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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What's Behind The Chinese High Decibel? - I

The Chinese, we are told, are very smart people. They have long term view of everything and all their actions, however irrational, have a deeper purpose. While we can't say the same about our own thinkers and doers, what should be make out of Chinese high decibel claims to Arunachal Pradesh? (This they do by telling us not to make an issue out of their every action related to border talks.)


There is some truth to the Chinese folklore. They managed to get Americans on their side by intervening directly in Vietnam war, creating a quagmire for the Americans, while pushing the Soviets around. The Americans responded by moving their entire manufacturing base to China within an short two decades while providing high tech IP transfers from jet planes to rocket (and multi-war head missile) to nuclear technologies. The Soviets too came around, not to be left out, and have a very healthy military technology transfer relationship with the Chinese. This they did while creating an all-weather friend out of our enemy by transferring nuclear weapon technology and enabling missiles technology transfer (from North Korea). They have created a cottage industry out of apparent indignation of Japanese war crimes, which they conveniently turn off and on, just-in-time as the Japanese are becoming normal to get serious about their own strategic interests.

Chinese Strategy:

So they have tied down Americans with business relationship and the Americans give wishy-washy statements of support to Taiwan. They tackled raising India - by tying it down with Pakistan with which they have been working since the 70s, and they're tackling the Japanese (with a little bit of help from Koreans). They are moving aggressively on the blue navy front - a fleet of five Jin-class nuclear submarines on the way, with the first one to be deployed early next year (bring the total number of submarines close to 40), while developing better ICBMs with the not-yet deployed state-of-the-art DF-31 ready for use if needed. And of course the recent ASAT test. No one in the world protests, except for murmurs from Pentagon (our media doesn't even bother to mention these developments), because everyone bought into the notion that China is strategic challenger to US - if you are challenger, you have a right to strategic balance.

Our Response:

So what is India's response to Chinese strategic game since the '70s. Not much. Even as a reactive nation, in strategic matters, we have little response to Chinese strategic moves. We did build up our nuclear strategic capability (mostly in response to Pakistan's covert capability) and, thanks to Vajpayee, are no longer dancing around the issue. We did fall into the Chinese trap by keeping level head with Pakistan instead of shaking off the South Asia dirt and start breathing the global air - at least until 2000. Thanks in part to George Bush, and again to Vajpayee with continued engagement from Manmohan, we started engaging with US at a strategic level, instead of we-tell-you-and-you-listen Clinton-Talbott years of the late 90s. Because, usually, where US goes so goes the rest of the world, we are now engaged with Europe, Japan and others, in various forums, as, mostly, equal partners (with high economic growth rates also helping). We have a working model of Agni III, finally, along with one (and soon to be, two) aircraft carrier.

Beyound engagement with global powers, our strategic capabilities are useful mainly during real action, and less so with some coercive capability during diplomacy. But surprising number of Indian policy makers and policy watchers was happy with we'll-beat-them-this-time mindset and perfectly happy with India's non-response to any strategic move by China. We may well be better prepared this time compared to '62 (war) and '64 (nuclear test). But we need more aces up our sleeves to sit with the Chinese when it comes border negotiations or strategic dialouge. We currently have none. Most serious countries build the aces slowly taking a long view - like the Chinese do. It's time we get started.

Need More Aces:

The aces have to be appropriate to the poker players at the table. For China, there are few we can built up: Taiwan, Tibet, Economy, Japan, Southeast Asia, U.S, and military.

...to be continued.

If Not An Alliance, A Talkshop for Future One If The Need Arises

U.S, Australia, and Japan have a formal strategic alliance in Pacific region. They meet regularly to talk about issues. Japan invited India to join the talks this time in Melbourne. While there is no talk of India becoming an formal alliance partner, the significance of joining the non-Chinese Asian trio powers cannot be minimized.

India, Australia, Japan and the US are looking at issues of "common interest", but not aiming at creating a new security alliance, a top Australian Foreign Affairs official said here.

Jennifer Rawson, from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), told a Senate Estimates Committee that officials from the four nations had met recently for preliminary discussions, 'The Age' reported on Monday.

