Archive for ‘Politics’


Japanese Prime Minister Avoids Controversial War Shrine – Businessweek

On Friday morning, while several members of his cabinet marked the anniversary of World War II’s end by visiting a controversial shrine in Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wisely decided to sleep in. He had caused a storm last December by paying a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead. By skipping Yasukuni, Abe may have improved the chances of a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping that could help defuse tensions between the two countries.

The Imperial chrysanthemum crest is displayed at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo

The shrine has long been a problem for Chinese and Koreans. The Chinese media often refers to the shrine as “notorious.” “Each and every visit here by officials upsets and incenses Japan’s neighboring countries,” says a Xinhua commentary published on Friday. The shrine is a symbol “of the brutality of Japanese rule and military expansion,” Lee Won Deog, a professor of Japanese studies at Kookmin University in Seoul, told Bloomberg News. By visiting Yasukuni anyway, Japanese politicians show that “Japan continues to overlook the pain it caused its neighbors during its imperial expansion.”

A look at the shrine’s website shows why visits are so sensitive. In describing the shrine and the almost 2.5 million people it honors, Yasukuni does whitewash Japan’s history of aggression toward its neighbors. Some of the souls enshrined at Yasukuni died as Imperial Japan colonized Korea and Taiwan, occupied Manchuria, and brutalized many parts of China. But according to Yasukuni’s narrative, they died “to protect their country,” and “all sacrificed their lives to the public duty of protecting their motherland.” The shrine “is a place for Japanese people to show their appreciation and respect to those who died to protect their mother country, Japan.”

And what about the World War II-era war criminals enshrined there? Yasukini says not that they were convicted, but rather, that some “were labeled war criminals” (emphasis added) and executed after trials by the victorious Allies.

Some Japanese politicians worry about the way the shrine talks about Japan’s past militarism. Yasukuni “pays homage to war criminals, and exhibitions within its walls extol wars,” former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said in an interview with the China Daily published on Thursday. “I think the best solution is that prime ministers and cabinet members shun the shrine.”

Abe, though, is trying to have it both ways: He didn’t visit today, but two members of his cabinet did—and the prime minister sent a donation through an aide.

via Japanese Prime Minister Avoids Controversial War Shrine – Businessweek.


Modi Sends India’s Soviet-Inspired Planning Commission Packing – India Real Time – WSJ

India’s prime minister used his inaugural Independence Day speech last Friday to cut off an arm of the country’s government that dates back nearly all the way to independence: the powerful, unloved and sometimes irrelevant-seeming Planning Commission.

The body was the creation of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, who took from the experience of Japan and the Soviet Union the lesson that late-industrializing countries needed to use state intervention to transform their economies from the “commanding heights.” In the words of the 1950 cabinet resolution that created the commission: “The need for comprehensive planning based on a careful appraisal of resources and on an objective analysis of all the relevant economic factors has become imperative.”

Narendra Modi said on Friday that India could do better. The new prime minister said circumstances had changed since the commission’s creation. He said the federal government wasn’t the only driver of economic growth, and that state governments needed to be empowered to innovate. He promised the creation of a new institution that would serve as a platform for exchanging economic-policy ideas within government.

The announcement wasn’t unforeseen. The prime minister serves ex officio as the Planning Commission’s chairman. But Mr. Modi had spent his first months in office leaving the commission’s other full-time seats conspicuously unfilled. As a former chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, Mr. Modi was said at the time of his election this spring to have a strong interest in giving state governments more space to set budget priorities.

Killing the Planning Commission won’t entirely decentralize government spending in India. Federal tax revenue, according to the country’s constitution, is first distributed between the central and state governments by the Finance Commission. The Planning Commission then allocates spending to states along lines laid out in its Five-Year Plan for the economy.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, at least. Critics have accused the Planning Commission of gradually usurping the Finance Commission’s role as chief arbiter between the federal and state governments, all in the service of Five-Year Plans that are meticulously crafted but rarely achieved. The current plan, which covers 2012 to 2017, runs to three volumes and more than 1,000 pages. It covers all and sundry from boosting the manufacturing sector and increasing female literacy to promoting sports medicine and modernizing the powerloom sector.

The Five-Year Plans pervade policy making in India, at least in name if not always in effect. All federal expenditure is classified as either “plan” or “non-plan,” depending on whether it is undertaken in pursuit of the current Five-Year Plan. The Planning Commission occupies a monolithic grayish structure in New Delhi—Yojana Bhawan, or “Planning House”—just down the road from Parliament.

via Modi Sends India’s Soviet-Inspired Planning Commission Packing – India Real Time – WSJ.


