Season 1, Episode 4

While China’s largest neighbor India is expected to overtake China by population within only a few years, it is struggling in most other areas to compete with the other giant emerging country. The recent border clashes only led the already complicated relations to deteriorate. As for most countries, India will have to balance furthering its economic potential –that it will not achieve without China –and opposing a China led region by offering other countries opportunities to collaborate. (30 min., 54 sec.)

Your host: Nico Luchsinger, Executive Director, Asia Society Switzerland Moderator: Nico LuchsingerSpeakers:Tanvi Madan, Director and Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution Samir Saran, President, Observer Research Foundation (ORF) Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram and author Production: Serena Jung, Program and Communications Director, Asia Society Switzerl and Editing: Denise Staubli, Program Manager, Asia Society Switzerland


Modi in Asia: Staring down the dragon while embracing it

With the conclusion of his three-nation tour of China, Mongolia and South Korea last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi capped a frenetic first year of diplomacy. It is becoming apparent that the emphasis on the Asian region will continue to be an imperative for the rest of his term. In this past year alone, the Indian Prime Minister has invested about twice as many days visiting the ‘east’ — Asia, the Indian Ocean Region and the Pacific — as against his ‘westward’ travels.

Is this a reinvigoration of India’s Look East policy? Does it mean relatively less importance to the West? And, what are the drivers of this policy? Barring the notable absence of West Asia from his travel schedule, it is clear that ‘Engage Asia’ has been the predominant mantra of Modi’s early days in office.


This Asian focus is decidedly different from previous efforts by Indian leaders to integrate with the neighbourhood. Those efforts were driven by the idea of demonstrating Indian leadership in a particular geography, or they were manifestations of south-south solidarity, or they were necessitated by security concerns emanating from across the border.

The current effort is something more. It is primarily aimed at completing two specific national projects, while at the same time positioning India at the helm of global affairs.

The first national project is to complete ’20th century India’: future-proofing Indian infrastructure; installing enough energy to power the nation; connecting the country with its periphery and beyond via roads, rail, ports and airports; developing manufacturing bases to employ the millions entering the job market each year; and investing in housing, agrarian and other social infrastructure that most developed economies take for granted.

Modi’s Asian thrust is designed to find partnerships, technology and funds to complete this 20th century project. The Atlantic countries do not have the financial capacity to invest in large infrastructure and energy projects. They do not have the political room to commit to carbon-intensive industrialisation. And they no longer have the wherewithal to offer 20th century inputs (equipment, energy and technology) for an insatiable India.

All of these are readily available to the east of India. Consider this: China, Japan and Korea between them have close to US$5.5 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, funds desperately needed for this 20th century project.

There is a coincidence of needs as well. Each of these economies needs to invest in new geographies. They need to generate wealth out of what are now stagnant reserves. These are countries that have successfully completed their industrialisation projects and need to find outlets for investment in the industrialisation of others. That’s why China has become the biggest provider of energy-generation equipment to India and wants to build high-speed trains here. It is why South Korea wants to build nuclear reactors and ports in India. And it is why the Japanese want to set up industrial corridors in India. Asia is also the source of most of the energy needs that are indispensable to this national project. Be it gas, uranium, coal variously sourced from Australia, Mongolia, Central Asia and the Middle East, this region offers India plenty of energy opportunities.

When Modi travels to these countries, it is tacit recognition that the response to Indian requirements carried forward from the last century reside there.

Then there is India’s ’21st century project’, driven by innovation, based on new technologies, located within digital economies and fueled by enhanced human capacity. This is the service-sector paradigm that India is already experiencing, and for which India needs high end solutions at rock bottom prices. For example, most of the 6 million new internet users India adds each month operate on handheld devices priced around the US$50-100 range on connections priced at a fraction of a dollar. Here too it is Asian countries — China, Taiwan and South Korea — that dominate the market. The expansion of this market, which will happen in tandem with the Digital India, Make in India, Skilling India and Smart Cities initiatives, will only see the market dominance of these Asian countries increase.

