Archive for ‘Politics’

25/11/2014

India-Pakistan Sparring Opens Door for China in South Asia – Businessweek

For a senior Afghan diplomat sitting in India’s capital, it’s easy to explain how a region with a quarter of the world’s people can account for only five percent of global trade.

Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping

“India and Pakistan need to overcome their problems,” M. Ashraf Haidari, deputy chief of mission at Afghanistan’s embassy in New Delhi, said in an interview ahead of this week’s meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC. “Summits happen, leaders come, there’s all this consensus and declarations announced. But unfortunately it doesn’t happen in reality.”

As leaders of eight SAARC countries meet in Nepal this week for the first time since 2011, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has more reasons than ever to turn the bloc into a regional force to counter China’s growing influence in South Asia. Doing so will require him to overcome differences with Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif.

So far, things aren’t looking good. Modi’s government scrapped talks with Pakistan in August, which was followed by the worst border fighting between the countries in a decade. At the same time, China has promised SAARC nations part of a $40 billion Silk Road fund to finance infrastructure investments.

“SAARC won’t be able to counter China’s influence,” said Nishan de Mel, executive director and head of research at Colombo-based Verite Research Pvt., a policy research group. “China tends to have an approach that isn’t too demanding and isn’t politically difficult for the partner country and where the partner country will tend to see benefits quite quickly. India’s approach tends to be more hard-nosed.”

via India-Pakistan Sparring Opens Door for China in South Asia – Businessweek.

25/11/2014

China’s Railroad Ventures Abroad Project Soft Power – Businessweek

Last week state-owned China Railway Construction Corp. (CRCC) signed a lucrative contract with Nigeria to build an 870-mile coastal railroad from Lagos to Calabar, two of the West African nation’s leading cities. The price tag: $12 billion. That makes it the largest single overseas engineering contract awarded to any Chinese company, according to state-run Xinhua newswire.

Chinese and Venezuelan construction workers build an elevated platform at China Railway Engineering Corporation's (CREC) Tinaco-Anaco railway project in Los Dos Caminos, Venezuela in 2012

Beijing hopes many more deals will follow. In recent months, Chinese leaders on overseas missions have often bragged of the country’s prowess in building railroads, including high-speed bullet trains.

In May, Li Keqiang made his first diplomatic trip as China’s premier to Africa, visiting Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola, and Kenya. At the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, he said he envisioned a bright future for the continent when African capitals would be connected by high-speed rail. And China, he added, according to Xinhua, could “help make this dream come true.”

In early November, a consortium of Chinese companies led by CRCC won a $3.7 billion contract to build a bullet train in Mexico; that contract was canceled a few days later due to suspected corruption on the Mexican side. But the aborted deal is still a sign of overseas demand for China’s rail technology.

Nor are rail deals limited to developing nations: In October, Boston’s transit authority signed a $567 million contract with China’s CNR Corp. to build 284 subway cars.

In addition to stimulating domestic manufacturing demand for steel and rail equipment exports, China’s leaders hope the flurry of railway deals will have soft power benefits as well. The Nigerian railroad will be “a mutually beneficial project,” as CRCC Chairman Meng Fengchao told Xinhua. He pledged to hire at least several thousand workers from Nigeria; in the past, Chinese companies have been criticized for bringing in Chinese workers to complete large engineering projects, thus denying work opportunities to local populations.

via China’s Railroad Ventures Abroad Project Soft Power – Businessweek.

25/11/2014

Priyanka Chopra in Pink Rubber Gloves Joins Modi’s Clean India Campaign – India Real Time – WSJ

In pink rubber gloves and a surgical mask, former Miss World and Bollywood movie star Priyanka Chopra is the latest celebrity to be enlisted to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Clean India Campaign.

In an 11-minute-film posted on YouTube, Ms. Chopra can be seen beginning a cleanup of an area where she filmed part of the movie “Agneepath.”

“I remember that there are people who live here and children who play on mounds of garbage and that is their life,” Ms. Chopra says in the short film as she directs a group picking up garbage in Versova in Mumbai. “The idea of doing this is to create something that is long-lasting,” Ms. Chopra adds during the video. “ I wanted to do something a little more than just cleaning a few piles of garbage.”

The film ends with shots of the area spruced up with murals and flower pots.

The Clean India campaign is Mr. Modi’s plan to create a sanitized India by 2019 in honor of the 150th anniversary of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi’s birth. Ms. Chopra is the latest Bollywood star to get involved after Salman Khan and Amitabh Bachchan who have both been pictured with brooms in hand pledging support at the prime minister’s request.

via Priyanka Chopra in Pink Rubber Gloves Joins Modi’s Clean India Campaign – India Real Time – WSJ.

