12 May 2013

Taking on the Dragon

Date : 11 May , 2013

A defeat in a future conflict with China will be a disaster for India. Apart from the economic ruin, it will substantially damage India’s standing in the comity of nations and degrade her status as an Asian power. Pakistan will not only be encouraged to step up its terrorist activities but may even resort to armed conflict to annex the Kashmir Valley, its pet obsession since 1947. On the other hand, even if India is able to bring about a stalemate, it will greatly enhance her prestige and put an end to Chinese domination in the Asian region.

For some time now, leading think-tanks and strategic analysts in India have been articulating that sooner or later, there is a possibility of a short, sharp clash between China and India. Many reasons have been advanced as to why China will initiate this conflict and invite adverse reaction from the world. In this context, it needs to be remembered that China does not much care for world opinion.

In the event of a Sino-Indian conflict, a collusive scenario with Pakistan is a distinct possibility.

The primary reasons for China to commence hostilities could be to teach India, her only rival in Asia, a lesson for her intransigence on the settlement of the border dispute on China’s terms and disregarding her warnings against oil exploration in the South China Sea thus displaying an aggressive independent streak hitherto not seen. China feels that this may encourage other Asian nations to defy her.

Other reasons could be the need to retard India’s economic growth and consequent military modernisation which will enable India to challenge Chinese supremacy in Asia in due course. Yet another reason could be the Chinese perception that India is trying to carry out strategic encirclement of China by improving ties with Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Vietnam and Australia encouraged by the US who are in the process of redeploying their naval forces in the region.

India: A basket case in the making?

May 12, 2013

It beggars the imagination that in India, a technocrat of the highest seniority will pay as much as `10 crore and more to get a specific job

Airports can sometimes be the venue for unexpected rendezvous. On a recent visit to Germany, while sitting at the lounge at the Frankfurt airport, I ran into fellow writer-diplomat Navtej Sarna, who was one of my successors, many times removed, as the official spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs.

Since we both had time to kill, we talked of many things. One of them, for some random reason, was the remarkable transformation of rail services in China. I recalled this especially after the recent scandal at Rail Bhavan.

Navtej told me of his hi-speed train journey from Shanghai to Beijing. The magnetic levitation track allowed the train to travel without the slightest jerk, as though it was floating in the air, at a speed of over 300 kms an hour, covering the 1,318 km journey to Beijing in a little over five hours. It was, Navtej said, one of the most exciting rail journeys he had experienced. On my return to Delhi, I did some more reading on the state of the railways in China. Today, China has the world’s largest hi-speed rail network covering a route of 9,300 kms. It also has the world’s longest hi-speed line, stretching for 2,295 kms from Beijing to Guangzhou. Hi-speed trains were introduced in 2007; the aim is that they will cover 18,000 kms by 2015. To begin with, the country had collaborations with global giants like Seimens and Kawasaki, but now all trains that can reach an operational speed of 380 kms an hour are produced indigenously.

Of course, there is corruption in the Chinese railways too. In 2011, Chinese railway minister Liu Zhijun had to resign on charges of corruption following a fatal hi-speed train accident in Wenzhou in July of that year. But while corruption is always to be condemned, and China has its own share of the corrupt, particularly in the ruling elite, the fact is that China is making giant strides in a great number of important spheres, of which the railways is an outstanding example.

Contrast this with our record. Our railways, which started out in 1947 as being superior to the Chinese, is today on the brink of disaster. In 2011, a major train accident occurred almost every month; some months recorded more than one accident, the worst being July 2011 when there were as many as seven accidents claiming over a hundred lives. From April to July 2012, there were 10 accidents claiming over a hundred lives. Leave alone hi-speed trains, the railway ministry is woefully lagging in safety measures, the procurement of new rolling stock, track renewals, training, electrification and electronic signalling. Our fastest trains average a speed of 80 kms, and more often than not, not even that. In spite of this, ministers in charge have in the past spent more time in their state capitals than in Rail Bhavan. In fact, it has been reported that Mukul Roy, the former railway minister, averaged only about four days a month in his office in nearly five months on the job.

The sordid saga of former railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal has to be seen in this context. In a country where, in spite of the railway network being the transport lifeline for millions of Indians the entire institution is close to collapse, we have the disgusting spectacle of people at the helm busy greasing the palms of touts to get a posting to run lucrative departments. The tragedy is that certain departments are favoured not because they allow a person to contribute to the maximum, but because they are the best avenues for illicit money. And the quantum of money is not small. It beggars the imagination that a technocrat of the highest seniority will pay as much as `10 crore and more to get a specific job. One can only imagine how much more he will make for himself, and his masters, once he gets it. The tragedy also is that this money will be made entirely for personal greed. The much needed reform of the railways will remain a completely irrelevant factor.

The episode also raises the question of whom to trust. I have known Mr Bansal for many years. It was my genuine belief that he was an honest politician. To now find out that he was running a highly questionable parallel business empire by taking advantage of his ministerial posts, and that his nephew was the tout who was collecting huge sums of money for posts at the highest echelon under the minister’s direct watch, has come as a real shock. Many details of this gravy train are already in the public realm. More details will emerge as the Central Bureau of Investigation completes its enquiry, especially now that the Supreme Court has put the searchlight for the agency to carry out its mandate without taking orders from those it is investigating.

