India Not Interested in Joining US quad to Challenge China


SCMP carries Abhijit Singh’s article “India’s South China Sea policy has not changed. Now, as before, there’s no appetite to challenge China” that stresses that India does not want to challenge China.

The US wants India to join its quad to support its the Indo-Pacific strategy to contain China especially in Southeast Asia and lots of media have tried to make readers believe that India would join the US in challeging China. However, the article says that there are three reasons India will not abandon its policy of non-intervention in security affairs of Southeast Asia.

First, India is not party to the maritime territorial disputes in the region as it has no interests or rights there.

Second, India knows China’s position of strength there.

Third, India is keen to preserve its “Wuhan consensus” that Beijing will respect India’s sphere of influence in the Indian Ocean in the same way that Delhi will respect Beijing’s in Southeast Asia.

Moreover, according to the article media reports on India’s energy stakes in the South China Sea is misleading as India’s stake in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zones are not significant.

However, the source of water for India’s major river the Ganges is the Yarlung Zangbo in China’s Tibet. China is able to divert water from the river to its desert in Xinjiang and greatly reduce the water in the Ganges.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s article, full text of which can be viewed at https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3026729/indias-south-china-sea-policy-has-not-changed-now-theres-no.

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RCEP Possible without India by the End of This Year


Bloomberg’s report “India Criticizes Chinese Trade Policies” shows India’s lack of enthusiasm in RCEP, the pan-Asian free trade agreement the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

When RCEP was initiated seven years ago, it was regarded as China’s efforts to counter US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) aimed at containing China.

However, when TTP was signed by all its members, India was anxious to set up RCEP to counter it as India found that TTP would contain India more severely than China. Now, as the US has withdrawn from TTP, the harm to India has been mostly removed so that Indian trade deficit with China becomes India’s major concerns, which RECP cannot satisfactorily deal with so that India has lost its enthusiasm in RCEP.

The report quotes Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar as saying on Monday, “The big concerns of India are of course, one, its relationship with China because we have an enormous trade deficit with China,” in response to a question regarding the ongoing negotiations for RCEP.

However, ASEAN is anxious to set up RECP as it will be greatly benefited by it. The report says, “Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who was also on the panel, urged India to reconsider its position on RCEP, saying that Beijing and New Delhi would have to come to terms on trade eventually.”

The report quotes Balakrishnan as saying, “I am making the argument that it is worth making the effort, because this would be a game changer.”

Japan had great enthusiasm in TPP to ally with the US to contain China. However, since US withdrawal from TPP, Japan has switched its enthusiasm to RCEP for a larger share of the growing Asian market especially the huge Chinese market.

ASEAN, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand have already had free trade agreements with China. As the Chinese market is much more important for them and Japan, all potential RCEP members want anxiously to set up RCEP as soon as possible; therefore, they may well sign an agreement on the establishment of RCEP without India by the end of this year if India is unwilling to be RCEP’s founding member.

Therefore, Bloomberg’s “doubt over progress of negotiations for a pan-Asian free trade agreement” is merely the doubt about India’s participation in RCEP.

As Indian market is much less important than China and ASEAN’s, RCEP will very likely be set up without India.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Bloomberg’s report, full text of which can be viewed at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-09/india-criticizes-chinese-trade-policies-as-rcep-talks-resume.


Belt and Road Initiative: A big opportunity to reap benefit for S Asia


12:00 AM, September 09, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:11 AM, September 09, 2019

Experts say India’s indifference to join BRI poses a challenge; Bangladesh has to objectively measure both benefits, concerns

Diplomatic Correspondent

The China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) comes as an opportunity for the South Asian nations, but cooperation of all the countries in the region is needed to reap benefits from it, observe international relations analysts.

Speaking at an international conference in the capital, they, however, said India’s reluctance to join the BRI poses a challenge to promoting connectivity and trade in the region.

The conference titled “BRI: Positioning Bangladesh within Comparative Perspectives” was organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue at a city hotel yesterday.

In South Asia, all the countries, except for India, are enthusiastic about the Belt and Road Initiative… There will be certain challenges to implementing the initiative unless India joins it,” said Maj Gen (retd) ANM Muniruzzaman, president of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies.

