Showing posts with label South Asia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Asia. Show all posts

21 December 2017

What Caused the Left Alliance's Landslide Victory in Nepal?

By Kamal Dev Bhattarai

In the recently concluded elections for the House of Representatives (Nepal’s lower house) and provincial assemblies of Nepal, the two communist parties, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and CPN (Maoist Center) — which joined forces for the elections under the banner of a left alliance — won a landslide victory. The left alliance has now secured overwhelming majorities in both the federal bicameral legislature (the House of Representatives and National Assembly) and the provincial assemblies. The left alliance is also likely to form governments in six out of seven provinces.

14 December 2017

Maldives downgraded to ‘fragile state’ by IMF

The Maldives has been downgraded to a “fragile state” by the IMF because of the tense political situation, the way business is regulated and how the country’s finances and budgets have been run in recent years. The new classification is the latest blow to the Maldivian economy from the institution, which has repeatedly spoken of the high levels of debt being driven by the current administration’s ambitious infrastructure scale-up.

Sri Lanka signs share ownership agreement with China on Hambantota Port commencing operations

Dec 09, Colombo: Sri Lanka on Saturday signed share ownership agreement with China on Hambantota Port formally handing over the operation of port to the state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings Company (CMPort). The agreement was signed today between Sri Lanka Ports Authority and China Merchant Port Holdings, Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) and Hambantota International Port Services (HIPS) under the patronage of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the parliamentary complex.

13 December 2017

China-Maldives FTA among 12 agreements penned during Yameen’s visit

A controversial Sino-Maldives free trade deal was among 12 bilateral agreements penned during President Abdulla Yameen’s three-day state visit to China. The FTA was signed by the Maldivian economic development minister and the Chinese minister of commerce at a ceremony held Thursday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing as President Xi Jinping looked on with President Yameen. The opposition cried foul after the country’s first FTA was rushed through parliament last month but the government says it will open up the world’s largest consumer market for tariff-free fish exports. The Maldives also committed to waive import duties for Chinese goods.

16 November 2017

Bangladeshi Hindus: Less Than 5 Per Cent, Very Soon

“‘Below five per cent’ is a huge psychological and physical setback for non-Muslims in an increasingly Islamist country. Once our population falls below 5 per cent, we are doomed. We will have to convert or leave the country.” Last week’s attack on Hindus at Thakurpara in Rangpur in which about 30 houses belonging to Hindus were torched and many more were looted follows a pattern. Islamist mobs, egged on by radical Wahhabi clerics, started burning and looting houses and attacking Hindus and temples after an alleged Facebook post by a Hindu defaming Islam. Investigations have revealed that the rumours about the Facebook post were patently false and spread by hardline Islamist clerics. Last year, too, false rumours about a fake Facebook post triggered widespread attacks on Hindus at Brahmanbaria that left hundreds of families homeless and 15 temples destroyed.

25 October 2017

Nepal: The Grand Leftist Alliance and its Aftershocks: update No. 353

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

The Grand Leftist Alliance forged on October 3 by the two major Communist Parties and the newly formed Naya Shakti of Baburam Bhattarai took the political circles by surprise. In the just concluded local body elections, the two parties- UML and the Maoist Centre fought bitterly with no holds barred in most of the constituencies and yet soon after the conclusion of the last group of elections in province number 2, the two joined together to form the alliance and thus pushing the democratic forces into a “panic mode.”

16 September 2017

No simple solution to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar

Lex Rieffel

Reporters on the scene are saying that 300,000 or more members of the Rohingya community (of Muslim faith) in Buddhist-majority Myanmar have fled across the border into Muslim-majority Bangladesh in the past two weeks. The refugees have been describing to reporters a litany of human rights abuses: homes burned, women raped, men beheaded, and more. 

Editorial writers and columnists around the world have slammed Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and leader of the National League for Democracy of Myanmar, for allowing the atrocities to occur and have even demanded that the Nobel Committee withdraw the Peace Prize awarded to her in 1991.

As a scholar focusing on Myanmar for the past 10 years, during which I have visited the country more than a dozen times, I know how horrible the situation is. I have been to Rakhine state and have seen the Rohingya confined to a refugee camp on the outskirts of the state capital of Sittwe. At the same time, I believe that much of the media commentary is misdirected. It fails to describe the complex origins of the problem and explain how intractable it is.


Why is Aung San Suu Kyi, the political leader of Myanmar, being “dethroned” by the international media and denounced by people who once idolized her? 