25/11/2014

Mrs. Modi, This Is What You’re Entitled to as Wife of India’s PM – India Real Time – WSJ

Narendra Modi’s wife wants to know what privileges she is entitled to as the spouse of India’s prime minister.

Six months into the role, Jashodaben Chiman Modi has asked police why she must use the bus when her security detail travels in a government car and what perks she should be getting as the wife of the country’s most-powerful man.

“I am the wife of the prime minister and as per formal procedure, I want to know what other services am I supposed to get,” Mrs. Modi wrote in a submission under India’s right to information law, according to a spokeswoman at the police station where the document was received.

An odd request for such a person to make you might think but here’s the thing.

Until he filed election nomination papers in April ahead of national polls, Mr. Modi had never mentioned his wife publicly.

The pair had an arranged marriage in their teens and Mr. Modi left her soon after the ceremony. The couple have lived apart since though they are not divorced.

But, after Mr. Modi swept to power in May, his wife, a retired school teacher, was allotted 24-hour protection from five security commandos by the Gujarat police.

In the RTI application submitted Monday, Mrs. Modi stated that “I want to know under which legal clauses/provisions and acts of [Indian] Constitution have I been given the security cover,” according to the police spokeswoman. Mrs. Modi could not be reached for comment. A spokesman for the prime minister was not immediately available for comment.

Referring to the assassination of former prime minister of Indira Gandhi by her security guards in 1984, Mrs. Modi said she “is frightened by the presence” of the commandos and “asked for all the details of her personal bodyguards,” the spokeswoman said.

Besides, she also asked for information about the “other honors and benefits” she is authorized to receive as the prime minister’s wife.

via Mrs. Modi, This Is What You’re Entitled to as Wife of India’s PM – India Real Time – WSJ.

25/11/2014

India names special envoy for China border talks | Reuters

India on Monday named its powerful national security adviser as a special envoy on China, opening the way for resumption of talks on the disputed border, where tensions have risen in recent months over border patrols and stiffer defenses.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with India's National Security Adviser Ajit Doval at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing September 9, 2014.  REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool

Ajit Doval, a close aide of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will lead the negotiations with Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi to try and reach a settlement on dispute over the 3,500-km (2,175-mile) border that has clouded rapidly expanding commercial links.

In September, the two armies were locked in a faceoff in the Ladakh sector in the western Himalayas just as Chinese President Xi Jinping was visiting India for the first summit talks with Modi.

Both leaders vowed to work together to resolve the border row that has defied a solution even after 17 rounds of high level talks over the last decade and negotiations even earlier between the diplomats of the two countries.

China lays claim to more than 90,000 sq km (35,000 sq miles) disputed by New Delhi in the eastern sector of the Himalayas. India says China occupies 38,000 square km (14,600 sq miles) of its territory on the Aksai Chin plateau in the west.

Doval, a hardliner on national security issues, will conduct boundary negotiations as well as strategic consultations with China, Modi’s office said in a statement.

New Delhi has vowed to beef up defenses along the border to narrow the gap with China’s network of roads and communication links. Beijing has expressed concern about India’s plan to build roads and border outposts in Arunachal Pradesh in the east, which it refers to as south Tibet.

Indian officials say Chinese border patrols have been intruding deeper into their side of the de facto border, in a sign of assertiveness that has fueled concern in the region.

(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

via India names special envoy for China border talks | Reuters.

22/11/2014

So What Does Obama’s Immigration Reform Mean For India’s High-Skilled Workers? – India Real Time – WSJ

President Barack Obama’s immigration reforms unveiled Thursday in the United States bring little sunshine for those in India’s technology outsourcing industry who are waiting for him to boost the number of skilled-work visas or H-1Bs.

The president’s reform plan bypassed Congress to protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation.

To be sure, the reform measures also contained minor benefits for businesses with workers from overseas. “We will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed,” said Mr. Obama in a prime-time address in the U.S.

But that means very little for India’s outsourcing firms that have long been lobbying to increase the number of H-1B visas so they can send more Indian programmers and engineers to their clients in the U.S.

Indian software exporters such as Tata Consultancy Services 532540.BY +0.35%, Infosys and Wipro send thousands of skilled Indian workers to the U.S. every year to cater to the technology needs of their clients.