He also mentioned that Bangladesh was excluded from a proposed corridor connecting four countries — China, India, Myanmar and Bangladesh — through maritime routes.

We should try to talk to China so that the corridor is extended up to Chattogram via Rakhine,” Muniruzzaman told this correspondent on the sidelines of the conference.

Chinese President Xi Jinping introduced the concept of the BRI in 2013 in the light of the ancient Silk Route to connect Asia with Africa and Europe through land and maritime networks.

Bangladesh is one of the 129 countries that have already joined the initiative. Some of the big powers, including the US and India, are yet to become part of it. India, however, is involved in some other initiatives that partly overlap the BRI.

Muniruzzaman said that though the BRI has been termed a trade project, it has significant political and strategic ramifications.

We must carefully analyse these aspects as we move towards implementing the projects under the initiative,” he said.

According to the CPD, Bangladesh, located in a sub-region that includes economic powerhouses India and China, is a gateway to the Maritime Silk Route that passes through the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh has a unique opportunity to emerge in the region as an important economic hub of the century.

While engaging itself with the BRI, Bangladesh will have to take into consideration its relationship with its big neighbour India, said the thinktank.

Thus, an effective balance of relationship with two big regional neighbours will also be a major task to be taken into consideration by the policymakers of Bangladesh,” said the CPD in a paper presented at the conference.

The BRI is likely to have implications for the interests and engagement of extra-regional powers, such as the USA and the EU, in Asia. It is of interest to observe the role of the proposed Maritime Silk Route in ensuring security in the Indian Ocean, it pointed out.

In this respect, there is possibly a need to have an effective multi-stakeholder platform to discuss the interests and concerns regarding the BRI in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh.

It is important to have an objective analysis focusing on both economic and political aspects of this ambitious initiative. This will help the government adopt informed policies to reap the fullest benefits of the BRI and mitigate the risks associated with it,” the CPD said.

CPD Distinguished Fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya said the BRI should have clear norms such as openness, transparency, no corruption and no conflict of interest in commercial deals.

The BRI also should have multilateral framework for all stakeholders that will have equal footing in the decision-making process, he said.

We need to understand what keeps India away, and how Indo-Pacific strategy affects the BRI.

Rohingya experience taught us geo-political realities… We need to see how we can really exploit our advantages, how we can prepare better, and how we can manage our relationship in certain ways that we can optimise not only in the long run but also in the short run,” Debapriya added.

Dr Kalyan Raj Sharma, president of Nepal-China Friendship Forum, said a lack of trust among countries in South Asia is a major problem that’s hindering regional growth. And India’s role is crucial in implementing the BRI.

For example, if there is a rail link from China to Nepal, it won’t be of much benefit unless it links India or Bangladesh, he said.

Division creates poverty, unity creates wealth,” he said, stressing the need for unity among the South Asian nations.

Former ambassador Munshi Faiz Ahmad, chairman of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies, said the BRI is flexible because each country can have its own projects, maintaining the common principles of the initiative.

If India has any objection to any component of the BRI, it can raise that and eventually join the initiative. “If not, it will create a lot of hindrances,” he said.

Another former ambassador M Humayun Kabir, acting president of Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, said India and several other countries have security concerns that may discourage them from joining the initiative.

But if there is an open environment for trade governance, things could move forward, he added.

Economic relations between China and India are transforming. “I hope India would find some form of modus operandi. On the other hand, the BRI may also have to change, and those opposing it may find space to join it,” he said.

Abul Hasan Chowdhury, former state minister for foreign affairs, said China and India are large trading partners in the region, and they should work together for regional development.

The conference was also addressed by Prof Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the CPD; Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star; Lailafur Yasmin, professor of international relations at Dhaka University; and Guo Suiyan and Dr Lin Yanming, both associate professors at Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences in Kunming of China.

