Archive for ‘Politics’

24/02/2017

The missing middle: Women in South Asian politics have not empowered women | The Economist

ON THE Indian subcontinent, as in no other part of the world, women have risen to the pinnacle of politics. Indira Gandhi of India, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan and Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar are all famous names. Less well known is that Sri Lanka was the first country ever to elect a woman prime minister, or that it has also had a female president. For 22 of the past 25 years Bangladesh, a largely Muslim country with more people than France and Germany combined, has been led by a woman. And the chief ministers of numerous country-sized Indian states, from West Bengal in the east to Tamil Nadu in the south, have also been women.

India’s democracy is not pretty; these are the winners of bare-knuckle contests.

Yet for all such headline-grabbing successes, the fine print tells a different story. Although there has been steady progress in such things as stamping out female infanticide and spreading women’s education, statistics continue to reveal a stark sex divide. At 27%, the share of Indian women who work, for instance, is less than half the level in China or Brazil (and also in neighbouring Bangladesh, although slightly higher than in Pakistan). In 2012 a household survey found that four-fifths of Indian women needed their husband’s or family’s permission to visit a local clinic. A third said they would not be able to go alone. More than half also said they could not visit a shop, or even a friend, without someone else’s approval. For many, the very idea of going out was alarming: 70% said they would feel unsafe working away from home, and 52% thought it normal for a husband to beat his wife if she ventured out without telling him. In November, following a shock government move to scrap higher-denomination banknotes, a domestic violence hotline in the city of Bhopal in central India registered a doubling of calls, largely from women whose spouses had discovered they had secretly been saving cash.

On your bike

For wealthy and middle-class Indian women, freedoms have steadily grown: Anubha Bhonsle, a television anchor, recalls the strangeness of being the sole female driver of a motor scooter on many streets when she started commuting 15 years ago. “No one would give a second glance now,” she says. Yet in many professions women remain rarities. Barely 10% of the 700 judges in India’s higher courts are female, and only 17% of the 5,000 officers in the Indian Administrative Service, the elite corps of bureaucrats that runs the country.

Women are scarce even in politics. In the lower house of India’s parliament only 12% of MPs are women. State legislatures are similarly male. True, women’s share of seats has risen, but slowly: 50 years ago the proportion of women in the lower house was 6%.

It is only in village and district councils that women hold much sway, but this is partly due to laws that assign either a third or half of seats to female candidates. Earlier this month tribesmen objecting to efforts to impose a women’s quota in local elections rioted in Nagaland, a state on the border with Myanmar that is one of the few exceptions to such rules. Naga men insist that local custom precludes female village chiefs.

Such troubles reveal one cause of slow progress to sexual equality: Indian politicians have generally found it more rewarding to cater to subgroups defined by caste, religion, ethnicity, language or local grievance, rather than to broader categories such as women. This is equally true of female politicians, and of regional leaders less constrained by democracy. Sheikh Hasina, the current, iron-fisted prime minister of Bangladesh, has recently moved to reduce the legal age of marriage from 18 to 16. Given that child marriage is already common, especially in the impoverished countryside, women’s-rights activists are upset. But analysts explain that apa, or “big sister”, who has hounded opposition parties including Islamists, is looking for ways to deflect conservative anger. In order to succeed female politicians in the region often make a point of acting tough. Mamata Banerjee, the diminutive but formidable chief minister of West Bengal, once dragged a male colleague out of the well of parliament by the collar when she was an MP in Delhi. Like Sheikh Hasina and Mayawati, a former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, as well as Jayalalithaa, a recently deceased former film star and long-serving chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms Banerjee has carefully repressed her sexuality. These women are ostentatiously “married” to their cause or their party.

Such care is understandable. Male rivals have not shied from using sex to malign female politicians. One party leader in Uttar Pradesh lost his job for accusing Mayawati, who comes from a downtrodden caste, of “selling tickets like a prostitute”. A colleague went further against Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Congress party. Absurdly, he accused the head of the Gandhi dynasty of having worked for a Pakistani escort agency.