Rule of law: Realigning justice in China | The Economist

IN JULY Zhou Qiang, the president of China’s Supreme People’s Court, visited Yan’an, the spiritual home of the Communist Party in rural Shaanxi province, to lead local court officials there in an old communist ritual: self-criticism. “I have grown accustomed to having the final say and often have preconceived ideas when making decisions,” one local judge told the meeting. “I try to avoid taking a stand in major cases,” said a judicial colleague. “I don’t want to get into trouble.”

In China’s judiciary such shortcomings are the norm. But change may be coming. On July 29th it was announced that the party’s Central Committee, comprising more than 370 leaders, will gather in October to discuss ways of strengthening the rule of law, a novelty for such a gathering. President Xi Jinping, who is waging a sweeping campaign against corruption, says he wants the courts to help him “lock power in a cage”. Officials have begun to recognise that this will mean changing the kind of habits that prevail in Yan’an and throughout the judicial system.

Long before Mr Xi, leaders had often talked about the importance of the rule of law. But they showed little enthusiasm for reforms that would take judicial authority away from party officials and give it to judges. The court system in China is often just a rubber-stamp for decisions made in secret by party committees in cahoots with police and prosecutors. The party still cannot abide the idea of letting a freely elected legislature write the laws, nor even of relinquishing its control over the appointment of judges. But it is talking up the idea of making the judiciary serve as the constitution says it should: “independently … and not subject to interference”.

In June state media revealed that six provincial-level jurisdictions would become testing grounds for reforms. Full details have not been announced, but they appear aimed at allowing judges to decide more for themselves, at least in cases that are not politically sensitive.

There is a lot of room for improvement. Judges are generally beholden to local interests. They are hired and promoted at the will of their jurisdiction’s party secretary (or people who report to him), and they usually spend their entire careers at the same court in which they started. They have less power in their localities than do the police or prosecutors, or even politically connected local businessmen. A judge is often one of the least powerful figures in his own courtroom.

“It’s not a career that gets much respect,” says Ms Sun, a former judge in Shanghai who quit her job this year (and who asked to be identified only by her surname). The port city is one of the reform test-beds. “Courts are not independent so as a result they don’t have credibility, and people don’t believe in the law.” She says people often assume judges are corrupt.

Career prospects are unappealing for the young and well-educated like Ms Sun, who got her law degree from Peking University. The overall quality of judges has risen dramatically in recent decades, but there are still plenty of older, senior judges with next to no formal legal training. Seeing no opportunity for advancement after eight years, Ms Sun left for a law firm and a big multiple of her judge’s salary of about 120,000 yuan ($19,000) a year. She says many other young judges are leaving.

It is unclear how much the mooted changes will alleviate these concerns. Those Shanghai courts that are participating in the pilot reforms (not all are) are expected to raise judges’ pay. They are also expected greatly to reduce the number of judges, though younger ones fear they are more likely to be culled than their less qualified but better connected seniors.

The most important reforms will affect the bureaucracies that control how judges are hired and promoted. Responsibility will be taken away from the cities and counties where judges try their cases, or from the districts in the case of provincial-level megacities like Shanghai. It will be shifted upwards to provincial-level authorities—in theory making it more difficult for local officials to persuade or order judges to see things their way on illegal land seizures, polluting factories and so on.

Central leaders have a keen interest in stamping out such behaviour because it tarnishes the party’s image. But many local officials, some of whom make a lot of money from land-grabs and dirty factories, will resist change. With the help of the police they will probably find other means to make life difficult for unco-operative judges. And provincial authorities are still likely to interfere in some cases handled by lower-level courts, sometimes in order to help out county-level officials.

via Rule of law: Realigning justice | The Economist.


Modi Targets Bureaucrats, Manufacturing and Toilets in Independence-Day Speech – India Real Time – WSJ

In his first Independence Day speech Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi listed the issues he plans to focus on as the leader of the world’s largest democracy: bickering bureaucrats, women’s rights, manufacturing jobs, trash and toilets.

“You might say Independence Day is an opportunity to talk about big ideas and make big declarations. But sometimes, when these declarations are not fulfilled, they plunge society into disappointment,”said Mr. Modi, who is the South Asian nation’s first prime minister born after India gained independence from Britain 67 years ago. “That’s why I’m talking about things we can achieve in our time.”

Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party was propelled to power by Indians who, hungry for better jobs and a higher standard of living, grew frustrated with slowing growth under the previous Congress-led government. Since coming to power in May, Mr. Modi has made some cautious policy moves, disappointing some of his supporters who had expected immediate and bold change from his administration.

Addressing the nation from the ramparts of New Delhi’s regal Red Fort Friday, Mr. Modi said he plans to set the government in order and stop bureaucratic squabbling, underlining his focus on administrative processes rather than economic overhauls. As “an outsider” to New Delhi, he said, he has been shocked since taking office to find that “there were dozens of governments inside the government,” each with “its own fiefdom.”

“Departments are fighting each other, suing each other in the Supreme Court,” Mr. Modi said. “How can they move the country forward?”

In his nearly hour-long speech delivered largely in Hindi, Mr. Modi reiterated his focus on making India a global manufacturing hub and export powerhouse.

Offering a new slogan in English, “Come, make in India,” Mr. Modi invited the world to come to India to manufacture.

“Sell anywhere in the world but make it here,” he said. “Electricals to electronics, chemicals to pharmaceuticals, automobiles to agro-products, paper or plastic, satellites or submarines — Come, make in India.”

Mr. Modi questioned why India needs to import “every little thing,” and urged the country’s youth to open factories and export goods.

Manufacturing makes up only around 15% of India’s gross domestic product as most of its rapid expansion over the last decades has come from the service sector. During spring elections the BJP said it planned to create millions of new jobs if elected. Economists say one of the best ways India can generate employment is through exports.

While India’s labor costs are among the lowest in the world, it has consistently failed to become an export powerhouse like China and Asia’s other largest economies.

Prime Minister Modi also announced initiatives aimed at modernizing India: a nationwide drive for cleanliness that would boost tourism, a program for parliamentarians to transform villages, one by one, into “model villages,” encouraging politicians and companies to build more toilets so people don’t have to use the outdoors and a push to open bank accounts for all Indians.

Mr. Modi also used his speech to address an issue the new opposition has been demanding discussion on: religious violence. A Hindu nationalist leader accused of not doing enough to stop communal violence in the state of Gujarat in 2002 when he was chief minister there, Mr. Modi Friday urged Indians to stop communal fighting. Just this week, opposition parties accused the BJP of polarizing Indians on religious lines and analysts have blamed Mr. Modi of not addressing recent tensions.

“Who benefits from this poison of communalism? It is an impediment to growth,” Mr. Modi said. “Let us choose peace instead and see how it propels our nation forward.”

via Modi Targets Bureaucrats, Manufacturing and Toilets in Independence-Day Speech – India Real Time – WSJ.


War of Words Erupts Between India and Pakistan – India Real Time – WSJ

An all-to-familiar war of words has erupted between India and Pakistan, threatening to undo efforts to bridge the gap between the estranged neighbors, who have fought three wars since independence from Britain 67 years ago.

The latest rhetorical salvo was fired Wednesday by India’s foreign ministry, which said “mere denials or selective approaches toward terrorism” by Pakistan wouldn’t assuage Indian concerns about what it sees as backing from Islamabad for Islamic terror attacks on Indian soil.

This week’s bickering started when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on a visit to the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday, said Pakistan, too weak to fight a conventional war, was using terror groups to wage a “proxy war against India.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry the next day denounced Mr. Modi’s criticism as “baseless rhetoric.”

“It would be in the larger interest of the regional peace that instead of engaging in a blame game, the two countries should focus on resolving all issues through dialogue,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif to Delhi for his swearing-in ceremony, it ignited hope for better relations between the estranged neighbors.

The two countries’ foreign secretaries are scheduled to meet in Islamabad on Aug. 25 to “look at the way forward” in the bilateral relationship. But the current spat could cast a shadow over the meeting.

That poses a problem. Deep-rooted suspicion between India and Pakistan has stymied attempts at achieving greater economic integration and better connectivity in the region. Relations between India and Pakistan, a close ally of neighbouring China, also have a major impact on regional stability.

via War of Words Erupts Between India and Pakistan – India Real Time – WSJ.


Chinese medical workers arrive in Sierra Leone’s Freetown to battle Ebola – Xinhua |

A team of three Chinese medical workers arrived in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown on late Tuesday to help the country fight against the deadliest-ever Ebola virus which has claimed over 1,000 lives in west African countries.

