As soon as Vladimir Putin assumed power in Kremlin last year, we have seen immense involvement of Russia in the international affairs. From Cyprus to Iran and Syria, the amount of aggressiveness Russia showed to maintain its interests was comparable to Soviet times. After a big gap of 20 years, when this huge nation was keeping a low profile since the collapse of Soviet Union, Russia’s recent active role in the world politics has given hopes that soon we are going to see a multipolar world ending US dominance. To discuss the mood in the Kremlin we interviewed Gabriela Ionita, Editor in chief of Power&Politics World who is also an expert in Russia’s international affairs.
TWR: After the collapse of Soviet Union, we saw Russia had gone under a cold state. There was almost negligible response from Russia on Iraq and Afghanistan war. But we could see some response from Russia on Libya, and now Russia has come out fully aggressively in Syria’s case. Do you think all these years, when Russia re-established itself on the global platform, it has prepared itself to take on western world again on global geopolitics issues? Are we going to see a bipolar or a multi polar world soon?
G.I.: We are already part of a world with multiple power centers. President Obama’s speech, at the recent meeting of the UN, certifies such a perception of political analysts. To reduce the geopolitical equation only highly questionable relationship between U.S. and Russia is meaningless. There are numerous emerging economies from which even Russia and U.S. could learn some useful lessons. Also, there are many cooperation organizations to which the two are not only States, but also leaders and the need to find consensus solutions to highlight leadership. And last but not least, we see that today almost all the countries of the world – from the European Union, the Middle Orient, the Chinese and American societies – are faced, in one form or another, with the need to find new strategies and preserve their identity in the radically changing world, and Russia – a huge melting pot of ethnicities and cultures – cannot make an exception from it.
In the last two decades, Russia has changed its political and ideological concepts as far as was possible with the legacy of the former USSR, legacy assumed open by the new leaders in Moscow. As you were saying, there was almost a negligible response from Russia on Iraq and Afghanistan war. But we must remember that Russia had its own catastrophic experience in Afghanistan, whose consequences are still felt in the minds of the Russian society. So it’s good to notice that after the disintegration of the USSR Russia has really felt what a collapsed state means. Its first and foremost priority was the domestic situation. It is known that the economic growth, prosperity and geopolitical influence are derivatives from the total condition of a settled society. After overcoming the urgent impediments of internal order, it was logical for Russia to wonder itself: ”who is ?” and where should it be looking on foreign policy for supporting its own interests. The first step, of course, was trying to gain the regional influence and, subsequent, the global influence and its returning to the table of the world’s great leaders.
Regarding the reaction to the conflict in Libya, I do not think that Russia had a clear strategy. This was more an attempt of the ex-president – the current prime minister Medvedev – to improve his personal political rating, which proved to be a rather unsuccessful attempt. Instead, Russia’s intention to protect its interests in the Middle East were seen in the intervention in Syria. Russia wants to be a major decider and even a major opponent when its interest dictates. And if you take a peek at the commercial agreements between Russia and Syria or Iran, it is easy to see that here the interests dictate.
Contrary to controversial statements regarding Russia’s imperial obsessions, restoring the USSR and other such foolishness that the russophobias propaganda sites are full of, there is nothing unusual in Russia’s intentions. Looking closely and judging right, we can see that all the great and small powers of the world are doing everything they can to promote their economic interests and preserve their own sphere of influence. What differs are only the methods and strategies used. Some prefer to invoke the principles of democracy and human rights, other – the rule of law and veiled threats, other – economic pressures and direct threats, others – just shut up and do – the last statistically having the best results.
TWR: – But what do you think about the relations between Russia and the U.S. at the moment?
G.I.: On one hand, it would be childish of us to believe that between two states that claim to be a global power pole there could be a relationship like ”milk with honey”. On the other hand, in spite of the officials declarations, the restart of Russian and American relations continued all along (sometimes even for reasons of internal propaganda of the two states) to be hunted by the ghosts of the Cold War. Nowadays, at the level of perception of public opinion I will quote Olga Kamenciuk, communications director of the Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion. “Lately, between Russia and the U.S. there are many differences. Mainly, this is on the cases such as Snowden and about Syria. Regarding Snowden, for example, most Russians thought that Russia’s position will worsen relations with the U.S., but only 15% are saying he does not have to be granted political asylum”. The same is the public opinion in the case of Syria. Russians understand that this situation will worsen relations with America, but prefer an independent position of their country on this issue. In the U.S., the situation is somewhat similar. According to Gallup (agency for marketing and social studies) for the first time since 2000, the number of those who consider Russia an enemy exceeded the number of those who see Russia as an ally.
