A Chinese heaven: idealised version of its imperial past to promote a 19th century agenda

An oft-repeated exhortation in China is “use the past to serve the present.” Historical memories are a powerful force that not only bind the Chinese people together and form their national identity but also motivate Chinese leaders to find what they regard as China’s rightful place in the world.
What they celebrate is an imperial China reconstructed as the benevolent centre of East Asia, to advance the agenda of China’s rise as a return to the harmonious state and to reassure neighbours who worry about the nation’s rising threat. The leaders insist that a powerful China can be peaceful.
Following President Hu Jintao’s concept of the harmonious world derived from traditional Chinese philosophy, President Xi Jinping has famously said that “the genes’ order” and “inherited national spirit” determine that “the Chinese nation is a peace-loving nation.” He goes on to suggest that the pursuit of peace and harmony is deeply rooted in the spirit and blood of the Chinese people, although millennia of violent history tell another story.
In the meantime, Chinese scholars have reconstructed a benevolent Chinese empire Tianxia, all-under-heaven, based on the royal ethics, or wangdao. This has emerged as a popular way to convey the “Chinese normative principle of international relations in contrast with the principles of sovereignty and the structure of international anarchy which form the core of the contemporary international system,” suggests Allen Carlson in the Journal of Contemporary China.
Zhao Tingyang describes Tianxia as a universal system inherited from the Zhou dynasty about 3,000 years ago. The system, maintained by cultural attraction and ruling by virtue, is embodied in the Chinese ideal of perpetual peace.
Yan Xuetong’s study determined that ancient Chinese thinkers advised rulers to rely on ethics and use benevolent government to rule the world. Yan distinguishes three types of ethics in ancient China: Royal ethics focused on peaceful means to win the hearts and minds of people at home and abroad. Tyranny, based on military force, inevitably created enemies. Hegemonic ethics lay in between – frequently indifferent to moral concerns, it often involved violence against non-allies, but did not cheat people at home or allies abroad. Royal ethics was preferred over hegemony or tyranny.
In comparison with western countries that used coercive power to build colonies, the Chinese world order was more civil, attracting admiration from tributary states without use of force. Emphasising benevolent governance, etiquette, peace and denying the imperialistic nature, imperial China and its relations with surrounding regions were far more advanced than the colonialism of western countries.
But recent scholarship in the West suggests that imperial China, like its counterparts, was not uniquely benevolent or uniquely violent. Warfare was constant in imperial China, with regions often in disunion or under foreign invasion. China’s ruler during the Yuan dynasty, Kublai Khan, expanded the empire by military expedition, stretching across Central Asia, Burma and Vietnam. The last Chinese dynasty, Qing, expanded to unprecedented size, nearly doubling land holdings from the previous Ming dynasty mostly through military force.
From this perspective, Peter Perdue argues that the techniques used by the Ming and Qing dynasties to legitimise their rule over subjects and claim superiority over rivals were not radically different from those of other empires. Citing comparative history studies that point to substantial similarities of the Ming and Qing to the Russian, Mughal and Ottoman imperial formations, or even to early modern France, Perdue suggested that the concept of “colonialism” could be usefully employed to describe certain aspects of Qing practice.
Imperial China had to use military force to defend and expand the empire because its territorial domain, defined loosely by cultural principles, was not always accepted by its neighbours. Following the policy of fusion and expansion, whenever imperial China was powerful, it tried to expand frontiers by claiming suzerainty over smaller neighbours. The expansion, however, often met with resistance. Chinese empire was not shy about military conquest.
Sun Tzu’s Art of War was thus written during a time when, as Kevin Rudd said, war was a permanent condition: “The bulk of Sun Tzu’s work is how to prevail in a conflict against another state or states by either non-military or military means. Taken in insolation, it can be interpreted as meaning that conflict and war represented the natural and inevitable condition of humankind.”
There is nothing wrong with looking to China’s past to help understand China’s future. But Chinese intellectuals and political leaders are engaging in selective remembering, often reconstructed history, to advance the government’s political agenda and justify its concept of justice and view of China’s rightful place in the world.
Historical discourse has, therefore, become extremely politicised in China. Chinese elites, therefore, often draw contradictory policy agendas from the study of history. On the one hand, Chinese leaders present an idealised version of imperial China to support the claims of China’s peaceful rise and, on the other, take the lesson that imperial China’s collapse was because its strength was not enough to defend its existence, Chinese elites have called for China to follow the law of survival, with the weakest eliminated, to become the strongest again.
Reconstruction of China’s imperial past to advance the contemporary agenda of its peaceful rise has, ironically, set a 19th century agenda for 21st century China – intended to restore the regional hierarchy and maximise security by expanding influence and control over its neighbourhoods

