China

It’s in China’s interest to keep India in good humour and here’s why

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

We could all look at clues emanating from a two-hour meeting between India’s foreign minister S. Jaishankar with Wang Yi, his Chinese counterpart, in Moscow on Thursday. Or trust the redoubtable Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to have hefted his weight in making them shake hands. But frankly, it’s in China’s interests to keep India in good humour.

As the two troops square up within a punch’s distance in Ladakh, where even a guttural breath could spark off World War III, analysts have a meltdown that India could be facing a multi-pronged war on its borders, none more so than on its eastern, northern and western ones from two heavily nuclear-armed enemies—China and Pakistan. Most are failing to connect the dots that it’s China which presently is more encircled and it’s India which is the centrepiece in the coordinated move.

Agreed, India hosting the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) later this year doesn’t sound menacing at first glance. But the enormity of the moment won’t be lost on pros who know that India now has military logistical agreement with all three other members of the grouping: the United States, Australia and Japan. The one with the US (LEMOA) has been operational since 2016. The one with Australia was signed in June. Now, on Thursday, India and Japan, riding on the visible warmth between Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and his outgoing Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, have inked a similar military logistical deal. Who said nothing moved during the Corona?

Even as I write this, French defence minister Florence Parly would’ve left Indian shores after overseeing the official induction of 5 Rafale jets in the Indian Air Force in Ambala on Thursday. Don’t go by the innocent press releases marking the moment. In geopolitical and military sense, it carried a grave message for Beijing.

Quietly in the background, India and France have grown akin to blood brothers. It hasn’t happened overnight. As soon as the Cold War ended last century, India and France had signed a “strategic partnership.” Everyone talks of 36 Rafale jets but it isn’t much in public domain that Indian navy has already commissioned 2 of 6 Scorpene submarines being build in our own Malegaon dockyards. The third one is undergoing sea trials. India had signed a military logistics pact with France in 2018 itself. France was one of the few countries which had backed India’s decision to nuclear-test in 1998.

And this is all because like other members of QUAD, France too needs India badly for its considerable stakes in the Indian Ocean. The two countries could sign a secure communications agreement too which would allow the two navies to share maritime domain awareness. Even before Parly arrived in India, the two countries, along with Australia, had held their a trilateral foreign-secretary level dialogue on Wednesday. Surely, India-France are welcoming the likeminded in fold.

The domino effect of this all must not be lost on observers. LEMOA with the US has extended Indian navy’s reach in southwestern Indian Ocean due to French bases in Reunion island near Madagascar and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. The logistical arrangement with Australia has bolstered Indian warships in southern Indian Ocean and the western Pacific.

There are two other logistical pacts—besides the US, Australia, Japan and France—which India has firmly secured under its belt. One is with South Korea, the other one is with Singapore. Now Indian officials are openly touting two more in near future—with the UK and Russia, the latter one possibly by the end of this year itself. Yes, Russia—you have heard it right.

And now comes something which completely has rattled the command of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). India, Japan and Australia have launched a “Resilient Supply Chain Initiative” amongst themselves. In simpler terms, it means the three countries are looking for alternatives to China in terms of relocating industries and supply chains in Indo-Pacific.

Japan, which has considerable industrial presence in China, unlike India or Australia, is even incentivizing its companies to relocate to, say India and Bangladesh. It has taken badly the recent moves by China to intensify dispute in East China Sea. Australia is badly stung by the trade spats with China. The repatriation of Australian journalists by Beijing hasn’t helped matters. India of course has a war at door.

In essence, there is an attempt to disengage supply chains in strategic areas such as telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, semiconductors etc from China. This has potential to fundamentally alter the geographical shape of cross-border industrial network in the region. It would hurt China where it hurts most.

India and China could point fingers at each other, and not just Finger 3 or 4, for the downturn of ties between two of world’s most populous nations. China could claim that it has had enough of India’s “running with the hare and hunting with the hound” attitude. India could do likewise. After all, China backs Pakistan both on its terrorism and hostility in Kashmir. But these are no better than academic discourse. The truth is India has moved firmly on its Act East Policy. And China has to look after its back. Like Doklam, this face-off ftoo is likely to end with a loss of face for the Dragon.

 

 

 

Trump’s words on Biden are a chilling reminder to India of dangers ahead

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Joe Biden didn’t speak about China in his address after accepting to be Democrat’s choice for presidential elections. President Donald Trump made sure nobody missed the import of his rival’s hedging.

“China was never mentioned in any way, shape, or form. China will own our country if he gets elected…You’ve seen the intelligence reports. China very much wants Joe Biden to win,” thundered Trump in his response in double-quick time.

The US media, which hates Trump, would lose little time in terming his reaction as another instance of “fake news.” Didn’t Biden call Xi Jinping a “thug” for keeping a million Uyghurs in reconstruction (concentration) camps? Hasn’t he vowed to prohibit US companies for supporting a “surveillance state”? Wasn’t he quick to congratulate Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen on her re-election in almost real time?

