Built on hype, deflated by reality


Brahma Chellaney, The Hindu, July 14, 2015

imagesUnveiled with great fanfare on July 18, 2005, the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal was touted as a major transformative initiative. But on its 10th anniversary, the deal’s much-advertised energy, technological and strategic benefits for India still seem elusive. Indeed, the deal has yet to be commercialized. The premise on which it was founded — that India could build energy “security” by importing high-priced, foreign fuel-dependent reactors — was, in any case, a pipe dream.

The deal, given the heavy political investment in it, will eventually be operationalized, however belatedly. It will take a minimum of 10 years thereafter for the first nuclear power reactor under the deal to come on line. After all, the international plant-construction time frame, with licensing approval, now averages at least a decade, with the vast majority of reactors currently under construction in the world plagued by serious delays and cost overruns.

For example, the Areva-designed plant in Finland, on Olkiluoto Island, is running at least nine years behind schedule, with its cost projected to rise from €3.2 billion to €8.5 billion. The Russian-origin plant at Kudankulam, in Tamil Nadu, took 13 years to be completed, with the second of its two reactors yet to be commissioned. In this light, the deal is expected to deliver its first commissioned reactor a generation after being signed.

But if reactor imports are to be governed by “technical and commercial viability,” as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared, not a single contract would be feasible. The stalled negotiations with Areva over the price of power suggest that the deal’s commercialization would be dictated neither by technical nor commercial viability but by the extent to which India is willing to fork out subsidies to support high-priced imported reactors of a kind that do not even mesh with its three-phase nuclear power programme.

Indeed, it is a moot question whether the deal will ever yield substantive energy benefits, given the exorbitant price of foreign-origin reactors, the concomitant need to heavily subsidize electricity generated by such plants, and the grassroots safety concerns over the Fukushima-type multi-plant nuclear parks that India has earmarked for Westinghouse, GE-Hitachi and Areva, each of which is to sell prototype Light Water Reactor (LWR) models presently not in operation anywhere in the world. The accident-stricken Fukushima reactors, in Japan, were also the first of their kind.

Adding to India’s risks from proposed import of prototype models is its plan to induct a multiplicity of different LWR technologies from the U.S., France and Russia. Given the several different reactor technologies already in operation or under development in India, such imports will likely exacerbate the country’s maintenance and safety challenges.

The Indo-U.S. deal — with its many twists and turns — has hogged the limelight at virtually every bilateral summit. The deal took centre-stage even during U.S. President Barack Obama’s January visit. In its arduous journey toward implementation, the deal has spawned multiple subsidiary agreements. Each auxiliary deal has been hailed by an overzealous New Delhi as an important breakthrough and a diplomatic success, regardless of the concessions it had to make or the new obligations thrust upon it. Indeed, it has employed smoke and mirrors to camouflage its concessions.

Consider the latest “breakthrough” announced during Obama’s visit: India agreed to reinterpret its own law so as to effectively transfer reactor vendors’ nuclear-accident liability to Indian taxpayers. India is also reinterpreting a provision of domestic law in order to bar victims of a nuclear accident in India from suing for damages in America.

Does this yielding indicate that India has learned anything from its bitter experience over the 1984 gas leak from an American-owned Bhopal chemical plant that killed about as many people as the Fukushima disaster? Indeed, Japan’s law, which indemnifies reactor suppliers and makes plant operators exclusively and fully liable, should serve as a sobering lesson for India: GE built or designed the three Fukushima reactors that suffered core meltdowns; yet, despite a fundamental design deficiency in the reactors, the U.S. firm escaped penalties or legal action after the disaster.

Supplier liability is a well-established legal concept, applied in many business sectors around the world to deter suppliers from taking undue risks. In fact, U.S. law allows suppliers, designers and builders of nuclear plants to be held legally liable in the event of accidents, although the 1957 Price-Anderson Act channels economic liability, but not legal liability, to plant operators. Internationally, however, America has pushed an opposite norm — that importing countries channel all liability to their plant operators and limit all claims to the jurisdiction of their own courts so as to free suppliers of any downside risks.

The nuclear power dream has faded globally. The crash of oil and gas prices, coupled with skyrocketing reactor-construction costs, has made nuclear power’s economics more unfavourable than ever. Few new reactors are under construction in the West, with the troubled nuclear power industry desperate for exports. Even as the global role of nuclear power appears set to become marginal, India stands out today as the sole country wedded to major reactor-import plans.

Surprisingly, Modi has placed the nuclear deal, like his predecessor, at the hub of the relationship with America. Washington has long pandered to the Indian weakness for the deal’s consummation, with its decade-long negotiations characterized by shifting goalposts.

It made the Modi government yield some ground even on its demand that India accept nuclear-material tracking and accounting arrangements that go beyond the safeguards system that the International Atomic Energy Agency has approved and applied to India’s civilian nuclear programme. In other words, establishing an elaborate bilateral safeguards system, on top of IAEA inspections, in which India will separately track and account for nuclear materials “by flag” (that is, by each national origin).

For its part, the U.S. has reneged on several of its 2005 commitments. Gone is the pretence of Washington extending India “full” nuclear cooperation or granting it “the same benefits and advantages as other leading countries with advanced nuclear technology, such as the U.S.” Gone also is the original agreement that India would “assume the same responsibilities and practices” as America. Instead of meeting its commitment to adjust domestic laws and guidelines of U.S.-led multilateral regimes to “enable full civil nuclear energy cooperation and trade with India,” the U.S. actually worked with its Congress and with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to bar exports of what India really needs — civilian enrichment and reprocessing equipment and technology, even though such transfers would be under international safeguards.

Consider another issue: Years after the U.S. pledged to bring India into the four American-led technology-control cartels — the NSG, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group, and Wassenaar Arrangement — India is still pleading for its admission, with Obama in New Delhi merely reiterating America’s support for India’s “phased entry” into these groups. In anticipation of membership, India had largely harmonized its export controls with the four cartels’ guidelines. It is now filing a formal application for admission to each regime, in the hope that the U.S. would be more forthcoming in its support than it has been so far.