India – Democracy- Yes: A Republic- Not Really

Indian constitution opens with the words that India is both a republic and a democracy. We are making an important claim: is it true?
Republic is a Roman word. A republican state is one in which power rests with the citizens. Democracy is a Greek word. It means a state in which leaders are chosen from among the general population, and not the aristocracy. Republic and democracy don’t mean the same thing, and even democracy has many interpretations. Athenian ‘democracy’ was actually a psephocracy. For instance, in Athens all (adult male) citizens were equal and therefore leaders and jurors were chosen by lot, meaning by turn. Socrates had total contempt for this democracy and throughout Plato’s works his refrain is: ‘In a storm, would you choose a ship’s captain by lot?’
After the Middle Ages, Europe was inspired by Greece in art, philosophy and science and culture, but by Rome in government. In the US constitution, the word ‘democracy’ in fact does not appear, though ‘republic’ does. Many of America’s founding fathers were classicists who favoured Rome. The Federalist Papers, which is America’s version of our Constituent Assembly debates, were written by figures like Alexander Hamilton and James Madison under the pseudonym ‘Publius’, referencing a Roman who helped set up the republic. A story, probably apocryphal, tells of Benjamin Franklin exiting the constitutional convention of 1787. A man in the crowd asks him what sort of government America has been given. Franklin replies: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Republics are not easy to keep because we are naturally attracted to the heroic saviour who will sort out our problems with his genius.
The historian Livy tells us that Rome was a republic for some four centuries. It was, like democracy, different from the republic we know. Suffrage was even more restricted than in Athens, and Rome had an aristocracy (the Senate is a Roman institution) and slavery and colonialism, but it did not bow to one man. The heroic saviour Julius Caesar ended the republic.
The UK is a democracy but not a republic, because executive power flows from a monarch. The resistance to this structure is referred to as ‘republicanism’. What about India?
It is obvious that we are a democracy, because our leaders are chosen by voters. But are we a republic? Does real power rest with the citizens of India? The outside observer will notice that this is not the case. The interest of the state and its organs is put above the interest of India’s people. There is a background to this: Nehru inherited an aggressively expansionist imperial state with tentative borders. Its relationship with the citizen focused on taxation and law and order. This continued after 1947. Even today, where the state feels threatened by citizens demanding rights, it will not hesitate to put them down with lethal force.
This story was reported on October 1, 2016: “Four people were left dead and as many as 40 were injured after police opened fire on a protest this morning, according to sources in the Chirudih village near Hazaribagh in Jharkhand. Residents have been protesting the acquisition of land by the National Thermal Power Corporation for their coal mines.”
This, the murder of citizens by the state, is actually a regular occurrence in India, in the adivasi belt, the northeast and Kashmir. It is not a ‘national’ issue because the killed are not like us. Also, their resistance hinders our development and our version of nationalism. We refer to their questioning of our consensus as anti-national behaviour.
We reduce Indian citizens to categories which can be despised: Terrorist, Maoist, Islamist, Separatist, Jihadist and so on. This makes it easier for our armies and paramilitaries to kill them, though as Hazaribagh and thousands of such incidents show, we also have zero regard for the poor. I used the example of the murder of helpless individuals faced with loss of their land, because in India today it is not possible to elicit sympathy for most categories of protestors.
In such a place, a media organ that puts the army’s interest above the citizen’s can align itself to the name republic. This is done without irony and perhaps without even understanding of what the word republic means. The army’s interests can be supreme in a martial law state like Pakistan, not in constitutionally republican India.
When can we, wholly and in full measure, claim to be a republic? Only when the rights and liberties of Indian citizens are respected by the state, without exception. Not steamrolled over regularly, to applause from the media.
And when the violation happens, as it can happen anywhere, it is addressed meaningfully and ended. Till that happens, it would be fair to say that India is a democracy. But it is not really a republic.

The China Conundrum

If China initiates a war against India, New Delhi should have no problem convincing the world that Beijing started the firefight. After all, everything is “Made in China” these days!
Jokes about Made in China have cascaded down laughter alleys every since the manufacturing superpower whipped its billion-strong workforce into assembly lines. Here’s a naughty one: Everything is made in China, except babies; they are made in vachina.
And then there’s the guy who goes to the optometrist: “Read the last line, please…” “M A D E I N C H I N A”
On a serious note, China pretty much owns the world, having racked up more than $3 TRILLION, mainly on the strength of its manufacturing for the rest of the world, particularly the United States, and including India. So when one hears all the war-talk and saber rattling coming from Beijing, you have to wonder: So how come India has allowed China to have a run of its cellphone market? How come Indians are lapping up Oppo and Vivo and OnePlus (all three from the same Chinese company BBK) and other Chinese gizmos?
If you don’t know about BBK (Electronics Corporation), now is a good to time to find out. Founded in 1995 by a Chinese engineer-entrepreneur named Duan YongPing, it is now the world’s second largest maker of mobile phones after Samsung, having overtaken even Apple in its hot run.
Hell, BBK pretty much owns Indian cricket now! You heard that right. A country that can’t wield a bat for nuts has suddenly made deep inroads into this colonial game that India has embraced with a passion. Earlier this year, Oppo ponied up more than Rs 1000 crore (approx $ 175 million) to sponsor the Indian cricket team for the next five years. And Vivo, also from the BBK stable, shelled out more than Rs 2000 crores ( approx $ 350 million) for IPL rights till 2022.
Digest that slowly. Cricket, India’s national passion, is getting owned by China. How long before Virat Kohli’s bat sports a “Made in China” logo now that Oppo jerseys have already made their debut?
At first blush, this can be deeply disturbing. Some folks might ask- how can you expect our soldiers to guard our borders when the national team is sporting Oppo jerseys and using Vivo phones (modeled among others by the actor Ranvir Singh)? Hell, it’s possible even the military, and its rank and file, are using Chinese phones. Where does all this leave us?
One way to look at it is to see what’s happening to the United States. China is starting to own the US- almost everything in an American home (and in American landfills) is now Made in China. Although it has tried to whittle it down, China still owns more than a trillion dollars in US debt.
Owning US Treasury notes helps China grow its economy by keeping its currency weaker, exporting goods to American consumers addicted to cheap goods, and creating millions of Chinese jobs. Selling debts or T-notes to China also helps the US economy to grow, keeps interest rates low, and gives American consumers cheap consumer goods.
In the long run, China’s ownership of US debt is shifting the balance of power in its favor. But who cares about the long run? America has bet the shop, and its bottom dollar, on its consumption. Will it consume itself to….penury? oblivion? death? Or will it be China that will go under the weight of its credit built in hard work and slavish enterprise?
Many people have explained the conundrum with a familiar example. If an individual owns a bank a few thousand dollars, the bank will be after him to repay. But if the bank has lent the individual a billion (or trillion in this case) dollars, it is the bank that is under pressure and could go down the tube if the individual defaults (Indian banks and industries are all too familiar with this situation in recent years).
So inasmuch as China has the US on a hook as lender, the US too has China by the short and curlies- as a debtor. In fact, the joke goes that when Americans got a check for $500 some years ago as part of a stimulus package so they could spend it and galvanize the US economy, the first thing they did was buy a “Made-in-China” flat-screen TV.
Of course, India is nowhere in the US league of indebtedness, not to speak of not having the greenback as the worldwide reserve currency. Still, the situation illustrates how vigorous trade can have unexpected consequences.
India’s vast market, illustrated vividly by the advances made by Oppo and Vivo, shows how the onus is also on China to pursue the path of peace and reconciliation to keep its economy ticking and growing. The responsibility is not just India’s.

