Education isn’t for earning a living, it’s for learning how to live

Everybody agrees that better education and improved skills, for as many people as possible, is crucial to increasing productivity and living standards and to tackling rising inequality. But what if everybody is wrong?
Most economists are certain that human capital is as important to productivity growth as physical capital. And to some degree, that’s obviously true. Modern economies would not be possible without widespread literacy and numeracy: many emerging economies are held back by inadequate skills.
But one striking feature of the modern economy is how few skilled people are needed to drive crucial areas of economic activity. Facebook has a market value of $374 billion but only 14,500 employees. Microsoft, with a market value of $400 billion, employs just 114,000. GlaxoSmithKline, valued at over $100 billion, has a headcount of just 96,000.
The workforces of these three companies are but a drop in the ocean of the global labor market. And yet they deliver consumer services enjoyed by billions of people, create software that supports economy-wide productivity improvements, or develop drugs that can deliver enormous health benefits to hundreds of millions of people.
This disconnect between employment and value added reflects the role of information and communications technology (ICT), which is distinctive in two crucial respects. First, in line with Moore’s Law, the pace of hardware productivity improvement is dramatically faster than it was at earlier stages of technological change. Second, once software is created, it can be copied limitless times at almost zero marginal cost. Taken together, these factors enable low-cost automation of ever more economic activities, driven by the high skills of only a tiny minority of the workforce.
Despite this phenomenon, more people than ever seek higher education levels, evidently motivated by the fact that higher skills bring higher pay. But many higher-paid jobs may play no role in driving productivity improvement. If more people become more highly skilled lawyers, legal cases may be fought more effectively and expensively on both sides, but with no net increase in human welfare.
The economic consequences of much financial trading are similarly zero-sum. But so, too, may be much of the activity devoted to developing new fashions or brands, with high skill and great energy devoted to competing for consumer attention and market share, but none of it necessarily resulting in an increase in human welfare.
More people receiving higher education does not therefore mean that their higher skills in all cases drive productivity growth. And rising university tuition and fees – growing in the US at a trend annual rate of about 6% in real terms – may not indicate that ever-higher skills are needed to perform specific jobs. Rather, future job applicants may simply be willing to spend a lot of money to signal to employers that they have high-value skills.
Universities, in turn, can become caught in a zero-sum competition of ever-increasing expenditure to attract paying students. And rapidly rising student debt – up from $400 billion to $1.3 trillion in the US alone since 2005 – may partly be financing more intense competition for high-paid jobs, not socially required investments in human capital.
Likewise, at the lower end of the income scale, it is not clear that better skills can significantly offset rising inequality. New jobs can always be created as we automate away many existing jobs, but the new jobs often pay less.
Projections by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for job creation over the next ten years illustratethe pattern. Of the top ten occupational categories that account for 29% of all forecast job creation, only two – registered nurses and operational managers – pay more, on average, than US median earnings, while most of the other eight pay far less.
Employment is growing fastest in face-to-face services such as personal care. These jobs are more difficult to automate than manufacturing or information services; but, according to the BLS, they require only limited formal skills or on-the-job training. And job categories that require specialist ICT skills do not even make the top ten. The BLS foresees 458,000 more personal-care aides and 348,000 home health aides, but only 135,000 more software and application developers.
But wouldn’t better skills enable people currently in rapidly growing but low-pay job categories to get higher paid jobs? In many cases, the answer may be no. However many people are able to code, only a very small number will ever be employed for their coding skills. And even if someone currently in a low-skill job is equipped to perform a high-skilled one at least adequately, that job may still go to an employee with yet higher skills, and the pay differential may still be great: in many jobs, relative skill ranking may matter more than absolute capability.
So “better education and more skills for all” may be less important to productivity growth and a less powerful tool to offset inequality than conventional wisdom supposes. But that would not undermine in the least the personal and social value of education.
As many people as possible should be highly literate, aware of and fascinated by the basics of science, and enthused by and able to understand good design or music. After all, in a world where automation can free us from the drudgery of endless work, a good education will better equip us to live satisfying lives, regardless of whether it increases individual pay or measured prosperity.
As for inequality, we may need to offset it through overt redistribution, with higher minimum wages or income support unrelated to people’s price in the job market, and through generous provision of high-quality public goods.
In a world where robots can increasingly do the work, education and skills are more important than ever – not because they can raise everyone’s price in the labor market, but because they can equip us for lives in which many jobs no longer deliver adequate income, satisfaction, or status.

 

The Altering Geopolitical Landscape of Asia Pacific

Two important events are having a significant influence on existing security arrangements in Asia Pacific.
The result of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), led by President Xi Jinping, and US President Trump’s abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is that many Asian states are re-orientating their long-held policy towards the two giants.
Vague commitments by the US towards its traditional Asian allies, coupled with offers of billions of dollars in infrastructural investments by cash-rich China, have the potential to disrupt the usual order of things in Asia.
Trump’s ‘America First’ policy, and Xi’s policy of ‘deep pockets’ for China’s neighbours have already made several US loyalists recalibrate their alliances.
The starkest shift has come from Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Despite having long-standing issues with China after a standoff over Scarborough Shoals in the South China Sea, and the Philippines being one of the US’s trusted allies in Asia, Duterte has publicly shunned the US and signed multiple bilateral treaties with China.
Chinese support
China has donated a $7.35 million shipment of more than 3,000 assault and sniper rifles along with ammunition to the Philippines, weapons that are likely to be used in Mindanao against radical militants. Even five years ago, the world would have expected the US and the West, not China, to have supported the Philippines’ fight against radical militants.
Duterte’s fallout with the US can be attributed to the US being critical of his hardline policies against drug dealers. Duterte has said on several occasions he does not like the US military presence in his country. By contrast, China is unlikely to infringe upon Duterte’s strong leadership, nor will it be critical of him over human rights.
Thailand and Malaysia, too, have been pulled closer towards China’s orbit of influence.
Thailand’s military government did not have especially comfortable relations with the Obama administration anyway; and now China and Thailand are pursuing a planned high-speed railway project worth $5.15 billion. Thailand’s junta has targeted infrastructure spending as a long-term means of boosting the economy, with China offering billions through BRI.
If the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia also move closer to China, this all has the potential to shake the fundamentals of the geopolitical orientation of ASEAN nations.
ASEAN driving forces
When ASEAN was formed 50 years ago, there were two driving forces. One was to make economic gains through better trade among member states, and the second was to form an alliance against the spread of communism in the region, led by the then Soviet Union and Mao’s China. Today the Soviet Union has ceased to exist, and communism is dead. China is not interested in exporting ideology, but in expanding trade in the region. The inevitable question is, “Will economic gains create sticky-enough glue to hold countries in the bloc together as they tread unchartered territories, and respond to a surging China and a waning and unsure US?”
One probability is that ASEAN will form its own defence pact to avoid being caught in the China-US regional power play, and to retain regional peace and stability.
Contention in the South China Sea has exposed potential rifts, with countries like Cambodia reluctant to upset China, while others express support for the ruling of the International Arbitration Court in the Hague.
In spite of lingering doubts about continued US engagement in the region, a US Navy destroyer early this month sailed close to the disputed island in the South China Sea; and the US has proposed increasing its naval presence from 272 vessels to 350.
As it celebrates 50 years, ASEAN leaders can’t deny or defer forever the inevitable geopolitical realities and the implications for the bloc’s ability to remain united over the next 50 years in the fast-changing security dynamics of the region.
An increasingly aggressive North Korea led by Kim Jong Un has tested more missiles than his father and grandfather combined. Already, 16 missiles have been fired during10 tests in 2017, and the country’s ultimate goal is to produce a missile capable of reaching the US, topped with a nuclear warhead.
An end to patience
North Korea’s sabre rattling makes Japan and South Korea uneasy. The Trump administration has announced an end to the “era of strategic patience” and declared that “all options are on the table”.
The US military build-up on its Asian bases, the deployment of its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system across the Korean border, and China’s anxiety because of this deployment, along with US frustration with China’s inability to contain the erratic North Korean leader – all these factors are leading to a number of possible eventualities.
⦁ The likelihood of a US attack, with the resulting impact on the region, is no longer improbable. No matter how unlikely it may have sounded even a year ago, the emergence of “One Korea” in the aftermath of the chain of events that may happen if the North Korean missile tests continue, is no longer an impossibility. That is, of course, a debate requiring separate analysis and argument.
An increasingly powerful China is showing signs of assertiveness in the neighbourhood, including the South China Sea. While joining celebrations on the 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China, President Xi Jinping had strong words of caution: “The central government will unswervingly implement the policy of “one country, two systems and make sure that it is fully applied in Hong Kong without being bent or distorted”.
The general mood of resignation is echoed in the words of Carrie Lam, the newly appointed Chief Executive of Hong Kong, who told the BBC that she cannot guarantee that freedom of speech will protect those who call for independence. These developments will certainly not offer any reassurance to Taiwan, considered by China as a “breakaway province” to be united with the mainland in the future.
Old rivalries persist
In South Asia, there is little hope for any amity between India and Pakistan, or of them reaching a solution to longstanding issues such as Kashmir and border disputes. Indeed, matters have taken a turn for the worse following the attack last year on Indian border guards in Pathankot, and subsequently Uri, by alleged Pakistani militants.
Rivalry between the two largest countries in South Asia has undermined regional cooperation, and South Asia continues to be one of the least integrated regions of the world, with trade between its countries not even amounting to 5% of the total trade that countries of the region conduct with the rest of the world.
With a population of about 1.7 billion, South Asia houses two nuclear-armed, mutually hostile neighbours; any misjudgement or miscalculation by either side could have catastrophic consequences, not only for the two countries, but the region as a whole.
While the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is virtually a dysfunctional body – particularly when compared to ASEAN – the Indo-Pak rivalry is also impeding other regional and sub-regional initiatives, like the BRI and The Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Forum for Regional Cooperation (BCIM). The China-Pakistan-Economic-Corridor runs through the contentious Kashmir region, making India a non-participant in the BRI and sceptical of BCIM.
In June, Chinese troops started building a road towards India’s border, onto Bhutan’s Doklam plateau, which is claimed by the Chinese as its own enclave. Bhutan, in turn, has sought help from neighbouring India, which sent troops across the border from the northeastern state of Sikkim.
India’s chicken’s neck
The standoff between China, India, and Bhutan began because of India’s sensitivity to Chinese building activity in the region. While the Doklam plateau is not Indian territory, activity in the region gives the Chinese access to the “chicken’s neck” corridor that connects India to its remote northeastern states. It is suspected by China, and many in Bhutan, that Bhutan’s assertion of its claims may be prompted by New Delhi because of the corridor’s strategic importance to India.
The inability of these two Asian giants to have some form of minimal strategic relationship for mutual economic, trade, and connectivity advantages, not only continues to deprive them, but other countries in the region as well.
A reorientation by India is seeing Prime Minister Modi moving closer to the US and Japan, as a US-India-Japan-Vietnam regional alliance is in the offing.
The visit to Israel by PM Modi – the first by an Indian prime minister – and the signing of a defence deal worth billions of dollars between the two countries, reflects a shift from India’s traditional dependence on Russia as its major supplier of military hardware.
The joint military exercise last year between Russia and Pakistan, and Russia’s flirting with the Taliban, as insurgents in Afghanistan launch increasingly bold attacks, and a new branch of Afghanistan-ISIS is taking control of Afghanistan’s fortified territory, previously considered to be a Taliban stronghold, are all changing the dynamics of regional power play.
US troop withdrawal, Pakistan’s uncertain commitment to eradicating the Taliban, and now Russia getting involved, does not bode well for the region.
Even Australia had a fallout with the US after the botched phone call between Trump and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over questions of refugee asylum. And Turnbull publicly said he was open to the idea of China taking the place of the US in leading Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, following Trump’s withdrawal.
Today, China is Australia’s largest market for merchandise exports. Turnbull is also in consultation with other nations to forge ahead with TPP minus the US, and he is in talks with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
New ways
As traditional US allies find ways to come together without the US, and China continues its drive with trade regimes, like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), as well as mega infrastructure projects like BRI, the geopolitics of Asia Pacific are going through realignments and changes not seen since the end of the World War II.
As the Asia-Pacific region navigates through unchartered waters, it will test the strength of old economic alliances like ASEAN, as well as challenge the conventional wisdom that used to see countries with democratic credentials and free markets politically and militarily aligned to the leader of the free world, the US.
Economics, politics, and military alliances may no longer follow the same trajectory as before. The future of the region is fraught with challenges and uncertainty that require a much better understanding of both the strategic issues and economic interests, along with the forces that are either uniting or driving a wedge between countries.
Complex issues need mature understanding, which at this moment seems to offer the Chinese an edge over the Americans, as anxious Asians wait and watch events unfold. One thing is for sure, things will never be the same.

The Warring Muslim Ummah Needs Move Forward

The ummah is at war with itself. What other way is there to describe the brutal bloodletting by Muslims of Muslims in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Turkey, and, of course, Pakistan.
To be fair, the ummah has not mattered for a long time to the governments or peoples of Muslim lands. State-to-state relations among Muslim countries have been astonishingly independent of religious identity. They have depended instead upon perceived self-interest, domestic politics and the whims of rulers. Just look at the evidence.
Pakistan was created on a religious premise. But, in the days of the Suez Crisis of 1956, Pakistan’s position was ambiguous. It refused to side with Gamal Abdel Nasser after he nationalised the Suez Canal and threw out the British. On the other hand, India was active in the Non-Aligned Movement, fully pro-Arab, and loud in support of liberating Palestine. To show gratitude, King Saud bin Abdul Aziz paid a state visit to India and declared that Indian Muslims were being treated well. There was outrage across Pakistan. Newspapers exploded in anger when Jawaharlal Nehru, on his return visit to Riyadh, was greeted by the king and with street banners in Riyadh bearing the slogan rasul-ul-salam (messenger of peace).
Dawn’s editorial of Dec 1, 1956, bitterly criticised the Arabs and “Nasser’s hatred of Pakistan, and love of Bharat and its Nehru”. It went on to suggest that such sensate bias and blind prejudice “may well be examined by psychiatrists”. In other words, the Arab world’s greatest hero of the moment was denounced as crazy.
Today, Pakistan has disputes with both its Muslim neighbours, Afghanistan and Iran. Iran occasionally lobs artillery shells over to Pakistan, as does Afghanistan. Pakistan has reciprocated with its artillery, while PAF jets brought down an Iranian drone last month. Ironically, Pakistan has excellent relations with one of its neighbours — China, a communist state that has banned the beard and burqa in its only Muslim-dominated province. India has good relations with both Iran and Afghanistan. And, India’s trade with China far exceeds Pakistan’s trade with China.
It is not just Pakistan. The Muslim monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both Wahabi, are practically at war with each other now. Teeny tiny Qatar, say the Saudis, is acting too big for its boots and cannot conduct its own foreign policy. Qatar has dismissed the Saudi-UAE demand to close down Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s only independent news source. In response, all Qataris and their families, as well as 15,000 dancing Qatari camels, have been expelled from Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen shows the emptiness of the ummah notion. Directed against one of the world’s poorest Muslim countries, it has so far has killed 7,600 and wounded 42,000 Muslims. Most casualties have resulted from air strikes of the Saudi-led multinational coalition. Pakistan has shown little concern. I have yet to see a single TV news report or evening talk show discussing the Yemen war.
Ending Israeli occupation of Palestine was once the ummah’s grandest cause that cut through the Shia-Sunni divide. But now, Saudi Arabia is fast nearing rapprochement with Israel. Both countries see Iran as the greater enemy. After the failed Arab Spring, Sisi’s Egypt and the Gulf’s monarchies fear Iran as an insurrectionary power and prefer to work with Israel. Palestine is unmentioned.
Where does this leave the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), whose job is to bring together and represent the ummah? Based in Saudi Araba, it has 57 member states and calls itself “the collective voice of the Muslim world.” The OIC has had nothing to say about wars that have consumed Syria, Iraq, Libya, or Yemen. Nor is it relevant to any other conflict between Muslim states or that within them. It has yet to give a single cent to desperate refugees who, instead, must rely on the West.
Pakistan bought into the OIC fantasy early on. But the euphoria of the 1974 Lahore meeting organised by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has gone with the wind. What is left is the magnificent flag-adorned building on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad that serves as the headquarters of Comstech, the highest scientific body of the OIC, for which Pakistan pays the lion’s share of its operating expenses.
Comstech is charged with promoting science within the ummah. This is a futile and misplaced effort because science does not have a religion. Add to this the abysmal quality of science in Muslim countries (with Turkey and Iran only partly excluded). Prime minister Suhrawardy once famously remarked, “zero plus zero plus zero is after all still zero”. While he said this of the Arab bloc during the Suez crisis, it’s still truer about scientific cooperation.
It is time to give the OIC a decent burial and end the fantasy that Comstech can serve as the centre of Muslim science. Among the benefits, Comstech’s staff could be put to good use promoting science in Pakistan with the building turned into a public science library or science exploratorium where Pakistani children could be introduced to the wonders of science.
If Muslim states have paid no attention to the ummah, non-state actors have paid even less. They have slaughtered tens of thousands of co-religionists. The Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban are like two wings of the same bird. One kills Afghan Muslims, the other kills Pakistani Muslims. One finds shelter in Pakistan, the other in Afghanistan. The militant Islamic State group seems to be everywhere and kills with even less concern. There is no sign any of them will fade away soon.
There is a way for Muslim states and peoples to move forward. This will require creating strong democratic institutions based on equal rights for all citizens, encouraging the participation of women in public life, and respecting equally all Muslim sects as well as other religions, providing space and freedom to individuals and education for all based on science and reason