But it’s good to remember that not always the public perception also means the reality behind the closed doors. U.S. and Russia worked together and effectively collaborate on the levels where the interests of the two coincide. The fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, aviation security, cybercrime are some aspects of this collaboration. Then, behold, recently a NATO ship arrived in port at St. Petersburg as part of continued NATO-Russia Council military cooperation, and provided an opportunity for naval counterparts to meet and exchange experiences. And even when we are tempted to believe that relations between the U.S. and Russia are at their lowest level in a few days will take place in Brussels the first over two years meeting of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) at the level of Defense Ministers with the participation of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. The NATO headquarters considers Shoigu’s involvement in the meeting the unique opportunity to give an impetus to military relations between Russia and NATO in the field of security. So here, the reality is much more complex and cannot be reduced to categorical labels.
TWR: In spring, Cyprus approached Russia under financial crisis to seek potential bailout plan which Russia refused. Why do you think that Russia let go such a big opportunity of earning a partner in Mediterranean Sea, who was ready to offer its gas fields and warm water port at a strategically important place just under the nose of EU?
G.I.: In reality, things are not so simple. Many people said they were surprised and wondered at the time why the Prime Minister Medvedev stepped out in the case the Cyprus crisis. There are two main aspects that need mentioning: first – Cyprus is an EU member state. And as a member of the EU, many of the internally decisions required leaders must receive first approval from Brussels. The second aspect – the EU is Russia’s main trading partner. Neither of the two can to decide unilaterally, without respecting certain commitments previously taken and without assuming certain economic and diplomatic consequences in case of slippage. Russia could not call into question the partnership with the EU to an offer rather unclear and unlikely from Cyprus. Then, I do not exclude that the Kremlin was probably happy that their citizens, holders of accounts with many zeros in banks in Cyprus, to receive a lesson. If Russia’s option was estimated right will see soon, because last week Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation at the EU, Vladimir Chizhov told Itar-Tass in an interview that Russia and the European Union “have practically completed the implementation of joint steps towards a transition to a visa-free regime” and they may announce this at the forthcoming Russia – EU summit this winter.
TWR: There are a lot of talks about Russia’s opposition to the pro-European options of Ukraine and the Republic Moldova. Is Eurasian Union a viable project?
G.I.: Yes. Depends what you mean by this “viable”. For now, though thought to bring economic benefits and to be a counterweight to the EU, Eurasian Union is primarily a political project. Or a political project has a limited lifespan. And it offers too few attractions and opportunities in terms of economic, hence more acute lack of adhesion. Ideology does not solve social problems. No wonder that the Customs Union member states require serious focus on the economy development. If Moscow will know to develop such a strategy, then it is possible that countries that today are turning to the EU to reassess the situation. Let’s be honest: the opportunities offered by the EU are not spectacular (if Ukraine will sign the treaty of association and free trade with the EU, it does not mean that it will begin to flow with milk and honey in the streets of Kiev. But it’s something other than continue discussion with Moscow, the latter always in the position of power). If Moscow will not convince that the Eurasian Union can generate economic and social benefits (its policies on migrants are equally ineffective and discriminatory as those of many of the EU countries), then perhaps there will be a period of time as a political project, without the chance to build something solid. The failure of EU policy starts from the fact that it was a political project without economic and social cohesion, despite the propaganda statements. Will Moscow know to avoid a similar mistake? Honestly, at this time, I have great doubts.
TWR: Seeing India cozying up with the US and Israel, Vladimir Putin decided to visit Pakistan searching for a new ally as Pakistan has its own disagreements with USA. Although the visit was later cancelled, do you think the policy of US enemies as Russia’s friends is correct? In South Asia can Russia afford to lose India for Pakistan, where former funds and jointly works on various projects with Russia and is also largest importer of Russian weapons?