Even in the event of India being admitted to the regimes, the technology controls it still faces will not go away. These regimes are designed to harmonize export policies, not to promote technology trade among member-states. Despite the vaunted U.S.-India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, the U.S. side refused early this year to accept any of the six joint high-technology projects proposed by India, insisting that New Delhi first sign “foundational agreements” on military logistics and communication interoperability that America has designed for its allies in a patron-client framework. The four joint projects announced during the Obama visit were for relatively modest defence products.

The key fact is that U.S. non-proliferation policy has yet to treat India on a par with another nuclear-armed country outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty fold, Israel.

Against this background, why an import deal to generate an increasingly expensive source of energy is critical to Indian interests has never been elaborated by deal pushers in India. They have peddled only beguiling slogans, such as “End of nuclear apartheid against India” and “A place for India at the international high table.” India would be foolhardy to saddle its taxpayers with uneconomical reactor imports, making the Enron dud look small. India’s diplomatic overinvestment in the deal has already made it harder for it to address more fundamental issues with the U.S., including an increasingly one-sided defence relationship.

It is past time for India to reduce the salience of the deal in its relations with America. Without being weighed down by the nuclear-deal millstone, India would be better placed to forge a closer, more balanced partnership with Washington. The warming U.S.-India relationship has gained momentum independent of the deal’s future.

Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research, is the author, among others, of “Nuclear Proliferation: The U.S.-India Conflict.”

© The Hindu, 2015.

Beijing’s bendable principles


China claims neighbors’ territories by inventing the ingenious principle “what is ours is ours and what is yours is negotiable.”

Brahma Chellaney, The Hindustan Times, June 13, 2015

c307762e-1da4-453b-85aa-8be9c65c59e4wallpaper1Narendra Modi became the first Indian prime minister to publicly identify China on Chinese soil as an obstacle to closer bilateral ties by asking Beijing to “reconsider its approach” on some key issues. In a similar vein, his national security advisor, Ajit Doval, has classified China’s border stance as a “complete contravention of accepted principles,” pointing out that the Chinese agreed to the McMahon Line in “settling the border with Myanmar” but say “the same line is not acceptable in the case of India, particularly in Tawang.”

Don’t be surprised by this illogicality: In none of its disputes with neighboring countries has China staked a territorial claim on the basis of international law or norms. Rather, its claims flow from its revanchist view of the past — a shifting standpoint that reinterprets history to legitimize claims to territories long held by other countries. Because China does not apply the rule of law at home, it does not recognize its value in international relations.

For China, principles have always been bendable. And when it cannot bend a principle, it creates a new one.

Take its territorial disputes with India: Content with its Switzerland-size land grab (Aksai Chin) in India’s western sector, China pursues expansive claims in the eastern sector that highlight its ingenious principle to covet neighbors’ territories — “what is ours is ours and what is yours is negotiable.”

Having just articulated regional-hegemony aspirations in its defense white paper, China — an outside power — wants to carve out a major role for itself in the Indian Ocean. It has invited India to collaborate with it on deep seabed mining there and join its Maritime Silk Road. Yet it opposes any Indian involvement in the South China Sea. “My sea is my sea but your ocean is our ocean” seems to be a new Chinese saying.

Since 2006, Beijing has claimed the Austria-size Arunachal Pradesh, in northeastern India, as “South Tibet.” To draw attention to the state’s purported Tibetan identity, it has cooked up Tibetan names for subdivisions of Arunachal Pradesh (which includes the Tawang Valley, the gateway to the Dalai Lama’s 1959 escape from his homeland). In border negotiations in recent years, it has pressed India to cede at least Tawang.

China originally fashioned its claim to resource-rich Arunachal Pradesh — a territory almost three times larger than Taiwan — as a bargaining chip to compel India to recognize its occupation of the Aksai Chin plateau. For this reason, China withdrew from the Arunachal areas it had invaded in the 1962 war but retained its territorial gains in Aksai Chin, which provides the only passageway between its rebellious regions — Tibet and Xinjiang. But now, by ratcheting up the Arunachal issue with India, China is signaling that Arunachal (or at least Tawang) is the new Taiwan that must be “reunified” with the Chinese state.

The Dalai Lama, however, has said publicly that Arunachal Pradesh, including Tawang, was traditionally not part of Tibet. Tawang indeed is a Monpa tribal area, and was separated from Tibet by a well-recognized customary line. The Monpas, like several other Himalayan communities, practice Tibetan Buddhism. They belong to the Gelukpa (“Yellow Hats”) sect.

Significantly, China made its specific claim to Tawang not before it waged war against India in 1962 but decades later as part of a maximalist boundary-related stance extending to several other neighbors. For example, China has not only escalated its challenge to Japan’s century-old control of the Senkaku Islands, but is also facing off against the Philippines since sneakily seizing the Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

The India-China border negotiations have dragged on for 34 years — a world record. With no headway on reaching a frontier settlement, Modi in Beijing rightly emphasized the imperative to resume the process — derailed by China 13 years ago — to clarify the line of actual control (LAC). If the LAC remains ill-defined, can confidence-building measures be effective? To facilitate its cross-border military forays, China, however, still opposes clarification, even though the clarification can be done, as Modi pointed out, “without prejudice” to either side’s “position on the boundary question.” In 2002, after more than two decades of negotiations, China reneged on a promise to exchange maps with India covering the two main disputed sectors — Aksai Chin, along with its adjacent areas, and Arunachal Pradesh — located at either end of the Himalayas.

Doval has done well to highlight China’s hypocrisy in accepting the watershed principle — and thus the McMahon Line — with Myanmar but not with India.

