Archive for ‘Politics’

21/04/2015

Rahul Gandhi’s Speech: The Indian Media’s Surprise Verdict – India Real Time – WSJ

India’s punditocracy in recent weeks has loved to hate Rahul Gandhi.

Mr. Gandhi, the vice president of India’s opposition Congress party, was derided by some opinion-makers for taking a break from frontline politics in mid-February–and not returning until mid-April. But on Monday, in a speech before Parliament, Mr. Gandhi surprised many pundits.

Not by what he said — he attacked, as expected, the government’s proposed changes to India’s laws on purchasing land — but by the fact that he spoke at all.

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Mr. Gandhi, who is a member of Parliament, rarely speaks in India’s lower chamber, the Lok Sabha. In fact, this was only his first address since Congress lost badly in national elections almost a year ago.

Congress’s loss provoked deep soul-searching within the party about its future. Mr. Gandhi was Congress’s prime ministerial hopeful in that drubbing.

On Monday, Mr. Gandhi blasted India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his Bharatiya Janata Party, for proposed changes to the Land Acquisition Act that, among other things would make it easier for businesses and the government to buy land for defense, industrial corridors, affordable housing and infrastructure projects by removing a requirement to obtain the consent of more than two-thirds of landowners.

Mr. Gandhi’s Congress party argues these changes are bad for India’s huge population of farmers, who he described in Parliament as the country’s backbone. “Everything has been built on a foundation that has been provided to us by the farmer,” Mr. Gandhi told lawmakers.

Pictures of Mr. Gandhi, dressed in a close-fitting white kurta and flanked by some of the party’s youngest members of Parliament, filled television screens and set his name trending on Twitter on Monday evening.

It also put the ruling BJP on the defensive after months of relatively limited challenges from the Congress party.  A piece in the Indian Express newspaper said the government was pushed into “damage control after Rahul Gandhi’s attack over the agrarian situation.”

Sanjay Singh, who writes about politics for Firstpost, wrote that Mr. Gandhi’s “rather aggressive pitching in Parliament has surely charged up Congress’ ranks.”

Another piece, posted on the IBNLive website of the Indian news channel CNN-IBN, said Mr. Gandhi had shown “he is back and he means business.”

“Maybe it is the low expectations,” the IBNLive piece said, “but Rahul Gandhi was definitely on fire.” The article was published with no byline.

via Rahul Gandhi’s Speech: The Indian Media’s Surprise Verdict – India Real Time – WSJ.

20/04/2015

Chinese president to launch economic corridor link in Pakistan | Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Pakistan on Monday to launch $46 billion in projects linking the allies, a figure that would far exceed U.S. spending in Pakistan and underscores China’s economic ambitions in Asia and beyond.

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The infrastructure and energy projects are aimed at establishing a Pakistan-China Economic Corridor between Pakistan’s southern Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea and China’s western Xinjiang region.

The plan is part of China’s aim to forge “Silk Road” land and sea ties to markets in the Middle East and Europe and reflects a shift of economic power in the region to China, said Mushahid Hussain Sayed, chairman of the Pakistani parliament‘s defense committee.

“Pakistan, for China, is now of pivotal importance. This has to succeed and be seen to succeed,” he said.

The corridor, a network of roads, railways and pipelines, will pass through Pakistan’s poor Baluchistan province where a long-running separatist insurgency, which the army has again vowed to crush, will raise doubts about the feasibility of the plan.

The security of Chinese workers will be a prime concern for Xi. In his talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and military leaders, Xi is also likely to raise China’s fears that Muslim separatists from Xinjiang are teaming up with Pakistani militants.

Xi has linked economic cooperation with security.

“Our cooperation in the security and economic fields reinforce each other, and they must be advanced simultaneously,” he said in a statement to media on the eve of his two-day visit.

Xi is expected to call for greater efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, where Pakistan is keen to restrict the influence of is rival India.

via Chinese president to launch economic corridor link in Pakistan | Reuters.

19/04/2015

Govt may offer visa-on-arrival facility to Chinese tourists – The Hindu

An intelligence agency expressed reservations and suggested a cautious approach before taking a final decision.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh with Mahesh Sharma, MoS, Tourism at the launch of the tourist e-visa facility in New Delhi. File photo

Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed visit to China, India may extend the e-tourist visa facility to citizens of that country, despite strong opposition from an intelligence agency.