With so many obstacles blocking the path to power, it is hardly surprising that so many of the region’s successful female politicians got a head start. Amrita Basu of Amherst College finds that more than half of India’s female MPs in the past decade had family members who preceded them in politics. Quite often such dynastic links have been dramatic. Ms Suu Kyi in Myanmar and Sheikh Hasina are both daughters of slain independence heroes. Sonia Gandhi and Khaleda Zia, a former Bangladeshi prime minister and bitter rival to Sheikh Hasina, are both widows of assassinated leaders. Both Jayalalithaa and Mayawati entered politics as devoted lieutenants to charismatic, populist politicians; in Jayalalithaa’s case her mentor also played the lead in many of her films.

For women to play a more normal political role in the subcontinent, perhaps it is in films, and in popular culture in general, that change needs to happen first. All too often on the region’s screens, actresses who are paid a fraction of what male stars get portray women who lack agency in their lives. There is, though, an inkling of change. This season’s blockbuster and already the highest-earning film in Bollywood history, “Dangal”, tells the heart-warming story of sisters who become champions in the male-dominated sport of wrestling. Yet the main hero is not one of the girls, but the father, a former wrestler, who bends them to his will.

Source: The missing middle: Women in South Asian politics have not empowered women | The Economist

24/02/2017

Shock and ore: Furious with North Korea, China stops buying its coal | The Economist

FEW television dramas boast a plot as far-fetched as the one that has unfolded in North-East Asian geopolitics over the past two weeks. Days after North Korea tested a ballistic missile on February 12th, two women assassinated the half-brother of Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s leader, by throwing chemicals in his face at a Malaysian airport. The alleged killers said they were duped into taking part, believing the attack was a prank for a TV comedy. Malaysian police suspect that a North Korean diplomat in Malaysia may have been among the organisers, several of whom are thought to have fled to Pyongyang.

Amid such skulduggery, China’s announcement on February 18th that it would suspend imports of coal from North Korea, from the next day to the end of this year, seemed a little mundane. But China’s state-controlled media played up the decision. Global Times, a newspaper in Beijing, said the move would make it harder for North Korea to exploit international differences over the imposition of UN sanctions aimed at curtailing its nuclear programme. China appeared to be signalling to the world that it was ratcheting up pressure on its troublesome friend, as the Americans have long insisted it should.

Or it may just be posturing. On February 21st China’s foreign ministry softened the message somewhat. It said imports were being suspended because China had already bought as much coal from North Korea this year as it was allowed to under the UN’s sanctions, to which China gave its approval last March. But North Korea-watchers doubt that China could have imported its yearly quota of 7.5m tonnes in a mere six weeks. It had not appeared likely to reach its annual limit until April or May. And exceeding that cap had not been expected to matter much to China. In 2016 it imported about three times the permitted amount, using a loophole that allows trade if it helps the “livelihood” of ordinary North Koreans.

Advancing the date of the suspension, if that is what happened, would certainly have sent a strong message to North Korea, which depends on coal exports for much of its foreign currency. Announcing the move so publicly, and unexpectedly, will have shown to North Korea that China is ready to take the initiative instead of waiting to be prodded by America, as it usually does when North Korea offends.

The test of an intermediate-range missile will have rattled China. It suggested that North Korea has learned how to fire such weapons at short notice, from hard-to-detect mobile launchers. The murder of Kim Jong Nam may have been an even bigger blow. Mr Kim had been living on Chinese soil in the gambling enclave of Macau, probably under Chinese government protection. Some Chinese officials may have hoped that Mr Kim, who favours economic opening, would one day replace his half-brother. With his death “you lose one option”, says Jia Qingguo of Peking University. It has reminded China that North Korea’s dictator is doggedly determined to rule in his own way, regardless of China’s or anyone else’s views.

Growing frustration with North Korea is evident in China’s more relaxed attitude towards criticism of its neighbour. In 2013 an editor of a Communist Party-controlled publication was fired for arguing in an article that “China should abandon North Korea.” These days, academics often air that idea. Debate about North Korea now rages openly online, largely uncensored (except when people use it as a way of attacking their own regime, jokingly referred to as “West Korea”). The murder of Kim Jong Nam unleashed a torrent of ridicule towards his country by Chinese netizens. China still sees North Korea as a useful buffer against America’s army deployed in the South. But it increasingly regards the North as a liability as well, says Mr Jia.In America’s court?

China would clearly like its tough-sounding approach to encourage President Donald Trump to rethink his country’s strategy for dealing with North Korea. America has been reluctant to enter direct talks because the North has blatantly cheated on past deals—knowing that China would continue to prop it up. With China more clearly on America’s side, the Americans would have greater confidence, Chinese officials hope. Mr Trump has previously said he would be happy to have a hamburger with Mr Kim and try to persuade him to give up his nukes. The trouble is, Mr Kim sees those weapons as the one thing that guarantees the survival of his odious regime.