She has not publicly condemned the operations of the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, that prompted the flight of Rohingya to relative safety in Bangladesh. I will explain later why “Daw Suu,” as she is referred at times by Burmese citizens, has not done this.

Why is the Tatmadaw conducting these operations?

11 September 2017

India’s Balancing Act in Myanmar

By Harsh V. Pant

India’s approach to Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis demonstrates the tension between its geopolitical interests and values.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Myanmar this week has once again underlined why New Delhi struggles to maintain a delicate balance between its strategic interests and its democratic ideals when it comes to its neighborhood. This visit came at a time when the Myanmar government and Aung San Suu Kyi are facing global condemnation for their handling of the Rohingya crisis in a repeat of what had happened five years ago during a military campaign that displaced more than 100,000 Rohingya.

But this time the scale of the crisis is huge and Suu Kyi’s reputation itself is at stake. The United Nations has warned that up to 300,000 Rohingya could stream into neighboring Bangladesh as they flee “clearance operations” by Myanmar’s armed forces. For her part, Suu Kyi – the de facto leader of Myanmar – has blamed “terrorists” for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” and has refused to take a conciliatory position. In her first remarks since the crisis started in Rakhine state last month, Suu Kyi has suggested that her government was facing its “biggest challenge.”

“It is a little unreasonable to expect us to solve the issue in 18 months,” she said. “The situation in Rakhine has been such since many decades. It goes back to pre-colonial times.” Though she made it clear that the government needed to “take care of everybody who is in our country, whether or not they are our citizens,” she also underlined that “our resources are not as complete and adequate as we would like them to be but still, we try our best and we want to make sure that everyone is entitled to the protection of the law.”

30 August 2017

The Bumpy Relationship Between India and Myanmar

By Amara Thiha

The relationship between Naypyidaw and Delhi is not smooth sailing, despite the recent visit of Myanmar military officers to India. Naypyidaw’s announcement about not setting up a trading zone at the Indian border, due to a lack of basic infrastructure and low trading volume, ends the series of negotiations between India and Myanmar for border trading. Although the India-Myanmar border is more than 1600 kilometers, border trading is still a castle in the air, as Myanmar needs infrastructure upgrades.

Three weeks after this announcement, India imposed a restriction on importation of pegon pea, toor dal, uradand moon dal. This restriction directly affects the Myanmar, with over 700 tons of pea and dal, approximately worth $500 million, now holding at warehouses. Although the trading guild informed the government of negotiations on the August 8, Naypyidaw’s diplomatic attempts on securing a safety net seem to be failing. This commodity represents approximately four percent of total export from Myanmar.

India is not the only country to impose restrictions on the import of agricultural products. China also restricted rice and sugar importing from Myanmar; however, commodities are smooth flowing through border trading. There may still be border trading along the Myanmar-India border and Tamu trading post, but dal is already a surplus commodity in India and the competition may tight for imported dal.

28 August 2017

Myanmar’s problem state

Lying on the border with Bangladesh, with more than 100,000 internally displaced people following bouts of violence in 2012 and 2016, Myanmar’s Rakhine State is racked with communal tensions that show no sign of abating. For the Rohingya Muslims, who account for roughly a third of the state’s population but who are deprived of citizenship, access to education and healthcare is severely limited by the government.

At the same time, the majority ethnic Rakhine, who are Buddhist, also face entrenched poverty after decades of neglect by government. Overall, 78 per cent of the population lives in poverty making it the poorest state in Myanmar, which is the poorest country in Southeast Asia.

On June 13, 2017, news broke that Renata Lok-Dessallien, the United Nations top official in Myanmar, was being replaced. A BBC report at the time cited her shortcomings as a leader: there were tensions among her ‘dysfunctional’ team, and her approach was perceived as failing to give priority to the rights of the Rohingya. Lok-Dessallien was known for her co-operative − some say sympathetic − relationship with the government that sought to coax decision-makers into changing their behaviour, rather than the uncompromising and very public approach to human rights protection advocated by others. Her dismissal has been taken as a repudiation of her strategy. It has raised questions for aid donors and diplomats in Myanmar. Can the international community effect change in Rakhine? And if so, how could this be done in a country where the military still holds the levers of power?