Watershed (also called “river basin,” “drainage basin,” and “catchment”) is the total land area that drains surface water into a watercourse like a river, lake, pond, or aquifer. A watershed, easily identifiable on topographic maps, is delineated by a ridge or drainage divide marking the runoff boundary. Below a ridge line, all water will naturally flow downhill. A watershed boundary is identified on a topographic map by first locating the lowest point, or watershed outlet, and then establishing the highest runoff point.

The colonial-era McMahon Line was drawn on the watershed principle — a well-established international norm for boundary demarcation. Many countries have settled their boundaries on the watershed principle.

In its October 1, 1960, boundary pact with Myanmar, China settled by acquiescing in the McMahon Line, which delineated the customary border on the basis of the watershed principle. Any deviation from the McMahon Line in the accord was minor and largely necessitated by the task of producing maps of the entire 2,200-km border at 1:50,000 scale, in contrast to the thickly-marked McMahon Line.

Make no mistake: While China settled with Myanmar with a few relatively minor rectifications, it is not seeking slight adjustments with India in the eastern sector. Rather, it covets major chunks of real estate — its largest territorial claims against any nation. Myanmar, of course, poses no threat to China. But the 1960 settlement was also driven by Chinese foreign-policy compulsions, underscored by an insurrection in Tibet since 1959 and border tensions and skirmishes with India.

In deference to Beijing, the pact did not mention the McMahon Line but referred to it euphemistically as the “traditional customary line.” According to the Australian academic Brendan Whyte, “While the McMahon Line was followed here, it was used not because it was the McMahon Line, but because it happened to be a sensible boundary.” More importantly, if China openly acknowledged a line agreed to by the Tibet and British Indian governments, it would be admitting that Tibet was independent then — a historical reality Beijing remains loath to accept.

In fact, just six months after Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai told Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that China would never accept the McMahon Line, Beijing bestowed implicit respectability on that line by signing the Myanmar pact. The accord came in record time — in just nine months after a joint committee was set up to define the border and frame a treaty. The pact settled the boundary in alignment with the watershed between the Irrawaddy and Salween rivers and the “traditional customary line” (the McMahon Line).

For China, the boundary question with India is not just a territorial issue but, more fundamentally, a means to keep its peer rival under pressure and on the defensive constantly. Modi’s visit, unlike President Xi Jinping’s India trip, passed without any reported frontier intrusion, yet the danger remains — given China’s risk-taking muscularity — that a border faceoff could plunge the relationship into renewed antagonisms.

India should do what it can to prevent the frontier disputes and tensions from escalating, while factoring in the likelihood that China will not settle the border with it unless the Chinese communist system or economy crashes. But just as China plays all its cards against India and rears even new ones, India must shed its reticence and do likewise. Without building countervailing leverage, India cannot hope to tame Chinese intransigence and belligerence.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author.

© The Hindustan Times, 2015.

The Global Pragmatist


Seven features of Modi’s non-doctrinaire foreign policy that is taking
India from non-alignment to multi-alignment

By Brahma Chellaney, Open magazine, June 1, 2015

18626.globalprotagonist1In the one year that he has been in office, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has animated Indian foreign policy by taking a proactive approach on some critical issues and departing often from conventional methods and shibboleths. Modi’s recent China visit illustrated all the trademarks of his foreign policy—from pragmatism and lucidity to zeal and showmanship. It also exemplified his penchant for springing diplomatic surprises, with his announcement to grant Chinese tourists e-visas-on-arrival catching by surprise even his foreign secretary, who had just said at a media briefing that there was ‘no decision’ on the issue. Earlier, in Paris, Modi pulled a rabbit out of a hat by announcing a decision to buy 36 French fighter-jets.

Modi, however, is a realist who loves to play on the grand chessboard of geopolitics. He is clearly seeking to steer foreign policy in a direction that would significantly aid his strategy to revitalise India’s economic and military security. At least seven things stand out about his foreign policy.

First, Modi continues to invest considerable political capital—and time—in high-powered diplomacy. No other prime minister since independence participated in so many bilateral and multilateral summit meetings in his first year in office. The Congress party has criticised his frequent overseas tours, forgetting that Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh, also loved to go abroad frequently. Critics, however, may have a point that Modi’s exceptionally busy foreign- policy schedule leaves him restricted time to focus on his most-critical responsibility: domestic issues, which will define his legacy. Indeed, some of his trips could have been better timed.

Take his Sri Lanka visit in March, the first by an Indian prime minister to that country in 28 years. India’s neglect of Sri Lanka and the larger Indian Ocean region has become the strategic gain of China, which is now seeking to challenge India in its own maritime backyard. A prime ministerial visit to Sri Lanka was long overdue. But Modi chose to travel to Colombo barely a month after President Maithripala Sirisena’s India tour. Modi could have delayed his trip to Sri Lanka until after the forthcoming parliamentary elections there had cleared up the political scene.

Similarly, what was the need for Modi to undertake a China tour barely eight months after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India visit, a trip that was marred by a major Chinese military incursion into the Chumar region of Ladakh? The early return visit left limited time for preparatory work to achieve tangible and enduring results. The reason Modi went to China is that he had sentimentally promised Xi in India that he would visit China before the end of his first year in office. In that sense, Modi was chasing his own artificial deadline, which left little time for groundwork to make his trip authentically path-breaking.

Modi has lined up several more foreign tours in the coming months, including an important visit to Bangladesh, which under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed is standing up to jihadism. Sheikh Hasina, a friend of India, is one of the few leaders in today’s world unafraid to take on violent Islamists, even as she fights to retain control of the country.

Second, pragmatism is the hallmark of the Modi foreign policy. Nothing better illustrates this than the priority he accorded—soon after coming to office—to adding momentum to the relationship with America, despite the US having heaped visa-denial humiliation on him over nine years. He has also gone out of his way to befriend China, negating early assumptions that he would be less accommodating of Beijing than his predecessor. He even delayed his Japan visit by several weeks so that his first major bilateral meeting was with Xi on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Brazil.