The immigration reforms bill, introduced last year, sought to triple the number of H-1B visas available to 180,000 a year but was pulled after many lawmakers argued that the changes would result in an influx of illegal immigrants. It is still uncertain when the reform bill will be considered again.

As a result, industry and market watchers weren’t expecting the president to make any path-breaking changes to increase the number of skilled-worker visas issued annually. In fact, most of the changes announced are on expected lines.

via So What Does Obama’s Immigration Reform Mean For India’s High-Skilled Workers? – India Real Time – WSJ.

22/11/2014

China commits $45.6 billion for economic corridor with Pakistan | Reuters

The Chinese government and banks will finance Chinese companies to build $45.6 billion worth of energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan over the next six years, according to new details of the deal seen by Reuters on Friday. The Chinese companies will be able to operate the projects as profit-making entities, according to the deal signed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif during a visit to China earlier this month.

At the time, officials provided few details of the projects or the financing for the deal, dubbed the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The deal further cements ties between Pakistan and China at a time when Pakistan is nervous about waning U.S. support as troops pull out of Afghanistan.

Pakistan and China, both nuclear-armed nations, consider each other close friends. Their ties are underpinned by common wariness of India and a desire to hedge against U.S. influence in South Asia.

via China commits $45.6 billion for economic corridor with Pakistan | Reuters.

19/11/2014

Summitry: The Chinese order | The Economist

FOR the past week China’s state media have conveyed an almost imperial choreography playing out in the Great Hall of the People, in Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leaders’ compound next to the Forbidden City in Beijing, and at Yanqi Lake just outside the capital. Every day, on television and in newspapers, President Xi Jinping (above, right) is portrayed receiving lines of grateful world leaders. And every day he is seen arranging prosperity, ordering peace or, in an agreement with Barack Obama, America’s president, (above, left) on carbon emissions, even saving the planet. It escaped no visitor that not since Mao Zedong has a Chinese leader conducted foreign affairs with such eye-catching aplomb. Yet this was not only Mr Xi’s moment, but also China’s—a diplomatic coming-out party of sorts.

On several fronts, a country known for a somewhat reactive diplomacy has made the running. China was host this week to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation—APEC, a regional trade gathering that rarely makes waves. Yet in quick succession China declared free-trade agreements with South Korea and Australia, two sizeable Asian economies, all but signed. It announced a breakthrough with America by promising at last to eliminate tariffs on information-technology products. And to the delight of Asian leaders and of Vladimir Putin, president of Russia (reviled in the West but made welcome in Beijing), Mr Xi announced $40 billion in investments to cement a new commercial “Silk Road” that will run overland through Central Asia and Russia eventually to Europe and by sea through South-East Asia to the Middle East and Africa.

Most strikingly, on November 11th Mr Xi urged APEC’s 21 members to move towards a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). The commitment to “study” the idea over the next two years is in effect to launch it, and for all that an eventual FTAAP is unlikely to be notable for its high standards, the announcement was intended to stand in contrast to the predicament of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, sponsored by America, which remains bogged down in negotiations between America and Japan despite earlier hopes of a breakthrough announcement at APEC.

On security matters, Mr Xi appeared to be making the running, too. There had been a “meeting of minds”, according to Benigno Aquino, president of the Philippines, over disputed reefs in the South China Sea. Most striking, though, was an agreement for China to resume high-level contacts with Japan. China has rationed these, and in 2012 began actively challenging Japan’s control of the Senkaku islands (known as the Diaoyu islands to China) in the East China Sea; ties had been frozen entirely since Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine last December. The shrine, honouring Japan’s war dead, has militarist overtones.

Yet on November 7th China and Japan announced a four-point agreement to reduce tensions (see article). The signal agreement was later sealed when Mr Xi met Mr Abe for the first time as president. Admittedly, the withering handshake and puckery expression he offered Mr Abe lent the impression of a dog owner obliged to pick up another pooch’s turd.

That breakthrough was downplayed in state media, perhaps because Chinese ultranationalists might perceive in it a climbdown from China’s hard line over the islands, and towards Japan in general. But given much more prominence was the summit between the Chinese and American presidents, their second full one after that at Sunnylands in California in 2013. Again, there were welcome breakthroughs in co-operation. One was the agreement on information technology, which should now clear the way for a World Trade Organisation pact on IT products. Another was that both sides agreed to find common confidence-building and other measures to help avoid misunderstandings or accidental military confrontations on or above the East China Sea and South China Sea, where the United States shadows China’s increasingly assertive military presence.

