Archive for ‘Politics’

27/07/2017

Does Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk ignore the role of the Indian army? – BBC News

Christopher Nolan’s epic World War Two film, Dunkirk, which tells the story of the mass evacuation of Allied troops from the northern coast of France in 1940, has been getting glowing reviews in India.

But many are glowering over Nolan turning a blind eye to the role of Indian soldiers in the battle. The Times of India wrote that their “significant contribution” was missing from Nolan’s “otherwise brilliant” work. Writing for Bloomberg View, columnist Mihir Sharma said the film “adds to the falsehood that plucky Britons stood alone against Nazi Germany once France fell, when, in fact, hundreds of millions of imperial subjects stood, perforce, with them”.

Few can deny the role of the subjects. Some five million Commonwealth servicemen joined the military services of the British empire during WW2. Almost half of them were from South Asia. Indian soldiers played a key role in major battles like Tobruk, Monte Cassino, Kohima and Imphal. A multinational force of British, Indian and African units recaptured Burma (Myanmar) for the Allies.

What actually happened at Dunkirk?

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk film reviewed

Has India’s contribution to WW2 been ignored?

What happened with the Indian soldiers in Dunkirk is less clear. Yasmin Khan, historian and author of The Raj at War: A People’s History of India’s Second World War, says she has often wondered why there is very little factual data on their role in the battle, which many say cost Germany the war.

What is well known, she told me, is that four companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps, including a unit of the Bikaner State forces, served in France during the campaign on the Western Front, and some were evacuated from Dunkirk. Among them were three contingents of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps. One contingent was taken prisoner by German forces.

According to one account, India also provided more than 2,500 mules – shipped from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Marseilles – to the war effort as the British animal transport companies had been phased out. An Indian soldier, Jemadar Maula Dad Khan, was feted for showing “magnificent courage, coolness and decision” in protecting his men and animals when they were shelled from the ground and strafed from the air by the enemy.

An Indian soldier who was evacuated from Dunkirk

The Indian soldiers and the mules were eventually ordered towards the coast. Many of the men could not take their animals on the retreat and gave them away to local people in France, according to the same account.

Historian John Broich says the Indian soldiers in Dunkirk were “particularly cool under fire and well organised during the retreat”.

“They weren’t large in number, maybe a few hundred among hundreds of thousands, but their appearance in the film would have provided a good reminder of how utterly central the role of the Indian Army was in the war,” he told Slate.

“Their service meant the difference between victory and defeat. In fact, while Britain and other allies were licking their wounds after Dunkirk, the Indian Army picked up the slack in North Africa and the Middle East.

‘Survival story’

To be fair, Nolan has said that he approached the story “from the point of view of the pure mechanics of survival rather than from the politics of the event”.

“We don’t have generals in rooms pushing things around on maps. We don’t see Churchill. We barely glimpse the enemy,” he told the Telegraph. “It’s a survival story.

“Historian Joshua Levine, who is also the film’s historical consultant, told me that Dunkirk was a work of fiction and “it isn’t a film’s job to tell the full story of Dunkirk… and nor, in the time available, could it even try to do so”.

“This film focuses on a few protagonists whose paths cross occasionally, each one of whom experiences just a tiny corner of the whole story. As Hilary Mantel says about historical fiction, ‘The man who is fighting can’t see over the hill, out of the trench.’

What I’d love to see, though, is an Indian film about Dunkirk, or WW2 generally, and I sincerely hope Indian filmmakers are working on it.

“But what about the criticism that the role of Indian and their South Asian counterparts in WW2 has been forgotten?

Two Indian soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk arrive in England in June 1940

Yasmin Khan says that their “sheer scale of the contribution” has become apparent in Britain in recent years. “No longer is it simply an island story of heroic, plucky British fighting against Nazi-occupied continental Europe; it has now become increasingly customary for historians to refer to the contribution made by Asian, African and Caribbean servicemen in the 1940s”, she writes in her book.

A memorial to honour the role of these soldiers came up on London’s Constitution Hill in 2002. There have been museum exhibitions, oral history projects and TV documentaries to “reveal how crucial they [the soldiers] often were to the action, the sacrifices that they made in the face of terrible odds, and also to divulge individual stories of great bravery and intrepid action”.

“It is no longer true to suggest that this is an entirely forgotten story,” she says.

