TPP

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.

 

 

India has moved away from United States orbit for good

(This is a reprint from NewsBred ).

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, finishes his three-day visit to India today and a beaming him has made it to the front pages of all the dailies. Don’t be fooled by it.  India has moved away from the United States big time.

It’s not  a zero-sum game and hands would still be shaken and pictures clicked but the United States wants to swoop on India’s strategic autonomy while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is determined to protect his own turf.

India won’t let go on five squadrons of S-400 missiles from Russia nor would it back down on Iran beyond a point as Modi looks to pivot India for 2050 when the United States would be just one of the great powers and confronted with the possible axis of Russia, India and China.

The United States sees Russia and China as rogue nations who are going broke to dominate Eurasia but neither sanctions against Russia nor tariff wars and threats against China are yielding much. Indeed, Russia and China are now joined at hips and enjoy a bonhomie not seen since the heady Communist days of 1950.

That India has firmly moved into the Russia-China orbit was tellingly visible in the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan where Narendra Modi chose silence rather than condemnation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Modi’s India has been an unequivocal critic of BRI but he didn’t say a word in protest against the Bishkek Declaration which praised BRI and bore the endorsement of assembled heads of states.

Modi didn’t praise BRI but he didn’t criticize it either in his own speech. Indeed, he evoked “Wuhan Spirit” to charm the Chinese. Tellingly, it didn’t elicit any sharp barb either from Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin.

India, critically, has accepted Russia’s invitation to assist China in creating a “Polar Silk Road” in the Arctic Sea, a commercial shipping venture through Russia’s Northern Sea Route as part of the BRI. The project is worth trillions of dollars and would connect the two continents of Europe and Asia with sea. It would bring liquefied natural gas from central-northern Siberia to be delivered across Europe, Japan, South Korea and China of course.

Modi held bilateral meetings on the sidelines with Xi and Putin in Bishkek which is only one of many scheduled between the two leaders in the remaining months of 2019.  Modi and Xi would meet thrice, besides an informal summit in India, probably in Varanasi. With Putin, it’s twice as many times in rest of 2019.

That Modi has decided to thumb his nose at the United States is visible on the revival of RIC (Russia, India, China) dialogue which the three nations have decided to hold at the very summit where G20 nations are meeting from Friday—Osaka, Japan. It sure would raise heckles from the US president Donald Trump who would also be present in Osaka.

Modi has been given a mandate by millions of Indians to lead the country on the path of growth and security. It’s only feasible when India pursues its interest with autonomy and not as a stooge of the United States, more so with a whimsical president like Donald Trump at the helm.

Alice Wells of the US State Department has recently outlined the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States. Said Wells: “The US, alongside India, Japan, Australia and other trusted allies and partners will support the political and economic autonomy of the Indo-Pacific countries…We cannot allow China or any other country to subvert our partners through unsustainable push economies into unsustainable debt…” Yet, as far as India is concerned—as Modi outlined in Shangri-La Dialogue, “Indo-Pacific” is not a strategy.

The US is also offering the bait of including India in the US’ International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) which would give India a status equal to one of NATO allies. Along with the status would come the export of high-level military technologies including ballistic missiles, drones, nuclear weapons simulation tools and energy weapons. It’s unlikely India would fall for it given how easily US dumps such pacts—sample TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), climate deal of Paris and the nuclear deal with Iran.

The United States knows what the alliance between Russia, China and India would mean. Even a casual look at the geographical map is enough to convey the control these three nations would exercise over the landscape of Eurasia. In wooing India, US is banking too much on the bond of democracy and a commitment to liberal international order which came into being after World War II and had rules and institutions dominated by the United States.

Kiron Skinner of the US State Department has already stated that the US perceives its strategy against China   as a “fight with a really different civilization.” India has no such issues. It understands that the global power balance and West’s control of it is on its last leg. China and India are coming on to their own as they have for most of human history. India would push for its strategic autonomy and it lies in opening up access to Iran, deepening military ties with an all-weather friend like Russia, bringing neighbours’ into its orbit and be China’s friend, now that the latter really needs it.

India also knows that it could no longer be ambivalent. The United States and China are polarizing the world and there is no middle ground left for anyone. It has to make a choice and one gets the feeling it already has. If the US wants to pass sanctions against those who go against its wishes, then so be it.