Those with long memory know better. Biden has long been a champion of the US engagement—and not confrontational–policy with China. He has always preferred an ambiguity on Taiwan. He has been a vice-president in the past and spent decades in Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A leopard doesn’t change its spots.

Only last May, when Trump was involved in a trade war with China, Biden had questioned if China was going to “eat our lunch”. He had asserted that China was no competition for the United States. Democrats support alliances, investments and multilateral approach. They prefer Chinese cooperation on climate change and non-proliferation deal. Biden hasn’t been any different. It’s only the approaching elections, and that latent anger against China on Coronavirus pandemic amongst voters, not to say China’s iron hand on Hong Kong, which has made Biden sing a different tune.

Let’s look at the Team Biden which would get rolling if he was to become the new US president. Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan worked closely with Biden as his national security staff while he was in the White House. They are his senior advisers now.  Then there are Samantha Power and Tom Donilon.

Like their boss, all of them are genetically Democrats. They prefer “One China” policy where no heat is blown on Taiwan lest it upsets Beijing.  These days Samantha Power claims she is “very worried” about China yet adds for good measure she remembers their exemplary handling of Ebola outbreak in Africa; Blinken is grave in stating that China poses a “series of new challenges” but wants to work in tandem with them on global issues; Donilon isn’t keen on raising tariffs against China.

The truth is globalization is the genetic makeup of Democrats. In the name of free trade and liberal values—the cloak which hides the dagger of Leftists too—all they aim is to empower the 1% against 99% of humanity.  Behind the flag of “free world” is a military-industrial complex where wars are waged and common man has no future. From academia to media, everyone does their bidding. Profit and power is all that matters to them. They prefer governments which are servile and not like one in India where a prime minister is seeking to empower masses. A nationalist government, that too in India with its numbers and growing economic and political clout, is a grave threat to them.

If Biden was to win, and carries Kamala Harris to the White House, be sure India would be dis-serviced. They would speak the language of Pakistan and China on Kashmir and CAA-NRC etc. George Soros and his henchmen in India would acquire new teeth. That’s why Trump is right in claiming that China wants Biden to win. And that’s why it won’t be such a good news for India.

 

Why China is fighting the world? What’s the method behind this madness?

(This is a reprint from the NewsBred).

Why is China so reckless, why it doesn’t mind that the world is beginning to array itself against Beijing politically, economically and militarily?

It has pushed India to a point where India is doing navy drills with the United States in Andaman and Nicobar, right at the mouth of Malacca Strait which, if it was to be blocked, would finish China. Eighty-percent of China’s energy and trade is conducted through these waters. This is the strait which joins Indian Ocean with Pacific Ocean.

China has torched the informal summits between its leader Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi, all those moments at swing in Ahmedabad, those hugs at BRICS and SCOs, after it killed 20 Indian soldiers and buried billions of Chinese investments now, and for decades, in India. It has created an enemy in India when an enduring friendship was in the front lawns.

It has angered the United States, The European Union and a host of other democratic nations with its revamped security laws on Hong Kong to the extent that Washington would offload its officials at airports; England is offering citizenship to Hong Kong residents, tearing the extradition treaty and EU is vowing to stand by the “citizens of Hong Kong.”

It has annoyed most of its neighbours in Indo-Pacific–Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Japan etc—with its aggressive claims on reefs and islands; patrolling and sinking their assets with impunity. Most of them it shares seats with in ASEAN and RCEP.  Besides, nations such as Vietnam, Japan and Indonesia—and many others—are de facto NATO bases which could cripple the supply lines of China.

It has spat on one of its largest partners, Australia, by raising a prohibitive 80% tariffs on exports by Canberra. All this for Australia voicing their concern on Hong Kong.

Leave aside Tibet or Taiwan, China is also making partners such as Kazakhstan fume with claims on its sovereignty. They recently had a report in its servile media where Kazakhstan was said to belong to China since ages and that Kazakhs would have no problem if they were to merge with China.

Isn’t China mindful that Hong Kong, as a global financial hub, is their interface with the capitalist world?

This is a country which has a debt that is 300 percent of its GDP. Its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is staring at a financial catastrophe in the Covid-19 world. It has lent $1.5 trillion to more than 150 countries. Several of these countries would soon be defaulting on loans.

Most of us know that China is world’s largest exporter. Very few realize that it’s also world’s second largest importer. It imports minerals and oil to run its industries which feed its exports. Why is it endangering these imports?

It’s telecom giant Huawei, with over $100 billion of revenue every year, has gone on a “survival mode” as said by its own president, Guo Ping since US has shut its door. So would do India, England and the Western world.

Isn’t China mindful that the world is seething in anger against them? That actions against Beijing are already shifting gears? Why is it shooting itself in the foot? Why is it willing to lose in seconds all that it had gained in decades?

