Asia in Review Archive 2018 (January – June)


Date of AiR edition

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26 June 2018

Maldives’ UNSC non-permanent seat: India voted against, ensured it lost

(jm) Indian-Maldivian ties could deteriorate further after the Times of India revealed that India may have worked to ensure that its island neighbor loses the vote for a seat at the United Nation Security Council. While Male has always claimed to be supported by India, it appeared that not only did India voted against the Maldives, but also that it worked to make sure Indonesia would get the seat. [The Times of India]

26 June 2018

India-US strategic partnership set to touch new milestones

(am) The strategic partnership between India and US is set to touch new milestones as India is about to sign two more bilateral military treaties, obtain helicopters worth $3 billion and take part for the first time in a joint tri-service amphibious exercise.

Top sources from the Indian government revealed that there has been a significant development between the two countries towards concluding the Communications, Compatibility and Security Arrangement (COMCASA) and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA). [The Times of India]

26 June 2018

India, Pakistan: UN calls for intervention in Kashmir

(ot) The United Nations (UN) released its first ever comprehensive report on Kashmir. It calls for a Commission of Inquiry to conduct an independent international investigation on human rights violations in Kashmir. This indicates possible future international humanitarian and political intervention. Experts say that the recent development takes the Kashmir conflict to the top of the international agenda as well as reaffirm the right to Kashmiris to decide their future. [Pakistan Today]

Pakistani Foreign Spokesperson said the country welcomed the recommendation, saying that country is ready to facilitate the Commission’s visit, given that India is also ready to allow the Commission to access Jammu and Kashmir. On its’ part, India was unfavorable of the report and lodged a strong protest against the UN. [First Post]

26 June 2018

Indian government bans offshoots of al-Qaeda and IS

(am) The Indian government has banned the latest branches of al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) after discovering that they were radicalising Indian youth for ‘global jihad’ and inspiring terror acts on Indian interests.

An official gazette notification was released which stated that Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham-Khorasan (ISIS-K), an Afghanistan-based affiliate of the IS, and Al-Qaida in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has been banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). [Deccan Herald]

26 June 2018

Indian anti trafficking women activists raped after staging street play

(am) Five female anti-trafficking activists working for an organization supported by Christian missionaries were gang-raped at gunpoint in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand. They were performing a street play to raise awareness of human trafficking when people attacked the male members of the team and took the five women and raped them before releasing them. [BBC News] It is believed that the rapists were angered over the activists’ arriving in the village without their approval. They belonged to the anti-establishment self-rule movement “Pathalgadi”, which is renowned in several tribal villages in the Indian state. Its members don’t acknowledge the authority of the state or national governments in their villages and have prohibited the entry of outsiders without their approval.  [CBS News]

17 June 2018

Closer India-Vietnam defense ties

(ls) On the occasion of Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to Hanoi, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang urged leaders of the two countries to implement defense co-operation, including delegation exchange and collaboration in personnel training, defense industry, information-technology, strategic research and UN peacekeeping. [Vietnam News]

The meeting took place against the background of India’s deepening relations with Southeast Asian countries. Two weeks ago, India prime minister Modi was on three-state tour to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. On 21 May, three Indian naval ships began a five-day visit to the Vietnamese city of Da Nang. Defense issues were also on the agenda during the Vietnamese president’s visit to India in March. Defense ties with Vietnam have grown in recent years to include also the training of personnel, capacity-building funding and equipment, coast guard collaboration, and pacts on areas such as white shipping and outer space. [The Diplomat]

17 June 2018

India condemns Maldives over Ex-President Gayoom’s sentence

(am) India expressed its deep dismay over the Maldivian court sentencing the former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the chief justice of its Supreme Court to prison terms in what India criticized as an unfair trial (see above). India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that this development had raised doubts about the sincerity of the Maldives to defend the rule of law and that it also called into question the credibility of the entire process of presidential elections scheduled for September this year.

Ties between the two countries have been tense for months [Maldives Independent 1] and India’s latest remarks are expected to further sour the relations. [The Times of India] [The Indian Express] [Maldives Independent 2]

17 June 2018

Pakistan-India relations: Islamabad rejects New Delhi’s protest over Azad Jammu Kashmir constitutional amendments

(ot) The Pakistani government rejected India’s opposition to the amendment to the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Interim Constitution (13th Amendment) Act 2018 and the country’s claim over Indian Occupied Kashmir (IoK).

The Amendment, approved earlier this month, transferred most of the powers earlier exercised by the AJK Council to the AJK Legislative Assembly and the government. India lodged strong protest over the abolishment of Kashmir council’s administrative and financial powers, reducing it to an advisory body. In response, Pakistan said that India’s claim over Kashmir as an integral part of the country has no legal basis. It cited the disputed status of Kashmir and the right to self-determination of the Kashmiri people enshrined in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions accepted by both countries and the international community. [Pakistan Today, The New Indian Express]

In a latest development  of strained Pakistan-India ties, India on Sunday resumed military operations against rebels in disputed Kashmir after ending a 30-days unilaterally declared truce during Ramadan. Despite the truce, the region witnessed a months-long escalation of violence. [Channel News Asia]

17 June 2018

India: 55 million pushed into poverty because of health spending in one year

(dql) According to a study of experts from Public Health Foundation of India, 5 million Indians were driven into poverty in a single year (2011-2012) because of being forced to shoulder costs for healthcare and 38 million of them fell below the poverty line due to spending on medicines alone. The study further noted that while India’s Drug Price Control Order 2013 brought all essential drugs in the National List of Essential Medicines under price control, these constituted only 20% of the retail pharmacy market and that the sales volume of many of the drugs brought under price control has decreased. [The Times of India]

10 June 2018

Sino-Russian deepening relations: Xi and Putin celebrate close China-Russia ties amid growing cooperation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization

(dql) Ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit at the weekend, China and Russia on Friday concluded contracts for nuclear cooperation projects worth 3.13 billion USD and a 1 billion USD industrial investment fund. [South China Morning Post] On this occasion, Chinese President Xi and his Russian counterpart Putin reassured their pledge that their countries would support each other on key global issues. China’s state Xinhua News quotes Xi confirming “that the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership is mature, firm and solid” and that “[n]o matter how international situations change, China and Russia always firmly support each other in defending their respective core interests”. [Xinhua]

The demonstration of closing ranks between both countries facing strained relations with the USA was reinforced by Putin being the first to be presented friendship medal, China’s highest award for outstanding contributions of foreign experts to the economic and social progress of the country. [The Straits Times]

The concord between Beijing and Moscow who are jointly leading the Shanghai Cooperation Organization stands in stark contrast to the disunity displayed between US President Trump and the other leaders over at the G7 summit on Friday and Saturday culminating in Trump’s rejection to endorse an joint communique on trade, environment and the Iran nuclear deal after the seven leaders appeared to have agreed on such a communique. [Deutsche Welle]

In a latest development reflecting growing cooperation between member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China, India, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan), China and India signed two MoUs at the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit, under which China agrees to share hydrological data of the Brahmaputra River, whose origin is in Tibet, to predict floods and to import non-Basmati rice from India, a step which increases India’s share on the Chinese (the world’s largest) rice market and expected to decrease the ballooning trade deficit with China. [Financial Express]

Furthermore, India earlier this week reiterated that it will continue to push for the purchase of Russian-made S-400 Triumf advanced Air Defense Systems despite possible US punitive actions following the US Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) which punishes countries and entities engaged in transactions with the defence or intelligence establishment of Russia. [The Diplomat]

This reassurance of Indian-Russian cooperation comes a few weeks after the summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Putin at which they agreed “that the Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership between India and Russia is an important factor for global peace and stability” and that both countries “recognised each other’s respective roles as major powers with common responsibilities for maintaining global peace and stability.” [The Quint]

10 June 2018

Maldives/India: Deterioration of bilateral ties

(jm) The Maldivian government asked India to remove its second ‘gift’ naval chopper after it requested the same for the first helicopter 2 months ago. The island nation doesn’t feel comfortable with the presence of Indian navy staff who are stationed for the maintenance. These choppers were gifted by India for maritime surveillance but were located in Laamu and Addu. It is believe that China is considering planning ports there. [The Times of India]

At the same time, the majority leader of the Maldivian parliament was denied entry into India. He was accused of “bullying” the Indian nation. [The Wire]

These two events reflect the current deterioration of the bilateral ties between the two countries.

10 June 2018

Pakistan asked by World Bank to accept India’s proposal for neutral expert in dam dispute

(am) The World Wank has asked Pakistan to step down from its traditional stand on Kishanganga and Ratle dam dispute and to negotiate with India’s proposal of appointing a neutral expert. Pakistan was asked to withdraw its plea for setting up a court of arbitration.

Pakistan has incessantly opposed the construction of dams in Indian’s Jammu and Kashmir state claiming it as a misdemeanour of a World Bank-mediated six-decade-old treaty on the sharing of waters from the Indus and its tributaries. India, on the other hand, reckons that the dams are not violating the 1960 Indus Water Treaty. [Dawn] [The Express Tribune]

3 June 2018

India, Indonesia agree to step up maritime defense cooperation

(am) India and Indonesia agreed to step up their defence and maritime cooperation, raising the level of their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

Highlights of the visit included India agreeing to develop the strategically important Indonesian port Sabang in the Indian Ocean, close to the Andamans and the two sides unveiling a vision document for the Indo-Pacific region, the first of its kind between India and a south-east Asian country, dealing with an area where China is increasing its footprint. [Hindustan Times]

3 June 2018

Bangladesh-India relations: ‘a golden era’ of bilateral relations

(jm) After the recent visit of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in India, she and Prime Minister Modi emphasized their wish for deepening the bilateral ties with the latter seeing Dhaka-Delhi relationships even going through a golden era. [Dhaka Tribune]

3 June 2018

India-Nepal joint military exercise begins in Uttarakhand

(am) A joint military exercise between India and Nepal with soldiers from both countries conducting battalion level joint training sharing experiences in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations.

The military exercise, which is set to conclude on June 12, is called ‘Surya Kiran’ and is conducted alternatively in India and Nepal every six months. [The Times of India]

3 June 2018

Indian/Pakistan commanders: fully implement 2003 ceasefire pact

(ot/am) In an attempt to curb cross-border hostilities the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) of India and Pakistan respectively agreed to “fully implement” the ceasefire pact of 2003 in “letter and spirit” forthwith to stop cross border firings in Jammu & Kashmir.

The two military commanders reviewed the prevailing situation along the Line of Control and International Border in J&K during a conversation over a hotline that was initiated by the Pakistani DGMO.

Following the conversation between Indian DGMO Lt Gen Anil Chauhan and Pakistan’s Maj Gen Sahir Shamshad Mirza, the two armies issued identical statements saying both sides agreed to fully implement the 15-year-old ceasefire understanding. [Bloomberg]

The latest development came after rising tensions and some of the worst violence in years between the two nuclear-armed neighbors along the established borders since September 2016. A surge in ceasefire violations have been observed in the first five months of 2018, breaking all annual records since 2003. Over 150 civilians and troops from both nations have been killed as a result. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced. [Al Jazeera] [The Times of India]

The agreement also followed another rare ceasefire announced by the Indian Army in Kashmir for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, ending mid-June. However, observers are not optimistic that the agreement will be strictly followed, given the absence of larger peace talks. Many analysts believe that the latest agreement was pursued by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to strengthen its alliance with the local government in Jammu and Kashmir, which has become increasingly uneasy as the situation deteriorated. [The New York Times]

3 June 2018

India, Russia completed negotiations on S-400 air defense deal

(ot) India and Russia have finalized their deal for the purchase of five units of Russian-made S-400 advanced air defense systems, despite possible sanctions from the US. The deal is likely to be publicly announced during a summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled for this October. [The Diplomat] [Hindustan Times]

3 June 2018

US Pacific Command changed in US Indo-Pacific Command as a nod to India

(ot/am) The United States military has renamed its oldest and largest military command, the Pacific Command, to US Indo-Pacific Command in a largely symbolic move underscoring the growing importance of India to the Pentagon. The unit, formed after World War II, is responsible for all US military activities in the greater Pacific region with about 375,000 civilian and military personnel.

Speaking during a change-of-command ceremony with Admiral Philip Davidson assuming leadership of the command from Admiral Harry Harris, who is US President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to South Korea, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said: “In recognition of the increasing connectivity between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, today (May 31) we rename the US Pacific Command to US Indo-Pacific Command.” [South China Morning Post]

He added: “Relationships with our Pacific and Indian Ocean allies and partners have proven critical to maintaining regional stability.”

The US which is trying to get a foothold in India’s large defense market and to counter China’s emerging power across the Indo-Pacific domain. In response to the renaming, Chinese defense ministry spokesman announced its awareness. [Al Jazeera] [Channel News Asia]

3 June 2018

India: Asserting its role based on ‘strategic autonomy’ and with a view on multi-polarity

(hg) After his cordial words to President Putin in Moscow last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has now stressed in Singapore that India’s principle of “strategic autonomy” remains strong. Drawing an equivalence in ties with Russia, the U.S. and China, he cautioning against a “return to the age of great power rivalries” when giving his keynote address at the opening of the 17th Asian Security Summit of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. [The Hindu]

On India´s “Indo-Pacific” strategy which is often seen as a platform to contain China’s expansion Modi stressed a vision for an inclusive Indo-Pacific and highlighted the relationship between India and China as key to a positive future in the region: “I firmly believe that Asia and the world will have a better future when India and China work together in trust and confidence, sensitive to each other’s interests.” Acknowledging geopolitical competition, Modi also maintained that bilateral cooperation between India and China is expanding. [CNBC]

Referring to relations between his country and other great powers like Russia, the US, and China, Modi made clear that he believed India, like Singapore didn’t stand “behind one power or the other” to reiterate “President Putin and I shared our views on the need for a strong multi-polar world order for dealing with the challenges of our times”. He added however, “At the same time, India’s global strategic partnership with the United States has overcome the hesitations of history and continues to deepen across the extraordinary breadth of our relationship”. [The Hindu] 

In context of the Shangri-La Dialogue, Indian Prime Minister Modi has also taken some foreign policy and security steps in relation to Southeast Asia in recent days. With Indonesia he signed an agreement to develop the port of Sabang that overlook the western entrance to the Strait of Malacca. With Singapore he concluded an agreement on logistical support for Indian naval ships, submarines and military aircraft during visits. With newly elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who has been critical of Chinese influence in Malaysia he held talks, altogether cemented ties with three strategically important ASEAN member states.

But India’s envisioned footprint is supposed to be wider. Last month, three Indian warships staged exercises with the Vietnamese navy for the first time in the South China Sea, which is claimed almost wholly by China. Moreover, Vietnamese submariners are trained in India, while both countries have increased intelligence sharing and expressed commitments to expand weapons sales. Before, India signed an agreement for access to the port of Duqm on Oman’s southern coast, which increases the Indian navy´s operational capabilities in the western Indian Ocean. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, India has successfully test-fired its indigenously developed nuclear capable long range ballistic Agni-5 surface-to-surface missile with its strike range of 5,000 km for the sixth time. [Money Control]

3 June 2018

India: Copper plant closed after police shot 13 protesters

(am) India’s Tamil Nadu state has ordered the closure of Sterlite Copper, country’s largest copper plant controlled by London-listed Vedanta Resources, after last week’s police firing which killed 13 protesters. [Financial Times]

The order permanently closes the plant under the Water Act 1974 in the larger public interest with immediate effect. [The Hindu]

The decision was made despite serious economic ramifications. The affected company´s CEO claims the closure  will affect 30,000 jobs and will push India`s annual import bill by an estimated $2 billion. [Zee Business]

3 June 2018

India´s ruling BJP party loses by-elections on federal and state level

(ot) Indian Prime Minister’s Bharatiya Jatana Party (BJP) suffered a serious setback in recent by-elections for seats in Parliament and state assemblies in key states, namely Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra. The BJP has also lost its simple majority in the lower house of the Indian Parliament, remaining with 271 out of 543-seats. Altogether, the BJP won 1 out of 4 by-elections for the parliament and 1 out of 10 for state assemblies. This outcome puts some pressure on PM Modi who will ruin for second five-year term in the national elections coming up in 11 months. [Al Jazeera] [Star Tribune]

The trend on state level is significant given the importance of the three affected states. Bihar is India´s third-largest state by population, Maharashtra the second-largest, wealthiest and most industrialized, Uttar Pradesh the most populous and arguably politically most important one. Four years ago, the BJP swept Uttar Pradesh with its over 220 million inhabitants, winning 73 of 80 seats, as the rural poor turned their back at the Congress party.

Now, Modi faces bitter criticism from farmers for not having sufficiently improved the living standards in the countryside, where 70 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people live. Last year, Modi’s popularity has fallen by 12 percentage points among farmers, according to survey published last week. [Money Control]

If the economy is not improving over the next months, even more determined religion-based identity politics might prove to be the last resort for the BJP.

27 May 2018

India’s new stance on Rohingyas as a new regional diplomacy effort

(ot) India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called for a “safe, secure, sustainable” return of the Rohingya refugees during her visit to Myanmar and reiterated India’s readiness to help Myanmar. Regarding India´s relations with Bangladesh, the new commitment is seen by some observers as a possible shift not only in India’s ties with Dakha but also concerning its reclamation of a more assertive regional role.

In any case, the Rohingya crisis turns out to be a continuous test of India’s neighborhood diplomacy. Since the crisis emerged in August 2017, India has remained comparatively silent, focusing quite rigidly on the securitization of its own borders to repel the influx of potentially radicalized Muslim fighters. Especially for Bangladesh, despite India’s provision of some humanitarian assistance, India could have contributed more and more positively to the crisis. For India, both Bangladesh and Myanmar are critical for the peace and stability of India’s own conflict-ridden northeast. [The Diplomat]

27 May 2018

Indian warships reach Vietnam for first ever joint naval exercise

(am) Three warships of the Indian Navy, including a multi-role frigate and a corvette, have anchored at the Tien Sa Port in Vietnam to partake in the country´s first-ever bilateral naval exercise. The visit is a part of the ongoing operational deployment of the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet ships to South East Asia and the North West Pacific region. [Sputnik News] [The Hindu]

27 May 2018

India-Indonesia relations before Modi’s visit

(ls) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will begin a five-day visit on Tuesday, 29 May, to Indonesia and Singapore, two of India’s strategically key partners in the region, with an aim to deepen defence ties, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. India and Indonesia are likely to sign a pact on defence cooperation as a similar agreement inked years ago had expired. In Singapore, Modi will hold bilateral talks with his Singaporean counterpart and deliver the key note address at the Shangri-la dialogue. The US, Australia and several other leading powers favor a greater role by India in the Indo-Pacific region. [The Economic Times]

According to an analysis by Harsh V. Pant, the rapidly evolving regional strategic realities are forcing India and Indonesia to coordinate their policies ever more closely and after years of neglect. Jakarta has been recognizing the role that New Delhi can play in structuring a favourable balance of power in the region. Joint naval exercises and patrols, and regular port calls by their respective navies, have become a regular feature of the India-Indonesia relationship in recent years. India has also become a major source of military hardware for Jakarta. [Observer Research Foundation]

27 May 2018

India, Russia in strong relations, emphasizing a ‘multipolar’ world

(ot) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended his visit to Moscow with a cordial embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin praising both countries’ strong relations. Both leaders stressed to have “agreed on the importance of building a multipolar world order.”

Despite weakening economic ties as a result of the growing Russia-China relationship and the intensifying Indian – American ties, the sun seems to shine on Russian – Indian ties again as well. After all, India still received 62% of its imported weapons over the past five years from Russia. An indicator for the actual state of bilateral ties between India and Russia on the one hand and the US on the other will be the fate of the still unconcluded Indian purchase of five Russian S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile systems. According to US law, India would need to receive a waiver for US imposed sanctions on Russia.

After PM Modi’s recent and similar successful visit to China in late April, where Modi and Xie reaffirmed their relationship as an important element in the “balance of global power”, a Russia-India-China trilateral framework on global governance might revive. To be viewed as a result to current US foreign policy, such a development could exert significant effects on the state of world order. [CNN]

27 May 2018

Eurasia: Shifting geopolitical realities from Europe over Russia to India

(hg) After President Trump´s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, the US is dramatically losing geopolitical ground in Europe and Asia over the past weeks.

Clearest indicator of a revered trend is Russia´s international position after staunch US ally UK hastily built an anti – Russia alliance after the Skripal spy affair, the poisoning of the former British spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March. The US, UK and French attacks on Syria for the alleged use of gas against civilians by the Syrian government which is militarily supported by Russia and Iran, reinforced this front with the concerted Western response resembling Cold War times.

Surprisingly quick though, this situation took a drastic turn with the international response to the US announcement to leave the Iran nuclear deal and its threats to impose massive sanctions against Iran. All other partners to the deal immediately declared to still support it, including France and Germany triggering also a rethinking of their relations with Russia and China, also partners to the nuclear deal. Against this background, recent trips of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron to Russia represent a switch in their engagement with Moscow.

After Chancellor Merkel had what might be described a ‘rational discourse’ with President Putin in Moscow, French President Macron even topped that with demonstratively cordial manners when meeting Putin last week.

That is was more than just a nice façade is evidenced by France’s Total sealing a gas deal with Russian Novatek, owned by Putin’s friend Gennady Timchenko, at the St Petersburg Economic Forum at the same time. [National Public Radio] – Not accidently, Total is currently threatened by possible US sanctions concerning its $2 billion investment in the Iranian South Pars gas field.

Moreover, the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum was a success in other regards as well. After all, President Putin could gather French President Macron together with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde at a plenary session of the forum demonstrating that he is back on the international stage.

An important message for Prime Minister Abe was Putin´s proposal to jointly look for a solution that would allow Japan and Russia to finally conclude a World War II peace treaty. [Euronews] In context of Abe´s visit to Russia the Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry highlighted Russia-Japan economic ties had gained an unprecedented momentum. [TASS].

Most important however, is the conspicuous re-affirmation of Indian – Russian friendship on occasion of an informal summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Putin.

Pictures of the meeting that are telling of a fully relaxed and cordial atmosphere between the two leaders are underscored by Modi´s message to Putin: “Russia is India’s old-time friend. We share long-standing historical ties, and Mr. President is my personal friend and a friend of India” added by the affirmation: “For the past four years, you and I stood side by side in the bilateral format and on the international stage … I am very glad that it was so.”

For President Trump, this affirmation of Indian – Russian friendship counts as a double punch. First, after having engaged Russia internationally in a decisive zero-sum game manner, Russia re-gaining an important friend means an according loss for Trump. Second, the US have to fear to lose a cornerstone of their own strategy to consolidate Asia´s geopolitical order against China. At least at the moment, a firm anti-China front seems to be only wishful thinking after month of promising developments. Now, after especially India seemed to have decisively turned towards the US and Putin having been almost isolated internationally, the situation changed since the escalation of the Skripal affair, followed by more aggressive US policies on trade and Iran.

Before visiting Moscow, the Indian Prime Minister hold informal talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping as well due to which both leaders relaxed bilateral relations, showing also that Delhi sided with China in the emerging shadow trade war with the US. Now, India is demonstrating that it wants to continue its partnerships with both Russia and Iran. Ties with Russia represent a long-standing and robust relationship of neighbouring countries with India having extensive energy and defence relationship with Russia. Russian and Indian economic ties have just experienced a highlight last year with the biggest foreign acquisition ever in India when Russian oil major Rosneft closed a $12.9bn purchase of Indian refiner Essar Oil. Diplomatically, Russia has also facilitated India’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and endorsed its demand for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. Similar to Russia, Iran is another old friend of Delhi which has strong strategic interest to keep this friendship. [Al Jazeera 1]

While India will probably try to not let its friendship to Russia and Iran impact the more nascent ties with the US, the US seem not to have priority for India anymore. In other words: If the US is actually pursuing its relationship to India as a zero-sum-game regarding Iran and Russia, Delhi cannot be expected to side with Washington.

The general picture indicates that US foreign policy under President Trump  and National Security Advisor Bolton seems to have overplayed its – originally favourable – hand, exerting too early too much pressure on too many allies on too unpredicted terms.

A first fissure emerged in the wake of the Skripal affair whose handling prompted China to explicitly side with Russia at the April security conference in Moscow where the Chinese defense minister unanticipatedly declared effectively military solidarity with Russia in direction of Washington. India´s defence minister acknowledged at the same occasion that “Russia has re-established its role and influence in global strategic and defence matters”, a remark that implied appreciation for the Russian role in Syria.

Then came both the withdrawal of the US from the Iran nuclear deal and the increasingly aggressive US trade policy. In its wake, India is facing hefty import tariffs while sanctions on Iran upset India’s relations with Tehran, including its operations and investments at a strategic port project in Iran. Currently, Delhi is still waiting for an exemption from higher tariffs on steel and aluminium imports to the US which is also imposing tougher visa rules that target India’s information technology industry. [Al Jazeera 1]

At the same, India felt its new friend´s pressure already when dealing with Russia over the acquisition of the state-of-the-art S-400 missile defence system facing the threat by the US Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.

The chief of India’s national security advisory board and former Indian envoy to Russia analysed the situation as follows: “We are witness to a very acrimonious standoff between the US and Russia which has gone on to levels that didn’t prevail even during the Cold War. These anti-Russia sanctions have an extra-territorial applicability – this draws in everybody”. [Al Jazeera 1]

Currently, India is obviously rethinking its foreign policy and in the meanwhile walking a tightrope between Moscow and Washington, that might soon be ended to the disadvantage of India – US ties. That, however, could contribute to a sustaining revival of the BRICS – the association of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – plus Iran.

 Anyway, a next step in Indian – Russian relationships is a mega economic Summit of 100 CEOs as a follow up of Prime Minister Modi´s to Sochi. [The Economic Times]

Meanwhile, Russia´s position in Europe is also improving with strategic projects such as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline running under the Baltic Sea and TurkStream crossing the Black Sea both advancing. Both Germany and Turkey, Gazprom’s most significant customers, seems to resist pressure from the Trump administration to refrain from the pipeline projects.