But the biggest surprise was the agreement on greenhouse gases. China and America are the two biggest polluters, together accounting for 44% of global carbon emissions. Without their commitment to cut emissions, any global target is meaningless. On November 12th Mr Obama announced a “historic” agreement in which America will cut emissions by 26-28% by 2025, compared with 2005 levels, while China promises its emissions will peak around 2030. It gives a big boost to getting a global deal on carbon emissions at a crucial gathering in Paris next year. For China, a huge guzzler of coal, setting a date for emissions to peak is a first, even though it is five years later than the Americans would have liked. To bring down emissions after 2030, it aims for a big growth in nuclear power and for a fifth of its electricity to come from non-fossil fuels.

via Summitry: The Chinese order | The Economist.

19/11/2014

China and Japan: Out of the deep freeze | The Economist

AFTER Japan’s prime minister worshipped at Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine last December, China declared Shinzo Abe to be beyond the pale; principles are principles. But Chinese ones are, well, nothing if not adaptable, and on November 10th President Xi Jinping met Mr Abe for the first time. A “four-point agreement” comes as a welcome signal that tensions between Asia’s two biggest powers might, at least for now, begin to ease.

The thorn in the side of relations is Japan’s Senkaku islands, which China claims and calls the Diaoyus. Chinese aircraft and coastguard vessels have greatly raised tensions from 2012 onwards, by making incursions around the Senkakus. So it is progress that Japan and China now acknowledge “the emergence of tense situations” there. For the first time Japan has referred to the Senkakus in a document with China. Chinese analysts claim a diplomatic victory. Even if obliquely, Japan acknowledges a dispute over sovereignty, Huang Dahui of Renmin University argues. Yet the wording also left ample room for Japanese diplomats to insist that they have not acknowledged any such thing.

The negotiations seem mostly about avoiding the hard issues. On Yasukuni, it beggars belief to think the Japanese promised Mr Abe would not visit the shrine where high-ranking war criminals are honoured. The joint statement says that Japan and China will overcome “political difficulties” in the spirit of “squarely facing history” (a favourite Communist Party phrase). China believes that means Mr Abe will stay away. Mr Abe and his right-wing supporters may think differently.

Most welcome is a commitment to set up crisis-management mechanisms in the crowded seas and skies around the Senkakus. For months both sides’ armed forces have seen the need for such a step, says Noboru Yamaguchi, a retired Japanese general. Yet the details remain unclear.

Now the two countries’ ministries can resume their connections, though exchanges are likely to remain fraught. As if to underscore the challenges, this week Mr Abe brought up with Mr Xi a fresh diplomatic complaint, about Chinese coral poachers hunting near Japan’s distant Ogasawara islands. As for the Senkaku islands and waters, will China withdraw incursions by its coastguard cutters? That would be the most genuine proof of a Chinese desire to lower the temperature.

via China and Japan: Out of the deep freeze | The Economist.

19/11/2014

Putin Loses His Grip on Central Asia as China Moves In – Businessweek

As President Vladimir Putin strains to keep Ukraine within Russia’s grasp, he may be losing his grip on another part of his would-be empire: the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which are increasingly turning toward China for investment and trade.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon meet on the sidelines of an informal summit of the regional security group in 2013

In the latest sign of its growing economic ties with the region, China is planning a $16.3 billion fund to finance railways, roads, and pipelines across Central Asia, reviving the centuries-old Silk Road trade route between China and Europe. President Xi Jinping first proposed the idea last year during a visit to Kazakhstan, the region’s wealthiest country.

Beijing has plenty of reasons to spend big in Central Asia. Improved infrastructure would help link China to European markets and give China increased access to the region’s rich natural resources. Kazakhstan is a major oil producer, while neighboring Kyrgyzstan has large mineral deposits and Turkmenistan produces natural gas.

At the same time, the planned construction would give an economic boost to adjoining areas of western China where Beijing is trying to quell a separatist insurgency, says Sarah Lain, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute in London. As it has in Africa, China is likely to bring Chinese workers into Central Asia to do much of the construction.

During much of the 19th century, the Russian and British empires vied for control of Central Asia, a rivalry dubbed the “Great Game.” But the predominantly Muslim region, which also includes the countries of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, was annexed by the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik revolution and has remained close to Moscow in the post-Soviet era.

Putin has sought to maintain those ties—for example, by inviting Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to join a customs union with Moscow. But with the Russian economy in a deep slump, he can’t match the big money that China is offering. Indeed, Russia’s economic malaise is clobbering some Central Asian economies, spurring them to seek help from China.

via Putin Loses His Grip on Central Asia as China Moves In – Businessweek.

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