The progress made by the railways in China is an eye-opener of what can be achieved when systems work. There is corruption of considerable magnitude in China too, and I have always had reservations about the authoritarian structure of its polity, and believe that democracy is a slower but far more enduring basis in the long run for a country’s success. However, I am compelled to conclude that if corruption cannot be completely excluded in any country, those countries where it does not become an absolute barrier to deliverables for the people are better than those which are corrupt and inefficient. When corruption is rampant and pervasive, and the functioning of the system is, at the same time, flabby and inefficient, it is a deadly combination. Countries where this happens are described as a basket case. It is time that we face the sobering truth that if immediate steps are not taken for systemic change, India is on the verge of becoming a basket case. Perhaps, the only hope is that the people of India, whose interests are constantly sacrificed, will say enough is enough.

Author-diplomat Pavan K. Varma’s latest book is Chanakya’s New Manifesto: To Resolve the Crisis Within India

Pakistan’s Rollercoaster Election


Is this a generationally significant change of power, or more of the same dysfunction?

May 11 is election day in Pakistan, and the prognostications are pouring in. Election predictions are always risky, and especially so in a country that is plagued by unreliable opinion polling and hasn't completed a census since 1998. Additionally, recent decentralization reform giving greater power to the country's parliament and to provincial and local authorities has empowered a dizzying array of new political actors and movements. Saturday's poll will be a confusing and complicated affair.

Predictably, the last few days alone have been filled with dramatic twists and turns. One high-profile candidate was abducted, while another was the victim of a freakish forklift accident. One vulnerable minority -- women in the Bajaur tribal agency -- was granted the right to vote, while another -- several thousand transgender people in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province -- was banned from doing so. Pakistan's president issued an ordinance giving overseas Pakistanis the right to vote -- after which the country's election commission announced there wouldn't be time to implement it.

With campaigning now concluded, the stories of the three major contesting parties are a study in contrast. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP), led (from abroad) by the son of Benazir Bhutto, is the battered and besieged incumbent. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is the conventional favorite. And the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), chaired by wildly popular ex-cricket star and populist Imran Khan, is the upstart seeking to upset them both.

Yet don't take these stock characterizations at face value. Saturday's poll, as many are saying in Pakistan, represents the most unpredictable election in Pakistan's history. That's why we should be suspicious of those bold pre-election proclamations. Here are five of the more commonly heard ones, and why they're problematic.

"The incumbent Pakistan People's Party is going to lose badly."

Not necessarily. President Asif Ali Zardari's PPP, which led the government from 2008 to 2013, is deeply unpopular. Many blame it for the violence, energy shortages, and corruption that convulsed the country over the last five years. Yet don't assume the PPP will suffer the shellacking that many are predicting. The party is, if nothing else, a survivor. It completed its term even after the Supreme Court dismissed one of its prime ministers (Yousaf Raza Gilani) and issued an arrest order for his successor (Raja Pervez Ashraf ). Most remarkably, Zardari, despite being dogged by corruption charges and despised by both Pakistan's judiciary and powerful army, remains in his post today (and could be reelected when his term ends in September). 

A Cliff's Notes guide to Pakistan’s Dickensian side

Posted By Marya Hannun 
May 10, 2013


On Saturday, Pakistanis will vote in historic general elections -- the first transition from one elected government to another in the country's tumultous history. For this and several other reasons, Mosharraf Zaidi argues in Foreign Policy that Pakistan is heading into this weekend's polls better off than you might think, despite the spate of violence that has preceded it. But Pakistani writer Rafia Zakaria might beg to differ.

On Friday, she penned a blistering op-ed for Dawn, Pakistan's leading English-language daily, on the state of the country. The column, entitled "The great expectations of historic elections," invokes Miss Havisham. For those of you who weren't paying attention in high school English class, she is the withering old maid in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations -- as Zakaria puts it, "a woman frozen in time."

Abandoned by her fiancé on the eve of her wedding, Miss Havisham never quite recovers and, years later, still wears her tattered wedding dress. As Zakaria sees it, she is a lot like Pakistan:

Like old Miss Havisham who sat at her dressing table, refusing to let time enter, refusing to change out of her wedding dress and refusing to see the horror of her situation; Pakistanis weep for an injured cricketer and a dead white tiger and forget the ordinary tragedies that surround them....

In the song singing, change chanting moment, there is no room to talk about the pile of trash outside the mosque, the outstanding IMF loans, the wedding dress worn for two decades, the groom that never came, the frauds of elections past and the tragedies of dead leaders. In Dickens's novel, Miss Havisham never really changes. Frayed and yellowed, her nuptial garment catches fire and she and it are burned to death, frozen still in their denials and beyond rescue by any hero.

It might seem odd for a Pakistani author to employ Dickens in making sense of the challenges facing her country, but highlighting Pakistan's Dickensian side actually seems to be something of a trend. Here are just a few examples of how the British titan of Victorian-era social realism has been trotted out in the Pakistani op-eds of news cycles past. 

Bleak House

Yousuf Nasim, in a scathing 2012 op-ed about Pakistan's judicial system, begins with an epigraph from Bleak House, Dickens's novel ridiculing England's arcane legal system by chronicling a never-ending court case, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce:

"The little plaintiff or defendant who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world." -Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Nasim goes on to write:

I have no hesitancy in asserting that there are numerous cases currently pending in Karachi, which would put to shame Dickens' dystopian portrayal in Bleak House. Yet there persists a myopia which prevents legal practitioners from seeing what is plain before their eyes: that the system is broken. There is, effectively, no access to justice for the vast majority of society. Public confidence in the legal system as a means of resolving disputes is plummeting, and unless drastic measures are taken to arrest this decline, the outcome for our society and our polity will be alarming.