Additionally, the European Commission has ruled in an anti-trust case against Gazprom which looks favourable for both sides. While Gazprom had to bow to Brussels’ conditions, the Commission eventually accepted a settlement offer instead of imposing a hefty penalty which could have been as high as 10 percent of Gazprom’s turnover as the Commission did with Google which was handed out a record-breaking 2.4 billion-euro fine for violating the EU’s anti-trust law. [Al Jazeera 2]

Moreover, Russia’s economy seems to be better than casual observers might expect regarding tough sanctions and a political isolation that, however, seems to run to be markedly softened. For Russia, the major economic risk would be a sharp drop in global energy prices, which are on the one hand currently on the upswing while a drop would also hit major US ally Saudi Arabia severely. [CNBC]

The upcoming World Cup in Russia might also turn out to further stabilize the positive trend for Russia with President Macron having already announced to come to Russia if the French team makes it to the final. These changes notwithstanding, there is serious pressure on Russia remaining. Besides the US, this pressure is mainly driven by the UK with her majesty’s foreign secretary having even compared the Russian World Cup with Hitler’s 1936 Olympics.

Earlier this month it was reported that the UK plans to use four major summits – those of the G7, G20, NATO and EU – to deepen the UK/US led alliance against Russia. Calling Russia’s response to the gas attacks in Syria and Salisbury a turning point that warrants a broad Russian containment strategy, aim of the British advancement is a comprehensive strategy and to urge a rethink over traditional diplomatic dialogue with Moscow. [The Guardian]. If the UK will continue with this plan remains to be seen, a great deal of its momentum is currently gone.

British politicians are, however, not alone in claiming Russia would make traditional diplomacy ineffective. They are especially supported by some Eastern European governments such as Poland or some Baltic politicians. [The Guardian]

While the debate over the claimed Russian or Syrian responsibility for the gas attacks in Salisbury and Douma is silting and convincing evidence still lacking, the Netherlands and Australia have just accused Russia of being directly responsible for the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 which was shot in 2014 over the Ukraine. Moreover, putting some real pressure on Russia, NATO is advancing two exercises “Atlantic resolve” and “Sabre Strike” that will improve interoperability of NATO forces and serve NATO’s deterrence mission towards Russia. ‘Saber Strike’ is an annual, U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise focusing at te Baltic states that will take place in multiple locations throughout Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland May 28-June 24. This year, 11,000 U.S. and NATO military members from 20 countries will participate including forces from Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia, the United Kingdom and the United States. [US Army Europe 1]

Held since 2010 which once involved only 2000 troops, the 2016 exercise was criticized by German Federal President and then Foreign Minister Steinmeier as a provocative confrontation policy. [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung] Atlantic Resolve is a demonstration of the U.S. commitment to collective security through a series of actions designed to reassure of America’s dedication to stability in the region in light of the Russian intervention in Ukraine. [US Army Europe 2]

In sum, global order has manifested in the last two weeks as even more fluid and open to surprises with the latest US moves concerning especially Iran causing some flurry adjustments of diplomatic relations all across the globe. More important, there is a possibility of sustaining change with unpredictable impact for global order while major conflicts remain unresolved.

27 May 2018

India: Congress’ final victory in Karnataka as a major setback for BJP

(ot) India´s governing party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), suffered a setback after a state election in the federal state of Karnatka. After BJP won 104 seats out of 222 it emerged as the single largest party but fell short of a simple majority necessary to form the government. After having been invited by the governor to form the next government and given 15 days to form a majority, the oppositional Congress party and a local ally, Janata Dal (Secular) party, claimed to command 117 seats in the new assembly. [Asia Times 1]

In a latest twist, India’s Supreme Court has ordered BJP now to conduct the so-called floor test to prove its majority in the state assembly reducing the initially granted timeframe from 15 to 2.5 days. After failing the test, the newly appointed BJP governor announced his resignation leading the Congress-led party coalition to make its nominee the new Chief Minister. [Asia Times 2, The Hindu]

For the BJP, to gain control over Karnataka would have been a strategically important step regarding the party´s presence in India´s South with the general elections in 2019 ahead.

The Karnataka election proves not only the intensity of the BJP – Congress rivalry once more but also raises concern whether the rules of the electoral game are sufficiently clear and internalized by the various actors. [Time Magazine, Foreign Policy]

20 May 2018

Myanmar/India: India ramps up Myanmar ties to gain foothold in ASEAN

(jm) India’s External Affairs Minister met officials from Myanmar in a two day visit last week. Several projects of cooperation between the two countries were discussed and among them, the Indian representatives expressed his wish to accelerate the construction of the India-Myanmar-Thailand highway. According to the new “Act East” Indian policy, that replaces the former “Look East” policy, it seems that the country wants to get a foothold in ASEAN and compete with China by moving closer to Myanmar. [Myanmar Times]

20 May 2018

Nepal: Relaxation with India

(jm) After a troubled relationship with India after the 2015 blockade, Nepal and Indi seem to be on a path of relaxation after Nepal´s Prime Minister Oli´s visit in Delhi and the just ended follow-up visit of Indian Prime Minister Modi to Nepal. India has now agreed to implement past accords between the two countries without further delay and welcomed Nepal’s demand for four new air routes linking the countries. [The Kathmandu Post]

20 May 2018

Seychelles: Meeting with India at Joint Commission Meeting

(jm) After the controversy of the establishment of an Indian military base in Seychelles earlier this year, the two countries are meeting this week to speak about their cooperation on softer topics like health, education, human resources development and science and technology. The meeting aims to consolidate the ties between India and Seychelles after some turbulences but also marks the limits of cooperation in the foreseeable future. [Seychelles News Agency]

20 May 2018

Maldives: improving relations with Indian military?

(jm) After month of tension between India and the Maldives, the Maldivians authorities have now allowed marine commandos of the Indian navy to train diving and tactics in asymmetric warfare in their territorial waters. [Avas]

20 May 2018

India: Ceasefire announced in Kashmir for holy month of Ramadan

(am) Indian military operations against rebels in Kashmir will be suspended during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan for the first time in nearly two decades, a move which comes after months of intense fighting in the disputed Himalayan region. [Al Jazeera]

However, Indian security forces, of which there are an estimated 500,000 in Kashmir, reserve the right to retaliate if attacked. [Al Jazeera]

Later the day of the announcement, an encounter between militants and security forces broke out after an army patrol party was attacked however. [The Indian Express] Earlier in the day, security forces launched a search operation in a forest area following a brief exchange of firing with militants, a police official said. [Hindustan Times]

20 May 2018

India looks to improve diplomatic ties with North Korea

(ot) Indian Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh went to Pyongyang for a two-day high-level visit, the first of such in nearly two decades, notwithstanding a long established low-intensity diplomatic relationship between the two countries for the past 45 years. Not long ago, India has refused former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s suggestion to diminish its diplomatic presence in Pyongyang. However, India’s decision to resume its diplomatic outreach, is widely seen in context of the recent inter – Korean summit and the attempts of regional Asian powers to contribute to the peace process as the leaders of the United States and North Korea are set for a historic meeting next month. [CNBC, BBC News]

20 May 2018

India: PM Modi – one of the world’s strongmen?

(ot) [Channel News Asia] brings an assessment of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi as one of the particular important and strong political leaders shaping global politics with a sort of strongman image similar to President Xi Jinping of China, US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

While PM Modi is a serious economic reformer with a successful popular touch, there are also concerns over political division, judicial independence, and press freedom that partly remind of similar concerns pertaining to the United States, China, and Turkey. The article focuses especially on comparing PM Modi with Pres. Trump, both ruling two of the world’s biggest democracies and having risen into power with claims to be represent a silent majority in their struggle against the corruption of political elites. Both are also engaged in an extreme political discourse unfolded especially also by social media and are heavily employing identity politics to bolster support, in Modi´s case that of an aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda driven by his party, Bharatiya Janata (BJP). With great personal popularity, another election victory in the coming general election next year is quite possible and would probably bring Modi in a very secured leadership position. [Channel News Asia]

20 May 2018

India’s first Shia Political Party

(am) Shiite Muslims announced to launch India´s first Shia political party, the Indian Shia Awami League, in an attempt to carve a separate political identity for the minority Muslim community ahead of the 2019 General Elections claiming to have party cadres already in place across 16-17 states.

Their leader is quoted saying: “Traditionally, vote bank politics has only catered the Sunnis in India, since we are in minority. But when there are riots in the country because of Sunni extremism, Shias also get targeted due to Muslim identity. The idea is to assert Shia identity and differentiate it from Sunnis”. [United News of India] [The Print]

On the relation with Sunni Muslim´s he added: “The Shia-Sunni conflict is irreconcilable…They (Sunnis) don’t even consider us Muslims, but because of them our identity is under threat.” [The Print]

India´s Shia community is considered to be an especially backward Muslim minority which has been deprived of its rights assured under the various government schemes, as part of what the new Shiite party´s leadership perceive as a larger conspiracy. [The Times of India]

Shiites form a significant Indian Muslim minority with around 13/14 % of the Indian Muslims. With more than 170.000.000 Muslims India is home to the third biggest Muslim community in the world.

20 May 2018

India: Ruling BJP wins Karnataka state election

(ot/am) The southwestern Indian state of Karnataka – with the capital Bangalore and a population of around 60 Mio. – has just held its state assembly elections.

India’s ruling Bharatiya Jantana Party (BJP) emerged as the by far single largest party but fell short of a majority. Of the 222 seats, the BJP won 104, while its major rival, the Congress got 78 seats and a regional party, the Janata Dal (Secular), JD(S) 37.

Both the Congress and JD(S) promptly declared an alliance claiming they would get all party member´s support to pass together the 112-majority mark. [The Hindu, BBC News 1]

However, the Karnataka governor invited the BJP candidate to form the government, which resulted in a fierce overnight legal battle. In a bid to stop the formation of the BJP government the Congress-Janata Dal (S) alliance filed a petition at the state’s Supreme Court which was eventually rejected with the BJP candidate having given already his oath as chief minister. The BJP now has a period of 15 days to prove its majority in the state assembly. [The Times of India 1, The Times of India 2]

The event could be seen a key indicator ahead of the India’s general election in 2019. Analysts claim that losing Karnataka would be a major setback for the Congress, which now rules only two of India’s 29 states while the BJP currently controls 21 states. The Karnataka election might be seen as another step of the BJP’s continuing expansion of its political footprint and Prime Minister Modi’s dominance over India’s national politics. [BBC News 2, NDTV]

13 May 2018

Consequences of the US nuclear deal withdrawal for the Asian geopolitical order

(hg) Two – arguably related – major events, the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran and the relatively massive Israeli military attack on Iranian positions in Syria will have some impact on the processes defining the current global geopolitical order and especially the Asian one. The two events can be seen against the background of the English – Russian tensions about the poisoning of UK spy Skripal and the ensuing diplomatic retaliation by major Western countries as well as the recent airstrikes launched by the US, UK and France against Syria. Both major events are embedded in a process of worsening relations between the West and Russia and a possibly emerging Turkish – Iranian – Russian – Chinese axis while Saudi – Arabia is going to show even growing assertiveness against Iran.

Especially, the unilateral US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, officially named Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), brings some new dynamics to the currently significant processes relevant for the present state of global order. What is about to happens now, is that the other signatories try to save the deal with notable activities.

While the chief inspector of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), unexpectedly resigned [Times of Israel] after the IAEA has highlighted Iran´s cooperation with the nuclear watchdog over recent years, the Iranian foreign minister is embarking on a diplomatic tour, first to Beijing and Moscow, and then to Brussels to meet his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany. At the same time, Russian President Putin has spoken with the government heads of Germany and Turkey, Merkel and Erdogan, to keep the nuclear deal alive [Times of Israel], whereas German Chancellor Merkel said in a phone call with Iranian President Rohani that her country would adhere to the 2015 nuclear deal. Additionally, Russian and German foreign ministers talked in Moscow about how to constructively proceed. After all, this is the joint position of all other signatories, namely Russia, Germany, China, Britain, France and Iran [Radio Free Europe] with the three European powers having issued a joint statement criticizing the American pullout [Government Europa].

In Europe, both France and Germany have seen a sharp rise in exports to Iran since sanctions were lifted in 2016. Especially France has sharply condemned the re-imposition of sanctions as “unacceptable”. Its Economy Minister even said Europe had to defend its “economic sovereignty” and called on the European Commission to look into possible retaliatory measures. [BBC News] Even America´s staunchest allies in Asia, Japan and Australia, still support the deal [US News]. The Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono underlined Tokyo´s support for the nuclear deal in a phone call with his Iranian counterpart urging all other parties to remain committed to the multilateral agreement. [Tehran Times]

Now, Berlin, Beijing and Moscow are the given brokers to create a platform for talks on the future of the Iran nuclear deal, a constellation that cannot please the American interest. It might, moreover, be argued that the Trump move, which reflects the new security environment in Washington with Mike Pompeo and John Bolton in key positions, will backfire in case it has no clearly defined short-time purpose. Otherwise, the unilateral withdrawal from the deal is likely to benefit especially China, possibly even bring Moscow closer to Europe again, endanger the developing US ties with India and generally lower the US´ weight in Asia´s shifting security order.

First, Beijing is prone to evolve as the first inter pares to foster an international reaffirmation of the deal after it had played a crucial role in bringing Iran to forge the deal in the first instance.

Additionally, China will gain in terms of energy access and make more trade and infrastructure inroads to Iran. China will anyway be able to continue business with Iran without being much harmed by sanctions. It is, in fact, highly experienced to circumvent sanctions and will probably just create companies that will operate only in or with Iran to avoid them. [Sputnik News 1] For China, with its potentially all-controlling central authority and low level of market transparency, such workarounds are much easier to realize than for European companies.

Iran sells already more to China than to any other country and celebrated a 25 percent increase in exports there last year already while the value of Chinese exports to Iran also increased by more than 21 percent last year, according to Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration’s statistics. Now, China – Iran trade and infrastructure ties are very likely to even grow more. Generally, China will gain strategic space with regard to the Middle East to be used to advance its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Just now, Beijing has officially opened a new train route to Iran likely to go through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. [Sputnik News 2]

Moreover, the US might effectively force European companies out of the Iranian market – to the benefit of China. The US sanctions which will especially aim at Iranian crude oil will limit its global trade opportunities to the special advantage of China as the world’s largest importer of crude oil that might even get it cheaper now. The gain to take over a lead role in directly exploiting Iranian oil and gas fields might be even worth for China to directly invest without circumventions. The [Japan Times] just reports that China’s state-owned energy major CNPC is ready to take over French giant Total’s stake in the giant Iranian South Pars gas project if the French company leaves due to the US sanctions. The Iranian South Pars field has the world’s biggest natural gas reserves ever found in one place and the possibility of Total’s pullout is reportedly quite high now. [The Japan Times]

Lastly, and particularly important, China will reinforce the petro-yuan as more than just a spoiler attack on the dominance of the dollar-denominated Brent and West Texas Intermediate benchmarks. According to the latter, oil is priced and traded in U.S. dollars which is of crucial importance for the US economy. The increase in the use of the renminbi in global financial trade following a Chinese lead role in the Iranian oil market would be much more relevant than the immediate benefit of energy supply and pricing imports in yuan to the end that it would spare China the cost of exchanging dollars. After all, the development reinforces the Chinese move in March this year to launch a futures exchange in Shanghai that aims to become a yuan-denominated global benchmark, which itself is part of a larger strategy to establish the renminbi as the leading global currency. [Reuters]

The relevance of these developments is highlighted by China´s sheer market power having overtook the US as the world’s largest oil importer last year already and hoping to beat that achievement in 2018. At the same time, the yuan-denominated crude exchange in Shanghai will offer another path for Iran to get past US sanctions, which are typically enforced when banks attempt to clear dollar-denominated trades in New York. [Business Times]

Second, besides empowering China, the US withdrawal strengthens Iranian resilience and weakens the US own strategic ties as partly indicated already above. Regarding Iran the change is obvious. Summer last year, Washington could hope to empower the Iranian opposition while it created a new Iran Mission Center at the CIA to “turn up the heat on Iran”. [The Wall Street Journal] Now, the Trump administration has managed it to further unite Iranian politics. More important is the effect on Europe. Even if key countries like Germany and France will eventually not be motivated to rebalance their strategic focus after a series of unilateral moves by President Trump, European leaders will have to work closely with Beijing and Moscow in the newly created situation while Iran, Russia and China will be pushed closer to each other once more.

Especially interesting is the effect on India which has great interests in Iran. The question is, in how far India will side with the US. Harsh V. Pant gives an interesting analysis of the situation from an Indian policy perspective highlighting India´s stakes regarding the presumably even intensifying Iran – China relations. [The Hindu] India´s immediate stake in Iran is mainly its investment in the Iranian Chabahar port that had often been projected as India’s response to China´s investment in the Pakistani Gwadar port. Recently however, Iran invited both China and Pakistan to join in, which highly frustrated Indian policy makers. Counterintuitively to consult a siding with the US, Pant analyses the possible Indian policies in the current scenario on the basis of the already existing deep economic and defense ties between Teheran and Beijing. His analysis starts with an understanding for the Iranian pro-China perspective especially in the presently given situation: “Given the overt hostility of the Trump administration towards Iran, it is imperative for Tehran to maintain cordial relationship with a rising power like China”. From here, the author, a Professor of International Relations at King’s College London, advises New Delhi “to navigate its interests in the region accordingly” with a realistic view to accept some form of Chinese participation in the Chabahar project while India and China are anyway exploring joint economic projects in Afghanistan. [The Hindu] Such a continuation with Indian – Iranian ties that would even include a limited Chinese – Indian rapprochement could put US – Indian relations under serious stress however. Whichever path Delhi will actually take in the given situation, the ‘Iranian factor’ is likely to have a significant impact on the overall Asian order regarding the Indian relations with both China and the US.

Third, the US, by withdrawing from the nuclear deal, are weakening their clout as a global norm setter once more. For the US, to leave from a multilateral agreement – effectively a disarmament treaty – that has been endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution (No 2231), will further weaken the US´ strategically important position as a central driver of an international law – based order, an opportunity that will be seized by China to the largest extent possible.

Moreover, by increasing its arsenal of sharp sanctions, the US might find themselves caught between either alienating some key partners or undermining the credibility of their normative approach in general. The Iran sanctions that will add to the sanctions against Russia recently enabled by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA) [US Dep. of Treasury] cause important allies to seek exemptions from sanctions, a step already initiated by both the French and German government regarding Iran. A similar request has been submitted by India regarding the CAATSA relevant purchase of the Russian S-400. In times of a shifting geopolitical order, to deny the respective waivers will worsen bilateral relations, to grant them undermine the authority of the respective regimes in the first place.

13 May 2018

India: Foreign policy shift as a result of China’s role in the region, opting for Western allies over Russia in defense cooperation

(ot) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s increasingly proactive role in regional military cooperation is the result of China’s rising military, economic, and political engagement in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, says Jeff M Smith of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.

In the past decade, many of China’s operations in the region are seen as a strategic encirclement of India, including its involvement in politics in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, and a planned Chinese naval base on the coast of Pakistan. As a result, PM Modi’s administration has been moving away from the country’s traditional non-alignment policy, by shifting its stance towards strategic collaboration with the United States and its security partners. The country has shown interest in the resurrection of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, a multilateral partnership with Australia, Japan, and the United States. The project, which has been dormant for nearly a decade, aims at deterring the rising influence of China and Russia in the Indo-Pacific region. In addition, India has entered into defense-related agreements with France and other naval cooperation with Japan and the United States. [Asia Times 1]

In terms of its defense policy, India, once Russia’s top defense partnership, is now opting for Western arms. India-Russia’s joint Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft project has been called off. The defense cooperation between India and Russia also hit hurdles as a result of the United States’ Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The country’s relationship with Russia was put under test when it jointed Western countries to condemn the Skripal poisoning case in England.

On the other hand, India’s neighbors are looking towards China. With its coercive tactics, unpredictable policies, and domineering attitudes towards its neighbors, India has caused further anxieties in the region. [Asia Times 2]

13 May 2018

India: Modernization of Navy on track

(ot) On Tuesday, India’s Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, addressing the naval commanders’ conference in New Delhi, said that the modernization of the Indian Navy is expected to make the country “a force to reckon with” in the Indo-Pacific maritime region in the coming years. However, persisting budgetary constraints as well as shortages in submarines, multi-role helicopters, minesweepers, and drones, are some of the challenges ahead of the development.

Despite no emphasis on tensions with China, the fact remains that the Chinese Navy is fast expanding its operations in the Indian Ocean Region, having established its first overseas military base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. Meanwhile, India has been undertaking mission-based deployments from the Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait since August last year. The minister expressed satisfaction for the Navy’s continued “high operational tempo” through regular deployment of ships, submarines, and aircrafts as the “primary instrument and manifestation of the nation’s maritime power, while also establishing itself as a potential tool for military diplomacy”. [The Times of India]

13 May 2018

India: Regional parties call for ceasefire in Kashmir

(ot) On Wednesday, Indian Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti held a meeting of regional parties to discuss the situation in Kashmir in Srinagar. As a result of the meeting, all parties in Jammu and Kashmir, including the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have agreed to approach the central government to demand a unilateral ceasefire for the forthcoming holy Muslim month of Ramadan and the period of Hindu pilgrimage Amarnath Yatra.

The meeting took place in the wake of growing tension in the past 40 days, resulting in 69 casualties, including 28 civilians and a tourist. [The Hindu, The Indian Express]

13 May 2018

India-Nepal relations: PM Modi’s visit

(ot) On Friday, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi arrived in Nepal on his 2-day visit to the country from 11 to 12 May. The visit is being seen as an attempt by the countries to soothe uneasy ties, particularly as China is strengthening its political and economic relations with Nepal. On the main agenda are talks on bilateral projects, including railway connectivity between the countries, inland transport, and agriculture. [The Times of India, The Hindu]

6 May 2018

India: Military spending increases, joining the world’s top five defense spenders

(ot) India has become one of the world’s five biggest military spenders, joining the U.S. and China, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released on Wednesday. In 2017, India’s defense spending rose by 5.5 percent to 63.9 billion USD, surpassing France. The Indian government’s increased spending was motivated at least partially by geopolitical tensions with China and Pakistan. It was also the result of the country’s reliance on imported weapons and sprawling personnel costs.

The report showed that the world’s biggest military spenders has remained consistent in recent years, dominated by the U.S. and China, which spent 610 billion USD and 228 billion USD respectively. However, the balance of military spending is “clearly shifting” towards Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East, driven by spending increases in China, India, and Saudi Arabia. [Bloomberg] [South China Morning Post]

6 May 2018

The future of Russian security ties – between Pakistan and India

(hg) In times of an intensifying security cooperation between the US and India as well as loosening ties between the US and Pakistan, Moscow and Islamabad have pledged to improve defense ties. Pakistan seems, however, to be less restrained to engage with the new partnership than Russia that still appears trying to balance its South Asia relations rather than to abandon its traditional strategic partner India.

Pakistan’s national security adviser, Nasser Khan Janjua, has led for the first time a ministerial-level delegation comprising the heads of the various defense, national security and space ministries to Russia now. The visit comes short after India has pulled out from the Indo-Russian fifth-generation fighter aircraft program. This notwithstanding, with India having repeatedly requested Russia not to sell arms to Pakistan, Moscow might at the moment still be inclined to restrict the amount and type of arms offered to Pakistan as there are still important ties to India whose weapons are largely of Russian origin. At the same time, both Pakistan and Russia find themselves increasingly distant from the West, which provides an incentive to forcefully develop non-Western options. For the time being, Russia appears to be playing a balancing game justified by both the need to continue arms sales at least to some degree and the by far more uncertain hope that India might finally switch in its foreign policy orientation to a rapprochement with Russia. [Defense News] 

6 May 2018

India-China relations: Modi-Xi talks end in border cooperation

(ot) On Saturday, the first informal meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan, China, concluded with an agreement to improve military communication and to maintain peace in all areas of the India-China border region.

A joint statement issued by the Indian Foreign Ministry following the summit outlined proposals to strengthen direct lines of communication between the nations’ militaries to “build trust and mutual understanding and enhance predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs.” According to the statement, the two leaders also planned to “push forward bilateral trade and investment”, without identifying how that could be achieved. [CNN] [Reuters]

As a result, on Tuesday, Indian and Chinese militaries held a Border Personnel Meeting in Ladakh, India, where they discussed border management issues and agreed to maintain peace along the Line of Actual Control, the de-facto boundary between the two countries, as well as other confidence building measures. So far, the two side have agreed to carry out coordinated patrols in disputed area as well as to set up a hotline between the Indian Army’s Director General of Military Operations and the Chinese authority of similar position. [Hindustan Times]

6 May 2018

China’s military spending: On the rise

(dql) The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has released its fact sheet on world military expenditure 2017 revealing that military expenditure in Asia rose for the 29th successive year with China as largest spender in Asia having the worldwide highest increase (5.6%) in military spending in 2017. China with a total spending of 228 billion USD is followed by India as second largest spender in Asia with spending at 63.9 billion USD and an increase of 5.5% compared with 2016, and South Korea in third position which spent 39.2 USD, an increase by 1.7% between 2016 and 2017.

The top four spender are USA (610 billion USD), China, Saudi Arabia (69 billion USD), and Russia (66 billion USD). [SIPRI]




6 May 2018

India: Muslims struggle for justice [Opinion]

(ot) India’s state institutions have failed to provide justice for Muslims in the country, leaving them more vulnerable and insecure in the first four months of 2018 than ever before. The trend is illustrated by a number of crimes and instances of violence directed against Muslim communities across the country. Anti-Muslim sentiments are promoted by the justice system, the public, and the ruling Bharatiya Jatana Party (BJP).