Wisdom in a dark times

Almost no country needs to be more worried about jihadist Islam spreading than India, where more Muslims live than anywhere else, except Indonesia. Islamism is based on the idea that if you do not accept the narrow, evil version of Islam, on which the ISIS founded its Caliphate, then you deserve to be killed. Representational Image
If you are in the media and dare to say anything good about Donald Trump, you risk being called a lunatic. So it is with trepidation that I admit that I was impressed with something the American President said last week in Warsaw. His words had special resonance for me because I believe they are as relevant to India as the West. He said, “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilisation in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”
He was speaking of the threat of jihadist Islam to Western, Christian civilisation and values. But almost no country needs to be more worried about jihadist Islam spreading than India, where more Muslims live than anywhere else, except Indonesia. The ideology of jihadist Islam is the exact opposite of the idea of India. What is the idea of India? The Dalai Lama defined it perfectly in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. He wrote, “India, where I now live, has been home to the ideas of secularism, inclusiveness and diversity for 3,000 years. One philosophical tradition asserts that only what we know through our five senses exists. Other Indian philosophical schools criticise this nihilistic view but still regard the people who hold it as rishis, or sages.”
Islamism is based on the idea that if you do not accept the narrow, evil version of Islam, on which the ISIS founded its Caliphate, then you deserve to be killed. Does India have the will to stand up against this violent new interpretation of Islam? It is this will that is being tested in the Kashmir Valley and those districts of West Bengal that border Bangladesh. The violence that we saw last week in Basirhat is being treated as a problem of law enforcement. But is it? In the Kashmir Valley every time there is a violent upsurge, ‘moderate’ Kashmiri politicians say that the problem is political. But is it?
In the long years that I have reported on the movement for ‘azadi’ in Kashmir, I have seen it change from being a place where the values of India were enshrined to becoming our own little Caliphate. This change began in the early Nineties when Kashmiri Pandits were forced out of the Valley, but most of us political commentators ignored what this meant. When liquor shops and bars were forcibly closed, when video libraries were vandalised and women forced to cover their heads, we ignored these things too. If moderate Kashmiri politicians noticed what was happening, they spoke of it only in private, and today it is groups declaring openly that they fight for Allah and Islam that have taken over. So is it a political movement we are dealing with or a religious one that threatens the values enshrined in the idea of India for thousands of years?
My familiarity with what has happened in West Bengal is limited but it has worried me to see Mamata Banerjee fraternise openly with bearded maulanas. In their presence, she veils her head Islamic style, and holds her hands up in prayer Islamic style. These may seem like small gestures, but are they? Do they not send a dangerous message? How much violence must there be under the surface in Basirhat for a child’s Facebook post to cause the violent upsurge we saw last week? It has been reported as just another ‘communal riot’, but is that all it is?
Most Indians have almost no interest in what happens in other countries, so what happened in Mindanao has barely found mention in our newspapers and news channels. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has been forced to impose martial law on the island because the town of Marawi was taken over by jihadist groups, who did this under ISIS flags. This happened at the end of May and Philippines’ troops are still fighting to get it back.
Can something like this happen in India? I believe it has already happened in some districts of the Kashmir Valley and that it can and must be fought and won, but only if we define our values clearly, and do not demean them by trying to imitate exactly those aspects of Islamism that have made it the scourge of our times. Those who are currently hunting Muslim cattle-traders on our highways are not representing the idea of India at all.
They need guidance. This guidance should come from both political and religious leaders. We have some excellent new-age religious leaders who run fine ashrams where you can learn both spirituality and yoga. But not one of them has defined the idea of India as well as the Dalai Lama.


