Xi Jinping

Modi-Imran in SCO: Be ready for some tough pictures

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It would be a hectic two days for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (June 13-14). The flight detour through Oman and Iran too wouldn’t have helped. Then there is this little matter of bilateral talks with at least five heads of states:  Xi Jinping (China), Vladimir Putin (Russia), Hassan Rouhani (Iran), Ashraf Ghani (Afghanistan) and Sooronbay Jeenbekov (Kyrgyzstan) besides the actual SCO Summit.

Modi’s diplomacy in Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) isn’t just about his time. It’s also about the long shadow of United States which would follow his every move and not just with China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran—all in US crosshair for one reason or the other.  Modi has the image of a tough leader, engaging the world but never aligned to any particular bloc. Much of it would be tested by Friday.

Modi, of course, can’t overlook the probing audience of a billion and a half people in India and Pakistan. There would be photo-ops with Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan. Every nuance of arched eyebrows, warm or cold smile, firm or limp handshake, would be dissected in reams of papers. A hug though is as good as ruled out.

In many ways SCO would be about optics. Its’ stated goal is to fight against the three evils of terrorism, separatism and extremism. But Pakistan would be spared this embarrassment. Our troublesome neighbour is making its debut in SCO since its formal induction in 2017—as is the case with India. This  powerful  Group of the East has had always China behind the wheels. Modi can enjoy the ride but can’t change the course.  China is friends with Pakistan for nothing.

Meanwhile, India and Pakistan have chosen to embarrass each other on the eve of the 19th SCO Summit. India first sought a free airspace for Modi’s passage to Bishkek. However once it was granted, wisdom prevailed and Modi opted to decline the offer. Pakistan, or its propped-up separatists in Jammu & Kashmir, then killed 5 CRPF jawans in Anantnag on Wednesday. Be ready for some tough pictures from Bishkek.

It isn’t to say that SCO is without merit for India. US needs India for its Asia strategy and by appearing shoulder-to-shoulder with Putin and Xi, Modi would keep Donald Trump sober when the two meet in a fortnight’s time in Osaka for G20 Summit (June 28-29).  Modi’s bilateral with Rouhani in Bishkek would further force Trump’s hands. That the host in Osaka would be Japan’s Shinzo Abe, who is outreaching to Iran later this week, is no little matter.

India also needs to have the right thermostat to keep matters with China from running too hot or too cold. Modi’s recent visit to Maldives must have prodded the wounds of China. Bishkek would be a good place to straighten out the ruffled feathers since the two leaders, Modi and XI, are slated for a summit in October, a la Wuhan style.

There is no gain denying India sees a friend in Russia. It was Russia which facilitated the entry of India into SCO which, to begin with, was primarily a Central Asia lobby that needed an axis after Soviet Union exploded in 1991. Modi and Putin aren’t taking any steps back on S400 missiles or their growing defence cooperation and Bishkek would afford the two leaders a moment to align themselves against the evil eye of US.

SCO is as good a moment as any to keep Afghanistan in India’s good books. The mountainous country could be fuming for having been not invited for Modi’s oath ceremony last month.  Kabul is insecure for more than one reason—Taliban, fostered by Pakistan, is gaining international currency; and US is vowing a retreat of its armed forces. India has always been an all-weather friend and Bishkek couldn’t have come at a better time.

India also needs access to information and intelligence from the Tashkent-based RATS (Regional Anti Terror Structure). China’s push for Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also can’t be allowed a free goal. India also  can’t afford to be hemmed in by Pakistan and China on its two flanks. A global economy can’t be known as only a South Asian behemoth. India needs physical access over and above its northern borders into Eurasia and SCO affords an excellent opportunity.  A rising India is critical to all big powers and it must keep all its suitors on tenterhooks. A stronger and more empowered Modi by his people would only help.

 

Panama Papers: have a great laugh about it

Indian Express is preening that alongside International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) it poured over 11.5 million leaked documents of 214,000 shell companies and 14,000 Mossak Fonseca clients, between 1977 and 2015, and found over 500 Indian individuals using the tax haven.

The leak first appeared in NATO-friendly Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in Munich and then shared by the ICIJ with selected mainstream media partners, including Indian Express.

A few of the smeared names you already know: Amitabh Bachchan, Harish Salve, Aishwarya Rai, KP Singh and Vinod Adani, elder brother of industrialist Gautam Adani.

Now a few things which you don’t know and must be told about:

The ICIJ is funded by Washington-based Center for Public Integrity which in turn gets its source income from the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment, the Rockfeller Family Fund, the Kellogg Foundation and the George Soros-owned Open Society.

Another of ICIJ patron is Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) which is financed by the US government through USAID.