An incident during the lockdown perhaps holds an answer to China’s present recklessness. People of Hubei and Ziangxi clashed with the police as they were refrained from crossing the bridge over the Yangtze River. All they wanted was to get back to work. China’s big firms, which engage 30 crore migrants, were opening up. Millions today need work to survive.

It’s all about population

China has always worried about its population. Even way back in 1820, every third person in the world was Chinese. It could feed its people due to its fertile floodlands around two major rivers: the Yellow river and Yangtze River. That of course was the agricultural era. But food is food in any era. That was the reason it annexed Tibet since both these rivers originated there. What if India, a neighbour, poisons those rivers? What if a puny like Tibet, without any army, could choke it to its death? China thus staked its claim on Tibet and cooked up historical evidence when Tibetans are no Han Chinese.

It’s thus inevitable that people’s anger would burst forth if world begins to pull out its manufacturing units out of mainland.  The population is already ageing, Covid-19 hasn’t been a help in an already falling birth rate. What happens if “Tiananmen Square” erupts in every province?

This is the reason why China is taking on the world. It wants to stoke the feeling of nationalism in its 1.40 billion population. It has insurmountable problems since the world is hostile and views them as villain of this Coronavirus catastrophe. Their best bet is to tell its people that they need to get behind since Capitalist forces of the world want to break them up like they did during the Opium Wars of the 19th century.

It would give Communist Party of China (CCP) the handle to retain its control over the people and even over its own comrades. It could further tighten its surveillance over its own citizens in the name of national security. In China, a mobile SIM subscription links a person to his health, finances and recognition details. In the name of controlling health, Beijing is making it mandatory for all its citizens to register to its Apps now.

There is no getting away that more its “sheep”—a term for its citizens—try to breakaway from the fold, more are the chances that China would indulge in some reckless political or military gamble. It explains why the Dragon is more like a mad elephant gone berserk these days.

 

 

Who are these blessed people in our Coronavirus world?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Thailand hasn’t reported a new Coronavirus case for seven weeks now. Nobody has died in the Indo-China countries of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to the pandemic which has tormented our world with millions of cases besides 600,000 dead and counting. Are we talking of two different planets here?

This only gets intriguing if you remember that Thailand was the first country outside China to report the first Coronavirus positive patient. That it’s one the most visited place for people from Wuhan, the villain of this tragic outbreak. That Bangkok for five years now is the most visited city of the world, with 22 million visitors last year. That Thailand was the worst-effected country with HIV/AIDS outside East and Southern Africa. In 2018 alone, 18,000 people died to AIDS-related illness. That around half of those infected are young people between 15-24 years.

Big cities and slums are said to be most susceptible to Coronavirus outbreaks. Experts cite New York, London, Mumbai and Delhi as proof, as they do the instance of slums of Brazil which would soon have 100,000 dead from the pandemic. Both Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh account for 20 million living lives. The cities of these countries also abound in slums. We aren’t even counting the visitors. Yet there are no community outbreaks.

Scientists would love to nail down the reason why Coronavirus stands defeated at the doors of these countries. Has it anything to do with the mighty Mekong River, 12th biggest in the world, which passes through all these four countries through its length of 4,350 kms? Another country which is home to Mekong River is Myanmar which too has only six deaths to show thus far. Yunnan, the southwestern Chinese province through which Mekong also flows through, has less than 190 cases. All have recovered.

Mekong River, there is little doubt, is the water-road in this part of the world. It’s a safety net during times of crisis. When lockdowns are enforced and economy begins to pinch, a whole lot of unprivileged people—informal workers, labourers, taxi drivers, little traders—go from their rural habitats to cities and back. In times of crisis, it’s nature’s supermarket: the forests, rivers and wetlands which provide food and sustenance to the teeming poor. Then there are fisheries which ensure nobody sleeps hungry.

All this is okay but it doesn’t explain why Coronavirus has stayed away? Should we offer the silly logic that there might be something in the features and physical make-up of these people who look similar and could pass off as locals? I mean if you spot a Vietnamese in Thailand what chances are that you would know he is a foreigner?

The AFP recently ran a story in which it threw wild darts in the darkness to guess the phenomenon. Could be the Thai habit of greeting others with a Wai, another name for Namaste really, which is social distancing by habit? Should one put it to Thailand’s robust health care system? The outdoor lifestyle of many Thais? Is there a genetic component one is missing here?

Thais have a mask-wearing culture. Heavy vehicular traffic and the resultant air pollution, not to forget the emissions from industries and farmers burning fields for plantations, has made masks a way of life over the years. A study informs that during the pandemic, 95 percent of Thais have been wearing masks in public.

Experts are also wondering if this has to do with the immune system. It’s the part of the world where malaria, dengue, cholera etc break out frequently. Has it imbued these people with some sort of immunity in their genetic make-up?