Impermanence, the only Permanence!

We resist facing this one unpalatable, yet unchangeable truth — that impermanence is the only permanence.
“I have decided to cut out people with negative vibes from my life,” declared my friend dramatically at the beginning of a book launch event. As we walked out at the end of the event, another friend called out, “Hey, we must catch up over that promised lunch. Life is just about a few close friends and one must keep in touch.”
Later that night I received a sad message about a friend I admired and was very fond of. Thoray, the lovely, warm-hearted wife of former Ambassador of Iceland to India Gudmundur Eiriksson, had died in a freak accident when she fell off the stairs at their home in Iceland. Just a fortnight earlier, friend and colleague, Kingshuk Mukherji left office never to return.
That’s life. You could have a long innings, or a short one — one never knows. As such one can only hope for the best and be prepared for the worst. We all seek the comfort of permanence, but the only reliable truth is that of impermanence. Nobody ever managed to beat that! We surround ourselves with the illusions of permanence – a solid house we call home, people we love who love us back, friends, annual events, plans for the future, books to be read, movies to be watched, and so on. And yet, all slips away from us.
Insecure, once again we struggle to look for things that give us a sense of permanence – the company of young people; shopping for clothes we plan to wear on happy occasions, food to fill our fridge with, and books to line our racks with. We resist facing this one unpalatable, yet unchangeable truth — that impermanence is the only permanence.
Such denial ensures that we all live in a fool’s paradise. The comfort of childhood when all seems secure and permanent lulls us into a security that we seek through our lives. Very few amongst us actively seek change, rather allowing ourselves to be seduced into grooves that provide a false sense of permanence and security. Large chunks of life are spent doing the same things over and over, which makes it seem like nothing will ever change. And yet it does. Sense lies in anticipating change and trying to give it a desired direction so that we can flow with it rather than get left behind. For, that is about the only impact we can have on change – influence its direction in some way.
Once we accept the reality of impermanence, we begin to appreciate the time we have on hand. We start sifting wheat from the chaff – spend time with those who add meaning to us and our lives, indulge in activities that make us feel useful, read books and watch movies that we really wish to. A very important part of this is to do things that you wish to do and not be coerced by a mistaken sense of duty or arm twisted by a stronger personality into wasting time on things you really do not wish to be caught up in.
If we know our time on earth is limited, we must make the most of it. Consider, if you were alive for a purpose, what would that purpose be? And since this would vary from person to person, how would you like to go about that purpose? Should we not live that purpose right now, right here?
Focus on your inner self and on those closest to you. You will find your purpose there. It need not be an earth-shifting task; it could be something relevant to just you and the group of people closest to you.So take those chances staring you in the face, go for the relationships you are keen to improve or initiate, and take the decisions you have already waited too long to take! For in the end, these are the only regrets you may be left with…
So take those chances staring you in the face, go for the relationships you are keen to improve or initiate, and take the decisions you have already waited too long to take! For in the end, these are the only regrets you may be left with…

The liberals flaunting ‘Not In My Name’ placards got it wrong

In John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a sombre George Smiley asked Bill Haydon, a former colleague at MI6 why he betrayed his country and became a Soviet mole. “It was,” Haydon replied unhesitatingly, “an aesthetic choice as much as a moral one. The West has become so ugly.”
In the end, most of life’s choices are aesthetic, whether we call it so or prefer the label ‘lifestyle’. The thousand or so individuals — educated, articulate, aware and well-off — who assembled in various cities last Wednesday evening determinedly flaunting ‘Not In My Name’ placards were convinced they were there with a mission: to rescue India from ugliness.
Their concern was understandable. The past week witnessed an ugly incident that led to a young Muslim boy being subjected to a murderous assault in a commuter train in Haryana. Clearly the boy was picked on, not merely because a gang of bullies was in search of targets but because he was visibly a Muslim. It was, without any doubt, a hate crime.
There is a streak of underlying violence in India’s public culture. It has always existed and politics has often fuelled it. The 1857 revolt was horribly brutal, as was the repression that followed its defeat. Mahatma Gandhi bravely tried to reinvent this bloody inheritance and surprised the world with his success. After Independence, political violence has been supplemented by flashes of mob violence aimed at either settling scores or securing justice. From robbers who have been routinely lynched, suspected witches bludgeoned to death and road rage expressed through knife and gun attacks, India remains a violent place, made even more so by the callousness and ineptitude of law-enforcing agencies. Sadly, human life is very cheap in India.
Undeniably, the grisly lynching in a train could have been averted had the railway police been alert and fellow passengers shown better sense. The incident points to weaknesses in state institutions and the shortcomings of our civic culture. These issues should concern both the political class and citizens. To that extent, the outrage over the incident is heartening and exemplary action could even serve as a future deterrent.
However, at last Wednesday’s protests people came with a baggage that could prove self-defeating for the larger cause of amity and justice.
For a start, the protests were marked by selective indignation. Although the killing in Haryana had no hint of politics — and although it revealed popular mentalities — it was used to suggest that somehow the Modi government created the environment of anti-Muslim hysteria. The beef controversy was repeatedly invoked.
Yet, there was a studied silence on the lynching, the very same day, of a policeman (also a Muslim) in Srinagar by separatists milling outside a mosque. The failure of the protest organisers to put the Haryana and Kashmir killings on par revealed a clear and deliberate agenda: to kick Modi and brush aside related issues that didn’t quite fit the narrative of Hindu self-flagellation.
Secondly, the protests were tinged with a generous measure of social condescension that was apparent from the chatter on social media. It is one thing to extend the outrage to cow protection vigilantism — an ugly phenomenon that invited harsh comments by Modi —but the real irritation seemed to be over the denial of food freedom. What the protesters seemed unwilling to grasp was that — some states of India apart — the prohibition on beef carries a large measure of social sanction.
The attempted use of the Constitution to facilitate a more permissive policy on beef seemed an affront to common decencies and made the protests seem an extravagant display of rootless cosmopolitanism.
To develop a critique of the Modi government is legitimate. However, this exercise has degenerated into a show of social disdain for both Modi and the ‘Hindu’ trappings of the BJP. The more the liberal brigade paints Modi and his ‘bhakts’ as crude, neo-literate, insular vegetarians preoccupied with Ram, Hanuman and gau mata, the more will be its disconnect from a popular culture firmly centred on Hindu symbolism.
In the past three years there has been a shift in social and political attitudes: the killing of an innocent Muslim boy by a mob remains as unacceptable today as it was yesterday, but the ban on cow slaughter has become non-negotiable and no longer subject to the pulls of ‘modernity’. Equating the more evolved sense of rootedness with a corresponding loss of humanity is a wrong number.
India may be imperfect, but it isn’t so ugly as to warrant emotional treachery.