Source: Shock and ore: Furious with North Korea, China stops buying its coal | The Economist

24/02/2017

Could China’s Trump tactics actually be working? – BBC News

It’s been a month and adjusting to Donald Trump as US president has been an enormous challenge for China, as for many around the world.

He arrived in office full of provocative and unpredictable messaging on China, but Beijing needs American goodwill, markets and technology to build what it calls its “comprehensive strength”.

That a functioning relationship with the United States is a core strategic interest for China may seem obvious, but it bears repeating.

For the time being at least Mr Trump seems to have stopped insulting and threatening China and key players in his administration are now making nice on the telephone.

So what were China’s tactics and how did it make them work?

1. Cultivate family, cultivate friends

Beijing quickly understood that President Trump would not run an administration like that of his predecessors.

Mr Trump is an elephant in a China shop for the makers of this float in Germany

It noted the importance of family.

Before Mr Trump himself or senior members of his administration talked to key players in China, and while China’s internet was full of mutterings about why Mr Trump had delivered no goodwill message over Chinese New Year, Beijing’s man in Washington, Ambassador Cui Tiankai, deftly reached out to President Trump’s daughter Ivanka.

She bridged the official divide with a well-publicised appearance at a Chinese New Year function at Beijing’s embassy in Washington.

Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner also has lines of communication to Beijing through his Chinese business partners.

And President Trump’s other daughter Tiffany made a point of sitting in the front row of the New York Fashion Week show of Chinese designer Taoray Wang.

Ms Wang and Tiffany Trump have praised each another

To bolster this network of unofficial connections, China’s best known private entrepreneur Jack Ma, met Mr Trump and promised to create a million American jobs through selling US products on his Alibaba e-commerce platforms.

Even private companies in China have Communist Party cells and are required to do Beijing’s bidding when it comes to matters of strategic national interest.

Jack Ma was on mission and on message. As were the 100 firms which sponsored a Chinese New Year greeting message to Mr Trump on a Times Square billboard in New York.

2. Bring gifts

Mr Trump’s controversial business empire has multiple trademark cases languishing in Chinese courts.

Beijing makes no bones about the fact that its courts are answerable to the Communist Party.

It was an easy act of goodwill to speed through a trademark registration for construction services that Mr Trump had sought for a decade, especially as the move was consistent with a wider move against businesses which jump on the names of public figures as trademarks.

After years of wrangling, Chinese courts awarded Mr Trump valuable commercial rights to his name

In the Trump case, the necessary moves were made quickly and without fanfare last autumn, and the case closed with a victory for Mr Trump last week.

3. Speak softly until you need to speak loud

China is often quick to thunder against hostile foreign forces and accuse foreign governments of hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.Donald Trump offered provocations which would bring down retribution on a lesser foe.

Throughout his presidential campaign he insulted and threatened China, calling it a thief and a rapist on trade and challenging its dearest held positions on Taiwan. Officials also warned of a tougher approach in the South China Sea.

But throughout, Beijing has shown iron self-discipline and restraint.

China claims almost all the South China Sea, a position the US rejects

China’s official news agency Xinhua noted of Mr Trump: “He will soon realise that leaders of the two countries must use more mature and effective ways to communicate than trading barbs via Twitter.”

Since Mr Trump’s election in November, China’s media has been on a tight leash, ordered to use Xinhua’s bland wording in its coverage of the US.

4. Don’t speak until the script is agreed

Unlike other world leaders, President Xi was conspicuously slow to pick up the phone.

Observing the fallout of President Trump’s calls with Mexican and Australian leaders, Beijing was determined to avoid the risk of an undiplomatic incident.

By hanging back till the administration’s “grown ups” like Defence Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were in the room (figuratively and in some cases literally) China ensured it got the script it wanted.

The two leaders did not speak until long after many other leaders had called Mr TrumpWhen the phone call between President Trump and President Xi finally took place, Beijing won a new US commitment to the cherished One China policy and a dignified encounter.

President Xi emerged with his reputation as a firm and patient actor enhanced. President Trump had talked of staking out a new position on Taiwan – but stepped back.