China and the Middle East Playing the peacemaker?

May 11th 2013 | BEIJING |From the print edition

THERE are about 20km (12 miles)—and lots of checkpoints—between the official residence in Jerusalem of Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and the headquarters in Ramallah of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. This week, as both leaders made simultaneous official visits to China, care was taken to keep a much greater distance between them. Their itineraries put them in different cities at all times.

Ever since the 1970s, when Henry Kissinger used shuttle diplomacy to marginalise the Soviet Union in much of the Arab world, America has dominated the geopolitics of the Middle East. Inevitably, this week’s visits prompted the idea that a rising China might be dabbling in the superpower sport of broking peace between the Jews and the Arabs.

Chinese experts spoke enthusiastically of this possibility in the national media. Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, did her share to foster speculation about a potentially dramatic development, saying before the visits that “If the leaders of Palestine and Israel have the will to meet in China, China is willing to offer necessary assistance.”

In the end there was no handshake, nor was one ever likely. China’s rising political and economic might, and its growing appetite for energy, mean it has more at stake in the Middle East than it used to, but it still lacks the clout to knock heads together. Chinese aid to the Palestinian side is dwarfed by what America and others give. And despite growing bilateral trade and technology ties, China “is in no position to coerce Israel to do anything it doesn’t want,” says Robert Ross of Boston College.

Nor is it clear that China really has any desire to involve itself more deeply. It may seem as if China wants to play a bigger role, says Yin Gang of China’s Academy of Social Sciences, but the truth is that it is outsiders who really want this. “We have enough problems in our own neighbourhood.” Mr Yin predicts that China’s newly installed government will barely change the country’s long-standing policy of calling for peace, criticising the use of force and urging dialogue.

Meeting Mr Abbas in Beijing on May 6th, China’s new president, Xi Jinping, did just that. State media gave heavy coverage to the “four-point proposal” put forward by Mr Xi, but in its details the statement offered little that had not been said before, either by China or by other more established peace-brokers. His statement called for a settlement based on 1967 borders, a negotiating framework of “land for peace”, and an end to settlement-building and violence against civilians.

Such input from China, even if mainly symbolic, is probably more pleasing to Mr Abbas than to Mr Netanyahu. In the past China has been a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause. That stance has mellowed as China has become more pragmatic and less devoted to the brotherly solidarity it once showed for struggles in the poor world against colonialism and imperialism. In 1992 it established diplomatic relations with Israel.

There was one nasty diplomatic row in 2000 when America forced Israel to cancel the sale of an advanced radar system to China. Otherwise, ties have mostly been friendly and the value of bilateral trade has grown to nearly $10 billion. But, says Chen Yiyi, a scholar, Israel has yet to earn China’s sympathy. The number of pro-Palestinian articles in Chinese newspapers has increased dramatically in the past two decades. China is already pro-Palestine, wrote Mr Chen in Global Times, a state-run newspaper. “We can safely assume that the Chinese stance…in future will be as pro-Palestinian as today, if not more so.”


By Bhavna Singh for ISN Security Watch, 10 May, 2013

Underground mine

China is becoming increasingly interested in Greenland’s natural resources. And while the autonomous Danish territory once welcomed Chinese investment, Bhavna Singh believes Nuuk is now using domestic opposition to foreign workers to realign its diplomatic relations with Beijing and other states.

China’s growing demand for natural resources has prompted Beijing to extend its geopolitical interests way beyond its immediate neighborhood. Yet, while China’s increasing footprint in other parts of the world has often been portrayed as a cause for concern by some media outlets - as in the case of Africa - Beijing’s growing interest in Arctic only began to receive similar attention over the past few years. Once believed to be inaccessible due to severe environmental constraints, climate change has helped to reveal the Arctic’s natural resource potential and offers China new Sea lines of communication (SLOC).

Having gained autonomy from Denmark in 2009, Greenland is also keen to advance its economic development. Nuuk’s economic strategy envisions the tapping of Greenland’s vast natural resources, while at the same time balancing development with traditional forms of subsistence and environmental protection. Yet, a fledgling government also faces the dilemma of how best to balance its economic interests with the aspirations of foreign powers who also covet Greenland’s natural resources. In this respect, China’s influence over Greenland is formidable.

In the Midst of China’s ‘Arctic Strategy’

Beijing believes that the rapidly melting ice sheets of the Arctic serve to benefit China’s growing economic prowess. An ice-free Northern Sea route traversing Russian territorial waters, the East Siberian Sea and Barents Sea offers the potential to drastically reduce the shipment times of Chinese goods to European markets. This, in turn, would enable China to decrease its reliance on problematic sea routes through the Straits of Malacca and Gulf of Aden.

Yet, while it remains to be seen whether China actually has a calibrated ‘Arctic Strategy’, Beijing’s involvement in the affairs of the region is far too assertive to be ignored. China’s claim to be a legitimate Arctic state has not only challenged the regional status quo, it has also startled the likes Denmark and Canada, who are gradually recalibrating their respective strategies in order to reflect the growing Chinese presence. Copenhagen, for example, argues that China should be made a permanent member of the Arctic Council on the basis that Beijing has “natural and legitimate economic and scientific interests in the Arctic.” Likewise, other Nordic countries are also weighing up the perceived economic benefits and political consequences of China’s growing interest in the region.