27 August 2017

India Feels the Heat From China's Belt and Road

By Dhruva Jaishankar

In May, when China organised a major summit in Beijing around its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as 'One Belt, One Road', or OBOR), one invited country was completely absent: India. In response to queries, New Delhi issued only a short statement that underscored the benefits of 'enhanced physical connectivity' but listed a set of criteria that such initiatives must follow. These included avoiding 'unsustainable debt,' taking into account 'environment protection,' making a 'transparent assessment of project costs,' guaranteeing the transfer of 'skill and technology' to local communities, and respecting 'sovereignty and territorial integrity.'

The message was clear: BRI did not satisfy these requirements. India's concerns have since been partially echoed by other major countries and companies including the European Union, the United States, and Japan.

There are certainly reasons to be somewhat sceptical about BRI's future success. There are gaps between the sums promised and delivery on the ground. New investment commitments might bedeclining. Chinese companies have often struggled in new operating environments. Much of the financing has gone to pet projects or constituencies of local leaders. Chinese initiatives have sometimes resulted in popular protests (and occasionally violent opposition) in Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and East Africa. And Beijing's propensity to sweep many existing initiatives under the BRI umbrella or shower state support on nominally-linked projects tends to inflate its importance. Despite the bold public face, some Chinese analysts and businesspeople acknowledge these deficiencies in private.

25 August 2017

Nepal-China-India: Three’s a Crowd?

By Narayani Basu

Time will tell how Kathmandu chooses to navigate strategic waters that have become undoubtedly tricky sailing. 

On August 23, Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba will arrive in India to begin a four day state visit. The visit will be Deuba’s first trip abroad, and comes as the Himalayan nation struggles to find its footing in a regional rivalry that is literally and metaphorically bigger than Nepal itself. Since the standoff between India and China in Doklam — a hitherto little-known strip of land at the tri-junction between Bhutan, India and China — began in June this year, the question of where Nepal stands in the conflict has been worrying Kathmandu.

Theoretically speaking, Nepal’s preferred (and pragmatic) stance has been one of what it terms “equidistance” — essentially a fine balancing act between an erstwhile strategic protector and a new (and far richer) investor. In practice, of course, matters have been a little different, with ties between the two countries sliding backwards since 2015. India’s tactless (but unofficial) five-month blockade at the border with Nepal over its concerns about the rights of the Madhesi people saw bilateral relations take a severe hit, both economically and politically. Coupled with the earthquake that further crippled the Nepali economy in 2015, it was the perfect time for China to make its official entry. This it did in the form of massive investments in infrastructure, a trump card that it has played with unfailing success in smaller, poorer countries (and continents, in the case of Africa), which are always desperately in need of a helping hand. Not surprisingly, then, 2016 saw China sailing past India into the list of top assistance providers to Nepal, and with $3.8 billion being pledged by Beijing this year alone, India’s own commitments, at $317 million, are embarrassingly dwarfed. In a move that is very welcome to Nepal, feasibility studies are underway for a Beijing-backed railway connecting Kathmandu to Lhasa in Tibet, cutting straight through the formidable barrier of the Himalayas, at an estimated cost of $8 billion.

22 August 2017

Nepal's China Challenge

An unprepared Nepal has been blindsided by the glitter of proposed Chinese investments which could compromise its sovereignty

Nepal’s International Airport, even before Kathmandu gets a chance to introduce itself, a large flex-banner advertisement yells from the ground-floor landing: ‘shop from the ‘Made in China’ mall, only one-hundred-and-fifty kilometres away from Kathmandu.’ The mall called Gyidragon, which is a cross border-shopping platform working out of Gyirong port in China, holds special significance for the people of Nepal. During the Madhesi blockade of 2015, supplies were sent from the port to ease the distress in the country. The drift of this message is that distances between Nepal and its northern neighbour have collapsed: goods can travel either two days by road, or two days by train and China is willing to move mountains to come closer.

This high decibel propaganda is not just limited to a random hoarding but is overwhelmingly visible in the discourse and the manner in which the Chinese are pushing hard to enlarge their control and influence in the landlocked Himalayan country. Nepal’s decision to sign the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of the Chinese government is whetting their appetite for sneaky expansion and spread of their hegemony. They are taking advantage of the schism in the Nepalese society between the people of the hills and the Madhesis, the people of the plains and the angst towards India to push for their geostrategic objectives.

21 August 2017

Asian Security 2017 Endangered by China and its Proxies War-Mongering

By Dr Subhash Kapila

China and nuclear weapons states created as proxies by China, that is, North Korea and Pakistan, have rendered Asian security as explosive in 2017 by their unrestrained war-mongering and sabre-rattling impacting Indo Pacific Asia pointedly.