5. Sweet talk where it pays

Since that call, the lines between Beijing and Washington DC have been humming.

Newly confirmed US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has talked to several key Chinese players on economic policy. Mr Tillerson has met his opposite number, Wang Yi, and senior diplomat Yang Jiechi.

Beijing has begun to talk of implementing “the consensus reached between President Xi and President Trump” – a relationship featuring “no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win co-operation”.

6. Give what you can

In practical terms, China knows that win-win will mean delivering concessions and co-operation wherever it can. And it has already shown willing in one area of US concern, with the suspension of coal imports from North Korea.

North Korean labourers work beside the Yalu River at the North Korean town of Sinuiju on 8 February 2013 which is close to the Chinese city of Dandong.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionBy suspending coal imports, China has put pressure on Pyongyang

Of course, Beijing said this decision was a technicality based on quotas.

But given the provocation of Pyongyang’s latest missile test and growing American concern over the advances of North Korea’s nuclear programme, this is much more likely to have resulted from a careful Chinese calculation of what carrots it could flourish in the direction of Donald Trump and what sticks it could brandish at Kim Jong-un.

7. Turn your opponent’s weakness into your strength

On the global stage, President Xi has usefully presented himself as not Donald Trump.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, he famously championed globalisation and free trade.

Of course, China is not a paragon of free trade, with a highly protected domestic market. But in a world of “alternative facts”, the rhetoric is powerful.

On the regional stage, China is promoting itself as a leader on multilateral trade, assiduously taking advantage of the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, which was intended to underpin American economic leadership in Asia Pacific.

Delegates hold anti-TPP signs at the Democratic Party's convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 25 July 2016Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionAlthough the TPP excluded China, it had opponents across the political spectrum in the US

And on the Chinese political stage, Mr Trump is indirectly doing Mr Xi’s work for him.

The Communist Party sometimes struggles to defend one-party authoritarian rule against the glamour and appeal of a free, open and democratic America. But the scenes of American street protest and visa chaos from President Trump’s first month in office are a propaganda gift.

An American president joining China’s state-controlled media in railing against what he calls fake, failing, dishonest US journalists is a second propaganda gift. Beijing has made extensive use of both for its political purposes at home.

Tactics that worked

Beijing will be well satisfied with its performance so far. But this is a multi-player multi-dimensional game with many dangers and traps over the long term.

It has done a good job of neutralising the risks and exploiting the opportunities of President Trump’s first month in office.

Round One to China. There are innumerable rounds still to come.

Source: Could China’s Trump tactics actually be working? – BBC News

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16/02/2017

India and Russia seek to revive stalled helicopter venture | Reuters

India and Russia are nearing a joint venture to make light helicopters in India, reviving a plan announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2015.

Delhi needs to replace hundreds of ageing utility helicopters deployed along its Himalayan border with China as well as in the disputed Kashmir region.

This means an initial order of 200 Kamov-226 helicopters, of which 140 will be built in India as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to build a domestic defence industrial base and cut imports, is expected to be increased.

And final documents relating to the $1 billion Kamov deal involving Russian Helicopters, Rosoboronexport and India’s state-run Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) has been submitted to Putin, HAL’s chief T. Suvarna Raju, told reporters on Wednesday.

While India has sealed deals with the United States for 22 Apache attack and 15 heavy lift Chinook helicopters at total cost of about $2.5 billion, plans to buy Russian helicopters and fifth generation fighter aircraft have been dogged by problems.

“There are issues between parties, but these are being tackled,” Sergey Goreslavsky, deputy director general of Rosoboronexport, said at India’s biggest air show in the southern city of Bengaluru.

A team will assess the Indian manufacturing facilities over the next few months. “We are keeping our fingers crossed about launching production this year,” an executive at Russian Helicopters said.

The executive, who did not want to be named, said the joint venture will be modelled along the lines of Brahmos, the India-Russia entity producing supersonic missiles, which which military analysts say are among the deadliest in their class.

Russia was long the main supplier of military equipment to India, but Delhi has turned to France, Israel and increasingly the United States for supply of hardware in recent years.

U.S. aerospace and defence firms Lockheed Martin and Boeing have both offered to set up production lines in India to make combat planes.

Source: India and Russia seek to revive stalled helicopter venture | Reuters

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15/02/2017

‘Follow one-China policy’: Beijing warns India over Taiwan delegation | This Week In Asia | South China Morning Post

China has lodged a strong complaint with India over a rare visit by a Taiwanese parliamentary delegation, warning New Delhi to follow one-China policy and refrain from any official contacts with Taipei.