The Coming China- Germany Juggarnaut

In a post-American trade war, this emerging bloc will wield devastating power.
Stories of international angst over United States President Donald Trump’s protectionist approach are becoming more commonplace. Mr. Trump’s “buy American, hire American” catchphrase sounds good for many at home, but abroad, it is prompting a weighty reorganization of international trade relationships. And long term, the result will be a trade war that will prove ruinous to the U.S.
World trade has changed a great deal over the last several decades. The international community at large no longer depends on America’s giant import expenditures and exports. Parag Khanna of Politico wrote:
As Americans, it’s easy to assume that global trade still depends on America as the consumer of last resort. But that’s no longer true. In fact, the majority of trade in emerging-market nations is with each other, not with the U.S. In 1990, emerging economies sent 65 percent of their exports to developed nations like the U.S. and Europe, and only 35 percent to other developing countries. Today, that figure is nearly reversed.
As desirable as any U.S. trade still may be, it has become increasingly unnecessary. And of late, foreign governments have taken close to heart Trump’s protectionist dialogue and are looking elsewhere to secure their interests with new trading partners and blocs. Two powerful nations in particular are starting to join arms and lead the way toward the new, post-American world of global trade: Germany and China.
Germany
Here are the vital statistics: The three top exporting nations in the world are: 1) China, 2) the United States, 3) Germany. Germany is the undisputed powerhouse and leader of the European Union. If you include the exports of the EU as a whole, European exports outpace the U.S., making the top exporters as follows: 1) China, 2) the European Union, 3) the United States.
Data released in February reveals that China overtook the U.S. in 2016 to become Germany’s new number one trading partner. The U.S. fell to third place, behind France. Reuters correspondents for Germany Rene Wagner and Michael Nienaber reported:
The development is good news for the German government, which has made it a goal to safeguard global free trade after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on imports and his top adviser on trade accused Germany of exploiting a weak euro to boost exports.
The German vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, proposed that if the new U.S. government makes good on efforts toward a protectionist worldview, the European Union should realign its economic policies toward the Asian supercontinent. And the head of Germany’s bga trade association, Anton Börner, echoed Gabriel’s sentiments by stating that “given the protectionist plans of the new U.S. president, one would expect that the trade ties between Germany and China will be further strengthened.”
According to export data for 2016, the U.S. was still the biggest buyer of German goods. Where the numbers break down is with the bilateral trade deficit. The U.S. ranked second after the United Kingdom for Germany’s largest bilateral trade surplus. Germany’s exports to the UK exceeded its imports from the UK by $52.8 billion. German-made exports to the U.S. exceeded American-made imports to Germany by $51.7 billion. The data shows that the U.S. and the UK need Germany’s exports more than Germany needs their exports.
China
At the other end of the Silk Road that runs across the Eurasian landmass is the Chinese economic juggernaut. President Trump heavily criticized China’s trade and economic manipulation throughout his presidential campaign, often stating that “China is killing us” on trade. China has not taken kindly to Trump. After Trump’s cancellation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (tpp), China is looking more and more desirable as the key player for a new commercial alliance with the remaining tpp countries. As Khanna’s Politico piece explained, “[M]ost of the other signatories are moving ahead anyway in a ‘tpp minus one’ format” (ibid).
Even more significantly, more than a dozen Asian countries have rekindled their efforts towards advancing an alternative megadeal—the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)—which differs from TPP in one crucial way: At the center lies not the US, but our economic arch-rival China.
At this point in time, doing business with a powerful Asian trading bloc looks very tantalizing to the German-led European Union. Trade between Europe and Asia already exceeds transatlantic trade. This commerce will only increase as China and other nations continue massive new construction of roads, rails, pipelines and other infrastructure along the Silk Road.
The U.S. is becoming more and more unnecessary for global commerce, yet its president continues to indicate that his nation is indispensable. This is a particularly worrying position when taking into account that the U.S. holds the greatest single debt in the history of the world—and the world’s top creditor nations happen to be Japan, China and Germany, respectively. As Proverbs 22:7 wisely says, “[T]he borrower is servant to the lender.” What happens when the lenders call for their money back?
It’s no wonder that other nations are looking away to new trading opportunities. There is a decreasing need to bind their economies to America. In “Dumped by U.S., Europe and Asia Get Together on Trade Deals,” Foreign Policy’s Emily Tamkin wrote:
The United States, after President Donald Trump took office, nixed a big trade pact with Asia, and let another big trade accord with Europe die on the vine. Now both those jilted partners are getting together—threatening to leave the United States out in the cold as the world’s biggest economic blocs reshape their trading relationships.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström stated in a February interview with Handelsblatt Global, “We have seen that many of the tpp countries are now approaching us and saying, ‘We still want to do deals.’ We are engaged with basically all of them, either negotiating or have a deal or preparing negotiations.” She warned the U.S. against establishing trade barriers: “We advise not to do that because there is a risk that there’s a global retaliation. That would be very bad for the economies and for the citizens of course.”
That “global retaliation” is, in other words, trade war. In more recent years, the geopolitical signs have pointed increasingly toward this possibility. Yet our main evidence for a coming trade war and an end-time rise of a “mart of nations,” a giant trading bloc of European and Asian nations, notably including China and Germany. This Eurasian commercial power will begin a trade war against the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel—and this trade war will develop into full-blown World War iii!
We are witnessing the rise of this “mart of nations.”

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.

G-20: Much ham, less burgers

Hamburg just ended the 12th G 20 annual conference, on the evening of 8th. Besides being a busy northern port of Germany, it is the foremost city of commerce, having headquarters for publishing brands as Springer, Spiegel, beyond that Airbus, Adobe, Levers, also known for the UNESCO Institute of Lifelong Learning. It was not a co-incidence that it was followed by protests, arson, and looting by crowds swelling into tens of thousands for the next 24 hours. Such protests however are not uncommon during or after any global summit, including the UN General Assembly.
The G-20 was expanded from a rather close club of G-8, signifying the 20 wealthiest nations of a rather poor world. The driving agenda was that global GDP would only pick up, if there were more players.
That being the original handle, there always are other issues to be settled, the most repeated ones being environment, disarmament, treaties not having been well adhered, immigration, and inter-nation border issues. Terrorism is the one that comes up all the time, as a part of popular prayers, as, “..forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…” Hope God keeps a log book on such meets.
The background, in terms of commitment to environment, was expected to be firmed, after a startling withdrawal by the US in the recent Paris meet. This got no positive signal, much less, an assurance for future. I smell diplomacy here. Perhaps US does not wish to be a headmaster, having suddenly discovered its frailty in endless wars, trade, manufacturing. Other countries that are greener, can be invested with such responsibility. It is re-assuring, that India is sticking to its targets.
There were concerns regarding the nuclear experiments of North Korea, particularly its claims of an ICBM test almost on the eve of the summit. There were explicit criticisms that the US did not take it up. A journalist’s view of what should be said, or unsaid, often differs from real diplomacy. Such summits don’t end with chartbusting songs as Michael Jackson’s “.a better place, for you and for me..”. Perhaps, “..you say it best when you say nothing at all.” are more apt, for one does not what is in store tomorrow~
The formalities as they go, were rather complete, with Chancellor Merkel welcoming POTUS (president of the US), and other delegates. One to one interactions and press conferences were broadcast between Mr Putin and Mr Trump, as with PM Li of China. China did express its displeasure over the high- altitude radar system deployed by US for South Korea to keep a check on North Korea. The Chinese feeling was that it was a spy on its own activities.
It is a different matter, that it is of little consequence to others when China keeps such vigilance on its own neighbours. Including threats that fall beyond pre-decided diplomacy. Truly, no treaty or talk is valid beyond the time when the ink on the paper dries up! An immediate concern for India was the Doklam impasse. Not that India would signal its distress, on what it can take up as a sovereign nation, there is a well delineated arena in all such summits, known as the “side-lines”.
Before we come to what may be read into the situation, it may be clarified, that all such summits run on three parallel arenas. These are, “Lines, side-lines, and underlines”.
The two PMs, Mr Modi and Li, did meet. Moreover, Sherpa Pangariya’s tweet, of the US President meeting “good friend” Modi in an impromptu interaction, certainly was not to ask him how to un-knot oneself after the fifth step, once irretrievably locked (considering his long stature) in a particular yogic asana. It could well be about the said Sino-Indian impasse. I presume a certain understanding has been reached.
The other side-line PM Modi availed of, was a meeting with British PM May, regarding the return Kingfisher Mallya He may have talked to the Brazilian PM, for allotment of fifty visitor tickets to TMC members to see Phutball as is played in Brazil phor a month, and eben chance to meet great Pele, and gibe him some tips, apfter next year’s meet. That is the only way to appease “Mamta Didi”, for that shall drive an instant wedge in the party!
The call to the PM of Norway had a reason. Norway is classified as one of the richest countries. Also ranked the same in terms of per capita GDP. It has enormous resources in terms of oil, and ferrous based alloys as aluminium. It has a net positive output and trade surplus compared to EU, which through treaty is its largest trading partner. Norwegian economy has made its way up significantly through FDIs.
To bring the points in sequence, “the Line” regarding environment was somewhat sidelined, the “side-lines”, were adequately made use of, and the “underlined”, was the speech by the IMF President Christine Lafarge, that world trade should expand, lauded Chancellor Merkel for her COMPACT association with Africa, and PM Modi vouching to lift India amongst the top 50 countries in terms of ease of doing business. Certainly a balanced statement, considering that presently India ranks 19th or 20th amongst countries that import from the global GDP!
Maybe, this deliberation goes to give Ahmedabad (also Amdavad), the status of a heritage city! But the true reason may be different. As most “Amdavadis” shall concede instantly, he showed his business acumen in making two International trips on a single ticket. All he must have billed the government would have been the Tel Aviv journey. Hamburg, was a break in return journey! “Ek ticket ma bey jagya phari avyo. Pachhi, khawanu, rehwanu, beeja ney khaatey maa !” ( visited two destinations in a single ticket. Besides boarding, lodging was paid by the opposite party!) I believe, the President of IMF, must have noted the genes of a crack businessman PM, and applauded India’s growing sense of economics!

Dickensian dilemma of growth and secularism faces India

Some of us remember from our schooldays the opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” This is not only the most famous beginning of an English novel but it also captures the contradictions in our present-day life in India. Let me illustrate with two recent events.
We celebrated ‘the best of times’ at midnight on Friday, June 30, when what seemed like a distant dream became a reality as the goods and services tax (GST) replaced 17 state and central taxes to make India one common market. It was a visionary constitutional moment as our states voluntarily gave up some sovereignty in taxation for the common good.
Ironically, when the English are fighting for symbols of sovereignty, Indians chose a mature path of ‘pooled sovereignty’ based on a sobering recognition that freedom to act independently in our interconnected world is an illusion. The GST is not perfect but it is good enough to get started.
A week earlier, it was our ‘worst of times’ as we mourned helplessly the killing of 15-year-old Junaid Khan. He came to Delhi to stitch a new suit but never got to wear it. On the way home, he was attacked by a mob that accused him of being a beef-eater. “He was a child… How could they hate us so much to have killed him so brutally?” asked his father. Junaid’s slaying is the latest in a string of anti-Muslim attacks by anonymous, bloodthirsty mobs, who form randomly in different parts of the country and are thus harder to prevent.
How does the mind come to grips with these two conflicting events? Charles Dickens wrestled with a similar dilemma posed by the French Revolution, which offered a ‘spring of hope’ by ending an oppressive old regime but also brought in its wake death and destruction in a ‘winter of despair’.
In India today, we are struggling with a moral dilemma between development and secularism. But why must we choose — why can’t we have both secularism and growth? Unfortunately, the Congress party will give us secularism but not growth and Modi’s BJP will give us growth but not secularism.
Congress has historically promised both but only delivered secularism because of its flawed economic model. As a result of the cumulative impact of the reforms post 1991, it did preside over high growth between 2003 and 2011. But then it promptly made a false trade-off between growth and equity and predictably GDP growth plunged after 2011, destroying millions of jobs.
As a result, Indian voters booted it out in 2014, and brought in Modi, who promised a more credible path to growth via job creation. Many in the middle-of-the-road who voted for the BJP were aware of the stain of Gujarat 2002 but felt theirs was a calculated risk.
Since then, economic recovery has been slow, the promised jobs have not yet come, and we face the risk of sacrificing another generation. The sporadic attacks on minorities, meanwhile, have wounded our civilisation’s foundational value of ahimsa.
It seems odd to morally equate the ideals of secularism and development. Writer Ajaz Ashraf says it is a ‘leap of moral imagination to establish equivalence between the Gujarat riots and the imperative of creating new jobs’. Ethical theories measure morality based either on ends or means. Utilitarians and political leaders, who seek ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’, judge an act based on consequences or ends.
Thus, Vidura, the royal counsellor in the Mahabharata, tells the king that he should sacrifice a person for the sake of a village and the village for the sake of a nation. The opposite theory is based on duties and judges morality on the actor’s motives. Since killing undermines the duty of ahimsa, duty-based ethics would choose secularism over development while utilitarians would do the opposite.
Ethical dilemmas are not easy to resolve. Platitudes are cheap — ‘means matter more than ends’; ‘one life is worth more than lifting millions out of poverty’. When there is a conflict between duties, utilitarian ethics is more useful. If a party emerged one day which would deliver growth and secularism then our moral dilemma would disappear. In the meantime, each of us must make an informed but unhappy choice.