Source: The Daily Star “Belt and Road Initiative: A big opportunity to reap benefit for S Asia”

Note: This is The Daily Star’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


RCEP meet: ASEAN members, partners reaffirm their resolve to conclude free trade deal talks


The 16 negotiating partners have agreed that they should not lose the long-term vision of deepening and expanding the value chains in the RCEP

Joe C Mathew New Delhi Last Updated: September 8, 2019 | 22:30 IST

Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal during the plenary session of the 7th RCEP Ministerial Meeting in Bangkok on Sunday.

The 7th Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) ministerial meeting of the 10 members of ASEAN countries and their six FTA (free trade agreement) partners, including India, said the ongoing global uncertainties have added to the urgency to conclude the mega free trade agreement between these nations. The joint statement issued after the meeting, which reviewed the RCEP negotiations on September 8 in Bangkok, Thailand, said the 16 negotiating partners agreed that they should not lose the long-term vision of deepening and expanding the value chains in the RCEP.

The RCEP underscored issues raised by India by stating that certain developments in the global trade environment might affect the negotiating countries’ individual positions. “The ministers underscored the RCEP will provide the much-needed stability and certainty to the market, which will in turn boost trade and investment in the region. To this end, ministers reaffirmed their collective resolve to bring negotiations to a conclusion,” the joint statement said.

“The ministers recognised that negotiations have reached a critical milestone. Notwithstanding the remaining challenges in the negotiations, the RCEP participating countries are working on addressing outstanding issues that are fundamental to conclude the agreement this year as mandated by the leaders,” it stated. The meeting, held to review developments in the RCEP negotiations since the ministers last met in Beijing on August 2-3, was chaired by Jurin Laksanawisit, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce of Thailand.

The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement between 10 ASEAN members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam), and its six partners (China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand).

Meanwhile, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s economic wing, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, has asked the Centre not to sacrifice the interests of key industries like agriculture, diary and manufacturing. “We firmly believe that national interests especially of agriculture, dairy, manufacturing will not be sacrificed at RCEP Meet. #SayNoToRCEP & Renegotiate ASEAN FTA, which is imperative for protecting agriculture & mfg,” SJM Co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan tweeted.

Source: businesstoday.in “RCEP meet: ASEAN members, partners reaffirm their resolve to conclude free trade deal talks”

Note: This is businesstoday.in’s report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


RCEP expected to be finalised by year-end: ASEAN General Secretary


Update: August, 01/2019 – 17:31

ASEAN General Secretary Dato Lim Jock Hoi delivers a speech at the 3rd ASEAN Media Forum held in Bangkok on July 29. — Photos courtesy of ASEAN Secretariat

Ngọc Bích

BANGKOK — ASEAN General Secretary Dato Lim Jock Hoi has expressed his optimism over the likelihood that the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) between 10 ASEAN member countries and six partners will be finalised by the end of the year.

RCEP is considered the world’s largest regional trade agreement as it covers a market of almost half of the world’s population and around one third of global gross domestic product.

There are 27 rounds of RCEP negotiations over the past seven years but “we don’t want to go beyond that, if we don’t do it this year, it will be very difficult for us to go beyond next year,” Hoi said.

According to the General Secretary, political difficulties have already been resolved and under the situation of trade tension among economic giants, there is urgency for all ASEAN members to push the agreement to its conclusion.

We know that challenges are still there, and we will intensify negotiations among the trade negotiators as well as at the ministerial level,” he said, affirming “the climate seems to be quite positive.”

Economic ministers are scheduled to meet in Thailand in September and “this will be a venue for the ministers to sit down and try to push [the negotiations] ahead.”

When asked about the most challenging problems that still exist, Hoi said: “Sixteen countries with different levels of economic development and different levels in trust. So it is not easy to put into one package. We need to balance the interests of each country, which is the role of ASEAN.”

We have concluded certain chapters in telecoms, the movement in IP, the movement in financial services. But market access negotiations are still going and they will not end until we are all satisfied.”

Some countries are concerned that they would be exposed to many other imports, he said, adding that “They have to be careful and mindful with the domestic pressure.”

However, “they have taken a practical approach toward RCEP. Hopefully they will lead the way to good outcomes in the months ahead,” Hoi said.