Sharply criticising the visit, foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shung said Beijing had lodged a “solemn representation” with New Delhi to not have any official contact with Taiwan.

Beijing has always opposed any kind of official contact between Taiwan and countries that have diplomatic ties with China, he said.

Why Trump can’t ‘haggle’ over the one-China policy

Geng spoke against any proposal to upgrade India-Taiwan ties, and warned India to be strict about following the one-China policy and be “prudent” about its ties with Taiwan.India has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The de facto Indian embassy in Taipei is called the India-Taipei Association and the Taiwanese maintain the Taipei Economic Cultural Center in New Delhi.

A three-member parliamentary delegation from Taiwan arrived in India on Monday for a three-day visit. The leader of the delegation, Kuan Bi-Ling, said Taiwan is “totally independent”.

“It (the one-China policy) is a de facto reality…We suffered a lot because of the one-China policy. We have crafted a pragmatic approach in our diplomatic engagement with major countries, including India, despite these difficulties,” Kuan told the Indian media.Hosting an official delegation from Taiwan appears to be a shift in Indian policy. In May last year, India had reportedly backtracked from sending representatives to the swearing-in ceremony of then Taiwanese president-elect Tsai Ing-wen. The visit of the Taiwanese delegation is a possible sign that both countries are attempting to increase political engagement without New Delhi moving away from the one-China policy.No country is exempt from one-China principle, says Beijing

In September 2015, before she became Taiwan’s first woman president, Tsai had spoken about India being in focus for her country to strengthen ties.“Asean and India are poised to become two of the world’s largest economic bodies. Strengthening our overall relations is a natural choice for Taiwan as we diversify our economic and trade ties. In the future, we will form a new task force to actively pursue this policy objective,” Tsai had said in a key speech at the time.

The New Southbound Policy Office, which directly functions under the president, will focus on strengthening all-round ties with Asean and South Asia, particularly India, Taiwanese diplomats had then told the Hindustan Times.

Earlier on Wednesday, nationalistic tabloid Global Times said India is playing with fire and will suffer if it challenges the one-China policy and increases engagement with Taiwan.

How a snub of the one-China policy almost led Beijing and US into war in the 1990s

“At a time when new US President Donald Trump has put the brakes on challenging China over the Taiwan question, agreeing to change course and respecting the one-China policy, India stands out as a provocateur,” it said. “Some Indians view the Taiwan question as an Achilles’ heel of the mainland. India has long wanted to use the Taiwan question, the South China Sea and Dalai Lama issues as bargaining chips in dealing with China,” writer Yu Ning wrote in an opinion piece for the newspaper.

“By challenging China over the Taiwan question, India is playing with fire,” Yu wrote.

The newspaper blamed Tsai for inciting India.“Tsai is exploiting India’s vigilance and strategic suspicions against China. The pro-independence leader came up with the ”new southbound policy” to ramp up trade and economic interactions in Southeast Asia, South Asia and Oceania, in which India is considered “not one of the, but the most” important country…Tsai hopes to put pressure on the mainland by tying India and Taiwan closer.”

Source: ‘Follow one-China policy’: Beijing warns India over Taiwan delegation | This Week In Asia | South China Morning Post

15/02/2017

India Breaks Record for Launching Most Satellites From Single Rocket – India Real Time – WSJ

India’s space agency on Wednesday launched a record 104 satellites from a single rocket as it crossed another milestone in its low-cost space-exploration program.

The satellites from seven countries were carried by the Indian Space Research Organization’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle on its 38th consecutive successful flight.

The mission reinforces India’s emerging reputation as a reliable and cost-effective option for launching satellites. In 2014, ISRO put a satellite into the orbit of Mars, becoming the first Asian country to reach the red planet at fraction of the cost of a similar launch in U.S. and Europe.

ISRO has now put 226 satellites into orbit, including 180 from foreign nations. The global space industry was estimated to be worth $323 billion in 2015, the latest year for which data are available, according to the Space Foundation, a U.S.-based research group. Commercial space business comprised as much as 76% of the industry.

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, senior fellow in space-security studies at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think tank, said the launch was a “showcase of India’s growing capabilities.”