Is Thailand doing things differently than others? Let’s look at the timeline: China reported its outbreak on December 31, 2019. Three days later, Thai airports were screening the visitors. A day later, an emergency operation centre had been set up by the public health ministry. By January 8, the first suspected Coronavirus case had been identified. Within days, people arriving at airports were monitored and quarantined, if necessary. Eventually all visitors from abroad were quarantined.

There was a moment of disquiet for sure. Transmissions had begun to jump by March in Bangkok. A cluster of infected patients developed around nightclubs and a boxing stadium. On March 21, schools and non-essential businesses had been shut. On March 26, public gatherings were banned. International flights had stopped by April 4. Red-light districts were closed. Sex workers rushed back home. Tourists fled.

But at least 58 people have died in Thailand due to the pandemic. What explains the “miracle” of Indo-China? The incredulous immunity of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos?

Besides the routine measures—we all know, masks, social-distancing, sanitizing hands etc—Vietnam has adopted a stringent screening procedure. Thus, be it banks, restaurants, airports or even apartment complexes, all need to have themselves screened at virtually every point of interaction, so to say. In Cambodia, thanks to overwhelming medical aid from around the world, the corona-testing kits are cheap and readily available. No less is said to be the reason that most of Cambodia is rural, as is Laos, and the pandemic has been easy on the village folks so far.

It’s this success against the Corona, that all these countries are now open to foreign visitors. They are not back to normal, for they never went off the rails in the first instance. I know you would bring up economic fallout–there are plenty of whiners in India for me to know their type–but that, some other day, some other time.

 

 

China wants its women to stay indoors and raise children

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Where would the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) want its women citizens to be? At home, raising children rather than seeking a career for themselves.

Chinese lawmakers have passed a law—2879 in favour, two against, five abstaining—in the 2020 National People’s Congress recently where an estranged couple is required to wait for 30 days before proceeding with application for separation.

If you were to ask a member of the Rahul Gandhi’s Congress party in India, he would say: Big deal. After all, the 1955 Hindu Marriage Act in India provides for a statutory cooling period of six months. What he probably won’t tell is that the Supreme Court of India since 2017 has allowed a waiving of this cooling off period if a trial court reckons there is no hope of reconciliation between alienated partners.

Much of China’s growth has emerged out of mass participation of its labour force. But if births are low, population is ageing and women want career ahead of kids, it’s better the fairer-sex stay at home and rear children. This also explains why there are few legislations to protect women’s rights in the workplace. The totalitarian regime in China just wants to make it harder for couple to make choices in their marriage.

China has passed this law, worried as it is by its ageing population and abysmally low birth rate, despite lifting the one-child policy of 36 years in 2015.  Its birth-rate fell to its lowest point in seven decades in 2019. That’s primarily because women increasingly are joining the work stream, becoming financially independent and find raising children a problem. Despite China’s massive economy size, 600 million Chinese citizens have a monthly income of only $140, as admitted by none other than Chinese premier Li Keqiang.

The cost of raising children in China is becoming prohibitive by the day.  If both the partners are working, sparing money to have children looked after in their absence, not to forget the damning cost of education till they have a university degree, is daunting. It is more so in big cities which are now mushrooming all over China.  In all China has 160 cities with a million residents in its fold. The government also doesn’t offer support by way of family funds.

No wonder, women’s financial independence and the deterrence of expenses on children is hurting China big time.  China has a median age average of 40 years which would be increased to 65 years, or 35 percent of the population by 2050.  In comparison, the dependency ratio in India should be less than 2 per cent by 2050. Every second person in India presently is less than 25 years in age.

China is worried that women not only are increasingly in career-mode, they are seeking divorce in millions. Between 2003-2019, more than 4 million Chinese couples ended their marriages. It’s a sign of gender equality which on paper is increasingly in sync with the Chinese propaganda of “gender-neutral view” but the reality is dark.

Predictably, China’s mouthpiece media of the Communist regime, are welcoming the move. People’s Daily feels the move would deter “careless” divorces. State news agency, Xinhua, finds the new law as legal guarantee of securing a “harmonious family and society.”

There are inspirational stories such as one of real-estate magnate Zhang Xin (see image) who is worth $3 billion and is called “the woman who built Beijing.” She came up the hard way, her family struggled financially but she went on to work for Goldman Sachs in London and on return formed SOHO China with her husband. In 10 years, it was the biggest property developer in the country. But China would rather not have such tales which move its women.

Li is on record that China will not set any GDP growth target in Coronavirus year of 2020. It’s facing heat on Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. It’s border row with India is turning into an embarrassment. It’s technological flagships such as Huawei are being kept out of door around the globe. Multinationals are beginning to pull out from China as a manufacturing outpost.

The new divorce law would come into force in 2021. Meanwhile, the same-sex marriage reform was once again postponed in National People’s Congress. It’s a sweet irony that world’s most populous nation today is seeking more and not less births. That is history’s sweet revenge on a nation on steroids.