Modi has sought to rope in China, with its overflowing foreign-exchange reserves, as an important partner in India’s infrastructure development, like Japan. But it is unclear whether Modi’s gamble will pay off, given China’s interest in pushing exports, not investment, which remains insignificant in India. The much- publicised contracts signed during Modi’s visit are largely about Chinese state-owned banks financing Indian companies to buy Chinese equipment. This would likely widen India’s already-mammoth trade deficit with China, now nearing $50 billion.

Third, Modi is shaping a non-doctrinaire foreign-policy approach powered by ideas. He has taken some of his domestic ideas (such as ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’) to foreign policy, as if to underscore that his priority is to revitalise India’s economy.

By simultaneously courting Xi, US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other world leaders, Modi wants to demonstrate his ability to forge partnerships with rival powers and broker cooperative international approaches in a changing world. This suggests that the Modi foreign policy is geared to move India from its long-held non-alignment to a contemporary, globalised practicality. In essence, this means that India, a founding leader of the non-aligned movement, could become multi- aligned. Building close partnerships with major powers to pursue a variety of interests in diverse settings will not only enable India to advance its core priorities, but will also help it preserve strategic autonomy in keeping with its long- standing preference for policy independence.

Non-alignment suggests a passive approach, including staying on the sidelines. Being multi- aligned, on the other hand, permits a proactive approach. A multi-aligned India will tilt more towards the major democracies of the world. Yet a multi-aligned India will continue to be scrupulously autonomous in its foreign policy. An example of how India freely charts its own course is its continued refusal to join American- led financial sanctions against Russia.

A multi-aligned India also will not shy away from building strategic partnerships with countries around China’s periphery to counter that country’s India-containment strategy. Modi’s early focus was on diplomatically recouping India’s regional losses by re-engaging countries in the nation’s strategic backyard. Even as that goal remains a priority, India is seeking to advance its ‘Act East’ policy, as Modi’s Mongolia and South Korea visits signal.

Fourth, zeal is to Modi’s diplomacy what Sun Tzu precepts are to Chinese diplomacy. In that sense, Modi is following in the footsteps of his predecessors, other than Indira Gandhi. Talleyrand, the illustrious foreign minister of Napoleon and the Bourbons, prescribed one basic rule for a sound foreign policy: ‘By no means show too much zeal.’ Gushy expectations and oozing zealousness, however, have been the bane of Indian foreign policy almost since independence.

Modi wore his zeal on his sleeve during the China visit. While his hosts uttered a couple of carefully crafted sentences on why India-China cooperation would be mutually beneficial, Modi waxed eloquent on this theme ad nauseum at every public event, including while addressing the expatriate Indian community. The Prime Minister effectively turned Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Hindi-Chini bhai bhai’ jingle into ‘Modi-Chini bhai bhai’, among other things, by describing his friendship with Xi as ‘plus one’.

Modi’s zeal also tends to translate into diplomatic showmanship, reflected in the kind of big- ticket speeches he has been making abroad to chants of ‘Modi, Modi’ from the audience. Like a rock star, he unleashed Modi mania among Indian diaspora audiences by taking the stage at New York’s storied Madison Square Garden in September 2014, at Sydney’s Allphones Arena in November, and then in April at Ricoh Coliseum, a hockey arena in downtown Toronto. When permission was sought for a similar speech in Shanghai, an apprehensive Chinese government, which bars any public rally, relented only on the condition that the event would be staged in an indoor stadium.

Fifth, Modi has injected a personal touch to propel Indian foreign policy. Indeed, Modi has used his personal touch with great effect, addressing leaders ranging from Obama to Xi by their first name and building an easy equation with them. Indian diplomacy now bears Modi’s distinct imprint.

In keeping with his personaliszed stamp on diplomacy, Modi has relied on bilateral summits to open new avenues for cooperation and collaboration. At the same time, as if to underscore his nimble approach to diplomacy, he has shown he can think on his feet. The speed with which he rushed aid and rescue teams to quake-battered Nepal, as well as the Indian forces’ evacuation of Indian and foreign nationals from Nepal and conflict-torn Yemen, helped raise India’s international profile, highlighting its capacity to respond swiftly to natural and other disasters.

Sixth, against this background, it is scarcely a surprise that Modi has put his stamp on foreign policy faster than any predecessor other than Nehru. The paradox is that Modi came to office with little foreign-policy experience, yet he has demonstrated impressive diplomatic acumen, including the bold steps taken and vision charted to reclaim India’s lost strategic clout.

Seventh, to be effective, diplomacy must operate on the principle of give-and-take. But successive Indian prime ministers have chosen to operate lopsidedly on the half principle of ‘give’. There are plenty of examples of how unilateral magnanimity has backfired, saddling future Indian generations with serious strategic problems— from taking the Kashmir issue to the United Nations to reserving more than 80 per cent of the waters of the six-river Indus system for Pakistan by signing a treaty of indefinite duration. Even a strategy-minded Indira Gandhi blundered at the Simla Peace Summit in spite of holding all the cards.

Modi can certainly take credit for crafting a sensible and shrewd foreign policy. Yet, despite having cultivated a muscular image, he is no exception to the Indian itch to concede unilaterally. To flaunt a bilateral summit as a ‘success’, Modi is at times willing to abandon—at the altar of diplomatic expediency—the basic tenets of statecraft, including reciprocity (the first principle of diplomacy) and leverage.

Examples of Modi being a Mr Giver range from concessions to America on the nuclear-accident liability of reactor vendors to reversing course and permitting the Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi to meet Hurriyat separatists on any occasion other than when official Indo- Pakistan talks are about to begin. His China visit also illustrates this chink in his armour.