G.I.: I think it’s not a very good strategy if we limit ourselves to think only in black and white colors (enemies of America – friends of Russia). The political and economic substance shows us that the things are much more diverse and counts many shades of gray. Each state actors which you listed has interests that it wants to promote, has goals it wants to see fulfilled, and according to them and the global context can opt for a partnership with Russia or with the West, namely America, European Union, or why not, one of the emerging economies of Latin America or Asia.
Returning to the essence: Pakistan has been a loyal USA partner. But, it seems that loyalty was not its strong point in its partner’s eyes. Pakistan’s extensive oil and gas reserves, largely located in Baluchistan province, as well as its pipeline corridors are considered strategic by the West alliance. According to Professor Michel Chossudovsky, in “The Destabilization of Pakistan”, Washington’s foreign policy course is to actively promote the political fragmentation and balkanization of Pakistan as a nation. He said that balkanization is intended for creating a free Baluchistan (with its huge natural resources and a coastline of 750 kms). The remaining coastline with Pakistan would be 250 kms. The warm waters have always been the great game objective. Whether the political and the military establishments of India are aware or not, India’s role carved out by the US is critically important for Pakistan’s denuclearization. India does comprehend very well that if Pakistan is divided and de-nuked, the power in Asia shifts in favour of… India, course. Since China is a fast rising economic and military power, it is essential that the West develop India as an equal economic and military power to counter China. This balance between India and China cannot be maintained if Pakistan is to remains a regional power.
In the same time, for Russia, India is a important partner, but also the importance of relations with Pakistan is already on the increase, if only given Afghanistan’s involvement in drug trafficking, since the bulk of the drugs end up in Russia and the rest go on to Europe. Following the withdrawal of the majority of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014, there will remain approximately 10,000 American servicemen (as of 1 January 2013, there were 66,000 American soldiers and officers in the country). The American contingent staying on in Afghanistan will, just as before, need supplies of food, fuel and other products and these will be delivered to Afghanistan via tried and tested routes – through Pakistan and Russia. This means that the coordination of actions between Moscow and Islamabad is also important from this angle… In general, improving relations between Russia and Pakistan could have a positive influence on the situation both in Afghanistan itself and in Central Asia. In addition, we are rather talking about an integrated approach of Russian foreign policy, a step forward from Central Asia to the Asia-Pacific region (somewhat considered a stronghold of the West), and not about a decrease in the importance of partnership with India. Remember, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum’s summit in Bali (Indonesia), Sergey Lavrov had a full agenda of bilateral meetings: with Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, Indonesia’s foreign minister Marty Natalegawa, Vietnamese Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Pham Binh Minh, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, Surapong Tovichakchaikul. Not to mention the fact that Vladimir Putin celebrated his birthday as a star.
TWR: Just because you reminded about Vladimir Putin… Noble peace price holder Obama has provoked Iran and Syria creating tensions not only in the region, but also worldwide. Recently Russian advocacy group has nominated Vladimir Putin for effectively handling the Syria issue and using platforms like G-20 summit to win the votes of other countries and avoid US led military intervention in Syria. But the Nobel winner was Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Do you think Vladimir Putin deserves to lay claim on Noble Peace Prize?
G.I.: I think it’s better to clarify something: according the official website of Nobel Foundation, the nominations to Nobel Prize must usually be submitted to the Committee by the beginning of February in the award year. Nominations postmarked and received after this date are included in the following year’s discussions – aspect applies to Putin’s nomination. Events are dynamic, there’s enough time until next year assessments. But, it is true, no one has explained how – surprising – the OPCW appeared on the list of nominations. However, I think it was a quick compromise decision. One designed to bind up the “wounds” of some prides hard hit on the shores of Neva. Due to its political nature, the Nobel Peace Prize has, for most of its history, been the subject of controversies. By the way, awarding the Nobel Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama has sparked a wave of criticism and ironic statements in many countries. Also, critics took the initiative of Russia Academy. The main argument of opponents: both leaders patronized armed conflicts. They are right, aren’t they?