 

Spectators watched the launch of ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C37) at Sriharikota on Feb. 15, 2017.

“India’s space program has come a long way,” she said.

Ms. Rajagopalan said the trend for sending more small satellites–instead of fewer large ones–will benefit ISRO due to the cost advantages it offers over its American and European competitors. The Space Foundation said nano satellites comprised 48% of launches in 2015

Wednesday’s feat eclipses the record set by Russia in 2014 when it launched 37 satellites in a single mission. A National Aeronautics and Space Administration rocket carried 29 satellites in 2013.

The PSLV rocket blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh at 9.28 a.m. Wednesday local time (10.58 p.m. Tuesday ET).

The ISRO rocket hurtles through the sky after launch from Sriharikota, India, Feb. 15, 2017.

It first released its main cargo, ISRO’s 714 kilogram Cartosat-2 series satellite, which will be used for earth observation. It then released two smaller ISRO satellites, followed by the remaining 101 nano satellites, one each from Israel, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and 96 from the U.S. As many as 88 of the nano satellites belonged to U.S.-based company Planet Inc.

ISRO’s two smaller satellites are carrying equipment for conducting various experiments.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his congratulations. “This remarkable feat by @isro is yet another proud moment for our space scientific community and the nation. India salutes our scientists,” the message said.

Mission Director B. Jayakumar said it was a challenge to “find real estate (on the PSLV rocket) to accommodate all the satellites.” He said a “unique separation sequence” was designed due to the large number of satellites.

ISRO chairman Kiran Kumar Rao, right, held up models of the CARTOSAT-2 and Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C37) after the launch in Sriharikota, India, Feb. 15, 2017.

ISRO said the satellites went into orbit 506 kilometers from earth, inclined at an angle of 97.46 degrees to the equator–very close to the intended orbit–after a flight of nearly 17 minutes. In the subsequent 12 minutes, all 104 satellites were successfully separated from the rocket in sequence, it said.

After separation, the two solar panels of ISRO’s Cartosat-2 series satellite were deployed and the space agency’s command center in Bangalore took control. In the coming days, the satellite will begin to provide start sending back black and white, and color pictures, ISRO said.

Source: India Breaks Record for Launching Most Satellites From Single Rocket – India Real Time – WSJ

10/02/2017

Banyan: Is India a country or a continent? | The Economist

IN A speech to London’s Constitutional Club in 1931, Winston Churchill poured scorn on the idea of India. “India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the equator,” he spat, a slur that invites such uniform disagreement from Indians as to disprove itself. Less well known, but more worthy of debate, is the previous line of Churchill’s speech: “India is no more a political personality than Europe,” he contended.

The personalities of both India and Europe have changed a great deal since 1931. But in explaining India to outsiders, Banyan often finds it helpful to compare it to the European Union (EU) rather than to the United States. Neither parallel does India justice, of course. The frequent comparisons to America can imbue India with a false cohesion. The less common comparison to the EU suggests a false disunity. But if the two parallels are judiciously combined, the falsities may help to cancel each other out.

One obvious example is Indian politics. This month voters took part in elections for the state legislatures of Punjab and Goa. As is often the case, turnout was higher than in India’s national election in 2014. In comparison with the United States, where races for national office, especially the presidency, overshadow state-level contests, that is a puzzle. In comparison with the EU, where elections in member states command far more attention than races for the European Parliament, it seems less strange.

The composition of India’s legislature also looks more like Strasbourg’s multicoloured mosaic than Washington’s two-tone Congress. The Lok Sabha, India’s lower house, seats as many as 35 parties. With the exception of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress, few of them have influence beyond one or two states. If America is the benchmark, the obvious question is why India’s voters have failed to coalesce around rival nationwide philosophies of government. But if the template is Europe, the fragmentation is easier to grasp. Few of Europe’s parties could appeal across national lines, however compelling their policies.

Another example is language. India’s constitution lists 22 “scheduled” languages. An American might wonder how it copes. But the EU, with 24 official languages, is even more polyglot. India’s national anthem had to be translated into Hindi from the original Bengali. But the EU’s anthem has no official lyrics, so as to leave open the question of what tongue to sing them in. Pick any two Indians at random, and the chance that they share the same mother tongue is less than 20%, according to data compiled by Romain Wacziarg of the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues. But for the EU as a whole, according to Banyan’s calculations, the odds are less than 10%. Linguistically, then, India is neither as unified as the United States nor as divided as the EU.