China's expanding core interests

May 11, 2013

Now that the 'tent confrontation` in Ladakh is over and politicians' call to "drive out" the Chinese has died down, the story will disappear from the front pages. Yet, the latest episode on the India-China border offers an opportunity to assess where India fits into China`s broader security posture and what may be the most judicious course. 

The border kerfuffle has to be seen in the context of what China considers to be its "core interest" and what China's new president Xi Jinping calls the China Dream. 

For long Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang were China's core interests — in defence of which it is ready to go to war. Hence its acute concern over the India-China border and its unrelenting effort to restrain the Dalai Lama`s influence. In 2009, China`s then state councillor Dai Bingguo elaborated on the notion of core interest: maintenance of the Communist Party-led system; protection of state sovereignty and territorial integrity; and development of the economyand society. 

The following year, Chinese officials expanded the core interests to include China's sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and reefs covering 3.5 million square km of water. In 2011, China proclaimed that the Japan-occupied Senkaku islands too were part of its core interests. 

Enter the new president and commander-in-chief Xi Jinping with his signature slogan: China Dream or "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation". Building China`s military might is an important part of the rejuvenation that would restore China to its former power and glory. One of his first forays as the new chief was to a Chinese navy ship to call on the rank and file to step up preparations for "military struggle". Last month, a Defence White Paper released by China said that the mili-tary`s role was to "safeguard the realisation of the 'Chinese Dream'. " 

China's seriousness about realising its dream of dominating the South China Sea and the East China Sea has been repeatedly demonstrated in the past months. In late March, a Chinese navy task, including an amphibious landing craft, sailed 1,800 km from the mainland to drop anchor at the James Shoal, an outcrop claimed by Malaysia barely 80 kilometers from its coast. It is not just its expanding naval force; China has put into service a panoply of resources, prime among them aggressive patrolling by its coast guard. As Captain James Fanell, a senior US naval intelligence officer, recently told a San Diego conference: "China Marine Surveillance cutters have no other mission but to harass other nations into submitting to China`s expansive claims." China Marine Surveillance, he concluded, " is a full-time maritime sovereignty harassment organisation." 

Recently, China deployed a cruise ship carrying 300 or so `tourists` to sail to the Vietnamese claimed Paracel islands to establish its claim of sovereignty. By deploying coast guard and fishing vessels and cruise ships, unchallenged by weak claimants, China is on its way to reclaiming the hegemonic position it once held in East Asia. 

Along its land borders, China has employed a variety of means to maintain its upper hand. Despite multiple provocations by Pyongyang and pressure by Washington, China has held firm to its troublesome ally. Concerned by recent Burmese moves to woo the United States and open the country to western investment, China has sent a clear signal to the leadership by supplying arms, including armoured personnel carriers, to Wa insurgents (former member of the Burmese Communist Party) along its border. 

Compared with aggressive Chinese moves over the Senkaku islands and the South China Sea, the stand-off in Ladakh is a mild affair. While reminding India that it retains a vastly superior infrastructure and military, China is nonetheless keen to maintain good relations with India. As it focusses its attention on securing control over the oil-rich waters to its east, it prefers not to have any distractions in the west, especially along the border of a restive Tibet. Keeping India from a strong US embrace also remains an important goal, especially as Asean countries are increasingly looking to Washington for security. 

Border incidents have happened hundreds of times and are bound to recur. While seeking a settlement through diplomacy, India's military preparedness has to be bolstered by the leverage that comes from the strengthening of strategic ties with the US, Japan, Vietnam and other countries concerned about China`s expanding core interests.

Chinese aspirations and Indian interests

Saturday, 11 May 2013 

The growing opaqueness in India’s relations with China is contributing heavily to the possibility of the outbreak of war by miscalculation of each other’s intentions. The time has come for induction of some fresh air into the rancid corridors of South Block

What is really happening on the Sino-Indian front? What is significant is that influential persons in China and in India are itching for a confrontation. Why? In China, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which was in the forefront of Chinese affairs from 1937 to 1979, was asked to take the back seat by Deng Xiao ping when he launched his programme of economic modernisation and the opening up of China’s economy to the West. Today, the PLA is modernised as a consequence of economic progress, and wants a say in foreign affairs.

Therefore it is safe to say that the 40 soldiers driving 19 Km across the as yet notional Line of Actual Control, and setting up tents and kitchen, was without the knowledge of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party.

In India even before the Cabinet Committee for Political Affairs could assess the situation, TV anchors were spitting dragon fire, screaming Chinese invasion without pointing out that 40 soldiers cannot invade India. Moreover, by then the Indian troops surrounded the Chinese soldiers and to keep boredom at bay kept singing Hindi film songs to the Chinese soldiers.

Had the politicians on both sides succumbed to the storm in the tea cup, a major war would have resulted. In China the new leader, Xi Jinping, would have been destabilised, and in India the scamsters would have been delighted. The Army lobby headquartered in London would have celebrated and commission agents engulfed South Block.