Western civilization on the brink of collapse

Donald Trump was in Hamburg, Germany to participate in the G20 summit. But he chose Poland to deliver his first major speech to the Europeans. In his Warsaw speech given last week, Donald Trump said the following, “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive”. He further added, “Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? …Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”
In fact he referred 10 times to the concept of “the West” and 5 times to the concept of “our civilization”. Trump´s conclusion: “Just as Poland could not be broken, I declare today for the world to hear that the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail, our people will thrive, and our civilization will triumph”.
So the fundamental question that can perplex us here is, “What is the West?” Is Western society on the brink of collapse? If not, why is Trump raising this issue in Europe? Are Western values like freedom of speech, democracy and human rights just Western or universal values? And many such questions can be raised in a historical context, because Trump is not the first president or world leader that has tried to endorse that certain values are just Western in origin.
Since the inception of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, several world leaders have tried to raise this issue. Several autocratic leaders in Asia who do not want to grant civil and political rights to their citizens have referred to human rights as Western in origin, and find them not suitable for Asia. Dr Mahathir Mohamed, the former Prime minister of Malaysia, and the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, instead urged for a complementary need of “Asian values”. Their argument was that Western values tend to favor the individual and Asian values favor the community. This came handy to the leaders of countries like Pakistan and China, who were not interested in granting civil rights to their citizens.
It could all be hilarious details for human rights scholars to notice that what autocratic leaders of Asia said in the past only validates Donald Trump´s point. But the fundamental truth is that both proponents of Asian values and those emphasizing the superiority of the Western world have one thing in common: they do not want to grant basic rights to their citizens under the pretext of relativism. The concept that people in the West do not value family and community and Trump´s assumption that the rest of the world does not value individual freedom and democracy, are incorrect.
Those values which Donald Trump refers to, such as liberty and freedom of speech, have been cherished in several other civilizations. They are not inventions of the West and therefore he cannot patent it. When Salman Rushdie was in Copenhagen some years ago to receive his prestigious Writer’s Award, he clearly mentioned that in many old Hindu scriptures, there are ample references to freedom of thought and expression. He was in fact referring to a time long before the French Revolution, when certain human rights received judicial recognition.
Democracy is not just prevalent in the West, but also in countries like Japan and India, which are not considered to be part of the West. The recent wave of globalization has transformed the whole world, including the West (USA, Europe, Australia and Canada) into a conglomerate of multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-religious societies. So when Donald Trump praises all good values as Western, he indirectly alienates a large group of immigrants to the Western world, who are now citizens and regard themselves as Americans, Europeans or Canadians.
We can always discuss the consequences or implications of excluding people of non-Western origin in defining the notion of a nation, but at a minimum it should be based on facts.
The fact is that people from innumerable cultures and countries have always fought for freedom, equality and democracy. Democracy is not a patent of the West. If at all there is a threat to the Western civilization, it is not because of immigrants from the non-Western world but because of the growing inequality that is equally affecting people of Western origin. But that is altogether another debate.
The best initiative taken to address this politicized issue of West versus the Rest was addressed in Vienna in 1993. The Vienna declaration of 1993 reaffirms that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. The European Charter of Fundamental Rights was adopted in the European Union to further integrate the idea of universalism, thereby applying it to all member states and citizens of EU.
questions the ‘new normal’ raises about our understanding of macroeconomics
Slowly but surely, a bruised and battered global economy now appears to be shaking off its deep post-crisis malaise. If the International Monetary Fund’s latest forecasts are borne out – an iffy proposition, to be sure – the nearly 3.6% average annual growth in world GDP expected over the 2017-2018 period would represent a modest uptick from the 3.2% pace of the past two years. Fully a decade after the Great Financial Crisis, global growth is finally returning to its 3.5% post-1980 trend.