Editor in Chief Power&Politics World
Gabriela Ionita is Editor in chief of Power&Politics World online journal, analyst in the field of International affairs (mainly connected with the Russian Federation and Community of Independent States). Also maintains a frequently updated her personal blog. She took her university degree in Communication and Public Relation at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies – Bucharest/Romania. Currently attending master studies in the field of Foreign languages and civilizations (Slavonic studies) at the Faculty of Philology from Al.I. Cuza University – Iasi).
Creating Perceptions: What is Really Happening with the Indian Economy?
In just a little over a year, Indians will take to the polling booths again to decide whether the Narendra Modi led BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government’s much anticipated second term as the ruling party will become a reality or not. Even though the present government has always been the favourite to retain its position, a heightened focus on the health of the Indian economy may or may not be in their best interest, and it all depends on which picture Indians choose to accept.
One picture, two different outlooks
IMF (International Monetary Fund) chief Christine Lagarde said earlier in October that “for the medium term, we see a very solid track ahead for the Indian economy”, assuaging some of the disconcertedness that has surrounded the Indian economy post two of the boldest moves ever attempted by any government since independence in the country: demonetisation and a massive rollout of the GST (goods and services tax) earlier in the year. The lingering effects of the disruption caused by these steps resulted in India’s GDP growth slowing down again in the latest quarter to 5.7%, with the country playing second fiddle to China, again. However, Lagarde has lauded the steps taken by the Indian government to digitise the economy and simplify the tax regime, dismissing any surprises in the drop in figures as “a little bit of short-term slowdown” which was to be expected following the government’s “monumental effort”.
Moreover, during his visit to the US to meet with investors and corporate leaders, Minister of finance Arun Jaitley reflected that there is a “positive mood” about India in the US, adding that Americans have a good understanding of the actions taken by the government and what they will lead to. That may very well be the case, but the picture of the economy within the borders is far less pronounced, and the division of its state among the citizens far more.
Soon after the figures for growth were in for the latest quarter, India’s former minister of finance Yashwant Sinha, who is also a member of BJP, singlehandedly contributed hugely to the already dwindling confidence of the public in the government’s approach when he wrote in a letter in his column on The Indian Express about “the mess the finance minister has made of the economy.” Citing issues ranging from the decline in private investment and distress in the agricultural sector to the loss of jobs across different sectors, he has blamed demonetisation and a poorly implemented GST for the poor state in which the economy finds itself. Consequently, the past month has seen a flurry of editorials and opinion pieces on what the true picture is of India’s economy, where it is headed, and whether the fears of the people are warranted or if these tiny setbacks will finally be followed by the promised prosperity.
The problems are real, but what are they?
Agriculture was one crucial sector of the economy hit badly. The agrarian crisis has worsened due to an unsatisfactory monsoon season after farm loan waivers were granted following massive protests across states. On the other hand, the GST rollout has hit hard the small and medium businesses which were vastly unprepared to cope with the government’s move. While the GST council meet earlier in October may have eased the tax burden on the SMEs, it is still some way to go before they can be pulled out of what Mr Sinha accurately describes an “existential crisis”. An improvement in growth would also require a timely recovery from the supply shock caused by the implementation of the GST, in the absence of which it would be more realistic to expect more quarters of slow growth. Another major problem is the dearth in the investment by the private sector with an increase in stalled projects for the fifth consecutive quarter. This, along with other engines of economic growth including private consumption has shown slowing signs as well. The government may argue that when they inherited the economy it wasn’t in its best shape either, but demonetisation and now GST, no matter how ambitious have created a scare among the people leading to alarms of low confidence ringing across all major sectors, which needs to be addressed.
The biggest concern perhaps for the government is the lack of jobs created. One of the promises made by the Modi government during the elections was the creation of millions of jobs. However, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy the workforce declined from 406.5 million at the end of last year to 405 million till April this year. Almost every indicator points out to a net loss of jobs for the year 2017. The telecom, construction, and textile industries among others have also laid off a large number of their workforce. A broken promise on this end is unlikely to be forgiven and forgotten that easy.