Rain- Thy Names are Myriad in Nagaland

Let the rain that is sweet fall
Let medium rain fall
Not the rain that is too strong
So that it breaks the young rice
Not the rain that is not enough
But give us the medium rain
That will help the grain to grow
Let the rain that is sweet fall.
(A prayer for rain in the Chokri language, by a priest in Thevopisü village, Nagaland)
When you grow up in a place where it rains five months a year, wise elders help you to get acquainted with the rain early. They teach you that it is ignorant to think it is the same rain falling every day. Oh no, the rain is always doing different things at different times. There is rain that is gentle, and there is rain that falls too hard and damages the crops. Hence, the prayer for the sweet rain that helps the crops to grow. In Nagaland, where there are as many names for rain as the Eskimos have for snow, the wise learn early to read the clouds. Some of the commonly known rain-weeks are called satare, cienare, gaziere and rüciere — named after ciena, sata, gazie and rücie, all plants that alternately bloom in August and September
The monsoon in the Naga hills goes by the native name, khuthotei (which means the rice-growing season). It lasts from May to early or mid-October. The local residents firmly believe that Durga Puja in October announces the end of rain. After that, one might expect a couple of short winter showers, and the spring showers in March and April, with their smell of petrichor. Finally, comes the “big rain” in May, proper rainstorms accompanied by heart-stopping lightning and ear-splitting thunder. I have stood out in storms looking at lightning arc across dark skies, a light-and-sound show that can go on for hours. Perfect bolts.
This is the season when people use the word sezuo or süzu to refer to the week-long rains, when clothes don’t dry and smell of mould, when fungus forms on the floor and when you can’t see the moon or the stars for the rainclouds.
But you learn not to complain. Rain, after all, is the farmer’s friend and brings food to the table. Naga rituals and festivals centre around the agricultural rhythm of life, which is the occupation of about 70 per cent of the population.
The wise learn to read its ways. I grew up hearing my grandfather say, “It’s very windy this year. We’ll get good rain.” If the windy season was short and weak, he worried there might not be enough rain for the crops. I learned the interconnectedness of the seasons from childhood, and marvelled at how the wind could bring rain. Another evening, many rainy seasons ago, my paternal aunt spied the new moon and fussed, “Its legs are in the air, we’re in for some heavy rain.” She was right. That week, a storm cut off power lines and brought down trees and bamboos.
A major festival of the Ao tribe called Moatsü — which means “young rice stretching” — is celebrated in May. Rice being the staple crop of the region, rice-growing rain is vital. The harvest festival, which comes at the end of all the agricultural labour, is celebratory and allows people to take a well-deserved rest from their hard work. They feast, marry, give thanks to the creator-deity and store grain for the following year. But minor festivals punctuate the agricultural year to ensure that farmers get little breaks to rejuvenate themselves, and give them something to look forward to in the midst of the ceaseless rain. The hardy villagers work in the sun and rain, both of which are merciless towards the workers:
The Eskimos boast of having a hundred names for snow. Norwegians in the north can describe all kinds of snow by an equal amount of names: pudder, powder snow, blaut snø, wet snow, slaps, extra wet snow, snøkyng, tight snowfall, tørrsnø, dry snow, and at least 95 more categories of snow. Likewise, Nagas have names and names for rain. Some are common, some are passing into history.
Nuoba teirü, mud rain, is the rain that suddenly falls on a perfectly sunny day. Tülümhüzü is the Chokri name for rain that comes as a short thunderstorm, darkening the skies in seconds but spending itself quickly. (Most of the rain-names here are from the Chokri language (spoken by the Chakesang tribe). The pre-monsoon rains go by the name, Garunyi sö Süzu. When someone calls it by this name, it means the monsoons are not far behind at all.
The rains are also called after flowering plants and people believe that the blossoming of those plants draws out rain. Once the monsoons set in, field work is carried out in earnest and the work of uprooting and transplanting paddy in flooded terrace fields is done. The months of intensive labour are June, July and August. In August, as the phrogü plant begins to bloom, a rain will fall. This August rain, also called phrogü, is a sign that the time for cultivation is over. If any new grain seeds are sown, they may not sprout; even if they do sprout, they are not likely to bear grain. The rain acts as a kind of farmer’s almanac.
The urban population of school-goers and office-goers naturally dislike the monsoon and its accompanying problems of landslides, muddy streets and periodic infections. For non-farmers, the month of September can be depressing, when the rainfall is incessant and the awareness persists that the monsoons will last out till October.
One needs to have the heart of a farmer to remain grateful for the watery days, and be able to discern — from what seems to the uninitiated as a continuous downpour — the many kinds of rain. Some of the commonly known rain-weeks are called satare, cienare, gaziere and rüciere — named after ciena, sata, gazie and rücie, all plants that alternately bloom in August and September. The native belief is that the flowers draw out the rain.
Each rain period has a job to fulfil: October rain is also called shemüre süzu. This rain helps garlic bulbs to form. Kümünyo Rüce Süzu is another rain that has the same function. Kümünyo is glutinous rice, and the rain helps the rice bear grain. Without it, the ears of rice cannot form properly. End October is the most beautiful month in the Naga hills, as the fields turn gold and wild sunflowers bloom over the slopes, all heralding the harvest. Prayers go up for protecting the fields from storms, and the rains are called back because the grain needs to stand in the sun and ripen. The cycle nears completion a few weeks before the harvest, and the rain does retreat so thoroughly from the reaped furrows that the earth quickly turns hard. The months of rain become a distant memory until it starts all over again.

Half Century Of Progress Precedes ASEAN Stronger Emergence

This year on 8 August, South-East Asia celebrates an important anniversary: it will be 50 years since the Bangkok Declaration, which established the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), was signed. The organization at the time was much smaller, with a combined population of just 184 million. Member states were largely undeveloped; even Singapore, the wealthiest member, only had a GDP per capita of $600. Indonesia, the largest and poorest member, had a GDP per capita of $56. Almost three-quarters of ASEAN’s population lived in rural areas.
Half a century of population growth and the addition of six new members has tripled ASEAN’s population to 625 million. Only China, India and the European Union have bigger populations. ASEAN countries have also undergone significant development. Singapore is an advanced economy. Thailand and Malaysia are comfortably middle-income. The Philippines has one of the region’s fastest growing economies, helped in part by a highly-educated, English-speaking and globally competitive population. Indonesia’s massive and growing population will make it one of the world’s most important countries, and Vietnam’s rapid growth may make it a model for economic development and poverty alleviation akin to China.
ASEAN’s record of development, poverty alleviation and conflict resolution is a true success story. Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, has called ASEAN a catalyst for peace, a geopolitical miracle and the most successful regional organization after the European Union.
But ASEAN’s economic success has brought with it new challenges. One example is ASEAN’s forests, some of the world’s oldest, which were cleared to make way for agricultural and commodity production: ASEAN’s forest coverage has been reduced from 72% in 1970 to 42% today. More than that, the solutions to these challenges will not come from outside the region. ASEAN’s next 50 years will take place in a wholly new geopolitical, economic and environmental context. The solutions previously used by other countries are no longer feasible in a world marked by increasing interdependence, growing disparities, environmental degradation, climate change and increasingly strict resource constraints.
But there will also be new opportunities to develop even bolder ideas for regional cooperation and coexistence, along with strategies that may be better than what has come before.
Seeing through the haze
Let’s take one repercussion of ASEAN’s development that is visible every dry season – the annual haze that blankets Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. The haze is driven by slash-and-burn agriculture on the island of Borneo, where both palm oil plantation owners and smallholder farmers forced off their land are cutting down the forest to open up new land. The exposed peat, after a forest fire, can smoulder for months, releasing smoke, pollution and carbon emissions into the surroundings; during the 2015 haze season, Indonesia released more emissions in three weeks than Germany had in the entire year. It is estimated that over 40 million Indonesians were affected by haze in 2015, one of the worst haze seasons. All this environmental damage was caused to push the overproduction of palm oil, whose prices have halved since its peak in 2011.
ASEAN has been on the whole unsuccessful in combating the haze, largely leaving Indonesia (with its strapped resources) to combat the fires alone. But the haze crisis presents an opportunity to more tightly knit the region together. Reforesting and reflooding Borneo and Sumatra, and creating a forest monitoring system would be a worthwhile ASEAN project. Even more important could be the creation of new regional institutions, such as an ASEAN reforestation fund, an ASEAN resource investment bank or even an ASEAN resource management court.
More fundamentally, ASEAN could help drive the transformation of Indonesia’s agriculture sector away from exploitative plantation crops towards high-value, smallholder farming. These would provide an alternative source of revenue for Indonesian farmers. Yet building such a sector takes time and support. ASEAN could provide infrastructure investment, market support and easy access to ASEAN economies to those farmers trying to develop a less destructive agricultural sector.
Urbanization in ASEAN
Another major part of ASEAN’s development has been urbanization. When ASEAN was founded in 1967, over three-quarters of its population lived in rural areas. Only Singapore, Jakarta, Manila, Bangkok, Surabaya and Bandung had populations greater than 1 million. Today, these cities, along with Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Yangon have populations of over 5 million. ASEAN has almost equal urban and rural populations, and according to projections, will be majority urban by 2025.
But ASEAN’s cities are not built for this massive influx of people. Major urban infrastructure such as housing, drainage, flood protection, water supply, sewerage and public transport is seriously stressed. Roads in Jakarta, Manila and Bangkok are crammed full of cars. There is rarely enough safe and secure housing for the flow of new arrivals, leading to the creation of large slums with poor access to electricity, water, sanitation and other social amenities. Public social services, such as education and healthcare, are also stressed.
Then there is the fact that all these cities are in the tropics. Building materials and limited airflow lead to a heat island effect, where air temperatures increase by several degrees. Those lucky enough to live with air-conditioning use up more energy to cool their homes (and release more heat outside), while most unlucky residents swelter in overheated homes and workplaces. This leads to productivity losses and poor quality of life. This is not progress.
Luckily, current data suggests that most urban ASEAN residents live in large towns of under 500,000, and that the fastest growth in ASEAN’s urban population is in mixed-density cities (those with a population of between 1 million and 5 million). But risks remain. Will the urban population remain this balanced, especially as economic opportunities in the commercial centres overtake all other areas? Will mixed-density cities become high-density urban catastrophes? And what does this mean for the rural sector, which risks getting neglected in the rush to the city?
The flip side of urban migration is the potential withering of ASEAN’s rural economies. Agriculture remains an important part of the economy, especially in less-developed economies like Cambodia. Many people still rely on their farms to provide a comfortable life for themselves and their families. Yet governments have often focused too much on urban development over investments in the countryside. If the rural sector withers away, a large rural population will lose their livelihoods and, by extension, their cultures and traditions. But if food security and rural development is achieved through large agribusiness and mega-farms, then ASEAN’s smallholder farmers could be turned into landless peasants. This would be a tremendous loss.
Grow Asia, an initiative from the World Economic Forum, has presented several objectives for ASEAN’s agricultural development. The region needs to achieve food security, reducing imports from abroad. It needs to lift 200 million people out of poverty, many of whom live in rural areas. It needs to do so while protecting the environment. And, finally, it needs to help smallholder farmers, who make up the large portion of ASEAN’s agriculture sector but are hurt from low productivity, volatile prices, and poor access to technology and markets. ASEAN’s many rural residents will not be helped if the solution is large agribusiness companies evicting them from their land or turning them into cheap labour.
Lessons from Cambodia
Achieving all these goals is a daunting task. But these were the three objectives that a team of around 30 business leaders set about achieving in cooperation with one of Cambodia’s largest conglomerates, Soma Group. The group looked at Cambodia’s rice sector, which produces some of the world’s best rice, yet could be described charitably as a bit of a mess. There is too little drying capacity, and too much milling capacity. Smallholder farmers cannot get access to high-quality inputs, machinery and expertise, and are often not given the training to use them effectively and sustainably. Cambodian rice can be easily withdrawn at several points in the supply chain, limiting the amount of high-quality milled and polished rice that commands a premium in world markets.
Despite these challenges, the group created an original model of contract farming that could tackle these challenges. Contracts would give farmers access to expertise and inputs in exchange for supply commitments at a guaranteed price. Farmers would be monitored and trained in the latest techniques to ensure that inputs were not overused. And, assuming everything works smoothly, smallholder farmer yields would increase without evicting them from their land, and the higher revenue would encourage more farmers to join the system.
An ASEAN revolution
These are only a few of the challenges that will emerge in ASEAN and its member countries over the next 50 years. Ideas for dealing with them will need to come from within the region, and so ASEAN needs to start building institutions that can generate, refine and test these ideas. One thing it could do is build an independent “ASEAN University”, which could develop new solutions in a location close to the source of Asia’s problems.
Given the progress ASEAN has made in 50 years, the temptation is to see a linear trajectory of development and progress. But it would be too simplistic to pin all hopes on a Fourth Industrial Revolution as the key to the future of the region. If the sustainability challenges, which will affect hundreds of millions in the region, are to be tackled, then ASEAN will need to first address of some of the pre-industrial practices that prevail and create a socio-economic revolution of its own that reflect its realities.

 

A tale of two worlds: Digital globalisation v/s political globalisation

A leader of a global industrial company – which has survived and thrived through the ebbs and flows of globalisation over the past century – brought out the remarkable recent shift in the narrative of globalisation when he lamented to me that “globalisation is not a zero sum game as current geopolitics makes it out to be”. He went on to add, ironically, that despite the geo-political rhetoric they are continuing to grow strongly, especially their global services business, as the world becomes even more tightly integrated digitally.
These two seemingly conflicting narratives of the world, the geopolitical and the digital, have fundamentally transformed the half century old model of globalisation. This dichotomy is further influenced by the seemingly opposing geopolitical approach of the two leading economic powers, US and China.
While the United States has overturned its late 20th century policy as the champion of open borders and global trade and is embracing economic nationalism as a bargaining lever to achieve its objective of ‘fair trade’, China is pushing a new geopolitical order with its One Belt One Road initiative. In both cases, the loss is that of multilateralism which underpinned the growth of globalisation over six decades since World War 2, despite economic hiccups like the oil crisis of the 1970s or the dotcom bust in 2000.
This dichotomy of the two worlds is playing out in the metrics of globalisation. The negative geo-political narrative of growing protectionism is reflected in ‘old’ metrics that show a downward trend with slowdown in the global merchandise trade affecting the trade multiplier on global GDP. Similarly global FDI intensity (as percentage of total global investment or global GDP) is also falling and together has brought down global GDP growth from a high of 4.5% in 2010 to around 3%.
On the other hand the digital narrative is all about growth in the number of globally connected consumers, which has gone from 0.7 billion in 2003 to over 3 billion. The number of globally connected machines is growing even faster and currently number over 6 billion, which is forecast to more than treble to over 20 billion by 2020.
This growth in digital connectivity has lead to an explosive growth in global data from 100 gigabytes in 2002 to over 20,000 GB in 2015, and it is expected to cross 60,000 GB by 2020. So while the merchandise trade is slowing down services trade, especially digital services trade, is growing strongly.
These two world narratives have led to very different ‘winning’ strategies, both at the level of countries and companies. While overall global growth has slowed, we are also seeing greater divergence in growth rates among countries, especially emerging markets, a marked contrast from the convergence among developing county growth rates that defined the last two decades of globalisation.
Developing countries that have strong services exports and strong domestic consumption continue to grow while many commodity and even manufacturing export led economies struggle. Clearly a very different winning formula from the manufacturing and merchandise led export growth model of the second half of 20th century.
Similarly, the fastest growing companies are those who have built their business models around services and digital platforms, selling to digitally connected consumers or businesses. Examples are companies like Fitbit and Uber who are building multi-billion dollar global businesses not in decades but months and years by leveraging this rapid growth in digital integration. Perhaps the most dramatic example of such growth was Niantic, the makers of the PokemonGo game who reached billion dollar revenues in just six months from over 100 million consumers in over 125 countries.
At a recent conference in US where i presented my thesis of new globalisation resulting from these two narratives, the head of a global consumer company articulated the unfortunate tale of the two worlds very nicely when he said that in the current political climate where anything ‘global’, ‘world’ or ‘united’ is almost demonised, whereas anything ‘national’, ‘us versus them’ and ‘protectionist’ is heralded, people lose sight of the fundamental and undeniable truth that protectionism and nationalism have never in history created wealth for society at large.
He went on to add that the most important question for him was how should corporations position themselves in this battle of two worlds? Should they jump on the bandwagon of protectionism as some global firms are doing by abandoning some markets which was very “convenient” politically in the short term, but destroys value in the long term? Or should he consciously ignore the political noise and instead fully embrace the rapidly converging global consumer trends?
A non-trivial choice to say the least, with no easy answers. But it is important to remember that ebbs and flows of globalisation are not new. Over the last century and half, the world has witnessed several major waves of globalisation.
Each time, globalisation’s momentum was halted by some crisis. After each reverse, globalisation was redefined and emerged stronger than ever – but also in a very different form. Hopefully the current era will be no different and the two worlds will converge as the inexorable logic of the market and consumers bring about the alignment of the two worlds. And prove once again that globalisation is not, and never was, a zero-sum game.