But this round trip hardly signals that the world is back to normal. On the contrary, the overhyped idea of a “new normal” for the world economy overlooks an extraordinary transformation in the global growth dynamic over the past nine years.
At the margin, the recent improvement has been concentrated in the advanced economies, where GDP growth is now expected to average 2% over 2017-2018 – a meaningful pick-up from the unprecedentedly anemic 1.1% average growth of the preceding nine years. Relative strength in the United States (2.4%) is expected to be offset by weakness in both Europe (1.7%) and of course Japan (0.9%). However, annual growth in the advanced economies is expected to remain considerably below the longer-term trend of 2.9% recorded during the 1980-2007 period.
By contrast, the developing world keeps chugging along at a much faster pace. Although the average growth rate expected for these economies over 2017-2018, at 4.6%, is about half a percentage point lower than during the preceding nine years, they would still be expanding at more than twice the pace of the developed world. Unsurprisingly (at least to those of us who never bought into the Chinese hard-landing scenario), strength in the developing world is expected to be concentrated in China (6.4%) and India (7.5%), with growth lagging in Latin America (1.5%) and Russia (1.4%).
This persistent divergence between developed and developing economies has now reached a critical point. From 1980 to 2007, the advanced economies accounted for an average of 59% of world GDP (measured in terms of purchasing power parity), whereas the combined share of developing and emerging economies was 41%. That was then. According to the IMF’s latest forecast, those shares will completely reverse by 2018: 41% for the advanced economies and 59% for the developing world.
The pendulum of world economic growth has swung dramatically from the so-called advanced countries to the emerging and developing economies. New? Absolutely. Normal? Not even close. It is a stunning development, one that raises at least three fundamental questions about our understanding of macroeconomics:
First, isn’t it time to rethink the role of monetary policy?
The anemic recovery in the developed world has occurred against the backdrop of the most dramatic monetary easing in history – eight years of policy interest rates near the zero bound and enormous liquidity injections from vastly expanded central-bank balance sheets.
Yet these unconventional policies have had only a limited impact on real economic activity, middle-class jobs, and wages. Instead, the excess liquidity spilled over into financial markets, sustaining upward pressure on asset prices and producing outsize returns for wealthy investors. Like it or not, monetary policy has become an instrument of mounting inequality.
Second, has the developing world finally broken free of its long-standing dependence on the developed world?
I have long argued that claims of such a “decoupling” were spurious, given the persistence of export-led growth in poorer countries, which tethers their economies to external demand in richer countries. But the facts now speak otherwise. Growth in global trade slowed to a 3% average pace over the 2008-2016 post-crisis period – half the 6% norm from 1980 to 2016. Yet, over the same period, GDP growth in the developing economies barely skipped a beat. This attests to a developing world that is now far less dependent on the global trade cycle and more reliant on internal demand.
Finally, has China played a disproportionate role in reshaping the world economy?
Chinese rebalancing suggests that this may well be the case. Historically, China’s hugely successful export-led growth strategy, together with the rapid growth of China-centric global supply chains, was the major reason why I never bought the decoupling story. Yet the export share of Chinese GDP tumbled from 35% in 2007 to 20% in 2015, while its share of global output surged from 11% to 17% during this period. China, the world’s largest exporter, may well be in the vanguard of global decoupling.
This hints at an even more powerful trend: the rapid transformation of China’s industrial structure. China’s tertiary sector (services) has gone from 43% of GDP in 2007 to 52% in 2016, whereas the share of the secondary sector (manufacturing and construction) has fallen from 47% to 40% over the same period. While the private consumption share of aggregate demand increased more slowly, largely owing to high precautionary saving (which reflects gaps in the social safety net), there are grounds for optimism on this front as well.
Indeed, the explosive growth of Chinese e-commerce points to a shortcut toward a newly vibrant consumer culture that was unavailable to today’s advanced economies at a similar stage of development. In the annals of structural change, where shifts tend to be glacial, China’s evolution is a sprint.
All of this speaks to a radically different world than that which prevailed prior to the Great Financial Crisis – a world that raises profound questions about the efficacy of monetary policy, development strategies, and the role of China. While some healing of an $80 trillion global economy is now evident, progress needs to be seen through a different lens than used in past cycles. A world turned inside out, with new dynamism in the developing world far eclipsing lingering malaise in the advanced economies, is new – but hardly normal.