Historical truths

Alarming? Yes. But the growing opaqueness in our relation with China is contributing heavily to the possibility of a war by miscalculation of the other side’s intentions Time has come for us to bring some fresh air to the rancid corridors of power. We Indians must inform ourselves of some historical truths:

For more than two and a half thousand years, India and China have had good and peaceful relations based on mutual respect and exchange, and in fact never had gone to war till 1962. During the two millenniums of India-China relations, these two countries

mattered because both together accounted till 1750 AD for over 55% of the world GDP. Today it is not so, but could again be so by 2050 AD.

1) But our two peoples’ aspirations in the 21st century will lead to some competitive animosity, or peer jealousy, which is to be expected between the two nations even in peacetimes, and even if it is held by some that there is no fundamental conflict of strategic interests between the two countries.

2) The events leading to 1962 was as much as due to Nehru’s placing his personal image above the nation’s interest as it was due to Chinese duplicity. What else would the

nationalist Chinese think of a Prime Minister who gives up a UN Security Council veto — holding permanent seat handed on a platter by the US, for the benefit of China? What else should the Chinese think when Nehru signs away Tibet without a border settlement on favourable terms, except that they can help themselves to Indian territory that they need ?

3) Today many Chinese intellectuals and PLA personnel feign contempt for India, especially because of India’s 1962 comprehensive military, political and psychological debacle — even though the Chinese strategists realize that 1962 cannot be repeated ever again. But the the debacle of 1962 however had ended for the historical China-India hyphenation that had existed for centuries.

What Does China Want?

There is widespread speculation about China’s motives after its troops encroached into Ladakh and camped there before the forthcoming visit of the Chinese Premier Mr. Li Keqiang. I present my take on the subject. I know of course that it is only of academic interest. It is futile to discuss foreign policy as long as moronic puppets continue to dominate India’s political scene.

To assess Chinese motives there is need to appraise the personality of China’s new leader Mr. Xi Jinping; China’s new priorities in a changing world; and Beijing’s assessment of India in the perspective of China’s future global role.

I shall briefly dwell on these aspects to assess Chinese motives in the latest episode. And only then, purely for academic interest, I shall offer a view about what the Indian response should be.

China’s muscle flexing on the border contrasts with the cooing sounds emanating from its diplomats. This in no way indicates any dichotomy between Beijing’s civil government and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). That is a closed chapter. This brings us to the nature of the new leadership in China. Not since the halcyon days of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping has China had a leader more in control. Unlike Mr. Jiang Zemin, Mr. Xi is a princeling capable of asserting full moral authority over the Han super elite that has traditionally dominated the PLA. Unlike most other princelings in and out of the army he experienced also deprivation because his father became a victim of the Cultural Revolution. Also, his father was a liberal on the question of Tibet. The impact of Mr. Xi’s lineage becomes evident from the comparative ease with which he acquired control over both the civil government and the PLA by becoming simultaneously President and Chairman of China’s powerful Central Military Commission (CMC).

So, what might one expect from China’s new all powerful leader?

For that consider Beijing’s new priorities in the changed global context. Very simply and bluntly Mr. Xi as a hard headed strategist will discard several aspects of China’s past approach and adopt new measures to achieve China’s new goal.

What is that goal?

For China to emerge as the eventual number one superpower in the world would be a reasonable ambition given that nation’s cultural and hegemonic history. China therefore in the first phase will replicate and acquire all the influence and global reach that America possesses. That is what China’s new emphasis on naval power to allow PLA presence in the far corners of the world signifies. I foresee also China adopting a softer diplomatic demeanor to compete with America for global influence.

Why, then did Chinese soldiers encroach across the disputed border of Ladakh?

My guess is that Beijing has created a mini-crisis as the prelude to initiate meaningful and clinching peace talks with India. Beijing would prefer a settled neighbourhood in order to better pursue its distant global ambitions. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang may well help set the foundation for a serious future dialogue to be pursued in subsequent meetings. I do not think that Beijing encroached into Ladakh to further encircle India or exercise a display of power. India is sufficiently demoralized and compliant to the wishes of Beijing to render any such further Chinese moves superfluous. Beijing would worry only if a democratic revolution were to change the mindset of the Indian government. Of that there is as yet no sign. But for a successful resolution of meaningful normalization talks, Beijing would have to promote and secure its core interests in the region. Time is ideal for settling with corrupted, subverted India. Before outlining India’s own core interests for normalizing ties with China let us first consider Beijing’s core interests.

In a recent perceptive newspaper article security analyst Mr. Pravin Sawhney, editor of Force magazine, drew attention to how Beijing in phases reduced the disputed border with India from being 4056 km long to only 2000 km. How did Beijing do this? By its reckoning 2000 km is the border of mostly the middle sector.

Playing Chinese Chess

Cristóbal Schmal
Published: May 10, 2013

THE options for using diplomacy to talk sense to North Korea are limited. China is the only nation with influence over its bellicose neighbor, so the United States and the rest of the world look to Beijing to restrain Pyongyang when the nuclear-armed nation acts up.

When China won’t go so far as closing its border with North Korea to trade, or restricting the oil shipments North Korea and its military rely on, the rest of the world blames Beijing for enabling Pyongyang to continue its incendiary threats.

But the view from Beijing is more complicated. The Chinese leadership wants something in return for putting pressure on Pyongyang, and now China has added Japan to the agenda of any discussions with the United States on North Korea. To China, the United States-China-North Korea triangle has morphed into a rectangle.

Since March, when the United Nations imposed sanctions on North Korea after its third nuclear test, the new North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un has spouted a stream of fiery rhetoric, aimed mostly at the United States and South Korea. It also ended the only cooperation project it had with South Korea — a massive factory complex near the border where South Korean companies employed more than 50,000 North Koreans.

