For more on Prime Minister Modi's visit to China, I'm joined in the studio by Mr. Chen Mingming, a communications advisor at the foreign ministry, and Professor M. D. Nalapat in New Dehli. Welcome both.
Q1 Mr. Chen, let's talk about the prime minister's first stop in
China. The welcome Prime Minister Modi received in Xian, bears
similarities to the reception President Xi received in Modi’s home state
of Gujarat. As a former ambassador, in your view, is this a sign of
warming ties between the two nations?
Q2 Professor Nalapat, what are Indian expectations from the visit?
Q3 Mr. Chen, what can the two countries do to take the relationship further?
Q4 Professor Nalapat, China and India are two powerhouses in Asia.
Why is it important for the two countries to work harmoniously together?
Saturday, 16 May 2015
M D NalapatSaturday, May 16, 2015 - NARENDRA Damodardas Modi has made China, Mongolia and South Korea his final ports of call during his first year as Prime Minister. Of the three,the most consequential visit is to Beijing, where the Prime Minister seeks to initiate a robust relationship built on trust. With the United States,such a chemistry developed during the second term of President George W Bush,and survived Hillary Clinton’s efforts to prise concession after concession out of India as a “reward” for Washington giving Delhi its due.
During the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington nine months ago,it had been suggested by some experts that India should base a squadron of fighter aircraft in Damascus (with the cooperation of the Assad regime) and another in Baghdad (in partnership with the Iraqi government) and use these to wage war against ISIS bases and strongholds. By such a move,India would simultaneously signal its independence from Washington ( by taking the consent of the Assad regime) and join the US,Saudi Arabia,Jordan and other countries active in the air war against the terror organisation created out of the Libyan and Syrian post-2011 conflicts. However,the plan was shot down by influential individuals within the Modi government,who saw it as provocative and likely to make India a target of ISIS,who could for example kidnap or kill Indian citizens working in the GCC states.
The problem with such a chain of reasoning is that there is no question of ISIS declaring war on India in future,the organisation has already done so,and is simply awaiting a suitable opportunity to strike. As for nationals within the GCC, the fact is that Egypt too has a large expatriate population within the sheikhdoms,yet that has not prevented Cairo from militarily joining the war against ISIS or led to any additional danger to its citizens working locally in Qatar,Saudi Arabia,Bahrain,the UAE,Oman and Kuwait. The fact is that India’s participation in the war against ISIS would have been a game-changer in Washington,silencing the anti-India group within the various branches of the US administration and boosting the country’s profile on the international stage. Prime Time calls for the acceptance of a calibrated degree of risk. If a country is risk-averse (as the USSR was during the period when Leonid Brezhnev was in charge), not using its military assets except against smaller foes or hesitating to deploy the full weight of its strike capability once it was in trouble,as in Afghanistan during the 1980s, that country will lose out in geopolitical arenas.
However,just as Obama has finally shaken off the Clinton overhang which suffused his team, Narendra Modi appears to be gaining expertise in ensuring that the errors made in the past by an overly timid bureaucratic structure get avoided. This is evident in his approach to China,towards which his policy is very different from that of the bureaucracy. An example is in the granting of visas to Chinese tourists,many hundreds of millions of whom are Buddhists and therefore have an affinity to the land of the Buddha,India. Because of security concerns (or rather,excuses), only around 45.000 Chinese tourists visited India last year,out of a record 97 million going abroad,many millions to much smaller countries such as Thailand or France,which welcome such visitors by cutting away the red tape which blocks their smooth entry. If the US or France can deal with the “security” issues posed by huge numbers of tourists from China,surely India can as well,which is why Prime Minister Modi is implementing a liberalised visa regime for China,a demand of the tourism sector in India for decades.
Security agencies,acting on cues supplied by developed countries hostile to a Sino-Indian rapprochement, have thus far blocked major Chinese investment in India. The consequence has been that it is factories in China that produce the billions of dollars of items imported by India ( whose trade deficit with China crossed $47 billion last year). Had investment been permitted,much of such goods could have been manufactured by plants located in India that employ Indian workers and pay taxes in India. Such logic is,however,alien to the bureaucracy in India,which gets tethered to an idea (in this instance,that India cannot deal with the threat perceived in Chinese investment,and hence it is best to block such a flow of capital into the country) and thereafter refuses to even adapt it to at least partly take account of changing circumstances, much less abandon such out of date concepts completely.
Since the welcome given to President Xi Jinping and his charming spouse in Gandhinagar during the visit of China’s First Couple to India, there has developed a strong chemistry between the Head of State of the Peoples Republic of China and the Had of Government of the Republic of India. Both have achieved a familiarity with each other that enables them to be open about disagreements,but also to go the extra mile in taking advantage of the opportunities available for synergy between the two most populous countries on the globe. In a gesture of friendship,President Xi travelled to his hometown, Xian,to greet Prime Minister Modi and go with him to places such as an ancient temple built according to Indian traditions of two thousand years back. After that,a banquet hosted by Xi himself,with the two leaders spending hours together in an atmosphere warmer than that between any Chinese and Indian leaders since Rajiv Gandhi met Deng Xiaoping in 1988.