Meanwhile, Indians are flocking to watch Dunkirk, which opened at 416 screens, including 10 Imax screens, across the country, on Friday.

Unlike most Hollywood films, Dunkirk hasn’t been dubbed in any Indian language for wider viewership. Still, says Denzil Dias of Warner Brothers (India), the film raked in $2.4m (£1.84m) over the weekend. “This is the biggest opening of an English language-only film in India,” Mr Dias told me. Clearly, viewers are not fretting about the lack of Indian soldiers in Nolan’s tour-de-force.

Source: Does Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk ignore the role of the Indian army? – BBC News

27/07/2017

Britain plans to send warship to South China Sea in move likely to irk Beijing

Britain plans to send a warship to the disputed South China Sea next year to conduct freedom of navigation exercises, Defence Minister Michael Fallon said on Thursday, a move likely to anger Beijing.

Britain would increase in presence in the waters after it sent four British fighter planes for joint exercises with Japan in the region last year, he said.

China claims most of the energy-rich sea where neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

“We hope to send a warship to region next year. We have not finalised exactly where that deployment will take place but we won’t be constrained by China from sailing through the South China Sea,” Fallon told Reuters.

“We have the right of freedom of navigation and we will exercise it.”

The presence of a British vessel threatens to stoke tensions, escalated by China’s naval build-up and its increasingly assertive stance.

China’s construction of islands and military facilities in the South China Sea has stoked international condemnation, amid concern Beijing is seeking to restrict free movement and extend its strategic reach.

Britain’s Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, arrives in Downing Street for a cabinet meeting, in central London, Britain July 18, 2017

Toby Melville

Britain’s move could also upset ties between London and Beijing, undermining efforts to shore up what the two governments have called a “golden era” in their relationship as Britain heads towards a divorce with the European Union.

“We flew RAF Typhoons through the South China Sea last October and we will exercise that right whenever we next have the opportunity to do so, whenever we have ships or planes in the region,” Fallon said.

The United States estimates Beijing has added more than 3,200 acres (1,300 hectares) on seven features in the South China Sea over the past three years, building runways, ports, aircraft hangars and communications equipment.

To counter the perceived Chinese aggression, the United States has conducted regular freedom of navigation exercises that have angered Beijing.

Earlier this month, the United States sent two bombers over the region, coming just a few months after it sent a warship to carry out a maneuvering drill within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s artificial islands.

China has repeatedly denounced efforts by countries from outside the region to get involved in the South China Sea dispute.

The South China Sea is expected to dominate a regional security meeting in Manila next week, where Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will meet counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.

Meeting ASEAN diplomats in Beijing on Wednesday, Wang told them both sides must “exclude disturbances on the South China Sea issue, and maintain positive momentum”, China’s Foreign Ministry said.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-britain-idUSKBN1AC1CB

25/07/2017

India swears in Ram Nath Kovind as 14th president

Ram Nath Kovind was sworn in on Tuesday as India’s 14th president, becoming the first member of a powerful Hindu nationalist movement to assume the highest public office in the world’s largest democracy.

The 71-year-old’s elevation also boosts the representation of his Dalit community, which ranks at the lower end of India’s ancient caste hierarchy, potentially helping Prime Minister Narendra Modi extend his voter base in a 2019 general election.

Kovind, a veteran politician and lawyer with a previously low profile, is a long-time member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers’ Association, a grassroots movement that also helped launch Modi’s political career.

Opposition leaders accused Modi of using the presidential race, which Kovind won easily in an electoral college last week, to further a divisive agenda through which, they say, he wants to redefine India as a Hindu-first nation.

In a speech at his swearing in Kovind, however, praised India’s diversity, saying it was “the core that makes us so unique”.

“I bow to the (1.25 billion) citizens of this great nation and promise to stay true to the trust they have bestowed on me,” Kovind said in parliament’s central hall.

India has around 200 million Dalits, previously known as untouchables, and many suffer social deprivation and economic exclusion.

Kovind’s rise caps a series of top appointments backed by Modi – including naming a hardline priest to lead India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh – that tighten the grip of the Hindu right on key public offices.

India’s constitution foresees a largely ceremonial role for the president, with the prime minister and his cabinet holding executive power.

But the president has a key role during political crises, such as when a general election is inconclusive, by deciding which party is in the best position to form a government.