And yes, about Panama: a well-known US vassal state. As famous analyst Pepe Escobar says: “Absolutely nothing in real substance happens in Panama without a green light by the United States government. Or as an international tax lawyer told me, “you have to be an idiot to stash money in Panama. You cannot flush a toilet there without the Americans knowing about it.”

So in this selective leak, there is no US senator, European Union politicians, no big Wall Street banks and hedge funds hiding in Panama. Apple, Google, Starbucks—a few of the biggest tax evaders using offshore schemes—have miraculously evaded the scrutiny.”

As former UK ambassador Craig Murray writes: “The filtering of this…information by the corporate media follows a direct western government agenda….The Guardian is quick to reassure that much of the leaked material will remain private.”

This “leak” is essentially to cause domestic rows and embarrassment to BRICS nations, Russia, China and India alongside Bashar-al-Asad of Syria. Certain leaks are held back to potentially blackmail those in times of need. The other persons named are relatively minor players in the big game which West, embarrassed by Russia-inspired victory in Palmyra, has chosen to sacrifice.

So you have the names of demented king of Saudi Arabia; Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister; Avad Allawi, ex-interimt PM of Iraq; Petro Poroshenko, president of Ukraine; Alaa Mubarak, son of Egypt’s former president; Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson of Iceland; Argentina President Mauricio Macri; Dov Weisglass, the butcher of Gaza, already convicted of corruption. These are all disposable individuals.

And then comes the sucker-punch: Western corporate media I shouting from rooftops that Russian president Vladimir Putin has stashed US $2 billion offshore. The fact is: he hasn’t. He is guilty by association to Arkady and Boris Rotenberg’s alleged ties to money laundering. The same method in hauling over the coals Adani, for the acts of his brother; and Bachchan who was seen as ruling party’s candidate to be India’s president.

As for China, unnamed eight Chinese Communist Party current and former officials and brother-in-law of Chinese president Xi Jinping has been named.

Syria was always going to be a target. Most of Western media has put its focus on Rami Makhlouf, “Assad’s fixer.” He is already under US sanctions since February 2008. Nobody bothers to ask how this “poster boy” of corruption was sheltered by HSBC.

The “leak” is of selected nature, likely obtained by US secret service, meant to serve two purpose:

  • To smear BRICS and enemies of empire
  • To hold details for blackmailing in future and keep those targets fall in line

The leak essentially is of several dozen firms and individuals who are already blacklisted by the US sanctions. If ICIJ and its partners are really serious, they ought to go after Cayman Papers or the Virgin Island Papers. That’s where the biggies are.

Says Escobar: “The so-called international banking/financial system is a demented casino. It’s not only 8 percent; Hong Kong players tell me as much as 50 percent of global wealth may currently be parked, undisturbed, in non-taxable offshore havens. If a fraction of these astonishing funds would be taxed, governments right and left would be paying their debts, investing in infrastructure, launching round after round of sustainable growth, and a productive spiral would be in motion.”

Three months ago, Andrew Penney, managing director of Rothschild and Co, in a Bloomberg piece, essentially stated that US “is effectively the biggest tax haven in the world.”

So, essentially, we now know a little more about Indian Express and its association with US-backed dubious bodies of investigative journalists.

India thumbs nose at China

This is a reprint from Newsbred.

In the first part of this series, we looked at Japan and India raising hackles against China in East and South China Sea. In this second and concluding part, we look at reasons for India’s militaristic posturing and its’ likely fallout.

 

One and a half years into his premiership, Modi seems swamped by issues which certainly are not of his making but would need at least 10 years of his helmsman-ship.

In an impatient country, rogue opposition parties stall him at every step and scoundrels in media bay for his blood every morning. Modi knows immediate issues could sail or nail him, given how they turn out.

Modi’s most pressing concerns—which probably are true of any other country—is improving jobs, infrastructure and Human Development Index (HDI) to go with a secure neighbourhood.

Creating jobs is a millstone around his neck.  India needs 12 million jobs for its youth every year—that is more than the population of a Greece or Hungary. The infrastructure “deficit” is estimated to be over $750 billion—that’s more than twice the size of Singapore’s economy. The HDI ratings are 135 out of 187 nations, conveying a yawning shortfall in areas such as education, health or gender inequality. Agriculture and rural-urban divide is monstrous. Intended legal or economic reforms are hacked by butchers occupying opposition benches in the parliament.

Modi’s best hope in this has been to seek a huge foreign investment.  He chiefly has sought out US, Japan and China in this quest. United States has been quick on the cue. There is now a five-fold increase in India-US trade. US supports India’s bid for a United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC) seat. Joint production of weapons and weapon systems has been agreed upon.

US’ interests are evident. It wants India as a frontline state in its bid for strategic naval dominance in Pacific and Indian Ocean. Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz pulled no punches when he declared in September that “America is preparing India to reduce the influence of China in the region.” Japan, as we’ve found out, has been quick to do the bidding on US’ behalf for India.