Chinese disease control experts arrive in Sierra Leone

The first batch of three medical workers arrived in Guinea on Monday and another three medical staff are expected to carry out anti-Ebola work in Liberia soon, medical sources told Xinhua.

China announced on Sunday it would send three expert teams and medical supplies to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to assist in the prevention and control of the Ebola virus, with each medical team composed of one epidemiologist and two specialists in disinfection and protection.

China announced on Sunday that it would provide relief worth 30 million yuan (4.9 million U.S. dollars) to the three countries. It was the second round of Ebola relief from China so far.

via Chinese medical workers arrive in Sierra Leone’s Freetown to battle Ebola – Xinhua |


China Demands that Japan Return the Plundered Honglujing Stele – Businessweek

Islands. Airspace. Antiquities. Until now, China has concentrated its attention on the first two as it fights against Japan for dominance in East Asia. In focusing on the wrongs done by Imperial Japan before and during World War II, China’s government has escalated its claims to uninhabited islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan and has designated airspace in the area as its own.

The Honglujing Stele is housed in Tokyo's Imperial Palace, home to Japan's Emperor Akihito

The dispute has had humorous moments, such as the time officials invoked Voldemort.  The conflict has potential to become far more dangerous, though, with ships and planes from both sides provoking one another. On Tuesday, for instance, Chinese Coast Guard vessels patrolled near the islands, called the Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China.

China’s foreign ministry voiced “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” last week to a white paper published by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government that had expressed concern over China’s behavior in the East China Sea and South China Sea. Over the weekend, China’s defense ministry followed with a statement accusing Japan of looking for excuses to re-militarize.

China has plenty of ways to poke its neighbor. Determined to leave no grievance unaired, China has opened a fresh front in its battle against Japan: A group has  demanded the return of a 1,300-year-old relic that Japanese soldiers whisked away from China’s northeast a century ago.  The Honglujing Stele, three meters wide, 1.8 meters tall, and two meters thick, dates back to the Tang Dynasty and now belongs to Japan’s Emperor, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

A group called the China Federation of Demanding Compensation from Japan is now demanding that the Emperor give it back. Stolen items such as the Honglujing Stele “have done great damage to Sino-Japanese ties,” Wang Jinsi, the federation official in charge of recovering cultural relics, told Xinhua. “They should be returned to their rightful owner.”

That may be, but Wang’s group has chosen an interesting time to make its point. As Xinhua points out, Japanese troops went on a rampage in the mainland in the 50 years between China’s defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War and the end of the Second World War, with Japan stealing some 3.6 million relics. Only now is the Chinese group calling on the imperial family to return one of them.

via China Demands that Japan Return the Plundered Honglujing Stele – Businessweek.


China Names U.S. as the Top Destination for ‘Economic Fugitives’ – Businessweek

China’s wealthy elite is fleeing the country for a better quality of life—better education, better air, and greater personal security. China’s Ministry of Public Security has just added a further potential reason: fleeing the police.

“The U.S. has become the top destination for Chinese [economic] fugitives,” Liao Jinrong, a ministry official told state-run China Daily on Monday. According to the English-language newspaper, “More than 150 economic fugitives from China, most of whom are corrupt officials or face allegations of corruption, remain at large in the United States.”

While this is a rather incredible admission, the intent of the article—no doubt placed by China’s propaganda authorities—seems to be to make the case for an extradition treaty between the U.S. and China. “We face practical difficulties in getting fugitives who fled to the US back to face trial due to the lack of an extradition treaty and the complex and lengthy legal procedures,” Liao told the paper.

via China Names U.S. as the Top Destination for ‘Economic Fugitives’ – Businessweek.


Class divide puts English to the test in India’s civil services

Indian students in recent weeks have protested the use of English in the country’s difficult civil service examinations. The students, usually from Hindi-speaking regions of India, say that the exams reflect a class divide: if you speak and write English well, you are seen as part of the educated, urban elite. If you do not, it’s because you are one of the disadvantaged, usually from smaller towns or villages.

English is a tricky subject in India. A language imposed by colonists who exploited the people and resources of the land for centuries, it also was the one language that people seeking independence from the British could use to speak to one another. It remains one of two official languages across India, though many people do not speak it well or at all. I spoke to some of the civil service aspirants who have complained about the language requirement and the structure of the exams, and learned about the role that they hope the exam will play in their lives.

