Op-eds and Articles

Op-eds and Articles

US-China bilateral relationship talks still lack strategic depth

The following article originally appeared in the Economic Times on July 17, 2013.

When the top diplomatic and economic leaders from the US and China met last week for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, there were few significant breakthroughs. But the annual official jamboree provided a good opportunity for both sides to take stock of their complex bilateral relationship, one that has become increasingly relevant for the rest of the international community.

Over the past year, cyber security has assumed greater salience in US-China relations. Although Washington has shied away from criticising Beijing for government snooping — the US is, after all, on weak ground in this respect, following revelations concerning the NSA's elaborate surveillance programme — it has complained about the theft of trade secrets. This was a point US President Barack Obama brought up in his meeting with Chinese representatives.

What About the Pivot?

Beyond the cyber realm, security competition between the US and China has taken on greater complexity due to a combination of Chinese assertiveness, the American response, and leadership transitions in both countries. China's new leadership under Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang has indicated a willingness to repair tense relations with neighbours. But sceptics argue that their conciliatory gestures mark a tactical shift rather than a sincere move, pointing to such incidents as the PLA's incursion in Ladakh in April.

The US, for its part, appears to be conflicted about the "pivot" or "rebalance" to Asia it announced two years ago. The pivot comes just as the US seeks to cut its military budget, and American officials have recently emphasised its non-military aspects, including a greater diplomatic presence and a more active role in Asian economic integration. Even these policies have been criticised for being too feeble.

Some have noted that US Secretary of State John Kerry seems far more intent on addressing thorny diplomatic problems in Middle East than on pursuing American objectives in Asia. Others have pointed to the Obama administration's lukewarm approach to international trade liberalisation. The political and military contradictions in China and the US also echo ambiguities in the economic space.

American leaders understand that a consumption-driven model may not be sustainable and that their economy will need to adapt to keep pace with new technologies and competitors. China's leaders, meanwhile, know that their country faces complex challenges associated with avoiding a middle-income trap and coping with decelerating growth. Many experts in the US and China believe that the answer lies in redressing the imbalances in the two economies.

The US needs to expand its manufacturing sector and cut its current account deficit, while China must transition away from exports and consume more. The decision by Chinese negotiators to drop some of their opposition to a bilateral investment treaty with the US could be seen in this light. But others question the merits of such an approach, believe that mutual interdependency will continue to prove politically stabilising, or simply think that such a rebalance will be impossible to achieve.

Given new leaderships in both countries, the fifth US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue could not have realistically provided either side with much greater clarity about the other's intentions. This is not reassuring for the rest of the world, for whom the relationship between the two most potent economic and military powers will have important consequences.

Op-eds and Articles

US-China bilateral relationship talks still lack strategic depth

The following article originally appeared in the Economic Times on July 17, 2013.

When the top diplomatic and economic leaders from the US and China met last week for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, there were few significant breakthroughs. But the annual official jamboree provided a good opportunity for both sides to take stock of their complex bilateral relationship, one that has become increasingly relevant for the rest of the international community.

Over the past year, cyber security has assumed greater salience in US-China relations. Although Washington has shied away from criticising Beijing for government snooping — the US is, after all, on weak ground in this respect, following revelations concerning the NSA's elaborate surveillance programme — it has complained about the theft of trade secrets. This was a point US President Barack Obama brought up in his meeting with Chinese representatives.

What About the Pivot?

Beyond the cyber realm, security competition between the US and China has taken on greater complexity due to a combination of Chinese assertiveness, the American response, and leadership transitions in both countries. China's new leadership under Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang has indicated a willingness to repair tense relations with neighbours. But sceptics argue that their conciliatory gestures mark a tactical shift rather than a sincere move, pointing to such incidents as the PLA's incursion in Ladakh in April.