Many people fear that anti-Muslim violence in India is going to intensify in the coming months leading up to the country’s general elections. However, it is being seen by the BJP party as a legitimate method of mobilizing Hindu votes in the election. [Al Jazeera]

Al Jazeera



29 April 2018

India: North-south division deepens

(ot) India is as diverse as it is populous. It has for years lived in compromise, with English as the language linking the states. The Hindi-speaking northern hinterland and the non-Hindi coastal states have long muddled along together. Recently, however, the uneasy, decades-old accord has broken down. PM Modi’s BJP party, which has become the dominant power in Indian Politics, only represents the north and the west, with little or no presence in richer southern states, such as Tamil Nadu. The north and south have also diverged economically and demographically, with the south doing better on human development indices.

Today, neither the BJP, representing the north, nor the regional parties that dominate the southern coasts are interested in seeking a compromise. India’s two halves have strongly disparate interests, demands, and expectations, leaving future leaders to heal these growing divisions. [Bloomberg]




29 April 2018

India: “Save the Constitution” campaign launched against PM Modi

(ot) On Monday, India’s National Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi launched the nationwide “Save the Constitution” campaign at Talkatora Stadium in Delhi. The campaign aims to safeguard the constitution and protect the rights of the Dalits under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharitya Jantana Party (BJP)-led government. At the event, Gandhi asserted that PM Modi’s administration has failed to protect the constitutional values and institutions. He promised that his party would work to protect the Constitution, the institution, as well as the Indian citizens.

The campaign came in the wake of the Indian Supreme Court’s order diluting the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Atrocities Act (SC/ST Act), which has resulted in a public outrage and violent protests across the country. Gandhi criticized PM Modi’s administration for remaining silent on the issues of violence against the Dalit community and women’s safety.

The campaign will run until 14 April 2019, and is seen as the Party’s effort to reach out to the Dalit community ahead of the general elections in 2019. [The Indian Express] [India Today]

In response to the event, BJP President Amit Shah said that the campaign was an attempt to weaken the country’s democratic institutions and to save “the dynasty”, referring to the Gandhi family. [Hindustan Times]

29 April 2018

India: Country falls two spots in World Press Freedom ranking

(ot) India this year has fallen two places from last year on the Reporters without Borders (RSF)’ 2018 World Press Freedom Index. In the report published on Wednesday, India ranked 138th position out of 180 countries.

The RSF cited growing self-censorship in the mainstream media as well as increasing online and physical threats against journalists by Hindu nationalists under PM Modi’s government. The organization reported that three journalists were killed in the last year, while those overly critical about the government were repeatedly prosecuted. Coverage of issues deemed sensitive by the authorities, such as Kashmir, continued to be difficult, as foreign reporters were barred from the region, and the internet was often disconnected. [The Economic Times] [Reporters without Borders]

29 April 2018

India: How fake news is killing people and press freedom

(jk) In addition to an alleged onslaught on democracy, election meddling or just sowing fear and uncertainty, fake news is seen to have a very direct and sometimes fatal impact on the lives of some in India. In relation to the rape case referred to above, protests have heated up after a video emerged that allegedly showed the girl who was raped and killed singing a song. In response to the video, which was rapidly shared and viewed thousands of times, protests erupted and increased in intensity, presumably stirring up the emotions of the viewers. The video turned out to be fake and the girl singing was neither the same girl who got raped, nor was the content current, according to a small group of “fact-checkers”, working for the website “Boom”. [Boom]

More often than not, if a “fake” is discovered at all, the damage has already been done and this is especially true in a society where violence seemingly spreads fast or where many people often come together in smaller spaces. Examples include an alleged salt shortage, sparking panic across four states last November. One of the immediate results of this fake story were stampedes outside marketplaces that left one woman dead and countless injured. In eastern India a mob beat seven men to death in May after they were accused of child trafficking in unverified messages online. [South China Morning Post 1]

The government as well as online platforms claiming to be dedicated to combatting fake stories are still grappling with finding effective strategies. In India, as in other countries, Facebook is cooperating with local organisations to get a handle on the issue. One strategy deployed by the Indian authorities recently to calm down protest, again in relation to the aforementioned rape cases, was to shut down the internet until things have calmed [South China Morning Post 2].

AiR has also extensively reported on the flip side of this and how in India and elsewhere, particularly Southeast Asia, increasingly restrictive regimes use fake news as an excuse to stifle dissent and silence critics. Press and civic freedom is under increasing pressure by vaguely formulated laws that can be used to target activists, journalists, and everybody else who expresses discontent with the authorities. India again scored low in the recently released World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (138th out of 180 countries, see below), and bold actions on “regulating” fake news could easily see it slip further.

29 April 2018

India rape cases: solution death penalty?

(jk) AiR last week reported on the rape and murder cases in India, that have been sparking public outcry and protest across the country. [AiR 4/4/2018] The cases have both a significant political, as well as religious dimension. PM Modi’s BJP party has been criticized for attempting to protect the men implicated in two rape cases, while offering no protection to women, children and minority groups. One of the outrageous rape cases in January this year, included a Muslim girl, gang-raped in a Hindu temple, stirring up religious tensions in addition to the heinous crime itself. According to police the girl was held, raped and killed in a Hindu temple and the crime was part of an effort to drive the girl’s Muslim nomad community, the Bakarwal, out of the region. The perpetrators allegedly had political and bureaucratic backing and it is important to note that this happened in the province of Jammu and Kashmir in India’s north. The province borders Pakistan and for many Hindu nationalists, this is one of the frontlines in the fight against Muslim separatist. [South China Morning Post 1]

In an effort to combat violent crimes of that kind, the Indian government has issued an ordinance to apply the death penalty for convicted rapists of children below 12 years of age. The move is yet to be approved of by parliament and doubts remain as to the real effect such a change in law might have.

After a gang-rape case in 2012 that had been widely discussed and condemned in the country, laws had already been toughened. Prison terms were doubled, voyeurism and stalking criminalised and the age at which a person can be tried as adults for crimes such as rape and murder was lowered by two years to 16. The ongoing rap cases since then, instil little confidence that deterrence by harsher laws will be all that effective. [South China Morning Post 2]

According to the National Crime Records Bureau in India, conviction rates of rapes have been low with between 24% and 29% over the past few years. [Hindustan Times] According to 2016 crime data, four in ten female rape victims were minors, one in ten female minor victims was below the age of 12 [Boom].

In yet another high-profile rape case, an Indian court on Wednesday found spiritual guru Asaram Bapu guilty of raping a teenage female follower in 2013 and he faces a maximum of life in prison.

29 April 2018

China-India summit: Ties improved?

(dql) During Prime Minister Modi’s two-days informal summit with President Xi Jinping this week, both state leaders agreed to boost communication between both countries’ military aimed at building “trust and mutual understanding and enhance predictability and effectiveness in the management of border affairs”, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale announced. [Nikkei Asian Review]

Modi and Xi also agreed to undertake a joint India-China economic project in Afghanistan to be identified and designed in subsequent talks, a move analysts expert to strain relations between China and Pakistan, . [The Pioneer]

The conciliatory encounter between the leaders of world’s two most populous countries comes a year after a more than two-months long stand-off over the Doklam crisis and amid the countries’ struggle for dominance in Asia.

29 April 2018

Indian strategic ties after the Modi-Xi meeting: the case of the US, Russia, and Australia

(hg) After the first ‘informal’ summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping was concluded with a careful rapprochement between the countries, it is interesting to assess Indo-Pacific´s strategic environment on more general terms. Worth mentioning in this regard are some recent developments concerning India´s relations with the US, Russia and Australia.

Starting from the finding “it appears the Asia-Pacific region is due for a grand strategic makeover”, a recent article in the [The Diplomat] takes a historical perspective to highlight the dynamics of the current Indian-American alignment. Regarding the ongoing strengthening of military, diplomatic, and economic ties between India and the US, the author is looking at “the last time the US and India were this aligned”, namely in the 1780s when both tried to jointly contain the British Empire.

The article´s quintessential conclusion – “if history rhymes, it tells us that a U.S.-India strategic alignment is not so new” – sounds a bit trivial though. After all, it seems debatable if a short and unsuccessful strategic alignment around 220 years ago makes a strong case for the actual prospects of US-Indian relations and their impact on China. The point is, however, that it is exactly the fact that the still limited depth and momentum in Indian-American relations warrants the sort of narrative underpinnings the article is trying to provide. From this point of view, media attention might be read as part of the very pattern that are forming or accompanying the competing trends of the currently emerging geopolitical order of Asia.

Another article focuses on the Indian withdrawal from plans to jointly develop a stealth fighter jet with Russia earlier this month, tracing back the long decline in bilateral attempts between the countries to finalize the project. Against this background and given the fact that “New Delhi shares more political interests with Washington than it does with Moscow”, India´s further steps concerning its air force modernization will be of interest “as a gauge of how comfortable New Delhi is with further deepening its relationship with the United States”. [The National Interest]

The picture is complex indeed. On the one hand, the US wish that Delhi might decide for American weapon systems. At the same time, the US Countering America’s Enemy’s Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) is a disincentive for Delhi to deepen its already profound relations with Russia regarding arms supply from Moscow. Section 231 of the CAATSA mandates secondary sanctions to any nation entering into high-value deals to procure military hardware from Russia.

Whereas a Bloomberg report suggests the US – probably Lockheed Martin – might provide the Indian Air Force with its combat jet technologies in the near future [Bloomberg], [Sputnik News] features an Interview with Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal B. S. Dhanoa, who says that “it is incorrect to report that we are interested in F-35 [or F-35 technology to equip F-16]”. The Indian Air Force chief has also categorically denied any threat to India-Russia defense deals due to the American CAATSA. [Sputnik News]

Meanwhile, India seeks US exemption to buy the legendary Russian S-400 air defense missile system from Russia worth about $5.5 billion. Reportedly, the Indian government has informed the US that India cannot abruptly scale down its reliance on military hardware from Russia after decades of bilateral defense cooperation and applied for a waiver from sanctions. The S-400 long-range air defense missile system with its capability to destroy incoming hostile aircraft, missiles and even drones at ranges of up to 400km can fire three types of missiles and simultaneously engage 36 targets to create a layered defense is also effective against stealth multi-role fighter jets. The system, which Russia has started supplying to China, is expected to be delivered to Turkey next year and has also been deployed by Russia in Syria. [The Economic Times]

The Indian application for a waiver to obtain the S-400 is a sensitive issue due to the reputation of the S-400 as setting the gold standard of comparable weapon systems including American ones, its success in action and the fact that Turkey as a major NATO member decided to buy the system before Turkish-American tensions grew to the current degree.

An example for the high benchmarks set to obtain a CAATSA waiver is the Trump administration´s announcement last Friday that it would not issuing waivers to U.S. companies, including oil giant Exxon Mobile, authorizing drilling in the Black Sea prohibited by current sanctions against Russia. [The New York Times]

Moreover, on the sidelines of a NATO gathering April 27, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has just explicitly warned his Turkish counterpart against purchasing the S-400. [Radio Free Europe]

Against this background, the ongoing attempts of the Pentagon to enable a waiver for India are remarkable. US Defense Secretary Gen. Jim Mattis appealed last Thursday to the Congress to urgently provide India the requested national security waiver, saying imposing sanctions on it would only hit the US. [The Times of India]

In other words, the ongoing Indian S-400 story is worth to be further observed. This is even more true as Vietnam, another regionally important country, is generally in a similar situation as India, both being interested to lever a strategic partnership with the US against China, while being highly depended on Russian arms supply.

A serious setback for the emergence of a solid anti-China coalition formed around the US- Indian-Japanese-Australian axis has meanwhile just manifested regarding Indian-Australian relations. Australian Defense Department spokesman has confirmed Australia won’t participate in a major Indian-lead multilateral naval drill, reportedly because it has not been invited by the Indian government.

The Indian silence is significant after India, the US, Japan and Australia have revived their plan to form a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the so-called Quad, a military partnership to contain China. In January, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said discussions on Australia returning to multilateral naval exercises with India were progressing well. The eventual non-invitation by Delhi might be seen as a casualty of India’s just improving relations with China and is definitely a blow for the Quad. [The Australian]

Concerning the long-term character of Sino-India relations, the recent, basically positive meeting between Modi and Xi should not be overloaded with highflying expectations for the long-term future. A temporary betterment of bilateral relations seems to express both countries´ current strategic considerations. This notwithstanding, India seems too important as a strategic weight, its leadership too determined, and its South Asian backyard too volatile, to not eventually being inclined to decide either in favor or against China and the US respectively. This, at least, is the perspective reflected by the headline and conclusion of a [Forbes] article that conjures up “the coming clash between China and India” without, however, providing much substantive arguments.

29 April 2018

The China-India-Nepal Triangle

(hg) On occasion of the visit of Nepal’s Foreign Minister in China from April 16-21, [The Diplomat] addresses the ongoing Chinese-Indian competition over influence in Nepal with a thorough analysis that gives China the advantage over India. The most recent meeting of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Chinese President Xi Jinping might, however, slow the harsh tone of the competition down for a while. [The Diplomat]

29 April 2018

Pakistan and India to hold joint military drills

(jk) Authorities in Pakistan have confirmed that they will hold joint military drills together with India and other regional countries, including China, for the first time under the roof of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Russia coming August. Both South Asian nations joined the SCO as their full members in June last year. The military drills will reportedly focus on preventing terror attacks and dismantling terror networks.

While the two countries have participated together in United Nations peacekeeping missions in the past, this will be the first time the two militaries will participate in joint counter-terrorism drills. [Geo TV].

29 April 2018

India-Nordic Summit

(hg) After two U.S.-Nordic Leaders Summits had been held in 2013 and 2016, India and Sweden co-hosted the first India-Nordic Summit, the third ever. On this occasion, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Swedish Prime Minister in Stockholm as the first Indian leader in 30 years and additionally held bilateral meetings with the prime ministers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Norway. The first India-Nordic Summit focused on boosting trade, investment, and expanding mutually beneficial collaboration in areas where Nordic strengths match with India’s developmental needs. Given the shared interest in making the United Nations (UN) Security Council more representative, both in the permanent and nonpermanent categories, the Nordic states expressed also support for India’s bid for permanent membership as well as India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. The Nordic states also recognize India’s and other Asian states’ growing involvement in Arctic affairs and supported their admittance as permanent observers in the Arctic Council in 2013.

Arguably, the summit also reflects new realities concerning the contemporary international order as well as a demand of a growing number of countries to contribute to its structure. On the one side, India is acting increasingly global, looking for new partners. The Nordic states on the other side, pursue a more coordinated foreign policy which seems to be in their interest in contributing to global order while being supported by their sheer weight: After all, the Nordic states, though being small in terms of population, are among the wealthiest in the world, exercising considerable international influence and form a highly integrated region. [The Diplomat]

22 April 2018

India: The political dimension of the rape cases

(ls/ot) During the past week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been battered by a nationwide storm over two rapes. One involved the abduction, gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl by Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir state, where two BJP ministers in the provincial government were forced to resign after initially offering support for the accused rapists. In the other case, a BJP legislator in Uttar Pradesh state, India’s most populous, stands accused of raping a teenager. [Reuters]

On Sunday, thousands of people took the streets. The cases have put pressure on the conservative government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking reelection next year. The party has been heavily criticized for attempting to protect the men implicated in both cases, while failing to protect women and minority groups. A statement by PM Modi was released last Friday, promising justice for “our daughters.” [CNN]

The rape of the Muslim girl has seen protests reflecting religious tensions: Thousands of members of a radical Hindu group with links to the ruling party have marched to demand the release of the six men accused in the repeated rape and killing of the girl inside a Hindu temple. Hundreds of Hindu lawyers have protested that the men, two of them police officers, are innocent. Police say the attack on the girl was rooted in religious politics. Conflicts between Muslim nomads and local Hindus had been brewing in recent years over land disputes. [The Washington Post]

In the New York Times, Mitali Saran notes that, instead of uniting India in horror, the incident has deepened religious, political and ethical divides. She argues that is has also made clear that there is no automatic political cost to crime or falsehood if it furthers the hegemonic political narrative, as the politicians involved were sacked only after a huge public outcry. [The New York Times]

22 April 2018

India’s deepening security cooperation with the West

(ls/ot) On Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May prior to his participation in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London. Following the meeting, India and Britain have laid ground for a possible post-Brexit bilateral free trade deal and signed off on a series of commercial agreements worth up to 1 billion pounds. The bilateral deal covers cyberspace, technology sharing, solar energy, sustainable urban development, water management, animal husbandry, safe use of nuclear energy, artificial intelligence, and big-data analytics. [The Guardian]

In March, India and France signed a series of agreements to strengthen their strategic and commercial relations. The deals aim at deepening cooperation on a wide range of issues, especially defense, space technology, climate change, nuclear energy, urbanization and counterterrorism. Considering France’s military presence in the Indian Ocean through the island of La Reunion, Mayotte and the French Antarctic Lands, as well as Djibouti and Abu Dhabi, the partnership could significantly facilitate India’s desire for influence in the Western Indian Ocean. [Global Risk Insights]

The United States plan to continue to expand its defence and security cooperation with India and support New Delhi’s growing relationships throughout South Asia. The head of the South and Central Asia Bureau of the State Department said that the ties “had never been stronger, never been better”. [The Tribune]

India and Sweden signed agreements to begin a strategic innovation partnership. The partnership covers several areas, including smart cities, transportation and eMobility, energy, clean technologies, new materials, space, circular and bio-based economy, and health and life sciences. Indian Prime Minister Modi said, “A key pillar of our bilateral ties is our defence and security cooperation. (…) I have faith that in future also in this sector, particularly in defence production, there will be plenty of opportunities for bilateral cooperation. We have decided to strengthen our cooperation in the security sector, particularly in cyber security.” [The Times of India]

In The Diplomat, Harsh V. Pant argues that the changing global context, in which states like China and Russia are remolding the rules of global governance to their advantage and with India standing out as an economic powerhouse with strong democratic credentials, has changed the discourse in the Nordic states too. A strong partnership with India is now seen as not only desirable, but an imperative of changing global realities. [The Diplomat]

22 April 2018

China proposes India-Nepal-China economic corridor as South Asia remains strategic hotspot

(ls) China on Wednesday proposed an India-Nepal-China economic corridor with multi-dimensional connectivity through the Himalayas as it seeks to expand its influence over the new Nepalese government headed by Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli, widely regarded as pro-Beijing. China’s proposal came after visiting Nepalese foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. During his last tenure as Prime Minister, Oli signed a transit treaty with Beijing in 2016 ending the decades-long dependence on India for commodity and energy supplies for his land locked country. He also sought railway connectivity between the two countries through Tibet which China is currently building. [Livemint]

S.D. Muni analyzes India-Nepal relations in the light of Oli’s recent visit to New Delhi. He describes how Oli discarded the widespread notion of Nepal’s dependence on India and repeatedly underlined the importance of sovereignty, equality, non-interference and interdependence in Nepal’s dealings with India. Muni argues that India eighbor that there is a limit to its muscular and aggressive diplomacy, which has alienated one after another eighbor and been exploited by China to its advantage in South Asia. He holds that India’s attempts to reach out to Oli have, therefore, been a serious exercise towards course correction in its neighbourhood approach. [The Wire]

An assessment by Stratfor sums up current India-Nepal-China relations, holding that Nepal has little choice but to maintain cordial relations with India given the deep economic and cultural links across their open border. India’s diminishing ability to influence Nepalese politics, however, points to its declining power in South Asia as China’s presence in the region expands through the Belt and Road Initiative. [Stratfor]

15 April 2018

India: political parties allowed to get foreign funding amid fierce criticism

(hg) An amendment to the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, which banned political parties from receiving foreign funding, allows now that parties receive political donations from Indians living abroad as well as foreign companies with subsidiaries in India. The amendment, having retrospective effect, was rushed through parliament by the government last month without any debate. Later,it became highly controversial though  among activists.

The report by [Al Jazeera] gives a detailed account on the background and related opinions about the change.

Al Jazeera



15 April 2018

India’s Supreme Court upholds marriage in ‘love jihad’ case against Hindu extremist claims

(hg) In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court (SC) stroke down a ruling of the Kerala High Court that prevented a Hindu woman who had converted to Islam from living with her Muslim husband.

The woman’s family alleges she had been brainwashed by her husband as part of a broader Muslim plot, dubbed by right-wing Hindu nationalists as “love jihad.” The SC’s ruling ends her family’s attempts to nullify the marriage, stating that “the court has no right to annul marriage between consenting adults.” The Kerala court had annulled the marriage and placed the woman in the permanent custody of her father, stating that “a girl aged 24 years is weak and vulnerable, capable of being exploited.”

The case exemplifies growing Hindu nationalism in a nutshell. With 828 million followers Hinduism is India’s dominant religion accounting for 80.5% of the country’s 1.3 billion population while Muslims make up 13% and Christians 2.3%. [CNN]

Since recent years, extremist Hinduism is on the rise in India featuring the idea of a “Love jihad” as a claimed Muslim conspiracy.




15 April 2018

India accuses Pakistani diplomat in Colombo of plotting terror attacks against US, Israeli and Indian targets

 (hg) Referring to crucial inputs provided by US intelligence, India’s National Investigating Agency (NIA) has accused a Pakistani diplomat, who was posted in Sri Lanka as a visa counsellor in the Pakistani High Commission in Colombo, of plotting to attack the US and Israeli consulates as well as installations of the Indian Army and Navy in southern India. The NIA is preparing a request to Interpol, seeking red corner notice against the diplomat, who was repatriated to Islamabad soon after his cover was blown. Notably, this is the first time that India has put a Pakistani diplomat’s name on the wanted list or sought a red corner notice against one. [Colombo Page]

15 April 2018

India, China talk disarmament

(ot) On Tuesday, India and China held the fifth round of the Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Dialogue in Beijing, despite China’s continuing opposition to India’s entry to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a group of nuclear supplier countries seeking to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. China has repeatedly refused to accept India to join the 48-member NSG on the ground that India has not become party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The dialogue intended to be a platform for both countries to find common ground on disarmament issues. According to a statement issued by the Indian Embassy in Bejing, the countries exchanged views on developments related to disarmament, non-proliferation, nuclear issues, and the role of science and technology in international security, disarmament and outer space. However, the statement did not mention India’s NSG membership. [Hindustan Times]

15 April 2018

China and India’s geopolitical tug of war for Bangladesh

(hg) Another perspective on the ongoing battle for influence between China and India in Bangladesh is presented by East Asia Forum in an article analysing areas such as infrastructure investments and military spending. The article stresses that Chinese/Indian FDI still develops only limited tangible results from a Bangladeshi perspective. In terms of military spending, relations are traditionally fostered with China, while India is trying to catch up although Indian arms offers are said to be still being hampered by the reputation of Indian defense products. While India´s cultural influence in Bangladesh is overwhelming, China steadily increases its commercial foothold. The article also links geopolitical competition to domestic politics and highlights that both India and China are widely seen in the country as still taking more than giving. [East Asia Forum]

15 April 2018

Bangladesh-India relations: Enhancing cooperation

(hg) Bangladesh and India have signed six memoranda of understanding (MoU) during a bilateral meeting between the foreign secretaries of Bangladesh and India in Dhaka. [The Daily Star]

Since 2010, over 100 agreements have been signed, including 68 agreements in the last three years alone. Most of these agreements were supposed to initiate cooperation in high-technology areas such as space, civil nuclear energy, IT and electronics, cyber-security, and blue economy. Another important field of bilateral cooperation is countering terrorism, extremism and radicalization. [BD News 24]

Among the newly envisioned projects is the construction of a 129.5 km long oil pipeline between the countries and the set up of language labs in 500 schools as well as an agreement between the countries´s atomic energy departments. [Money Control]

15 April 2018

Maldives: Ex-Pres. urges strong foreign intervention, amid Pentagon concerns over Chinese influence

(hg) The geopolitical stakes in the Maldivian constitutional crisis could rise again.

The domestic crisis that is lingering on while presidential elections are approaching is strongly intertwined  with geopolitical competition  due to the allegiance of the warring parties either to India or China. While the US and UK supporting demands of the pro-Indian opposition, Pakistan has recently entrenched relations with pro-Chinese government of President Yameen. His administration has broken with the traditionally close relation to India and supports a fast growing Chinese presence. A thousand-page free trade agreement with China having approved by the Maldivian parliament last December after just an hour of debate, substantiated rumors of Chinese bass-building plans and a withdraw from defense relatiosn to India are the manifest signs of this trend

The domestic opposition President Yameen is facing is partly composed by a breakaway faction of his own party led by his half-brother and decade long dictator Gayoom and the Western-oriented former president Mohammad Nasheed who lost power and became sentenced after he arrested some judges before he went to exile in the UK and Sri Lanka. Now, with another judicial crisis, judges are arrested again, this time by incumbent president Yameen who accuses his half-brother to have prepared a coup d´état. [Open democracy]

In this situation, after the domestic upheaval seems to have slightly settled, self-exiled opposition leader Nasheed reiterated once more, the Maldives would be “’in need’ of strong foreign intervention”.  [Avas]

Not long ago, Nasheed has called for a military intervention by India and also urged the US to prevent a “reversing” geopolitical reality  regarding  the growing Chinese influence, he described as a sell-out to Beijing. Nasheed also claimed an increasing Islamic radicalization against which he called to take immediate action.

US president Trump had discussed the Maldivian crisis with Indian Prime Minister Modi over phone early February both expressing concern. The US, however, was generally understood til now to have let India assume lead position on Maldives as it is situated in what Delhi would (like to) claim its sphere of influence. [Hindustan Times]

The major news against this background is a recent Pentagon statement.

Responding to the mentioned allegations China would engaging in massive land grabbing, the Pentagon claimed it would be a cause for concern for the US and its commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific rules-based order:  “We have seen concerning developments in Maldives as far as the Chinese influence is concerned,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, told. “It’s in India’s backyard. We know it’s of concern to India. So, yes, [the situation in the Maldives] is a concern. We will see how it plays out. It emphasizes some of our priorities identified in our National Defence Strategy, […] From Djibouti to, Gwadar portt to Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, and now potentially the Maldives and then extending further east, it’s of concern”. [The Economic Times] 

15 April 2018

India/Nepal relations reset?

(hg) The recent visit of Nepali Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s to India does not reverse an increasing closeness of his country to China but indicates that relations to India are also not in free fall.