So North Korea was on the agenda last month when Beijing hosted a parade of U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.

This time, when the Americans pressed China to rein in its crazy neighbor, they heard a new message from Beijing’s mandarins: The United States should lean on its ally Japan to dial down tensions between Japan and China.

That China wants something in return for helping with North Korea should not come as a surprise. The United States and China typically approach disagreements — and their diplomatic resolutions — very differently. Americans have often used an almost legalistic approach and like to consider each issue on a standalone basis. Beijing, by contrast, often wants to discuss multiple issues together, all the better when it can play other countries off against one another.

“In China, that kind of issue linkage is very popular,” said Daniel A. Pinkston, the Northeast Asia deputy project director for the International Crisis Group in Seoul.

Beijing’s Triumph of Coercive Diplomacy

Posted on May 10, 2013

In exchange for withdrawing from India’s own territory, China wins a slew of military concessions from New Delhi.

Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2013

When India announced on Monday that Chinese troops would draw back from a disputed Himalayan border region, Indian politicians hailed the retreat as a return to normalcy and a win for quiet diplomacy. In truth, the three-week Sino-Indian standoff on the Debsang plateau gravely weakened New Delhi’s strategic position in a region that straddles key access routes linking China’s rebellious Tibet and Xinjiang regions as well as China to Pakistan, while Beijing conceded nothing of value.

The dispute was a study in Chinese coercive diplomacy and Indian fecklessness. Beijing’s incursion 20 kilometers past the de facto Himalayan borderline in mid-April bore all the hallmarks of modern Chinese brinksmanship, such as a reliance on surprise and a complete disregard for the risks of wider military escalation.

Above all, the move demonstrated a keen sense of timing. India has never been so weak internally, and its response to the crisis was hobbled by political paralysis and leadership drift.

Chinese troops in Ladakh, India, on May 5 — Associated Press

Merely by deploying a single platoon of no more than 50 soldiers, China won military concessions far beyond what it has gained through peaceful negotiations. In exchange for Beijing’s retreat from an area China never had the right to control, New Delhi will dismantle a key forward observation post, destroy bunkers and other defensive fortifications, and potentially halt infrastructure development near the border.

Meanwhile, China will continue to build up its offensive capability in the Himalayas so that it can strike without warning. Over the past decade, an increasingly assertive China has steadily encroached on India’s Himalayan territory in the name of expanding its “core interests”—a tactic reminiscent of its ongoing territorial and maritime spats with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. India’s spineless Himalayan strategy should be a lesson to those other states on how not to respond to Chinese provocations.

New Delhi’s bumbling began in earnest three years ago, when the Congress Party-led government inexplicably replaced army troops with border police to patrol the frontier. More recently, the entire government leadership kept mum for a week on the latest intrusion, only to break its silence with inanities making light of the encroachment. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it a “localized problem,” Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid described it as “one little spot” of acne on the “beautiful face” of India-China relations—an issue that can be “addressed by simply applying an ointment” because “ointment is part of the process of growing up.” The garrulous Khurshid went on to say that “incidents do happen.”

Had Beijing persisted with the standoff, it would have led to cancellation of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s New Delhi visit on May 20—his first overseas trip since assuming office. It was in India’s interest to raise the diplomatic costs for China so as to deter such intrusions in the future. However, the domestic woes of India’s corruption-tainted government left New Delhi no space for it to stand firm or consider how capitulation could embolden the adversary. A never-ending series of scandals have paralyzed the government and undermined its public credibility.

The result was that India wilted in the Himalayas just as China was coming under an adverse international spotlight for its provocations. Instead beefing up its forces and letting Beijing stew for a while, India rewarded the aggressor with concessions. In all likelihood, New Delhi rushed a deal so that its foreign minister could go ahead with a scheduled trip to Beijing this week to prepare for Li’s visit. It was as if Li’s stopover in New Delhi on his way to visit “all-weather ally” Pakistan is more important for India than for China..

The irony is that every visit of a Chinese leader to India in recent years has been preceded by a new aggressive Chinese move. The jarring revival of China’s claim to the Austria-size northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh came just before President Hu Jintao’s 2006 visit. Before Premier Wen Jiabao’s 2010 visit, Beijing began questioning India’s sovereignty over Kashmir through a new visa policy. And now Mr. Li’s visit has been preceded by a military incursion, which has soured relations.

Instead, the main diplomatic legacy of the Himalayas faceoff will be permanent damage to the Sino-Indian border accords of 2005, in which both states agreed to “strictly respect and observe” the de facto border known as the Line of Actual Control. China openly violated these accords by pitching tents in Indian-held territory and raising banners that read “This Is Chinese Land.” Given New Delhi’s timidity, such proclamations may yet become a reality.

Mr. Chellaney is professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

The New Prize: Asia’s “Fire Ice” Gas Revolution

May 11, 2013
By Elliot Brennan

"The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates there could be up to 100,000 trillion cubic feet of gas hydrates globally."

Every few decades a new energy source comes online and promises to revolutionize the way the world fuels its economies. This was true of the shift from coal and whale oil to conventional oil in the 19th and early 20th century. Then, in the 1960s and 70s came the nuclear power revolution soon followed by renewable energies –hydro, solar and wind power. The most recent and much talked about promise comes from shale gas, which threatens to drastically change global geopolitics. But that’s old news. Tomorrow’s energy revolution, many believe, will be “fire ice,” otherwise known as methane hydrates.