During that meeting,the Chinese leader offered a border settlement which preserved the status quo,with small concessions by China in the western sector and equally minor concessions by India in the east. However, Rajiv Gandhi’s political advisors warned that such a deal would lose him votes in the elections next year,a specious argument that a cautious Rajiv accepted. As it happened, Rajiv Gandhi lost the election anyway,while a border settlement with China may have boosted both his image within India as well as internationally. Will the trust between Xi and Modi prove sufficient to ensure a border settlement during their terms in office? If so,history will mark that as a significant achievement,certainly deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Friday, 15 May 2015
Sunday, 10 May 2015
Saturday, 9 May 2015
Friday, 8 May 2015
M D NalapatFriday, May 08, 2015 - Ariel Sharon, who in 1982 did immense damage to the security interests of his country and its people by assisting Maronite Christian thugs in Lebanon with logistics, weapons and intelligence while they were waging a war of extermination against large pools of Shia. Today, a like mistake is being committed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who regards Bashar Assad as a greater threat than Abubakr al Baghdadi and is consequently an ally of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar in their battle against Assad, a battle rooted in theology rather than politics. The four allies see an opportunity of using NATO to free Syria from the grip of the Assad family, the way Iraq was liberated from Saddam Hussein in 2003 and Libya from Muammar Kaddafy in 2011, the last two because they were in open opposition to the hereditary rulers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.
For Netanyahu and his allies in Riyadh, Ankara and Doha, the signing of a US-Iran nuclear deal would be a nightmare come true, for from then onwards, it will not be possible for them to play up the Iran threat in order to gain strategic concessions from a Washington made credulous by targeted funding and lobbying of thinktanks and other decision-evolving locations. While the US would gain immense leverage in the region, besides damping down the possibility that it could join Israel in being a country under attack by Shia terrorists, so would Iran, a factor that causes severe heartburn in Tel Aviv, Ankara, Riyadh and Doha. Small wonder that anti-Obama groups across the US are suddenly getting fresh oxygen in the form of donors, and that so-called “Obama-friendly” agencies within the Beltway have become critical of the President’s foreign policy in the post-Hillary Clinton phase, when in fact Obama has been able to frame and to push policies far better suited to the overall interests of his country now that lobbyist-loaded Clintonites are no longer driving the agenda of his administration the way they did in his first term.
Within weeks of each other, President Obama has achieved a breakthrough in relations with Cuba which could open the doors to engagement with that country strong enough to ensure a non-toxic (to US interests) trajectory once the Castro brothers relinquish power to their successors. Raul Castro has shown that he has the courage of a Deng Xiaoping, at least in the sphere of foreign policy. Were he to show a similar dynamism in economic policy, finally Cuba’s geographical proximity to the US would become the asset it can be, rather than the threat it has been since the 1960s.The Cuban people are as versatile as the Palestinian community of West Asia, and they would finally get the freedom they need to thrive in Havana that they have for decades enjoyed in Miami, where the Cuban-American community is known for its values and for its success in helping both themselves as well as their adopted country.
Obama has wisely gone ahead with signing a nuclear deal with Iran well before the 2016 Presidential elections, aware that in the course of a year, it will become clear that the doomsayers of the deal are bluffing, and that the agreement will enhance rather than degrade US security and other national interests. The problem for Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey is that the deal would also significantly boost Tehran’s interests, thereby enabling it to compete more effectively within the region for influence, especially with Riyadh. The best hope for the four is that President Francois Hollande of France can scupper the deal by getting his representative to make unreasonable demands in a bullying manner, the way it has been the case ever since the Geneva talks began. Why France, Germany or Britain are present and not India or Indonesia is a question that does not worry a UN system led by Ban Ki-Moon, but the fact is that Paris does not any more have the heft to torpedo a deal unless Berlin and London cooperate, which they are unlikely to do. Neither is interested in selling more super-expensive Rafale fighter jets to the GCC countries, the way Hollande so obviously is.
Clearly, the fact that the French have been the most obstructive on what is essentially a US-Iran nuclear deal has helped ensure that both Egypt (with Saudi money) and Qatar have ordered 24 aircraft each, although these are likely to see “action” only during parades, or against targets who would find it difficult to retaliate even against much less sophisticated flying machines. Given that Dassault Aviation makes less than a dozen aircraft each year, and that until now all of these get absorbed by the French air force, and that Hollande has committed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to supply 36 Rafale aircraft to the Indian Air Force in two years, it may be a while before Cairo or Doha see any aircraft. Should the nuclear deal get signed despite the obduracy of Hollande, the zest for buying French aircraft would considerably diminish within the GCC and those grouping keeps afloat through cash donations.
Hence the Plan B, which is to use the two month interregnum between the US-Iran understanding and an agreement in order to expand the space of Wahabbi interests vis-a-vis the Shia, such as through pumping in weapons and cash to miscellaneous groups in Syria on an unprecedented scale and the aerial bombardment of Houthis in Yemen by the Saudi Air Force. The assumption is that Rouhani (and Khamenei) have invested so much in a deal that they will stand by while their allies get clobbered. Should Tehran instead react with force to such a provocation, the situation on the battlefield will soon get messy for the four undeclared allies. Wisely, the Pakistan Parliament declined a Saudi request that ground forces be sent into the Yemeni quagmire.
King Salman’s war in Yemen is as big a mistake as Gamal Abdel Nasser’s was. The five years of intense military intervention in Yemen by Egypt (involving more than 60,000 troops on the field) created conditions for the collapse of the Egyptian army when it was sent into battle against Israel in 1967. King Salman’s war is likely to last as long as Nasser’s war, and will within 2016 ensure that violent sectarian conflict erupt in his own country, as also in those who have been bold enough to join him in seeking to subdue the Houthis. Of course, this is in the event that better counsel not prevail and lead to a cease-fire.