Gender Equality vs Masculinity

Most men in the Middle East do not believe in women’s equality. This was what can be concluded from a recent survey conducted by UN Women. The 10,000 respondents who were questioned belonged to Morocco, Lebanon, Palestine, and Egypt. Questions included whether they believed men should get preferential treatment over women (most thought so), whether efforts should be made to increase women’s equality in the economic and political spheres (no), and in some cases whether it was okay for a man to beat his wife (over half of the men in Egypt said yes). Almost all men (90 per cent) in Egypt believed that men deserve the final say in matters of the home.
We don’t, of course, need a survey to know that gender equality does not have a lot of supporters among the men of the Muslim world. Iterations of this belief can be found in the newspapers of the region. Men who do not believe in equality go on to inflict punishment on the women who anger them; they belittle and harass others who share their workplaces, and generally mistreat those they encounter. In this sense, none of the details of the survey are at all surprising, not the approval of abuse and not the condoning of discrimination in jobs and at home.
Here is what is surprising. A large number of the women questioned in the survey believed the same things as the men who would like to discriminate against them. In Egypt, 58.5pc women believe that men “should have the final word” in decision-making related to matters at home.
With women pitted against women, their enslavement is perceived as acceptable, even recommended and praised.
Similarly, just less than a third of Egyptian women agreed that it is okay to sometimes beat a woman. Nearly three-quarters of women, like men, believed that men should be given preferential treatment over women in jobs. A little less than a third of women did not think that women should have the option to work outside the home after marriage.
These are shocking results, not simply because of the attitudes they point to but also because they lay bare the cultural architecture that continues to enable the poor treatment of women in Muslim countries. Women currently raised in the Middle East nations surveyed, and in the Muslim world at large, are essentially being schooled in self-hatred, are being taught to think constantly and consistently like men so that they never identify with or support other women.
When a woman hears a story about another woman being beaten, she does not rail at the injustice or cry out at the cruelty; instead, she blames that woman. She must have done something to provoke the man, she must be the one at fault and not the one actually wronged. A similar logic is evident in questions of who deserves what — the woman at the office is the enemy of the woman at home; there is no solidarity, no sisterly feeling. There is only male mentality and male morality; women suffer but sympathise with men.
The results of a similar survey in Pakistan would likely not have been much different. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has reported horrific crimes against women including rape, gang rape, acid attacks, beatings, torture and, of course, ‘honour’ killings. According to HRCP figures, a number of women commit suicide in the country and hundreds of others are killed in the name of honour. Laws passed in recent times to curb violence against women have not been effective in actually doing so.
The general acceptability of domestic violence in Pakistani culture was recently underscored when a commercial for a washing machine featured a man making light of domestic violence. That commercial, which featured a well-known actor, was never aired but it could easily have been. As in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and Morocco, domestic violence is considered a man’s right, the basis of jokes, but never ever a crime.
Within this dark reality, it is difficult to imagine change as a possibility. Gender discrimination and hatred and poor treatment of women obviously have wide acceptability in society. Similarly, dismantling the cultural apparatus that would enable women to think like women, identify with other women and resist the dominance of men, is very difficult. The result is a world in which women have few rights, are often mistreated but yet say nothing and do nothing. Dependence enables apathy and cultivates hopelessness; self-hatred enables malice and cruelty.
The repercussions are evident in every corner of every home — mothers-in-law pitted against daughters-in-law, sisters against sisters, aunts against cousins. With women pitted against women, their enslavement is perceived as acceptable, even recommended and praised.
Pointing out the dynamics that reveal how women are pitted against other women is not to exonerate the men who dominate the system, who make and enact the rules and means via which women are sentenced to lifelong inequality and perpetual dependence.
In the end, men who treat women badly rob the latter of their humanity, reduce them to the status of an animal, a being who cannot make decisions, who can be beaten and disciplined and whose capacity never extends beyond carrying out orders.
Change requires an understanding that morals and society can never be constructed on the architecture of discrimination; bossing women around can make men feel good and powerful for the moment, but it can never lead to justice or progress or virtue. Giving up on gender equality means giving up on the quest to be good, and many of those who live in these parts of the world seem to have done just that.

Rising Tiger Falling Dragon

President Xi Jinping has been anointed one of the three “core” leaders of China along with strongmen Mao and Deng giving him sweeping powers over the vast Chinese Army and the Politburo. President Trump has started to vacate the seat at the centre of the head table of World politics as he focuses on America leaving China to assume that they are the natural successors to this seat and therefore the leader of the World.
The Chinese spokespersons or their state run mediums threaten every world leader who has the “audacity” to meet Dalai Lama. They do not like anyone who tries to do business with Taiwan. President Xi’s recent threat on the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong of “not crossing the red line” was alarming but Hong Kong residents, knowing the consequences, silently accepted it. China has exhibited its military power in the South China Seas and has claimed islands that do not belong to it. They genuinely believe they have the right to protest against anything they do not like but they are not willing to accept any protests against their actions.
China has done it all with absolutely no concern for what others may feel. But these threats are now beginning to sound hollow. The sabre rattling is sounding scratchy and tired.
“Either you are with us or against us” is the policy followed by China and for the past two decades most countries, eager to do business with this large market or keen to get their investments, have complied in stoic silence.
But all is not right with China. The Chinese economy, the reason for the arrogance of its leaders and its spokespersons, is slowing down noticeably and dramatically. Labour unrests are growing everywhere either because of unpaid wages, layoffs in record numbers or because sufficient new jobs are not being created. The population is ageing and, it has often been said, that China will grow old before it gets rich.
The debt of the country at US$ 25.6 trillion (one trillion equals 1000 billion) has ballooned to 250% of gross domestic product leading most economists to voice their concerns of an impending bubble bursting and tsunami waves of debt will be felt all over the world. Unemployment, pegged at 4% by Government statistics is believed to be at least three times this figure by Fathom Consulting. Forex reserves has dropped from US$ 4 trillion in early 2014 to just over US$ 3 trillion in 2017. No one asks where this US$ 1 trillion has been spent in three years.
China needs a minimum growth rate of 7.4% to ensure that the Chinese citizens continue to be gainfully employed. In a translucent society, where financial numbers are suspect and statistics are “managed”, no one knows what the correct position is in China leaving everyone to speculate. Huge infrastructure projects are lying idle and ghost cities can be seen everywhere.
Chinese investments all over the world are facing serious challenges. The port in Sri Lanka is a financial disaster for Sri Lanka and China is taking 80% equity and therefore opening up an opportunity to set up a naval base. Bridges are collapsing in Kenya and infrastructure projects in Africa are either sub standard or running behind schedule. The Pakistanis are questioning the China Pakistan Economic Corridor as they are beginning to realise that the Chinese have taken away promised jobs and the power plants promised are actually second hand thermal power plants from China. Pakistanis now fear that they will become another province of China but have to hang on to the only “all weather friend” they think they have.
On the political front, the love affair of China with USA is over. President Trump has sold arms to Taiwan, violating China’s self-stated “one China policy” and has refused to listen to the empty threats of China. If he goes ahead and imposes tariffs on Chinese products,
the famous sweatshops of China will go into a tailspin. The South East Asian countries, overawed by the financial power of China have started to understand the bully that China is and are hoping to find another market before they can push back on the so-called largesse of China.
Contrast this to what is happening in India, a nation with more than two thirds of its population under the age of 35. Indians now have a strong democratically elected leader whose popularity continues to rise.
Prime Minister Modi won a majority in Parliament and has, barring a couple of state elections, consistently won with sweeping numbers. He has not hesitated in taking tough decisions much to the chagrin of some of India’s hawkish neighbours. His tough stand against Pakistan and India’s surgical strikes has been acknowledged with respect.
The Chinese have gotten used to a hesitant Indian leadership who have generally tried to take the middle path against Chinese push backs. The recent Chinese incursion into Doklam on the Bhutan border and Modi’s unwillingness to back down despite the Chinese rhetoric has won him even more admirers both in India and outside. The Chinese, used to getting their way everywhere, are unsure and making meaningless threats.
Foreign Direct Investment in India is at an all-time high. Demonetisation and the introduction of GST has made the ruling party stronger. The stock market is at an all-time high. The Indian economy is now the fastest growing in the world and will continue this momentum for the at least next decade. And, Prime Minister Modi is just getting started. He should easily lead his party to a thumping majority in the parliamentary elections in 2019.
Mr Modi’s whirlwind diplomacy in the last three years has won him many friends and admirers. Unlike his Chinese counterpart, Modi knows how to connect with the wealthy Indian diaspora. His ability to balance opposing groups around the world has opened up economic opportunities for Indian businesses outside India and for foreign businesses in India. Strong bonds with USA and Israel will help India not only in getting more investments but also shore up our already strong defence capability.
The three decades starting in the early eighties belonged to China. The next three decades, starting from 2014, definitely belong to India, now beginning to be accepted as a super power in the world.
China does not like being on the back foot but then does the World really care?

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Strategy-free force

In a recent Wall Street Journal column, President Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and senior economic adviser, Gary Cohn, wrote: “The world is not a global community but an arena where nations, non-governmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage”, and “we embrace” this “elemental nature of international affairs”.
Under the slogan ‘America First’, and led largely by his generals, Trump seeks to reassert global primacy through raw military and economic power. In almost every conflict where it is engaged, the US has escalated or threatened to escalate the use of force, even in the absence of a long-term strategy.
Unfortunately, the preference for military options can be contagious. Other powers, like Russia, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have not been reluctant to resort to force. Even mini-money states, like the UAE and Qatar, have embarked on foreign military operations. If military force becomes the first rather than last option for states, international relations will be transformed into a Hobbesian jungle of all against all.
In almost every conflict where it is engaged, the US has escalated the use of force. The wars in Syria and Iraq reflect this dystopian reality. Latest events — the US downing of a Syrian government aircraft and the Russian demand that US aircraft not fly west of the Euphrates — have confirmed the danger of a direct US-Russia conflict in Syria. Once the militant Islamic State group is defeated, Iraq’s three-way (Shia, Sunni, Kurd) crisis will revive, with the Sunni minority turning to Saudi Arabia for support against the Shia-led government in Baghdad.
The Kurds in Iraq and Syria will try to break away, but face Turkish and Iranian opposition and may be ultimately betrayed by their Western sponsors (again). Even after its defeat in Mosul and Raqqa, IS will survive in some form, perhaps merging with other Sunni extremist groups, or escaping to new locations, like Afghanistan. Its campaign of global terror will remain potent.
The Trump summit in Riyadh virtually declared the opening of hostilities against Iran. Predictably, Iran blamed Saudi Arabia for the subsequent terror attacks in Tehran. US Secretary of State Tillerson has upped the ante by referring to the prospect of regime change in Iran.
The recent Iranian missile strikes against IS in Syria were an unsubtle message to the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia that Tehran has the will and capacity to retaliate against hostile actions. Iran could inflame West Asia and the Levant; rain Hezbollah rockets on Israel; threaten Saudi oilfields and US bases in Afghanistan; mobilise Shia minorities to destabilise shaky rulers in the Gulf. The Saudi-UAE vendetta against Qatar reveals the fault lines within the Sunni alliance which can be exploited by Iran in the context of the wider regional confrontation.
Afghanistan is about to endure another cycle of violence as the US digs itself deeper into the Afghan quagmire. The new US ‘surge’ (of 4,000 troops) may prevent the collapse of the US-installed Kabul regime, at enormous human and financial cost; but it will not deliver either military victory or force the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. Pressure on Pakistan to eliminate the alleged safe havens may prove counterproductive. A focus on fighting the Afghan Taliban will erode the prospects of collective action against IS and other terrorist groups, like the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, etc which are present in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the entire region.
Kashmir could spark another India-Pakistan war. The popular Kashmiri revolt against Indian rule has persisted for over a year despite Indian brutality, Pakistani impotence and world indifference. In the run-up to the 2019, Indian general elections, Prime Minister Modi may try to deflect attention from India’s Kashmiri quagmire by escalating the Line of Control ceasefire violations or even attempting a (real) cross-LOC ‘strike’. The ensuing Pakistan-India conventional conflict will not remain limited and could easily escalate to the nuclear level. President Trump should press Modi in Washington this week to accept his offer of mediation to avoid a disastrous Pakistan-India war.
So far, Trump has avoided the Thucydides Trap by holding back from an overt containment of China. He has conditioned the US position on trade on Beijing’s ability to restrain North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
However, extreme Chinese pressure on North Korea is unlikely since this may lead to regime collapse, millions of refugees, Korean unification and US troops on China’s border. Beijing’s preference is for a freeze in North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes and reciprocal military restraint by the US and its allies. If attempts to evolve a deal collapse, the military option may come back to the fore and Sino-US differences on trade, the South China Sea and other issues may revive, generating tensions across Asia.
Despite the early optimism in Moscow, Trump’s campaign desire for a cooperative relationship with Russia has been stymied by the American ‘establishment’. On the contrary, the new unilateral anti-Russia sanctions imposed by the US Congress last week are an indication that US-Russian tensions will persist and probably escalate. Close ‘encounters’ between Russian-Nato air and naval forces are now commonplace and could lead to a military incident.
The balance of power in Europe favours Russia. Its absorption of Crimea is a reality. Ukraine’s division is unlikely to be overcome except on Moscow’s terms. Nato’s forward deployments, and/or installation of an advanced ballistic missile defence system, will evoke strong Russian responses even as support of several European countries, which desire cooperative relations with Russia, wavers.
To manage the several simultaneous political, economic and technological transitions under way, and meet the existential challenges of climate change, demographic explosion, poverty, terrorism, refugees and communicable diseases, the international community requires intense cooperation and collective action.
Such cooperation is impossible while states are allowed to have recourse to the untrammelled and unilateral use of force. It is essential to revive unconditional adherence by states to their UN Charter commitment to refrain from the use or threat of force in their international relations

How Foreign Travellers Documented Indian Monsoon

The monsoon has come again, swathing the skies,
Wafting through the breeze the rain fragrance beguiles.
This old soul of mine, echoes in thrill,
Watching the gathering clouds drill.
Steadily over the meadow, grows the rain clouds shadow,
It is here, shouts the heart, it is here sings the song
Delights eyes, rushes towards life.
The above lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s poem ‘Abar esheche ashar’ (The monsoon has come again) perhaps best describes the current mood in an India that is walking out of a dreadful summer, entering a period of joyous monsoons. The smoky dark clouds, the ethereal downpour that follows and the sweet petrichor, has forever been the highlight of Indian ecology and culture. The season of rains in India has a uniqueness to it, a sentiment of hope and joy attached that is unlike the perception attached to rains anywhere else in the world. Tailing behind the scorching tropical heat, the Indian monsoon is a time for relief. A time to rejoice and prosper. The passionate outburst of rain showers that take place in the middle of the year has been extensively chronicled by foreign writers in India, accompanying expressions ranging from horror, awe and alarm to amusement and longing.
Poets, travelers, lovers and everyone else in India have for centuries considered the monsoons one of the best incentives to strike pen on paper. One wonders though, that in a country that has for eternity been the centre of attraction for foreign travelers, traders and invaders, how must have the tropical rains appeared to the outsiders?
Indian monsoons, monsoons, rainy season, rains in India, Mumbai monsoons, monsoon in India, Indian rains, rainy season in India, weather in India, Indian history, Indian Express ‘To the tryst in the rain’ (1680-85) (Source: Dogra Art Gallery, Jammu)
Historical documents suggest that the Indian monsoon along with the tropical summer were the biggest factors that led to the retreat of the Macedonian invader Alexander the Great and his army. The passionate outburst of rain showers that take place in the middle of the year has been extensively chronicled by foreign writers in India, accompanying expressions ranging from horror, awe and alarm to amusement and longing. Here we put together the historical accounts of four foreigners who were awed by the monsoons in India.
Indian monsoons, monsoons, rainy season, rains in India, Mumbai monsoons, monsoon in India, Indian rains, rainy season in India, weather in India, Indian history, Indian Express During his time in India in the early 19th century, as an officer of the British East India Company, Tod travelled far and wide and documented the history and geography of the Indian subcontinent. (Wikimedia Commons)
The British oriental scholar is best known for his work on the history of Rajasthan. During his time in India in the early 19th century, as an officer of the British East India Company, Tod travelled far and wide and documented the history and geography of the Indian subcontinent. The 12th chapter of his book, “Travels in Western India, Embracing a Visit to the Sacred Mounts of the Jains, and the Most Celebrated Shrines of Hindu Faith Between Rajpootana and the Indus,” documents Tod’s experience in the city of Ahmedabad where he was met with the Indian monsoons. Describing his experience of greeting the rains,Tod says the following:
“I was happy to come to an anchor at this place, and to ride out, in such anchorage as I found here, the increasing wrath of the monsoon.”
“Whatever amusement there may be in reading the wanderings of a traveller in India, when the ‘waters are out’ there is not much enjoyment for him, and still less for those about him.”
For the rest of the chapter, Tod comments upon the challenges faced while travelling during the monsoon including the difficulty in passing the horses, the scarcity of supplies and the horrors of a monsoon storm. “You get up and paddle for slippers in vain, and find that the force of the torrent has broken the embankment raised in the evening, and petty rivulets meander under your bed,” writes Tod.
Indian monsoons, monsoons, rainy season, rains in India, Mumbai monsoons, monsoon in India, Indian rains, rainy season in India, weather in India, Indian history, Indian Express In his work, “The travels in India,” Tavernier refers to his face off with tropical monsoons on several occasions throughout the book. (Wikimedia Commons)
The French traveller and merchant, Jean Baptiste Tavernier had made a number of voyages to the East, between Persia and India in the 17th century. Tavernier documented his experiences in a number of publications. In his work, “The travels in India,” Tavernier refers to his face off with tropical monsoons on several occasions throughout the book. In the beginning he writes about the precautions that need to be taken by sailors while travelling in the Indian seas, since the Indian climatic conditions are not conducive to sea voyages all year round. “Navigation in the Indian seas is not carried out at all seasons as it is in our European seas, it being necessary to take the proper season, outside which no one ventures to put to sea. The months of November, December, January, February and March are the only months in the year in which you embark at Hormuz for Surat, and at Surat for Hormuz.”
Tavernier describes the social and geographical implications of rains in India throughout his book. “When it rains in India the water falls like a deluge, and in less than an hour or two small streams rise 2 or 3 feet in depth,” he writes. Describing the city of Lahore, Tavernier writes that “the town is large and extends more than a coss in length, but the greater part of the houses, which are higher than those of Agra and Delhi, are falling into ruins, the excessive rains having overthrown a large number.”
Indian monsoons, monsoons, rainy season, rains in India, Mumbai monsoons, monsoon in India, Indian rains, rainy season in India, weather in India, Indian history, Indian Express In the second volume of his work, Bernier devotes a special section to the rains in India. (Wikimedia Commons)
The French physician and traveller, Bernier had made his way to the Mughal court in the 17th century during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan. His work, “Travels in the Mogul empire AD 1656-1668,” is a detailed account of the socio-political conditions in the Mughal empire, including the war of succession that followed Shah Jahan’s death. Apart from the political events though, Bernier writes in length about the Indian geographical and human landscape of India during his time.
In the second volume of his work, Bernier devotes a special section to the rains in India. “The sun is so strong and violent in India during the whole year, particularly during eight months, that the ground would be completely burnt and rendered sterile and sterile and uninhabitable, if Providence did not kindly provide a remedy, and wisely ordained that in the month of July, when the heat is most intense, rains begin to fall, which continue three successive months.” he writes.
He further notes in detail the atmospheric conditions leading to rainfall in India and remarks on the fact that the intensity of rains in different parts of India varies according to the kind of summer heat the region received. “I had almost forgotten to notice another fact which fell under my observation while living in Delhi. There never falls any heavy rain until a great quantity of clouds have passed, during several days, to the westward; as if it were necessary that the expanse of atmosphere to the west of Delhi, should first be filled with clouds, and that those clouds finding some impediment, such as air less hot and less rarefied, and therefore more capable of resistance; or encountering other clouds and contrary winds, they become so thick, overcharged and heavy, as to burst and descend in rain,” notes Bernier.
Indian monsoons, monsoons, rainy season, rains in India, Mumbai monsoons, monsoon in India, Indian rains, rainy season in India, weather in India, Indian history, Indian Express Frater finally visited India to trace the Indian monsoons from Kerala to Cherrapunji, and produced in 1990 a book by the name “Chasing the monsoon: A modern pilgrimage through India.” (official website of Amazon)
Talking of contemporary times, the British-Australian travel writer, Alexander Frater’s account of monsoons in India is considered to be a modern day classic. Frater had been enamoured by the idea of Indian rains through the stories he heard from his father as a child when he grew up in the South Pacific islands in the mid-twentieth century. He finally visited India to trace the Indian monsoons from Kerala to Cherrapunji, and produced in 1990 a book by the name “Chasing the monsoon: A modern pilgrimage through India.”
Frater’s account moves from being a blissful longing for the torrential rains he had heard so much about to the emotion of awe on facing the deluge which he considered to be a “roaring cataract of falling, foaming water.” There were moments when he greeted the first rains, like that in Cochin, and then there were others when he just missed them, like that in Goa.
“At 1 p.m. the serious cloud build-up started. Two hours fifty minutes later racing cumulus extinguished the sun and left everything washed in an inky violet light. At 4.50, announced by deafening ground-level thunderclaps, the monsoon finally rode into Cochin. The cloud-base blew through the trees like smoke; rain foamed on the hotel’s harbourside lawn and produced a bank of hanging mist opaque as hill fog. In the coffee shop the waiters rushed to the windows, clapping and yelling, their customers forgotten. One, emerging from the kitchen bearing a teapot destined for the conference room (…), glimpsed the magniloquent spectacle outside, banged the teapot down on my table and ran to join them crying, ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!,” wrote Frater about the arrival of monsoons in Cochin.
For Frater, the monsoons in India remained the ideal romantic phenomenon, that was key to the country’s charm despite its impoverishment. “As a romantic ideal, turbulent, impoverished India could still weave its spell, and the key to it all – the colours, the moods, the scents, the subtle, mysterious light, the poetry, the heightened expectations, the kind of beauty that made your heart miss a beat – well, that remained the monsoon,” writes Frater.