There is also a problem with non-ASEAN members because they don’t have free trade agreements (FTAs) among themselves so they need to intensify their negotiations in market access, he added.

Dr Suthad Setboonsarng, Board Member of the Bank of Thailand and former first Thai Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN (right), receives a gift from ASEAN Secretariat. image: http://image.vietnamnews.vn/uploadvnnews/Article/2019/8/1/28934_DrSuthad.jpg

Speaking with Việt Nam News on the sidelines of the 3rd ASEAN Media Forum early this week, Dr Suthad Setboonsarng, Board Member of the Bank of Thailand, said that RCEP is a conglomeration of five FTAs. The first one is the ASEAN-China FTA which was signed in 2003 and the toughest FTA is the one with India.

In RCEP negotiations, one of the rules is we have to give everybody else what we give to one country,” like the Most Favoured Nations mechanism.

What we have to give to China, we must give to India and to Japan. In 2003’s agreement, China liberalises the agriculture sector for ASEAN countries. But now for China to liberalise the agriculture sector for Japan, India and Korea, it is much more difficult,” Setboonsarng said.

However, the former first Thai Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN was also optimistic of the future of RCEP as he saw a new mechanism being implemented in negotiating the trade deal.

In the past, there were trade negotiation working groups but heads of the groups couldnot make any immediate decision at the meeting, he said.

The only way to get RCEP is to come out for outside talks not on the table because going to the table is very difficult.”

Currently, a small group of three countries including Thailand (current ASEAN Chair), Singapore (last year’s ASEAN Chair) and Việt Nam (next year’s ASEAN Chair) are going around other countries and try to talk and see what is the problem that each country has, he said, adding that it will help facilitate the process.

I think it has been used in political arena much more than in economic negotiations. But I saw this one, which is very important for the success of RCEP.”

Dr Hoe Ee Khor, Chief Economist of ASEAN+3 Macro Economic Research Office, said if ASEAN countries and dialogue partners can finalise the RCEP, it will be a very strong signal of commitment to rules-based multilateral trade amidst the rising trend of protectionism and nationalism.

Initiated in 2012, RCEP involves 10 ASEAN member countries, namely Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar, Việt Nam, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei; and six dialogue partners including China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Korea. — VNS

Source: Viet Nam News “RCEP expected to be finalised by year-end: ASEAN General Secretary”

Note: This is Viet Nam News’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Russia-India-China grouping an interesting watershed in global politics: The Nation contributor


(From left) Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping pose for a picture during a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan on June 28, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

Published Jul 22, 2019, 3:42 pm SGT

In his commentary, the writer says that India’s membership in both the Japan-US-India and Russia-India-China groupings reflects how Indian strategic thinking is straddling two conflicting ideas.

Preechapak Tekasuk

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Other than the trade tensions between Japan and South Korea, there was another absorbing development at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, a few weeks ago: the emergence of a Russia-India-China (RIC) grouping, three leading regional powers in Asia that used to be spearheaded by Russia in the late 20th century.

Russia is starting to envision the prospect of itself, along with India and China, leading the region, bringing about a revision from a US-led regional order to a more multilateral one.

Both Russia and China are pushing the RIC regional grouping to emphasise the importance of a multi-polar Asia with focus on multilateralism, free and open markets and sidelining the Donald Trump-led US.

China and Russia in particular perceive the US as a threat to the regional and world order.

This was the second RIC meeting within one month, the first one being held during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Kyrgyzstan.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to be supportive of the RIC initiative going by the past two summits and he has also welcomed the next meeting.

His speeches during the summits were quite positive, and implied that the RIC will be a crucial driver for development, politics, economy, environment, security and anti-terrorism based on their strategic partnership.

The emergence of the RIC is a watershed event in global politics.

In the global geopolitical landscape in which major powers like Russia, China and the US jostle for influence, India has a pivotal role to play in South Asia.

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This has created a situation where India is being wooed by all sides, because of its sphere of influence. Moreover, India’s vision from both summits raised questions about whether New Delhi was inclining towards a more authoritarian order or trying to establish itself as the sole regional power.

It is understandable for some states to be cautious of India’s strategic shift, but only if they apply a US-centred logic that sees every possibility of overshadowing the US as a threat.