Ashutosh Sharma is a 25-year-old psychology graduate from Basti district of Uttar Pradesh, who has been camping in Delhi’s Mukherjee Nagar neighbourhood for the past two years, hoping that he will crack the examination one day.

“The entire protest is presented as a language issue. It’s much more than that. It’s about how a group of elite people in the country want to govern the things. How they cannot digest that a villager, who doesn’t match their lavish lifestyle, rises to the ranks on the basis of his knowledge and hard work,” he said.

Ashutosh said he comes from a village, and is better acquainted with the problems the country faces in these places. “When I was in the village primary school, I remember that the teacher would hardly come to take classes. There was no accountability. As a district magistrate, I would know better how the problem can be fixed and I can deal with the problem regardless of whether I speak English or not.”

via India Insight.


Modi has realised that India needs to be a regional power before it can be a global one

One of the many pet projects of those inclined more to the right has been turning the dream of “Akhand Bharat“, or Undivided India, into a reality. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s education saffroniser-in-chief, Dinanath Batra, has even written about the subject in his book Tejomay Bharat, which will now be stocked in Gujarat school libraries. “Undivided India is the truth, divided India is a lie,” Batra writes, referring to a vision of the nation that begins as far west as Afghanistan and goes all the way till Burma, including everything in between. “Division of India is unnatural and it can be united again,” Batra suggests.

Of course, no one in the government has spoken of Akhand Bharat and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has never clearly explained his understanding of the concept. There is no indication that the government intends to implement any policy that aims to reinstate this fanciful notion of what India once was and there is no reason to believe there will be.

But the concept could be a rubric by which to understand the Modi government’s approach to foreign policy, particularly in the neighbourhood. From the very get-go Modi announced his intention to reinvigorate ties with India’s neighbours by inviting to his swearing-in ceremony each of the leaders from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation — the primary multilateral forum for subcontinental nations.

Just two-and-a-half-months in, the PM has visited two of India’s neighbours, his foreign minister has visited four, and India is set to become part of multilateral organisations that will give it many more opportunities to project itself as a regional powerhouse. This is Akhand Bharat 2.0.

Regional power

Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj is currently in Myanmar, the fourth neighbourhood country that she has visited in the last three months. But it was the trip made by Modi to Nepal that really sent a statement, since it was the first visit by an Indian prime minister to the country in 17 years. He received an enthusiastic reception.

“All governments that come to power in India feel that we must improve our relationship with the neighbourhood,” said Kanwal Sibal, a former foreign secretary. “But the difference is that, whereas in the past it remained at the level of rhetoric, in this case they are translating it into concrete initiatives. The fact that an Indian PM visited Nepal after 17 years is a testimony to the fact that, despite our professed position about needing a secure neighbourhood, we have actually neglected it… that is changing.”

That message was sent at the very beginning with the invitations handed out to each of the SAARC leaders for Modi’s swearing-in, all of which were accepted — with the exception of Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina, but only because she was on another diplomatic visit at the time. The sight of all the leaders in front of Rashtrapati Bhavan, and Modi dedicating his first day in office to bilateral talks with them, sent a very clear signal. The PM made his first foreign visit to Bhutan, a country deeply connected to India but not particularly important in terms of foreign policy.

“It shows that they understand that unless India is a dominant regional power, we can hardly be an extra-regional power or a world power,” said Manoj Joshi, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. “They seem to definitely be working on this understanding, especially because we are facing stiff competition from the Chinese when it comes to projecting power in the neighbourhood.”

Leading South Asia

It’s not just symbolism and rhetoric either. Modi’s visits to Bhutan and Nepal have been accompanied by important agreements, such as a $1 billion line of credit to Kathmandu, as well as the promise of further talks. Discussions with Bangladesh have also indicated progress on key stumbling blocks between the two nations. Modi has also spoken of using the SAARC framework to further cooperation in the neighbourhood. His suggestion of a SAARC space satellite, for example, while criticised by some as a gimmick, certainly sent a message that he is looking beyond the potential disputes towards projects that would allow the countries to work together.

“He has staked his leadership of the region, and this is important,” Sibal said. “There is a gesture to friendship in the neighbourhood, but he has also put across the message that India is leading the region. India is not going to neglect its neighbourhood, and it will take the lead in creating synergies that can benefit all.”

via – News. Politics. Culture..


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