THE HINDU EDITORIAL : APRIL 17, 2018
THE HINDU EDITORIAL : APRIL 17, 2018
Towards a regional reset?
Change often comes unannounced, and the government’s foreign policy moves over the past few months represent an unannounced but profound shift in its thinking about the neighbourhood. This could change the course of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy before the general election next year.
On the mend
The most obvious in this is what is now being called the “reset” with China.While the trigger for the rapprochement between the two neighbours was the peaceful resolution of the Doklam standoff and Mr. Modi’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Xiamen last year, the outcome of the easing of tensions is being seen in New Delhi’s public postures this year.
To begin with, the government has taken care not to respond with any heat to reports of the Chinese build-up at Doklam. Construction by the People’s Liberation Army of new bases, bunkers and helipads, as well its troops staying in the erstwhile grazing grounds there through the winter is far from normal activity. Keeping its responses cool, New Delhi has been repeating that the Doklam standoff point is untouched and Chinese construction on their side of the boundary is “not a threat” to India. The government has also gone to some lengths to tone down planned celebrations marking the anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s arrival from Tibet. New Delhi and Beijing have now embarked on a flurry of high-level visits that are meant to lead up to a summit meeting between the two leaders; they may even meet more than once. The shift has given rise to speculation that the two sides are intent on making significant progress in smoothening ties on outstanding issues such as boundary negotiations and also narrowing the trade deficit, an issue discussed during the Chinese Commerce Minister’s visit to India recently.
This flexibility is also mirrored in the government’s dealings in the South Asian region. Despite several appeals by the Maldivian opposition, and nudges from the U.S., the Modi government decided not to exert hard power in bringing Maldives President Abdulla Yameen around after he declared a state of emergency in the country. Nor did it engage China in a confrontation when Mr. Yameen sought Beijing’s support in this regard. The government remained silent as Male went a step further and held discussions with Pakistan’s Army Chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, on joint patrolling of its Exclusive Economic Zone, an area of operation in the Indian Ocean considered to be India’s domain.
With Nepal, instead of seeing red when a victorious Prime Minister K.P. Oli made it clear that he would step up engagement with China in infrastructure development, India rolled out the red carpet for him earlier this month. Nor did India raise concern over Nepal’s Constitution which had sparked the confrontation between India and Nepal in 2015-16. There has also been outreach to Bhutan and Bangladesh in recent weeks. Both Bhutan and Bangladesh are to hold elections this year, and with incumbent governments more favourably disposed to New Delhi than their challengers in the opposition, the results will have an impact on India’s influence in these countries as well.
Quiet progress with Pakistan
One area of foreign policy where few would bet money on a reset, namely Pakistan, has also seen some quiet movement. This year, the government admitted in Parliament for the first time that National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval had met his Pakistani counterpart, Nasser Khan Janjua, as a part of “established channels of communications at various levels” between the two sides in the past few years, post-Pathankot. Officials have confirmed that talks between the two NSAs have also taken place on the sidelines of conferences as well, and quite regularly telephonically. Meanwhile, the resolution of the standoff over the treatment of diplomats in Delhi and Islamabad indicates that neither government has the appetite for escalation at this point.
All around, it would appear that India’s hard power strategy in the region is being replaced with a more conciliatory one. However, the next steps will be defined not by a quiet or defensive approach to redefining India’s foreign policy in the region, but with a more bold and proactive one. The reset with China will work only if there are transactional dividends for both New Delhi and Beijing, in case the two governments go back to the default antagonism of the past after the summit meetings. Two issues on which both governments can show flexibility are China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and India’s bid for Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership.
On the NSG, China could remove its block to India’s membership by adopting a more inclusive approach within the nuclear export control organisation. Indian membership, which the Modi government seems to have made its objective, will only strengthen the international nuclear regime. Even if withdrawal of China’s objections does not soften the objections of more hardline “non-proliferationists” or Non-Proliferation Treaty-proponents, the goodwill from such a move would propel India-China relations forward.
On the BRI, if there is political will on both sides, they needn’t look too far for creative solutions around India’s three concerns: on territorial integrity, transparency of projects and their sustainability. The solution to the first is contained in a proposal under consideration — to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan. While it may have not been the outcome discussed, the shift from the CPEC to what could be called PACE or the Pakistan-Afghanistan-China Economic corridor would necessitate a shift away from projects in Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Those projects may still be built and funded by China, but then would not constitute a part of the BRI route; as a result, India’s concerns on sovereignty could be dispensed with.