In March of this year, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) successfully extracted methane hydrates from offshore reservoirs. This new potential source of energy, a natural gas, could free up traditionally energy-poor countries such as Japan and South Korea, and has the potential to further sink established petro-powers, which are already threatened by cheaper LNG prices through the entry of shale gas on the market. Under JOGMEC’s program, Japan has set an ambitious target of commercial production of methane hydrates by 2018.

Methane hydrates are gas molecules trapped in ice. They occur in permafrost, on the slopes of continental plates and in the seabed usually at a depth greater than 1,600 feet (500 meters). As a result, the Arctic and the coastlines of every continent are dotted with gas reservoirs. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates there could be up to 100,000 trillion cubic feet of gas hydrates globally. While only a portion of that impressive figure is currently considered to be concentrated enough to allow for commercially viable quantities, it is a figure that dwarfs estimates of conventional gas.

A few problems have stemmed the hype. Similar to the development of other unconventional energies, the technology has not yet allowed for commercial viability of extraction– production is currently too expensive and uncompetitive. Further, converting methane hydrate from its naturally-occurring solid form, trapped in ice, into an easily extracted gas is technically difficult.

Yet the technology is slowly catching up and deep seabed mining programs are quickly becoming a new frontier for extraction of minerals and unconventional hydrocarbons. As technology progresses, deep seabed mining could provide many Asian states with the much prized energy and resource security they have long sought. Such technological advances are crucial as an estimated 99 percent of the world’s gas hydrates occur in marine sediment in the seabed.

In a world first, JOGMEC cracked one part of the problem wide open in March. The corporation successfully extracted methane hydrates from the seabed off the Japanese coast. The extraction, which took place 50 miles (80 km)from the Atsumi Peninsula and at a depth of 1,000 feet (300 meters), decreased the pressure of the methane hydrate allowing for the separation of the ice and methane, leaving a gas that could then be extracted.

The East is rising, in Latin America

On 10 May 2013 07:32
China is moving in next-door to the U.S.

When concerns about a rising China are broached they are usually focused around that nation’s increasing economic, financial and military power in Asia. Another region undergoing significant political and economic development, once considered the backyards of the United States, is less often cited. Latin America, however, is fast becoming a growing nub on China’s radar as a global power.

U.S. preoccupation with the Middle East has led arguably to a decline in American power in Latin America and elsewhere. Economically, as America’s influence wanes in the southern hemisphere China’s has grown. The shift can be seen in levels of loans, foreign direct investment and trade.

Fueling A Commodities Boom

In its quest to fuel its growing economy, China’s demand for commodities has generated a boom for the producer nations. Soybeans from Argentina, copper from Chile and Peru, tin from Bolivia, and oil and iron ore from Brazil have helped fuel these economies for the last decade, especially during the financial meltdown of 2008 when traditional markets were contracting and stagnating.

The China Development Bank (CDB) and Sinopec (China Petroleum Company), for example, signed a 2009 agreement with Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil company, for $10 billion in return for 200,000 barrels a day of crude oil for ten years. With the discovery of one of the world’s largest offshore oilfields, Brazil will surely become a major oil supplier for China.

Today China owns stakes in oilfields in Ecuador and has major investments in copper projects in Peru. By some reports China accounts for over $11 billion of Peru’s $41 billion invested in energy and minerals.

China also loaned Venezuela a staggering $40 billion in exchange for oil deliveries to fuel its growing economy. In Michael Forsythe and Henry Sanderson’s new book, China’s Superbank, the authors describe how Chen Yuan, the chairman of the CDB, handed Hugo Chávez a 600-page book filled with recommendations for building, running, and managing roads, ports, and railroads.

Forsythe and Sanderson argue that China’s policy of paying generous amounts of cash for its raw materials and propping up local autocrats gives a whole new meaning to the term “too big to fail.” As the largest single overseas investor in Venezuela, China tied the money to contracts with Chinese firms.

China is also fast becoming an alternative source of development funding. Its ability to lend long-term and the large amounts involved makes it an important and different player.

In terms of infrastructure development, the China Development Bank has made substantive loans to develop roads, ports, railroads and other infrastructure that will secure it access to continuing flows of raw materials. According to research conducted by the Financial Times, the China Development Bank (CDB) has displaced the World Bank as the world’s largest development bank, lending billions around the world in pursuit of China’s interests.

Meet The Diplomat Writers

By Zachary Keck
April 24, 2013 

The Diplomat’s Zachary Keck spoke with Vali Nasr, Dean of The Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and author of the new book The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat.
Vali Nasr

In the book, you are highly critical of the Obama administration’s decision in 2011 to give up on a strategic partnership with Pakistan, and instead seek a transactional relationship. Your criticism is based largely on the negative impact this had on U.S. counterterrorism operations and interest in a stable Pakistan. However, I’m curious to know if you believe this policy, whatever its other faults, has made any appreciable difference in Washington’s relationship with India. In other words, has giving up on Pakistan made it easier for the U.S. to enhance ties with India, and ultimately do you believe having a strategic relationship with both Pakistan and India was ever possible?

