Monday, October 30, 2017

The Abe manoeuvre

Prime Minister Shinz┼Ź Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party has secured a resounding victory for a third term in the poll to the Lower House of Japan’s Diet. The development bucks the recent trend in advanced economies of incumbents being returned with much-reduced margins. A vindication of his decision to call elections a year ahead of schedule, the outcome increases Mr. Abe’s prospects of winning a third term next year as leader of his conservative party and becoming Japan’s longest-serving premier. The deeper import of the verdict, however, lies in the requisite two-thirds mandate to press ahead with plans to revise the country’s U.S.-backed post-War pacifist constitution to reflect current geopolitical realities. The prospect of securing such a large majority had seemed in doubt given the public scepticism over amending the charter, coupled with a drop in Mr. Abe’s personal ratings. Now, having cleared that hurdle, he would hope to garner support to accord legal status to the Japan Self-Defence Forces, leaving intact the no-war provisions in the 1947 constitution. In this, he would count on the backdrop of escalating tensions over North Korea’s nuclear belligerence and China’s growing military influence in the region. But public approval of the proposal in a plebiscite will be the all-important challenge. Sunday’s verdict was otherwise largely a foregone conclusion, as the charismatic Governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, did not even contest the race from the new platform she had launched, the Party of Hope. In any case, her fundamentally conservative orientation, even on the constitution, left voters with no real alternative. The opposition Democratic Party, facing months of internal turmoil, initially considered fielding candidates under the banner of Ms. Koike’s party. But the latter’s insistence on a loyalty test for nominees led to a split within the opposition.

With a firm mandate, the government should be able to focus more on the Abenomics strategy to further stimulate growth and demand. A June assessment of the International Monetary Fund points to the country’s sustained growth and record unemployment as evidence of the success of the model. Also significant is the Fund’s support for the Bank of Japan’s continued loose monetary policy in the face of weak demand. Mr. Abe’s poll promise to further boost the fiscal stimulus should please critics who say that concerns over public debt were being overplayed. Whereas Mr. Abe is weighing a sharp increase in the controversial consumption tax up to 10% by 2019, the Fund has proposed a more calibrated approach. Such an alternative may be the right course in a country with a declining working-age population, and faced with persistently low consumer spending. Mr. Abe has his eyes set on seeing the country through the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Japan will by then be a very different country from what it was in 1964, when it first hosted the Summer Games.

Source:The Hindu

The life of Xi

When Xi Jinping was elected the leader of China and the Communist Party five years ago, many had predicted that he would become the most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the country’s economic rise. They may be wrong. With the 19th party congress, which concluded on Tuesday and has written his name and ideas into the party constitution, Mr. Xi now appears to be the strongest leader since Mao Zedong. This amassing of Mao-like powers could also allow Mr. Xi to stay in power beyond the usual two terms. Two of Mr. Xi’s predecessors had stepped down after two terms to ensure an orderly transition in the party and the government, where there is no dearth of talented and ambitious leaders. The practice has been for the mid-term party congress to choose the likely successor of the incumbent and groom him over five years to eventually take over the reins. However, the party doesn’t seem to have chosen anyone this time. All five new faces in the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, the highest decision-making body in China, are in their 60s, which lends credence to speculation that Mr. Xi is not planning to step down when his second term ends in 2022. Even if he does step down from the government, given the stature he has already achieved within the party, he could retain a Deng-like sway over policy matters.