However, here is the poser: can India manage this Asian engagement while balancing an increasingly expansive China? This is the second element of the ‘Engage Asia’ mantra that Prime Minister Modi seeks to address.

Most Asian economies have their largest partnership with China and will always be looking over their shoulder as they define new partnerships with others. China’s soft expansionism is being driven by its economic weight and through its pursuit of creating new political and economic governance institutions, like the AIIB, that will offer it a new dimension of power. Its One Belt, One Road project seeks to redefine and recreate Asia’s geography.

In India’s sense of its own role and position in global affairs, such Chinese dominance is unacceptable. New Delhi’s running dispute over the 4000km border with China also complicates the bilateral relationship. India’s existential dilemma for the 21st century, then, is to ‘stare down the dragon while embracing it’.

This is where the US, a predominant Asian power, comes into play. It offers India two playing cards. First, it encourages others in Asia, such as South Korea and Japan, to participate in the India story in all sectors without the fear of China. In fact, this US gambit of midwifing Asian middle-power cooperation from arm’s length is a seminal arrangement for the ‘congagement‘ of China. Second, the unassailable US lead in security, defence and other high technology segments gives India a qualitative edge in its bilateral negotiations with China.

When Prime Minister Modi landed in Mongolia and South Korea on his way back from China, he was signaling that he intends to challenge the narrative of the Asian century as being a Chinese century. He was signaling that he intends to break the Chinese stranglehold in the Asian imagination of its future. He was signaling that here is an India willing to live up to expectations and take its rightful place as a major Asian power. Put simply, he was embracing the dragon while staring it down at the same time.

Photo by Flickr user Narendra Modi.

Columns/Op-Eds, In the News

China’s aggression towards Japan is a global threat

Original link is here

PUBLISHED:23:03 GMT, 4 December 2013| UPDATED:23:03 GMT, 4 December 2013

On the 23rd of November China escalated its tensions with Japan significantly by declaring an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ).

While this zone may be a geographic span encompassing most of the East China Sea, its strategic shadow falls on the Himalayas.

The responses to this episode will shape the history of the 21st century.

Though more than three thousand kilometres away, this new Chinese posture may be well be India’s security frontline.

Pic 1

Dispute: This 2011 photo shows a P-3C patrol plane of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force flying over the disputed islets known as the Senkaku islands


The ADIZ claims almost the entire area of the East China Sea – a quadrangle comprising China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan – as an extension of Chinese airspace.

The way an ADIZ works is that it extends a sort of sovereignty, a type of territoriality to airspace beyond ones geographic territory. An aircraft that intends to fly through, though technically in international airspace has to notify the claimant.

Most countries have used the declaration of ADIZs to consolidate sovereignty, as both the US and Japan have contiguous to their own territories for defence purposes.

China’s claim, though, doesn’t follow the contours of its coastline but rather juts out – a prominent salient into the sea. In this day and age land grabs are completely unacceptable, sea grabs are becoming unacceptable, and China has jumped the normative gun challenging air norms to possibly buttress its maritime and territorial claims.

There are some interesting dimensions to this episode. The first is the reality that China is the big man on campus in Asia, the U.S. pivot notwithstanding.

Pic 2

Admission: Joe Biden admitted America is ‘deeply concerned ‘ about Beijing’s exclusion zone in the East China Sea

Two; China’s continental outlook is now turning to the maritime domain and its early 20th century Wilhelmine notions of territoriality are being unleashed at sea.

Third; China’s actions do not come from any public discourse or consultation process, internally or externally. China has established therefore, that it is fundamentally a unilateralist, acting through stealth.

And above all, China only respects strength. Japan demonstrated enormous gumption and fortitude during the Senkaku crisis, but President Obama’s vacillations undermined this response. Questioning alliance responsibilities at that crucial moment may have indeed emboldened China in its current gambit.