"Officials from these countries are looking at issues of common interest," she said.

But she said the discussions, which were sought by Japan, were not about creating a new security bloc.

"It is a meeting of four countries who share values and growing co-operation," Rawson said.

"The discussions are not about a security dialogue or alliance," she said.

There are suggestions that any move to add India to the security alliance among the US, Japan and Australia could be seen as a threat by China.

Australia, the US and Japan are already involved in a trilateral security dialogue. [PTI - via The Hindu]

No alliance now, but it's worthwhile for India to be engage with everyone - keeping with our motto of pleasing everyone. Just in case, things turn for the worst, with an emerging strategic, and increasingly militarily, powerful Chinese and diplomatically weak US, to the east of our region.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

An NGO Our Democracy Can Really Use

I remember reading an interview of Karan Thapar, with his usual 'got you' style, talking to P. Chidambaram about reservations issue during the peak of student protests, last year, who were protesting against Arjun Singh's brand of perverse educational justice. In the interview Chidambaram refused to answer any data related questions on quotes and castes. He kept saying Thapar's forum is not people's forum. Of course, Chidambaram was refereeing to the country's Parliament, which to most MPs is the only valid people's forum - that doesn't mean they take it seriously. Parliament, in it's various forms, is supreme in any democracy. Hence the importance of PRS.

PRS is an NGO, run by C. V. Madhukar within the premises of Center for Policy Research (headed by Pratap Bhanu Mehta), that summaries bills in parliament, potential law of the land, into short, readable bullet point pages stripped of partisanship. Clear bills are an important aspect of parliamentary debate and for future interpretation of the law by executive and judiciary branches. But first there has to be an informed debate. That's why organizations like PRS are extremely useful and vital for a democracy to function.

Madhukar said his six-person team, financed by the Ford Foundation, is the country’s first non-partisan research service focused on pending legislation. So far, about 60 MPs have used the service, he said.

The briefs are sent to all the MPs, about 700 journalists and 1,000 non-governmental organizations around the country. The group boils down 40-page Bills into four-to-six pages of bullet points and analysis, stripped of legalese and partisanship. They highlight key points and provide context—the product of a month of research and interviews with stakeholders, outside experts and the government officials who drafted the Bills. The briefs are available for free on the PRS website (www.prsindia.org).

PRS, at an MP’s request, also prepares backgrounders on specific topics, often on short notice before a parliamentary debate. Those notes are then available to any MP who requests them. [LiveMint]

The work done by PRS is an alternative to Parliament library service (Larrdis) but, I think, is equally important. We have too many politically motivated useless NGOs in our country. This one stands out and well worth keeping.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Why We Need a Hard Ball Politican as PM

We know Manmohan is not a political man and is a man with no mandate. He can't play hardball with parties that support him - when DMK wanted divestment stopped in a PSU located in Tamil Nadu or threaten to withdraw support to UPA Manmohan duly complied, putting a stop to all divestments from PSUs, instead of issuing a counter threat to DMK that they depended on Congress I support in TN assembly.

Now apparently he can't even keep the country safe by appointing the right people, and no one is talking about competency here, to ministerial posts.

Manmohan Singh is perturbed by Karunanidhi’s insistence on the immediate appointment of Radhika Selvi as MoS in the home ministry in place of S. Reghupathy, who has been moved to the environment ministry. The Intelligence Bureau sent a note advising against Selvi getting the home portfolio. Selvi’s late husband Venkatesa Pannaiyar was a known history sheeter and don of Tuticorin. (Incidentally, earlier the IB had brought to light the fact that Reghupathy’s PA was in regular contact with a foreign woman diplomat. He was subsequently removed.)

The PM tried to put off Selvi’s appointment by suggesting that her induction could wait till the next time he expanded his team. A very annoyed Karunanidhi took the initiative and issued a government press release from Chennai announcing the time and date of Selvi’s swearing-in, although the PMO in Delhi knew nothing of the swearing-in. Karunanidhi eventually had his way. [Coomi Kapoor - IE]

Manmohan is always talked about in terms being a good man. Our country doesn't need good man running the country; what we need is a seasoned politician with a vision to push economic reforms through and making wise decisions about nation security issues. The good man is doing neither.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

On Freedom of Expression

I was just at Sandeep's blog where he wrote about Amit blog on expression of outrage by a BJP MLA, and his cohorts, at the apparent arts exhibit at Baroda's Maharaja Sayajirao University. Amit called protesting people as, very unoriginally, Hindu fascists. (The phrase "Hindu Facists" was making the rounds in the media for a few days now in relation to this story.)