Meanwhile, several countries, from Europe to Central and East Asia, are now echoing India’s concerns about the environmental and debt trap risks that BRI projects pose. India could take the lead in creating an international template for infrastructure and connectivity proposals, one that would seek to engage China and other donor countries in a structured approach towards debt financing. This would win India goodwill in the neighbourhood too, where every other country (apart from Bhutan) has signed on to the BRI, but has felt alienated by India’s rigid opposition to the initiative.
However, the real tipping point in India’s regional reset will come if the government also decides to reconsider its opposition to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit this year, with Pakistan as the host. At a press conference recently, the Foreign Secretary repeated India’s concerns over cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, saying: “Given the current state of play where there is cross-border terrorism and where this is a disruptive force in the region, it is difficult in such circumstances to proceed with [SAARC].” But the argument is beginning to wear thin.
Afghanistan, which supported India’s move to pull out of the SAARC summit in Islamabad in 2016 following the Uri attacks, is engaging with Pakistan again; Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi signed a seven-point Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity early this month. Sri Lanka and Nepal, both sympathetic to India’s outrage over Uri, are pushing for a summit this year; their sentiments were conveyed publicly by Mr. Oli in Delhi, and by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on his visit to Islamabad in March.
The trick is for Mr. Modi to attend the summit in Pakistan when some of India’s neighbours are still asking “why”, and not when all of its neighbours begin to ask “why not”. While this may require the government’s much touted “Doval Doctrine” to take a leaf out of the much derided “Gujral Doctrine” book, it may be in keeping with a larger desire for a regional reset, bringing Mr. Modi’s last year in this term of office more in line with his first.
Slippery slick: On Centre’s oil policy
After a sharp fall at the beginning of the year, oil prices have risen dramatically in recent weeks. The price of Brent crude has risen by around $10 since it touched a short-term low of around $62 in early February, hitting its highest mark since late 2014. Tensions in West Asia after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to strike Syria helped push up prices. But it is important to separate short-term volatility in oil prices owing to geopolitical tensions from longer-term trends in the oil market. In its latest market report, the International Energy Association (IEA) noted that with oil prices ruling over $70, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has “accomplished” its goal of ending the glut in global oil supply. Notably, OPEC cut production by around 201,000 barrels a day in March compared to February. Yet, total world oil supply actually rose by 180,000 barrels a day in March, as output from non-OPEC countries, including the U.S., has been increasing in response to higher oil prices. IEA executive director Fatih Birol said last week that the next wave of shale supply may be in the offing as oil prices have remained high for some time now.
In India, rapidly rising international crude oil prices have failed to push local petrol and diesel prices upwards in equal measure. The retail selling prices of petrol and diesel across major Indian cities have in fact risen by less than a rupee since the beginning of April. That is, they are not in sync with the upward rise in crude oil prices. Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for more ‘responsible’ oil prices, which he said have been in “roller coaster” mode for too long. Oil prices, he argued, need to factor in the interests of both consumer and producer. This assertion, along with the talk of allying with China and other Asian countries now to buy oil from OPEC members at lower prices, would have held more weight if the government’s actions matched the sentiment. It has imposed high duties on petroleum products ever since crude oil prices started moderating in 2014, but has been reluctant to scale down those duties in the face of rising prices, leading to record pump level prices. This clearly doesn’t benefit the consumer. Now, with the general elections about a year away and critical Assembly polls in Karnataka just a month away, the Centre is being cautious not to have higher oil import costs passed on to consumers. This flies in the face of the pricing freedom it had ostensibly granted to the oil marketing companies and packaged as a major deregulation reform. So its stance hasn’t benefited the producers either, as is reflected in their falling stock prices. How the Centre responds to rising international crude oil prices was always going to be the litmus test of its commitment to fuel price deregulation. In the current situation, it appears that the government has only tied itself up in knots over the petroleum pricing policy, and with it, its reformist credentials.
Meaning: (Of a person or statement) having or showing great knowledge or insight.
Example: “A profound philosopher”
Meaning: (Especially in international affairs) an establishment or resumption of harmonious relations.
Example: “There were signs of a growing rapprochement between the two countries”
Meaning: A reinforced underground shelter, typically for use in wartime.
Meaning: Soldiers or armed forces.
Example: “UN peacekeeping troops”
|Synonyms:||Soldiers, Armed forces|
Example: “The erstwhile president of the company”
|Synonyms:||Former, Old, Past|
Meaning: A deadlock between two equally matched opponents in a dispute or conflict.