The Chinese side did not yield on any issue, but Modi did. Overruling objections by the Indian security establishment, Modi announced the grant of e-visa-on-arrival on a non-reciprocal basis to Chinese tourists. So, even as China issues stapled visas to Indian citizens living in Arunachal Pradesh, India has agreed to reward it with that facility. The announcement, made at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, made Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi so happy that he asked the assembled students to loudly cheer and thank Modi for the ‘gift’.

As in September during Xi’s visit, Modi also yielded on Tibet, with the joint statement in Beijing referring to the ‘Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China’ in the context of Indian pilgrims’ visits to the sacred Kailash-Mansarovar site. ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’ is China’s official name for truncated Tibet, even though there is nothing autonomous about a region that is brutally repressed and ruled directly by Beijing. Referring to Tibet as part of the PRC undercuts India’s revised policy since 2010 to refrain from such a depiction in any joint statement as long as China persists with its cartographic aggression against India.

The urge to project a summit as a resounding success or to please the other side is often the main driver for India to yield. This is an urge Modi must learn to resist. After all, he is pursuing a foreign policy that, taken as a whole, is smart, realistic and forward-looking.

Modi’s astuteness and perspicuity were on open display in his press statement in Beijing, in which—in a nuanced and sophisticated manner—he held China responsible for impediments in the development of bilateral ties and identified all the key issues for India. Describing his discussions with the Chinese leadership, he said: “We covered all issues, including those that trouble smooth development of our relations. I stressed the need for China to reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realising the full potential of our partnership. I suggested that China should take a strategic and long-term view of our relations.”

Modi must bear in mind that institutionalised and integrated policymaking are essential for India to have a robust diplomacy and to be able to stay its course. Without the health of these processes, policy will tend to be ad hoc and shifting, with personalities at the helm having an excessive role in shaping thinking, priorities and objectives. If foreign policy is shaped by the whims and fancies of personalities who hold the reins of power, there will be a propensity to act in haste and repent at leisure, as has happened in India repeatedly since the Nehruvian era.

Diplomacy is largely about negotiations. India must develop a tradition and culture of hard bargaining. Also, no country’s diplomacy can afford to confound tactics with strategy or marginalise its national-security establishment.

The political ascent of Modi, a man known for his decisiveness, can be a game-changer for Indian foreign policy if diplomacy is anchored in goal-oriented statecraft. After a decade of drift and neglect, India, under Modi’s leadership, is actively involving itself regionally to help influence developments in its strategic backyard. Modi realises that big-bucks corruption can enfeeble internal security and crimp foreign- policy options, and is seeking to bring this scourge under control. The Prime Minister seems to recognise that he can sustain a dynamic foreign policy only on the foundation of a strong domestic policy, a realm where he must overcome political obstacles to shape a transformative legacy.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and the author, most recently, of Water, Peace, and War (Rowman & Littlefield, USA).

© Open, 2015.

Modi in China


A column internationally syndicated by Project Syndicate.

China and India have a fraught relationship, characterized by festering disputes, deep mistrust, and a shared ambivalence about political cooperation. Booming bilateral trade, far from helping to turn the page on old rifts, has been accompanied by increasing border incidents, military tensions, and geopolitical rivalry, as well as disagreements on riparian and maritime issues.

Since taking office last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought to transform his country’s relationship with China, arguing that Asia’s prospects hinge “in large measure” on what the two countries – which together account for one-third of the world’s population – “achieve individually” and “do together.” But, as Modi’s just-concluded tour of China highlighted, the issues that divide the demographic titans remain formidable.

Modi XiTo be sure, China’s leaders fêted Modi in style. When Modi arrived in Xian – one of China’s four ancient capitals and President Xi Jinping’s hometown – Xi took him on a personal tour of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. (Modi subsequently boasted of his close “plus one” friendship with Xi.) In Beijing, Premier Li Keqiang posed for a selfie with Modi outside the Temple of Heaven.

What China’s leaders did not do was yield on any substantive issue – and not for lack of effort on Modi’s part. Despite Modi’s pragmatic and conciliatory tack, his request that China “reconsider its approach” on some of the issues that are preventing the partnership from realizing its “full potential” went unheeded.

Consider discussions relating to the ongoing dispute over the two countries’ long Himalayan frontier. Alluding to a series of Chinese military incursions since 2006, Modi declared that “a shadow of uncertainty” hangs over the border region, because the “line of actual control” that China unilaterally drew after defeating India in a 1962 war that it had initiated was never mutually clarified. Modi proposed resuming the LAC clarification process, but to no avail.

In fact, the reason for the continued ambiguity is that, in 2002, after more than two decades of negotiations, China reneged on a promise to exchange maps with India covering the two main disputed sectors – the Austria-size Arunachal Pradesh and the Switzerland-size Aksai Chin, along with its adjacent areas – located at either end of the Himalayas. Four years later, China revived its long-dormant claim to Arunachal Pradesh, and has since breached its border several times. It fulminated against Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in February.

Nonetheless, in his zeal to build the bilateral relationship, Modi announced that Chinese tourists are now eligible to receive electronic visas on arrival in India – blindsiding his foreign secretary, who had just told the media that no such decision had been made. China’s foreign minister hailed the measure as a “gift” – an accurate description, given that China has yielded nothing in return. On the contrary, China has aimed to undermine India’s sovereignty, by issuing stapled visas to residents of Arunachal Pradesh.

Moreover, China – which, by annexing water-rich Tibet, has become the region’s hydro-hegemon – also declined to conclude an agreement to sell India hydrological data on transboundary rivers year-round, rather than just during the monsoon season. So China is not only refusing to create a water-sharing pact with any of its neighbors; it will not even share comprehensive data on upstream river flows.

Making matters worse, there is an unmistakable air of condescension in the pronouncements, contained in the joint statement issued at the end of Modi’s visit, that China “took note of India’s aspirations” to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and “understands and supports India’s aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations, including in the Security Council.” China is the only major power that has not backed India’s bid to become a permanent member of the Security Council.

