key building blocks are in place. As part of their 10 year Defence Framework Agreement inked in Jan 2015, the two sides agreed to pursue joint development and production projects. Importantly, the US has reaffirmed India’s status as a “major defence partner.” It is working to relax India-specific regulations on export controls, and amending Export Administration Regulations (EAR) for transfers of particular items to India. The new rule also amends the law so that companies will not need a licence after becoming a Validated End User (VEU).

The logistics pact, signed in August 2016, after almost a decade of negotiations, has added a new dimension to the partnership. The new India specific logistics support agreement — Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) — is on the verge of being operationalised.

However, the underlying transformation is far deeper. Common weapon systems, joint use of facilities and common defence infrastructure and logistics will, over time, work to align strategic postures as well as security assessments and responses.

Given the unfolding dynamics of the region, both the US and India are compelled to have strong relations with countries such as South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and the ASEAN countries. They are also compelled to manage a complex relationship with China. For, China is a vital economic partner for both countries, even as it remains a strategic challenge that needs to be accommodated.

India’s position is further complicated by the reality of a 4,000 km long border, and a restive niggling Western front that the Dragon is ever ready to stoke. India may see the CPEC as an infringement on its sovereignty, but the BRI as a project is slowly but surely capturing the imagination of Asia as well as Europe. China is positioning it as the big promise of the 21st century to further trade, development and prosperity through an economically integrated Asia and Europe. It is clear that strategically, China is on a determined “march West”, wherein the contest for control of the Indian Ocean and Eurasia are part of a greater push which has but one destination — the heart of Europe.

It is important that the US and India move beyond the scope of the 2015 Agreement that limits their mutual engagement to India’s Eastern seaboard, and craft a new partnership that includes the western expanse of the Indo Pacific across the Arabian Sea to the Cape of Good Hope.


They need to do this, not by themselves, but in conjunction with allies, through treaties and agreements, with cajoling, handholding and networked security arrangements. The network of treaties, norms and rule based agreements across the full sweep of the Indo Pacific must continue to evolve. Not to do so would be to allow Beijing to set the terms of engagement in this region by default.

This piece had begun by highlighting the virtue of strategic patience that has been the hallmark of the US in its dealings with India. Now, as the US discovers through its own experience that all true democracies can and do become fractious, when contentious domestic debates distract from strategic choices, it may be India’s turn to return the favour and demonstrate strategic patience.

There is merit in waiting: a stronger India is by itself a net positive for the United States as it finds itself stretched to capacity in Asia; and a US that emerges from its current political churn is bound to be a reliable partner as India stands up to defend a rules based order in this part of the world.

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

What lies ahead for India and the world in the 2020s?

Hindustan Times, May 14, 2017, Analysis, co-authored by Ashok Malik

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With tectonic and technological challenges causing disruptions, the neat correlation of a big economy with big power that bears big responsibilities is under scrutiny


The Black Tesla Model S electric car at a Tesla supercharger charging station. Superchargers are free connectors that charge Model S in minutes. Tesla and Uber (and Ola in India) are current and future providers of public transport networks without which cities will be unable to do business. (Getty Images)

At the cusp of the 2020s, what are the markers of change in the international system? The challenges are tectonic and technological and causing four major disruptions. First, the neat correlation of a big economy with big power that bears big responsibilities is under scrutiny. After World War II, the globe’s largest economies were also its ultimate security guarantors, institution incubators and norm shapers. Today, the economic and domestic political capital of a great power with a per capita income of US$40,000 is just not replicable by an emerging power with a per capita income of US$10,000.

The latter faces inequities and developmental gaps at home, and its generosity will perforce be constricted. Populist politics will anyway make it harder for any power – old or emerging – to be an unremitting provider of global public goods. To add to that, the largest economies of this century will also be among the weakest societies – a new paradigm.

Second, there is a creeping capture of provision of public goods and services by business corporations and large transnational philanthropic entities. For example, the developing world’s public health agenda is being influenced by a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in some cases to a greater degree than by the World Health Organisation.

The Trump administration’s resolve to cut US funding for development programmes that support abortion services is being supplanted by large American charities and philanthropic institutions that see the right to choose as central to women’s health and empowerment. Such processes will curb the autonomy – or excesses – of national governments seeking to achieve politically desirable goals.

In the economic sphere too the concept of public goods and private provision – and of where the state, as the traditional provider of public goods, comes into this dynamic – has to be considered afresh. In most societies Internet and data services comprise a public utility being delivered by private corporations. Tesla and Uber (and Ola in India) are current and future providers of public transport networks without which cities will be unable to do business. Yet they are also networks over which the government – or even traditional pressure groups such as trade unions – have only nominal control.

The devolution of a “public goods provider” role has in turn generated thinking on quasi-government obligations among futuristic corporations. That is why suggestions of an income tax to be paid by robots have come from the founder of Microsoft; or why the chief executive of Tesla – its driverless cars will disrupt driver communities – has urged governments to institute a universal basic income.

Third, there is an uneasy but imminent transition in industrial production from human-intensive to machine-driven ecosystems. The early 21st century will see the maturing and possible commodification of a menu of new technologies – artificial intelligence and robotics, 3D manufacturing and custom-made biological and pharmaceutical products, lethal autonomous weapons and driverless cars.

This will pose conundrums. The moral question of how a driverless car will decide between hitting a jaywalker and swerving and damaging the car has often been debated. The answer is both simple – save the human life – and complex. At which angle should the car swerve? Just enough to save the jaywalker or more than enough? If the driverless car is in Dublin, is the decision taken by the Irish government, the car’s original code writers in California or a software programmer in Hyderabad to whom maintenance is outsourced?

If different national jurisdictions have different fine print on something that should be so apparent – prioritising a human life – how will it affect insurance and investment decisions, including transnational ones, in relation to infrastructure that lies within damage-causing distance of a driverless car while it is attempting to evade a jaywalker? The sociology and economy of the machine will determine a specialised discipline in 21st century diplomacy and trade negotiations. Already the large cyber-attack has displaced the nuclear-tipped missile as the proximate threat.

Finally, technology is blurring national boundaries just as politics is tightening them. Innovation and capital have impinged upon the domain of the state at a juncture when statism, nativism, identity and nationalism are making a comeback. As such, while the nation-state will remain the fundamental unit of reckoning in the international system, it will have to engage with, almost Brownian-motion like, other units and stakeholders in a fluid medium where disorder may have both permanence and legitimacy. On its part, geopolitics will have to reconcile to 50 shades of grey, a departure from the black-white binary that framed the Anglo-Saxon ethic.

Ashok Malik and Samir Saran are with the Observer Research Foundation