 

How good has India been in E-education in this Summer of Corona?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Kids have numbers. I mean there are 25 crore children who visit 15 lakh schools in India—or when they last visited before March 16 shut them down.

Most liked the break. Some didn’t. For India had found an alternative to physical classes. It moved online. Government and educational bodies launched several e-learning portals and apps such as DIKSHA portal, e-Pathshala, Swayam, STEM-based games etc.

Hawks were keen to found out if much-touted India’s 4G network spread would hold up. Yes, the 4G data is very affordable, it’s said to be robust enough to cover the entire country, but India is that dark abyss for marginalized communities, those stuck in deep interiors, who don’t have smartphones, leave alone laptops and desktops.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) tells us that although 78 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population have mobile phones, the tele-density hasn’t seeped beyond 57 percent.  The rest are innocents to such advances. Then not everyone at home has access to smartphones. How could a family of three teenagers with one smartphone fall into a lockstep to study online?

Well, some did. There is a Kumar family in Ghaziabad, in Delhi NCR itself, where three teenagers worked out a schedule to use their solitary smartphone to good use. Nidhi, 15, begins the day with an hour’s coaching on a WhatsApp video call; the younger brother gets hold of the phone next, and finally the older brother pushes his applications to colleges.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ishan Khandelwal from a privileged background who isn’t able to come to terms with the final XII paper he missed due to Corona suspension of exams. He still has emerged with a grade to envy, booked his berth in a premier US educational institution and hopes Donald Trump would smile one of these days.

There is no end to such stirring tales of defiance. Pravinsinh Jadeja, a primary school teacher in Gujarat’s tribal district of Dahod, has turned an open space into an e-learning school of his own. The kids in their two-room school, now shut, don’t have internet or access to TV. So Jadeja, all of 43, has done his own smart bit.

Every morning, Jadeja, armed with his 5.5 inch Android smartphone holds a live session on DD Girnar’s YouTube channel. The students sit on cots while the winds blow and cows moo in the background. Jadeja is not alone. There are 30 other teachers across 10 villages in Dahod who do similarly and hold a shining light on the community of teachers. In Chennai, class 10 students in corporation schools have been temporarily provided with Android phones.

Similarly, at least 20 percent students don’t have e-access to the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) online classes even though 8 million others do. The body has now arranged for 500 colleges to provide access of internet to any student living nearby, even if he or she is not a student of that institution.

Pakistan a disturbing contrast

Sometime, we don’t realize how good India has been with education in this distressing spell of Corona Virus pandemic. Lakhs and lakhs of students are being taught at home. Contrast this with Pakistan where students are being put in jail for demonstrating against the e-learning diktat even as they don’t have access to internet.

Quetta is one of the largest and most impoverished districts in Pakistan. Nine out of 32 districts are completely devoid of mobile internet services due to security reasons. Schools in Pakistan are closed since March 13. Students are holding demonstrations, sitting on hunger strikes, and subjected to violence, for demanding e-access to studies. Some have gone to High Court.

Quetta isn’t a stand-alone district in Pakistan. Much of the country doesn’t have internet infrastructure. Where it’s available, the network quality is poor. Only 35 percent of population have access to internet. Mostly it’s 3G connections. According to The Inclusive Internet Index 2020, Pakistan is 76th ranked country out of 100 nations. It’s the lowest among all Asian countries.

India, despite its multiple challenges, is among the top 50 countries on quality internet access. It’s only 13 rungs below China, now that a comparison between the two is regularly sought.  India has massively bridged the gap vis-à-vis China in recent years.

At the time of independence of the two countries in late 1940s, the two population-behemoths suffered from massive illiteracy. India’s rulers lacked resources, if not the will, to put education as priority. Thus, just a generation ago in 1982, China’s literacy rate was almost double at 64 percent to India’s 37. Today, in 2020, India’s literacy rate has jumped to 81.3 percent compared to China’s 96.84 percent. India is in a hurry to make up the lost years.

So when Corona pandemic threatened this march, India was up to the task. Not just the government or commercial ventures but even NGOs like Pratham are pushing their digital, radio and SMS-based programmes via village administration in 10 Indian states. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) is busy disseminating lessons through radio and television. State education departments are innovating new models to reach their local populace.

There is also intense involvement at the school, parents and the government level. In Karnataka, the state government stopped online classes for children below six, citing an advice by NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences), a premier Bengaluru-based mental health institution, that it could affect the mental health of kids.

The furious schools—goaded by parents–though would’ve none of it. After the state government banned online classes up to Class 5 on June 15, they challenged the decision in the Karnataka High Court. The court has quietly asked the state government to take a walk as its act is a violation of students’ fundamental rights to life and education.

The syllabus for next year has been reduced by 30 percent. The HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” has tentatively put the reopening of schools after August 15. But India is undeterred by the delay. If the present pandemic is any guide, India could make virtual education a norm, and not an exception, in the next five years.