The United States which is the main intended target of China in 2017 in China’s bid to emerge as the “Strategic Equivalent” of America, needs to awaken to the dangers posed by China and its nuclear proxies not only to Asian security but also to United States more pointedly. Successive American Presidents have failed via their China-accommodative strategies to persuade China to act as a responsible stakeholder in Asian and global security.

The Asian security environment in 2017 presents the sordid spectacle where an aggressive China reminiscent of Hitlerian Germany and totally oblivious to its responsibilities as a “Responsible Power” by virtues of its Permanent Membership of the UN Security Council has unleashed a ‘tsunami’ of war-mongering and sabre-rattling directly against its peer Asian rival India, besides against Japan in the East China Sea and against Vietnam in the South China Sea.

China’s main target, however, is not Asian nations but the United States. China is targeting the United States in a two-pronged strategy. The first prong is war-mongering and sabre-rattling against Asian nations perceived by it to be close to the United States----India, Japan and Vietnam. The second prong is aimed at the United States directly by proxy use of North Korea and its nuclear and missiles arsenal capable of hitting the United States.

Sri Lanka’s Hambantota gambit


Sri Lanka’s pact with China for Hambanbota port may well be a case of strategic deception, and not just a political balancing act between India and China.

Late last month, Colombo inked a revised version of a $1.1 billion deal for leasing the Hambantota port to a Chinese state-run company. The port has been controversial ever since the China Merchants Port Holdings (CMPort) signed a framework agreement in December 2016 with Sri Lanka, taking an 80% stake in the project. Following the deal, however, there was much domestic unrest and accusations by Sri Lanka’s opposition parties of a sell-out to China, forcing Colombo to reconsider its position.

Sri Lanka also recognised regional concerns that Chinese control of Hambantota would result in its greater use by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). In particular, Colombo empathised with a growing sense in New Delhi that China’s expanding naval presence in South Asia represented a deliberate violation of India’s strategic redlines.

Sri Lankan leaders say the new deal corrects all that was wrong with the 2016 agreement. Besides restricting CMPort’s stakes to 70% (the lease period remaining at 99 years), Colombo has ensured that the port will not be used for military purposes. The pact limits CHPort’s role in running commercial operations by splitting the administrative functions between two companies. With a capital of $794 million, Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) will run operations at the port and its terminals. Controlled by CMPort, it will hold an 85% stake, with the rest held by Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). The second company, Hambantota International Port Group Services (HIPS), will have a capital investment of $606 million and oversee security operations, with the SLPA holding a 50.7% stake and CHPort, 49.3%. Colombo says the agreement gives it full control over security matters, as also the right to inspect ships entering the port.

20 August 2017

Sri Lanka's Debt and China’s Money

By Umesh Moramudali

Faced with difficult choices, Sri Lanka has to hope China’s Belt and Road can bring prosperity. 

Recently, the Sri Lankan government signed a concessionary agreement for a joint venture between the China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (CMPort), China’s state-owned port company and the Hambantota port, which is the second largest port in Sri Lanka. According to the agreement, 70 percent of the Hambantota port will be owned by the Chinese company while the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) owns the remaining shares.

The port deal, which has led to many controversies, was not the most favorable choice for the government but it was perhaps the only choice.

By now, Sri Lanka’s situation in terms of managing the external debt is quite distressing. As Sri Lanka was upgraded to a middle income country, most of its concessionary debt was cut off and this scenario forced the government to obtain commercial debt. In addition to the Export-Import Bank of China (China Exim Bank) loans taken at a higher interest, funds were raised through sovereign bonds at commercial interest rates.

As a result, over the last decade the composition of the country’s external debt has changed dramatically, with a shift toward costlier, non-concessional debt from previously available concessionary debt. Accordingly, in 2006, only 6 percent of external debt was commercial debt, but by 2012 it exceeded 50 percent of the external debt. This has resulted in a drastic surge in interest paid on external debt, leaving the country rather vulnerable to an economic crisis.

A Triangular MIRV Restraint Regime in Southern Asia

By Sitakanta Mishra

The advent of multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) in Southern Asia can be quite consequential in terms of the unfolding triangular nuclear competition involving China, India, and Pakistan. The three nuclear-armed neighbors have demonstrated their MIRV capabilities, with China being the earliest entrant, having reportedly placed them on its DF-series missiles.[1] In decades ahead China’s MIRV programs would be sure to mature. In the absence of confidence-building and nuclear risk-reduction measures (NRRMs), the advent of MIRVs will exacerbate concerns for the respective national security policies of all three countries and for the regional strategic balance. Although the presence of MIRVs in Southern Asia will not be as pernicious as it was during Cold War [2] they will have ripple effects in threat-perception, doctrine, and the perceived need for counter-measures.[3] The complicated nuclear interactions among China, India, and Pakistan are about to become even more complex.