The US, for its part, appears to be conflicted about the "pivot" or "rebalance" to Asia it announced two years ago. The pivot comes just as the US seeks to cut its military budget, and American officials have recently emphasised its non-military aspects, including a greater diplomatic presence and a more active role in Asian economic integration. Even these policies have been criticised for being too feeble.

Some have noted that US Secretary of State John Kerry seems far more intent on addressing thorny diplomatic problems in Middle East than on pursuing American objectives in Asia. Others have pointed to the Obama administration's lukewarm approach to international trade liberalisation. The political and military contradictions in China and the US also echo ambiguities in the economic space.

American leaders understand that a consumption-driven model may not be sustainable and that their economy will need to adapt to keep pace with new technologies and competitors. China's leaders, meanwhile, know that their country faces complex challenges associated with avoiding a middle-income trap and coping with decelerating growth. Many experts in the US and China believe that the answer lies in redressing the imbalances in the two economies.

The US needs to expand its manufacturing sector and cut its current account deficit, while China must transition away from exports and consume more. The decision by Chinese negotiators to drop some of their opposition to a bilateral investment treaty with the US could be seen in this light. But others question the merits of such an approach, believe that mutual interdependency will continue to prove politically stabilising, or simply think that such a rebalance will be impossible to achieve.

Given new leaderships in both countries, the fifth US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue could not have realistically provided either side with much greater clarity about the other's intentions. This is not reassuring for the rest of the world, for whom the relationship between the two most potent economic and military powers will have important consequences.

Op-eds and Articles

A Wider View of India's Foreign Policy Reveals Clear Strategy

The following article appeared on the New York Times' India Ink blog. An excerpt is reproduced below, and the full text can be accessed here.

There are many reasons why India’s foreign policy remains something of an enigma to analysts, scholars, and reporters — both in India and abroad. The Indian government is averse to publishing strategic documents of the kind regularly released by the United States, most European states and even China. A careerist bureaucracy and hypercompetitive national politics encourage secrecy in decision-making. Policymakers have traditionally been distrustful of researchers and journalists, both Indian and foreign. And the views of disgruntled critics outside of government resonate far more loudly than bland official pronouncements do. But it is nonetheless clear that India’s objectives since the end of the Cold War have remained remarkably consistent, and its performance surprisingly effective.

In essence, New Delhi’s goals have been characterized by three features...India’s successes have by no means been categorical. Implementation has often been found wanting, as with its difficulty in concluding trade and security agreements. India’s policymakers are also conscious of the country’s severe limitations, making them reluctant to commit to ambitious endeavors. And India, not unlike other rising powers, is often content to “free ride” on others, making it all the more eager to downplay its own capabilities.

At the same time, there is no question that the country has made extraordinary strides in achieving its goals over the past two decades. India has far more resources, security, and friends than it did in 1991, the year it was confronted by a balance-of-payments crisis, several conflagrating insurgencies and the collapse of its primary ally, the Soviet Union. Perhaps there is more to India’s strategic culture – and strategic ambition – than meets the eye.

Op-eds and Articles

A Wider View of India's Foreign Policy Reveals Clear Strategy

The following article appeared on the New York Times' India Ink blog. An excerpt is reproduced below, and the full text can be accessed here.

There are many reasons why India’s foreign policy remains something of an enigma to analysts, scholars, and reporters — both in India and abroad. The Indian government is averse to publishing strategic documents of the kind regularly released by the United States, most European states and even China. A careerist bureaucracy and hypercompetitive national politics encourage secrecy in decision-making. Policymakers have traditionally been distrustful of researchers and journalists, both Indian and foreign. And the views of disgruntled critics outside of government resonate far more loudly than bland official pronouncements do. But it is nonetheless clear that India’s objectives since the end of the Cold War have remained remarkably consistent, and its performance surprisingly effective.