 

China moves to turn Iran into a client-state; stakes up for India

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India would watch with concern a blood-pact in the making between China and Iran which could mean trouble both at home and abroad.

China put an agreement in place last month which would virtually turn Iran into a vessel state. Tehran is already in bed in wild anticipation, once its parliament approves the union.

The 18-page agreement, accessed by the New York Times, involves 100 projects worth a staggering $400 billion. China would get discounted oil for next 25 years and in exchange would pepper the Persia of old with subways, high-speed railways and airports. There would be free-trade zones in strategic locations, including two which would overlook the critical Persian Gulf (Abadan) and the Strait of Hormuz (Qeshm).

Iran plans to hand over Jask, a port just outside the Strait of Hormuz, to China which is the vantage point through which most of the world’s oil transits. India, which imports 84% of its oil, has reduced its dependence on Middle East in recent years but it still accounts for 65 per cent of its needs. Saudi Arabia and Iraq are two of its biggest oil suppliers from the Middle East.

China has a string of ports in Indian Ocean, such as Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan, and now soon in Jask, which puts New Delhi at unease on its energy and security needs, if China was to block the free seas and give these ports a military makeover.

It also messes up the Chabahar port on the Gulf of Oman which India has helped build and now controls since 2018. India had soaring ambitions of turning this base into access to Central Asia and much of Eurasian landmass, through a mix of sea-land routes, not to say oil pipelines, bypassing the physical barrier of Pakistan on its north-western borders (see image).

Now India is hemmed in on its north and west flanks by two enemies and in between are the impassable Himalayas. It would be increasingly reliant on the military muscle of the United States for its freer access to seas upwards.

The United States would be no less alarmed by China’s move on Iran. It had sought-and controlled—the Middle East for decades since the World War II. Now its Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, could face China’s build-up. Its warships have regularly tangled with Iranian fleets in the busy sea lanes of the Persian Gulf.

The proposed deal also makes a nonsense of the United States sanctions against Iran under the Trump administration, which had brought Tehran on its knees with crippled oil supply and blocked access to world’s financial highways. China, it seems, has braced itself too for the US economic sanctions which are inevitable in the wake of this agreement and would intensify the trade or covert war between two of world’s biggest powers.

Iran needs to produce—and supply—at least 8.5 million barrels a day in order to be relevant in the energy sector. China seeks to import at least 10 million barrels a day for its energy needs. It imports 75 percent of its oil from foreign oilfields.

The agreement also outlines China’s plan to help Iran build its 5G telecommunications network, riding on its major player Huawei. The Trump administration has barred Huawei from the United States and India is set to do the same under prime minister Narendra Modi.

The Shia Factor

India’s ties with Iran have plummeted in recent months. The Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif had made inflammatory remarks on the CAA and on Delhi riots in February for which it was rebuked by the Modi government. India has the second highest number of Shias in the world after Iran. India’s Shias have been a moderating influence on a virulent Muslim section in India.

The document also outlines military cooperation, joint training, exercises and research besides intelligence sharing and manufacturing weapons. The military ties between China and Iran have only scaled up in recent years. The Chinese navy has participated in military exercises in Iranian waters at least three times since 2014.

Then there is the Russia factor. Moscow is India’s biggest defence importer but if asked to make a choice, it would look after China’s back than of India. It is India’s oldest and most reliable friend but the ties now are facing its litmus test. The clincher would be the supply of S400 missile system in 2021 which India is committed to buy and the United States is determined to prevent. It would be a make or break moment for India-Russia ties, at least in the immediate future.

The second Cold War is unfolding. In its first version, the United States and Soviet Union were ranged against each after World War II, in the battle-lines drawn by the NATO and the Warsaw Pact in the European theatre, their respective allies in the neighbourhood of Central-Latin America and Eastern Europe-Central Asia visible in plain view. The contours of the second Cold War is no less apparent. The United States and China are snarling at each other, with Indo-Pacific and the Middle East the two most likely flashpoints. The stand-alone moment for India is gone.

 

 

 

Modi puts his foot on the tail of the Dragon; and hopes the nation is with him

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

India is decoupling itself from China, and not just from Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh.

India has banned 59 Chinese Apps used by tens of millions of its citizens and I would be surprised if the Prime Minister Narendra Modi doesn’t warn us of its fallout in his afternoon broadcast to the nation on Tuesday.

China would retaliate by pulling out its investments and factories and looking to cripple our telecom and pharmaceutical industry due to our over-reliance on its equipment and ingredients. Their smartphones have 72% of our market. Half of our electronic imports and two-thirds of our drugs depend on China. Why, even our bulletproof vests are made with material from China.

The investment and jobs we were looking in infrastructure (Tsingshan, steel) and automobiles (SAIC), not to speak of the names which are household such as Big Basket, Byju’s, Flipkart, MakeMyTrip, PayTm, Swiggy, Zomato etc could all take a massive hit. It could grow into a trade war and we the citizens of this country would have rising costs, lost jobs and hardships coming our way.