Source: http://uk.reuters.com/places/india

 

24/07/2017

China warns India not to harbor illusions in border stand-off

China’s defense ministry on Monday warned India not to harbor any illusions about the Chinese military’s ability to defend its territory, amid a festering border dispute.

The stand-off on a plateau next to the mountainous Indian state of Sikkim, which borders China, has ratcheted up tension between the neighbors, who share a 3,500-km (2,175-mile) frontier, large parts of which are disputed.

“Shaking a mountain is easy but shaking the People’s Liberation Army is hard,” ministry spokesman Wu Qian told a briefing, adding that its ability to defend China’s territory and sovereignty had “constantly strengthened”.

Early in June, according to the Chinese interpretation of events, Indian guards crossed into China’s Donglang region and obstructed work on a road on the plateau.

The two sides’ troops then confronted each other close to a valley controlled by China that separates India from its close ally, Bhutan, and gives China access to the so-called Chicken’s Neck, a thin strip of land connecting India and its remote northeastern regions.India has said it warned China that construction of the road near their common border would have serious security implications.

The withdrawal of Indian border guards was a precondition for resolving the situation, Wu reiterated.

“India should not leave things to luck and not harbor any unrealistic illusions,” Wu said, adding that the military had taken emergency measures in the region and would continue to increase focused deployments and drills.

“We strongly urge India to take practical steps to correct its mistake, cease provocations, and meet China halfway in jointly safeguarding the border region’s peace and tranquillity,” he said.

Speaking later, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Ajit Doval, India’s national security adviser, would attend a meeting in Beijing this week of security officials from the BRICS grouping that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Lu would not be drawn on whether the border issue would be discussed at the meeting, hosted by China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, meant to discuss multilateral issues.

“China hopes to maintain the peace and stability of the China-India border area, but certainly will not make any compromise on issues of territorial sovereignty,” Lu said.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to visit China early in September for a summit of BRICS leaders.Indian officials say about 300 soldiers from either side are facing each other about 150 meters (yards) apart on the plateau.

They have told Reuters that both sides’ diplomats have quietly engaged to try to keep the stand-off from escalating, and that India’s ambassador to Beijing is leading the effort to find a way for both sides to back down without loss of face.

Chinese state media have warned India of a fate worse than its defeat suffered in a brief border war in 1962. China’s military has held live fire drills close to the disputed area, they said this month.

Source: China warns India not to harbor illusions in border stand-off

21/07/2017

Why India and Pakistan hate each other

EVERY AFTERNOON AT sunset, at a point midway along the arrow-straight road between Amritsar and Lahore, rival squads of splendidly uniformed soldiers strut and stomp a 17th-century British military drill known as Beating Retreat (pictured).

Barked commands, fierce glares and preposterously high kicks all signal violent intent. But then, lovingly and in unison, the enemies lower their national flags. Opposing guardsmen curtly shake hands, and the border gates roll shut for the night.

As India and Pakistan celebrate their twin 70th birthday this August, the frontier post of Wagah reflects the profound dysfunction in their relations. On its side Pakistan has built a multi-tiered amphitheatre for the boisterous crowds that come to watch the show. The Indians, no less rowdy, have gone one better with a half-stadium for 15,000. But the number of travellers who actually cross the border here rarely exceeds a few hundred a week.

Wagah’s silly hats and walks serve a serious function. The cuckoo-clock regularity of the show; the choreographed complicity between the two sides; and the fact that the soldiers and crowds look, act and talk very much the same—all this has the reassuring feel of a sporting rivalry between teams. No matter how bad things get between us, the ritual seems to say, we know it is just a game. Alas, the game between India and Pakistan has often turned serious.

After the exhaustion of the second world war Britain was faced with two claimants to its restless Indian empire, a huge masala of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups (half of which was administered directly and half as “princely states” under 565 hereditary rulers subject to the British crown). Just about everyone wanted independence. But whereas the Congress Party of Mahatma Gandhi envisioned a unified federal state, the Muslim League of Muhammad Ali Jinnah argued that the subcontinent’s 30% Muslim minority constituted a separate nation that risked oppression under a Hindu majority. Communal riots prompted Britain’s last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, to make a hasty decision. He split the country in two—or rather three, since the new state of Pakistan came in two parts, divided by the 2,000km (1,240-mile) expanse of the new state of India.