Sunday Special: The Polygamy Myth in Islam

A news headline that grabbed my attention recently was from the Pakistan about three men who among them have fathered nearly 100 children making their modest contribution to Pakistan’s skyrocketing population, which is being counted for the first time in 19 years. Allah, they say, will provide for them, a standard reply of most Muslims in Pakistan.
Fortunately in India, religion is not a factor for high birth rate among Muslims. Nor is the birth rate comparable in the two countries. While in Pakistan it is 3.7, in Indian Muslims it is 2.4 ( national average 2.3) (2016 World Population Data). It is clear that the prevalence of family planning among them is the lowest of all communities but that is because they are at the bottom of the ladder in education, economic status and the access to health services – the main determinants of fertility behaviour. That can be analysed in a separate article. Here I examine if religion is the contributor to high birth rate. This is a subject which is characterised by mass ignorance and it is time someone explodes the myths.
At the centre of the debate is the belief that Islam encourages polygamy which leads to a spurt in population growth. The reality is that though Islam does permit polygamy but it is subject to not one but two conditions – that they are orphans and will be treated with absolute equality.
“And if you fear that you will not deal justly with the orphan girls, then marry those that please you , two or three or four. But if you fear that you will not be just, then [marry only] one”. ( Al Nisa:4.3)
The polygamists conveniently miss both the conditions. This is the only verse in the Quran that refers to polygamy and that too in the context of fair treatment of orphan girls. The emphasis of the Holy Quran is very clearly on monogamy.
Is polygamy widely prevalent among Muslims? The only report on the subject is that of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, 1974, which revealed that polygamy was not exclusive to Muslims but was prevalent among all communities of India: tribals (15.2), Buddhists (9.7), Jains (6.7) and Hindus (5.8). Muslims were, in fact, found least polygamous(5.7).
Polygamy is not even statistically possible in India as the number of women per 1000 men is only 940. Experts have opined that polygamy cannot lead to high birth rate, since the number of polygamous men, small though they are, would leave an equal number of men unmarried. It is also observed that second wife of a man has lesser number of children than the first/only wife. A study showed that the average number of children from the second wife of Muslims was only 1.78 as compared to 4.67 from the first wife.
Polygamy apart, what does Shariah say about family planning?
Quran and Hadith are replete with verses and traditions supportive of the concept of family planning. It is extremely important to note that nowhere has the Quran prohibited family planning! There are only interpretations, whether for or against.
Anti-family planning interpretation is based on the following concepts: Tawakkul (Reliance on Allah), Qadr (Predestination), and Rizq (Provision).
“Do not kill your children (for fear of poverty); We make provisions for you, and for them too.” (Sura 6:152 and 17:31). “And Allah has made for you, your mates from yourselves and made for you, out of them, children and grandchildren.” (Sura 16:72). “Your wives are as tilth unto you, so, approach your tilth how you wish” (Sura 2:223)
Pro-family planning interpretations, on the contrary, are many more and these are based on: Tranquility of conjugal life, emphasis on ease, injunction about breast feeding (that delays conception and promotes spacing), preference for quality over numbers, and permission for Al Azl (withdrawal method), etc.
Foe me the clinching verse of the Quran is: “Let those who find not the wherewithal for marriage, keep themselves chaste, UNTIL Allah gives them means out of His grace”. (Sura 24:33). This is amplified by the Prophet: “O young men! Those of you who can support a wife and household should marry. For, marriage keeps you from looking with lust at women and preserves you from promiscuity. But those who cannot, should take to fasting, which is a means of tempering sexual desires”. (Bukhari).
Then there is Hadees that refers to restricting the size of the family. Abu Sa’ad, a companion of the Prophet, reported, ‘A man came to the Prophet to ask about the practice of al-azl ( withdrawal) with his mate. He added “I do not like her to get pregnant and I am a man who wants what other men want. But the Jews claim that al-azl (withdrawal) is minor infanticide.” The Prophet strongly dismissed this contention saying “The Jew lied, the Jew lied.” (Authenticated by Abu Dawoud, lbn Hanbal and al-Tahawi).
Please note that the first is the Quranic injunction, the second is the elaboration of the same by the Prophet and the third describes the method of birth control. I consider this a complete prescription for family planning.
This interpretation is strongly reinforced by the following narrative based on Quranic versus and traditions of the Prophet.
Islam is a Religion for Ease. This is what the Quran says: “Allah desires for you ease (yusr); He desires not hardship (usr) for you”.(Sura 2:185). “No soul shall impose (upon it) a duty but to its capacity; neither shall a mother be made to suffer injury on account of her child, nor shall he to whom the child is born (be made to suffer) on account of his child”. (Sura 2:223). And know that your wealth and your children are a persecution (or trial) (Fitna). (Sura 8:28 and 64:15).
And the Hadees amplifies it. “The most gruelling trial is to have plenty of children with no adequate means”. (al-Hakim). “A multitude of children is one of the two poverties (or cases of penury), while a small number is one of the two cases of ease”. (Musnad al- Shahab).
Importantly, even the Purpose of Marriage is conjugal tranquility.
“It is He who created you from a single soul (nafs) and therefrom did make his mate, that he might dwell in tranquility with her.” (Sura 7:189). “And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts.” [Sura 30:21)
Islam is a Religion for Quality. “How oft, by Allah’s will, has a small force vanquished a numerous force”. (Sura 2:249). “Allah has given you victory in many battles; but on the day of Hunayn, when you exalted in your multitude, it availed you naught. And the earth, vast as it is, became tight for you, then you turned back in retreat.” (Sura 18:46)
The prophet is emphatic about quality. “The right of a child on his parent is to be given good breeding and good name”. (al-Baihaqi). “To leave your heirs rich is better than leaving them dependent upon people’s charity.”( al Bukhari)
Quran also prescribes the right of children to breastfeeding which not only ensures their health but also helps child spacing. “And mothers shall suckle their children two full years to complete breast-feeding” (Sura 2:233) and (Sura 31:14)
Islam’s emphasis on gender equality is also important. There are numerous Hadees on this. “Men and women are equal halves.” (Abu Dawoud). “Do not hate having daughters, for they are the comforting dears.” (al-Tabarani). “It is a woman’s blessing to have a girl as her first child.” ( Mardaweih )
It is well known that many Indians, driven by the cultural/traditional son preference, continue to have children ending up with a large family. Islam enjoins gender equality. Fortunately,
Indian Muslims have less discrimination against the girl child and least female foetus abortion. This explains the marked improvement in their female gender ratio.
The opinion of the great Imams:
Based on their understanding of the Islamic law, the opinion of the great Imams is supportive of family planning. Interpreting verse 4:3 of the Holy Quran, Imam Shafei opined that more children should not be produced if they cannot be properly supported. Imam Raghib, interpreting 17:31 verse of Quran, says that it is not only the physical killing of children which is prohibited in Islam, but also spiritually and intellectually. The denial of access to education, for example, amounts to killing them intellectually. “Those few (qalil)”, records a Hadith, “who are virtuous are superior to those many who are undesirable”. It implies that the number of children should be restricted to the capacity of parents to make them virtuous. Imam Ghazzali, a sufi of great eminence, mentions a tradition from the Prophet: Smallness of a family (qillat al’ayal) is a facility (yusur) and its largeness (kathrat) results in faqr (indigence, poverty).
A plethora of opinions of contemporary Ulama and fatwas strongly support family planning. For example, Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq (Saudi Arabia, 1968) opined, “The use of contraception is allowed, especially if the husband already has a large family, if he cannot bring up his children correctly, if his wife is weak or sick or has repeated pregnancies, or if the husband is poor.” (See more opinions and fatwas in full article in IE Online).
There is no verse in the Quran forbidding the wife or husband to practise family planning. I, for one, do not feel that Islam interdicts family planning to ward off hardship in Muslim married life”. ( Haji Nasiruddin Latif, Indonesia, 1974).
“Family Planning in Islam starts with the choice of the wife and places a great emphasis on raising children physically, educationally and spiritually, that is why quality is favoured over quantity.” (Sheikh Abdel Aziz, Jordan, 1985). Several Hadiths listed by Imam Ghazzali underline benefits of ‘Azl’: (1) preservation of wife’s beauty and charm; (2) protection of her health and life; (3) shielding her from hardship (kathrat al-haral) on account of child birth; and (4) keeping away financial hardship from the family.
Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltout, Great Imam of Al-Azhar in his fatwa of 1959 “strongly endorsed the use of contraceptives on an individual basis for health, social or economic reasons.” Under certain conditions contraception becomes mandatory, he added. Fatwa of Advisory Council on Religious Matters (Turkey, 1960) allowed contraception with the wife’s consent and even without wife’s consent in case of war, turmoil or conditions where bringing up children becomes difficult.
Opinion of Indian ulama is on the same lines:
Allama Shah Zaid Abul Hassan Farooqi, Delhi.
All the four Imams regard Azl as permissible. However, in one Hadith, a condition has been prescribed that it should be done only with the wife’s consent. Ibn Abidin, Tahtawi and Abus Saud opine that even a woman has the right to shut off the mouth of her uterus without the permission of the husband to avoid pregnancy.
Anti-pregnancy pills and medicines are also permissible.
When permissibility of Azl is proven, the use of other comparable measures (like condom, etc.) stands automatically endorsed. (Maulana Masood Ahmad Qasmi, Nazim-e-Deeniyat, Aligarh Muslim University). “Preventing conception temporarily which does not lead to permanently impairing the capability is legal. The use of loop (IUDs) and Nirodh (condom) is equivalent to the practice of Azl.”(Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, Sadar Mudarris, Dar-ul-Uloom, Sabeel-ul-Islam, Hyderabad).
To prevent short space between children which will make them naturally weak, use of temporary contraceptive methods like loop (IUD), Nirodh (condom), medicine or ointment is valid. (Maulana Jamil Ahmed Naziri, Jamia Arabia, Ahya-ul-uloom, Mubarakpur, Azamgarh).
“If there is a valid reason or disease because of which a woman cannot bear the hardship of pregnancy, in such a situation, Shariat allows temporary birth control measures.” (Mufti Zafir-ud-din Miftahi, Mufti, Darul-Uloom, Deoband)
“It is thus amply clear that Islam is fully supportive of the temporary methods of family planning. However, sterilisation or irreversible methods are disallowed by almost all sections of the Ulama though some Ulama have a positive interpretation about sterilisation too.
Prof Abder Rahim Omran (1992) of the most respected Islamic University, Al Azhar, observes, “It is a wonder to the thinkers of today that Islam should give so much (importance) to child spacing and family planning so early in human history, and in the absence of compelling population pressures,“
The above analysis should cause a rethink among those who think that Islam is opposed to family planning. On the contrary, it should be understood that Islam is indeed the originator of the concept. It is true that Muslims are most backward in family planning practices but the reason lies in their socio- economic backwardness, not their religion. Literacy, income and better delivery of health services hold the key to planning of family size. The future of the country and all its constituent communities lies in the quality of upbringing of the children, with education as the key strategy.