How do you think our cash-strapped telecom companies could cope? Or how diminishing incomes would react to rising costs? And not just demand, would the supply side be able to stay on its feet if walls go up?

Yet India must decouple itself from China. A nation which depends on enemy for its food, goods and materials don’t last.  Germany lost to Britain because of the latter’s blockade in World War I. Ancient Athens fell to Sparta who won’t allow supply of grains through the Black Sea. Why, Australia today is tabulating the cost of a diplomatic spat with China on its crop exports.

The free-trade advocates might whisper into your ears that its’ protectionism, that we are going to pre-liberalization era of 1991 but don’t pay heed. Instead ask: What kind of open trade China is if its subsidizing land, material and tax-cuts for its manufacturers, brutalizing its labour, just to make sure your manufacturing remains buried forever? It’s nothing but a return to colonial era when we exported raw material and imported finished products.

Time is ripe for India to actively intervene in markets. Put spine in India’s manufacturers. Write-off investments in machinery if required. Revamp land, labour and tax structures. Incentivize them to the extent they reinvest profits in men and material. We could then hope for our future generations to look after their parents. Our disabled soldiers to return to the care of their able sons and daughters

If nothing, listen to what Chinese said a few years ago in their economic White Paper of the 21st century:

“Manufacturing is the main pillar…the foundation of the country. Since the beginning of industrial civilization in the middle of the 18th century, it has been proven repeatedly by the rise and fall of world powers that without strong manufacturing, there is no national prosperity.”

India already has the assurance of US State Department which announced last year that Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and of course India would take care of its supply chains in a rewired world. The critical industries outlined are pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, semi-conductors, automotive, aerospace, textile and chemicals among others.

Many countries are already opting for China Plus One manufacturing strategy. Taiwan is now actively promoting “non-Red supply chain”; Japan has put $220 billion on the line for its companies to shift production back home from China. South Korea is doing likewise with easy regulations, financial aid and tax incentives to those who could “return” home. Italy has announced an emergency decree which empowers it to veto foreign investment in electricity, water, health, media, aerospace, banks, insurance, robotics etc.

Prime Minister Modi seems to have opted for the brave course of short-time pain to long-term suicide. He has put his political career on line. He had no business to walk down this road which could put India in some serious woes.  It might make us a little poorer, our goods more expensive but it would secure our borders, our future.  China’s cheap exports are a gift which we would pay with ocean of tears in future. Let’s do our bit for our motherland.

 

Don’t rule out another Galwan; China’s game is to topple Modi

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

How Indian prime minister Narendra Modi would wish that before he leaves office, he casts India-China border in stone and defuses what could make us humans the dinosaurs of an extinct world.

He would have looked at maps, the prickly western and eastern borders, and wondered if this is all what is holding the two Asian giants from making it Asia’s Century, and not just pawns in the hands of West, our plunderers for over two centuries.

He would be practical to realize that India could no longer drive China out of Aksai Chin (western borders) nor the latter could do the same to us in Arunachal Pradesh (eastern borders), so why not have a quid pro quo and settle the matter once for all. As a bonus, Pakistan would be kept on leash by China who holds it by ear.

India in such a course would’ve to recognize China owning Aksai Chin and the latter would’ve to tone down its shrill on Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh which is a monastery of significance to Tibetan pilgrims.  One other option, to share the land in half as was done in Sino-Russia border pact in 2008, is out of question. It would lose India most of Arunachal Pradesh. But surely a solution could be found.

Modi, that hard-nosed realist, would’ve realized that peace comes at a cost. In this case, ceding Aksai Chin formally would be a political suicide. He would be history’s villain. Millions who swoon over him would bay for his blood. Besides, how does he build consensus in a fractious society.

Suppose Modi is able to carry the nation along. That he is able to convey the entire labyrinth of this dispute to the last man. That it all began after China occupied Tibet in 1959. Till then Tibet was a buffer zone between the two and there was no border conflict. China subsequently refused to accept the border deals Tibet had with kingdom of Ladakh and the British. Now that Tibet was theirs, the sanctity of those deals was zilch. There is no line which runs over ridges, valleys and mountains to clearly define Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector.

Let’s presume Modi is also able to own the missteps of India’s political class of the last 60 years. That China had offered a solution to Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru which the latter rebuffed and brought the 1962 war on India’s door. China had then forwarded the same offer of reason: Give up Aksai Chin in return to have Arunachal Pradesh all to yourself. China was even willing to recognize India’s claim over Jammu and Kashmir. We lost that moment.

The ties went into a freeze till 1979 when India resumed bilateral relations with China.  The border talks were revived in 1980 and for next five years China made the same proposal they had in 1960: i.e. concede Aksai Chin for your control of Arunachal Pradesh (McMahon Line). Aksai Chin was important for China to connect its Xinjiang province with Tibet. We again lost that moment. Thereafter, China had grown strong enough to discard that concessional tone. There was no give-and-take, only take, and India could do little.