Where the government is right
As is always the case, the analysis here as well is a two-way street. To the credit of the government, some positive signs have shown with the first tax collection under GST exceeding government’s expectations of Rs. 91,000 crore. Other sources also show a bit of a revival in consumer spending. Moreover, irrespective of the expected duration of the slowdown, PM Modi has recognised the need to tackle some of the most prominent issues that plague the economy in order to get it back on track. It is for that purpose that the Economic Advisory Council to Prime Minister has been set up consisting of experts chosen by Mr Modi himself. “There is a consensus amongst us that there are various reasons that have contributed to a slowdown of growth rate. Our entire thrust would be on implementable decisions”, said the Council’s chairman Bibek Debroy. The EAC or EAC-PM has identified 10 issues to tackle in order to launch the economy towards a higher trajectory of growth. These are inclusive of but not limited to the areas of agriculture, the informal sector in the country, job creation, public expenditure, and monetary policy among others. The need for instituting an Economy Track Monitor has also been realised by the Council to suggest correct courses of actions based on heavy and informed assessments.
Making it right: which path to follow
What can the government do? What should be done? Division exists on the suggested courses of actions as well. One of the solutions to the problem would be an increase in the government spending, a suggestion that has found the support of many policymakers throughout the country. That, however, is not without its problems. The central bank has warned that such a fiscal stimulus may come at the cost of macroeconomic stability and even the EAC seems not to be in favour of it. The government also wants to stick to its fiscal deficit target of 3.2% of the GDP and is unlikely to trade off some of this stability for growth. In the event that it should achieve neither, it would be further behind the starting line, not making for a flattering image before the next general elections.
If not a fiscal stimulus, then what is the alternative? The answer is policy reforms in those sectors of the economy that have been plagued with poor performance in terms of both employment and growth – textiles, real estate and construction, and leather among others. A report from JP Morgan suggests that the government should focus on fixing the supply chains that were disrupted first due to demonetisation and then the GST by improving the regulatory framework for SMEs. Resolving the problem of non performing assets in banks is another area that the government needs to set its sights on. The EAC, in its next meeting may look at the sale of government stakes for the recapitalisation of banks as the right step to take.
Time prevails over all
“It is a mistake to think that there is some magical, perfect way to run a large-scale complex system like an economy”, says Jitendra Singh, emeritus professor of management at Wharton, on the subject of the growth of the Indian economy. Yashwant Sinha expressed the same sentiment while concluding his letter when he mentioned: “nobody has a magic wand to revive the economy overnight.” The problems that the Indian economy is facing did not start with demonetisation and GST, they were already headed this way. These steps may have accentuated some of the many problems that have slowed growth but it is also true that an excessive and undue amount of attention is being placed on them. The real problems of the economy are the ones that the EAC to PM Modi hope to tackle and only time will tell what the government is able to do. Unfortunately, time is what is most scarce for the government.
Changing The Rules of the Game: What to Expect When Social Media Dictates the News
Till about five years ago when I was still in high school and without a smartphone, a single faint thud against the front door every morning at roughly 7 AM would signal the arrival of the daily news digest for everyone in my house including myself. Even though I rarely read beyond the sports section and was more or less updated on every development with my favourite leagues, devouring those few pages was a daily ritual. Today, the newspaper arrives every morning in the same fashion and while the ritual has remained unchanged for most of my family, the need, as well as the want for it, does not exist for me.
My story is a phenomenon that resonates with millions of families across the world. The sources from where we get our news and the way we read it has been rapidly changing, in more ways for some than the others. When Pew Research Center conducted a study on ‘The Modern News Consumer‘ across the United States, it was found that 50% of adults from the ages of 18-29 get their news online, followed by television, radio and lastly with only 5% from print newspapers. Television was still reported to be the most dominant source of news among all age groups taken together. However, since it was mostly the choice of the older population, further changes over the next few years should be substantial and rapid. In another survey conducted by Pew this year, it was noted that about 67% of adults in the United States were getting at least some of their news from social media. While the numbers projected above are for the United States, there is no denying that an increasing population of young adults worldwide is getting more and more of its news from social media, and the same is intuitive given the average time a teen spends on social media is up to roughly two hours per day. The important questions however are:
1) whether social media is capable enough to take the baton as the foremost source of news and also
2) whether we as consumers of news are equipped enough to differentiate between what is news and what’s not.
Facebook, fake news, furore!