In how far the attempted recalibration of bilateral ties will turn out to carry weight, especially with respect to the Chinese influence in Nepal, remains to be seen. Notably, the small and poor Nepal has yet another stature in Delhi due to the Chinese alternative. After all, the talks have been focused on connectivity and infrastructure instead of domestic Nepali politics, an area of keen Indian interest in the past.

Both leaders have reached an understanding to connect Nepal with India’s vast railway network and thereby with the sea, agreed at a time when it is foreseen that China’s Tibet railway will arrive at the Nepal northern border in 2020. Acknowledging the shared historical and cultural links Oli and Modi also inaugurated an Integrated Border Check Post and a cross-border oil pipeline, reached an understanding to expedite a much-delayed river project, a road network and a partnership in agriculture. The 69-kilometer pipeline to transport petroleum from the Indian state of Bihar to Nepal is expected to deliver 200 million tons of petroleum products to the energy hungry Nepal. [The Hindu] [Nepali Times]

Despite the recent reset, Kathmandu still joins Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” plan showing no sign to decrease its openness to China. Delhi, on the other hand, has achieved what it could achieve even if  that simply did not include a reset to Indian hegemony. India may keep some significant influence in Nepal, but it can hardly keep the country within its sphere of influence as matters stand.

15 April 2018

Founding father Ambedkar´s critical views on India’s Constitution

(hg) Bhanu Dhamija gives an interesting account on Indian Constitution chief architect BR Ambedkar´s critical view on  his own creation only three years after promulgation. The article analyses how Amedkhar had to give in irrestitable forces  running against his individual preferences when the constitution was drafted. At the same time, it exemplifies alternative models to design the present Indian constitutional framework. [The Quint]

8 April 2018

India: Fake news crackdown withdrawn following critics

(ot) On Tuesday, the Indian government has withdrawn the plan to penalize distribution of “fake news” by journalists less than a day after it was announced. A new set of rules to have journalists’ accreditation revoked if found to have written or broadcast “fake news” were proposed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting announced on Monday evening, and immediately met with critics and opposition. The move was seen by the press as an effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to curb media coverage of a general election, due to take place by next year. Rajat Sharma, president of the News Broadcasters Association, one of India’s main media regulatory bodies, said the organization had not been consulted prior to the ministry’s announcement. [The New York Times]

8 April 2018

India: Indian caste protests turn violent

(ot) On Monday, ten of thousands of Dalits took the streets to demonstrate against a recent Supreme Court ruling that weakens protections for the Dalit community. The protests took place across the country and turned violent in at least seven states. Ten deaths have been reported.

The Dalits are traditionally considered the lowest in Hinduism’s caste hierarchy, and continue to face caste-based discrimination, exclusion, and violence, despite being outlawed by the constitution. In addition, the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act prosecutes anyone who commits hate crimes against lower-caste people and people belonging to tribal communities.

On 20 March, the Supreme Court ruled that, in order to prevent misuse of the law, police are prohibited from carrying out instant arrests, and that preliminary inquiry must be conducted into the alleged incident before beginning a formal investigation. However, the Dalit said the judgment would increase obstacle to prosecute people who commit crimes against lower castes. According to the latest national data, over 47,000 cases of such crimes were registered by police in 2016. [CNN 1]

As a result of the unrest and fierce opposition from the critics, the Supreme Court on Tuesday has agreed to hear an appeal against its ruling after a request by the government. [CNN 2] 

8 April 2018

India: Massive violence erupts in Kashmir

(ot) The latest series of clashes between Indian soldiers and suspected insurgents near the city of Srinagar in disputed Kashmir have resulted in at least 21 deaths. On 1 April, hostilities between Indian soldiers and suspected militants broke out as securities forced conducted anti-militant operations, leaving 3 soldiers and 13 suspected militants dead. Four civilians were also killed, and dozen other injured, when police reportedly open fire on thousands of demonstrators demanding an end to Indian rule. Another civilian was also killed after he was shot by government forces on Tuesday.

Pakistan has strongly condemned the violence, and expressed solidarity with Kashmiris. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement on Monday that he is “very concerned” over the situation, and urged all member states to protect their civilians. [The Diplomat]

8 April 2018

Asia: US interest/US concerns

(hg) An interesting perspective on the US strategy towards Asia has been taken in the [The National Interest]. With a view on an economical primate, it highlights the high stakes the US still have in the larger region. Irrespective of having pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, the US are in fact decisively seeking to balance against a rising China under the label of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ Strategy and especially by leveraging a growing India as a counterweight to China. In doing so, the US continues established Western strategies in its commitment to a normative conception of freedom that is substantially underpinned by Western values centered at good governance as manifest in terms of fundamental rights, transparency and anti-corruption. At the same time, so the article, it has become clear that parts of the Trump administration do effectively frame American grand strategy by national economic interest which would render a trade deal that has strategic value but no benefit for the American economy of only limited value. [The National Interest]

As much as this reflects an obvious ‘American business first’ strand in President Trump´s foreign policy, it might, however, be doubted that economic benefit would ultimately trump security. Contrary, the new US national security strategy regarding great power competition, not terrorism, as the central challenge to US security and prosperity looking at China and Russia as the major adversaries will arguably develop the decisive momentum in engaging the Indo-Pacific, not a ‘business first’ policy.

Secretary of the US Army, Mark Esper, a former vice president for government relations at Raytheon, a major US defense contractor company, stated last week: “The future we face is increasingly uncertain. China and Russia, which have been identified as our strategic competitors, as part of this era of great competition … are modernizing. They are eroding our overmatch, and they are improving their ability to threaten our interests.” [The Daily Signal] and for a video clip [The Heritage Foundation]

The weight and implications of the present shift in security strategy are huge. A recent article of Michael T. Klare in [The Nation] claims “The screaming headline you should have seen in any paper (but haven’t) is this: The US military has made up its mind about the future. It has committed itself and the nation to a three-front geopolitical struggle to resist Chinese and Russian advances in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East”. For the Indo-Pacific theater, PACOM Commander Adm. Harry Harris Jr., has just painted a grim picture of America’s strategic position in the region, highlighting that China was emerging as a formidable threat to America’s vital interests with People Liberation Army´s capabilities “progressing faster than any other nation in the world, benefitting from robust resourcing and prioritization.” [The Nation]

At multiple points along the Eurasian maritime zone – at the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the South China Sea, and the East China Sea – US forces “are already in significant contact, often jostling for position in a potentially hostile manner. At any moment, one of these encounters could provoke a firefight leading to unintended escalation and, in the end, possibly all-out combat. From there, almost anything could happen, even the use of nuclear weapons.” [The Nation]

Against this background, two recent assessments of risk scenarios concerning the South Pacific and the East China Sea are interesting.

Being less in focus of conventional risk assessments, the South Pacific remains strategically vital to the US for two key reasons that are lastly forming two sides of the same coin, the interests “to prevent the emergence of a regional hegemon” and the maintenance and expansion of the US sphere of influence under the label of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’.

Interestingly, Charles Edel, a senior fellow at the United States Studies Centre and former associate professor of strategy and policy at the US Naval War College, has voiced concern that the three Pacific Island nations of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau which are joined with the US in Compacts of Free Association that are allowing the US a strategically highly important military presence in the Pacific might come under eventually disruptive stress. [War on the Rocks]

More manifest, however, seem concerns of increasing conflict in cross-strait relations and the Est China Sea as recently expressed by a panel of maritime experts from the US, Japan and Germany hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington. From this perspective, China is seen as stepping up both its submarine presence in the East China Sea and its use of aerial drones for intelligence collection operations, while it is also said to engage in almost daily probes of Japan’s air defense including simulated cruise missile attacks on Japanese mainland. The said panel expressed in particular concern that President Xi Jinping could act towards Taiwan as President Putin did towards Crimea. Such a perception is even more significant as President Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, is a strong opponent of the US ‘One China’ policy anyway (and one of Washington´s most hawkish security experts). [Asia Times]

8 April 2018

Asia and UK/US-Russian tensions: China to support Russia

(hg) The poisoning of the former Russian military intelligence (GRU) colonel Sergei Skripal, who became a British spy, and his daughter with a nerve agent that has been invented in the Soviet Union in Cold War times has triggered one of the worst crises in East-West relations since the end of the Cold War. While the unprecedented expulsion of Russian diplomats highlights an intensifying Russian isolation in large parts of the Western world, the affair seems to have developed in a different direction in other parts of the world, including Asia. This could be observed on occasion of the 7th ‘Moscow Conference on International Security’ that has just taken place on April 4-5. As a sort of Russian pendant to the Munich Security Conference it hosted delegations from 95 countries, including 30 defense ministers and 15 chiefs of general staff, including Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami as speakers.

The Russian defense minister underlined that “our strategic relations with China, India, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar look indicative. We are getting a new impulse in our interaction with Brunei, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines both on a bilateral basis and within multilateral ASEAN formats”. Addressing the Russian-Chinese notion of a confrontational Western course, he stressed that there would be no military solution to problems on the Korean peninsula, whereas any further instigation of the situation might lead to an armed conflict. [TASS]

Most notably, Gen. Wei Fenghe, China’s new defense minister, announced: “I am visiting Russia as a new defense minister of China to show the world a high level of development of our bilateral relations and the firm determination of our armed forces to strengthen strategic cooperation”. And, surprisingly direct: “The Chinese side has come (to Moscow) to show Americans the close ties between the armed forces of China and Russia … we’ve come to support you.” [CNN]

Also related to the British-Russian Skripal affair, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson called on the relevant countries to find out the truth in the Skripal case, discard their Cold War mentality and refrain from confrontation. [China Daily]

Indian Defense Minister Sitharaman observed more carefully that a key facet of the current international situation is the “continued and rising unpredictability” in relations between major powers, which was both “unprecedented and a matter of concern” with the “current deterioration of ties between Russia and the West” being “a reflection of this trend”. [The Wire]

Moreover, the foreign ministers of Russia and China jointly denounced what they described as protectionist US-unilateralism which is currently only adding to both countries´ growing rapport on global issues. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi strongly criticized Washington’s move to hike tariffs on Chinese products and warned it would hurt the global economy and international trade Calling it as “typical unilateralism and an undisguised attempt at hegemony”, he requested that “the international community must jointly oppose such unilateralism and violation of rules.” Russian foreign minister Lavrov declared: “It has nothing to do with diplomacy. It’s an attempt to enforce its own interests while completely ignoring the interests of others”. [NY Daily News]

Another international platform for Russia to garner international support last week, was the Ankara summit gathering the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran. Presidents Putin, Erdogan and Rouhani  focused on the situation in Syria, where especially Iran and Turkey pursue the central goal to curb any Kurdish leverage in the border regions.

Positive for Moscow is not only the unity against American positions that includes a key NATO member state but also the fact that Russian S-400 missiles are on order to Turkey, a move of high symbolic importance notwithstanding the S-400´s actual military impact. [Forbes]

Concerning the Skripal case, it will be interesting over the coming weeks to observe how the quick, concerted and harsh diplomatic reaction of the countries having followed the UK suit against Russia will be received in broader leadership circles in Asia. For the Maldives, N. Sathiya Moorthy raises the question in how far the UK/US-led West’s “current engagement/disengagement with Russia”, might lead to a deflection of Western engagement to the disadvantage of the Maldivian opposition. According to him, parts of the joint opposition in the Maldives seem to be in doubt how the scenario might develop in terms of continued Western support for their cause. The implicit notion is that the Western show of diplomatic force in the Skripal case will effectively rather strengthen than weakening anti-Western voices in the local discourse, seen as bolstering the incumbent administration in the Maldives. [Observer Research Foundation]

Another Asian country involved in the affair albeit in a different, rather indirect way is Bangladesh as Sheikh Mohammed Belal, the country’s ambassador to Netherlands, is currently the chairman of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) executive council with the OPCW being in charge to verify the UK´s allegation that the poison is of Russian origin.

This has put Bangladesh for a short time in the focus of the major players. During an emergency meeting of the OPCW last Wednesday on Moscow’s bid for a joint investigation, Joel Reifman, the chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy in Dhaka, met Bangladesh´s Foreign Secretary Md Shahidul Haque to discuss the matter after Russia had handed over a note to Bangladesh on March 22 explaining its position on the incident. The UK had also informed Bangladesh in detail about the incident several days after it had taken place in its bid to build international support for retaliatory measures against Russia. The British High Commissioner to Dhaka, Alison Blake, met Bangladesh’s foreign secretary at least twice over the matter, on March 29 and again on April 2.

A bilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Bangladesh and Russia in Moscow on Monday also discussed the OPCW investigation into the poisoning . [Dhaka Tribune]

Moreover, to take another angle, interesting is also how Pakistan and India have just responded to the Russian proposal for a joint probe into the Salisbury Attack at the OPCW. While India has abstained from voting, Pakistan has supported the Russian motion, indicating how the strategic relations have already changed in the region. [The Wire]

8 April 2018

Vietnam: Russia or US?

(hg) The ongoing deterioration of Russian-American relations put stress on old Russian allies orienting now at the US to contain China. This applies in particular to India and Vietnam with India fostering also strategic ties with Iran.

As much as India and Vietnam seem to have taken a clear anti- China stance, as much is Russia a traditional defense partner and friend to them, – a status which will become increasingly difficult for all sides due to the increasing US-Russian tensions and the corresponding Russian-Chinese accord.

In the Vietnamese case, the link to Russia is the even closer, even if it seems to fall short of the facts to see US-Vietnamese relations as a delicate plant and relating more to the realm of “public relations rather than strategic dialogue”

Yet, that diminishes not the Russian factor as thoroughly described by Nate Fischler. When the US maintained a decades-long arms embargo until 2016, Russia provided weaponry unrestrained to the extent that 93% of Vietnam’s procured armaments from 2011-2015 were delivered by Russia with Vietnam being Russia’s third biggest arms market worldwide at current, trailing only India and China.

In terms of inter-operability and familiarity, Russian arms are still unbeatable for the foreseeable future from a Vietnamese perspective, while a switch to American systems would come with high costs and a complicated process of weapons integration. Despite recent visits and lobby efforts by US President Trump and more recent Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, there are no indications for a significant momentum for such a turn. Not long ago, the Vietnamese Deputy Defense Minister declared that thanks to Russia the Vietnamese Navy can now “fully master the technology and techniques of modern military shipbuilding”, a significant boost to its naval combat capabilities in the strategically important South China Sea. Since 2011, Vietnam has acquired a total of 129 missile systems, 36 aircraft and eight naval vessels from Russia. [Asia Times]

In February, Vietnam has received two Russian-built Gepard-class frigates joining two others that had been delivered in 2011 as part of a $350 million contract. [Newsweek]

Beside these vital links, however, Russia is an old friend, deer to not a few party cadre and older officers as well as a predictable ally that has no ideological demands such as the US.

While relations to Russia are valued with the top designation of a “comprehensive strategic partnership”, the US and Vietnam share only a “comprehensive partnership”, a term first employed after an upgrade in bilateral ties in 2013 which is used for links to 11 other countries as well.

However, Russia has on the other side also refrained from destabilizing the maritime region’s balance of power to the disadvantage of Vietnams adversary China by not offering relevant weaponry to Vietnam. [Asia Times]

Now, Russia has nevertheless agreed to a new military cooperation roadmap with Vietnam signed by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Vietnamese counterpart General Ngo Xuan Lich in Moscow last Wednesday on the sidelines of the 7th Moscow Conference on International Security.

As part of the agreement, Russia will deploy a rescue boat from its Pacific fleet to Vietnam, which will take part in search and rescue operations, send a delegation to continue work on a draft deal on search and rescue operations for disabled submarines and both countries will conduct joint military training including 176 Vietnamese soldiers supposed to travel to Russia for instruction. [Newsweek]

What might serve as a restrainer in the increasingly complicated situation however, is the dedication of Vietnam’s defense and foreign policy to the “three no’s”: no military alliances, no foreign military bases on Vietnamese soil and no relationships directed specifically against third parties. [Asia Times]

8 April 2018

India’s interest in Russian S-400 missiles/Kalashnikov rifles

(hg) New Delhi has firmed up plans with Russia to manufacture Kalashnikov rifles (AK-103) in India to be used for the Indian Army after discussions during defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to the 7th Moscow Conference on International Security. [The Economic Times]

More important, India’s defense minister on her visit to Moscow also worked to finalize the long-planned purchase of five Russian S-400 missile air defense system, a deal that would fall under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). India has already been flagged the issue to Washington which signaled to opt not for punishing India for violating the sanctions but rather granting an exemption. [The Wire] However, there is still a realistic possibility that Delhi would in fact face sanctions which would definitely put a stain on US-Indian relations. [The New York Times]

The potential purchase demonstrates India’s continued reliance on Russian military hardware at a time when the US is also trying to increase its weapons to Delhi with Washington’s arms sales to India having increased from nearly zero around fifteen years ago to some $15 billion today. Over the past five years, the US has even edged up to become India’s second largest arms supplier, just behind Russia covering 62% of arms sales during the same period, down from 79 percent from 2008 to 2012. [The National Interest]

The S-400 would, however, be a particular problem. First, for its class of air defense systems it represents the gold standard whose implementation is considered to be a game changer due to its capability. Second, and resulting from this quality, the S-400 has a certain symbolic value indicating the limits of US hard ware dominance.

8 April 2018

Nepalese PM Oli in Delhi amid soured relations

(hg) Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Oli, together with a high-level delegation, went to India for a three-day state visit on his first visit abroad after assuming office for a second time after fighting an ultra-nationalist election campaign much focusing on Indian interference in Nepali politics. During Oli’s first term, India-Nepal ties had reached their lowest point when Delhi pressured for the interests of Indian-origin Madhesis in the context of crafting the current Nepali constitution, allegedly supporting a blockade to put pressure on Kathmandu which, however, created widespread suffering in Nepal and caused bitter anti-Indian sentiments. Nepal has joined China´s Belt and Road Initiative in the meanwhile and is expected to formalize a number of projects under the scheme in the coming months. [Daily O] [The Kathmandu Post 1] [The Hindu] See for an exclusive interview with PM Oli on his India trip, bilateral relations and Nepali foreign policy [The Hindu].

For the legacy of the blockade of the Indian-Nepali border see [Nepali Times].

When Nepal promulgated its constitution in 2015 to mark lasting peace after years of civil war, India exerted pressure on Nepali leaders, who are mostly from the northern hills, to accommodate the demands of the plains, especially regarding the said Indian-origin Madhesis and to reverse the decision for a secular constitution. To comply with the Indian pressure from PM Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and declare Nepal as a Hindu state or to refrain from declaring it as secular was regarded by the leftist Nepali counterparts as an automatic invitation to the monarchy to return as the king is considered in Hindu political theology a reincarnation of a god. When dissenting minority groups started to block cargo trucks from India, Delhi used its border forces and customs to further block goods traffic in a time when Nepal still suffered tremendously from the consequences of a disastrous earthquake that had ravaged the poor country only month before. When PM Oli approached China for critical fuel supplies, Beijing promptly reacted, neutralizing the effects of the blockade which began then to be slowly lifted after five months in February 2016 as Nepal agreed to a few minor changes in the constitution. The very next month PM Oli visited China to engage in a dense partnership whose heart piece was a transit agreement allowing Nepal access to Chinese sea ports. But the anti-Indian resentment goes way beyond the episode as well reflected by Nepali editor quoted by the SCMP: “India wants to micromanage Nepal. They have to control all government appointments, they have to know everything. Their ambassadors behave like viceroys. Aren’t we a sovereign nation?” [South China Morning Post]

Significantly, even the Nepali, traditionally pro-Indian opposition, expects PM Oli to be treated respectfully during his visit. [The Hindu]

Now, China accounts for nearly 60 per cent of foreign direct investment (FDI) with India being a distant second with US$36.63 million, followed by the US and Japan. [South China Morning Post]

According to recent news a Chinese company will finance a Nepal’s private sector-led Hydropower Project and comprehensively coordinate all design, procurement, construction and finance after another Chinese company has signed an agreement with Nepal’s People’s Energy Limited to develop another Hydropower Project. [Steel Guru]

Another Chinese financed energy project, a – currently only planned – dam project, the $2.5-billion Budhi Gandaki plant in central-western Nepal, has become a major issue in the Delhi – Kathmandu – Beijing relations with PM Modi expected to refuse to buy the energy produced if it would be realized. The project had been initiated by former Nepal Prime Minister and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, or ‘Prachanda’, but soon cancelled by his successor in office from the pro-Indian Nepali Congress, Sher Bahadur Deuba. [The Kathmandu Post 2]

The current Indian – Nepali talks are held after Pakistan has surprisingly advanced to reach out to both the Maldives and Nepal after Pakistan´s Prime Minister Abbasi has just headed to Kathmandu for a two – day visit only three weeks after Oli has taking over as Prime Minister. Abbasi was the first high profile foreign visit to Nepal´s new leader reportedly discussing also the Chinese Belt and Roads Initiative which Pakistan prominently joins. [Asian Tribune]

8 April 2018

Maldives shifting away from India – now towards Pakistan

(hg) The Maldives, traditionally part of the Indian backyard, are shifting away from what India would like to see as its sphere of great power influence, coming closer not only to China but now also to India´s arch enemy Pakistan.

For a long time, India was the island state´s big brother, sometimes helpful, sometimes dominating. Thirty-year ruling autocrat Gayoom, now one of the leaders of the joint opposition, has received crucial military support as a pro-Indian leader for instance  when he was threatened by an attempted coup d’état led by Maldivian separatists and assisted by PLOTE, a Tamil secessionist group from Sri Lanka.

When the Gayoom dictatorship came to an end with the 2008 elections, first democratically elected President Nasheed, representing the other wing of the Maldivian opposition, continued good relationships with India until he had to resign in 2012, while Chinese investment started already to flow in. Current President Yameen, a half-brother of Gayoom, turned then decisively to China since 2014. Since then, Yameen has helped China to continuously beef up its presence economically but also by allowing the Chinese navy to dock in the archipelago. The Indian – Chinese rivalry has strongly influenced the present domestic power struggle with former President Nasheed having called for a military intervention by India to protect his country to be sold out to China. [International Policy Digest]

China has warned, however, that it would resist any Indian military intervention which has been ruled out by Delhi, while the Indian relationships to the Yameen government even worsen.

At a time when bilateral relations “are clearly in a free fall”, the Maldivian government has asked Delhi now to take back one of two naval helicopters it had gifted to the Indian Ocean archipelago saying that Male wanted a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft instead of the “Dhruv” Advanced Light Helicopter it has received. Male is said to be also considering asking India to remove the other Indian chopper too which operates in an atoll where China is said to be considering building a port. [The Times of India] Moreover, has declined an invitation by India to send a ministerial-level delegation to the Defence Expo, a biennial exhibition of weapons and military hardware, to be held in Chennai next week, after having declined India’s invitation to participate in the eight-day major naval exercise “Milan” from March 6-13 too. [Global Village Space]

Now, the surprising visit of the Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is another step in the Maldives´ shift away from India. The most worrisome outcome for India are reported discussion about joint patrol by Maldivian and Pakistani naval forces in the vast exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the island state, which is regarded as a ‘redline’ for India. So far, India has been the only country with whom the Maldives have conducted such joint patrols of its EEZ. Not too long ago, India and the Maldives have still been defense partners – even when China became already economically increasingly important already – leading to the conclusion of a significant MoU on defense cooperation in 2016. The latter formalized a process of setting up a coastal surveillance radar system for “real-time surveillance of the EEZ of Maldives”. Back then, India has supported the surveillance of the EEZ of the Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles unrivaled. [The Wire] A Pakistani – Maldivian joint patrol of the Maldivian EEZ would mark a major setback, seen as an intervention in the Indian backyard and a dangerous encircling of the sub-continent.

Another potential issue of Pakistani – Maldivian cooperation will be counter-terrorism with a team from the Maldives´ National Counter Terrorism Centre said to soon travel to Pakistan to further cooperation. In fact, Maldivian nationals received scholarships for religious study in Pakistan which seems to have contributed not only to their radicalization in general but also to the high number of Maldivians joining the Islamic State. [First Post]

1 April 2018

India and France signing confidentiality agreement amid alleged irregularities of arms deal 

(hg) India and France have signed an agreement on protecting classified data March 10, 2018, replacing an earlier agreement which is significant in the backdrop of alleged irregularities concerning the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France. While the opposition demands details of the deal, the government insists it cannot reveal the price of the fighter jets in the interest of national security and because of the confidentiality agreement. [The Economic Times]

1 April 2018

India: private law reform – family law, Muslim family law under scrutiny

(hg) India is working on the possibility of introducing a uniform civil code which is a difficult issue insofar as currently the constitution allows most religions to regulate personhood matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance through their own laws. [India Today]Meanwhile, the Supreme Court accepted to hear petitions challenging the constitutional validity of key elements of Islamic family law including polygamy and divorce rules. [Live Law]

1 April 2018

India: Supreme court transparency

(hg) The Supreme Court (SC) has now sought the opinion of the attorney general on the issue of video recording or live streaming of judicial proceedings of cases which have constitutional and national importance. In a related bid to bring in transparency, the SC had last year allowed the installation of CCTV recording with audio in state trial courts. [The Times of India]

1 April 2018

Indian opposition´s disapproval of Chief Justice

(hg) India’s Chief Justice has come under huge pressure which reached a climax when the second senior-most judge in the Supreme Court accused the top judge in an open letter together with some colleagues in an unprecedented move in January this year, that important cases were “assigned by the Chief Justice of this court selectively to benches ‘of their preference’ without rational basis”.

Now, a group of opposition MPs has collected signatures to move a motion for the removal of Chief Justice of India for allegation of abuse of power.

The move is largely symbolic though, as the opposition party MPs won’t be successful in getting the motion through with the necessary two-third majority in both the Houses. Even if they would succeed to so against all arithmetics, they would still not be able to reach closure of the process before the Chief Justice retires in October.