The matter was discussed threadbare at a recent high-level meeting, chaired by Union Home Secretary L.C. Goyal, during which the intelligence agency expressed reservations and suggested a cautious approach before taking a final decision.

The Tourism Ministry has been strongly advocating extending the e-tourist visa facility to five more countries, including China. The other four countries are the U.K., France, Italy and Spain.

Home Ministry officials said the intelligence agency has red-flagged granting of the e-tourist visa facility to Chinese nationals due to various reasons.

Frequent issuance of stapled visa by China to people from Arunachal Pradesh was one of the key reasons for the objection, an official said.

There is a possibility of announcement of visa-on-arrival facility to Chinese nationals before Mr. Modi’s proposed visit to China in May.

via Govt may offer visa-on-arrival facility to Chinese tourists – The Hindu.

16/04/2015

The Statesman: Roadmap for India-Canada free trade pact by Sept: Modi

India and Canada on Wednesday expressed commitment to have a free trade pact, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying a roadmap will be laid for the market opening agreement by September.

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Modi said the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) will also be concluded soon.

“I am confident that we can conclude the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement very soon.

“We will also implement the roadmap to conclude the Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreement by September 2015,” he said at a joint press conference with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper.

He said Canada has the potential to partner India’s economic transformation and “it exists in a new environment in India which is open, predictable, stable and easy to do business in”.

Prime Minister Harper and I are absolutely committed to establishing a new framework for economic partnership. I am pleased that we have made rapid progress on long-pending agreements,” Modi said.

On the free trade pact, Harper said there are many issues in this to be resolved, but “we are committed to see it through”.

Harper further said there was no reason why Canada should not have a free trade pact with India which “is a vibrant democracy. Nothing precludes that”.

The Canadian Prime Minister said while the trade between the two countries has increased, “it is still not as much as it should be”.

He expressed confidence that nuclear agreement signed today with India will raise the bilateral trade volume further.

The bilateral trade increased to USD 5.18 billion in 2013-14 from USD 4.83 billion in previous year.

via The Statesman: Roadmap for India-Canada free trade pact by Sept: Modi.

14/04/2015

The Statesman: Let’s make India Ambedkar dreamt of: Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday paid tributes to to BR Ambedkar on his 124th birth anniversary, and said, “Let us pledge to dedicate ourselves to creating India that Ambedkar dreamt of…an India that will make him proud”.

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“I bow to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar on his birth anniversary – Jai Bhim,” the prime minister said in a message.

“Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar is a yug purush (man of the era) who lives in the hearts and minds of crores of Indians. His life is characterised by unmatched determination and a firm commitment towards social justice. He made a mark as a bright lawyer, scholar, writer and intellectual who always spoke his mind,” Modi said.

He added: “Who can forget Dr. Ambedkar’s contribution in the making of our Constitution? He served the nation and the people tirelessly and selflessly.”

“Let us pledge to dedicate ourselves to creating the India that Dr. Ambedkar dreamt of…an India that will make him proud.”

via The Statesman: Let’s make India Ambedkar dreamt of: Modi.

14/04/2015

Why the Trial of Former Chinese Oil Executive Jiang Jiemin Matters – China Real Time Report – WSJ

A court in central China’s Hubei province today began hearing the case of Jiang Jiemin, the former chairman of China’s biggest oil company who also briefly headed a government commission that oversees state-owned firms.

Though Mr. Jiang may not be a household name, his trial marks the most senior-level prosecution of a Communist Party official in President Xi Jinping’s anticorruption drive, which has targeted both large state industries and their political backers over the past two years.

Far more important than his past role as head of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission was Mr. Jiang’s previous tenure as chairman of China National Petroleum Corp. Following his appointment to that role in 2011, CNPC’s revenue rose, and it grew to rival Exxon Mobil Corp. in total market value.

Mr. Jiang was tapped to head Sasac in 2013, just as several other oil-company executives were becoming ensnared in corruption allegations or disappeared from view.

While Sasac oversees state-owned companies, in practice analysts say it is weaker than the larger, clout-wielding companies it supervises.

Mr. Jiang’s trial is being closely watched in part to see if it yields any details about the circumstances surrounding the downfall of Zhou Yongkang, the country’s granite-faced former security chief, who was formally charged with bribery and abuse of power earlier this month. Mr. Jiang had risen through the ranks of the country’s oil industry under Mr. Zhou.

