Mint

As prepaid media doubles down on RCEP, they of course won’t listen to Jaishankar

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

I have long been suspicious of edits which are passionately pushed in the best of English. Much like that bank clerk who is pushing a scheme when you enter the branch. Those pesky calls for your car insurance, those greetings on WhatsApp from land sharks who have the best view in town just for you. The best of them are those who sell their cause to you as if it was your own.

So it is with RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). I have been noticing in Times of India and Indian Express—Left-Liberals of varying shades—how India’s policy-makers are being lampooned for not signing on. I looked at Mint where economists snack. No different.

The readers are told that India itself flagged off the race nine years ago and has now stopped just short of the finishing line. That how dumb of Modi’s India to cite custom duties on manufacturing when it could benefit from the emerging global supply chain in the times of Coronavirus. That its fears on agriculture and dairy sectors are unfounded since those have been factored in for next 20 years.

And then look at India’s manners. The RCEP nations in a separate document are almost begging us to join the bloc. That China has pledged to import $22 trillion of goods and services over the next decade for its 1.4 billion people. Imagine the market it would offer us. Even China’s “enemies” like Japan and Australia are part of the deal.  Is India so dumb it can’t see that RCEP is 30 per cent of global economy and a world population of 2.2 billion people? It is also implicit that India would stay out of Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which is sure to be revived by the US president-elect Joe Biden. Is this “Atmanirbhar Bharat”?

Economists call it protectionism. World is “free and fair”. India is insular. All Modi seeks is win in elections on the turbo-engine of “self-reliant nationalism.” And to hell with how our beloved PV Narasimha Rao and the John Stuart Mill by his side, called Manmohan Singh, took us out of choppy waters of 90s.

Why India is being so stupid? Because it has found out that all those free trades were no help all these years. And how it could be when your manufacturing base is so abysmal? How did those imports help our employment? And how we are supposed to compete when our hands are tied, legs shackled by the mantra of “free trade” even as somebody like China could abnormally subsidize its products and industries?

How come these grave economists never mention that 66 per cent of India’s GDP results from the services sector and the RCEP is heavily loaded against it in favour of merchandizing trade? What significant stuff are we supposed to sell? Are we wrong to assume that it’s a “trojan horse” set up by a Chinese club called RCEP? And that all it would bring is increased import bill and a few million more added to our unemployed?

I would let somebody as erudite as our foreign minister S Jaishankar hold the stage at this moment. Over to him:

“Those calling for increased openness and efficiency are not presenting the full picture (sic). That it’s equally a world of non-tariff barriers of subsidies and state capitalism (reference to China).

“In the name of openness, we allowed subsidized products and unfair advantages from abroad to prevail. And all this while this was justified by the mantra of an open and globalized economy.

“It was quite extraordinary that an economy as attractive as India was allowed the framework to be set by others.

“Past agreements resulted in de-industrialization of some sectors…the choice (for us) was to double down on an approach whose damaging consequences were apparent or to have the courage to think through the problem for ourselves. We chose the latter.

“It will decide if we become an industrial power with what we decide today.

“It is far from turning our back to the world. In fact, it is to enter the global arena with cards to play—not just to provide a market for others.”

Messrs economists, any rejoinder? Silence. Any thoughts why those nations calling for “free and fair trade”, having fattened themselves on protectionism are denying the same diet to India? That others probably want India as a counterweight to China? Silence.

So anyone for Atmanirbhar Bharat? Hands down.

 

 

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.