“Social media already provides more diverse viewpoints than traditional media ever has”, wrote Mark Zuckerberg in his 6,000-word manifesto in February this year on how Facebook plans to make the world better. There is little reason to doubt what he says. However, there are two sides to this coin as well since “the two most discussed concerns this past year were about diversity of viewpoints we see (filter bubbles) and accuracy of information (fake news)”, he also mentioned in the same address citing that alternate perspectives do not necessarily contribute to news and there is a need for a complete picture. Still, the greater evil here perhaps is the inaccuracy in information or what Zuckerberg calls it – ‘fake news’.
Zuckerberg’s address came soon after Facebook received heavy backlash for its role in the spread of fake news meant to divide the Americans ahead of the presidential elections. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, the pressure was sure to mount on the most popular social media site when it was caught in the midst of another incident relating to the spread of misinformation. Facebook’s safety check feature kicked in for citizens in Bangkok in December 2016 when an erroneous article about a bombing in a nearby shrine went viral. For users in the region, such a mistake can cause a pandemonium. With Facebook falling victim to the fake news again, the world was left evaluating their sources of consumption of news.
Trump’s tussles over Twitter
Let’s take a turn back to the United States yet again but away from Facebook. According to the same study conducted by Pew, about 74% of Twitter users have said that they receive their news from the social media site itself. Twitter allows you to keep a close tab on people you follow, and the problems associated with Facebook are largely avoidable. However, what happens when you are barred from following the president of your country on Twitter? Midway through the year, Donald Trump was sued by a free-speech group when he blocked a number of accounts on the grounds of criticism and dissent. With the White House spokesperson stating that tweets from Trump’s personal account were to be considered “official statements by the president of the United States”, the move was called unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment. The question then arises, will Donald Trump’s twitter account be treated as an official one, or despite the remarks from the White House will it be considered a personal one, in which case he may be allowed to block anyone from his account, just like any other person.
Just like Mark Zuckerberg had to shoulder responsibility for the unprecedented burden that social media all of a sudden now carries in disseminating the news, so did Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, although his role was different and just limited to admission of self-perceived guilt. Recognising that Twitter may have played an important role in having Trump elected as president, Williams publicly apologised when he said, “It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that. If it’s true that he wouldn’t be President if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”
Sharing the burden is your choice to make
Zuckerberg and Williams, among others, have been at the centre of a phenomenon where social media has taken over reporting and while Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites keep working on filters, resolutions, and artificial intelligence to help overcome the set of issues that this wave has brought with it, it does not mean there is no role for us to play. We are not all fed the same information as we were until a few years ago in the form of newspapers. Today we have fountains of news, information and opinions at the distance of a click, a tap or a scroll. Unfortunately, that also means that not everything that comes across our way is genuine, or to our liking, or even what we may be looking for. To that end, developing habits of open-mindedness, fact-checking and impartiality is imperative on our part.
When we are biased in favour of or against a particular idea or entity, we are often willing to skip checking of facts from sources we may feel are dubious or biased themselves if the news suits our allegiance on the matter. That is where impartiality jumps in. For example, as a young Indian adult when seeking an update on the situation in Kashmir I am aware that the dailies of the two different countries (India and Pakistan) may be under the political influence to portray the news as per the wishes of their respective countries’ governments. Keeping that in mind I may opt to read news from sources from both the countries individually, or maybe just not get carried away with the political undertones in the report from either of them to paint the opposition in a bad light and focus just on the facts. Similarly, while reading an article on the border dispute between India and China on the Chinese daily Global Times, I have to keep in mind the controversial journalism and the pro-government stance that the daily is often known to take, or perhaps get my news from some other source.
Social media has opened the doors to information and connectivity like never before for people all over the world. In the strife to make different platforms for dissemination of news better equipped to make us even better informed, we would do well to strive to also keep ourselves toe to toe with it.
A Lovers’ Quarrel: What Now for India and China?