In India, a judge can be removed by the legislature on grounds of serious incapacity or misbehavior in a a tedious process that has so far not led to a single success. There are a handful of cases in which the move to remove a judge eventually failed, sometimes as the said judges resigned from office. Reasons for seeking removal were extravagant public spendings on the judge´s residence in one case, charges of corruption, land grabbing and abuse of judicial office in another or allegations of interference in the judicial process, caste slurs and death threat against a Dalit junior judge for instance.

The present move is significant as it is not at all only politically motivated but resounding very serious allegations against the Chief Justice of India pointing at a pillar of the constitutional fabric. [First Post]

1 April 2018

‘Recalibrating’ Sino-Indian ties to which avail?

(hg) One of the interesting features of Indo – Chinese relations at the moment is the mutual stress of commonalities and convergence. [Hindustan Times]With new American tariff policies and prospects of a trade war, Sino-Indian trade relations have become a subject of ‘convergence’ with both countries´ just having signed 101 trade agreements. [Xinhua] On this line, the Indian ambassador to Beijing has reiterated his positive stance with respect to trade potentials [Business World], while a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman underlined the “sound momentum” in bilateral relations [The Times of India 1] [Money Control]. Yet, at 16.13 per cent, India still brings the largest share of its exports to the US but only 3.42 per cent to China, making it the fourth-highest importer of Indian products. India is nevertheless looking to lower its widening trade deficit with China with the Indian government seemingly considering to grant China the status of ‘market economy’ for which China is struggling with the European Union (EU) and US in the World Trade Organization (WTO), a designation that would lead to dramatically lower anti-dumping duties on Chinese goods. [The Times of India 2] Amid softening tones between the countries, Prime Minister Modi and President Xi seem to plan a meeting on occasion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s summit in June this year. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a China-dominated security grouping, is increasingly seen as a counterweight to NATO. [Hiru News] Improving trade relations and general announcements in direction of bilateral convergence between China and India might, however, be seen as the soft accompaniment to an entrenched military, economic, political and cultural competition that increasingly moves the region, rather than the dawn of a strategic U-turn. Security relations remain as rough as the message behind all rhetoric where it comes to the contentious Dokhlam border issue regarding to which both countries continue to insist on their sovereignty. While announcing to work for a peaceful solution, the steady militarization of the border area continues unabated. [The Week] [Asia Times] [The Economic Times] [The Times of India 3]

1 April 2018

Indian Grand Strategy

(hg) Interesting especially in the context of the above described Sino-Indian economic convergence are some recent assessments of the state and potentials of Indian grand strategy.

A Stratfor piece recapitulates the conditions, potentials and direction of India’s grand strategy from a more general perspective [Stratfor], while Ravi Kant reflects on the possibility of an Indian Marshall Plan to thwart China’s expanding sphere of influence [Asia Times]. To strengthen democracy and trade in the region such an Indian Marshall Plan “must include aggressive foreign and economic policies to promote regional integration through the trade and digital connectivity” with India supposed to take “a leadership role in Asia to prove that it is an emergent power with the ambition of a superpower”. [Asia Times]

An arguably more realistic assessment is skeptical even about and Indian great power status as a country would “lack serious extra regional power projection capabilities, does not decisively dominate its own region, and is not a system shaping power in either economic or military balance terms” [Modern Diplomacy].

Arguably, India finds itself in a strategic environment shaped by an unravelling Chinese encirclement and succeeding threats to its backyard – dominance while it positions itself in the ranks of those countries decisively aiming to equally encircle and contain the Chinese sphere of influence.

Despite recent efforts in achieving increasing self-reliance in developing critical missile technologies [India Today] [Financial Express 1] [Financial Express 2], India remains largely outgunned by China [The Economist].

Noteworthy, besides a recent Chinese sale of an advanced missile-tracking system to Pakistan that may enhance latter’s ability to develop multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicle technology for its medium- to long-range missile systems [Jane’s 360], some observers see Russian-Indian relations fading with a Russian, China, Pakistan collusion. [Daily O]

Other observers highlighted that India is already so deeply entrenched in an anti-China alliance that it was not even make a major difference for this positioning if the Indian side would come to see the US as a less reliable partner under Trump then wished for initially. According to this view, the momentum of the American-Australian-Japanese-Indian Quadrilateral Security Dialogue would sustain even in its trilateral form in the case that the American-Indian partnership would face same backlashes. [Business Insider]

The American-Indian security partnership should in fact be seen as entrenched and settled as it is. The US offered India its most advanced defense equipment, training and intelligence cooperation, effectively choose it before Pakistan lauding India’s stance on ‘terrorism’, invest in India’s defense industries, engage in nuclear reactor sales, support India for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and give India a prominent role in Afghanistan. Moreover, the U.S. has also designated India as a ‘major defense partner’ a unique category created specifically for India to expedite defense technology transfer while the Pentagon has also created ‘India Rapid Reaction Cell’ streamline projects for co-development and co-production of hi-tech military equipment in India, being the only country to have such a specific cell inside the Pentagon. [Modern Diplomacy]

Being that were marriage of convenience, this partnership´s benefit for India is sufficiently tangible under the given circumstances to be acknowledged in its own sustaining weight for the country´s grand strategy.

Despite everything happening on the economic front, the US are indeed treating their new major security ally with great care visible again in context of the US’ expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats for the alleged Russian Salisbury attack, when the US assured that they were not intending at sending any message to a country like India having an equally strong relationship with both Moscow and Washington. [The Economic Times]

1 April 2018

India on the moon again

(hg) India plans its second mission to the moon, the Chandrayaan-2 mission, which is expected to be launched this year as a follow-up of the first 2009 mission that has assisted in confirming the presence of water/hydroxyl on the moon. Initially, planned to be launched in partnership with Russia, Moscow subsequently pulled out of Chandrayaan-2 altogether, citing financial issues. While NASA is not directly participating, the measurements taken by Chandrayaan-2 could help for future lunar missions, an issue having greater relevance after the Trump administration has asked NASA to return humans to the moon in the coming years. [Space]

1 April 2018

India-Uzbekistan relations: Connecting India, Central Asia, and the Gulf in deepening cooperation

(hg) India and Uzbekistan are further advancing bilateral ties after the Central Asian Power had already an important role in getting New Delhi into the 2016 Ashgabat agreement with effect from February 3, 2018, a multi-modal connectivity and infrastructure agreement between India, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Oman, for creating an international transport and transit corridor between India, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. Other Indian projects that are somehow also linked to Uzbek interest or influence are India’s MoU with Oman on the Duqm Port, the Iranian Chabahar Port and the planned International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) via Iran’s Bandar Abbas Port. A further step for India would be to also access the Eurasian Economic Union. [The Economic Times 1]

As Central Asia’s biggest military power Uzbekistan has now offered India also to set up a defense manufacturing unit which would allow Delhi to make strategic inroads in the resource-rich region amid massive Chinese presence. [The Economic Times 2]

Uzbekistan has also invited India to increase the bilateral counter-terrorism partnership and to specifically join its deradicalization program with respect to the growing network of the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan, a country being strategically important for both countries. [The Economic Times 3]The proposed visit by Uzbek President to India later this year will lead to the creation of a strategic partnership. [The Economic Times 2]

1 April 2018

Indian-Chinese Navy encounter? Joint US-Indian exercise

(hg) India has categorically denied reports of Nikkei Asian Review that its warships were in direct confrontation with the Chinese Navy near the Maldives last month.

This is the second time the Indian Navy has denied reports of tensions with China in the Indian Ocean in context of the Maldives crisis. [The Print]

Meanwhile four US Navy ships sailed in formation with an Indian Navy frigate and conducted joint exercise and crew exchange in the Indian Ocean [The Times of India]

1 April 2018

China´s joint ocean observatory on Maldives contribution to strategically encircle India?

(hg) China is looking to build what the Maldives officially describes as a Joint Ocean Observation Station, which, however, would offer significant military potentials as well. Such an observatory would in fact be an important tool to gather information on ocean state, phenomena and processes yielding a variety of physical, chemical and biological data to better understand the specific characteristics of that part of the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea providing the Chinese navy with the needed accurate and reliable hydrological data to support prolonged sub surface operations in the Arabian Sea. This is seen by Indian strategists as setting the condition to optimally deploy nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines in India’s maritime backyard and eventually as another move to complete India’s strategic encirclement by China. [The Economic Times]

1 April 2018

Seychelles: India´s military reach out barred again

(hg) India can still not use the small Assumption island of the Seychelles whose lease to India shall enable the operation of a naval base and air strip with Indian soldiers to be deployed on the island to “train Seychelles’ troops” as the qualification of an outright Indian military base seems to a be sensitive issue.

Much as the Maldives, the Seychelles’ have long fostered close security relations to India. During the 1980s, New Delhi helped to prevent several coups against the Seychelles government: twice in 1986 and one in 1981, when a group of white mercenaries attempted to overthrow the Island´s government. On basis of the 2003 ensuing MOU on defense cooperation, Indian naval ships were sent to patrol the country’s EEZ against Somali pirates in 2009. Since then, New Delhi has donated military equipment and eventually entered in the now muted agreement on the use of Assumption. The agreement was signed during Prime Minister Modi’s visit in 2015 but remained unratified by the Seychelles´ National Assembly as the government went into a minority in 2016. Meanwhile, after India has already built a network of six related coastal radar stations which are manned by Seychelles Coast Guard personnel, it has been revised this January to be tabled for ratification this month. Yet, now voting on ratification has been postponed till April again as the opposition signaled new resistance.

Besides, the ‘base question’, and some public sentiments against stronger Indian presence in general, the Seychelles and China are currently exploring new ways to expand their cooperation in defense and trade. [The Quint] [First Post]

1 April 2018

Sri Lanka´s openness to China

(hg) Under former President Rajapaksa who is working for his comeback Sri Lanka was an early participant in China’s infrastructure-building project that eventually became the Belt and Road Initiative. That created a huge debt burden for the country which was finally forced to sell the Hambantota port to China Merchants Port Holdings after Rajapaksa was gone who swiftly criticized the move. Ironically, public anger over Chinese debt had helped the present Sirisena – Wickremesinghe administration rise to power over Rajapaksa three years ago. Despite pledging to reevaluate China-funded projects which they alleged were corrupt, the new government soon saw itself negotiating concessions to China as well while pushing ahead with the inherited projects. [Bloomberg]

Now, the government seems increasingly to put its hopes in even more Chinese investment albeit desperately seeking also for Indian and Japanese investment that just does not come enough or quick enough.

Last week, the Bank of China has opened a branch in Colombo in a high-profile event attended by the Prime Minister who announced Sri Lanka would now work with China on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that would complement the FTA Sri Lanka is discussing with India. He also expressed hope that the Bank of China, which is the world’s fourth biggest in terms of assets, would create an opportunity for his country to develop into a financial hub in Asia. [Colombo Gazette 1]

Against this background, the Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka has once more remembered of the fact that the China-Sri Lanka friendship dates back to ancient times and China attaches great importance to the bilateral relations. Reiterating the Chinese promise of harmonious coexistence he assured that China will never interfere in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka and never attach additional conditions to its assistance: “While pursuing building a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness and justice, win-win cooperation, China is actively working together with Sri Lanka to promote the latter’s economic and social development and bring benefit to the two peoples,”. [Colombo Gazette 2] 

1 April 2018

Indian-Bangladesh relations: Scandal over annexation remark

(hg) A lawmaker of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of the state of Assam has courted controversy calling the creation of Bangladesh a “great mistake” because of which his state – Assam – has been facing a disastrous “Muslim influx”. Instead, so the lawmaker, India should have annexed the country after the 1971 liberation war. [Dhaka Tribune]

25 March 2018

India: Party politics and the role of Muslims ahead of next year’s elections

(ls) Party politics in India is becoming more volatile ahead of next year’s general elections. The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) pulled its two ministers out of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on Thursday in a dispute over concessions to attract investors into their southern state. The TDP has not withdrawn support from the ruling coalition, but the resignations may weaken the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ahead of general assembly elections in 2019. [Reuters]

Moreover, the Shiv Sena party, a longtime BJP ally, said there was an “environment of distrust” with the federal government and predicted the BJP would not win a majority in 2019. In addition, some regional parties have also floated the idea of a third front without the Congress or BJP. Though Modi’s government is not destabilized by these developments, analysts noted that the ruling party would find it difficult to replicate its landslide win next year without the help of allies. [The Straits Times]

In recent weeks, also the role of Muslims in Indian politics was discussed again. As former Congress President Sonia Gandhi recently clarified that the Congress was not a “Muslim party”, her statement was largely seen as further confirmation to the Indian Muslim community that they were not welcome to any political party. In fact, the BJP is the first ruling party since India’s independence without a single Muslim MP in the Lok Sabha, India’s parliament. It also did not nominate any Muslim candidate for elections in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat in 2017. Sanjana Ray analyzes the discussion in The Quint. [The Quint]

25 March 2018

Indian-Pakistan relations: Attacks in Kashmir, tensions in diplomatic relations

(ls) In disputed Kashmir, violent attacks took place in recent days. On Wednesday, five Indian soldiers and five suspected militants were killed in a gun battle near the de facto border between India and Pakistan in the disputed region of Kashmir. India accuses Pakistan of training and arming militants and helping them infiltrate across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir. Pakistan denies those allegations. [The Straits Times 1]

On Sunday, five members of a single family were killed when a mortar bomb allegedly fired by Pakistani soldiers landed on their home in Indian-administered Kashmir. There have been intense skirmishes this year along the so-called Line of Control. Last month, more than 1,000 villagers were evacuated to safer places in the northern Uri sector amid a heavy exchange of fire. [The Straits Times 2]

Moreover, diplomatic tensions have reached new heights in recent weeks as both countries mutually accused each other of mistreating diplomatic personnel. India on Thursday issued its fourth protest this week to Pakistani authorities over incidents of harassment and intimidation of its diplomats stationed in Islamabad. Conversely, last week, Pakistan had called back its high commissioner Sohail Mahmood to Islamabad for consultations following alleged instances of harassment of its diplomats in New Delhi. [Livemint] However, he returned to New Delhi on Thursday after Indian authorities partially addressed Pakistan’s concerns. Tense relations between the two countries have also affected the issuance of visas and the traffic of pilgrims between them. [Dawn]

25 March 2018

India and China: Competition over influence in South Asia

(ls) India and China remain tight competitors over influence in South Asian countries. While India is making inroads by providing development aid, China, in turn has adopted a more capitalist approach and has made significant investments in the region. The Times of India compares Indian and Chinese development aid and investments in numbers and geographical distribution, concluding that China has started to wield considerable military power and economic leverage to reorder the region. [The Times of India]

Meanwhile, China has sold Pakistan a powerful tracking system in an unprecedented deal that could speed up the Pakistani military’s development of multi-warhead missiles. China is the first country to export such sensitive equipment to Pakistan. It has been a long-held notion that Beijing is supporting Islamabad’s missile development program, but solid evidence can seldom be found in the public domain, making the official confirmation of the deal on the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) website a rarity. [South China Morning Post 1]

However, the Indian ambassador to China, in a more reconciling tone, said that there were silver linings in Sino-Indian after a “challenging” 2017. Though the dispute over territorial limits in the Doklam region and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) remain the top sources of friction between India and Beijing, the Indian ambassador said, “if the ‘boundary question’ as India calls it could be resolved, I don’t see other difficulties between India and China.” [South China Morning Post 2]

18 March 2018

Indian army chief accuses Bangladesh of border subversion causes concern

(hg) General Bipin Rawat remarks on a “planned” influx of people from Bangladesh into the northeast of India was have caused serious taking place as part of proxy warfare by Pakistan, aided by China and Bangladesh have caused concerns in Dhaka. They surprise in an election year with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League (AL) government counting as India’s “most dependable ally” in the region as an observer noted. It is this incumbent government which is the pro-Indian political force in the country while the opposition parties, the BNP included, foster relations with India’s rivals indeed. Moreover, both countries have well co-operated in in tackling terrorism and insurgency, contributing to better cross-border relations which had been difficult overtimes. [The Wire]

The general’s remarks might not lead to an escalating deterioration of bilateral relations but are posing significant domestic issues in both countries. They are putting the Bangladeshi government under certain pressure to explain its foreign policy preferences in an election year and reinforce the observation that the Indian army chief is taking a particular independent and visible public posture. His comments come in a time when India is facing unprecedented shifts in its immediate strategic neighborhood but possibly also affect inter-faith relations as he lashed out also at the domestic Muslim community´s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) as a part of the alleged ‘proxy war conspiracy’.

Accusations of a proxy war have been prominently made also in Indonesia where former Indonesian army chief General Gatot managed to use an – albeit much more entrenched – proxy war campaign to increase his and the military´s clouts since 2015. India has, however, no tradition of military government but a strong civilian Prime Minister.

18 March 2018

Israel´s biggest weapons customer: India and Vietnam

(hg) Israel – as the world´s fifth largest arms supplier following the US, Russia, France and Germany – is delivering most of its arms to India for which Israel is the second largest source of arms, lagging far behind Russia, still significantly ahead of both France and the US.

According to the database, Vietnam is Israel’s second largest customer, having purchased $142m. in arms in 2017, making Israel its second largest arms supplier, after Russia. [The Jerusalem Post]

18 March 2018

Is India losing ground in Iran?

(hg) After India, Iran and Afghanistan have signed a trilateral agreement to jointly develop the Iranian Chabahar port in 2016 the first phase of the project having been launched for some months ago, Iran has now surprisingly invited China and Pakistan to also participate in the project. [The Times of India 1]

The move comes just after India and Iran have signed nine pacts, including the lease of Chabahar port, near the mouth of the Gulf of Oman. The project was meant to give India access to Afghanistan where India is strongly engaged but also link it better to energy-rich Central Asia as Pakistan does not allow overland access. [Nikkei Asian Review]

Although being completely at odds with the Indian strategic calculus that is driven by the Indian – Pakistani and Indian – Chinese rivalry, India has commented the move moderately, saying it would be the prerogative of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to choose its partners for the development of infrastructure facilities. [The Times of India 1]

Indian – Iranian relations are basically positive, reflecting both sides´ specific strategic opportunities but have also encountered certain backlashes and not developed in greater depth, with especially the Iranian-Indian energy ties having been relegated to second place after a stalemate over an Iranian natural gas field that India had hoped to develop without much success it began moving away from the project last year and decreasing its oil imports from Iran. [Al Monitor]

The recent Iranian openness for investments of India´s main adversaries in the project of significant symbolic and strategic value for India means thus something.

On the one hand, India’s positive relations with Iran might be one of the potential stumbling blocks for the currently deepening U.S. – Indian relations.

Moreover, very practical, India had to pay dearly for unilateral U.S. sanctions Iranian oil exports from 2012 to 2014, which also contributed to a more diversified Indian energy policy. [Al Monitor]

It might be speculated, that recent U.S. pressure on the Iranian leadership increased the pressure to look for natural allies regarding the ongoing conflicts with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the US.

Notably, at the same time, influential US Pacific Command Commander Admiral Harry Harris reiterates once more that India is the “biggest strategic opportunity” for the US with both democracies being natural partners on a range of political, economic, and security issues. For Indian – Israeli defense ties see below. [The Times of India 2]

On the other side, China is cementing its position as Iran’s top trade partner with the bilateral non-oil trade having grown around 18% compared with last year as to February [Financial Tribune] and is advancing also as the major infrastructure project partner. China has just recently announced its interest in building a railway link between Armenia and Iran, which would provide for the shortest transportation route from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf and establish a major commodities transit corridor between Europe and the Persian Gulf. [Arka] Last week it also signed a US$700 million deal with Tehran to build a train line connecting the Iranian port of Bushehr, Iran’s second biggest port after Bandar Abbas, to the rest of the country’s railway network, linking especially the Gulf port and the southern city of Shiraz to complete the “North-South Railway Corridor” in line with Iran’s goal of becoming a transport hub for goods between the Gulf, the Indian subcontinent, Russia and Central Asia. [The Straits Times] Moreover, Iran Air has now signed an agreement with an unnamed Chinese company over the funding of its badly needed plane purchase campaign from Airbus and Boeing. [Press TV] Against this background, Iranian First Vice-President Es’hagh Jahangiri has just ordered the Iranian foreign ministry to draft the plan for expanding bilateral trade and economy ties between Iran and China. [Mehr News]

If China, Iran and Turkey are really forming a new axis as former White House chief strategist and ousted executive chairman at the alt-right Breitbart News Steve Bannon claimed some weeks ago or not [Ahval News], China does offer an increasingly important partnership to Iran which, under the current conditions, might appear more promising to Tehran than those with India, if tough decisions are about to make.

18 March 2018

Offering Niceties? Chinese Signals to India and annual Sino – Indian military exercise resuming

(hg) One more time, Chinese officials have send out reconciliatory signals to India, albeit on a lower level, when the Chinese Consul in Kolkata called for greater interactions between China and India on the cultural front, referring to both countries’ thousands of years old ties. [The Economic Times]Similar approaches have been made on several occasions. They seem, however, not to be taken for signs of a changing trend in terms of grand strategy but rather as bids in an attempt to buy time.

Meanwhile, after an interruption to the country´s border clashes last year, the annual India-China military exercise will resume with Indian Army Chief GenBipin Rawat saying the sour relationships last year were now improving. [The Times of India]

18 March 2018

India: Compulsory five-year military service for every new civil servant?

(hg) The Parliamentary Committee on Defence reportedly recommended five years of compulsory military service for anyone who wants subsequent employment with state or central government which could achieve firstly to overcome acute shortages in officer ranks especially of the army and might secondly contribute to instill an inherent discipline in the civil services.

Currently, the army alone is short of over 7,000 officers and over 20,000 men, air force has a shortage of nearly 150 officers and over 15,000 men, and the navy is short of 150 officers and nearly 15,000 men. [India Today]

18 March 2018

India: Debating defense spending

(hg) Heated debates over India’s defense spending reflect the domestic uncertainties India experiences while facing the emergence of a changing foreign policy paradigm especially regarding Sino-Indian relations.

India’s Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, has recently even praised his main adversary China recommending to take it as a model to increase military expenditure while providing an enabling environment for economic growth. [Daily O]

The remark represents expressive criticism that India would not invest enough in its armed forces, prompting some observers to draw interesting parallels.

Prakash Katoch, a retired Lieut. Gen. from the Indian Army’s special forces, as interestingly pointed at the moment when General Charles de Gaulle became the French president in 1959, a moment when France was militarily weak and the De Gaulle, who came to power in a context shaped by the Algerian war and coup-like actions against the government, ensured that the French defense budget remained greater than 2% of GDP, sometimes touching 5%. This, so the Indian general, resulted in France emerging as a militarily strong power with a current military expenditure of 6.2% of its GDP, while India need only a sustained defense allocation of 3-5% of GDP for the present and coming years, in addition to allocations catering for inflation and associated expenditures. [Asia Times]

Others point in the opposite direction, highlighting numbers provided by the highly reputed Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) according to which India was the largest importer of major arms in the past five years, single-handedly buying 12 per cent of the global total with an increase of arms imports of 24 per cent in the past five years compared with previous five years, while Pakistan’s arms imports have decreased by 36 per cent. Moreover, India has been the largest arms purchaser in the world not only for the past five years, but also from the beginning of this century having bought arms worth $46.8 billion compared with China’s $35 billion. The major beneficiaries of the increased arms import, in the meanwhile, American manufactures with India´s arms imports from the US having increased more than five times over the past five years. [Daily O]

Beyond sheer spending, there are also other factors that have to be taken in account when it comes to military efficiency. There has be enough new blood entering the military service (see the report below but there is also massive across-the-board corruption and nearly 30% of the indigenous defense equipment is substandard and has artificially inflated costs. [Asia Times]

18 March 2018

U.S.: Can’t expect India to abruptly turn away from Russian arms supply

(hg) Admiral Harry Harris, U.S. Pacific Command, reiterated that the U.S. cannot expect India to abruptly stop using Russian arms and instead needs a glide path to increase defense trade with the U.S. saying: “Seventy per cent of their military hardware is Russian in origin. You can’t expect India to go cold turkey on that”.

Harris was responding to a question from Senator Tom Cotton who asked during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee about the impact a recently sanctions legislation directed against Russia would have in regards of Indian – Russian defense ties. The Senator referred to the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), passed 2016 by the US Congress last summer in response to the alleged Russian intervention in the 2016 US presidential elections which has been used last week for the first time to issue sanctions which have been imposed on several entities and individuals in Russia. The legislation allows to target also specifically countries that continue to use Russian military hardware and systems which, by nature, puts India, as major consumer of Russian arms, in the scope of the law. Admiral Harris pointed out, that India what we present those type of countries deemed suitable for exceptions of the harsh legislation. [The Economic Times]

Meanwhile, a group of US lawmakers requested the State Department to let any sale of the Russian S-400 air defense system leading to new punitive measures according to CAATSA asking for a detailed analysis on the current status of Russian S-400 talks with China, Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and any other country. [Sputnik News]

The S-400 it’s one of the most advanced defense systems of its kind whose purchase by Turkey has caused considerable criticism from within NATO, while an ongoing deal with India experiences unexpected difficulties lingering on since month.

18 March 2018

India: What does Automation indicate?

(hg) With only 3 robots per 10.000 employees, India has a remarkably low automation rate or robot density respectively. This becomes clear when compared with the world average of 74 robots per 10.000 employees but also countries like Thailand (45) or China (68). Compared with the world leaders in automation it operates even in a different world: South Korea (631), Singapore (488), Germany (309), Japan (303), Sweden (223), Denmark (211), the United States (189) or Italy (185). [Quartz]

Such numbers are, however, of limited value, as they do not say anything about the concentration of automation standards in certain industries or region, the relevance of these particular industries for the respective countries’ economy and, more important, the general societal condition. India has the same automation rate like Russia, which, without any doubt harbors some highly advanced industrial segments, as India does even if on another, clearly lower level. Most interesting with the automation rate is probably this relation to Russia as well those to China, while it remains unclear whether the obvious room for improvement in the Indian case is hinting more to a persisting weakness or rather an actual potential in comparison with China as the great competitor.

18 March 2018

India: Flawed legal system?

(hg) India is providing one of the oldest modern legal systems in Asia operating on a notable level of doctrinal differentiation.