In the words of Chinese Foreign Minister Qing Gang, “The U.S. should keep its word of not taking sides on the issue concerning the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands and stop making improper comments”.


America’s deliberate violation of the ADIZ by two B-52 bombers was a first step that saw a steady escalation, by Japanese and Korean jets. A day later China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, sailed into the region and fighter jets have been deployed.

But yet again contradictory messages are coming out of DC. While using the air force to challenge the ADIZ, Washington has advised commercial airlines to respect the rules, all but throwing in the towel. The message from Beijing seems unequivocal “China will wait you out”.

China has an abundance of patience and resolve – and in its own view, it is on the right side of history. This portends trouble for India. If China declares an ADIZ in the east today, what prevents it from declaring the same over Arunachal, Sikkim or Ladakh? If that happens, Indian helicopters will require Chinese permission to land in Indian Territory. India cannot afford to allow this to pass.

The big question is, who will fly a challenging B-52 patrol for India over Arunachal, given that we do not even provide the United States with berthing rights? Given how supine India was at Dempsang, and the lack of public support for its position in the international community, India may find itself having to grapple with a far more ominous ADIZ with greater bite.


India must urgently explore a variety of options to restore deterrence vis-à-vis China. This first thing is to back Japan. The Emperor’s visit last week could have presented India with a moment of expressing solidarity and the impending visit of Prime Minister Abe in the coming month would be a useful time to do some plain speaking and strategic positioning.

But words alone are not enough. India has to work on a range of options including economic and hard options. These must include rationalisation and augmentation of its air force to ensure air superiority in each of its fragile border zones. It must also take a fresh look at reinvigorating its ties with Vietnam, Japan, Australia, Singapore and the littoral states.

Passive diplomacy is now not an option. It must engage with Taiwan, actively,across the board and especially on security issues.

As a last resort, the option of revoking recognition of Tibet’s accession to China, and the status of the Dalai Lama must not be discarded. Changing positions on geopolitical affairs should be a lesson we must learn from the wise mandarins in Beijing.

Ultimately this is a moment of truth for Japan: will the US take its alliance commitments to their logical conclusion or does an insecure and newly militarised Japan loom on the horizon?

This is also a moment of truth for India – where its increasing economic engagement with China must be located within a robust, security architecture – strength being the only currency China respects and it is the only currency of engagement with them.

Lastly it is a moment of truth for the United States; that alliances are absolute and need to be defended in deed and word.

While this analysis could be wrong, nothing is about to change till the Obama-Kerry duo play out the change they keep talking about, because whatever the U.S. has done so far, clearly, is not working. Emperor Akihito’s arrival in Delhi may have been an exercise in pomp and ceremony, but embedded deep within that visit was a menacing message from Beijing.

Columns/Op-Eds, In the News

Time to rethink differences between neighbors across Himalayas

Global Times | 2013-10-30 19:53:01

Original link is here

The recently concluded India-China summit meeting may have, at the very least, established a new tone and tenor in the relationship between the two Himalayan neighbors.

The Border Defence Cooperation Agreement, the new communication mechanism on water, the thrust on exchanging experiences and expertise on road and highways, and cooperation on an “Asian knowledge system” through the Nalanda University project are all important and substantial steps to take this partnership forward.

There was some useful progress on economic cooperation as well, although more was expected from the two leaders to facilitate greater two-way trade, business exchanges and Chinese investments in India’s infrastructure projects. And there was disappointment in some quarters when bilateral rigidity ensured lack of movement in liberalizing the visa regime.

But for those who see the India-China relationship as one of the key partnerships of this century, what is most disappointing is the lack of ambition in the agenda for the conversations. The two countries now need to be bold and creative in what they do together.

The two must seek to finalize a civil nuclear cooperation agreement. This gives China a credible financial stake in the Indian civil nuclear sector and the motivation to reject its dogma of “capping and rolling back” India’s nuclear program. This would also potentially facilitate India’s entry into the global nuclear order.