When the two new states were proclaimed in mid-August 1947, it was hoped the partition would be orderly. Lines had been drawn on maps, and detailed lists of personnel and assets, down to the instruments in army bands, had been assigned to each side. But the plans immediately went awry in a vast, messy and violent exchange of populations that left at least 1m dead and 15m uprooted from their homes.

Within months a more formal war had erupted. It ended by tearing the former princely state of Kashmir in two, making its 750km-long portion of the border a perpetual subject of dispute. Twice more, in 1965 and 1971, India and Pakistan fought full-blown if mercifully brief wars. The second of those, with India supporting a guerrilla insurgency in the Bengali-speaking extremity of East Pakistan, gave rise to yet another proud new country, Bangladesh; but not before at least half a million civilians had died as West Pakistan brutally tried to put down the revolt.

Even periods of relative peace have not been especially peaceful. In the 1990s Pakistan backed a guerrilla insurgency in Indian Kashmir in which at least 40,000 people lost their lives. In 1999 Pakistani troops captured some mountain peaks in the Kargil region, which India clawed back in high-altitude battles. A ceasefire in Kashmir that has held since 2003 has not stopped Pakistan-sponsored groups from striking repeatedly inside India. Pakistan claims that India, too, has covertly sponsored subversive groups.

Analysts discern a pattern in this mutual harassment: whenever politicians on both sides inch towards peace, something nasty seems to happen. Typically, these cycles start with an attack on Indian soldiers in Kashmir by infiltrators from Pakistan, triggering Indian artillery strikes, which prod the Pakistanis to respond in kind. After a few weeks things will calm down.

Just such a cycle started in late 2015, prompted, perhaps, by a surprise visit to the home of the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, by his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi. Hopes raised by this overture dimmed within days when jihadist infiltrators attacked an Indian airbase. Another suicide squad struck an Indian army camp near the border, killing 19 soldiers. Faced with public outrage, Mr Modi ordered a far harder response than usual, sending commando teams into Pakistan. In the past, India had kept quiet even when it hit back, leaving room for Pakistan to climb down. This time Mr Modi’s government moved to isolate Pakistan diplomatically, rebuffed behind-the-scenes efforts to calm tensions and sent unprovoked blasts of fire across the Kashmir border.

 India’s loss of patience is understandable. It has a population six times Pakistan’s and an economy eight times as big, yet it finds itself being provoked far more often than it does the provoking. When Mr Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, it promised to put muscle into India’s traditionally limp foreign policy. “India for the first time is being proactive, not just responding,” says Sushant Singh, a military historian and journalist. “This is a huge shift.”

Yet Mr Modi’s pugnacity raises the risk of a dangerous escalation. “After a routine operation, the adversary may or may not escalate; after a publicised operation he will have only one option: to escalate,” writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta, one of India’s more thoughtful intellectuals.

Whether India and Pakistan are reckless enough to come to serious blows would not matter so much if they simply fielded conventional armies. But they are equipped with more than 100 nuclear warheads apiece, along with the missiles to deliver them. Since both countries revealed their nuclear hands in the 1990s, optimists who thought that a “balance of terror” would encourage them to be more moderate have been proved only partially right. Indians complain of being blackmailed: Pakistan knows that the risk of nuclear escalation stops its neighbours from responding more robustly to its provocations. Worryingly, Pakistan also rejects the nuclear doctrine of no first use. Instead, it has moved to deploy less powerful nuclear warheads as battlefield weapons, despite the risk that fallout from their use might harm its own civilians.

India does espouse a no-first-use nuclear doctrine, but its military planning is said to include a scenario of a massive conventional blitzkrieg aimed at seizing chunks of enemy territory and crushing Pakistan’s offensive capacity before it can respond. India’s arsenal includes the hypersonic Brahmos III, the world’s fastest cruise missile, which can precisely deliver a 300kg payload to any target in Pakistan. An air-launched version could reach Islamabad in two minutes, and Lahore in less than one. And in a grim calculation, India, with four times Pakistan’s territory, sees itself as better able to absorb a nuclear strike.

Alarmists will probably be proved wrong. Both countries are prone to sabre-rattling theatrics, but they are well aware that the price of full-blown war would be appalling. And despite the uncertainties generated by the rise of China, the continuing troubles in Afghanistan and the incalculability of Donald Trump’s America, the international community still seems likely to be able to pull Pakistan and India apart if need be.