Under the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, border talks were resumed in earnest in 2003. Since then 22 such parleys have been held. Solution has remained elusive. Even when the two nations had their strongest leaders in decades in Modi and Xi.

Who knows if Modi and Xi Jinping haven’t discussed the matter in two informal summits? Or that in nearly two-dozen parleys between the two nations, every option has not been explored.  Or that ex-foreign minister Sushma Swaraj possibly had worked out the maths in the “out-of-box solution” she suggested in Beijing in 2015. What really could explain the border dispute which kills soldiers, hurts trade and casts a long existential shadow on the two populations which make up 40 per cent of all humanity?

The only plausible reason is: India has missed the bus. China is now a bully and would play on India’s nerves. For them not just India but also Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal etc are all pawns in their game of world hegemony. It’s nobody’s friend. They gain nothing to quieten the Indian borders. Plus-trade is small-change in a bigger game. They could use the Galwan Valley prototype to shake the foundation of India’s ruling class. On the date and time of their choosing. They could send India on a defence-buying spree to throw its budget for a toss. They have also gauged how far the world would react.

So, rule out an early border solution. Keep a lid on your fantasy. Or hope that Modi’s sagacity could override China’s evil game. It’s fire-fighting now. And would erupt time and again. China’s game is now out in open. China wants Modi out. It’s for India—and Modi—to up the ante. And leave the enemy with a bloody nose.

 

 

In case of war, would US rush to India’s defence?

(This is  reprint from NewsBred).

Behind their pandemic-induced masks, Indians have a floating question on their lips: What if China was to pour into India and spank us like it did in 1962.

Columns on military match-ups are box-office hits.  In today’s Mint, weighing scales have measured India and China on nuclear, submarines, armoured vehicles, boots-on-the- ground, everything. It assures readers we are better in inhospitable terrains, fighter jets and in shape thanks to our periodic pounding of Pakistan. It doesn’t look at the weight Pakistan could bring into equation but that’s okay. Indian soldiers are world’s envy for over a century for a reason.

Indians are also hopeful on the United States. That Trump and Modi would look after each other’s backs. This lack-in-self isn’t mindful that India’s nuclear arsenal is deterrent enough. We won’t be rolled over in a conventional war too.  Besides, still don’t have a formal military pact with the United States.

Sure, in last decade and a half, the US administration across presidents, and Indians between their Manmohan and Modi, have resembled two lost brothers who couldn’t have enough of each other. It began with access to military sheets (GSOMIA) but ramped up startingly under the Modi regime. An important threshold crossed was reciprocal logistical support (LEMOA) in 2016; and greater Indian access to US military technology (COMCASA) in 2018. The next stage is a deal for 2021 when US could share advanced satellite, intelligence and topographical information (BECA) with India. It would be huge, but not now.

The United States, as it is, has more military pacts than one could count. In the Indo-Pacific waters itself, it’s committed to come to aid of Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Australia and, a little beyond, New Zealand. Western Europe of course is a Biblical commitment in the form of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). It’s extremely possessive about Central and Latin America and if in doubt, ask a Cuban.  In the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia have the blank cheque of security. Since the Second World War, the United States has committed itself to defend a quarter of the world’s population. All are not cut-and-dried military pacts. But de facto, some 69 countries which is worth 75 per cent of world’s economic output, could claim a security umbrella festooned by Washington D.C.

Formal military pacts are dying trends. It forces counter alliances and the world is lit up in smoke as it happened during the First World War. Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were committed to each other against France and Russia and Great Britain was forging secret alliances of its own in a skullduggery which remarkably has been kept hidden by the historians of Oxford who make up the history narrative of English-speaking schools.

So, sorry folks, a military pact between India and the United States isn’t happening all too soon. If the United States enters the Indian Ocean, be sure that China and Russia would commit themselves in equal measure. The US would have its military cooperation, sea drills and logistical shares with India. It designated India as a major defense partner in 2016 itself. The satellite and intelligence sharing under BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement) would be big on its own. It would be a game-changer in communications, navigational and threat assessment. India’s defence exports from the United States are second only to Russia. But don’t mistake it for a joint resistancce against an invader.

We’re in a fluid state. We are not at war with China.  Hotheads could spin it out of control for both, and Pakistan. Looking for the United States or Russia isn’t on the charts spread at military commands of the two Asian giants. Treat the two Cold War antagonists as proteins or steroids in a gym. The heavy-lifting is still left to us. Hopefully the worst is behind us. For the time being.

The lessons for India though are unmistakable. China doesn’t have our good in mind. We would know of the United States too if Russia holds firm and delivers us S400 missile system in 2021. Closer home, we need to free up our armed forces from stifling civil bureaucracy. If they want Rafale, that’s what they get. We have a huge lag and delay is not an option.