It is also being watched for further details of corruption investigations involving other politicians and officials in the country’s oil industry, a key target for Mr. Xi’s campaign. The trial began at 8:30 a.m. Monday and was announced in a brief notice on the Hubei Hanjiang Intermediate People’s Court Weibo account. Without elaborating, the court said Mr. Jiang faces charges in connection to bribe-taking, holding a large amount of property that came from unidentified sources and abuse of power.

The court said Mr. Jiang has a lawyer and didn’t object to the charges that include taking bribes, holding assets from unexplained sources and abusing his power.

Like Mr. Jiang, Mr. Zhou had previously served as the head of CNPC. A wide network of Mr. Zhou’s acquaintances and family members have been caught up in a far-flung investigation involving deals in areas where Mr. Zhou oversaw power, involving deals worth tens of millions or more.

Officials of Mr. Zhou’s standing have traditionally been considered off limits, but under Mr. Xi, that is changing.

Mr. Zhou is expected to face trial as are other associates, including Li Chuncheng, former deputy party secretary of Sichuan, who worked under Mr. Zhou from 1999-2002

via Why the Trial of Former Chinese Oil Executive Jiang Jiemin Matters – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

10/04/2015

Opinion polls: The critical masses | The Economist

IN RECENT weeks official media have published a flurry of opinion polls. One in China Daily showed that most people in the coastal cities of Shanghai and Guangzhou think that smog is getting worse. Another noted the high salary expectations of university students. Yet another found that over two-thirds of respondents in Henan province in central China regard local officials as inefficient and neglectful of their duties. For decades the Communist Party has claimed to embody and express the will of the masses. Now it is increasingly seeking to measure that will—and let it shape at least some of the party’s policies.

Since the party seized power in 1949 it has repeatedly unleashed public opinion only to suppress it with force, from the “Hundred Flowers Campaign” in 1956, when it briefly tolerated critical voices, to the student-led protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. For the past two decades, the party has effectively bought people’s obedience by promising—and delivering—a better, richer future. This will be tougher in the years ahead as the economy slows. Members of a huge new middle class are demanding more from their government in areas ranging from the environment to the protection of property rights. So the party must respond to concerns in order to retain its legitimacy.

Xi Jinping, who took over as China’s leader in 2012, has shown even less inclination than his predecessors to let citizens express their preferences through the ballot box. Yet the public has become ever more vocal on a wide variety of issues—online, through protests, and increasingly via responses to opinion polls and government-arranged consultations over the introduction of some new laws. The party monitors this clamour to detect possible flashpoints, and it frequently censors dissent. But the government is also consulting people, through opinion polls that try to establish their views on some of the big issues of the day as well as on specific policies. Its main aim is to devise ways to keep citizens as happy as possible in their daily lives. It avoids stickier subjects such as political reform or human rights. But people are undoubtedly gaining a stronger voice.

via Opinion polls: The critical masses | The Economist.

10/04/2015

Banyan: Where all Silk Roads lead | The Economist

NOT content with both purifying the Chinese Communist Party which he heads and with reforming his country, China’s president, Xi Jinping, also wants to reshape the economic and political order in Asia. With the flair that Chinese leaders share for pithy but rather bewildering encapsulations, his vision for the continent is summed up in official jargon as “One Belt, One Road”. As Mr Xi describes it, most recently last month at the Boao Forum, China’s tropical-beach imitation of Davos’s ski slopes, the belt-road concept will “answer the call of our time for regional and global co-operation”. Not everybody is convinced. Some see it as no more than an empty slogan; others as a thinly disguised Chinese plot to supplant America as Asia’s predominant power. Both criticisms seem misplaced. Mr Xi is serious about the idea. And it is less a “plot” than a public manifesto.

Mr Xi first floated the idea in 2013, in Kazakhstan. He mooted a “a Silk Road economic belt” of improved infrastructure along the main strands of what, centuries ago, was the network of overland routes used by silk traders and others to carry merchandise to and from China through Central Asia and Russia to northern Europe and Venice on the Adriatic. In Indonesia, Mr Xi proposed “a 21st-century maritime Silk Road”, reaching Europe by sea from cities on China’s south-eastern seaboard via Vietnam, Indonesia itself, India, Sri Lanka, east Africa and the Suez Canal. At the time, the proposals sounded rather fluffy—the sort of thing travelling leaders often trot out, harking back to a distant past of supposedly harmonious exchanges.