U.S. relations with India have been strong for some time. It reached its height after the Bush administration signed a civilian nuclear deal with India. Since then trade ties have deepened the relationship, and now India features prominently in America's plans for rebalancing its policy in Asia, and containing Chinese power there. U.S. strategic dialogue with Pakistan was designed to influence Pakistan's policy on Afghanistan and counter-terrorism by giving Islamabad a real incentive in changing course and recalibrating its strategic calculus. That outcome would have benefited India. U.S. approach to Pakistan was not then at the cost of India, nor modeled to rival U.S. ties to India, but to achieve same results as sought by India. Finally, in 2009-2011, the U.S. attached Pakistan to its Afghanistan policy--as captured in the term AfPak--and not to its India policy which is now closer to U.S.' Asia policy.

There seems to be a growing sentiment among regional experts,yourself included, that sectarianism is on the march in the Middle East, with potential explosive consequences for the U.S., the region and the world. Can the U.S. have much impact on reversing this trend without fundamentally reorienting its adversarial relationship with Iran? If so, how can it have this impact, and if not what should it do in response to address the issue?

Sectarian conflict is both volatile and potentially damaging to the Middle East's stability. The U.S. can neither reverse this trend nor should it try to use it--it is not an issue Americans understand very well. And at the extremes of it sit Iran and Al-Qaeda, neither desired power brokers in Washington. However, the U.S. would do well not to inflame the problem and prevent sectarian conflagration by supporting stability in Iraq and Lebanon and helping end Syria's civil war sooner rather than later and in a manner that would enjoy regional support rather than further divide the region.

You base the book’s central argument that the U.S. should maintain a robust presence in the Middle East in no small part on the need to counter China’s growing influence in that region. What would you say to those who might wonder whether— given that extra-regional powers have always struggled in the Middle East—Beijing’s engagement in the Middle East will be more of a drain on its resources than anything else?

We don't know how China would navigate crises in the Middle East, but whether the Middle East drains China's resources or not, we have to be clear whether we are reconciled to what greater Chinese economic, political and ultimately military role in the region may mean, and how it will effect issues we care about: stability and security of our allies, our own security, and the price and supply of oil, which will be important to our allies and the global economy.

Chinese Suspected in Hacking Infrastructure: Real cyberwar or just fear mongering?

The National Inventory of Dams (NID), a database containing sensitive information on the vulnerabilities of every major dam in the United States, was recently hacked.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is aware that access to the National Inventory of Dams, to include sensitive fields of information not generally available to the public, was given to an unauthorized individual in January 2013,” said Pete Pierce, a Corps of Engineers spokesman, in a statement to The Washington Free Beacon.

The NID contains information on tens of thousands of dams across the United States, including their hazard level. According to this fact sheet, “Dams assigned the high hazard potential classification are those where failure or mis-operation will probably cause loss of human life.”

Unnamed U.S. officials told the Free Beacon that the unauthorized user was traced to the “Chinese government or military cyber warriors.”

Sadly, it’s nothing new. Just look at the headlines running a week prior to the reporting of the data breach.

The Times of London: China’s cyber spies back at work.

The Atlantic: Is the specter of a ‘cyber cold war’ real?

The Washington Post: Vast majority of global cyber-espionage emanates from China, report finds.

Reports of China and cyber-attacks are everywhere, and the U.S. government agrees the threat is real.

“Chinese actors are the world’s most active and persistent perpetrators of economic espionage,” said the Pentagon’s 2012 Report to Congress on China’s military.

“When it comes to the distinct threat areas, our statement this year leads with cyber. And it’s hard to overemphasize its significance,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in March.

So the threat of cyber-related attacks are ahead of terrorism, ahead of transnational organized crime, ahead of weapons of mass destruction proliferation. At least from the U.S. government’s point of view.

The Day After a Strike on Iran

May 10, 2013

All eyes are on what it will take to prevent Iran from getting its hands on a nuclear weapon. If sanctions and diplomacy prove incapable of containing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions—and soon—a military strike to destroy or at the very least delay its program is seen as the least bad option available. Iran gaining a nuclear-weapons capability is a red line that the United States and Israel just won’t let it cross.

But not enough thought has been given to what happens after a strike is actually carried out.

Debate in the United States ends at how to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, while the repercussions of a military strike are not widely discussed. This ominously echoes the run up to the war in Iraq.

When Washington was preparing to invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, little consideration was given to what came next. Ten years later, the mistakes are evident. Iraq did not pose the immediate security threat that Washington believed, forcefully building a democracy was easier said than done, and the difficulties bogged U.S. troops down for years. The war cost trillions of dollars and damaged America’s standing in the Arab world.

And now the real issues are being left unaddressed again. Conventional wisdom holds that a military strike on Iran is the best thing to do in the face of a legitimate fear. But tough questions must not be avoided.

Will a strike stop Tehran from pursuing a nuclear weapon or push it to weaponize?

A successful military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities will likely set the country’s program back, but it won’t be enough to end its nuclear activities for good. A strike could actually have the opposite effect. If Tehran hasn’t yet decided to weaponize, as many intelligence experts presume, an attack could certainly make its leaders feel the need to speed up their efforts.

Will hitting Iran help the region, or hurt those standing against extremism?

Moderate voices in the Arab world, as weak as they are presently, are finally beginning to be heard with the outbreak of the Arab Awakening. But an attack on Iran could have significant ramifications. A strike that is perceived as illegitimate in the region could push more people toward extremist views, increase negative perceptions of the United States, and deal a fatal blow to the moderates.