India’s strategic thinking and foreign policy is undergoing changes that are in line with the vision it has for its future.

Modi was not just present at the RIC meeting, he was also a part of another three-nation grouping – JAI (Japan-US-India) – as part of an Indo-Pacific regional grouping masterminded by Trump during the G20 summit.

To be clear, JAI is a trilateral grouping that was created to establish a balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region, and to contain China’s influence from spreading authoritarianism abroad.

So, the JAI is focused mainly on security and is China-centred. Besides, the JAI basically lays the foundation of the quadrilateral arrangement for Free and Open Indo-Pacific Region (FOIP), which also includes Australia.

Its membership of the JAI and the RIC, which are odds with each other, reflects how Indian strategic thinking is straddling two conflicting ideas, exploiting the tensions between the West and authoritarian forces.

India has found itself with a better bargaining chip than those who are struggling to emerge as regional leaders.

This consequently gives India a wild card in the world’s geopolitics, opening the doors of the JAI and the RIC at the same time. In the current situation, these groupings are strategically the ones who need to have India on their side.

There might be an inherent contradiction in India’s behaviour, as the JAI and the RIC are on opposing sides of the divide.

The question remains how India can fit in comfortably when these two alignments are meant to counter each other’s influence and what is India’s strategic imperative in these groupings.

Actually, it reflects two strands in India’s strategic and foreign policy thinking.

The first is that India is uncomfortable with China exerting inordinate influence southward towards the Indian Ocean Region, meddling with Pakistan, and employing debt-trap diplomacy with India’s neighbours.

This has made India insecure about the region where it holds primacy, and that has given it reasons to align itself with the JAI led by the US.

On the other hand, the current situation between the US and India is also not that stable due to the tariff war and the curbs imposed on India’s dealings with Russia and Iran.

India has the challenge of finding a strategic balance that won’t hurt its interests. Since the RIC also views India as an asset, it is geopolitical development that India can exploit and use as a negotiating power in its bargaining with the US and the West.

As an independent factor and a wild card, India can use the RIC as a vehicle to turn the situation upside down and thereby shift itself to be on a higher ground than the US.

Democratic India’s decision may not be a proof of its leaning towards authoritarian forces, but it points to India’s motivation being based on its national interest.

Source: defense.pk “Russia-India-China grouping an interesting watershed in global politics: The Nation contributor”

Note: This is defense.pk’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


Putin’s Dream of Russia-India-China Triangle May Come True


The leaders of RIC – Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping – hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev / Sputnik / AFP

The US has tried hard to restore the US-Japan-Australia-India quad to contain China and wanted India to be at the forefront against China. There have been border disputes between India and China for decades, which sometimes gave rise to tension between the two giant neighbors. But people have grown wiser to see that neighborhood may give rise to disputes over possession and supply of land and water but may also facilitate the two neighbors’ prosperity through trade and win-win cooperation. As the leaders of both countries Modi and Xi Jinping are wise, US has so far failed to attract India’s participation in its quad.

Russia’s Putin has a dream to form a Russia-India-China triangle to counter US world hegemony. He succeeded in attracting India into Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization but India’s participation aims at the benefits India may get from Russia and China instead enmity against the US.

In fact India believes that by maintaining good relations with both the Russia-China and US camps, it may benefit from both sides. That can be regarded as its equal-distance diplomacy, which had been successful until the mini-trade war against India launched by the Trump administration – including India’s loss of its special trade status and subject to US punishment for its purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems.

Now Asia Times says in its report “Russia-India-China share a room with a view” on their meeting on the sideline of G20 summit, “Leaders of these three countries met in virtual secrecy. The very few media representatives present in the shabby room were soon invited to leave. Presidents Putin, Xi and Modi were flanked by streamlined teams who barely found enough space to sit down. There were no leaks.”

It seems that the triangle Putin has been dreaming of is being established as the US is now pushing India to Russia and China’s arms.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on Asia Times’ report, full text of which can be viewed at https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/06/article/russia-india-china-share-a-room-with-a-view/.