In essence, New Delhi’s goals have been characterized by three features...India’s successes have by no means been categorical. Implementation has often been found wanting, as with its difficulty in concluding trade and security agreements. India’s policymakers are also conscious of the country’s severe limitations, making them reluctant to commit to ambitious endeavors. And India, not unlike other rising powers, is often content to “free ride” on others, making it all the more eager to downplay its own capabilities.

At the same time, there is no question that the country has made extraordinary strides in achieving its goals over the past two decades. India has far more resources, security, and friends than it did in 1991, the year it was confronted by a balance-of-payments crisis, several conflagrating insurgencies and the collapse of its primary ally, the Soviet Union. Perhaps there is more to India’s strategic culture – and strategic ambition – than meets the eye.

The Indian National Interest, Op-eds and Articles

The wages of distrust

Tackling a Mahatma Grade Problem In a discussion at Takshashila’s Bangalore centre several months ago on what might be India’s biggest problems, I nominated “lack of social trust” as one of the fundamental ones. In today’s new column in Business Standard—the old monthly column on geopolitics continues as usual—I argue that lack of trust is […]

Op-eds and Articles

The Great Sino-Indian Alpine Tent Party of 2013

My article on the Chinese border incursion at Depsang appeared in Foreign Policy on May 8, 2013. An excerpt is included below. The full article can be accessed here.The incursion will undoubtedly provoke greater skepticism in India about China's peacef...

Op-eds and Articles

The Great Sino-Indian Alpine Tent Party of 2013

My article on the Chinese border incursion at Depsang appeared in Foreign Policy on May 8, 2013. An excerpt is included below. The full article can be accessed here.The incursion will undoubtedly provoke greater skepticism in India about China's peacef...

Op-eds and Articles

http://www.mid-day.com/columnists/2013/may/070513-diplomacy-cracks-china-in-ladakh.htm

That India doesn’t officially know the Chinese version of the LAC lies at the heart of the problem. Despite repeated requests from New Delhi since December 1981, when the first round of boundary talks took place, China has refused to spell out its perception of the LAC. This has allowed China to increase its territorial claims while frequently changing its patrolling patterns. India has to emphasise Article 10 of the 1996 agreement on ‘CBMs in the Military Field along the LAC’, where “the two sides agree(d) to speed up the process of clarification and confirmation of the Line of Actual Control.” To prevent another Depchang like crisis, India must ensure both countries exchange maps duly marked with their respective versions of the LAC.

Op-eds and Articles

Diplomacy cracks China in Ladakh

That India doesn’t officially know the Chinese version of the LAC lies at the heart of the problem. Despite repeated requests from New Delhi since December 1981, when the first round of boundary talks took place, China has refused to spell out its perception of the LAC. This has allowed China to increase its territorial claims while frequently changing its patrolling patterns. India has to emphasise Article 10 of the 1996 agreement on ‘CBMs in the Military Field along the LAC’, where “the two sides agree(d) to speed up the process of clarification and confirmation of the Line of Actual Control.” To prevent another Depchang like crisis, India must ensure both countries exchange maps duly marked with their respective versions of the LAC.

Op-eds and Articles

Boston Bombing

My article on the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing appeared in the Economic Times on April 20, 2013. An excerpt is included below and the full text can be found here. Terrorism is at its most disturbing when it hits you close to home. For resid...

Op-eds and Articles

Boston Bombing

My article on the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing appeared in the Economic Times on April 20, 2013. An excerpt is included below and the full text can be found here. Terrorism is at its most disturbing when it hits you close to home. For resid...

Op-eds and Articles

Components of India's power

Finally, economic power. India’s growth and rise on the global stage were directly linked to its strong economic performance. The double-digit growth rates are history now and so is the global attention on India. Economic growth underpins everything else in the modern world. It is easy to do diplomacy when every country wants a share of your market or wants to trade with you. It is also easy to develop militarily – buy equipment, hire more people – when you have the money. With economic growth, even politics becomes easier: states focus on the politics of aspiration and not on an emotional politics of grievance. And informational power is a natural byproduct of your economic heft.