China, on the other hand, has an indifference bordering on contempt. Chinese President Xi Jinping came with much fanfare to India last year but offered only 20 billion dollars of Chinese investment over five years—that too was a quantum jump on existing Chinese investment of only $500 million in India. It’ ‘investment even in Myanmar totals $14.2 billion.  Before Xi could even settle down in Beijing on return, China’s incursions in India’s northeast borders had left a bitter taste in its hosts’ mouth.

In June this year, India was stunned when China vetoed an Indian attempt to pressure Pakistan into keep the alleged 26/11 Mumbai attacks mastermind, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), into jail. This wasn’t the first time though. China had thrice before blocked efforts to designate Jammat-ud-Dawa (JuD) as a terrorist organization. It was LeT which had attacked the Indian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan last year on the eve of Modi’s inauguration. It’s also worth remembering that China was critical in arming Pakistan with nuclear weapons’ knowhow.

China’s support to Pakistan indeed has been extraordinary. It’s commitment to invest $46 billion in the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), to connect Kashgar in Xinjiang to Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea, is staggering. It’s the largest investment project ever in one country, bigger than even the US Marshall Plan after World War II.

If it bears to fruition, the CPEC with its power projects, fibre optic links, roads and energy supplies will transform Pakistan’s economy. Pakistan has even created a special division of 10,000 in its army for the defence of the project as it runs through the troublesome Balochistan province. A part of this project runs through the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), much to India’s annoyance.

Sure, Pakistan is important to China. It doesn’t want the terrorist trouble to spill into its Tibet and Xinjiang province. Pakistan also is its staunch ally in the Islamic world. Above all, Pakistan sits at the intersection of South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East.

Thus India, on its own part, feels encircled. China has extended its reach in the Indian Ocean through Sri Lanka and Maldives. Gwadar is said to be a pearl in its crown though there is a misnomer here which must be spelt out in full.

Pakistan purchased the small town of Gwadar from Oman in 1958. However, work on its port began only in 2002. Its need arose as repeatedly Pakistan found its naval and strategic options limited in conflicts with Indian Navy who were quick to blockade Karachi. Gwadar happens to be less than 500 km from Karachi and thus an ideal alternative.  At Pakistan’s request, China provided US $198 million for the first phase which was completed in 2006. Thereafter, China took little initiative in completing its remaining two phases.

Gwadar’s importance clearly is being overplayed by the analysts. First, for it to be an effective port, China would need to built thousands of kilometers of roads in Pakistan. So is true of thousands of kilometers of gas and oil pipelines; and railway tracks to justify the investment in Gwadar.

Besides Gwadar isn’t the only option for China in Indian Ocean. It has Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and a container port in Chittagong in Bangaldesh. China has built roads, dams and pipelines in Myanmar, not to say developed port in Kyaukpyu. China’s oil ships from the Middle East and Africa will cross the Bay of Bengal and unload at these ports.

Still, India has sulked at China’s indifference. In China’s latest white paper on defense, India doesn’t figure at all.  India’s insecurity has been further heightened by China’s astonishing military build-up.

Border is another issue. India wants to clarify the Line of Actual Control (LAC). India’s navy has counted 22 “encounters” with Chinese submarines in Indian Ocean in a span of 12 months. China’s defense budget has shown a three and a half fold increase in just last decade. Its’ air force is twice the size of India.

According to a news report, Beijing needs only two days to mobilize on the Chinese-Indian border while New Delhi, hampered by its crippling transport infrastructure would need at least a week to do so. China, if it wants, could place 450,000 troops in a jiffy at the border, three times to what India could manage.

Chinese navy warships have been spotted on long deployments just off India’s coasts. India’s present chief of navy staff, Admiral Robin Dhowan couldn’t help but publicly say that India is “minutely monitoring” Chinese maritime movements.

Sure, India has caused distrust of its own. It hosts Dalai Lama which is a sensitive subject for China. If India wants to stir up things for China in Tibet, the latter wouldn’t mind using Pakistan for the same end. India also views China as a major opponent in seeking oil and other resources from Africa. Last month Modi hosted a summit of African government leaders in India’s capital.

Given India’s needs, it certainly doesn’t want to be leashed in its own region by China’s tactics. It’s association with Japan would certainly make China a little more sensitive to its anxiety. In the real-politic sense too, India has been clever to make the most of differences between Japan and China.

The only concern, and it’s a real one, is if US or Japan go too far in needling China in East or South China Sea. If gloves are off, India would be required to fulfill its obligation or the promised investments would go up in smoke. Modi’s best bet is it won’t happen in next three years and by that time he would have secured his re-election.