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Tag Archives | China

On Indo-US ties

India needs to do its share of heavy-lifting too.

News trickled in yesterday that New Delhi shorlisted two European fighter aircraft — Dassault’s Rafale and Eurofighter’s Typhoon as prospective candidates for the highly publicized $10 billion Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRA) competition.  My Takshashila colleagues Nitin Pai and Dhruva Jaishankar have two excellent posts on India’s MMCRA decision.  Significantly, this decision meant the downlisting of two American firms competing for the MMRCA contract — Boeing’s F/A-18 and Lockheed’s F-16.

It is not everyday that countries sign $10 billion contracts for fighter aircraft.  The sheer scale, value and nature of the MMRCA competition meant that geo-strategic considerations ought to have outweighed purely technical determinants.  And while very valid concerns about U.S. fine-print have been raised, India has faced similar difficulties with less transparent suppliers, and that too, after signing substantial contracts (lest we forget the small matter about us having to pay $3 billion for an antiquated ship that we were initially supposed to receive for free).  The truth is that India’s severely shackled defense industry necessitates entering into contracts for arms and equipment with foreign suppliers under conditions not entirely ideal.  But deriving benefits from domestic defense industry liberalization — if and when this happens — will take several years.  How does India fulfill its defense requirements in the interim?

U.S. ambassador to India Timothy Roemer was quoted as saying that he was “deeply disappointed” with the outcome.   The downlisting of Boeing and Lockheed is but the latest evidence of ties between the world’s two largest democracies being somewhat adrift after Mr. Obama’s visit to India last year.

The civil nuclear deal between India and the U.S. was meant to be the cornerstone of a new age of Indo-U.S. ties, leaving behind decades of mutual mistrust, lecturing and moral posturing.  The deal offered benefits to both India and the U.S. — for India, it meant international recognition as a de facto nuclear power, and for the U.S. it meant nuclear commerce with an emerging economy. It took the U.S. exercising its political clout to see that a waver based on Indian exceptionalism was granted at the NSG, which also required a last-minute call by George W. Bush to Hu Jintao to prevent China from stonewalling the vote.

However, today, U.S. firms are effectively non-participants in nuclear trade with India because of supplier liability imposed by India’s Nuclear Liability Bill.  Globally, suppliers are unable to obtain insurance coverage for nuclear trade.  Both Russian and French firms compete in India’ s nuclear market because they are essentially underwritten by their respective governments.  And even then, the Russians have apparently made it clear to New Delhi that nuclear commerce with India is unsustainable in the long run under such circumstances.

Today India aspires for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council; but reforming the UNSC remains a distant dream. Even so, during Mr. Obama’s visit last year, India joined a select group of nations whose candidature the U.S. endorses.  In its current stint as a non-permanent member of the UNSC, India must make its voice heard and break from a tradition that encourages prevarication and moral posturing.  As I pointed out in a previous blogpost, it’s no use saying India deserves a permanent seat at the UNSC because it represents 1/6th of humanity, if that 1/6th of humanity seldom expresses an opinion.

Undoubtedly, there are bound to be differences in opinion between India and the U.S.  Indeed, it is easy to focus on contentious areas (and there are several) — David Headley, climate change, Pakistan, Iran,  Burma, to name a few.  We need not agree on every aspect of global affairs, but as two large and pluralistic democracies, we share common values and interests, and ought to build our relationship on these shared ideals.  And while it is important not to put undue focus on transactional aspects of our strategic partnership with the U.S., the MMRCA deal will have an impact on the trajectory of this relationship.  And this we knew well before a decision on the shortlist was made.  Indeed, Ambassador Roemer’s resignation hours after India’s announcement of the MMRCA shortlist is probably not a coincidence.

It is certainly conceivable that some of the momentum towards expanding this partnership will be tempered.  Worse, when considered alongside the Nuclear Liability Bill, U.S. companies might soon conclude that the attractiveness of the Indian market is significantly less than the bandwidth they dedicate to it.  After all, interest in India cannot be sustained merely by the “promise” of the Indian market, if none of those promises are materialized.  We have always been eager to deliver our litany of demands to the U.S. — from Afghanistan, to pressuring Pakistan on terror.  But how much are we willing to give in return?  We need to ask ourselves if India is doing its share of the heavy-lifting in  this bilateral relationship.

 

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Pyong-ying-yang

India must call out North Korea for its brazen attack and fully back Seoul.