As was evident during the Cold War, MIRVs undermine strategic stability and invite an intensified nuclear arms race. President Richard Nixon’s National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, opposed a ban on MIRVs during the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks. He came to regret this soon afterward, when he said, “I wish I had thought through the implications of a MIRVed world more thoughtfully in 1969 and 1970 than I did.”[4] Reiterating his stand during the debate over the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he said: “In retrospect, I think if one could have avoided the development of MIRVs, which means also the testing of MIRVs by the Soviets, we would both be better off. What conclusion then I would have come to I don’t know.”[5] With the passage of time, Kissinger became more conclusive. Writing in Time magazine in 1983, he opined that, “there can be no doubt that the age of MIRVs has doomed the SALT approach.”[6]

Create a Channel for a U.S.-China Dialogue on South Asia

The real danger of an explosive conflict and potential nuclear war lingers in South Asia. Relations between India and Pakistan remain distrustful, confrontational, and highly volatile as the result of decades-long hostility. War plans are being refined on both sides – a war that could be triggered by terrorist attacks launched by Pakistan-based groups. Escalation control seems to be assumed by both sides, but miscalculation of intentions and reactions could ignite a catastrophic nuclear war.

Despite these risks, the United States and China do not regard crisis management in South Asia as a top priority in their bilateral foreign policy agendas. Cooperation on crisis management in the past has been ad hoc. The level of attention, dialogue, and preparation devoted to the proper management of a potential crisis between India and Pakistan is highly disproportionate to the risks and stakes at hand. Therefore, the United States and China might well consider the establishment of a routine dialogue at the sub-cabinet level that could become a crisis management mechanism to enhance preparedness for and effectiveness of crisis management to prevent a nuclear disaster in South Asia.

The Problem

The nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan has accelerated in recent years. Both countries possess well over 100 warheads and credible missile delivery systems.[i] Pakistan’s rising nuclear stockpile is widely believed to be the fasting growing in the world.[ii] Pakistan has continued to develop tactical nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield that it threatens to deploy in the event India implements its “Cold Start” doctrine.[iii] India has completed its nuclear triad by inducting a strategic nuclear submarine into service.[iv] India’s aim is to reduce the gap between its nuclear capabilities and China’s.[v] The nuclear arms race in the region reflects the geopolitical competition between China and India and between India and Pakistan.

19 August 2017

Sri Lanka, China and Hambantota


Sri Lankans still hope to get jobs and incomes from Trinco development plans — it has not happened in the case of Hambantota.

In signing off around 70 per cent of the Hambantota Port holdings to a front company of the Chinese Government, as against the originally proposed 80 per cent, the Maithiri-Ranil leadership has done more than what predecessor President Mahinda Rajapaksa had done in his time. Whatever little might have been left open then have been sealed, and for good, and in China’s favour.

Incumbent Ministers defending the present ‘split-agreement’, with one company with controlling stakes for Sri Lanka in port administration and security continue to talk to and in the air as the Rajapaksa aides, if at all, did in their long years in office. The fact is that successive governments have surrendered before the emerging Chinese hegemony (?) in the region, replacing what India-baiters in Sri Lanka loved to call as ‘Indian hegemony’.

After presiding over the Cabinet meeting that cleared the twin-pacts, President Sirisena’s camp has claimed that he got a new, enabling clause for future amendment(s) incorporated and got it accepted by the Chinese side. He has also since claimed that the government will do nothing that would compromise the nation’s ‘sovereignty and dignity’.

17 August 2017

India, Pakistan and Bangladesh 70 years after the British left

Manas Chakravarty

Seventy years after the British left undivided India, what is the state of its people? The eight charts presented here compare the trajectories of three countries in the region—India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Additionally, data for China has been included to give us a sense of what might have been had we taken a different path.

The picture that emerges from these charts is that although India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are all now officially classified as countries of ‘medium human development’ by the United Nations and their economies are now much wealthier, their masses still live in poverty, working in precarious jobs with little security, in the midst of glaring economic and social inequalities and injustices. There is nothing new about all this, of course, except that recounting these facts may serve as a corrective to the absurd chest-thumping that has become popular these days.

Here are the charts:

India tops in per capita income