In Mr. Xi’s world view, China has passed two eras — the revolutionary era launched by Mao and the economic reforms spearheaded by Deng. The “Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era” that has been written into the party charter marks “a new era”. This one is about making China economically stronger and geopolitically more influential. In his three-and-a-half-hour speech at the congress, Mr. Xi placed great emphasis on strengthening the military and resisting “the whole range of erroneous viewpoints”. The message is that the era of “peaceful rise” is over. The more combative foreign policy Mr. Xi’s administration is pursuing will continue, perhaps more aggressively, while at home he will consolidate more power. But this doesn’t mean it will be a cakewalk. If China takes a more aggressive, militaristic view of its neighbourhood, it could trigger an aggressive response from neighbours such as India and Japan. North Korea remains as much a foreign policy problem for Mr. Xi as for President Donald Trump. China’s export-oriented economy is still not free from the global economic whirlwinds. Mr. Xi will have to factor in global market concerns while taking key economic decisions at home. Besides, though the transition in the Communist Party has been orderly at least in the last 30 years, it was not free from troubles. Mr. Xi would be mindful of how he projects his own power, lest it triggers a backlash. The challenge before him is to find a balance between his ambitions and the realities that China confronts today.

Source:The Hindu

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A pivot to China?

Till 1750, the Asian giants produced half of global economic output before gunboats and colonisation reshaped trade, and subsequently production and consumption. There is now a consensus that the locus of global wealth is again going to be in Asia. The implication of the interruption, or reversal, has not been explored as the strategic dimensions continue to be seen through a Western prism.

Western analysts focus on the relative decline of the U.S. rather than on Asia’s re-emergence. The underlying assumption is that the world needs global institutions, rules and agreements to solve problems that countries cannot solve on their own, while not addressing the question that has now come centre stage — who sets the worlds standards and for what purpose?

Containment, relevant during the Cold War, is not proving effective in Asia with China emerging as the largest global economy. Alliances are also losing relevance in Asia as countries are gaining influence more because of the strength of their economy than the might of the military. Moving away from global rules, for example the climate agreement, questions their relevance for meeting global concerns.

Globalisation, driven by the ‘Washington Consensus’, dominated global policymaking, with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation as the institutional centres of gravity. Developing countries have complained for decades about the ‘terms of trade’, ‘conditionalities’ and intellectual property rights linked with trade sanctions. The limits to trade liberalisation are now also being raised in the West.

David Ricardo’s arguments of comparative advantage of countries and Adam Smith’s emphasis on competition creating wealth are not relevant in today’s knowledge-based, urbanised world of middle-class consumers and global value chains. The problem is not trade, which has been happening for over 2,000 years, but the nature of recent rules going beyond facilitating commercial transactions.

Donald Trump, recognising global trends, is reviewing the role of the U.S. based on alliances, rules and values. He prefers an “America First” approach, wants to “reset” ties with Russia around “mutual respect”, and wishes for the “strongest relationship” with China, with trade as the foundation of bilateral ties.

Asian views

The thought leadership for shaping global politics, with Asia restored at its economic centre, should revert to the 2,000-year-old pattern of commercial transactions, with trade rules limited to standardisation and dispute settlement. Asian prosperity is more than a geo-economic or geopolitical concept, underlined by President Barack Obama’s failed attempt to prevent Asia from setting the new rules for trade.

China and India have much in common, if we move out of the Western frame, as both are civilisational states whose contours were shaped by major snow-fed rivers. In both states, no strategic thinker advocated conquest of lands outside this sphere, in sharp contrast to Western strategic thinking on control of the seas, security alliances and rules pushing common values as the best way of organising international relations.

In political thought also, Amartya Sen has pointed out, religious tolerance and human rights are not Western concepts. Chinese civilisation has had a more secular orientation than any other civilisation. In Indian political thought, authority was based on the interests of all. In both civilisations, the king was regarded as guardian and not creator of the law.

The Asian giants have yet to reconstruct international relations theory around a global vision of sharing natural resources, technology and prosperity — issues they have together fought for over 50 years in the United Nations.

India’s strategic priorities

China took advantage of global value chains shaping long-term economic calculations, redefining global power and securing a head start over India. China will remain the world’s largest producer of goods and India can be the largest producer of services. The services sector will be the real driver of future growth in Asia, with affluence concentrated in cities, giving a younger India future advantage.