The Love Tryst of India & Israel

As the leaders of the 19 wealthiest nations plus the European Union have met today in Hamburg, Germany to discuss global issues like sustainable growth, counter-terrorism measures, migration and the refugee crisis, the focus was on the very first meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. However, India´s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is attending the meeting, as well, and there are speculations about how the Chinese leader Xi Jinping will react once they bump into each other.
Recently, Modi has been travelling to many countries, having finished his successful trip in USA, and later having met the Dutch prime minister, who gifted him a bicycle to tell the story of vibrant Holland, where there are more bicycles than people. 18 million bicycles and 16 million people.
India´s prime minister has been welcomed in many countries in Europe, where both the leaders of France and Germany broadcast an open statement of trust and reliability in the partnership with India. However, one historical meeting made an exceptional impact, taking into account the hectic activity of India´s prime minister in the last two months.
It was when the Israeli prime minister welcomed Narendra Modi in true Bollywood style and uttered those famous lines: “We´ve waited for 70 years for you”. Narendra Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit Israel after its independence. “Aapka Swagat hai mere dost” were the welcoming words of Netanyahu and Modi reciprocated by thanking in Hebrew.
It should not be a cause of envy, but Israelis whom I have met both in India and Europe have always shown exceptional admiration for Indian culture, history and the zest for democracy. Both the Indian and the Jewish diaspora living in Europe and America are extremely proud that their countries of origin, India and Israel respectively, have remained liberal democracies since they became independent nations. This is no minor achievement because they are in fact the only two countries out of 140 countries that gained independence after the end of colonialism, to stay democratic incessantly without abruption.
The Jewish and the Indian diaspora tend to work well, and we have ample examples of successful ventures where both communities are involved either as entrepreneurs or in other forms of business relationships. Trust and understanding comes easy, as both these communities believe in hard work and have excelled in the field of science and technology.
So even though the Dutch gave us a bicycle, the Germans declared that we were truly a reliable partner, the French showed interest in our commitment to fight climate change, and Donald Trump without hesitation said that he was a true friend of India, nothing could beat the Bachan-like lines of Natanyahu. “We have waited for 70 years for you”.
The time for closer relationship has arrived and both countries ought to make better bilateral deals. Water harvesting, agriculture, co-operation in the field of education and scientific research, defense and intelligence-sharing are some areas where better collaboration can be established. Israel is ready to boost India´s defense capabilities and might become the chief exporter of arms and ammunition to India. Billions of dollars worth of contracts have been signed by India with Israel Aerospace Industries, thereby indicating that both countries have mutual interests.
India and Israel´s secret love affair had clandestinely existed for a long time. Now they have come out in the open and declared their love for each other. Chemistry matters not just in XII grade examination but also when world leaders meet. It seems that Modi’s and Natanyahu’s chemistries match. Israelis have never forgotten and keep reminding me in different conferences that India was one of the few countries in the world where in the entire country the Jewish community were well protected and their rights fully granted.
In an increasingly globalised world, the Indian Jewish community can play a further constructive role in bringing these two vibrant democracies closer than ever before. Modi´s successful trip abroad, whether it be to America, Israel or any other European country, has one clear message: India´s success is intertwined with the success of the Indian diaspora (NRIs and OCIs) living abroad and vice versa. The world is finally paying attention to it and the more Indians living abroad get organized the better results can they achieve for India´s placement in the new global order.
Approximately 3 million people of Indian descent now live in USA. When they started migrating in the 1980s, they were primarily concerned about making a good life for themselves and their families. Now they have started getting politically active. The warm welcome India´s prime minister has received so far is also in recognition of the Indian community´s contribution to the countries they have migrated to. Indian-Americans earn almost the double of the national figure in USA, roughly speaking, making $90,000 per year, compared to the national average of $ 50,000. Indian-Americans are also among the most highly educated ethnic groups in the US. 12 Members of Parliament elected in the recent national election in UK have Indian roots. I could go on, but collectively speaking, Indian influence has grown and the positive development is getting rewarded.
Israel´s welcome so far has been the best of all.

Crime and punishment

The wicked witch. Indrani. Incites hard-core convicts to riot. The evil step mom. The horrid father. Under the spell of the witch, did his daughter in.
Uber-elites of India, now consigned to the dungeons. The sentence has already been passed. On endless talk shows, in countless drawing rooms. Guilty as charged. Guilty. Guilty. Teach them a lesson, these guilty glitterati. They always get away otherwise.
Whatever happened to the dictum that you are innocent until proven guilty? Thrown out of the window. In our tortuous, flawed, even corrupt criminal justice system, Indrani will die a thousand deaths before she, the Marie Antoinette of our time and age, has the axe fall on her. And like Antoinette, she will made to tremble by repeated reminders of what the future portends for her.
The Talwars. An upper-middle class couple like so much of our chatterati. An angelic daughter. How could they do her in? The chatterati has made its verdict. Charged but not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty.
Consider Mr. Tharoor. A suspect in the murder of his wife. But roams around free like a lion of Gir. There is even a campaign for Tharoor for prime minister. A day before his wife dies, she promises to expose him. Apparently there is some kind of a menage-a-trois with a Pakistani journalist.
But that handsome face, those silken hair, that flick of the hair that makes women swoon, that Shashi Tharoor English. All that apparently has bailed Mr. Tharoor out.
Tharoor wins his parliamentary constituency in 2014, but Modi takes most of it all. Suddenly Tharoor is singing Modi’s praise in op-ed after op-ed. Is this a ploy to get on the right side of the new powers that be.
Certainly Sonia is not amused. But what can she do, poor soul? If she dumps Tharoor, she’ll be down for the count from 44 to 43. That’s more that two percent of her Lok Sabha strength.
And then Tharoor tacitly admits that Sushma Swaraj has asked him to craft an official memo. Swaraj furiously denies the rumour. But if you read President Kennedy: Profile of Power by Richard Reeves, you will note that when a government denies something, it’s almost always true. And when a government, any government, denies something furiously, it’s almost always furiously true.
One-third of MPs in the current Lok Sabha face criminal charges, according to the Association of Democratic Reforms established by professors from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Think about this for a second. A party will only give a ticket to an “electable” because such an electable has heft.
In the Indian criminal justice system, the cops hesitate to file charges against people with heft. If such charges have actually been filed, then they perforce must be credible, even venal enough to make the cops put aside their hesitation. And fear.
Now these potential criminals have ascended into the hallowed ranks of lawmakers, nay, lawgivers, like Manu. Which cop is going to have the guts to pursue charges against these potential criminals who now stand redeemed. The alleged breaker of laws is now the maker of laws. How many of these 186 MPs charged with breaking the law criminally have been put into the put in the dock for allegedly breaking the law criminally? One big fat zero most probably.
People like Indrani, the Talwars, often many such without political backing find themselves in the dock, rightly or wrongly. And then they have to face media trials conducted by kangaroo courts. The media whips up such a public frenzy that the fate of these people is mostly already decided before the courts do so.
Countries like America too have media trials, but must we always ape America? And then America does not have nowhere the near the number of lawmakers facing criminal charges as India. Why don’t we ape America in this respect and cull the number of lawmakers we elect who have potentially done bad, bad things?
Dostoyevsky, immortal author of those immortal classics, Crime and Punishment, and The Brothers Karamazov, would not be amused by what is happening in India.

Take Care, India: PLA Itching For Escalation

The India-China standoff at the Northern tri-junction in Doklam (Donglang) area bordering Bhutan has brought divisions of the armies of the two countries face to face in one of the world’s highest-altitude theatres.

The standoff began when the Chinese started construction of a road up to Yadong town in the Chumbi Valley. The narrow stretch of land touches India and Bhutan where China has a very small strip of land in what is actually Tibet, not enough to build even a footpath. The Chinese attempt seems to be to take the entire land between India and Bhutan and become an entity in the border. The lower portion of the Chumbi Valley points south towards India touching the Chicken Neck, highly sensitive to India and Bhutan. Considering the narrow approach road, China has been claiming 269 sq kms in the border as belonging to them.

In 1996, China offered to swap this area with Bhutan for 495 sq kms of land in the Pasamlung and Jakarlung Valleys in the north-central area of Bumthang during one of the many border talks between Beijing and Thimpu. Bhutan refused to fall for the deal as the land in question was also legitimately claimed by Bhutan as their own land, forcibly taken over by China when they occupied Tibet.

In fact there is a history to the area and China’s desperation in getting a foothold in Doklam.

The frequent references to the infamous 1962 war by both sides and in the social media will serve very little purpose unless the strategic planners in New Delhi absorb the enormity of the situation, and also its relevance today. The 1962 war was thrust upon India as part of a larger Chinese strategy. China had started moving into the Aksai Chin area before 1961. There was still a large area which was unoccupied and Indian posts were sparsely present. According to reports prepared after the 1962 debacle, the Indian army reclaimed a big chunk of territory. Subsequently, the Chinese army’s withdrawal was a strategic move and soon, the retaliation took place that turned into a major conflict.

China has travelled a long way in history since 1962. Both India and China made serious efforts to mend fences and re-establish diplomatic and economic ties. Years later, by 1980, the two countries came much closer diplomatically and by 2008, China had become India’s largest trading partner.

Yet, trade, commerce and industry notwithstanding, Beijing is not just a political establishment. This is the first time since the reign of Chairman Mao that the political boss of China has assumed two more important posts. The present President Xi Jinping is also the chief of army and secretary general of the party, the highest in power, position, decision-making processes and execution.

Another important factor in China’s internal governance process and matters of external affairs is the close proximity of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to the day-to-day running of the country, which was earlier the exclusive prerogative of the Chinese Communist Party. This brings into focus the thinking, writings and also the relationship between the secretary general of the party and the PLA.

The PLA since 2008 has been seriously engaged in working out policy parameters for Beijing especially in areas of flashpoints, conflict and crisis management and non-conventional warfare such as cyber and physiological warfare. Interestingly, according to the PLA, strategic and political objectives must always be prioritized over military objectives in planning, executing and controlling conflicts.

Unlike accidental or inadvertent conflicts, China strongly believes in deliberate escalation where certain measures initiated by the state or non-state actors are intended to cause a geo-political and advantageous change through a crisis or conflict. This includes escalatory measures that political decision-makers believes are certain to reach the intended result, such as the occupation of Tibet, or the social and demographic change in Xinjiang where the Islamic separatists are waging a freedom struggle to free China-occupied Uyghuristan (now renamed as Xinjiang).

Strangely, the political establishment in Beijing appears to be endorsing the PLA’s view that in a conflict, it is necessary to seize the initiative, but it is also critical to preserve strategic and political stability and operational flexibility, in order to respond to an adversary’s actions without unnecessarily escalating the conflict.

Going by the huge volumes of strategic thinking with the secret confines of Beijing, it is important for New Delhi to study the present border standoff in detail. China is eager to settle the border dispute with Bhutan and also probably with other countries except India. India’s commitment to protect the security and strategic interests of Bhutan and centuries-old Buddhist connections are certainly major irritants for Beijing.

It will be in the best interest of India if New Delhi adopts a policy of wait-and-watch rather than enter into a jingoistic diatribe thereby aiding the “conflict escalation theory” of the PLA, which, according to China watchers, is itching for a showdown with the political establishment to retain its supremacy in the decision-making process. Needless to say, New Delhi should do everything in its command to strengthen the army at the border and be prepared to thwart attempts by Chinese army to usurp territory or create strategic disadvantage to India and Bhutan.

Bhutan cannot be allowed to become another Tibet.

Eradicating poverty, the Chinese way

Poverty is a global issue and poverty eradication must be a common task for those wishing to improve global governance. In Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN says: “We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.”
Guan Tzu, an ancient Chinese economist said: “When the granaries are full, they will know propriety and moderation; when their clothing and food are adequate, they will know the distinction between honour and shame.”
Poverty eradication will help reduce inequality and facilitate inclusive growth. If people living in poverty can shake off their plight, it can expand market capacity, enhance the specialized division of labour and facilitate a more efficient and unified large market. Moreover, the resulting strengthening of marginal propensity to consume (MPC) will inject new vigour and energy into economic growth.
As an ancient Chinese proverb goes: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” All sustainable and effective poverty alleviation measures ultimately rely on industrial development. Industrial development in poverty-stricken areas in China is hindered by many restrictions. We must raise the low level of industrial development in these regions and break away from the vicious circle of low-level industrial development, an unattractive investment environment and degrading industrial development.
To encourage self-driven growth and the development of a local market and businesses, it is imperative to introduce external market forces. Regional industrial funds can guide and integrate resources, such as funds, technologies and talent, for investment in market entities in specific regions. Industrial investment funds, which combine the industrial capital and resources of these areas, can improve employment opportunities for people in poverty and financial input in these areas, realizing poverty eradication in a fundamental way.
Efforts can be made to build capital strength for local enterprises and improve their corporate governance structures and management. For industrial development, steps can be taken to: advance the transformation and upgrading of traditional agriculture; cultivate new business sectors in rural areas; promote the integration of primary, secondary and tertiary industries; and bolster competition in rural industries. When it comes to society, endeavors can be made to optimize the investment environment and improve financing for small and medium businesses.
To help remove the restrictions hindering the industrial development of poverty-stricken areas, the Chinese government has established two industrial poverty-alleviation funds. With the current total strength of 15 billion Renminbi yuan and the duration of 15 years, the two funds are expected to operate at a larger scale in the future. Both funds, operated and managed by State Development & Investment Corporation (SDIC), will follow market-oriented methods.
It is necessary to go off the beaten track and find innovative investment approaches for fund investment in impoverished areas. These might include integrating upper-stream industry chains with region-specific resources by cooperation with selected leading local enterprises, so that industries with local characteristics can move from disorderly competition towards benign development.
Investing in new business sectors, such as rural tourism, eco-agriculture and rural e-commerce, is also important. Furthermore, employing diverse investment methods, like sub-fund, debt investment and optimized direct investment, can attract more social investment for poverty alleviation and solve the problem of difficult and expensive financing for small and medium enterprises. If funds take advantage of their lengthy duration and low costs; work to support the talent, technological and managing advantages of leading enterprises; and invest in the resources and industries that demonstrate the local characteristics of the area, they can promote the ability of poverty-stricken areas to self-develop.
Poverty eradication is a common cause for all of society. China has developed a unique approach to this challenge by perpetually eliminating poverty through industrial development – a method of great significance for developing countries. Socially responsible enterprises must work together to declare a war on poverty and realize the great goal of “eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions” in the world.

India And The ASEAN At 25: Celebrating The Past, Preparing For The Future

Against the backdrop of India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) commemorating 25 years of their partnership, 15 years of summit-level interaction, and five years of strategic partnership this year, the Delhi Dialogue – India’s premier Track 1.5 platform with ASEAN nations – starting today assumes great significance. India and ASEAN uphold each other’s prominence in shaping the current regional structure as similar threats and concerns call for greater collaboration. The two are crucial to the creation of new ‘rules of the game’ in Asia, at a time when the region is in the throes of a disruptive phase that could well determine the future balance of power.
India’s ‘Look East’ policy, which was an initiative to build stronger economic, strategic and cultural relations with the Asia-Pacific countries, was initiated during the prime-ministership of P.V. Narasimha Rao. It yielded great dividends and was continued by the successive governments led by Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. As India-ASEAN relations gained momentum in the late 1990s and early 2000s, India became a full dialogue partner of the ASEAN in 1995, a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1996, and a founder member of the East Asian Summit in 2005. India and ASEAN also became strategic partners in 2012. Presently, there exist 30 different dialogue mechanisms between the two, focusing on a diverse spectrum of subjects including foreign affairs, economy, environment and tourism.
India’s ‘Look East’ policy was transformed into the ‘Act East’ policy in 2014, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Multiple initiatives have been undertaken by both sides since then, with ministers, bureaucratic officials and the leaders of individual nations interacting regularly to rejuvenate the relations with renewed purpose. India and ASEAN view each other as natural allies in creating a liberal and inclusive regional order. They are active participants in the East Asia Summit (EAS), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus), and the Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF).
India-ASEAN strategic cooperation assumes greater significance against the background of an assertive and rapidly growing China. Beijing’s territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea, a vital international maritime trade route, have generated considerable regional anxiety. China’s rise as an economic giant and its robust economic ties with the ASEAN countries gives India enough reason to step up its collaborative efforts vis-à-vis ASEAN. It is necessary for both India and ASEAN to keep the China factor in mind and act accordingly to preserve a stable balance of power in the region.
An essential aspect of India-ASEAN partnership is economic cooperation. India’s ‘Look East’ policy gained momentum after the creation of the India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement in 2003. The ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA) has been completed with the entry into force of the ASEAN-India Agreements on Trade in Service and Investments on 1 July 2015. This agreement reflects India’s adherence to the vision of having a solid foundation for economic engagement with ASEAN.
The Asia-Pacific region today is spearheading the global economy in terms of growth and dynamism. The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 was an innovative step towards greater regional integration, as it aims to consolidate Southeast Asia’s diverse economies into a single market. The AEC is beneficial for the Indian economy as well, since it allows Indian companies to distribute products in the ASEAN region with lower costs and smooth procedures.
The ASEAN nations and India together consist one of the largest economic regions with total population of about 1.8 billion. ASEAN is currently India’s fourth largest trading partner, accounting for 10.2 percent of India’s total trade. India, on the other hand, is ASEAN’s 7th largest trading partner. India’s service-oriented economy perfectly complements the manufacturing-based economies of the ASEAN countries.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement is expected to be finalised by the end of 2017, opening up great opportunities for India and the ASEAN countries. It is a mega-regional agreement being negotiated between the ten ASEAN members and their six FTA partners: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. As of 2017, prospective RCEP member states account for 30 percent of the world’s economy and a market of 3.4 billion people with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$21.4 trillion.
Despite the impressive trajectory of the India-ASEAN economic relationship, there is scope for further development through the integration of India into the Asian value chain. Initiatives like ‘Make in India’ would help such integration across different sectors such as electronics and pharmaceuticals. There are certain challenges that India might face in the coming years due to complications in trade and mega Regional Trade Agreements (RTAs). Thus, the engagements at RCEP will be crucial in determining the rate of progress in India-ASEAN trade.
India and Southeast Asian countries share longstanding historical and civilisational ties. The impact of the cultural exchange is evident in religion, language, literature, beliefs, customs, cuisine, and architecture of the two regions. The cultural linkages have evolved over the centuries through the exchange of people, values, education, trade and commerce. The large Indian diaspora in many of the Southeast Asian countries, especially Malaysia and Singapore, helps strengthen diplomatic, economic and security relations between India and ASEAN. The Indian diaspora comprise an important instrument of India’s soft power and they facilitate greater interaction between the two regions.
In spite of considerable progress made over the last 25 years in India-ASEAN ties, there is considerable scope for further growth. The Asia-Pacific is one of the most dynamic regions of the world today, and it is necessary for both India and the ASEAN countries to keep contributing to the shaping of the so-called ‘Asian century’. Formidable security challenges remain, and the two sides must think strategically to increase cooperation for a favourable balance of power that would ensure regional stability.
India needs to do a more convincing job as a beneficial strategic partner of the ASEAN by boosting its domestic economic reforms agenda, enhancing connectivity within the region, and increasing its presence in the regional institutions. India and the ASEAN nations have common aspirations that resonate with a peaceful and prosperous regional security architecture. Deeper engagement should be undertaken by both sides if the full potential of this partnership is to be realised. As some of the finest minds of ASEAN and India come together for the ninth edition of the Delhi Dialogue, how to chart the course of this important partnership for the next 25 years should be high on the agenda.