As this special report will argue, though, both Pakistan and India should more openly acknowledge the costs, to themselves and to the wider region, of their seven decades of bitter separation. These include not only what they have had to spend, in lives and treasure, on waging war and maintaining military readiness over generations, but the immense opportunity cost of forgoing fruitful exchanges between parts of the same subcontinental space that in the past have always been open to each other. Trade between the two rivals adds up to barely $2.5bn a year.

Perpetual enmity has also distorted internal politics, especially in Pakistan, where overweening generals have repeatedly sabotaged democracy in the name of national security. Pakistan has suffered culturally, too; barred from its natural subcontinental hinterland, it has opened instead to the Arab world, and to the influence of less syncretic and tolerant forms of Islam. For India, enmity with Pakistan has fostered a tilt away from secular values towards a more strident identity politics.

Reflexive fear of India prompts Pakistan’s generals to meddle in Afghanistan, which they see as a strategic backyard where no foreign power can be allowed to linger. In turn, India, because of the constant aggravation from Pakistan, has become bad-tempered with its smaller neighbours. Small wonder that intra-regional trade makes up barely 5% of the subcontinent’s overall trade, compared with more than a quarter in South-East Asia. And it is no surprise that Pakistan has opened its arms to China, which is offering finance, trade and superpower patronage.

This special report will seek to unravel the causes of this irrational enmity, and to explore the contrasting internal dynamics in both countries that sustain it. It will examine new factors in this complex geopolitical board game, such as the rise of China. And it will consider what might be done to nudge the two rivals away from the vicious circle that binds them.

Source: Why India and Pakistan hate each other

21/07/2017

India says in quiet diplomacy with China to tackle border stand-off

When Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met on the sidelines of a regional conference last month, officials said they reached an understanding not to let the two countries’ long-standing “differences become disputes”.

Yet within days, Chinese and Indian soldiers were jostling in a desolate but disputed border region in the Himalayas that has since grown into an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation from which neither army is ready to back off.

The flare-up is the latest incident in a steadily deteriorating relationship between the Asian giants who are unable to agree on their 3,500 km (2,175 miles) border, over which they went to war in 1962.

Indian officials said diplomats from the two sides were now quietly trying to ensure the stand-off near the three-way border between India, its ally Bhutan, and China does not escalate into a conflict, invoking the agreement reached by their leaders at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Astana.

Behind the scenes, India’s ambassador to Beijing is leading the effort to find a way for both sides to back down from confrontation on the Doklam plateau – which China calls Donglang – without losing face, an Indian government source aware of the sensitive negotiations told Reuters.

In public, the two sides are saying little about the delicate diplomatic engagement.

“We want both sides to call back troops and work things out with talks,” Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj told parliament on Thursday.

China says India must first pull back its troops from the area before meaningful discussions can take place.

“Of course, we have said before, China-India bilateral diplomatic channels are always open,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, when asked whether talks with India were being held to defuse the situation.

“But with regard to this incident, we have emphasised many times that the Indian border defence personnel who illegally crossed the boundary withdrawing to the Indian side of the line is the basis and precondition for China and India conducting any kind of meaningful dialogue.

“Chinese state media have warned India of a fate worse than then the defeat it suffered in their border war in 1962.

Strategic Rivals

In recent years, the two have clashed over China’s strategic ties with India’s arch rival Pakistan, including a massive trade corridor that China is building through the disputed territory of Kashmir.

New Delhi has also been stung by China’s veto of United Nations sanctions against the leader of a Pakistan-based militant group and Beijing’s refusal to let it become a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a global cartel.Beijing has bristled at the Modi government’s public embrace of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader whom it regards as a dangerous splittist. It has also grown concerned at India’s military ties with both the United States and Japan.Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay said diplomatic channels between Delhi and Beijing were open and being used to tackle the border crisis.

“Diplomatic communications to the best of my understanding have never stopped,” he said. “There are diplomatic communications taking place.”

He would not go into further details.

Flashpoint

The latest trouble began when Chinese forces were spotted constructing a road with bulldozers and other heavy equipment in an area claimed by the tiny kingdom of Bhutan, prompting an intervention by Indian troops stationed nearby.