This, notwithstanding, Indian President Kovind has now voiced some concern over its reputation to be as expensive as tardy on occasion of a lecture at the National Law University calling for equal access to justice, a simplification of legal rules and enhancement of legal literacy.

The potentials of India’s legal system our, however, reflected by the president’s call on the country´s future lawyers keep pace with disruptive technology by developing regulatory frameworks in an extremely dynamically evolving technological environment regarding for instance the outer space or artificial intelligence: “They will have to write laws for new equations between humans and machines, whether driver-less cars or innovations in agriculture and medicine” demands which seem all but unrealistically ambitious for Indian legal science. [The Times of India]

18 March 2018

India: Foreign lawyers barred from practice

(hg) The Supreme Court ruled that foreign lawyers cannot practice law within the country in a case with parties including both law firms and individual lawyers from the UK, US, France and Australia.

Under the Advocates Act of 1961, foreign lawyers cannot practice law in India without reciprocity. To be eligible to practice law in India, a person has to be an Indian citizen and have graduated with a law degree from an Indian university. Foreign nationals are only allowed to practice in India if their home country allows Indian lawyers to practice there as well. Now, the court clarified that had already held that practicing law would include not only appearance in courts but also giving of opinion, drafting of instruments, participation in conferences involving legal discussion. Nevertheless, for lawyers my still engage in arbitration proceedings if the case pertains to international commercial arbitration or provide legal advice for Indian nationals concerning international commercial arbitration while still being subject to Indian Bar rules of ethics. [Jurist]Practically, that means that foreign lawyers can only advise their clients in in a very narrow field on a temporary “fly in, fly out basis”. The court has directed the Bar Council and the government to frame rules for foreign lawyers advising Indian clients. International law firm White & Case has warned that foreign business companies should structure contracts in a way that disputes are resolved through offshore mediation, possibly through non-Indian courts. [Al Jazeera]

18 March 2018

India: Supreme Court allows ‘passive euthanasia’

(hg) In a landmark ruling the SC declared that individuals have the right to die with dignity under strict guidelines permitting citizens to draft a “living will” that specifies that life support not be given in the case of coma, thus allowing the withdrawal of medical treatment with the intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient. In the decision, responding to the petition by a nongovernmental organization, the five-member court clarified with that individuals are only allowed to draft such a living will while being in a “normal state of health and mind”.

“A person cannot be forced to live on support of ventilator. Keeping a patient alive by artificial means against his/her wishes is an assault on his/her body,” the petitioner Common Cause said.

Those in favor of the decision highlight a person’s right to be respected in their decision to die in dignity and not to be kept alive in great pain or any mental presence anymore possible. Moreover, medical doctors and family members taking care of such an interest not anymore have to fear to be prosecuted for homicide and anyway legalize what is already a widespread practice.

Critics, however, point to dangers in a country with a poor public health system in which the option to refuse from achievement might be taken not in accordance with the real world of patient but financial interests. [Al Jazeera]

18 March 2018

Nepal’s orientation away from India

(hg) With the newly elected President Bhandari from the left alliance, the country is in firm leftist hands. Soon it will elect also a vice-president and last Sunday, Nepal’s recently elected Prime Minister K P Oli has gained a remarkable vote of confidence with a two-thirds majority in Parliament (208 votes out of 268). [Asia Times]Against this background, the old hegemon India is rapidly losing ground in Nepal, which is increasingly opening up to China. Unclear is only how much space India will lose, China will gain and what the impact is these developments on the regional order will have.

A breaking point for the special relations between India and Nepal was the 2015-16 blockade of the Indian-Nepali border after Nepal had promulgated a new constitution to the Indian displeasure. The new Socialist government of Prime Minister Oli in Kathmandu would only gain from serving the ensuing bitterness and the recent visit of Pakistan’s Prime Minister – the first foreign head of government to visit Nepal after Oli assumed office – only adds to Nepal’s increasing openness to China. Indian attempts to better relations to Nepal were too insignificant and came too late as Biswas Baral points out in The Diplomat. [The Diplomat] [Asia Times]

Oli’s willingness to cooperate with both China and Pakistan poses a serious strategic challenge to Delhi while another friend, Iran, seems to also opening to India’s adversaries.

18 March 2018

Maldives crisis: Pressure, appeasement and an international turning point?

(hg) Against the background of the ongoing political crisis in the Maldives, the parliament of European Union has passed a resolution to call on the Maldives government to “respect and fully support the right to protest, freedom of expression including access to social media), association and assembly, and freedom of conscience and freedom of religion and belief, irrespective of the majority religion,” as well as to “ensure that the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, the National Integrity Commission and the electoral commissions can operate independently and without government interference”. [Avas 1] The Maldives’ Fatwa Majlis, the national religious advisory body has now dismissed the resolution as a threat of the Islamic faith of the archipelago. [Avas 2]

Earlier, the EU, in addition to some of its member states such as Germany and the United Kingdom, had also raised concerns over the crisis, having called on Maldivian institutions to “lift immediately the state of emergency and restore all constitutionally guaranteed rights” and warned that if the current situation failed to improve, targeted measures might be considered. As the EU is the Maldives’ largest export partner and the EU member states strongly contribute to the Maldives’ tourism industry, the pressure is significant. [The Diplomat]

Interestingly, the Maldivian government earlier last week has send out surprising signal of appeasement to India stating: “We have an India first policy and we believe that India is the big brother in the region, not China.” The statement was made by the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture in the presence of other senior Maldivian ministers, including the Ministers of Economic development, the Minister of Legal Affairs, and the Minister of Tourism at the President’s office on occasion of the first international press conference hosted by the island nation this year. The minister also declared that “no matter what anybody says or suggests”, the Maldives will not be militarized by China. [18 News]  

Given the entrenched alliance between the government and China this is a surprising move that is not much reported yet. If it comes too late and how it has been coordinated remains unclear yet.

11 March 2018

India: Army killings in Kashmir spark protest

(ls) Tens of thousands of angry protesters poured onto the streets throughout Indian-controlled Kashmir, centered around the town of Shopian, hurling rocks and shouting anti-India slogans after soldiers killed four civilians and two suspected fighters. The riots began late Sunday night, when officials say a car refused to stop at a checkpoint and fighters inside fired at the soldiers. However, rights activists accuse Indian troops in Kashmir of routinely misusing their power, killing civilians in staged confrontations for promotions or rewards. Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India, with both nations claiming the entire region. [Al Jazeera]

11 March 2018

India: Supreme Court to protect inter-faith/inter-caste marriages

(ls) The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it would lay down comprehensive guidelines to protect inter-faith, inter-caste and intra-gotra couples whose marriages are, sometimes violently, opposed by society in the name of tradition. Chief Justice Dipak Misra reiterated the bench’s time-tested stand and said: “If two adults get married by consent, whatever be their caste, religion or gotra, no one can interfere in such a marriage, neither the relatives nor panchayats. We will give a detailed judgement on this issue.” [Times of India]

11 March 2018

India: Prime Minister Modi’s BJP wins key provincial elections

(ls) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday ended the 25-year uninterrupted rule of a communist party in a northeastern state and consolidated its position in two other states in key provincial elections. The clear win is expected to boost the party’s prospects when it seeks a second term in national elections next year. Modi’s BJP is currently governing 19 of India’s 29 states, compared to only five governed by the major opposition party, the Congress. The BJP has been riding a wave of rising Hindu nationalism in the country. [South China Morning Post]

11 March 2018

India outpaces Pakistan in trade with Afghanistan

(ls) According to trade statistics, Pakistan has lost almost half of its trade with Afghanistan since India actively began engaging with the Afghan market about two years ago. Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan has decreased to $1.2 billion from $2.7 billion over the last two years. The development comes at a time when the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global money-laundering watchdog, has decided to put Pakistan on its terrorist financing watchlist, a move that could severely impact foreign capital flow into the country. [Economic Times]

11 March 2018

The Maldives: In the middle of Indo-Chinese powerplay – and accused of selling oil to North Korea

(ls) A Chinese naval combat force that entered the Indian Ocean for the first time in four years may have helped deter an Indian intervention in the Maldives after its pro-China president imposed a state of emergency. India, a traditional ally, had received calls from Maldives’ opposition leaders last month to use force against President Abdulla Yameen to restore democracy. After the state of emergency was declared, India -moved aircraft and ships to its southern bases and put special forces on standby, two military sources in New Delhi said. In the end, however, no military action was taken. [Channel News Asia]

Meanwhile, in an interview with DW, former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed accused incumbent President Yameen of suppressing political opponents – and supporting the North Korean regime. A ship under the Maldives’ flag allegedly sold oil to North Korea ignoring United Nations sanctions on the country. According to Nasheed, the ship was also funded by the Bank of Maldives. Earlier, Japan’s foreign ministry already announced that a Maldives ship was transferring oil to North Korea refines on high seas. [Deutsche Welle]

11 March 2018

Nepal: Closer ties with Pakistan, instead of India?

(ls) In a symbolic gesture, Nepal’s newly elected Prime Minister K.P. Oli received his first foreign visitor, the Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi – instead of his counterpart from long-time traditional partner India. After winning the election on a leftist ultra nationalist platform, having promised to diversify Nepal’s relations beyond India and deepen ties with others, particularly China, the move may be interpreted as a demonstration of Nepal’s increased independence in international relations. [Hindustan Times]

Meanwhile, as many believe that Nepal has finally entered an era of stability, Raunab Singh Khatri, in the Diplomat, points to a necessary transition in leadership which is soon to take place. Looking at Nepal’s recent, political development, while the election has signaled a transition from post-conflict society toward a period of stabilization, he argues that it is also an era of transition toward a new generation of political leaders from the “old watchdogs.” [The Diplomat]

11 March 2018

Seychelles: Parliament to ratify deal with India on development of island military facilities

(ls) Seychelles President Danny Faure recommended that parliament ratify an agreement with India to develop military facilities on strategically located Assumption Island in the Western Indian Ocean by next month and emphasized that the land has not been leased or sold to the Indian government. [The Wire]

The government of the Seychelles, based in Victoria on Mahe Island more than a thousand kilometers northeast of Assumption, says the base will help coastguards to patrol its 1.3 million square kilometer exclusive economic zone for illegal fishing, drug trafficking and piracy. But its location is also of strategic importance for monitoring maritime traffic in the Mozambique Channel. The project remains controversial with small weekly demonstrations, seeing an affront to sovereignty and national pride, in the capital. [South China Morning Post]

11 March 2018

South China Sea

(jk/ls) The South China Sea remains one of the main flashpoints in Asia, continuing to involve littoral, regional as well as extra-territorial actors. The situation on the ground is changing mainly for two reasons. On the one hand, extensive land reclamation and military build-up of islands and other features in the SCS by the PRC have created new facts on the ground and essentially present the world with a fait-accompli on behalf of China. On the other hand, unsuccessful policies and growing uncertainties regarding the commitment of the US and a significant policy change in what used to be the most forward-leaning claimant state other than China, the Philippines, have led to political circumstances facilitating Chinese actions. For an update on the island-building and reclamation activities of all five claimants, please refer to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative out of the Center for Strategic Studies who have overhauled their Island Tracker. It now includes imagery of every outpost in the South China Sea which amounts to over 90 facilities at nearly 70 features [AMTI].

In more recent developments, the second iteration of the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea between China and the Philippines has made some headlines. The bilateral meeting – the preferred cooperation modus by China who opposes any extra-territorial nations to be involved- is in a way an outcome of the Philippine’s softening stance on the SCS dispute since 2016, although the idea of joint development projects – which the meetings discussed – has been around much longer and their success is questionable. Major ‘breakthroughs” that are announced more often than not fail to extend beyond very low hanging fruits and carefully worded statements that do not change facts on the ground or go beyond what has already been achieved in an ASEAN wide context [ISEAS, Diplomat 1].

Another relevant development is this week’s US aircraft carrier port call to Vietnam – a first since the end of the Vietnam War over 40 years ago. Since the Philippines has changed its stance on the SCS, Vietnam has taken over as the claimant that is seen to challenge China most, with the US intensifying ties to it [New York Times].

The response by Beijing to the port call- although critical, was not overly aggressive with the People’s Daily acknowledging the fact the Hanoi engages in a hedging strategy and that it long has done so. It did find however that the US move was all but a “waste of money” [A Times].

In a related development India and Vietnam have, in a high-level joint statement, once again affirmed their support for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where Vietnam is a claimant along with five other states — China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan. Hanoi has been particularly pro-active in the dispute in recent years. In addition to approaching India, Vietnam has grown closer to the United States as well. [Diplomat 2]

In the meantime, the UK has announced that it will send a Royal Navy vessel to conduct a “Freedom of Navigation” voyage in the SCS [The Times UK].

11 March 2018

India: The challenges ahead

(ls) While India is a country of huge potentials and with vast opportunities for economic growth, the South Asian nation also faces major challenges such as wide-spread poverty and inequality, deficient infrastructure and climate change vulnerabilities. Paul Laudicina points to the particular importance of inclusive growth and the necessary involvement of public and private stakeholders in this regard. [Forbes]

4 March 2018

Signs of bettering China-India relations and prospects of the emerging Asian security order

(hg) Given that the rivalry between Asia´s great powers India and China has reached a structurally manifest stage, there have been recent signs of slightly improving relations as well. A Chinese call to “deepen strategic communication, beef up mutually beneficial cooperation and properly settle sensitive issues” has been well received with the Indian Embassy in Beijing saying the two sides “noted the need to build on the convergences […] and address differences on the basis of mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s concerns, interests and aspirations”, highlighting further that a “sound development of relations” would be “a factor of stability in the world today.” [The Diplomat]

Yet, the decisive question is, in how far current signs of bilateral improvement support expectations of a trend and, if so, how deep and pervasive such a trend might become. A significant change of the emerging regional order with India´s integration in the `quad` would represent a major strategic shift with vast consequences. Currently, softening stances between the countries might rather point at a mutual desire to restrain the established trend for the meanwhile rather than to replace it, at least from the Indian perspective.

Interesting in this context is an analysis of the Brookings Institution regarding the Indo-Pacific region as the primary locus of global growth and opportunity today while its security and stability are seen increasingly under duress. Putting the blame for this on China, shared interests of India and the U.S. as the world’s two largest democracies with two of the largest military forces are seen having propelled India-US security ties dramatically forward over the past decade which is reflected by the rapidly advancing defense ties.

Relations, however, are still not evolving in a mature and cohesive strategic frame as long as the US is seen as seeking focusing on tangible short-term returns on its investment while India is about to make long-term decisions of potentially existential impact and thereby interested in reliable, long-term assurances that “will be neither fickle nor overbearing” [Brookings]

Another recent piece puts also strong emphasize on the fundamental competition between China and India with its strong expansive dynamics across the Indian ocean and beyond from Tanzania to Sri Lanka, Oman to Iran, the Maldives to the Seychelles and Bangladesh to Nepal. [CNBC]

4 March 2018

Boeing heavily investing in Indian Defense Industry

(hg) Boeing Defence, Space and Security has quadrupled its sourcing from India to over USD 1 billion in the past two years, investing in talent, training and skills development to get frontline factory workers and technicians for advanced aerospace manufacturing. Now, a joint chopper fuselage manufacturing facility formed of Boeing and (Indian) Tata Advanced Systems has been established at Adibatla aerospace special economic zone/Hyderabad to co-produce Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter fuselages and other aerostructures. The Hyderabad facility will eventually be the sole producer of AH-64 fuselages globally. [Economic Times]

4 March 2018

India, Russia, Bangladesh signing tripartite pact for civil nuclear cooperation

(hg) As a landmark development India, Russia and Bangladesh have signed a tripartite agreement for civil nuclear cooperation in Moscow aiming at erecting a power station being built by Russia in Bangladesh while India is extending support for capacity building and training of Bangladeshi nuclear scientists. [Economic Times]

4 March 2018

Looking at Vietnamese–Indian ties on occasion of high level visit

(hg) Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang visited India following up to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Vietnam in 2016 during which New Delhi extended a credit line of $500 million to Vietnam to buy defense equipment and issued a joint statement on the respect of the international legal order of the seas implicitly referring to the South China Sea issue which is of importance especially for Vietnam. The present visit – besides an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation as well as for the development of a port in Vietnma’s Nghe An province – much continued with both lines, a rules-based regional architecture and enhanced cooperation in trade and defense. [Economic Times] [NDTV]Vietnam is a key country for the Indian government´s ‘Act East Policy’ with both countries sharing a similar stance towards China on the one hand and those powers trying to contain the Chinese influence in Asia – the U.S., Japan and Australia – on the other. Yet, given the potential, Indian-Vietnamese relations are still to be expanded in this framework, remaining modest in a number of key areas including defense business, bilateral trade in general and people-to-people relations, in particular in terms of tourism. [The Diplomat]

4 March 2018

India-Jordan Agreements

(hg) After the recent fostering of ties with Oman, India has now signed 12 cooperation agreements with Jordan including one on defense.

In the field of defense cooperation, cooperation is broadly sought in areas like training, defense industry, counter-terrorism, military studies, cyber security, military medical services and peacekeeping.

Jordan is home to more than 10,000 Indians, who are employed in the textile, construction and manufacturing sectors, fertiliser companies, health sector, universities, IT and financial companies. [NDTV]

4 March 2018

MILAN Naval exercises and Maldives declining to participate

(hg) The Indian Navy´s Andaman and Nicobar Command will conduct the biannual MILAN exercise from March 6-11. From the 23 countries having been invited, 16 have confirmed their participation, unsurprisingly including the Maldives whose government is dealing with a worsening domestic security situation, while India is favoring the opposition in the ongoing power struggle.

Among this year’s participating nations are Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh and Indonesia. [Mihaaru] [The Hindu] 

4 March 2018

Pakistan launches naval exercise as it aims to counter India, protect economy

(hg) Pakistan’s Navy kicked off a major exercise which is part of a greater effort to modernize and expand the country´s naval power to counter growing Indian naval assertiveness and aims at validating the Navy’s war-fighting concepts under evolving multifaceted threats and with regard  of an enhancing cooperation with the Air Force at extended ranges into the Arabian Sea. [Defense News]

25 February 2018

India: Massive bank fraud highlights problems in India’s banking system

(jk) Last week, Punjab National Bank (PNB), the second-largest state-run bank in India, stated that it lost $1.77 billion in a scam running for over seven years. Nirav Modi, the accused and in no blood relation to India’s PM, is reportedly on the run after the biggest bank fraud in the country’s history. The government blamed auditors and poor management for the failure, but this is in fact not the only case and trust in India’s banking system is eroding. [BBC, Bloomberg,] India’s state bank stock assets have fallen over 22% as a result with fear spreading more banks could be involved and that the problem is indeed systemic. [Business Standard]

25 February 2018

China-India relations: Indian Foreign Minister’s visit to Beijing amidst strained bilateral ties

(jk/dql) India’s Foreign Minister Vijay Gokhale visited this week Beijing to hold across-the-board talks with top Chinese officials on advancing ties between India and China amidst rising New Delhi’s concerns over Beijing’s assertive foreign policy in the Indian Ocean. His visit is also viewed as part of preparations for talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping scheduled to meet at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) June summit. The Foreign Minister met Politbureau member and State Councilor Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, as well as Foreign Minister Wang Yi. [The Hindu]

Meanwhile, PM Modi, who has stated that India is the net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and therefore responsible for order and security there, has reacted to an increased activity of Chinese PLA Navy ships [India Today 1]. Eight warships have been deployed around the entry points to the Indian Ocean Region, in order to keep an eye on adversarial powers (read: China) [India Today 2].

A number of news outlets have also circulated that the PLA Navy has deployed a significant amount of ships (11) to the IOR and close to Maldivian waters to deter India from interfering in the constitutional crisis on the island. However, all quote the same source, the Chinese news portal, and so far, this report was not confirmed. In fact, the Indian Ministry of Defence has denied it and the PLA Navy has not commented. Fake news? [Financial Express]

For a more detailed strategic explainer of the IOR, see [Brookings].

On the other side,  the People’s Liberation Army’s newspaper Global Times refers to a senior military specialist according to whom the Chinese military is advancing its military airspace defense of Western Theater Command to confront any threat from India. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) released photographs of a J-10 jet and J-11 fighter jets conducting aerial combat training exercises in Western China last week. They belong to an aviation brigade of the air force under the PLA Western Theater Command, responsible for mountain warfare at the border area with India. [Global Times]

18 February 2018

India: The ‘value’ of a rape

(hg) Last month Supreme Court has ordered all federal states territories to file an affidavit indicating the amount received by them under a federal fund to compensate the survivors (!) of sexual assault and the amounts allocated to them.
Now, the Supreme Court reacted to the 24 non – responding states: “If you have not filed affidavit, it is a very clear indication of what you feel for safety of women in your state. You take your time and tell the women in your state that you do not care for them.”
The government of Madhya Pradesh it questioned hether it was doing a “charity” by giving Rs 6,500 to sex assault survivors, around 80 Euros: “According to you and your affidavit, on an average, you are paying Rs 6,000 to a rape victim. Are you doing a charity? How can you do so. […] You value a rape at Rs 6,500?” [Times of India]

18 February 2018

India, Modi, and the 2019 elections

(hg) An interesting blog entry in the Times of India suggests what Prime Minister Modi means for India, putting great weight on the coming elections. The author claims that PM Modi’s 2014 election victory ended a nearly 25 – year term of endemic political instability when the once all-powerful Congress was relieved from power. Not only did the electorate give an absolute majority to a single opposition party then, – namely Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP -, but Modi’s pre-eminence is also uncontested within the BJP. By marginalizing the old establishment and neutralizing power brokers, he did reshape the rules of Indian politics and implemented daring policies such as the demonetization and his major health insurance scheme. He has, however, powerful adversaries and a range on critics of his Hindu nationalist agenda. Like Xi in China, Prime Minister Modi seems, however, to a certain degree instrumental to the current role India strives geopolitically to achieve. [Times of India blog]

The present assessment is however not all – rosy: Disappointing parliamentary by-polls in Rajasthan add to an underwhelming result in elections in Gujarat, Modi’s home state accompanied by an economy that still struggles with the effects of demonetization. [Business Standard]

If this and other less positive developments are enough to challenge the Prime Minister might, however, be doubted at present.

18 February 2018

India´s defense spending on small arms

(hg) The Indian Ministry of Defence has launched a number of defense programs of considerable scale. The $2.48 billion procurement programs aim at the purchase of small arms covering light machine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles and advanced torpedo decoy systems for warships. All new programs will be awarded separately to overseas and domestic defense companies in the next three to five years. [Defense News]

18 February 2018

India´s missile programs

(hg) For the second time in just a week, India’s Strategic Forces Command has test launched a short-range nuclear capable ballistic missile as part of its annual training cycle to test the combat readiness of the Indian Army’s missile forces as reported by Franz-Stefan Gady. The successfully tested Prithvi-II tactical surface-to-surface short-range ballistic missile was also test fired in November 2016 and June 2017. The recent missile test follows the test firing of an Agni-I short-range nuclear capable ballistic missile on February 6 which was last successfully test fired in November 2017.

Both the Agni-I and Prithvi-II are part of the missile arsenal India maintains to uphold its nuclear warfighting doctrine of credible minimum deterrence. India is estimated to possess 120-130 nuclear warheads. In January, India also tested its most advanced nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Agni-V with an approximate range of 5,500-5,800 kilometers and the capability to carry a 1,500-kilogram nuclear warhead. While shorter range nuclear capable missiles are designed to deter Pakistan, the Agni-V missile is being developed to field a credible nuclear deterrent against China. [The Diplomat]

At the same time, India is seeking to advance its ballistic missile defense shield capabilities.

The Indian Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) program is structured as a two-tiered system with the Prithvi Air Defense for high altitude interception and an Advanced Air Defense (AAD) together able to intercept incoming missiles in not only endo-atmosphere i.e. within the earth’s atmosphere, but also in the exo-atmosphere. India had developed its missile defense shield with supply from Russia, Israel and the US. Recently India plans to buy 131 surface-to-air BARAK missiles from Israel at the cost of US$70 million (S$93 million) to be used aboard India’s first locally built aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, which is under construction. [AiR 2/2/2018] Previously in April 2017 India and Israel signed a deal worth around US$2 billion which includes medium-range surface-to-air missiles. The execution of an inter-governmental agreement with Russia for the purchase of the S-400s from October 2016 with an estimated worth of US$ 4.5 billion faces difficulties despite the fact that the S-400 is one of the most advanced Missile Air Defense System in the world [Air 1/2/2018]. India has also been briefed about the Patriot III under the long-term strategic partnership with US. [Modern Diplomacy]

18 February 2018

Indian navy gains access to Oman port

(hg) India and China are advancing with remarkable space to establish bases and strategic points across the Indian Ocean.

Now, PM Modi concluded a pact with Oman bestowing the Indian Navy with access to Duqm port and its facilities. The port which, is merely at a 40-minute flight distance from Mumbai, will serve as India’s entry point for wider West Asia and Eastern Africa after the Chinese navy has increased its activities in the western part of the Indian Ocean Region and set up a military base in Djibouti.

Among eight agreements that were signed in Muscat was a MoU between the defense ministries of the two countries on the use of the port facilities for Indian military vessels in terms of services and the use of the dry-dock for maintenance. Another MoU was signed between India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and Oman’s National Defense College. The two sides also emphasized upon the need to isolate the sponsors and supporters of terrorism and agreed that the international community should take urgent action against all such entities, which support terrorism and use it as an instrument of policy. Oman is strategically situated mid-way between India’s western coast and Africa’s eastern coast, has been an old maritime power and diplomatic master in balancing different strategic interest. Currently it is developing Duqm port along with a special economic zone as a regional economic hub. Duqm port, overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, might be a transformative factor for the maritime landscape in West Asia, being said to have the potential to develop into one of the region’s largest ports, prospectively with the help of India’s Adani Group.

Noteworthy, the deal between Delhi and Muscat seems to include also an arrangement to develop strategic oil storage facilities at Duqm which could turn out of even greater significance than the defense elements of the deal. If the Strait of Hormuz would be closed, these reserves could be available to Indian tankers.