India is concerned about the opacity of China’s interests in the Indian Ocean. The two need to proactively engage instead of producing alarmist literature. Their naval and strategic leaderships need to commence frank discussions on common approaches and discover synergies in protecting the sea lines of communication.

India and China have piggybacked on US capabilities in the past, and may have to soon develop and deploy their own capacities.

Be it in anti-piracy operations or humanitarian evacuation, there is ample scope for coordination and cooperation.

Both nations have large diasporas in Africa and West Asia. In Libya, for example, both countries sent their ships to evacuate their citizens. Such coincidence of interests and needs must be mapped, and actions synchronised.

The two countries need to thrash out a common understanding on cyber governance. China seeks to be a stakeholder in India’s communication sector, for which the level of trust between the two countries needs to be enhanced.

A significant share of the world’s commerce has become dependent on the digital realm. This commerce is the key to prosperity of both countries, and yet much of the discourse on cyber management emanates from, and key infrastructure resides in, the Atlantic countries.

Bilateral cooperation on the ongoing international dialogue on Internet governance and on issues relating to development of related infrastructure and connectivity is essential.

China and India must realize that a strong and stable Afghanistan and Pakistan are in their interest and vital for the stability of the region.

For far too long, India and China have allowed the situation to drift out of strategic or other considerations. A dialogue on aiding the development and growth of these countries must commence between the Asian giants.

China, as a trusted ally of Pakistan, and India, as a friend of the Afghan people, can together help in rebuilding and reintegrating these parts into the Asian economic mainstream.

Both countries also have similar interests and stakes in outer space and ocean governance. They are handicapped by the fact that they are new voices in the normative debates on these subjects.

This is the moment to evolve a common position before entering larger negotiations with an individual weak hand.

The two countries need to come up with tangible alternatives in what is today a one-way norm setting exercise in these new arenas of governance, with the opposition too divided to have any impact.

Ultimately, we may find that our converging interests bind us more closely than we would have imagined or, for some, liked.

Dealing with this will require bold political leadership on both sides and a pragmatic desire to integrate our largely coincident aspirations.


Column in The Hindu: “Looking beyond the honeymoon”

by Samir Saran and Seema Sirohi
New Delhi, 29th of September 2012

Please find here the link to the original article.

The relationship between India and the U.S. is emerging as one of the three that will shape Asia and global politics in the decades ahead, the other two being U.S.-China and India-China

It is rare for the ideas people to be behind the curve but those who say the India-US relationship has been reduced to merely “feel good” meetings and junkets are exactly that — a little behind the curve. Critics in both Washington and New Delhi complain about the preponderance of grand rhetoric which remains unmatched by delivery. Yes, India has signed some significant defence deals with the U.S. but where’s the real beef or the strategic content, they ask.

This reductive description is more a function of the traits typical of people in the two countries — if some Americans are driven by “instant gratification,” their Indian counterparts see “melodrama” as a virtue. But beyond these personality quirks, clues point to a maturing partnership that no longer needs the adrenalin rush of big-ticket developments such as the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear agreement of 2008.

The language

It is apparent that India and the U.S. have made a long-term bet on each other even though the language reflects a cautious discretion bred in political realities. In India it is still not kosher for many to call America a good friend, a useful partner. It is ever so easy to point to the long history of Washington’s coddling of Pakistan and its disregard of Indian concerns as exhibit A. Their counterparts in Washington complain: what has India done for the U.S. lately? Remember the promise of commercial dividends from the nuclear deal?

Fortunately, those who make decisions are largely unfettered by this narrative. They don’t want the present to be completely hostage to the past. They are already moving ahead, pushed by new geographies and challenges. The India-U.S. relationship is emerging as one of the three bilateral relationships that will shape Asia and perhaps define global politics in the decades ahead. The other two being U.S.-China and India-China.