Economic outcomes were similarly unequal. Many of the deals Modi made with business leaders in Shanghai – supposedly worth $22 billion – entail Chinese state-owned banks financing Indian firms to purchase Chinese equipment. This will worsen India’s already massive trade deficit with China, while doing little to boost China’s meager investment in India, which totals just 1% of China’s annual bilateral trade surplus – a surplus that has swelled by one-third since Modi took office and is now approaching $50 billion.

Indeed, China and India have one of the world’s most lopsided trade relationships. Chinese exports to India are worth five times more than its imports from India. Moreover, China mainly purchases raw materials from India, while selling it mostly value-added goods. With India making little effort to stem the avalanche of cheap Chinese goods flooding its market – despite Modi’s much-touted “Make in India” campaign – China’s status as the country’s largest source of imports appears secure.

China is well practiced in using trade and commercial penetration to bolster its influence in other countries. In India’s case, it is leveraging its clout as a major supplier of power and telecommunications equipment and active pharmaceutical ingredients, not to mention as a lender to financially troubled Indian firms, to limit the country’s options. By allowing the trade distortions from which China profits to persist – and, indeed, to grow – India is effectively funding this strategy.

As hard as Modi tries to put a positive spin on his recent visit to China, highlighting the 24 mostly symbolic agreements that were concluded, he cannot obscure the harsh strategic realities affecting the bilateral relationship. Without a new approach, the Sino-Indian relationship seems doomed to remain highly uneven and contentious.

© 1995-2015 Project Syndicate.

China and Pakistan: Little in common yet the closest of allies


Brahma Chellaney, The Japan Times

pakistan470080792President Xi Jinping’s recent Islamabad visit, by unveiling agreements valued at $28 billion, shows that China has made Pakistan the central link between its dual Silk Road initiatives. While the maritime Silk Road is the meretriciously benign name for China’s “string of pearls” strategy, the overland Silk Road project has been designed to advance Chinese interests in Central Asia, the Caspian Sea basin and beyond.

These initiatives are part of China’s larger strategy to break out of the East Asia mold and become a more global power.

Xi has now embarked on connecting China’s restive Xinjiang region with the Arabian Sea through a 3,000-kilometer overland transportation corridor to Pakistan’s Chinese-built Gwadar port. Known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, this $46 billion project through Pakistan-held Kashmir will hook up China’s maritime and overland Silk Roads and increase Pakistan’s pivotal importance for Beijing.

When an Indian prime minister visits the Myanmar-bordering Arunachal Pradesh (a large Himalayan territory whose control by India only China questions), or India and Vietnam jointly explore for offshore oil in the South China Sea, China protests loudly, claiming it is “disputed territory.” But the Xi-pushed corridor will traverse an internationally recognized disputed region — Pakistan-held Kashmir — where China has been enlarging its military footprint.

An influx of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops into the Pakistani Kashmir’s Shiite-majority Gilgit-Baltistan region in recent years, to supposedly guard Chinese strategic projects there, has resulted in Chinese military presence close to Pakistan’s line of control with India in Kashmir.

The scenario presents India with a two-front theater in Kashmir in the event of a war with either country. This threat is also being highlighted by PLA officers conducting field exercises close to Pakistan’s line of control with India to train Pakistani army troops in the use of Chinese-supplied weapons.

More fundamentally, India is contained geopolitically by the longstanding axis between China and Pakistan, involving, among other things, covert nuclear, missile and intelligence cooperation. With serious strains emerging in Beijing’s relationship with North Korea, Pakistan is now clearly China’s only real ally.

China’s nexus with Pakistan has long been likened to the closeness between lips and teeth, with Beijing recently calling Pakistan its “irreplaceable all-weather friend.” The two often boast of being “iron brothers.” Of late, though, their description of their relationship has become more flowery — “taller than the mountains, deeper than the oceans, stronger than steel, and sweeter than honey.”

Paradoxically, China and Pakistan have little in common, yet boast one of the closest relationships in international diplomacy. Their axis has been built on a shared objective to tie India down, as former state department official Daniel Markey says in his 2013 book, No Exit From Pakistan. Weapon transfers, loans and infrastructure projects allow China to use Pakistan as a cost-effective counterweight to India.

Pakistan, for example, developed its nuclear-weapons capability with Chinese aid and U.S. indulgence, highlighting the fact that no other state has received Chinese and American support in parallel on a sustained basis extending for decades. Indeed, the more Pakistan has become a jihadist snake pit, the greater has been China’s leeway to increase its strategic penetration of that country.

For India, the implications of the growing nexus are particularly stark because both China and Pakistan stake claims to substantial swaths of Indian land and continue to collaborate on weapons of mass destruction.

Significantly, as China’s involvement in strategic projects in Pakistan-held Kashmir has grown, it has openly started needling India on Kashmir, one-fifth of which is under Chinese occupation. It has employed innovative ways to question India’s sovereignty over Kashmir and stepped up military incursions into Indian Kashmir’s Buddhist Ladakh region.

China is clearly signaling that Kashmir is where the Sino-Pakistan nexus can squeeze India. Its military pressure on Arunachal Pradesh, located at the other end of the Himalayas, seems more intended to distract from its Kashmir designs.

Xi’s visit indeed was a reminder that Pakistan-held Kashmir serves as the artery of the Sino-Pakistan nexus.

Xi, who has articulated a more expansive role for China in the world than any modern Chinese leader other than Mao Zedong, showed how high-visibility infrastructure projects drive China’s promotion of commercial and strategic interests. Much of the Chinese funding unveiled during Xi’s visit will be for power projects, including the $1.4-billion Karot Dam, located on the Pakistan-held Kashmir’s border with the Punjab province. This dam is the first project to be financed by China’s new $40-billion Silk Road Fund.

As if to highlight that China treats Pakistan as its newest colony, Xi’s package of power projects will be Chinese-owned, including the Karot Dam station, with the Pakistani government committed to buying power at a preset rate. The power projects, in essence, are to use Pakistan’s resources for Chinese state-run companies to generate profits for repatriation.