I found the comments for this blog at Sandeep interesting and wrote a comment of my own. I don't think most people, especially those who claims to be secularists and talk about absolute freedom of expression haven't actually lived and worked in India for very long (apparently some English-speaking men Mill & Locke already decided how we should all behave). In any case, I am reproducing my entire comment here.

People who talk about First Amendment (of America? And what the hell is it and why does it matter to us?) clearly haven’t lived in the country long enough. Our first Amendment was made to deprive economic freedoms for most middle class people, take that I-want-to-live-in-a-make-believe-country!

While you guys want to import another country’s constitution, why not China’s or, better yet, Saudi’s?

There are no absolute freedoms in India. As recently as last month, Indian SC ruled freedom of expression can be curbed if state feels it’s warranted.

Our own PM, in his official capacity, protested to Danes when the cartoon issue became news. Apparently we don’t support absolute freedom of expression. But UGC wants to withdraw license to this university in Baroda, per Arjun’s agnya, unless it continues to offend Hindus. Apparently this means we are not a secular country or a Hindu country but an Islamic country?

And what is this fascination with penises and vaginas in arts community? With total blackout by MSM (so much for freedom of expression), we need a right of center TV network in the country to show the pictures on television to understand the reaction of ordinary people. I am sure secularists will be front and center of every media to defend garbage with labels peddled as art.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Describing UPA

Bibek Debroy, that occasional sane economist from Bengal, wrote a nice op-ed in IE about UPA's policy of (the return of) control (and destruction) of public sector banks (I never can understand why Arun Shourie couldn't privatize all the drub public banks wholesale and saved us a lot of headache of the past three years of UPA's return to command and control of economy). But his description of UPA was a joy.

That was lazy banking for you. With UPA fast becoming an unproductive asset, is it surprising that lazy banking should be back?

On the other hand, I'd rather not call UPA an asset, unproductive or not.

Our Popular Prime Minister

PM to seek RS renomination from Assam

Samudra Gupta Kashyap
Posted online: Tuesday, May 08, 2007 at 0000 hrs IST
Guwahati, May 7

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is arriving here tomorrow for a day. Not to attend any major official function, but to file his nomination papers for re-election to the Rajya Sabha. Singh will be contesting for the fourth consecutive time from Assam, his “adopted home state”.

Singh was first elected from Assam in 1991 after then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao appointed him Finance Minister, and has remained a Rajya Sabha member from the state since.

As Finance Minister in 1991, Singh was caught in a controversy over submission of documents to prove his “ordinary resident” status in Guwahati. The matter reached the Supreme Court following a report in The Indian Express which exposed how he produced ration cards, electricity bills and house rent receipts to prove his credentials. In those days the rule was that one had to be an ordinary resident of the state from which he wanted to contest for the Rajya Sabha. It was then Assam Chief Minister Hiteswar Saikia who arranged the documents for Singh. [IE]
Need I say more...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Still Not An Asian Country

Forty five years after Nehru's dismissal of East Asian countries as "Coca Cola Countries" apparently we are still not an Asian country.

Asean + 3 (China, Korea, and Japan) have agreed to pool their considerable foreign exchange reserves, totaling about $3trillion, towards creating an Asian Monetary Fund (AMF). And India is nowhere to be seen in the group.

The Asia Monetary Fund (AMF), often called the Asian version of the International Monetary Fund, will soon materialize. Thirteen countries, including Korea, China, Japan and member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), have agreed to establish a shared monetary fund to support countries in case of financial crises in the region.