Four trends

The new India-U.S. partnership has four broad trends, which were apparent during recent discussions between Indian parliamentarians and scholars with senior officials in the departments of State and Defence, and at the National Security Council as part of a delegation organised by the Naval Post-graduate School, Monterey Bay and the Observer Research Foundation.

The relationship has moved beyond “parallel actions” where both countries despite a congruence of interests moved separately, whether in Myanmar, the Middle East or Afghanistan. The old distrust has been replaced by a new respect for this kind of independent parallelism, which now seems to be converging. This has opened up the field to a wide variety of issues for frank discussion and an exchange of ideas between the two. From Pakistan to cyber security to space, no subject is taboo.

The two main drivers for American consolidation of thought: an externality called China on the one hand, and internal doubts about the merits of unilateralism, on the other. American people have no appetite for new, expensive engagements. They imagine themselves better off “leading from behind” despite the hawkish clamour from conservative talking heads.

The second noticeable trend is the understanding between the political leadership in both countries, stressed and repeated at very senior levels. In the U.S., bipartisan support for India is public and enthusiastic, putting New Delhi in the sanguine position of not having to fret about a change of administration in Washington this November. In India, the support is pledged quietly and firmly and repeated through itinerant former foreign secretaries and retired generals. The challenge here is to overcome the inertia of the mid-level bureaucracy on both sides which can puncture their political masters’ biggest dreams with pinpricks born of residual institutional memories.

Also apparent is a new appreciation at high levels that the bet on India cannot and should not be purely for its large market. India’s emergence is good in itself because of strategic convergences. Short-term transactional expectations around that odd contract or defence deal gone awry will continue to disappoint, but policymakers understand the need for “patience” — a word that has become part of official U.S. speak on India. The understanding has opened the door to Washington looking at India in the medium-term instead of just for short-term gains. A growing number of thinkers in Washington believe the strengthening of India will be one of the main features of the U.S. presence in Asia this century.

The last and perhaps the most interesting development is the real entry of the U.S. Defense Department to try to “own and guide” the India relationship in ways that were unimaginable a few years ago. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter have taken a decision to act on some of India’s perennial complaints about tech and weapons transfer to put real meat on the bones. Almost all key U.S. relationships are driven by the Department of Defense (DoD) because of the high element of the strategic content. The trajectory from the early 1990s when the DoD hardly had any interest in India to reach a point where it wants to be the main driver is significant.

Regional issues

This has important benefits. Plain talk is one. Senior U.S. officials have apparently conveyed to the Pakistani generals that India’s strategic interests in Afghanistan far outweigh theirs because India has greater capacity, reach and ultimately more robust goals in the region. So they had better get used to the idea. The de-hyphenation is complete. This attitudinal change is a far cry from even two years ago when the Americans were hedging their bets between the two countries. But today there is greater appreciation of India’s pain. The Americans are equally perplexed about how to deal with a country that has allowed its own slow radicalisation and despite opportunities, has failed to stem the tide.

Where will the new trends lead? There could be a mismatch of expectations and capacity. For instance, the U.S. may now be willing to see India as a key balancer in the region and in Afghanistan. New Delhi, however, may be more comfortable with a far modest role. India is unlikely to agree to be a net provider of security and its strategic outlook may be limited to ensuring that anti-India forces don’t dominate Kabul. The green-on-blue attacks against U.S. troops may have already given the Indian political class jitters about training Afghan forces.

Then there is the brute reality of India itself, which can alienate the strongest ally. The Democrats and the Republicans are united in their support for India but what about the political climate in a country with narrow horizons and where short-term obsessions manifest in “tactical” moves that can derail the country’s larger strategic goals?

Seema Sirohi is a columnist based in Washington DC. Samir Saran, Vice-President at the Observer Research Foundation, was a part of the recent Track-2 interactions with the U.S. establishment.