India has the capacity for global leadership as the hub of the new knowledge-based order, including new pharmaceuticals and crop varieties, as it is the only country with both extensive endemic biodiversity and world-class endogenous biotechnology industry. Along with global leadership in software-led innovation, foundation of the new low-carbon digital-sharing economy, India is developing low-cost solutions for urbanisation, governance, health and education problems. Sharing solutions to common problems as a new form of international relations will provide legitimacy to reshape the global order with sustainability as the defining value.

China is keen to have India on board its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative for connectivity-led trade in Eurasia. It has suggested a free trade agreement and both countries recognise the synergies for achieving the ‘Asian Century’. India’s knowledge-based strengths complement those of China in infrastructure and investment. India should seek to ‘redefine’ OBOR, adding a stronger component for a ‘Digital Sustainable Asia’, and for Eurasian connectivity to have two nodes, as has been the case throughout civilisation.

A mutual recognition of ancient special interests in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean should be a strategic objective. This step will enable an understanding on issues like membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, global terrorism, and Gwadar, which are irritants in the development of stronger ties. Prime Minister Narendra Modi must recognise that trade will trump security.

Source:The Hindu

Myths about Israel’s security model

Prime Minster Narendra Modi’s veiled comparison of India’s strike against militants along the Line of Control with Israel’s military operations in its neighbourhood exposes the admiration India’s ruling elite have for the West Asian country’s aggressive foreign and security policy. Speaking at a public event in Himachal Pradesh on Tuesday, Mr. Modi said, “Our Army’s valour is being discussed across the country these days. We used to hear earlier that Israel has done this. The nation has seen that the Indian Army is no less than anybody.” His comments raise once again the question whether the Israeli security model is desirable for India.

Feeble deterrence

In fact, such an aggressive, militarist policy is not a successful model even for Israel if we look at the broader picture. Decades of war have pushed Israel to a security dilemma — whatever its leadership does to minimise the security threats it faces actually deepens the crisis further. Take a quick look at Israel’s military operations against groups it calls terrorist. In 1982, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sent troops to Lebanon to defeat the Palestine Liberation Organisation which was targeting Israel from southern Lebanon. Begin then famously said Israel would win “forty years of peace” after the war. But the outcome was more complicated than the status quo. The PLO retreated from southern Lebanon, first to Tripoli and then to Tunis. But the Israeli intervention stirred up the Lebanese civil war, kicking off another protracted bloody phase of fighting between different sects. Instead of winning peace for 40 years, Israel continued the Lebanese occupation for 18 years. By that time, the PLO had moved to the West Bank, but Hezbollah, a Shia militia which was formed during the civil war, had established itself as a sizeable military force in southern Lebanon and as an influential sociopolitical movement among the country’s disadvantaged Shia community.

In 2006, six years after it pulled troops out of Lebanon, Israel had to return to the neighbouring country to stop Hezbollah’s cross-border attacks. Israel bombed the country for 34 days and also conducted a major ground offensive. But throughout the war, Hezbollah continued the rocket attacks into Israel (almost 4,000 rockets in a month). Israel claims the operation was a success as it destroyed much of Hezbollah’s military infrastructure. But in reality the war left Hezbollah more powerful in Lebanon’s fractious politics, while it amassed weapons and rebuilt its military might over the next several years. So the security threat Israel faces from southern Lebanon still very much remains.

Backfiring bombings

The story of Israel’s wars on Hamas is not substantially different. To be sure, Hamas is a violent group that has targeted both the Israeli military and civilian centres. But Israel has been unable to claim a moral anti-terror position against Hamas because of the continuing occupation and, to be more specific, its policy of collectively punishing the Palestinian people. Israel withdrew forces and settlers unilaterally from Gaza in 2005, but it never stopped punishing the people of Gaza, and Hamas never stopped firing rockets into Israel. Ever since the withdrawal, Israel tried everything its mighty military could do to weaken the Hamas in Gaza. In 2007, it imposed a brutal land, air and sea blockade on Gaza, and between 2005 and 2014, it bombed Gaza thrice. Both the blockade and the wars have triggered widespread international criticisms and even allegations of war crimes. The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the 2008-09 Gaza war, led by the South African jurist Richard Goldstone, accused both Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

Another UN report, on the 2014 Gaza war, also reached similar conclusions. During the war, Israeli bombings killed 2,165 Palestinians, including 1,644 civilians, while militant attacks killed 66 Israeli soldiers and four civilians. But what has Israel achieved from this bloodshed? Hamas continues to rule Gaza and still possesses the capability to fire rockets into Israel. Even after all these military operations, if Israel is not feeling secure or doesn’t possess credible deterrence against militant groups, realists would suggest it should well rethink its strategy.