Example: “The 16-day-old stand-off was no closer to being resolved”
Meaning: Begin (a course of action).
Example: “She embarked on a new career”
Meaning: A number of things arriving or happening suddenly and during the same period.
Example: “A flurry of editorials hostile to the government”
Meaning: The forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.
Example: “There has been widespread speculation that he plans to quit”
Meaning: Determined to do (something).
Example: “The government was intent on achieving greater efficiency”
Meaning: Discussion aimed at reaching an agreement.
Example: “A worldwide ban is currently under negotiation“
Meaning: The amount by which something, especially a sum of money, is too small.
Example: “An annual operating deficit”
Meaning: Prod (someone) gently with one’s elbow in order to attract attention.
Example: “People were nudging each other and pointing at me”
Meaning: Make a physical or mental effort.
Example: “He needs to exert himself to try to find an answer”
|Synonyms:||Make an effort, Try hard|
Meaning: Keep watch over (an area) by regularly walking or travelling around it.
Example: “The garrison had to patrol the streets to maintain order”
|Synonyms:||Keep guard (on), Guard|
16) Red carpet
Meaning: Used in reference to privileged treatment of a distinguished visitor.
Example: “The group gets red-carpet treatment in most places”
Meaning: Necessary for (someone) as a duty or responsibility.
Example: “The government realized that it was incumbent on them to act”
Meaning: An official representing a country abroad.
Example: “A British diplomat working in our consulate in Germany”
Synonyms: Ambassador, Envoy
Meaning: A strong desire or liking for something.
Example: “Her appetite for life”
Meaning: A rapid increase; a rise.
Example: “Cost escalations”
|Synonyms:||Rapid increase, Rise|
Meaning: Intended or likely to placate or pacify.
Example: “A conciliatory approach”
Meaning: (Of a person or action) creating or controlling a situation rather than just responding to it after it has happened.
Example: “Employers must take a proactive approach to equal pay”
Meaning: Active hostility or opposition.
Example: “The antagonism between them”
Meaning: A government, especially an authoritarian one.
Example: “Ideological opponents of the regime”
Meaning: Friendly, helpful, or cooperative feelings or attitude.
Example: “The scheme is dependent on goodwill between the two sides”
Meaning: A cause of anxiety or worry.
Example: “Public awareness of Aboriginal concerns”
Synonyms: Affair, Issue
Meaning: The state of being whole and undivided.
Example: “Upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty”
Synonyms: Unity, Unification
Meaning: Supreme power or authority.
Example: “The sovereignty of Parliament”
Synonyms: Jurisdiction, Supremacy
Antonyms: Subservience, Subjection
Meaning: Manage without or get rid of.
Example: “Let’s dispense with the formalities, shall we?”
Synonyms: Waive, Omit
Antonyms: Include, Keep
Meaning: Make (someone) feel isolated or estranged.
Example: “An urban environment which would alienate its inhabitants”
Synonyms: Estrange, Isolate
Meaning: Not able to be changed or adapted.
Example: “Rigid bureaucratic controls”
Synonyms: Fixed, Set
Meaning: Unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.
Example: “Factory workers voiced solidarity with the striking students”
Synonyms: Unanimity, Unity
Meaning: Attempt to persuade people of the merits of.
Example: “She was touted as a potential Prime Minister”
Synonyms: Commend, Endorse
Meaning: Express contempt for; ridicule.
Example: “The decision was derided by environmentalists”
Synonyms: Ridicule, Mock
Antonyms: Respect, Praise
Meaning: An excessively abundant supply of something.
Example: “There is a glut of cars on the market”
Synonyms: Surplus, Excess
Antonyms: Dearth, Scarcity
Meaning: Likely to happen soon.
Example: “With an election in the offing, the prime minister is keen to maintain his priority.
Meaning: Side with or support.
Example: “He allied himself with the forces of change”
Synonyms: Unite, Join
Meaning: Unwilling and hesitant; disinclined.
Example: “Today, many ordinary people are still reluctant to talk about politics”
Synonyms: Unwilling, Disinclined
Antonyms: Willing, Eager
Meaning: As appears or is stated to be true, though not necessarily so; apparently.
Example: “The party secretary resigned, ostensibly from ill health”
Synonyms: Apparently, Seemingly
Antonyms: Genuinely, Really
Meaning: A qualification, achievement, quality, or aspect of a person’s background, especially when used to indicate their suitability for something.
Example: “Recruitment is based mainly on academic credentials”
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