Another day and another attempt at provocation by North Korea.  Pyongyang launched an artillery barrage on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, which resulted in the deaths of two civilians.  Seoul put on a brave face, and the U.S. dispatched USS George Washington to the peninsula in a show of strength and allegiance to South Korea.  The U.S., meanwhile, has called on China to restrain North Korea (a futile attempt at best, since China has no real interest in restraining North Korea, even if it could be restrained).   Viet Nam has expressed outrage on the attack and unequivocally backed Seoul, as has Japan.

But today, we hear this from the Indian External Affairs Ministry:

The government of India has closely followed developments in the Korean Peninsula over the last two days…..We urge both sides to maintain peace and stability in the region, and stress the need to respect international obligations and for return to negotiations,” a statement by the external affairs ministry said today.

Urge both sides to maintain peace? You must be joking! It takes two sides, my dear sirs, to maintain the peace.  At least one of the two sides in that equation wants anything but.

Hitherto, India’s foreign policy has favored the “middle path” on international affairs, not wanting to decisively back any one actor for fear of offending the other.  Now, this “middle path” has paid India rich dividends, most noticeably in the Middle East, where it is able to pursue strategic ties with Israel and at the same time engage meaningfully with most Arab nations.  This may continue to make sense to India under certain circumstances, but with its growing international political and economic clout, it will be increasingly forced to choose sides; and this is a challenge that Indian policy makers must not shy away from.

Ashley Tellis, Sr. Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, had this to say (LT @pragmatic_d) in response to a question about U.S. President Obama’s address to the Parliament about India “shying away from major international issues” :

[T]here is a strong feeling that India is punching way below its weight. India has become capable only recently and its institutional capacity and psychology has not kept up with its material transformation.  The point the President is making is that there will come a time when you will have to make some choices. [Carnegie Endowment for International Peace]

Only last month, Defense Minister AK Antony and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh toured East Asia.  In Hanoi, Dr. Singh talked about recalibrating India’s “Look East” policy and bolstering ties with Asia’s democracies.  Here, I am reminded of a TS Eliot quote from The Hollow Man, “Between the idea and the reality…falls the Shadow.” That shadow was more than apparent in the External Affairs Ministry’s statement today.

India owes North Korea no lip-service whatsoever.  North Korea is a rogue state and, along with Pakistan, is a participant in the international proliferation of missile and nuclear technology. Tougher test cases for the transformation of Indian foreign policy may indeed exist for our policy makers to contend with, but as far as North Korea is concerned, this should have been an open and shut case. The Government of India needs to call North Korea out for this brazen and unwarranted attack, and unapologetically back Seoul, as many other democracies in Asia have found the courage to do.

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Sensationalistan

Where the mind is without fear and the head is buried in the sand.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published its report on China’s nuclear forces ( pdf).  This is an annual report, and part of a series that the Bulletin publishes on the nuclear forces of other powers.  Nothing particularly earth-shattering for those that have been following China’s nuclear program, but I bring this up because of this little extract, pertaining to India:

In a section describing Chinese-Indian relations, the 2010 Pentagon report stated that China is using the more advanced and survivable DF-21s to replace DF-4s to improve regional deterrence. This was picked up by the Press Trust of India, which mistakenly reported that according to the Pentagon, China has moved advanced longer range CSS-5 [the DF-21 NATO designation] missiles close to the border with India. Not surprisingly, the report triggered dramatic news articles in India, including rumors that the Indian Strategic Forces Command was considering or had already moved nuclear-capable missile units north toward the Chinese border.

The Pentagon report, however, said nothing about moving DF-21 missiles close to the Indian border.  Instead,it described the apparent near-completion of China’s replacement of DF-4 missiles with DF-21 missiles at two army base areas in Hunan and Qinghai provinces,a transition that has been under way for two decades. The two deployment areas are each more than 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) from the Indian border. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists]

The Press Trust of India got wind of this “story” on August 17, and without anyone validating the statements in the article to the source,  announced:

China has moved new advanced longer range CSS-5 missiles close to the borders with India and developed contingency plans to shift airborne forces at short notice to the region, according to Pentagon.

Not to be outdone, Asian Age added in its own masala, about Agni-II being moved to the border to counter these imagined Chinese moves.

In the wake of a recent Pentagon report that China is moving advanced CSS-5 ballistic missiles to areas close to the Sino-Indian border, New Delhi is clearly taking no chances.