The initial amount of the fund is expected to be $80 billion, collected from the foreign exchange reserves of each country. It is welcome news, since the existence of such a fund will likely contribute to stabilizing currencies. The increase of short-term investment funds in the international financial market is speculative by nature and fluctuates constantly, often causing a detrimental effect on currency. A shared effort by each country is required to cope with the venture capital. [JoongAng Daily, a South Korean daily]

In the past few years, Indian military has been trying to change Nehru's precedence with constant interaction with most large Asian countries, getting involved in training and joint exercises. And, of course, there is the Look East Policy. But it's another thing when it comes to cooperation in trade and commerce. Free trade agreement with Asean countries has been going on with fits and starts with letters from misinformed people floating around, the latest one from Jairam Ramesh, who apparently has background in economics, and is the minister of state for commerce (but apparently not for commerce promotion). Jairam is the protege of Pranab Mukherjee and was probably doing Sonia's second bidding to slow FTA with Asean countries.

The current economic crisis manager, IMF, is almost defunct with no foreseeable role for it in a national or global economic crisis - most countries have learned the hard way in mid-90s and have hoarded foreign exchange reserves far in excess of any contingency need and are repaying IMF debt earlier then due to get IMF, its economists, and their boiler plate policy prescriptions off of their backs. IMF was too much of an imperialistic tool of the west - another white man's burden "we know what's best for you" - than a real problem solver, in most cases.

India itself got help from IMF in 1991 when it almost ran out of reserves to pay for imports due to its own of self inflicted economic stupidity for 40 years. Things are different now. India may never need another bale out with its significant (and surely excessive) current FX reserves and increasingly normalized economy. But, as member of AMF, India can be major player in AMF with one of the largest FX reserves in Asia (and globally) helping out other Asian countries in distress. Even if strategic benefits are ignored, India membership would boost economic and trade relationship with Asean. At the very least India's interest in AMF would be viewed positively by Asean countries.

China Moves From Communism to Military Dictatorship?

While it's hard to see the difference between communism and military dictatorship is, at least in communism, civilians can pretend to be in charge of the society's welfare and pretend to be working towards that non-existent utopia using military as a baton to whack citizens who don't subscribe to communism - those that are anti-nationals because they are not red enough. Whereas a military dictatorship has little ideological underpinnings - it is dictatorship just to brutalize the society's citizens year after year, while enriching the generals, and promising it's own brand of democracy, in the perpetual, next year.

In both system, citizens are brutalized and freedoms are curtailed. But who controls the brutality under communism vs military dictatorship is different.

China Confidential hypothesis (via China Digital Times) that China may have moved from the former to the latter.

But times--and opinions--change. China's provocative anti-satellite test in January and comprehensive military expansion--the likes of which the world has not seen since the re-arming of Germany in the 1930s--has led a small number of intelligence experts to question the conventional view of Chinese elite politics. For the first time, analysts are seriously entertaining the notion that China may actually be a military dictatorship posing as a party-ruled, authoritarian (formerly totalitarian) state.

According to this intriguing theory, the People's Liberation Army allows the party to manage domestic and foreign affairs--up to a point. Should domestic unrest or dangerously democratic tendencies ever get out of hand, analysts speculate, the PLA would intervene--under party cover. In other words, the party has allegedly become the tool of the military, and real power on the Chinese mainland (in contrast with democratic Taiwan) comes from the barrel of the PLA gun, which is no longer controlled by party leaders. [CDT]

Monday, May 07, 2007

Another Sonia's Letter

No, not another one to Manmohan. This time Sonia writes to dear mamma - part Italian, part English - about the latest in her life as the boss of the country. She writes about UP elections, Rahul, Time magazine mention, and, of course, the stupid people of the country.

Figurati mamma, just imagine mamma, they have a very principe, prince, before them, and they go and vote for idiotas like Mulayamji and Kalyanji. Rahul, mamma, was simply splendido, outstanding, in this UP campaign. There he was, povero garzone, poor boy, in the caldo, heat, and polvere, dust, of the Indo-Gangetic Plains, for the last sei, six, weeks, trying to reach out to the cuore, heart, and mente, mind, of the great unwashed. He is simply splendido, born to governare, rule, no doubt. Tutti, everybody, thinks so, Mamma, tutti! [Mamma, Rahul was simply splendido!]