Groups of soldiers pushed and shoved each other, military officials said, but no weapons were used.

India said its action was guided by its special relationship with Bhutan as part of a 2007 treaty to cooperate on security issues, but also by the threat posed by the alleged Chinese incursion in Doklam to its own security.

The plateau lies close to the “Chicken’s Neck”, a 20-km wide corridor that links India to its northeastern states. The biggest fear among India’s military planners is that a Chinese offensive there could cut off the link.

China, which is engaged in a massive regional infrastructure drive to boost trade, says the area where the road was being constructed is part of its territory, and that in any case India does not have a role in what it sees as a bilateral matter with Bhutan.

About 300 soldiers from either side are facing each other about 150 metres (yards) apart on the Doklam/Donglang plateau, 10,000 feet (3,050 metres) above sea level, Indian officials say.

Behind them in the barracks below are thousands of troops ready to be deployed on either side. So far there has been no sign of either side trying to mobilise more troops, military officials in New Delhi said.

One possibility is that the weather may force the two sides to quietly disengage, the Indian government source said. Construction activity in the area can only take place between June and September before it becomes snowbound.

Source: http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-india-china-idUKKBN1A51S9

17/07/2017

Voting under way to elect new India president – BBC News

Voting is being held in India to elect a new president.

Mukherjee wins Indian presidency

India president not ‘Excellency’

The front-runner is a former state governor and Dalit (formerly untouchable) leader, Ram Nath Kovind.

He is being challenged by opposition candidate and India’s first woman speaker Meira Kumar who is also a Dalit.

Indian presidents are not elected directly by the people but by an electoral college made up of members of parliament and state assemblies.

The results of the poll are expected to be announced on 20 July.

The winner will replace Pranab Mukherjee, a political veteran of the main opposition Congress party, who has held the post from 2012.

Polling began in parliament in the capital, Delhi, and state capitals, at 1000 (04:30GMT). Voting is expected to end at 1700 hours.

A total of 4,896 lawmakers – parliamentarians and legislators – are expected to vote in Monday’s election.

Image copyright EPA

Mr Kovind, 71, a trained lawyer, has been a two-time BJP MP and governor of the Bihar state. If elected he will be India’s second Dalit president. Congress veteran Meira Kumar, 72, a former lawyer and diplomat, is also from the Dalit community. She has been elected to parliament five times and holds a seat in the state of Bihar.She is the daughter of the late Babu Jagjivan Ram, a prominent Dalit leader and former deputy prime minister of India.The Indian president’s position is largely ceremonial, but presidents do play decisive roles in in determining who forms the government when national elections do not produce clear results.

Source: Voting under way to elect new India president – BBC News

12/07/2017

China sends troops to open first overseas military base in Djibouti | Reuters

Ships carrying personnel for China’s first overseas military base, in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, have set sail to begin setting up the facility, as China’s rapidly modernizing military extends its global reach.

Soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) stand on a ship sailing off from a military port in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, July 11, 2017.

Djibouti’s position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fuelled worry in India that it would become another of China’s “string of pearls” of military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

China began construction of a logistics base in Djibouti last year. It will be used to resupply navy ships taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia, in particular.

It will be China’s first overseas naval base, though Beijing officially describes it as a logistics facility.

State news agency Xinhua said late on Tuesday the ships had departed from Zhanjiang in southern China “to set up a support base in Djibouti”.

Navy commander Shen Jinlong “read an order on constructing the base in Djibouti”, but the news agency did not say when the base would begin operations.

Xinhua said the establishment of the base was a decision made by the two countries after “friendly negotiations, and accords with the common interest of the people from both sides”.

The base will ensure China’s performance of missions, such as escorting, peace-keeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia,” it said.

“The base will also be conducive to overseas tasks including military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways,” Xinhua said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing the base would enable China to make “new and greater contributions” to peace in Africa and the world and would benefit Djibouti’s economic development.

Djibouti, which is about the size of Wales, is at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal. The tiny, barren nation sandwiched between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia also hosts U.S., Japanese and French bases.

‘NOT MILITARY EXPANSIONISM’

The People’s Liberation Army Daily said in a front-page commentary the facility was a landmark that would increase China’s ability to ensure global peace, especially because it had so many U.N. peacekeepers in Africa and was so involved in anti-piracy patrols.China would not seek military expansionism or get into arms races no matter what happened, the newspaper said.