In another example of the puppet-puppeteer equation and the risk of Pakistan turning into a Chinistan, Islamabad has given Beijing 40-year exclusive rights to run the port at Gwadar, which is likely to double up as a key outpost for the Chinese navy and serve as China’s first overseas naval station.

The Xi-launched corridor — a network of roads, railway and pipelines — will give China access to the Indian Ocean, thus challenging India in its maritime backyard and opening a new threat for it. The corridor’s transportation links will also allow China to rapidly come to Pakistan’s aid in the event of a war with India.

Moreover, by transforming Pakistan into a client state of the Chinese economy, the corridor will tighten China’s grip over that country, thus preventing it from emulating the example of Myanmar or Sri Lanka to escape Beijing’s clutches. In return for the contracts and other concessions, China will offer Pakistan protection, including diplomatic cover at the United Nations.

However, Pakistan’s insurrection-torn sprawling province of Baluchistan — home to Gwadar — stands out as the Achilles heel of China’s corridor initiative, despite the Pakistani decision during Xi’s visit to create a special security force to protect Chinese projects.

China thinks in the long term. Pakistan — set to get delivery of eight Chinese attack submarines — is now China’s launch pad for playing a bigger role in the Indian Ocean and Middle East, besides serving as a linchpin of its India-containment strategy. China’s land corridor to the Arabian Sea will extend India’s encirclement by the PLA from the Kashmir land borders to the Indian Ocean sea lanes.

No country in the world other than India confronts a strengthening nexus between two revisionist nuclear-armed neighbors with a proven track record of covert actions in breach of international norms. The corridor constitutes China’s new pincer strategy. India — like the proverbial frog in a gradually heating pot of water not realizing the danger until it is too late — can stay silent and passive at its own peril.

Brahma Chellaney, a long-standing contributor to The Japan Times, is a geostrategist and the author of nine books, including “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” winner of the 2012 Bernard Schwartz Award. His latest book is “Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis.”

© The Japan Times, 2015.

Why the U.S. must support constitutional reform in Japan


U.S. security interests will be better served by a more confident, secure Japan free from its constitutional fetters.

Brahma Chellaney

us_news_obama_3_aba_1135298_34228639In keeping with Japan’s interest to play a more robust international role, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s U.S. visit has yielded new guidelines for bilateral defense cooperation — the first such revision since 1997. But it is also in U.S. interest to help Japan free itself of its constitutional millstone so that global military cooperation becomes truly feasible. Japan’s antiwar Constitution must be amended to allow its “Self-Defense Forces” to become a full-fledged military.That will allow Japanese forces to play an expanded role, as envisioned by the revised guidelines.

Let’s face it: No other country in the world is bound by the kind of constitutional restrictions that were imposed on vanquished Japan by occupying American forces in 1947.

U.S. policy toward Japan must change with the changing geopolitical circumstances in East Asia. While China will prefer a Japan that remains dependent on America for its security than a Japan that can play a more independent role, the post-1945 security system erected by the United States is more suited to keep Japan as an American protectorate than to allow Tokyo to effectively aid the central U.S.-policy objective in the Asia-Pacific — a stable balance of power. An American policy approach that subtly encourages Tokyo to cut its overdependence on America and do more for its own defense can assist Japan in shaping a new strategic future for itself that contributes to Asian power equilibrium, thus aiding U.S. interests.

Japan’s current Constitution prohibits it from acquiring the means of war and bars its Self-Defense Forces from staging rescue missions or other overseas operations, even to free Japanese hostages. To set up wholly defensive armed forces in the 1950s, Japan had to loosely interpret the Constitution’s Article Nine, which says “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”

Japan has clung to this Constitution for 68 years without so much as carrying out a single amendment or changing even one word. Many other democracies regard their constitutions not as cast in stone but as open to change so that they stay abreast with new social, technological and economic developments. For example, India — whose Constitution is almost as old as Japan’s — is set to enact its 100th amendment. Even Germany — also defeated in World War II — has thus far made 59 amendments to its Basic Law, or Constitution, which it adopted when it was under Allied occupation.

If Japan were to break free from its constitutional fetters, it will aid its “normalization” as a nation at a time when the ascent of an increasingly muscular China has exacerbated the Asian security environment. In East Asia, Japan is the only democracy that can balance the power of rising China.

The United Nations charter recognizes individual and collective self-defense as an “inherent right” of nations. Yet Japan did not have this right, until the Abe government last year reinterpreted the Constitution on “collective self-defense” — a step that would allow Japan to come to the aid of its allies. The U.S. wisely supported this reinterpretation.

Abe’s larger constitutional-reform push, however, faces major obstacles at home. For one, the Constitution places a high bar to the enactment of any amendment, making it among the hardest in the world to revise. Any amendment must win support of two-thirds majorities in both chambers of Diet and be ratified by more than half of voters in a public referendum. For another, the majority of citizens, including most of the young, remain comfortable with the present Constitution. After all, pacifism remains deeply ingrained in Japanese society, in part because of the painful legacy of Japan’s prewar militarism.

In fact, many Japanese regard the Constitution as sacrosanct and unchangeable. Such constitutional-sanctity zeal is virtually akin to the religious fundamentalism sweeping elsewhere in the world. To regard every word or provision in the Constitution as sacred is like defending the literal truth of a religious scripture.

Such are the current obstacles to constitutional revision that what Abe can hope for in his term is effecting, at best, a relaxation of amendment procedures, leaving the modification of the force-renouncing Article Nine to a successor government. Yet accomplishing even that limited goal remains uncertain. It is an open question whether any proposed amendment of Article 96 to lower the revision bar — even if it were to clear both houses of the Diet with two-thirds majority — would win public support in a referendum.