Oman and India have long cultivated special security relationships with the Indian Air Force’s anti-piracy efforts having been already supported by Oman while both countries´ air forces have also held joint exercises. Reportedly, India also operates a signals intelligence facility near Rad al Hadd, in north-east Oman. [Lowy Institute] [Economic Times]

18 February 2018

Indian – Mozambican security cooperation enhanced

(hg) Another progress for India´s regional expansion as a bilateral review of the state of defence cooperation between India and Mozambique and agreement to accelerate already discussed initiatives particularly with special emphasis on maritime security.

Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen (ret.) Vijay Kumar Singh, on his visits of Mozambique, assured also an increase in training efforts for the Mozambican defense forces, Indian assistance for upgrading equipment and infrastructure with regards of military medical facilities, English-speaking capabilities of the Mozambican military and support for hydrographic surveying of Mozambican waters. The Indian general called on President Filipe Nyusi, and had meetings with the Ministers of Defense, Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Energy and Mineral Resources, and Industry and Trade. [ANI]

18 February 2018

Indian – U.S. military ties

(hg) U.S. Pacific Command Commander Admiral Harry B Harris highlighted the growing importance of U.S. – Indian strategic partnership before the House Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing on the Indo-Pacific region. The relations would even continue to advance at a historic pace with the potential to be the most consequential bilateral relationship of the U.S. of the 21st century. Over the past year, US and Indian militaries participated together in three major exercises, executed more than 50 other military exchanges, and operationalized the 2016 Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement. [New Indian Express] 

18 February 2018

How successful is India´s foreign and security policy?

(hg) Assessing Prime Ministers Modi´s foreign policy Pratap Bhanu Mehta argues that even as Indian diplomacy expands, its political options seem to decrease, that the fostered appearance of a strong state contrasts with doubts about its military capabilities, and that its globally increasingly recognized statute, does not change that it looks more helpless in its own backyard.

The list of missed objectives he presents includes the military modernization program´s failure to enhance domestic defense production in the private sector, the lack of spending and forceful strategy in Jammu and Kashmir concluding that India’s raw hard power capabilities still rather constrain options. Secondly, the partnerships and alliances with Western China-adversaries are questioned regarding their potential to mitigate India’s core vulnerabilities in direction of China and Pakistan while he considers the designation of the term “Indo-Pacific” as having just “some nominal rhetorical value”. Likewise, the expanding maritime presence from the Seychelles to Oman is considered wishful thinking regarding a potential real war: “They signal our global intent but do not add much to our capabilities”. Concerning the very Indian backyard from Doklam to Kashmir, from the Maldives to Nepal, the actualities of great power projection are seen as a pipe dream with possibly only relations to Bangladesh representing an undiminished diplomatic, moral and coercive authority. [The Indian Express]

Arguably, it has, however, to be differentiated between inescapable weaknesses which take time and effort to be metered out and outright leadership and governance failure. As an assessment of the weak sides of the coming great power the assessment seems appropriate as an judgment on the government it seems too harsh.

18 February 2018

Pakistan: Further escalation in relation to India

(jl) On 10 February 2018, heavily armed militants stormed an army base in Jammu in Indian-administered Kashmir at the border to Pakistan. Seven people were killed including six soldiers. According to Indian intelligence, this attack was controlled by Pakistani handlers [The Straits Times].

In this light, the latest comment of Pakistani General Qamar Javed Bajwa appears odd stating “Pakistan has eliminated all terrorist sanctuaries from its soil, however, residual signatures of terrorists who take advantage of presence of 2.7 million Afghan refugees and absence of effective border security coordination, are also being traced and targeted through ongoing operation Radd ul Fasaad” [ISPR].

In reaction to the attack, India threatens Pakistan, it had to “pay for this misadventure”. At the same time, the U.S. and its allies push for putting Pakistan on a terrorist-financing watchlist [Dawn].

However, it is argued that it is India standing behind this motion, since it focuses on Hafiz Saeed, an Islamist located in Pakistan and being accused by India to have planed the 2008 Mumbai attack [The Japan Times].

The current development bears the risk of further escalation between India and Pakistan [The Economic Times]. With this regards, former J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah reminds of the situation of the Kashmiris being fed up with the violence and wit being mistreated as anti-national and pro-Pakistani: “We can’t stop talking; we have to find a way forward. We might be able to find a solution” he said [India Today].

18 February 2018

Maldives: Unrest to escalate into international crisis?

(hg) The unraveling political crisis on the Maldives (see above) is increasingly overlaid by an interlocked great power competition between China and India whose immediate outcomes are unclear.

One day after President Yameen has declared a 15-day emergency, the opposition called on New Delhi to militarily intervene, while China insisted that the international community should “play a constructive role on the basis of respecting the sovereignty of the Maldives, instead of further complicating the situation”. [Nikkei Asian Review]

After President Yameen had declared the state of emergency, the European Union ambassador with his German and UK colleagues arrived in Malé, the capital, to meet with him but could not meet anybody. [The New York Times 1]

On the other side, the united opposition seems to count more on external involvement than direct negotiations in the moment largely rejecting the government´s invitation for dialogue by setting stiff pre-conditions including the release of jailed opposition leaders, saying further: “There’s nothing one can discuss with someone who’s very nature is corruption and embezzlement. Or someone who actually finds happiness in cruelty.” [Avas]

For India, the Maldives are historically part of its backyard as much as the South China Sea is for China. Therefore, there rapid Sino-Maldives rapprochement, which unfolds since 2011, is seriously threatening what might be dubbed an Indian ‘Monroe – doctrine’.

In 1988 for instance, New Delhi successfully intervened to help then President Gayoom – now arrested by pro Chinese President Yameen – to repel an attempted coup supported by Sri Lankan mercenaries. When a renegade Maldivian businessman-smuggler tried to topple the government mainly supported by hired Tamil Tigers, Gayoom reached out to US President George H.W. Bush for help. Bush turned to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who swiftly dispatched a para commando brigade and the Indian Navy who cleared the situation [Financial Times] [The Straits Times] [The New York Times 2] [The Print] For background information see Sushant Singh’s Operation Cactus: Mission Impossible in the Maldives (New Delhi, Juggernaut, 2016) with a good review here [The Wire].

The difference between then and now is, however, that it is now not the sitting president, but the opposition calling for help. [Nikkei Asian Review] [The New York Times 1]

After all, India´s attempt to help out the Sri Lankan government to counter the Tamil Tiger insurgency from 1987 to 1990 turned disastrous both in military terms and regarding the assignation of Rajiv Gandhi by a LTTE cadre, which might influence decision making on side of some in Delhi.

Another factor is the fact that many Muslim in the Maldives perceive India´s governing right-wing Hindu BJP as an anti-Muslim party – issues are the government´s approaches towards Kashmir, the Rohingya and the Indian Muslims – which could be used to rally massive Anti-Indian sentiments if India advances too forcefully. [Business Standard]

When President Yameen sent his foreign minister recently to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi the appeasement came too late with India issuing an unusually strong statement saying that it was “imperative” regarding the Maldivian court that its orders be followed. [The Straits Times]

India has shown its regional assertiveness since long and sometimes significant consequences as Ravi Veloor points out with some noteworthy examples. In 1985, it imposed an economic blockade on Nepal after Kathmandu awarded to China a key road-building project running along Nepal’s open border with India, a decision that triggered a chain of events that ultimately saw the kingdom’s monarchy toppled. Around the same time, the late Indira Gandhi decided to train and arm Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka, after Colombo allowed Voice of America to set up a transmitter in Jaffna and sold strategically important oil tank farms to a company said to be linked to the CIA. In 2014 India was again said to have imposed a blockade on Nepal, this time eventually supporting the cause of the communists and Nepal´s new Prime Minister Oli. Three years ago, Indian intelligence is said to have orchestrated a Cabinet revolt against then President Mahinda Rajapaksa who now celebrates his comeback after last week´s local elections. [The Straits Times]

On the opposing side, there is Beijing having successfully invested in the Maldives to became the Yameen government´s most important partner. Hundreds of millions of dollars in grants have been invested, one-fourth of the country´s tourists come from China while Chinese companies are executing mega infrastructure projects across the archipelago which is a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) partner nation. A 2015 amendment to the Maldivian constitution permitting foreign ownership of land paved the way for entrenching influence that was crowned by the recent FTA.

The question is how assertive China might be to keep its influence, how important the small country really is for unfolding the plan to make China Asia´s leading power before assuming global leadership as outlined by President Xi at the 19th National Party Congress in October last year.

As much as the economic value of the entrenched investments is insignificant for China as much are the Maldives strategically important, a true pearl in the Indian Ocean regarding China´s aim to establish a blue-water navy that is capable of protecting crucial trade routes, ensuring energy supplies and securing overseas Chinese assets. Last year the first PLAN frigates docked in Male for a “friendly” visit. [Al Jazeera]

Now, however, hard choices might have to be made in a scenario in which an Indian military operation seems currently not probable, whereas the Maldivian government could nevertheless come under intense domestic and international pressure. To not support the Maldivian government and the related strategic asset ‘Maldives’ then would give a benchmark for Chinese partners and adversaries alike how determined China pursues its BRI.

Both, India and China have already set limits to an escalation of the international involvement. Meanwhile, all sides will advance along overt and covert channels to secure their interests with those supporting the opposition having the advantage. Any outcome which is not a compromise will send a strong signal to those considering in many nations whether to take the Chinese or the other side. Even less than India, China would be likely prone to send troops. [Al Jazeera]

The political development in Sri Lanka and Nepal albeit being rather in favor of China will also increase the stakes from the perspective of adversary powers which further complicates the situation.

Other international players worth are Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia albeit less than the US and EU putting pressure on the government. Noteworthy is the visit of Saudi Prince Salman of the Sunni Muslim nation after the Yameen government failed to deliver on a deal to hand an entire island to Saudi interests. [The Straits Times]

Until the end of the 15-day emergency there will be probably no stark official move by any involved power but bargaining and covert attempts to gain the upper hand.

If these charges could be undermined by sufficient evidence and judicial assistance from abroad would confirm them, the situation could appear internationally in a different light. The fact that the Yameen government has in any case developed into an autocratic and repressive regime, would then be inclined to remain the problem of the Maldives electorate, at least for the meanwhile.

In a sophisticated move whose success remains to be seen, the government decided to seek help from other countries to investigate the charges of corruption against the arrested judges.

Allegedly the judges “made at least 12 visits in the past few months to various countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Netherlands and UK”, so the government, “And they have bought or acquired very expensive items (or) properties, […] Hence, we would need assistance from other countries for the investigation.” The judges are also accused of having conspired and attempted to persuade the other three Supreme Court justices to pass rulings “at midnight, out of the blue and without any new evidence”, to free political prisoners and order the retrial of ex-president Nasheed, as well as to remove the attorney-general, prosecutor-general, police commissioner and President Abdulla Yameen. [Reuters]

18 February 2018

Chinese protest over Modi´s visit of disputed border area

(hg) China protest over a low-key visit by Indian Prime Minister Modi to the northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh where he inaugurated a local convention center as China also claims the area: “The Chinese government has never recognized the so-called Arunachal Pradesh and is firmly opposed to the Indian leader’s visit to the disputed area,” said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson announcing “stern representations with the Indian side.” Arunachal Pradesh, a strategically important border district, came briefly under Chinese control during the 1962 war. [Channel News Asia]

18 February 2018

Asia: Enhancing military defense capabilities

(hg) Heightened geopolitical threats for peace in Asia have been identified as offering significantly growing opportunities by Lockheed Martin according to its executive vice president. [CNBC]

The Pentagon has just released the National Defense Strategy and a Nuclear Posture Review, the Defense Department is preparing now to issue another key document, another Ballistic Missile Defense Review, the first one after 2010. According to an unnamed defense official the document “will take a much harder look at Iran, North Korea and China”, adding: “Each of those countries has made huge strides both in range and lethality since [the 2010] assessment, and the Pentagon’s thinking about the threat, and planning for it, […]”. [Asia Times 1]

While defense spending has actually slowed down in 2017 for Asia as a whole, IHS Jane’s

expects the region to be “the driving force behind long term growth in global defense spending” in its recent assessment. [CNBC]

Global defense spending in 2018 is expected to reach the highest levels recorded since the end of the Cold War according to the annual Jane’s Defence Budgets Report. [The National Interest]

Japan has just approved the countries ever largest annual defense budget in December last year and China and India will also spend significantly [CNBC] while Russian defense spending continued to decrease in 2017, and is now 10 percent lower than in 2015. [The National Interest]

All in all, requests for advanced military systems are clearly on the rise across the entire greater region covered by AiR, made up by South, Southeast and East Asia. [Asia Times 2]

Between 2007 and 2016, according to SIPRI defense data, China had the biggest increase in military spending of 118%, followed by Russia with 87%, and India with 54%. Germany, ranking sixth had an increase of 6.8% followed by France with an increase of 2.2%. In 2015, the US spent about 36% of the total global military spending that year. In 2016, the USA spent 611 billion USD followed by China with 215 followed by Russia with 69.2, Saudi Arabia with 63.7, India with 55.9, France with 55.7, the UK with 48.3, Japan with 46.1, Germany with 41.1, South Korea is 36.8, Italy with 27.9 and Australia with 24.6 billion USD. [The Times of India]

Notably, India´s defense budget broke into the world’s top five now, replacing the UK for the first time and signaling a shift in the military balance between the two countries with India allocating more capabilities to develop its regional ambitions than the UK with the remnants of its global ambitions. [India Post] India´s rival China, however, affords the world’s second-largest defense budget after the US and remains far ahead with three times India’s defense budget. China’s real defense spending increased by nearly 25 per cent in 2016-17, whereas India’s rose by just 2.4 per cent. Since 2000, China has built more submarines, destroyers, frigates and corvettes than Japan, South Korea and India combined. Saudi Arabia, with a defense spending of USD 76.7 billion, came in third to complete the world’s top five behind the US, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and India last year. [India Post]

In 2016, European Union countries transferred US$2.1 billion worth of weapons to Indo-Pacific nations, nearly the same as the United States ($2.3 billion). Russia was the macro-region’s largest supplier with $3.4 billion worth of arms, while China ranked fourth with $1.2 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. [Asia Times 1]

Meanwhile US Pacific Command Commander Admiral Harry B Harris announced for the U.S. – Indian relations that “[d]efence sales are at an all-time high”. [The New Indian Express]

Singapore’s defense minister just reaffirmed this assessment in his recent Total Defense Day message commemorating the fall of Singapore in 1942 that independence would depend on strong military defense capabilities. [Channel News Asia]

In Bangladesh, military modernization is a long-term objective. Regarding the Air Force  Raihan Al-Beruni points to the need to develop an area denial strategy that he argues is lacking and urges the fast development of a reflected strategy assuming that the Chinese-made J-31 and the Russian Su-57 will dominate the Asian market in the near future. [Dhaka Tribune] 

11 February 2018

India likely to regain title of “fastest growing large economy” this year

(jk) Based on economic projections, and if the international environment remains supportive, India is set to grow faster this year than China. The country, which over time will also turn into the most populous country in the world is projected to grow between 7 or 8 percent which will be good news for PM Modi. Relatively strong growth projections aside, India remains a poor country with a GDP per capita rate of roughly one-eighth of the US and significant room for institutional and policy improvement. [Financial Times]

11 February 2018

India: Military Capabilities continue to grow

(jk) As we have reported in more detail a couple of weeks ago [AiR 4/1/2018 and News 18], India is continuing to increase its military prowess in order to become a very large and very well-equipped military force. India has last year again emerged as the world’s largest arms-importer [The Tribune], but India also seeks to build on indigenously built weapons. In this regard, the recent successful testing of the Agni-I missile, a short-range ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear war head, is significant as this is another rocket successfully developed and integrated in India [NDTV]. At the sidelines of the recent Singapore airshow, India has also revived talks with one of Israel’s major defence corporations about the purchase of guided anti-tank missiles. Rather than just purchasing the product though, there is a particular interested in technology transfer industrial cooperation. [CNBC] 

4 February 2018

India: Mastering the challenges of fiscal governance?

(hg) One of the greatest challenges to any state are state finances and the craft to effectively lever taxes. Especially strong developmental states with a populist touch and foreign policy ambitions as a great power such as India are sooner or later dependent on their ability to tax which, however, is one of the most complicated endeavors to run the state and loaded with paradoxical fallacies and dilemmas.

One of the crucial dilemmas which taxing states are facing is the fact that efficient states are impossible without ef-fective taxing, while effective taxing requires efficient states. At the same time, without efficient states, tax moral tends to be accordingly low whereas tax moral is also instrumental to lever taxes at all.

To establish a working system of taxation in this sense, two faculties have to be given. First, there have to be the necessary institutional capacities, especially the professional ethics, knowledge and skills of the state’ s bureaucratic apparatus and the reach and integrity of its legal system. Second, the more formalized the economic system is, the more the banking and accounting system do actually cover the economy, the easier it is for the state to tax its citi-zens. If these conditions are somehow fulfilled, it is then the eternally disputed issue of how the taxation system has to be balanced out in terms of tax rates and sources of taxation.

Against this background, the Indian government’s daring proposition to demonetize its economy has been a major attempt to create one of the two necessary conditions to improve the Indian state’ s notoriously weak fiscal founda-tion given its ambitions to effectively tax his citizen’s and create a more efficient state. The attempt of such a Hercu-lian task deserves respect alone. It will on the other side, never be executed without resistance and frictions that are only adding to the above-mentioned dilemmas.

Presently, with the coming elections, Prime Minister Modi’s government is facing the challenge to handle the com-peting pressures to please voters on the one side and maintain fiscal rectitude on the other.

As the Financial Times point out, Modi’s winning pitch to his voters four years ago was the promise to improve the economy and create jobs. Even if the demonetization is considered to have been successfully implemented, many of Modi’s voters have perceived it as a radical, highly disruptive measure which was – until now – not followed by a suc-cessfully implemented tax reform and surging economic growth. [Financial Times]

A more positive perspective, claims however the success of the government’s reforms already looming. Based on the achieved, the author refers to the axiom that higher collections of direct taxes – thus those on income, corporate profits, capital gains and property – could create the fiscal space for the government to reduce rates on regressive indirect taxes – such as the goods and services tax – which would benefit lower incomes for the sake to curb domestic demand.

The author claims, based on findings of Thomas Piketty and Nancy Qian in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2009, that income tax collection as a per cent of GDP tends to rise sharply once average incomes cross the $2,000 threshold – from 1% of GDP to around 5% of GDP – to point out that India is currently indeed on the cusp of that very threshold.

According to the quoted academic article one reason why India has had less success in turning the income tax into a mass tax in the past could be that “the proportion of formal wage earners in the labor force is ridiculously low” – a deficit that to address might be significantly supported by the results of the demonetization reform. [Livemint]

Noteworthy in this context is the newly announced flagship health insurance scheme that is supposed to provide a safety net for millions of people providing them with affordable quality health care. “Modicare” shall cover the needs more than 500 million Indians while providing around 8000 USD in medical coverage for each family annually. [BBC News]

4 February 2018

India: After addressing Davos and the ASEAN leaders Modi talks to his own kind

(hg) An interesting observation relates to the often very different parlances demanded from contemporary Asian leaders in times of globalization, regional transformation and domestic campaigning. An example in case are the sub-sequent presentations of Prime minister Modi to the international business community in Davos, the ten ASEAN leaders he had gathered as his guests in Delhi, and his very electorate in rural India with the 2019 general elections approaching. Against this background it is worth to have a look at the PM’s latest ‘Mann ki Baat’ address to the na-tion, the first in 2018.

‘Mann Ki Baat’ is a nationwide broadcasted radio program that is hosted by the Prime Minister in which he addresses the Indian people, especially those dependent on radio. Addressees are not so much the urban and well educated higher middle- and upper-class Indians but the lower classes. In terms of themes, last week’s speech was particularly devoted to the marginalized, while matters of global order and international politics figured stunningly low with only a very brief reference to the ASEAN leaders having just attended the Indian national day celebration. Prime Minister Modi also displayed no signs of an overly nationalistic rhetoric but devoted his speech to the “common people, who are not living in big cities and not seen in newspapers and TV” to appreciate their contribution by mentioning con-crete examples from all over the country by name. After starting with the Indian women to praise their efforts amid the challenges they face, Modi turned to issues such as child marriage, the environment, affordable health services, and the general need to identify the “many gifted women and men who remain faceless or unknown” and yet con-tributing to the nation. The only passage that might be understood as an allusion to foreign policy and carrying a no-tion of non-inclusiveness was a comment on the efforts of simple people in “a Maoist infested region” of the coun-try, where “the Maoists have created a scary reign of terror” under the signs of “violence, torture, explosives, guns, pistols”, a reference which might be understood as an indirect hint on the recent election victory of the United communist forces in Nepal. Anyway, this third and internationally unnoticed speech of the Indian Prime Minister in the recent days interestingly reveals the concerns of the bulk of Indian voter’s and how the Prime Minister tends to address them. See for the full speech [The Indian Express].

4 February 2018

U.S.–Indian rapprochement despite remaining concerns

(hg) The newly announced U.S. Defence Strategy with its the key priority to counter what it bluntly declares a growing threat from Russia and China puts great emphasize on the Indo-Pacific region where the U.S. will “strengthen our alliances and partnerships […] to a networked security architecture capable of deterring aggression, maintaining stability, and ensuring free access to common domains”, as defense secretary Mattis said.

With the great possibility that the U.S. and India will actually engage in a deepening and sustaining partnership to contain the Chinese expansion, the mutual perceptions vary slightly. India, arguably represents at present the probably most challenging and promising element of the U.S. approach to Asia. While important steps to realize the potential are done already and the U.S. have barely reason to fear a return to a Sino-Indo BRICS cordiality, there are some remaining points of concern from the Indian perspective which, nevertheless, enjoy a – currently – lower priority.

From the Indian side, some commenters point nevertheless to the U.S. President’s presumed unpredictability, which they fear could surface economically but also security related. Most crucial issues as one observer notes it are terror groups targeting India and the broader U.S. – Pakistan relations. [Modern Diplomacy] [The Quint] 

Second, the harshly formulated U.S. defense strategy could, so the fears, also catalyze geopolitical dynamics with respect to China and possibly push of Russia to enhance its partnership not only with China but also Pakistan. 

Equally possible according to the Indian assessments is thirdly possible U.S. – Indian discord due to India’s stance towards old allies as reported in earlier AiR issues. In fact, not only the mentioned drift in Indian-Russian relations, but also Delhi’s relations with North Korea and, more important, its vested interests in Iran could turn out to bear potential for tensions.

While the U.S. and important U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel display increasingly signs that relations with Iran could further deteriorate, Iran remains of crucial importance for India in negative and positive respects, namely to counter the Chinese influence in the Middle East but also to expand the very own presence with Iran as India’s gateway to Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. The most prominent Indian investment in Iran is the Chabahar Port project. [Modern Diplomacy] [The Quint] 

4 February 2018

Are Sino-Indian relations getting softer or tougher?

(hg) Some commentators observe a shift in China’s rhetorical stance towards India by offering to open talks with India to resolve differences on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and join the Belt and Road Initiative as to a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson. [The Hindu]

Interesting in this context are remarks of Rong Ying, Vice President of China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), a prominent state-run Chinese think-tank affiliated to Chinese Foreign Ministry. In an article in the CIIS journal, the first of its kind by a Chinese think tank on the Modi government, Rong, who also served as a diplomat in India, acknowledges the reality of competition between the countries which he sees however to be possibly reconciled with a principled cooperation as well. Advocating a “strategic consensus of the two leaders”, Xi and Modi, he states that China would not be a hurdle but a major opportunity for the Indian development. [The Economic Times]

The actual room for friendly bilateral maneuvers has, however, already been limited by the Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesperson herself when offering a new partnership with Delhi as mentioned above. Significantly, the spokesperson, when confronted with China’s alleged military infrastructure buildup in the Doklam/Dong Lang area (see below), reiterated that this would be a project on China’s sovereign territory, offering thus a much less reconciliatory stance concerning the currently more crucial frontline between the countries than related to Pakistan. [The Hindu]

Against this background, recent remarks of a Chinese researcher are interesting who predicts that India’s new foreign minister will take an even tougher approach towards China than his predecessor. Actually, India’s new foreign minister Gokhale is considered an expert on China and has been India’s Ambassador to Beijing when the Doklam standoff erupted in June last year. [Times of Islamabad]

Rounding off the picture of bilateral assessments, another former Indian foreign minister has just expressed his deep suspicion about a rising China’s unilateral assertion and disregard for other countries as the defining challenge for India, a view particularly expressed regarding the inroads China is making in India’s neighbourhood, especially in Nepal. [The Tibetan Review]

An interesting ‘external’ assessment from the American side has been made a former U.S. diplomat stating that the present and future India-China ties would reflect a “Cold-War-like” relationship while New Delhi would be unlikely to join something framed as a US-led front to contain Beijing. [The Economic Times]

4 February 2018

Deteriorating Sino-India border developments

(hg) A retired Indian colonel who has thoroughly analyzed satellite images of the disputed Doklam plateau has “shredded the veil of peace laboriously woven by India and China since they pulled themselves back from the brink of war last summer” [South China Morning Post].

According to him, the People’s Liberation Army is engaged in a military infrastructure build-up of significant magnitude. It includes concrete posts, helipads, new trenches, and a concrete observation tower less than 10 meters from the Indian Army’s most forward trench as well as fighting posts that have been created on almost every hillock on the North Doklam plateau. All this, so the retired soldier, has been implemented only after the 16 June 2017 resolve of the war-close tensions. The developments add to the fact, that China has actually never proclaimed that it was pulling back its troops. [South China Morning Post]

The Indian government, seems, however, not to remain inactive. To ensure faster movement of troops, the Indian government plans to build a 14-kilometer tunnel at an elevation of 13,700 feet through the Sela Pass which is located between the Tawang and West Kameng districts of Arunachal Pradesh, an area considered to be of great strategic importance in case of war. [Defence News] 

4 February 2018

Indian Defense

(hg) India has the sixth highest defense budget and the second largest standing armed force in the world. While it is currently attempting to modernize its equipment as much and quick as possible the growth rate of the defense budget has fallen. For a detailed account on the current status and demand in terms of defense spending see the detailed report of [News 18].