“These promises will not change because of the construction of the overseas logistics base,” it said.

The state-run Global Times said in an editorial there could be no mistake that this was in fact a military base.

“Certainly this is the People’s Liberation Army’s first overseas base and we will base troops there. It’s not a commercial resupply point. It makes sense there is attention on this from foreign public opinion,” said the paper, which is published by the official People’s Daily.

China’s military development was about protecting its own security, it said.

“It’s not about seeking to control the world.”

There has been persistent speculation in diplomatic circles that China would build other such bases, in Pakistan for example, but the government has dismissed this.

Source: China sends troops to open first overseas military base in Djibouti | Reuters

05/07/2017

What’s behind the India-China border stand-off? – BBC News

For four weeks, India and China have been involved in a stand-off along part of their 3,500km (2,174-mile) shared border.

The two nations fought a war over the border in 1962 and disputes remain unresolved in several areas, causing tensions to rise from time to time.

Since this confrontation began last month, each side has reinforced its troops and called on the other to back down.

How did the row begin?

It erupted when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through a plateau known as Doklam in India and Donglang in China.

The plateau, which lies at a junction between China, the north-eastern Indian state of Sikkim and Bhutan, is currently disputed between Beijing and Thimphu. India supports Bhutan’s claim over it.

India is concerned that if the road is completed, it will give China greater access to India’s strategically vulnerable “chicken’s neck”, a 20km (12-mile) wide corridor that links the seven north-eastern states to the Indian mainland.

Indian military officials told regional analyst Subir Bhaumik that they protested and stopped the road-building group, which led Chinese troops to rush Indian positions and smash two bunkers at the nearby Lalten outpost.

“We did not open fire, our boys just created a human wall and stopped the Chinese from any further incursion,” a brigadier said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press.

Chinese officials say that in opposing the road construction, Indian border guards obstructed “normal activities” on the Chinese side, and called on India to immediately withdraw.

What is the situation now?

Despite hostilities, the two countries have growing trade and economic ties

Both India and China have rushed more troops to the border region, and media reports say the two sides are in an “eyeball to eyeball” stand-off.

China also retaliated by stopping 57 Indian pilgrims who were on their way to the Manas Sarovar Lake in Tibet via the Nathu La pass in Sikkim. The lake is a holy Hindu site and there is a formal agreement between the neighbours to allow devotees to visit.Bhutan, meanwhile, has asked China to stop building the road, saying it is in violation of an agreement between the two countries.

What does India say?

Indian military experts say Sikkim is the only area through which India could make an offensive response to a Chinese incursion, and the only stretch of the Himalayan frontier where Indian troops have a terrain and tactical advantage.

They have higher ground, and the Chinese positions there are squeezed between India and Bhutan.

India and China fought a bitter war in 1962. Photograph: Hulton Archive

“The Chinese know this and so they are always trying to undo our advantage there,” retired Maj-Gen Gaganjit Singh, who commanded troops on the border, told the BBC.Last week, the foreign ministry said that the construction “would represent a significant change of status quo with serious security implications for India”.

Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley also warned that the India of 2017 was not the India of 1962, and the country was well within its rights to defend its territorial integrity.

What does China say?

China has reiterated its sovereignty over the area, saying that the road is in its territory and accusing Indian troops of “trespassing”.

It said India would do well to remember its defeat in the 1962 war, warning Delhi that China was also more powerful than it was then.

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On Monday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that the border in Sikkim had been settled in an 1890 agreement with the British, and that India’s violation of this was “very serious”.

The Global Times newspaper, meanwhile, accused India of undermining Bhutan’s sovereignty by interfering in the road project, although Bhutan has since asked China to stop construction.

What’s Bhutan’s role in this?

Bhutan’s Ambassador to Delhi Vetsop Namgyel says China’s road construction is “in violation of an agreement between the two countries”.

Bhutan and China do not have formal relations but maintain contact through their missions in Delhi.

An Indian soldier on the China border – Beijing has reiterated what it says is its right to territory

Security analyst Jaideep Saikia told the BBC that Beijing had for a while now been trying to deal directly with Thimphu, which is Delhi’s closest ally in South Asia.