In the past few months, however, the idea has been given a real push. China has gone further toward putting its money where Mr Xi’s mouth is. It has promised $50 billion to its new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which despite American opposition has sparked a race in which 47 countries have applied to join as founding shareholders. China has earmarked a further $40 billion for a “Silk Road fund”, to invest in infrastructure along the land belt and the maritime road. One motive for this splurge is self-interest. Chinese firms hope to win many of the engineering projects—roads, railways, ports and pipelines—that the new “connectivity” will demand. Improved transport links will benefit Chinese exporters. And helping its neighbours’ development will create new markets. That China seems to have realised this has led to comparisons with the Marshall Plan, America’s aid to help western Europe rebuild after the second world war.

China does not like that analogy, since it sees the Marshall Plan as part of America’s containment of the Soviet Union. It insists that its initiatives are for the benefit of all of humanity and are—favourite catchphrase—“win-win”. But it certainly hopes money and investment can win friends. Yan Xuetong, a prominent Chinese international-relations expert, has argued that the country needs to “purchase” friendly relationships with its neighbours.

In Central Asia, battered by low oil prices and plummeting remittances from migrant workers in Russia, the prospect of greater Chinese involvement is welcomed. Russia itself, though wary of China’s steady erosion of its influence in the former Soviet states of the region, is now too dependent on Chinese goodwill to do other than cheer. On the maritime route, however, suspicion of Chinese intentions is rife. Its arrogant behaviour in the South China Sea, where it is engaged in a construction spree to turn disputed rocks into disputed islands, has given the impression that it feels it can simply bully its smaller neighbours.

So the initial reaction in South-East Asia to the belt and road has been sceptical. In Malaysia, where the government’s usual response to a proposal from China is to applaud first and ask questions later, the defence minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, has said the maritime Silk Road has “raised questions” and that it must come across as a joint (that is, regional) initiative, rather than as a solely Chinese one. Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, who says he wants to turn his country into a “global maritime fulcrum”, was doubtful at first. But he now seems inclined to help—unsurprisingly since his own plan involves massive investment in ports and other infrastructure to which, he hopes, China will contribute. A visit to China last month yielded a joint statement promising a “maritime partnership” and describing his and Mr Xi’s visions as “complementary”. But Mr Joko had also made clear before arriving in Beijing that Indonesia did not accept China’s territorial claims in South-East Asian waters.

In India, another new leader, Narendra Modi, the prime minister, has his own approach to these issues. He visited Sri Lanka, Mauritius and the Seychelles last month, three Indian Ocean countries to which he promised greater co-operation and spelled out India’s own interests as a maritime power. This was not presented as a riposte to China’s plans. But in January Mr Modi and Barack Obama produced a joint “strategic vision”. Implicitly, India’s response to China’s maritime ambitions has been to reinvigorate ties with small neighbours and to cleave closer to America.

via Banyan: Where all Silk Roads lead | The Economist.

09/04/2015

China to Build Pipeline From Iran to Pakistan – China Real Time Report – WSJ

China will build a pipeline to bring natural gas from Iran to Pakistan to help address Pakistan’s acute energy shortage, under a deal to be signed during the Chinese president’s visit to Islamabad this month, Pakistani officials said. As the WSJ’s Saeed Shah reports:

The arrival of President Xi Jinping is expected to showcase China’s commitment to infrastructure development in ally Pakistan, at a time when few other countries are willing to make major investments in cash-strapped, terrorism-plagued, Pakistan.

The pipeline would amount to an early benefit for both Pakistan and Iran from the framework agreement reached earlier this month between Tehran and the U.S. and other world powers to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The U.S. had previously threatened Pakistan with sanctions if it went ahead with the project.

Dubbed the “Peace Pipeline,” the project will further bolster improving ties between Pakistan and Iran, which had been uneasy neighbors for decades as a result of Pakistan’s ties to Iran’s long-term adversaries, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

“We’re building it,” Pakistani Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi told The Wall Street Journal, referring to the pipeline. “The process has started.”

The pipeline will bring much-needed gas to Pakistan, which suffers from a crippling electricity deficit because of a shortage of fuel for its power-generation plants. Pakistan has been negotiating for months behind the scenes for China to build the Pakistani portion of the pipeline, which will cost up to $2 billion.

via China to Build Pipeline From Iran to Pakistan – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

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