Century-old Manoeuvres of Geostrategy Behind the Ongoing Stand-off in Doklam

Until 1959, China made no claims on Bhutan, but now, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs cites the 1890 China-Britain treaty, which states that the border runs west from Doka-La along the ridgeline — that is, south of the Doklam plateau.
“Tibet, Nepal and Druk Yul, the Land of the Thunder Dragon,” wrote Lian-yu, the Amban, or Chinese governor of Tibet, in 1907, “are side by side like the molar teeth in a man’s mouth, and the subjects of all three are those of one kingdom”. The next spring, 20 Chinese soldiers started from the Chumbi valley for Bhutan’s capital, escorting Ma Chi Fu, the region’s Popon, or administrator, on a mission to study the country’s agriculture, and its payment of tribute. They bore with them a letter, sternly instructing local officials to serve Fu and his soldiers.
Gongzim Dorji Ugyen, a Bhutanese diplomat, drafted a letter of exquisite politeness. Bhutan, it said, had never been a vassal of China. “Forty years ago, when Bhutan was at war with the British”, it read, “we do not recall China offering her assistance.” The Chinese letter, it was implied, must have been drafted by a rude clerk in error — and was forgiven. But still, the Popon would not be allowed on to the capital at Thimphu.
Since the beginning of June, Indian and Chinese troops have been facing off across a small meadow called Turning Point at the end of that very valley — an 89 square kilometre pasture called the Doklam plateau, which is claimed by China. For the citizens of the three countries, two of them nuclear-weapons states, it is vital that the diplomatic cables flying between Beijing and New Delhi prove as persuasive as Ugyen’s missive.
In an action without precedent, Indian troops have intervened in support of the Royal Bhutan Army, after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army refused to stop work on a road leading through the disputed territory towards Doka-La, India’s last post overlooking the plateau.
For now, both sides have contented themselves with waving flags at each other and calling on the other side to go back — but in 1967, a similar situation led to military clashes, and a not-dissimilar one sparked tensions in 1986-87. Is the next China-India crisis now brewing on the Doklam plateau?
The heart of the dispute is the Chumbi valley, a gentle, 3,000 metre high Himalayan passageway covered with flowers in the spring, which served as the trade route from Gangtok through Yadong and Gyantse on to the Dalai Lama’s court at Lhasa. For centuries, salt, yak tails and silk made their way over the mountains, taxed by mountain warlords operating in an inner-Himalayan world where the dominant power was the Dalai Lama’s court at Lhasa, in turn loosely linked to China from the time of the Yuan dynasty.
Interestingly, this strategic enclave had almost eluded China’s grasp. In 1904, the imperial military officer Francis Younghusband had led British forces into the Chumbi, following the epic battle of Karo-La, fought by Gurkha and Sikh troops at altitudes of 5,700 metres.
Younghusband imposed indemnities of Rs 7.5 million on the Dalai Lama’s court, knowing it would take decades to pay back — a ruse to hold on to the Chumbi and its trade routes forever. However, in 1905, anti-foreign Tibetan lamas rose up in fierce revolt against French missionaries, Christian converts and Chinese officials. The rebellion strengthened British officials who believed keeping the Chinese in power was necessary for regional stability.
For modern India, the Chumbi valley is a dagger pointed at the so-called chicken’s neck sector, the narrow strip of territory that links the country to its Northeast. In recent years, China has built a highway that allows the 500 kilometre journey from Lhasa to Yadong to be completed in eight hours or less. In two years, a branch of the Beijing-Lhasa railroad too will be completed, allowing for rapid movement of troops and armour right up to India’s gateway, the Nathu La.
But this sword cuts two ways. Sikkim is one of the few sectors where India has a strategic advantage. In the event of war, India’s Brigade-sized military presence inside Bhutan, stationed at Ha, allows it to attack the Chumbi valley from two sides, potentially cutting off Chinese troops stationed facing Sikkim.
From Bhutan’s point of view, though, the Doklam standoff will have implications for even larger territorial conflicts. To the north of Doklam lies a 180 square kilometre region of eastern Bhutan, sprawling across Sinchulumpa and Gieu in Ha. China has already built the Yadong-Lhasa highway through this territory. In the north, China claims 495 square kilometres of territory in the Jakarlung and Pasamlung areas.
Until 1959, China made no claims on Bhutan, asserting in one official communication that there were no discrepancies in its maps and those of Bhutan at that time. But now, its Ministry of Foreign Affairs cites the 1890 China-Britain treaty, which states that the border runs west from Doka-La along the ridgeline — that is, south of the Doklam plateau.
Bhutan disputes this, noting that the 1890 convention applies to the borders of India and China, not Bhutan and China. Herders, it says, may have made payments under PLA coercion in some areas, but maps show Doklam was Bhutanese.
Either way, China first began to turn up the heat along the Chumbi valley in the late 1960s, escalating sharply in coming decade with a growing programme of road works construction. Faced with sharp Bhutanese protests, a status quo agreement was signed in 1988, and border talks began. In 1990, in the seventh round of talks, China offered a deal swapping their northern claims for those east of Chumbi — that is, those of most advantage against India. Then, in 1999, China made a territorial deal contingent on establishing full diplomatic relations.
Left to itself, Bhutan might well have gone for the deal: business lobbies in the country wanted greater trade with China, and parliamentary representatives from the border areas, settled rights for herders.
From 2004, China sought to settle the issue by escalating the pressure. That year, road construction work started from the Langmorpo stream towards the Zuri ridge. Then, the PLA began a series of intrusions into the Charithang valley, stretching all the way to the Royal Bhutan Army’s outposts at Lahrigang, several kilometres behind the country’s claim line. Further road construction work began in 2009 on bridges along the Zuri and Phuteogang ridges, overlooking the Charithang valley.
Like in 1907, more than a few Bhutanese diplomats wondered whether China could be trusted to keep its word even if a deal was made — or whether its strategic ambitions did not stretch to reducing Bhutan to a vassal, just as it had threatened early in the century, and on some occasions even later.
This explains why Bhutan has allowed India to intercede on its behalf, after the Royal Bhutan Army was brushed aside by the PLA patrol constructing road works in Doklam. For China, this demonstration of resolve has been a major surprise. Bhutan knows it is taking a risk. The PLA could, for example, retaliate by stepping up construction work in other disputed enclaves. Bhutan clearly hopes, however, that China would be loath to be seen as a bully — and that India would stand by it militarily should push come to shove.
For now, the most likely outcome is that both sides will back away, giving diplomats and military strategists time to think through their options: India’s decision to commit militarily in Bhutan has changed the game for all sides. But no one is walking away from this century-old game just yet.

Not Seventy but Two-Thousand Year Wait

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was emotional when he said Israel waited for an Indian Prime Minister’s visit for the last seventy years. If I may add, after speaking to the Indian Jews, Bene Israel, children of Israel, in Mumbai, Israel waited for an Indian ruler’s visit since the day they landed at Naugaon, two thousand years before. They longed to hug a leader from their beloved country, whom they still call as their motherland. India has been a home to thousands of Jews since two millenniums, as a sweet, dear, home, where the generations of Bene Israel grew up in peace and happiness.
By any standard, Prime Minister Modi’s Israel visit is a path-breaking event in the world of diplomacy. It’s a two-thousand-year-old relation- when the ships of Jews, prosecuted and tortured and rejected the world over, came to India and received warmth and a home.
And it’s an irony that even after independence, they had to wait seventy years for any Indian Prime Minister to visit them. Indian politicians’ sham secular attitude and illusory compulsions of the Arab world’s annoyance kept India at a distance from Israel, though the same rulers never hesitated to request for help and accept Israel’s unconditional support and military cooperation in times of any and every crisis. It goes to the credit of the RSS and the Janasangh- BJP political leadership that they were the first to demand a recognition of Israel , way back in the fifties and invite first Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to India , who came in 2003. But see the irony, the best friend of India, who supported us in 1962, 1965, 1999 and sent much-needed ammunition for Bofors guns immediately without signing a single agreement or demanding advance payment, was opposed by India’s secular opposition and Muslim leaders issued a statement calling Israeli PM’s visit as a ‘black day for Indian democracy’. While the countries they were supporting had never ever given a single help or supported India on Kashmir or any crisis in the past.
In one stroke, Modi visit to Israel has washed away all that secular dirt from Indian diplomacy’s hypocritical face.
If Modi is creating a history by becoming first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel, there too, the Israeli friends are creating a history by giving an extraordinary and unprecedented reception to our leader. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will accompany him from the airport to airport- will receive him and remain present in all events with him, till he bids adieu. Entire Israel has worn a festive look. I was in Mumbai, a couple of years ago, meeting Bene Israel- the children of Israel- Baghdadi Jews and visited a number of synagogues and the place they finally found a refuge- two thousand years before, after an unfortunate shipwreck off Naugaon. All of them spoke about only one subject- Modi’s Israel visit. They had booked their tickets, were excited to visit Tel Aviv, to receive ‘Modi ji”, and said ‘all our friends, travel agents, transport groups have declared free service from any point in Israel to Tel Aviv to welcome Prime Minister Modi’.
Prime Minister Modi will meet baby Moshe Holtzberg , the miraculous survivor of 26/11 attack on Mumbai and also pay homage to Indian soldiers at Haifa, who had liberated the city on 23rd September 1923, in an incredible battle led and won by Mysore and Jodhpur Lancers during First World War. New Delhi’s Teen Murti chowk is named after those soldiers and now it has been renamed as Haifa Teen Murti Chowk. Israel’s most famous singer, known as Lata Mangeshkar of Israel, Liora Itzhak will relive Bollywood dream for our PM at an event in Team Aviv.
I interviewed some of the Mumbai Jews. They came forward to tell me a hundred stories of their ancestors, how they reached India, created a niche for them , struggled and contributed immensely to weave an anthem of togetherness with us. “ India is my motherland- Aamchee Matribhumi- and Israel my Dharmabhumi- said ,” they said.
Joshua Jacob Avasta , president of synagogue says- ‘we are feeling a great pride to see our prime minister is visiting our holy land-there is a great excitement in Israel-they want to see Modi ji, and thousands of Indian Israelis now living there are bringing their children and all family members just to show them , see he is the prime minister of India who gave our ancestors first shelter. They love us , we love them. It is very difficult to describe the feeling. After centuries he will be the first ruler of India visiting our holy land. “
They are Ashtamekars, Kandlekars, Bhashtekars, speak Marathi as fluently as any Marathi. And they say with pride- I am an Indian first. They have adopted many Hindu features like Mangalsutras in marriages, use of Haldi and using Marathi last names. No where in the world they were received with this warmth and apnapan– a sense of belonging as in India by the Hindus. We find a similarity with them- same openness, friendly nature, history of persecutions and facing aggressions for centuries. Yet not just surviving and excelling in the most odd conditions, but creating marks of brilliance and compassion world over.
Ralphy Jhirad, president of the Mumbai Synagogue became emotional while narrating stories of his ancestors. His last name Jhirad is derived from a village near Naugaon, where the first Jews arrived , though only a handful, some say just eleven survived after an unfortunate shipwreck. Yet want to build a cultural museum where the story of the first Jews’ arrival can be narrated for the next generations. We will build it, Ralph said, only we need Government’s approval for the land, which is lying barren near the point where shipwreck occurred. I am sure after PM Modi’s Israel visit, Mr Devendra Fadnavis can take up this issue and build a fabulous museum in memorial of the Baghdadi Jews who arrived here two thousand years before.
They gave their best to India. Lt Gen JFR Jacob, hero of Bangladesh liberation war and an equally famous naval commander Vice Admiral Benjamin Samson Kilekar were Bene Israel-Jews. One of the oldest and the best library of Mumbai- Sassoon library, Gateway of India, Sasson Docks, Bank of India, several hospitals, museums, schools for deaf, zoos have been created by Bene Israel. And they never asked for any privilege in return. Not even the minority status which has been given to them just two years- before, under the Modi regime and hardly implemented anywhere except a little bit in Maharashtra.
In Bollywood- famed actors like Nadira-( Florence Ezekiel Nadira), silent film doyenne Sulochana ( real name Ruby Myers) David ( Abraham Cheulkar) Pramila, ( Esther Victoria Abraham, also the first Miss India) Arati Devi (Rachel Sofaer) and Rose- were all Bene Israel.
India’s reaction with Israel or with the Jews is not because someone is doing something extraordinary for the other. It’s simply an extraordinary thread of a unique and indescribable trust and belonging. Indians or the Hindus never asked the Jews, in the last two thousand years that they have given them shelter and respect, so they must do certain things for them or convert to Hinduism. Never. What Hindus did was in their nature and the matter ended there, beginning a relationship that both cherish till today. Nobody even wants to remind them of a past that’s so painful. It’s only the Bene Israel who speak incessantly about the Hindu generosity and large-heartedness, not the Hindus. if I am mentioning this factor here, it is just to underline the greatness of the Jews and not to highlight goodness of the Hindu society.
They trust everyone, at first instance and they never complained against any community in Idea. Never even once there has been any report by the Jews against any kind of bad behaviour against Muslims either. They know certain Muslim extremist leaders call them Zionists, and even in the wake of 26/11 attack on Mumbai, many Indian journalists and editors had the temerity to suggest that the attack was a result of a Zionist-RSS conspiracy to defame Muslims. They were simply parroting what was being published in Karachi and Rawalpindi media. But we didn’t see any statement on behalf of Jews, their synagogue presidents or associations ridiculing such absurd editorials and statements.
This resilience and patience, the belief in god and confidence in the goodness of their work is their real strength.
Yes truly, they never pardon the mischief maker and the unrepentant wicked- see how they punished each and every member of the terrorists’s ring who killed 11 Israeli sportsman in Munich olympics in 1972 or freed 94 Israeli Jews from Uganda in an incredible Operation Entebbe. A tiny nation of approximately eight million population and 20.7 sq kms of geographical area , surrounded by the Arabs – with a precipitated hatred and united against it, Israel has emerged as an icon of strong iron will, military might, a global hub for cyber security, a giant in innovative agriculture and water preservation management, world class universities and an inspiring pride in its language, culture and Dharma.
If all these virtues can be attributed to one person, his name, undoubtedly would be Ben Gurion , the father of the modern Israel.
His story was taught to us in early childhood, in our RSS shakhas. I 1973, when I was 17, we were given a book written by a RSS veteran Ramnath Bhalla, on Israel. The story of Ben Gurien is a source of great inspiration to all who believe in freedom and dignity of human race. He organised Jews, restored their confidence, proclaimed Independence of the state of Israel on 14th May 1948, revived the Hebrew language, considered as a dead language as it wasn’t in active use since two thousand years, he was the leader who consolidated Israel Defence Forces and led the 1948 war against the united Arab attack and became Israel’s first Prime Minister . He was everything that a nascent Israel needed and rightly he is respected as the founding father of the state of Israel.
Indian Jews have weaved a saga of entrepreneurship, amity, social harmony and brilliance. For etc last many years they were waiting for this moment, when a leader from their India, will arrive in their Dharma Bhumi, Israel and hug the Israeli people . Its like reliving the thousand years of journey, recollecting the pains and sufferings of their ancestors, the joy and happiness of the re-gaining their Israel, becoming a mighty force world over and singing the spring song for ratlines and friends like India.
Two years before, without much fanfare the most important Jewish organisation B’nai B’rith top delegation arrived India. I was fortunate to welcome them in the Parliament House. It was the first ever Jewish delegation received in Parliament House , who paid homage at Gandhi statue and had a wonderful discussion inside Parliament about strengthening India- Israel relations. It is prominently displayed on their website as the principal event of their India trip.
Later an informal group to enhance bilateral relations was formed attended by eighteen MPs, from BJP, Congress, TMC, DMK etc and this significant meeting was addressed by the Israeli ambassador Daniel Carmon followed by a lively Q&A.
Modi’s visit to Israel is etched in the annals of history of Jews and Indians as the most emotional reunion of soulmates after two millennium. Israel and India, both were waiting for this moment since long.