Under the eyes of its chief of staff, the Indian Navy has nevertheless launched – even if with some delay – its third, state-of-the-art Scorpene class submarine, ‘Karanj’, which is supposed to mark a generational shift in submarine operations. [Marine Link] [NDTV]

Meanwhile, the Indian Air Force has reportedly again released a request for information (RFI) for in-flight refueling aircraft. [AIN Online]

At the same time, India also envisions an enhanced platform to sell its own weapons to smaller countries in Asia that fear China’s rise. Indian made arms are, however, still lacking sufficient quality which seems largely due to ineffective command-and-control structures. [The Economic Times 1]

Considered as a promising Indian produced product to be further developed is the high-range BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, whose range could be extended to 450 km and then to 800 km which would drastically beef up the own Indian military capabilities. [Army Recognition] 

A welcomed sign of trust to Indian weapons has just been offered by the visiting U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, General David L Goldfein, who flew one of India’s indigenous light combat aircraft ‘Tejas’.  [The Economic Times 2] 

4 February 2018

Remnants of better times between India and Russia

(hg) It is one of the significant expressions of the present process of a realigning Asian order that old friends estranged and new relations emerge. Among the greatest changes in this sense are the US-Pakistan and the Indian-Russian relations.  Yet, in case of the latter, there are still closer bonds than in the former. On occasion of the recent Indian national day, President Putin has now once more acknowledged the Indian nation’s achievements and expressed his appreciation for both country’s “relationship of privileged strategic partnership” [TASS], which, however, is arguably fading.

The actual perception from the Russian side seems well captured by an academic’s meanwhile published account on the Russia-Indian strategic dialogue and the related recent bilateral meeting and its “specifics”. The author acknowledges the reality of an Indian participation in the newly formed anti-Chinese alliance between the Asia – Pacific’s “largest democracies” but reiterates, at the same time, that India would still be interested in Russia’s approaches to the Greater Eurasian partnership, the Chinese Belt and Road initiative and how these initiatives can be linked to the plans to create a North-South corridor and other infrastructure projects of India. [Valdaiclub]

Even if this might sound a bit optimistic at present, not all is lost for the possibilities of Indian – Russian cooperation either as India may join hands with Russia for expanding its presence in the hydrocarbon sector in Vietnam reflecting another increasingly difficult, yet still standing friendship, namely those between Russia and Vietnam which the Russian side has kept when China and Vietnam clashed over South China Sea issues in 2014.

Despite growing US-Vietnamese ties, Vietnam, like India, still has long established military ties with Russia, possessing for instances Russian SU-27 fighter jets, kilo class submarines and Yakhont missiles. India, on its part, is also planning to sell its Brahmos missiles, which it has jointly developed with Russia to Vietnam. All these ties and recent moves however do not change the more dominating reverse trend in all three country’s relationships whereas they do show that the strategic realities remain complex and dynamic. [The Economic Times]

4 February 2018

India’s ASEAN ties

(hg) After the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit held in Delhi which had been organized in coincidence with the Indian national day with all ten ASEAN leaders attending, India’s symbolical capital with regard to ASEAN received a boost. The message conveyed at large at the meeting was that India is important to ASEAN where it viewed as a benign power and one to which relations can be hugely expanded in the near future.

For India in turn, ASEAN is of vital importance both for strategic and economic considerations after Delhi has redefined the contours of its foreign policy priorities. Setbacks in South Asia and opportunities in Southeast Asia have partly blurred Indian foreign policy’s classical distinction between ‘immediate neighborhood’ and ‘extended neighborhood’. Unspoken in public meetings but very present at the horizon of palpable strategic opportunities remains the question how to engage especially Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia in the broader context of the strategic discourse already established by the ‘the Quad’, the U.S., India, Japan and Australia. [The Hindu] 

4 February 2018

India working against the trend in Nepal?

(hg) After the overwhelming election success of the joint communist forces in Nepal which is widely assumed to give China a strategic advantage over India, the Indian government has worked quietly over the past two months to secure its stakes in the Himalaya state. After all, almost all of the Nepalese people live on the Indian side of the Himalayas, while Nepal takes up half of the mountain border between China and India.

Following PM Modi’s telephone call Nepal’s coming communist leader Oli immediately after his election, several high-level contacts were established between Delhi and Kathmandu culminating in Indian Foreign Secretary Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Nepal ahead of the now expected government formation. Oli, in turn, wrote on the occasion of the Indian national day to PM Modi that he was eager to work with the Indian government. [The Economic Times]

4 February 2018

Japan expanding its influence in Sri Lanka and beyond, partly in cooperation with India

After Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono’s visit to Sri Lanka the Japanese engagement in Stri Lanka takes shape as well, both economically and militarily, – partly in concert with India. Now, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority with both Japan and India plans a joint liquefied natural gas project, the first in the country, to be located within Colombo port – one of the busiest ports in South Asia. [The Diplomat]

At the same time, the Japanese government plans to expand its assistance to strengthen naval security capacities to nations in the Indian Ocean with Sri Lanka and Djibouti as first targets. [The Japan Times]

4 February 2018

India’s new military presence on the Seychelles and concerns over Chinese influence in Sri Lanka 

(hg) India and the Seychelles signed a revised agreement that will allow India to build military infrastructure on Assumption Island, that will expand its strategic reach in the Indean Ocean.

Initially, the agreement had been signed in 2015 to be suspended because it had not been ratified by the Seychelles parliament prompting previous President of the Seychelles, Faure announced last year it would have to be re-negotiated.

The agreement shall enhance the cooperation pertaining anti-piracy operations and enhanced EEZ surveillance to prevent intrusions by potential economic offenders indulging in illegal fishing, poaching, drug and human trafficking and generally the Seychelles’ defense assets and capabilities. [Jane’s 360] [The Times of India]

The final conclusion of the agreement follows an unannounced visit of India’s Foreign Secretary Jaishankar to the Seychelles after the Seychelles-China cooperation has been rapidly growing in the recent past. Giving the Indian military interests on the islands, the deal securing them is indeed of great “strategic significance” for India. [India Today]

Meanwhile, India is indicating security concerns over Sri Lanka handing over the control of Hambantota Port to China with Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman having publicly raised doubts whether China would confine itself only to [peaceful] port activities, hinting at the port’s ‘dual use’ capacity. [Daily Mirror]

26 January 2018

India´s Most-Wanted Terrorist Captured?

(hg) Indian police claims to have captured “India’s Bin Laden” Abdul Subhan Qureshi when returning from Nepal to revive the ‘Indian Mujahideen’ he had allegedly been founded. Qureshi is claimed to have masterminded a series of deadly bombings such as those of Mumbai in 2006, Delhi in 2010 and Bangalore in 2014. [National Public Radio]

26 January 2018

India: Silence on government a professional failure of the country’s strategic thinkers?

(hg) In an interesting comment on India’s contemporary foreign policy analysts, Sushil Aaron comes to the conclusion that the vast majority of the country’s international relations collective is not sufficiently critical were it comes to linking assessments of geopolitical shifts, international governance structures and multilateral ties to the domestic realities of the present administration. The author claims the relative silence of the bulk of relevant strategic experts on the Modi government distorts not only the picture but also “the division of intellectual labour in the country”. [The Wire 1] For a critical assessment of the current state of affairs in India see [The Wire 2 ].

26 January 2018

Indian governing party loses ally in important federal state ahead the 2019 elections

(hg) Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which heads a coalition government in India´s rich-est and second-most populous state of Maharastra being home to India’s financial capital of Mumbai, has lost its 25-year alliance partner, the local Shiv Sena party, which has decided to contest elections on its own.

Falling apart of its relative weight within the coalition government, the Shiv Sena, the Army of Shiva, is currently al-most equally strong as the BJP in Maharastra where it traditionally enjoys considerable influence. Like the BJP, it be-lieves India is a fundamentally Hindu nation. [Reuters]

26 January 2018

India: Update on India’s recent court crisis

(hg) After four senior judges of India’s Supreme Court have unprecedentedly criticized the state of affairs of judicial governance at the apex court in general and the leadership of the Chief Justices in particular on occasion of an un-precedented press conference [AiR 3/1/2018], the inter-court stalemate persists while not much information reaches the public.

The shockwaves of the judges´ statement have meanwhile reached the higher echelons of India’s polity. One point of reference of the judges’ criticism was the Chief Judge´s handling of investigations in the case of a Maharashtra judge who was found dead in 2014 when he was hearing the case of an alleged extrajudicial killing by the Maharashtra state police. The investigations also involved the then responsible state minister and now BJP party chief Amit Shah. A day after the spectacular press conference, the prime minister’s principal secretary has obviously “dropped by” the Chief Justice’s house which prompted the Congress to call this an attempt of undue executive mingling in judicial af-fairs. These developments are adding a significant political edge to what already took the shape of a major judicial crisis. [Quartz]

26 January 2018

India: Modi’s bid for global leadership in Davos

(hg) This year´s Davos opening – speech by Indian Prime Minister Modi was of some significance to mark India’s actual stakes in the shifting global order. Last year, President Xi Jinping has conveyed a strong message that China would be ready to take up the mantle of global leadership that President Trump seemed to have just discarded. Now, some commentators have attributed India the potential to become “the sort of leader that an authoritarian China can never be, that a fractured Europe is failing to be, and that an inward-focused U.S. is refusing to be”. This would be a leader that “pushes forward equitable global trade, that seeks new pathways to controlling climate change, and stitches together multipolar and norm-following approaches to global security.” [Bloomberg]

Yet, such a perspective and goal seems to imply a picture way to rosy for present-day India [Quartz] and, moreover, also not the vision the normally eloquent Modi did fully live up to portray in his speech. In fact, talking much on India’s attractiveness for foreign investors, he arguably rather failed to deliver a determined and sufficiently palpable vision of Indian leadership, especially if compared with those of Xi. With the US ceding space not diplomatically but also strategically Modi did, however, importantly emphasized globalization as a key issue of future global ordering, suggesting “a cooperative, harmonious, sharing and caring world”. [The Economic Times] In noteworthy contrast to US positions and actions he explicitly mentioned three key global issues particularly silent in recent US proclamations to be taken up decisively: climate change, terrorism and anti-globalization. [Bloomberg]

Warning in this context against a new wave of protectionism with trade barriers posing a danger to the world on par with climate change and extremist attacks, he did so just hours after the U.S. government had approved new tariffs for instance. [ABC News] At the same time, the recently released US National Defense Strategy has dropped climate change and terrorism as primary foreign policy focal points replacing them with great power competition with China and Russia.

26 January 2018

India: enhancing its military capabilities

(hg) A significant military advancement is India’s first domestically built aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant (IAC-I), that will be ready for operational deployment by 2020. [The Diplomat]

Moreover, having successfully tested its first self-developed, long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear weapons, India is now pursuing membership of the small club of countries with intercontinental missiles. [The New York Times]

With this strategic shift India commands the capability of hitting China’s eastern coastal cities which it could previously not threaten. [Time Magazine]

At the same time, a 2016 initiated $5 billion-plus purchase of five S-400 Triumf long-range surface-to-air missile systems from Russia seems to be frozen at present. India is currently developing an own anti-missile system that includes indigenously developed Prithvi Air Defence for high-altitude interception (above 75 kilometers) and Advanced Air Defence for low-altitude interception (below 15 kilometers) but also medium-range surface-to-air missile systems claimed to be capable of taking out an incoming missile with its range of more than 70 kilometers. Arguably, the Russian S-400 (NATO reporting name: SA-21 Growler) which is designed to destroy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles, including medium-range missiles, and surface targets is the currently best air-defense systems of its kind, capable of intercepting and destroying airborne targets at a distance of up to 400 kilometers. Russia has just reinforced its own S-400 in Syria and purchased the system not only to China but also to Turkey, which had created some tensions within NATO. [Defense News] [TASS]

More successful than the Indian – Russian missile deal looks the conclusion of a contract about 48 Russian Mi-17 Choppers of which India has at present around 151. [NDTV]

As a noteworthy innovation come Indian – Japanese plans to increase their cooperation in the defense, robotics and AI sectors in coming years to contain China´s expansionist including the launching of a working group on cooperation between nuclear companies. [RT]

26 January 2018

Indian – Southeast Asian/ASEAN links

(hg) On occasion of the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit, the Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj stressed the deep cultural links between India and SEA, referring to the Buddhist religion and the Hindu Ramayana epos. [The Hindu]

Notably, Indian Prime Minister Modi combined the Summit with inviting all ten ASEAN leaders as his ‘chief guests’ to the 68th Indian national day parade to even stronger foster the Indian – SEA ties vis-à-vis the expansion of Chinese influence in the region. [Financial Times]

Particularly noteworthy in this context is an article of Singapore´s Prime MinisterLee Hsien Loong in the Times of India on this occasion. Lee is resounding Indian External Affairs Minister Swaraj by noting the “more than 2,000 years” of bi-regional relations that he traces up to the present time that he describes as being marked by “major global trends […] reshaping the strategic outlook” that are “presenting both challenges and opportunities” and give a “new impetus to ASEAN’s cooperation with key partners like India”. Without mentioning China explicitly, his stress of the common interests in peace and security in the region and an “open, balanced and inclusive regional architecture”, which he expressively also relates to the sea lanes, the Singaporean Prime Minister has issued a significant statement at a time India at which Modi´s India presented itself on the global stage in Davos as well. [The Business Times]

26 January 2018

India and the revived ‘security ‘quad’

(hg) The navy chiefs of the four ‘quad’ nations that recently reconvened the old quadrilateral security dialogue of Japan, Australia, India and the US came together at a security conference in New Delhi. The admirals displayed their unity in their perception of China as a “disruptive power” in the region. Just recently Japanese Prime Minister Abe had underlined the ‘quad´s’ shared strategic values. While Japan is more inclined to actively engage in military alliances than India, India arguably is currently even more challenging to China psychologically than is Japan. [The Australian]Interesting in this context are insights offered by a former Indian secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs on how India viewed the revival of the four-country security dialogue as a necessary part of the shared containment strategy towards “an increasingly belligerent China” but with some initial hesitation. Anil Wadhwa, having been in office until mid of last year, revealed that New Delhi was initially skeptical of reconvening the ‘dialogue’ because of the Australian Rudd government’s decision ten years ago to abandon the first attempt to forge the group as a result of Chinese pressure. Seemingly, intense negotiations were needed to persuade India to re-embrace the quadrilateral dialogue amidst doubts about Australia’s reliability with Japan playing a particular role. [The Australian] 

26 January 2018

How good is the current deterioration of US-Pakistani tensions for China?

(hg) Ankit Panda, a senior editor at The Diplomat, provides an interesting perspective on the Chinese interest in the constantly deteriorating US-Pakistani relations claiming that it “would be a mistake to presume that China is glad to see a” full breaking apart.

First, while both the US and China provide important assistance to Pakistan they do so in different ways. A China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that gains steam would still not generate that sort of aid the US is providing. Second, sufficiently close US – Pakistan relationships pose a similar burden on US – Indian ties as comparative Indian – Russian or Indian – Iranian ties could do. For China it seems preferable that the US sustains principled relationship with both Pakistan and India investing resources without gaining India as a partner of an operationable anti-China entente. [South China Morning Post]

These observations are important as a reminder of the complexity and ambiguity of great power competition. There will always be the possibility of draw backs, paradoxical developments and tensions in bi- and multilateral rapprochements, especially where one country is absorbed by another´s sphere of influence or uncertainty exist weather two aligned distinct spheres of influence emerge instead. Yet, India and China have driven the regional power game to a point where a real US – Indian entente seems possible whereas Pakistan´s value and the burden of an ‘engagement of attrition’ will also be assessed from the US point of view.

26 January 2018

India/China: Education, higher education/professional training, and research 

(hg) With all its success and ambitions, India has yet a lot of unfulfilled potential in terms of education and research if compared to China.

A first issue concerning India is the class divide that dominates the education system with a vast gap especially also between education in rural and urban areas. While the top 10% will be able to get good jobs and compete with the best in the world, the most will have a precarious living in the informal sector. According to recently published Annual Status of Education Report after eight years of schooling, only 43% of 14-18-year-olds could do simple division; more than 40% couldn’t tell hours and minutes from a clock; and 46% didn’t know which was Indian capital. [Livemint]

An interesting, currently debated strategy to improve the (higher) education status in India is an increase in online education and training. A recent deal between Indian IT major Tech Mahindra and edX, an online learning destination founded in 2012 by Harvard University and the MIT, reflects the potential of e-learning with edX reskilling 117,000 of Tech Mahindra employees. Coursera a venture capital backed, education focused tech firm founded by two Stanford professors has already attracted 2 million learners in India alone taking on 60,000 new learners every month. [ZDNet]

Meanwhile, China’s research and development (R&D) policy figures impressively according to the biennial science and engineering indicators recently published by the US’s National Science Foundation and National Science Board. As the world’s 2nd largest spender in R&D after the US, accounting for 21% of the world total of $2 trillion, China, focusing on becoming a world leader in artificial intelligence, quantum communications and computing, biotechnology and electrical vehicles, is, in fact, becoming a scientific and technical superpower. Contributing to this development is the ‘Thousands Talents Plan” and the ‘Thousands Youth Talents Plan’ that targets scientists below the age of 40 with a PhDs from prestigious foreign universities whom the government offers 500,000 RMB ($80,000) lump sum and research grants ranging from one to three million RMB ($150,000-$300,000). Both plans are complemented by the ‘Recruitment Program for Innovative Talents’, which is targeting foreign academics [1000 Plan] By it, more than 6000 high-level oversea workers have already been recruited [China Daily].

For a comparison between the Chinese and the Indian policies to reach out to both countries’ highly skilled professional diaspora see [The Diplomat].

19 January 2018

Indian Supreme Court ends national anthem´s compulsory playing

(hg) While the Supreme Court has toppled the legal requirement to play the anthem before cinema screenings hav-ing been introduced by Prime Minister Modi´s Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, it has, however, specified that audiences stand briefly if cinemas still decide to play it. The government´s own home minis-try had asked the Supreme Court to examine the issue after attacks on Muslim and disabled occurred who did not stand up for the song that has been written by India´s great philosopher and writer Rabindranath Tagore. [Deutsche Welle]

19 January 2018

India’s gay prince opens his palace to LGBTQ people in need

(hg) Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, India’s only openly gay prince and a gay rights advocate who has appeared even in The Oprah Winfrey Show, has announced to open up his ancestral palace in Gujarat to those having been ostra-cized for being LBBTQ. [National Public Radio]

19 January 2018

India: The recurring specter of caste-related unrest and suppression

(hg) Despite all long-implemented constitutional, other legal and political efforts, caste issues remain a recurring fac-tor of Indian politics. That has been proven again in the state of Maharashtra over clashes between Dalit and right-wing groups, and the police´s alleged reaction.

Dalits, formerly dubbed the ‘Untouchables’, clashed with Hindu right-wingers on occasion of the 200th-anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Bhima-Koregaon in 1818 when Dalits sided with British colonial forces to defeat upper-caste rulers. After the celebrating Dalits were attacked by Hindu extremists, Dalit protest ensued across the state to be heavy-handedly responded by the police that is accused to not effectively advance against the upper-class Hindu extremists while arbitrarily acting against Dalits. In 2016, across India 40,801 atrocities against Dalits were reported up from 38,670 in 2015. [Al Jazeera]

19 January 2018

India: Creeping judicial crisis

(hg) The Supreme Court – conventionally regarded as a pillar of the rule of law and constitutional identity in India –, is in a deep crisis. Related to a series of scandals that much involved the Chief Justice (CJ) himself, four active Su-preme Court judges, including the one being slated to become the next CJ have now unprecedentedly expressed their criticism at a press conference to be quickly joined by four former top judges releasing an open letter in their support. Criticizing the way the top court was being run especially by the CJ, one of the still active Supreme Court judges went so far to warn that the nation’s democracy was under threat. [Channel New Asia]

In November last year the rift within the court became obvious in the context of a corruption scandal. An NGO re-quested the Supreme Court to probe into alleged judicial corruption at a high court at which – then – the later CJ was sitting. According to due conventions, the responsible two-judge bench referred the case to a five-judge constitu-tional bench ordering the case to be heard by five of the senior-most judges of the Supreme Court – not including the Chief Justice. The latter, however, set up a separate five-judge bench overturning his colleague’s order in a surprising and highly contested maneuver.

Being central to the current crisis, this scandal is accompanied by at least two other contentious issues having been brought forward in the press conference that involve constitutional politics at a high level: [Asia Times]

The first pertains to the constitutional position of the judiciary regarding judicial appointments. Currently, the judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts are appointed by the Supreme Court´s five senior-most judges, a practice which had become debated between the government and the judiciary since 2015 with the government seeking to play a role as well. One day before the CJ´s disputed decision on the handling of the corruption case, he had headed a bench of three judges that passed a highly controversial judgment – R P Luthra vs Union of India – that also over-turned a first order of a competent Supreme Court bench. The latter had unequivocally underlined the need of a strict separation of powers and a further judicial decision on the matter of appointments to the highest courts and issued a respective court order – only to see the CJ setting up a three-judge panel less than a month later which re-called the order.

The second issue relates to the death of a trial judge three years ago who was hearing a case that was linked to In-dia´s ruling party´s highest echelons. The judge who died under mysterious circumstances was hearing a controver-sial case dealing with an allegedly staged encounter by the Gujarat state´s police when now Prime Minister Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat and Amit Shah, the current president of Modi´s ruling BJP, having been the state’s home minister and one of the accused in the case. Reportedly, the dissenting Supreme Court judges have also referred to this issue during the press conference triggering new discussions on a highly sensitive matter for the government.

Beyond these developments, the present crisis has been long in the making to the emergence of an opaque and hermetic system of judicial politics created in a judicial environment with a high degree of institutional autonomy, periodic activism and an own institutional culture and power structure. [Livemint]

12 January 2018

India: New approach of electoral bonds a blow to transparency of party funding

(jk) In an effort to create a “transparent political funding system”, the government has proposed electoral bonds as a way to largely replace undisclosed cash donations to political parties and argued for their necessity in order to clean up political funding in India [The Indian Express]. Critics, however, were quick to point out that electoral bonds are achieving exactly the opposite as donations made via these bonds are anonymous and quantities are not disclosed to anyone except for the government in power. This is particularly problematic if large companies make significant do-nations to parties, perhaps in order to increase their chances of scoring high-value state contracts in the future [Asia Times].

Critics go on to suggest that instead, the government should create a legal limit on the expenditure of political par-ties [The Times of India], but some fear that given the position political parties have in India, they are not likely to clip their own wings in any shape or form [The Wire].

12 January 2018

India-Southeast Asia relations: All ASEAN member states partake in Republic Day parade

India is getting ready for its Republic Day parade with all 10 ASEAN leaders being invited as chief guests on January 26. The event is hugely important in India’s ceremonial calendar and this year, 25 years of India-ASEAN dialogue partnership will be commemorated [The Straits Times].

5 January 2018

India: Large number of child marriages despite legal ban

In India, marriage of girls under the age of 18 and boys under the age of 21 is illegal. It has been for decades. Despite this fairly clear legal situation, child marriages in India are still widespread and mainly resisted only by community activists and non-governmental organisations. The issue disproportionally affects girls as they often get pregnant very young and will not have the opportunity to receive full-time education as a result [Asia Times].

5 January 2018

Cast conflict in India

On occasion of the commemoration of a historic battle on January 2, it came to widespread clashes and violence in some major cities across India. The battle fought between the Peshwa and troops of the British East India Company 200 years ago is controversial for its symbolism. Whilst the battle did not produce a decisive winner on either side, the significantly outnumbered soldiers of the East India Company who were mainly recruited from lower casts, managed to withstand the higher-cast Peshwa [Asia Times]. Whilst the greatness of the Peshwa is regarded as a symbol of high-cast supremacy, this particular battle serves as historical evidence that untouchables and lower casts in general can successfully stand up against high-cast oppression [Economic and Political Weekly].

5 January 2018

India and the new Asian order: Nepal, the Maldives and greater Sino-Indian relations

Against the background of the competition between the two major rising powers in Asia, China and India, the first two pieces looks at the Indian PM’s neighbourhood first policy and where it has had its successes and constrains [Carnegie]. Significant progress has been made and under Modi, India looks to keep strategic engagement at the top of the priority list.

But India is facing an uphill battle for influence in its neighbourhood with China also increasing its economic and political influence [The Diplomat]. The election of a “China-friendly” government in Nepal recently serves as a one example [Pacific Standard], as do the deteriorating relations between India and the Maldives [Asia Nikkei]. China’s motivations, as many feel in India, are all but exclusively benign and whilst Indo-Sino cooperation should be encouraged in general, it is important for India not to lose sight of the fact that China is a strategic competitor and will not do India any favours beyond what is good for China.

China is an absolute priority for Indian foreign policy and It is no coincidence that the next foreign minister in India will be a China expert, in fact a diplomat who was crucial in resolving the Doklam stand-off [Sputnik]. India, it is argued, must for instance be prepared for a border war [Outlook India] and recent steps such as the linking of all posts along the Chinese border are signs that this is considered a real possibility [Times Of India]. India must stay vigilant in its external relations and be careful not to cede the entire region to China in political, economic or cultural points [The Print / Inst. for Defence Studies and Analyses]. After the recent Doklam border stand-off, there is already a new stand-off, this time firmly inside Indian territory [Indian Express].

5 January 2018

India and Japan: Teaming up to counter Chinese space exploration ambitions

The space agencies of the two countries are planning a joint mission to the moon amidst more and more aligned strategic interests in the face of China’s rise. The two countries’ decision to join forces is no doubt exacerbated by recent Chinese efforts in space exploration. The mission is to focus on the moon’s south pole which may hold crucial resources which one day could help sustain human life [Financial Times].