“By raising the issue of Bhutan’s sovereignty, they are trying to force Thimphu to turn to Beijing the way Nepal has,” he said.

What next?

The fact that Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama resides in India has also been a sticking point between the two countries.

This stand-off in fact, comes within weeks of China’s furious protests against the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state that China claims and describes as its own.

The Dalai Lama during his visit to Tawang near the India-China border in Arunachal Pradesh on April 10, 2017Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionChina recently protested against Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state Beijing claims as its own

Relations between the Asian giants, however, may not slide further as China has allowed 56 Hindu pilgrims, who entered through the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, to visit the Manas Sarovar site.

“They are heading for the lake and they are safe,” senior tourism official Dheeraj Garbiyal said last week.

This, experts say, shows that the Chinese are not raising tensions on the whole border but specifically on the Sikkim-Bhutan stretch.

Source: What’s behind the India-China border stand-off? – BBC News

05/07/2017

What Rosneft’s purchase of Essar’s oil refinery means

CONGLOMERATES sometimes sell their least promising units, thereby ginning up returns for the remaining empire. But groups saddled with huge debts do not have that luxury; only by disposing of the most profitable parts can they raise enough funds to satisfy creditors. Such is the story of the Essar Group, which is in the final stages of selling its crown jewel, India’s second-biggest private oil refinery, to a consortium led by Rosneft, a Russian oil titan. The slimming of what was once the country’s third-largest diversified corporate group is a welcome signal that an era of powerful industrialists running rings round their creditors is ending.

The purchase by Rosneft (along with a Russian investment fund and Trafigura, a trading firm) of the giant Vadinar refinery in the state of Gujarat for $12.9bn will be the largest-ever foreign investment in India. It has been a long time coming. It was first mooted over two years ago and jointly announced with fanfare in October by India’s Narendra Modi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The deal includes an Indian port and a network of coveted petrol stations.

Most analysts approve of Rosneft’s intiative as a way of diversifying away from upstream activities in Russia. But what is most telling is why the assets came up for sale in the first place. Essar, whose interests span power plants, steel, infrastructure and shipping, says that it saw a good opportunity to monetise an asset it has nurtured for years. It may have had little choice. An investment splurge starting in 2011 has left various Essar operating entities, along with a holding company based in the Cayman Islands, with a combined debt of around $20bn. Although the company does not disclose updated financials (it is privately held by the Mumbai-based Ruia family) few firms in its various industries make the sort of money it would need to pay down such a debt.

In the past, bosses at Indian state-run banks (which conduct over two-thirds of all lending) could easily be convinced to overlook trifles such as a debtor’s inability to repay loans. It takes over four years for an insolvency process to return a meagre 26 cents on the dollar to creditors, so bankers often preferred to behave as if even the most distressed company might somehow find a way of repaying a loan.

A bad-loan crisis followed. Around one in five loans made by state-owned banks are either set to default or have already done so. The central bank is pushing bankers to get tough on errant borrowers. In recent weeks it has threatened to push a dozen firms with huge debts into insolvency unless deals to refinance their debts could be reached quickly. One was Essar Steel.

Banks are still allowed to forgive a part of a company’s debt. But there is now pressure to show that shareholders pay a price, by having to forfeit large chunks of their equity to the banks. Advisers involved in the talks over Essar Steel say the group will have to give up over half its equity in the steel business to convince lenders to refinance loans. That is new: in past cases, parts of Essar have moved in and out of debt restructurings without the central group having to give up any stakes.

Part of the reason the Rosneft deal was held up for so long, insiders say, is that state-owned banks insisted that the Ruia family clear debts from other bits of the Essar empire first, including from the central holding company. They refused to agree to a sale until that was done (Essar repaid in part by taking out a bridge loan from Vneshtorgbank, a big Russian lender). That shows a savvy few thought state-owned bank executives possessed.

The cash from the sale to Rosneft will take away about half of Essar’s $20bn of debt but will also deprive it of its main source of profits. Essar’s pain in having to sell the oil refinery is the corporate system’s gain. Resolving festering bad loans, either by forcing asset sales or seizing ownership, is an essential part of restoring the health of Indian banking. Credit to Indian industry is currently shrinking for the first time in two decades. Resolving this mess can only help companies—including what will remain of Essar.

Source: What Rosneft’s purchase of Essar’s oil refinery means

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