Renaissance for Nationalists, Racists & Bigots

Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights, sang the late Jamaican reggae master Bob Marley. Would he sing with the same verve if he were around today? He probably would since he’d have star power. But for ordinary folk everywhere, standing up can be a risky move.
Take what happened recently in Portland, Oregon, where two teen girls of colour, one wearing a hijab, were humiliated and asked to leave this country by a white nationalist aboard a local train. Three other passengers, who happened also to be white, got up, stood up, not for their own rights as much as the right of the threatened teenagers to respect and freedom. The nationalist man drew out a knife, killed two protesters and wounded the third. Standing up can cost lives.
You might ask, wasn’t it always so? Yes, but violent hatred in civil society outside the battlefield is, by all accounts, bursting out more and more frequently, most disturbingly in democratic societies. Democracy is civilisation’s best, if imperfect, foil to brute force. But when it’s untethered to the rule of law within a constitutional system devised and managed by pragmatic minds, it can degenerate into mob rule or tyranny, as Plato had feared. In a degenerate democracy, random or organised violence becomes the norm. Citizens cower in resignation.
I, along with my wife and two sons, have been fortunate to live in a rather extraordinary segment of space-time. And we have been luckier still in spending these interesting times in the two largest democracies in the world, India and the United States. The second half of the 20th century has by and large been a period of peace and prosperity. Sure, there have been hot wars as well as a major cold war but no worldwide conflagration. Nuclear annihilation has so far been averted. Pestilence is under control and no major pandemic like bubonic plague or deadly influenza or small pox has broken out.
Medical breakthroughs unprecedented in history have lengthened lifespans across humanity. Famines have broken out in this period, mass murders of ethnic groups have happened. At the same time, scientific and technological advances have erupted at an unprecedented pace altering the way we live our lives for mostly the better though, in some cases, not so much.
The 21st century thus far has been less promising about our future. The rapid advance of liberal democracy evident in the last decade of the last century suddenly appears to be in retreat. I don’t want to sound alarmist but, in one respect at least, democracy is back to the wall in several countries. It’s the imperilled right to stand up for rights through the right of free speech.
Free speech is not without its downside, particularly in its hold-your-nose tolerance of verbal hatred and its consequent incitement to violence. As Voltaire said, perhaps apocryphally: “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.” Marley urged us to stand up for our rights taking for granted that crucial right of democracy: the right to free speech.
Extreme nationalists, racists, bigots of all shades are having a renaissance across the world. They are encouraged by a type of leader who makes intolerance a legitimate political platform. Such leaders have always been there but on the fringes. They have now emerged in power around the world. Liberals, much reviled by the far right and far left, are on the defensive.
The right is currently leading the charge against free speech. But the extreme left is complicit. In campuses across the US, speakers are not being allowed to speak because they espouse causes that go against the narrative of the left. Worse, there is an alarming demand for ‘safe spaces’ for those who see themselves as victims of society and a growing movement against ‘cultural appropriation’, by which members of a minority culture should have sole rights to express themselves about their grievances and no one else should be allowed to do so.
Gandhi, King, and Mandela would have been aghast. But they are so 20th century, aren’t they?

 

A digital revolution needed for New Silk Road

The ancient and historic trade route between China and Europe is coming back to life as one of the biggest infrastructure projects of the 21st century, with major implications for economies throughout the world.
One Belt/One Road (OBOR), the all-encompassing effort to restore old trade routes and streamline the transport of goods from Asia to Europe, has already received more than $51 billion from China, and more than 100 countries have signed on, with free trade, collaboration agreements or other partnerships.
The expected benefits are well known: 70,000 new jobs, vastly improved economies of countries such as Kazakhstan, and opportunities for small and medium enterprises, both from Asia and Europe, to enter new markets that today may not be easily accessible. But achieving that potential means overcoming four major obstacles: the slow speed with which goods now travel, the inconsistency of customs clearance, the high costs for everything from labour to logistics delays, and the lack of visibility into the status of goods making their way along the New Silk Road.
When companies ship by air they only need to deal with the red tape of customs and inspections at the beginning and end of a journey. Ground transportation is less expensive, but it stalls each time you cross a border. Products not only move slowly but are also subject to increased costs, including potentially moving from one truck or train to another. There are also tariffs, arbitrary delays and possible system manipulation.
However, if OBOR operated with a single unified customs system and effective methods of tracking the products on board, shipments could move smoothly across boundaries – replicating the efficiency of air shipments with the low cost of land transport.
Fortunately, the solutions exist to help OBOR reach its full potential with technologies that improve infrastructure inefficiencies, connect people and create new opportunities. Companies could achieve real time supply chain visibility by deploying low-cost satellites with access by iPhones or other handheld devices, for example.
Another move that could dramatically help is if the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) introduced a standard customs procedure for OBOR freight by consolidating requirements and developing a common IT platform.
For OBOR countries, the path to an efficient and cost-effective New Silk Road begins by systematically addressing the four pain points of the digital supply chain. Here are some ways to begin.
⦁ Speed: Companies could smooth shipments and make better use of resources by installing state-of-the-art warehouse and inventory management systems, including capacity planning and supplier collaboration.
⦁ Inconsistency: Countries could implement systems that standardize the clearance of goods while using common templates and replacing human decision-making with speedy Artificial Intelligence processes.
⦁ Costs: Companies could reduce labour costs and shipment-delay costs, with automation replacing such activities as loading and unloading.
⦁ Visibility: New advances such as digital ledger technology (DLT) could provide structured, real time tracking information to allow stakeholders to know when a shipment will arrive and to plan operations in advance.
By investing in the IT infrastructure needed to address these four pain points, companies and countries will generate basic data, which, as it matures and gets structured, becomes invaluable when accumulated as big data. These are complex data sets that can be collected and analysed for insights that serve as a starting point for improving everything, from operations to the development of services, even allowing companies to transform their business models for greater success.
With such systems in place, a few key areas of opportunity will emerge along the New Silk Road. First, a digital revolution will level the playing field for SMEs. For example, they’ll be able to adapt production plans to product supply and demand dynamics or identify new markets.
The sharing economy will also blossom. With the right IT in place, on-demand manufacturing and warehouse management platforms could connect makers with factories. A sharing economy inspired by big data will create significant employment opportunities in OBOR countries.

 

Intolerance is on the rise, so is our tolerance to abuse of power

The most effective way to deal with unpleasant facts is to render them as exaggerations. You hear shouting next door followed by the sound of someone sobbing every night, and you come to the conclusion: no one can possibly be a wife-beater there as the couple are regularly vocal about their feminism on social media. They must have their TV on loud, and some serial or other must move the woman to emotional tears every evening.
Yes, that must be it.
Your friend shows some classic signs of alcoholism — including the one by which he is sure that he doesn’t have any problem with drink at all. You think of asking him to seek professional help. But he’s probably just bad at holding his drink, and that must be all there is to it.
Yes, that must be it.
You hear about NDTV being raided by the CBI. You also know that the TV company has been accused of some financial hanky-panky for almost a decade now — much before the Narendra Modi government, against which the channel is supposedly routinely critical, came to power. In any case, India isn’t Erdogan’s Turkey or Putin’s Russia. For crying out loud, isn’t every speech at an official dinner in the US hosted in honour of an Indian guest prefixed by ‘celebrating the friendship between the biggest democracy and the oldest democracy in the world’?
So it has to be some media group and its ancien régime supporters crying ‘Emergency!’ and ‘Censorship!’, when all it is, is an investigation into fudged ledgers being made out to be fascism, that classic overused poster-word of exaggerations.
That’s all there is to it.
Once you have decided that something unpleasant you have come to know is an exaggeration, you are partly relieved that you are smart enough to know the difference between a kitchen smoke and a bonfire, and partly irritated with the folks who make a mountain out of a dunghill. Then life as you know it, especially in these happy days, slides back to normal.
But just because you’re not a card-carrying paranoid doesn’t mean things aren’t happening that would make you uncomfortable if they happened to you. In a world of hyper-information — as it would have happened in a world of hypo-information, where some news would simply not reach you the way no one got to see Kapil Dev’s 175 not out against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells in the 1983 Prudential World Cup — you can consciously turn blind to unpalatable facts.Some uncomfortable ‘incidents’, however, need a bit more dexterity in being ‘exaggeration-ated’ than others. If the police open fire on protesting farmers burning vehicles in Madhya Pradesh, and six are killed in the process, saying ‘Surely that’s not true, because Jallianwala Bagh happened in 1919 under a different dispensation’ won’t really get you what a good night’s Valium is supposed to get you.
Some uncomfortable ‘incidents’, however, need a bit more dexterity in being ‘exaggeration-ated’ than others. If the police open fire on protesting farmers burning vehicles in Madhya Pradesh, and six are killed in the process, saying ‘Surely that’s not true, because Jallianwala Bagh happened in 1919 under a different dispensation’ won’t really get you what a good night’s Valium is supposed to get you.
What can get you solace is the best invention of the social media troll: moral relativism. ‘Why isolate this incident just because MP has a BJP government? How many people tweeted in 1983 when at least 2,191 people — and that’s just the official figure — were butchered in Assam’s Nagaon district in 14 villages, including Nellie, under a Congress government that stood by and did nothing?’ The length of that sentence itself would make a person shift his outrage at Tuesday’s firing in MP a few inches to the side.
Much — if not all — of the damage control involves bringing into focus the identity of the ‘exaggerators’. Those howling against the CBI raid of NDTV are ‘elite, dyed-in-the-wool BJP-bashers’ sticking together to whitewash financial wrongdoings like they always did during the Congress regime. To hold a mirror to this lot itself should do the job of putting a lid on charges of political bullying.
But with each ‘Oh, stop exaggerating about Kashmir/MP/NDTV/(fill in your choice of victim). You’ll know what real boot-stomping looks like if you lived in Saudi Arabia, or witnessed the Emergency,’ the bar by which we react, either by shock, anger or disgust, is lowered.
It isn’t intolerance, India’s perennial ailment, that alone is ascendant. It is tolerance to the abuse of power that is also steeply on the rise. The critical mass of protesting voices against such acts of power is shrinking. It is shrinking because it feeds on exaggerations that make us content, even as it rejects uncomfortable information — and, thereby, its accompanying discomfort — by treating it as exaggerated.
Which leads us to an India that will be so utterly enamoured of itself as a Project, that it no longer has to dare to look up when wrongs are committed. It will simply care not to look up, in the unshakeable belief that the rot itself is an exaggeration

Canada at 150 — the Present and Possible Future

Happy 150th, Canada. Time to wave flags, pop champagne (or crack open a beer, chacun son goût) and find a good spot to take in the fireworks on July 1. Ottawa is dropping half a billion dollars on our sesquicentennial, so you might as well get your money’s worth while you can. Or not. If you ask indigenous Canadians about the anniversary, it’s clear many are not celebrating. Small wonder: Across Canada, many First Nations communities are in crisis. Sixty per cent of First Nations children on reserve live in poverty. First peoples’ life expectancy is five to seven years less than that of other Canadians. One hundred and ten reserves have no potable water.
One could think of a lot of ways that half-billion could be better spent than on parties and flags. It’s a time for honouring the past, righting old wrongs — and building a better world
The shame of Canada’s colonial past is scarcely different than that of many other nations, where indigenous people were subjugated in the interests of economic and geopolitical expansion. Extraction of resources, establishment of trade and commerce and crowding out competitors all amounted to the first order of business for colonizing countries — and First Peoples were in the way. What initial cooperation did exist eventually gave way to policies of assimilation — such as the wantonly cruel residential school system, which ripped apart thousands of families and frequently subjected their children to physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
Had this type of cultural genocide happened today, we’d be protesting it at the United Nations and demanding action. And it is still playing out across the globe: In Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State is enslaving and exterminating the Yazidi people as part of its plan to recreate the Islamic Caliphate. Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 and has killed 10,000 people since. The horrific practice of ethnic cleansing continues around the world, from Myanmar to South Sudan.
For centuries, there was no place or means to grieve the injustices heaped on Canada’s indigenous peoples, and they went largely unacknowledged. And even when the decolonization and civil rights movements swept the globe in the latter half of the twentieth century, a different national drama took centre stage in Canada: Quebec separatism.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, relations between Canada’s two solitudes came to the boiling point more than once: the rise of the Front de libération du Québec, the creation of the Parti Québécois, the holding of two Quebec referenda on independence, the patriation of Canada’s Constitution without Quebec, and two failed attempts at constitutional reform — the Victoria Charter and the Meech Lake Accord. A third proposal, the 1993 Charlottetown Accord, attempted to establish a new relationship with First Nations as well, but was defeated in a national referendum.
I’m not a believer in hyphenated Canadians, but neither do I think people should have to check their history at the front door. Today, multiculturalism is a strategic advantage for Canada, as our diverse perspectives give us a unique appeal in the world.
Ironically, while French and English Canada were debating whether to stay together, and First Nations were struggling to keep their culture and communities alive, immigrants from around the world wanted nothing more than to make Canada their home. Since the Second World War, over 10 million immigrants have come to Canada; many of them have become the most enthusiastic of patriots. On this 150th, they celebrate what Canada represents to much of the world — a nation of freedom and peace, of vast natural beauty and economic opportunity. And we can expect this to continue: As America loses its lustre, Canada is assuming the mantle of the ‘shining city on the hill’ — or the shining country at the top of the world.
We’ve got work to do, living up to that reputation. This starts by acknowledging that, rather than having two founding peoples, we actually have three sets of nation-builders. Our First Peoples occupied this land for thousands of years pre-conquest and before Confederation, building societies and nations across its vast expanse. The descendants of the nations of England and France established the early framework of modern Canada and the bulk of its social and political institutions. And millions of immigrants from other nations — those who fled a devastated Europe, the oppression of Soviet communism, the poverty and political upheavals of the developing world and, most recently, the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al Assad and the scourge of the Islamic State — have for the past seventy years asserted their influence in our nation’s public and private sphere.
These three groups have shaped modern Canada. The challenge for our nation’s next 150 years is for them to find a way not simply to coexist, but to thrive and assert their identities, individually and collectively. I’m not a believer in hyphenated Canadians, but neither do I think people should have to check their history at the front door. Today, multiculturalism is a strategic advantage for Canada, as our diverse perspectives give us a unique appeal in the world.
At the same time, we have to do more to find common causes. I use that phrase ‘common cause’ because in our politics, the term ‘shared values’ has become code for the values of one group: the English ‘old stock’ or French ‘de souche’ Canadians, who together constitute the second of the three nation-building groups. Some of those ‘values’ included the assimilation of First Nations and efforts to isolate and marginalize new immigrants — beliefs that should have no place in modern Canada.
Other values, however, have helped make Canada a destination for the dispossessed around the world. Individual freedom. Equality before the law. The separation of church and state. Gender equality. The right to an education and the establishment of a functioning social safety net (even if it sometimes resembles a hammock).
But if we are to live together as one society, everyone cannot have everything. All three groups will have to put some previous beliefs aside and adopt new ones. Implementing the equality of men and women, for example, means letting go of belief systems that favour boys and men over girls and women in the home, in school and in places of worship. Ending discrimination in the workplace means putting aside prejudices that favour straight white men over other candidates for employment and advancement. Ending the assimilation of First Nations means moving beyond the Indian Act to a form of self-government that respects indigenous traditions but also adheres to Canadian law. And ensuring that we retain our freedom means recognizing choices in how individuals live, love, and establish their personal lives — as long as those choices respect the bounds of our laws and do not infringe on the well-being and freedoms of others.
On our 150th birthday, Canada is at a crossroads. We cannot rewrite the past, but we can heal the wrongs. And then, we can (and must) move on together. If we only dwell on what was, we’ll remain stuck in the quicksand of grievance.
In a world that desperately needs hope and guidance, we cannot let that happen. We must engage in a dialogue of optimism and opportunity, one that includes all Canadians: those who were here first, those who came after, those here now and those yet to come.