When China’s Consul General to India Zheng Xiyuan addressed a gathering in the city of Mumbai earlier in the week he made an interesting comparison on the relationship between the two Asian giants. “Relation between China and India is just like the monsoon season,” he said. “There are different levels of rainfall in different years. And sometimes you have clouds as well.” It is not surprising how apt the statement is especially with regard to the past three years which have seen the tiger and the dragon compete for geopolitical influence in Asia and beyond and tussle over longstanding territorial issues. The latter of the two culminated in the 70-day long military standoff in Doklam/Donglang, which has since then deescalated. However, the monsoon sometimes surprises with a few delayed showers, and so has Beijing with a sudden change in its rhetoric towards New Delhi, from one of visible aggression to one which is seemingly cooperative.
Clashes between the two kept analysts across the globe busy, with the possibility of a full-scale military conflict a favourite topic of discussion for the political enthusiasts among the uninitiated. The Doklam episode was the final among a series of recurring conflicts. The most prominent among them included India snubbing China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit in May flagging sovereignty issues due to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); a key portion of the OBOR which runs through a region of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan and claimed by India, and China’s repeated blocking of India’s move to get the chief of Pakistan based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed listed as a global terrorist with the UN. The relations had already taken a downturn with India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group being blocked by China on a consistent basis. Added to that, tensions reached a high with India’s decision to allow the Dalai Lama, seen as a separatist by China to visit the Tawang region which is claimed by China as Southern Tibet and by India as a part of its state Arunachal Pradesh. This happened despite repeated warnings from the Chinese that the visit would cause serious damage to diplomatic ties between the two countries. Did it?
The action-packed episodes are in the past now and recent developments on the world stage are worth a second look. With no new conflicts brewing for the time being and a precarious lid on the existing ones, it has been nothing short of intriguing to see the evident tone of cooperation between the two frenemies since the Doklam issue has been resolved. China seems to have made good, even if ever so slightly, on blocking the move to designate the JeM chief as a globally designated terrorist by condemning the Pakistan based terror group along with the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba at the recent BRICS summit held in Xiamen. While the move has likely and arguably been made to protect its own investments in the country and doesn’t have any visible bearing on India’s repeated efforts as yet, the step is significant in projecting Beijing’s new viewpoint on the fight against terror based outfits on a global level which previously was limited to vague statements sighting requirement of solid evidence and further communication and coordination between the involved countries. Beijing has also snubbed Pakistan in its effort to internationalise the issue of Kashmir, maintaining its position that the matter is for them and India to resolve on their own. While there has been no change of position on the issue from before and there is no strain of ties between the two ‘all-weather allies’, the tone of the statement is a change to be welcomed by New Delhi in its prominent stand against terrorism on both the national and international level.
Speaking of change, India along with Japan remained relatively quiet in the South China Sea conflict, making no explicit mention of it in their joint statement when the Prime Ministers of both the countries met earlier this September. Improvements in ties aside, another likely reason could be that the issue has taken a backseat with the focus of China, Japan as well as that of the United States on the heightening tension in the Korean Peninsula.
However, with Trump’s undiverted attention on Kim, the South East Asian countries involved in the conflict may find it difficult to stand up to the Chinese on their own, should Beijing choose to push even further with its activities in the contested waters. Therein lies an important lesson for India. “The Chinese have demonstrated a pattern of creeping encroachment”, India’s former Ambassador to Beijing Ashok K. Kantha has said, and India would do well to remember that. Indians may see the disengagement from both the sides in Doklam as a diplomatic victory over the Chinese but the conflict is not yet resolved. China’s perceived soft behaviour may merely be an understanding on their part that perhaps the time to act is not now, more so that cooperation is the way ahead; something which has continuously and explicitly been implied by both the sides over and over considering what else is at stake.
As two large and quickly growing economies, India and China’s relationship with each other has been heavy enough invested in by both the countries for them to know different. This is not just evident from the business end, but also from the mixing of the two cultures as well. Bollywood movies are enjoying huge popularity among the Chinese audience. At the same time across the border, Mandarin as a language has acquired more importance over the years, with schools offering the same as an optional language growing in number. Opinions of the people on each other may change every now and then from favourable to not as much in polls, yet there is no denying their mingling.
In this lovers’ quarrel, as is with any other, while the occasional bickering is unlikely to give way (at least in the foreseeable future), reconciliation is perhaps always the key and a quick one for that matter. This is known by both, even if they may forget from time to time.
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