The government is also reportedly moving the strategic Agni-II missile inducted earlier to areas near the Chinese border. These have a range of around 2,000 km.

Asian Age ran its story despite the fact that it received official denial from the Army that missile units had not been moved to Eastern Command.  “News makers” indeed, quite literally.  The folks at the Bulletin were probably being kind by describing Indian media reaction as a “mistake.”  This is borderline warmongering.

Pity,  no one stopped to read what was written in the U.S. Department of Defense’s publication, or sought any clarification on what China was doing.  Had they done so, it would have become apparent that all the Chinese were doing was replacing their old liquid-fueled DF-4s with solid-fueled DF-21s in Hunan and Qinghai provinces (about 1,500 km from the Indian border).  The only reason the DoD mentioned India in this context was the upgrade was partly motivated by China’s desire to “improve regional deterrence.”  How this translates to “China moves its missiles closer to the Indian border,” only PTI can tell us.

But this is just symptomatic of a larger malaise plaguing large sections of our media: a flippant regard for facts, for corroboration, a desperate quest for sensational news items (even when none exist), for “dumbing-down,” and for drama above all else.

Were that not the case, stories such as this extraordinary piece about Mr. Obama’s visit to India would have never been published. Folks, 34 warships including one aircraft carrier is not a “presidential entourage.” It is an invasion. 

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Crouching Dragon

Making sense of China’s huffing and puffing.

The Global Times, CCP’s mouthpiece, has unleashed a barrage of editorials on the altercation between Japan and China over the arrest of a Chinese captain, whose trawler collided with Japanese coastguard ships earlier this month near the disputed Senkaku islands.  The People’s Republic suspended high-level exchanges with Japan, after a Japanese court extended the detention of the Chinese captain.

Today, in yet another in a series of fiery editorials, The Global Times opines:

Now is the time to seriously examine Japan. It should be apparent by now that China will be forced to endure long-term conflicts with Japan, and emphasizing only friendly relations is not prudent. In addition, China needs to be certain of Japan’s soft spots for clearly targeted reactions.The pain has to be piercing. Japanese politicians need to understand the consequences – votes will be lost, and Japanese companies have to be aware of the loss of business involved. Japanese citizens will feel the burden due to the downturn in the economy. China’s domestic law, business regulations and consumers can all be maneuvered.

Provoking China comes with a heavy price tag. Finding Japan’s soft spot will help end its hostile policies against China during its rise. [The Global Times]

The Japanese will do well not to back down.  This is not China’s first altercation this past year with its neighbors.  It faced-off against South Korea and the U.S. in May over North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean warship. And its posture has grown increasingly confrontational towards Vietnam.  So much for “Peaceful Rise.”

But beyond all the huffing and puffing, and inebriated ranting is a CCP that is concerned about how it has played its cards, post-2009.  When U.S. president Barack Obama traveled to Beijing in May and seemingly “recognized” China’s position as the preeminent power in Asia, China (and much of the world) saw this as the actions of a fading superpower beating an honorable retreat.

However, even as Mr. Obama sought to engage with China on global issues, it became increasingly apparent that the Chinese didn’t share the same enthusiasm for such an arrangement, and instead were eager to challenge global efforts and the “U.S.-led order,” where it made sense.

In doing so, China overestimated its own relative power and potential in a post-economic-crisis world.  It expected the U.S. to yield to Chinese supremacy in the East- and South China Seas.  But rows between the U.S. and China, most noticeably in May, coupled with good counsel from some folks in the Obama Administration and ASEAN allies has resulted in a change in Washington’s stance to one that is more willing to contest Chinese power in its own back yard.

That the U.S. stood with Seoul on the sinking of the South Korean warship should come as no surprise.  But more encouragingly, discussions between the U.S. and Vietnam on civilian nuclear cooperation are a potential game-changer, and could bring the one country in the region perhaps most susceptible to Chinese bullying under U.S.’s “umbrella.”

The result of all of this is a country that harbors global aspirations, but is unable to project power, unchallenged,  in its own neighborhood.   The series of maneuvers that the U.S. orchestrated between July and September are the diplomatic equivalent of Hannibal at Trasimene.  And while it may not be  quite like Gaius Flaminius, China has realized that it has grossly miscalculated its reach, influence and relative power in the global order.

This should be painfully apparent to those aboard Beijing’s bandwagon. And a matter of encouragement to Asia’s democracies.

   

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