Japan, McDonalds and Goldman Sachs

What is happening to Japan could be happening to many other countries in the world. Japan’s birth rate is declining. The people are living longer and this is leading to their having to make up the gap by guest workers and students. Japan is investing heavily in building robots that can do more of what humans can. Immigration is still a bad word that frightens politicians in many countries. Japan is no exception.
According to FT, “Japan’s native population fell by a record amount in 2016, but a jump in the number of foreign residents limited the overall annual decline. According to the Internal Affairs Ministry, the number of Japanese fell 308,084 to 125.6m, reflecting decades of low birth rates and population ageing. That was offset by a 7 per cent increase in the foreign resident population to 2.3m – a rise of 148,959 people – as increasing labour shortages led to inflows of students and guest workers.”
Birth rates have been dropping. Opening the doors to immigrants poses a social challenge. Japan has been fighting to preserve its ethnic homogeneity. So the guest workers coming in to learn technical skills under the “foreign trainee” scheme have to go back in three years. Their choice for Japan is between foreign workers and robots.
The future is jobless
Elsewhere, Wall Street cheered McDonald’s decision to have digital kiosks in 2500 locations to do what cashiers would. The shareholders cheered loudly and McDonalds shares hit an all-time high. The move is part of an initiative ironically named as “Experience of the Future.” These “McJobs” have funded many students and families with living wages. That may not happen for long.
Trading engineers
It is not just blue collared jobs that are being replaced. Goldman Sachs had 600 equity traders in 2000. Today they employ just 2 of them. Trading has become largely automated. Goldman Sachs has added 200 engineers to support automated trading. Forrester forecasted that automation will cannibalize 17% of US jobs by 2027, partly offset by the growth of 10% new jobs from the automation economy.
AI powered robots
Robots are getting better at doing many jobs. Powered by ever improving technology machines are already better than humans in some tasks like recognizing faces in photos. That could have serious implications for professions such as radiologists. Machines could get far better than a human simply because they are trained on a larger data set. Machines are trained on millions of images before the machine learns what to look for. Once it gets the hang of it, the machines keep getting better. Learning for millions of images will take humans decades. AI driven robots solving complex problems, will grow to $48.5B by 2021.
While organizations have no choice but to rethink business models, they need to also start looking at reskilling their workforce.
The next time you are at McDonalds and the cashier asks you, “Would you like fries with that?”, maybe you should ask, “Would you like jobs with that?”.

Obor, Doklam and Malabar

Most intractable situations faced in the present actually begin as “clever acts” in the past.
That is the human incentive to be “one up”, for thunderous appreciations. What one forgets is that the brightest of lights fade when the sun shines, and too high a voltage is sometimes snapped into a black-out.
What the highly-rated “Intelligence Agencies” sometimes lack is the humility to apply the paradigm that there are others in the game too. With the world getting flatter, one just has to elevate one’s end by a few inches, despite the high costs, and the water will start flooding the destination one wishes.
Entirely on objective grounds and intentions, does the origin of OBOR connect to the Doklam impasse, and the technically high profile “Malabar exercises” involving India, Japan and the US as a necessary rotation in the innings?
The world probably was denied the intrinsic analysis of the origin of OBOR. China is a country better understood before one negotiates business with it. That insight need not be lost as long, or even after the negotiation process is over.
No compunctions here, but inherent, even laudable ancient Chinese culture took the job of manufacturing for the world’s largest economy to raise itself to comparative terms in economic, even global hegemony.
Its work ethics, the way of running its Communist Philosophy only helped it to super-capitalize on the opportunity.
Putting in $ 150bn in road, rail and any other modality for connectivity to the west was a signal that it had acquired the status of supplying its products to the West, even globally.
The 120 countries, including the 29 high-consumption economies, that attended the OBOR meet were not there to sign an agreement, but to gauge what was coming!
OBOR was the next option, or perhaps an expansion of the earlier pact to move its good through the Sino-Pak corridor.
India tactically objected on account of the track trespassing its claimed territories.
India was diplomatically coaxed several times to join the project. The truth was that the project would neither have been of use to Pakistan, nor a danger to its sovereignty, once the PLA would occupy the whole stretch.
The crux of the matter is that to hold and add to its economy has become a dire necessity for China, even for its internal political stability.
That’s where one realizes its sensitivities towards the South China Sea, and its eagerness to occupy islands in the Indian Ocean.
China does not mince words regarding its ambitions of global economic hegemony. All it seeks is an access to more global markets, and is even keen in investing as it states in its (Belt and Road) programme.
It is not a coincidence that the Doklam impasse came about when PM Modi was in consultation with President Trump. That was predominantly on trade.
Temperatures rose higher during the Tel Aviv visit. The world still has to see the elite technology of Israel. As a trading partner, it is almost a monopoly in every aspect worth trading. The pharmaceutical giant Teva holds between 60 -70 % of the world’s generic market.
In military hardware and technology, (politics is not the topic here), it has evolved some of the most advanced systems, and kept its sovereignty intact. On business front, historically there never was a better community who understands “money”.
At this juncture, China anticipated other challengers in its trade, and announced its self- appointed mediator ship in the seventy-year-old Indo-Pak rivalry. The panic coin dropped!
I suppose the extremely high-tech Malabar exercise involving the largest US aircraft carrier, and the same from India and Japan, shows that there may be negotiations in trade or military in the use of the South China Sea.
China perceives it as a foil, to monitor its trade and military activities. One condition was to keep a tab on North Korea, but no ship has sailed in that direction.
The matter clearly relates to China’s trade, and the international principles of “balances”. Presently, the projections for escalations of its economic hegemony probably seem to be scaled down, with lurking fear of its own economic/political stability. The rest of the trading world may not be comfortable with increasing trade deficits, and would be seeking options.
China’s success is laudable, and having reached the stage of the third largest economy, probably there is no reason to panic. Diplomatic channels are open for further trade, but military armtwisting is just not acceptable in a nuclear-armed world.
China has done little to improve its own human rights, nor has it shown tendency of long-term friendship, and commensurate loyalty.
It may be an unnoticed inherent trend, but negotiability, alliances with trading partners on other matters, particularly with major buyers and neighbours are the few rough edges, that are negative to world trade.
A recent example is the warmth thrown by Tel Aviv towards the Indian PM. The manufacturing being doubtlessly exceptional, the protocol of dealing wins heart and encourages trade. India is lucky to open itself to such trade.
President Trump who can’t get over his “naughty boy” tactics, has now shifted towards making the Mexico wall transparent. Keeps his antics with 9 Dan Putin ticking, taking the opportunity of bringing Trump Jr on world stage. Kindly note, he knows Putin’s athletic qualifications, even though he runs the WWL!
The real Malabar is on the western coast of India, on the northernmost tip of Kerala. It is one of the pockets of the Kerala warrior clans as Nairs, Pillais, Menons, known for the most ancient martial dance (now a tradition) known as “Kalaripaitha”. There was a time when five of the seven military and NIA advisors of PM Manmohan Singh came from this tribe. Possibly, the name could have come from some of the thinktanks.
India gets a new President . It shall be the same show of grace, if the PM says a few words of appreciation for Meiraji, if she wins, but more so, if it be otherwise, elaborate her contribution to Indian politics, not forgetting her father’s unblemished philosophy!
Tumhey to waada tha hamse deedar karney ka,
Yeh kya kiya ki zamaney ko ummeedar kiya
(You had promised that we had a date,
Alas! You spread it all over the place) Daag