If there is one factor that can make a meaningful difference, it is American support. If President Barack Obama’s administration were to lend support to Abe’s constitutional-reform agenda, it will not only blunt Chinese criticism but also assuage many Japanese that amending the Constitution will not mean repudiating the postwar order that America established in Japan or abandoning pacifism.

U.S. security interests would be better served by a more confident and secure Japan that assumes greater responsibility for its own defense and for regional security. In the way America backed Abe’s reinterpretation of the collective self-defense right, it ought to support constitutional reform in Asia’s oldest liberal democracy, which has an enviable record: Japan has not fired a single shot against an outside party since World War II and has been a major donor of economic and humanitarian aid and promoter of global peace. Today, Japan is the only power that can block China from gaining ascendancy in the region.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor at the independent Center for Policy Research in New Delhi and the author, among others, of “Water: Asia’s New Battleground,” winner of the Bernard Schwartz Award.

© China-US Focus, 2015.

Why is Narendra Modi going to China?  


Brahma Chellaney, Mint, April 30, 2015

oped--621x414Barely eight months after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India trip, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will shortly make a return visit to China. China’s intrusion into Chumar—one of its biggest incursions ever—coincided with Xi’s arrival, representing his birthday gift for Modi, who turned 64 on that day. Given that Beijing has only hardened its border stance and taken other unfriendly actions since, why is Modi paying a return visit so soon after Xi’s trip?

Normally, a return visit to any country should be undertaken only after preparatory work indicates the trip could tangibly advance the bilateral relationship. Modi’s trip, however, holds little prospect for achieving a more balanced and stable relationship or making progress on resolving land and water disputes and correcting an increasingly lopsided trade relationship. Given the limited time, no real groundwork has been done to ensure that the visit yields enduring results.

Beijing has only been queering the pitch for Modi’s visit. Its reaction to Modi’s Arunachal Pradesh tour in February to open two development projects was unparalleled. Over two days, China fulminated against India, with the Indian ambassador being summarily summoned, the Chinese vice foreign minister speaking scathingly, and the Chinese foreign ministry posting a condemnatory press release on its website.

Worse still, Beijing, in a little-noticed action, used this occasion to escalate its stance on Arunachal. The Chinese vice foreign minister brusquely told the Indian ambassador that the Modi visit undermined “China’s territorial sovereignty, right and interests” and that it “violates the consensus to appropriately handle the border issue.” In other words, Beijing claimed that Arunachal was no longer just a “disputed territory” but China’s sovereign territory, and it contrived a “consensus” against an Indian leader visiting that northeastern state.

Actually, China’s creep began in 2006 when, for the first time, it claimed Arunachal as “South Tibet.” It has since cooked up Tibetan names for invented subdivisions of Arunachal to draw attention to the state’s purported Tibetan identity, even though the Dalai Lama has publicly said that Arunachal historically was not part of Tibet. In its February 20 admonition to India, Beijing alleged the “so-called Arunachal Pradesh” was established largely in the “three areas of China’s Tibet—Monyul, Loyul and Lower Tsayul” and claimed these “had always been Chinese territory.”

What was India’s reaction to Beijing’s serially grating statements on Arunachal, including accusing Modi of breaching an ostensible “consensus”? Conspicuous silence. Modi’s government, however, went ahead and scheduled its maiden round of border talks with China in New Delhi in March, instead of postponing it. Emboldened, Beijing mounted pressure on two fronts — just before and after the border talks, intruding Chinese forces had face-offs with Indian troops in Ladakh’s Depsang plateau; and, without cause, China raked up the Arunachal issue again.

In April, Beijing claimed it is an “undeniable fact” that there is a “huge dispute” over Arunachal. The undeniable fact is actually the converse: that the “huge dispute” is really about Tibet since all Chinese claims flow from that. Sprawling Tibet, the world’s largest and highest plateau, remains at the core of the India-China divide.

Consider yet another hostile action: Chinese intelligence, playing an active role, got nine insurgent groups from India’s northeast recently to meet in Myanmar and form a united front. And just before hosting Modi, Xi has travelled to Pakistan where he signed agreements valued at $28 billion and unveiled the development of a Kashgar-Gwadar land corridor to the Indian Ocean that will challenge India in its own maritime backyard.

Yet, mum’s the word for India. It would seem that safeguarding Modi’s visit has trumped the strategic imperative to respond diplomatically to China’s antagonistic actions. These actions cannot but embarrass Modi, who is still courting Beijing.

For example, how is India planning to respond to China’s stapled-visa policy towards Arunachal residents? Not in kind, such as by introducing stapled visas for the Tibetan plateau’s Han settlers, but by bestowing a reward: e-visa on arrival for Chinese nationals. Such an overture, even if continuing the Indian tradition since 1949 of going overboard to befriend China, signals that India remains hobbled by low self-esteem and a subaltern mindset.

A resurgent India would shine a spotlight on the core dispute by slowly reopening the Tibet issue and reclaiming its lost leverage. After all, China has trampled on its pledge to respect Tibet’s autonomy. Yet, without inviting any reprisal, China continues to squeeze a defensive India. The fact that India does not take its claim to Aksai Chin or Pakistan-held Kashmir seriously encourages China to enlarge its strategic footprint in the Pakistani part of Kashmir and to step up incursions into Ladakh from the Chinese-occupied portion of Kashmir.

In the absence of goal-oriented statecraft, Indian diplomacy has long been shaped by personalities at the helm. Their propensity to act in haste and repent at leisure has been legendary, as India has ignored the sound advice of Talleyrand, Napoleon’s famous foreign minister: “By no means show too much zeal.” Zeal, especially in the form of diplomatic surprises and unilateral gestures, is a trademark of the Modi foreign policy. Indeed, Modi is going to China because he gratuitously told Xi he would pay a return visit before completing his first year in office. With such a schmaltzy approach, can India stand up for its interests and make China walk its talk?

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research.

© Mint, 2015