Low risk potential

Another argument why the Israeli model is not desirable for other countries is that Tel Aviv’s cross-border attacks were against relatively weaker powers. Israel is the only nuclear armed state in West Asia. By conducting cross-border strikes in Lebanon, Palestinian territories, or even in Syria, Israel doesn’t face an immediate escalation of a conventional war. Hezbollah and Hamas have the potential to file rockets into Israel, target its citizens and mount pressure on the country's political leadership. They could also make any Israeli ground operation costly. But they are largely guerrilla forces who use asymmetric tactics rather than posing any existential threats. So the risk Israel takes with its cross-border attacks is the human cost of such operations and hostile international public opinion. Israel’s history shows that it is not very bothered about either of these things.

India, on the other side, has two nuclear armed powers in its neighbourhood. The source of overseas terrorist threat it faces is Pakistan, a nuclear power with considerable conventional military prowess. It doesn’t mean that India shouldn’t act, but it should play within a limited hostility doctrine. It can’t risk a nuclear war. Moreover, India is a country that cares about its international image and international laws. It can’t go about violating global norms and then hope to play a responsible role in international politics.

Source:The Hindu

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Darjeeling deadlock: On elusive peace

Delhi and Kolkata must urgently sink their differences and hold tripartite talks

The 104-day shutdown in the Darjeeling hills called by the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) may have been lifted in late September, but peace remains elusive. A host of factors is responsible for this, not least the sparring between the Centre and the West Bengal government over who should determine the next steps. That they are not on the same page was evident in the way the deployment of troops in the region was handled. On October 15, the Union Home Ministry wrote to the State government that it was calling back 10 of the 15 companies of the Central Armed Police Forces posted in the hills. In response, two days later Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee moved the Calcutta High Court and got a stay. What is more worrying is that the situation on the ground remains tense and fluid. GJM chief Bimal Gurung is on the run. While the announcement to end the shutdown had come from him after the Centre appealed to protesters and offered to talk, the State government has raided his properties, lodged several cases against him, including for misappropriation of funds and triggering violence. It has issued an arrest warrant against Mr. Gurung and declared him a “proclaimed offender”. In an attempt to exploit differences within the GJM, the State government propped up rebel Gorkha leader Binoy Tamang, naming him chief of a new board of administrators to head the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, which had been set up in 2012 as a semi-autonomous body. Mr. Tamang’s elevation has divided GJM followers. Ms. Banerjee has also been holding all-party meetings — the next one is to be on November 21 in Darjeeling — to arrive at a solution, with the GJM represented by the rebel faction.

With peace yet to be restored fully, the Central and State governments need to urgently sink their differences, hold tripartite talks and meaningfully empower the GTA. The economy of the Darjeeling hills has taken a severe hit with both the tea and tourism industries having suffered huge losses and struggling to chart a way out. The tea industry, for example, lost almost all its second flush crop, with losses estimated at ₹400 crore and counting. With uncertainty prevailing in the hills and winter setting in, there is anxiety over whether the gardens will be ready for the premium first flush crop which is harvested between February and April. Tourists have begun to trickle back, but the peak season is over. With the West Bengal government looking to be in no mood to talk to Mr. Gurung, the political crisis is far from over. It was Ms. Banerjee’s initial statement that Bengali would be made compulsory in the State, including in the hills, that revived the Gorkhaland stir. She later retracted it — but securing the peace will take a more conciliatory attitude by all stakeholders — the Centre, the State government and the GJM factions.

source:The Hindu