600 yrs after Zhang He: first Chinese base overseas

In the first quarter of the 15th century, the great Chinese admiral Zheng He sailed the Indian Ocean, leading seven expeditions to Indonesia, Southeast Asia, India and as far out as the Horn of Africa. Medieval Chinese records say his massive 1405 expedition consisted of 27,800 men and a fleet of 62 treasure ships, supported by approximately 190 smaller ships. Zheng He’s voyages are considered to have come earlier, and been bigger than the expeditions of Christopher Columbus.
China’s great maritime tradition was, however, stopped by the haijin, or sea ban, imposed by its imperial rulers as part of the defence against pirates in the South China Sea. This week, as Beijing sent personnel to Djibouti, its first military base overseas, it marked the formal return of Chinese maritime expansionism — and sent a few shivers of concern in capitals around the world, including in New Delhi.
“In recent years, the government and the PLA have sponsored a campaign to promote a sense of ocean among the civilians. The country is now portrayed both as a Continental power and a Pacific power. Against the traditional view of yellow culture, which glorified China’s heartland history, China’s scholars are now keen to introduce a concept of blue culture (ocean culture) to its population,” You Ji, a lecturer at the School of Politics at the University of New South Wales, Australia, wrote in the book, China Rising: Nationalism and Interdependence. (Ed. David S G Goodman and Gerald Segal: Routledge, 1997)
In the chapter ‘A Blue Water Navy, Does it Matter’, You, currently a Professor and Head of the Department of Government and Public Administration at the University of Macau, recalled Zheng He’s legendary blue water voyages: “The message is clear: if China had developed a sense of ocean 600 years ago, it would have long been a superpower. And if China still sticks to its yellow earth policy, it will never acquire its rightful place in the world.”
As two Chinese Navy warships left the military port of Zhanjiang in Guangdong for Djibouti on Tuesday with an undisclosed number of military personnel on board, an editorial in the state-run Global Times focussed on the strategic importance of the new facility at the mouth of the Red Sea.
“Certainly this is the People’s Liberation Army’s first overseas base and we will base troops there. It’s not a commercial resupply point… This base can support Chinese Navy to go farther, so it means a lot,” said the paper.
However, the Global Times also said, the main role of the base would be to support Chinese warships on anti-piracy and humanitarian missions in the region. “It’s not about seeking to control the world,” it said.
But for many of those watching China’s maritime ambitions, the setting up of the overseas base in eastern Africa suggests a fundamental shift in Beijing’s stated policy of no “forward deployment”. It also raises the possibility of “forward deployment” at India’s doorstep — at Pakistan’s Gwadar port, where the deployment currently is intended only to “protect” Chinese workers at the facility. In any case, a few officials in South Block pointed out, Djibouti is only about 1,525 nautical miles from Gwadar — a distance that can be covered in about 6 days at sea.
Beijing is making headway in port development in the region, providing an insight into Chinese ownership of these ports in other territories. While the debate about turning these ports into bases could be regarded as hawkish, the possibility of an increase in Beijing’s military facilities in the region is not far from reality. It is true that a military base does not serve the same purpose as a military facility, especially during times of war; however these facilities can serve immense strategic leverage in a world where nations are looking to project influence while avoiding armed conflicts. It would be naive to consider that Beijing has not calculated the strategic leverage the MSR would provide, if it materialises.
As China moves quickly into the Indian Ocean, the appropriate Indian response would have to revolve around the building of stronger naval capabilities. While encouraging investments to build India’s maritime infrastructure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said at the Maritime India Summit, 2016, “This is the right time to come to India, it is even better to come through the sea.”
India will be hoping the Prime Minister’s call gets an enthusiastic response.