National welding

The author of India’s anthem, Rabindranath Tagore, also saw value in comparing his country to both Europe and America. Like India, the United States faced the problem of “welding together into one body various races”. This challenge set both countries apart from Europe, which, Tagore felt, could take its racial unity for granted. Indeed, he saw Europe as one people divided into many states, unlike India’s many peoples “packed into one geographical receptacle”.

The gap between India’s many peoples remains large. The GDP per person of Bihar, India’s poorest state, is only a fifth of Haryana’s and little more than a tenth of Goa’s. That is a much bigger income gap than between Mississippi and Massachusetts, but comparable to the gulf between Bulgaria and Belgium.These gaps have motivated increasing numbers of Indians to move from one part of their geographical receptacle to another. The government’s latest economic survey, written by Arvind Subramanian, its chief economic adviser, calculates that interstate migration nearly doubled between the 1990s and the 2000s, yielding a migrant population of over 55m in 2011 (roughly 4.5% of India’s population). That may fall well short of American mobility, but compares favourably with the EU, where 13.6m citizens (2.7% of the total population) live in another member state.

The movement of goods tells a similar tale. In India, unlike America, state prerogatives often trump the imperatives of interstate commerce. Trade is distorted by a patchwork of local levies, which the central government is keen to replace with a new goods and services tax. The familiar sight of lorries queuing at state borders suggests an economy that is hopelessly fragmented. But again, the benchmark matters. Drawing on new data, Mr Subramanian shows that trade among India’s states is now equivalent to about 54% of GDP, rather higher than many suspected. That is low compared with America (78%), but impressive compared with the EU (20%).

Net trade is even more dramatic. India’s single market and currency allow some states to run enormous trade deficits with others. Four run deficits in excess of 20% of local output. That is far greater than the euro area has been able to sustain.

India’s divisions hamper it in its dealings with other nations. Its diplomacy has a reputation for parochialism and mal-coordination—an elephantine inability to “dance”. But perhaps it is not given enough slack. Compared with the EU, India’s foreign policy is positively twinkle-toed. India, lest it be forgotten, is as populous as 150 other countries combined. By encompassing all of these people in a single political entity, it dramatically reduces the complexity of global governance—even if it does not always feel like that. Had the republic not succeeded in refuting Churchill, had it disintegrated into multiple sovereign states, the world’s negotiating tables might have needed to accommodate dozens of additional quarrelling players. When the Americans want to talk to India, they know whom to call—however frustrating the conversation sometimes proves to be.

Source: Banyan: Is India a country or a continent? | The Economist

09/02/2017

Trump breaks ice with China in letter to Xi – BBC News

US President Donald Trump has sent a letter to Xi Jinping, his first direct approach to the Chinese leader.

The president thanked Mr Xi for congratulating him on his inauguration last month and said he looked forward to “constructive” relations.

Mr Trump has not yet spoken to Mr Xi but did call other world leaders.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said his country attached great importance to the letter, Reuters news agency reports.

He commended Mr Trump for sending Lunar New Year greetings to the Chinese people and said co-operation between the two countries was the only option.

Change in tone

The letter, featuring standard diplomatic pleasantries, comes after a steady stream of belligerent attacks aimed at Chinese trade and policies.

In recent months, Mr Trump has challenged Beijing on sensitive issues such as Taiwan and the South China Sea. He angered China by taking a call from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, the first involving a US president or president-elect in decades.

China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province to be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary. The US cut formal ties with Taiwan in 1979.

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“President Trump stated that he looks forward to working with President Xi to develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China,” the letter said, according to the White House.

Mr Trump also wished the Chinese people “a happy Lantern Festival and prosperous Year of the Rooster”.

Lunar New Year celebrations officially end on Saturday with a Lantern Festival.

China has been angered by Mr Trump’s comments on the One China policy concerning Taiwan

The conciliatory tone is in stark contrast to previous statements by Mr Trump, whose presidential campaign was marked by anti-China rhetoric that continued after winning the election.

In December, before his inauguration, Mr Trump posted a series of tweets criticising China for its exchange rate policy and its operations in the South China Sea.

He also questioned the One China policy, which is the diplomatic acknowledgement by the US of Beijing’s position that there is only one Chinese government, following his call with Taiwan.

Shortly after he took office on 20 January, his administration vowed to prevent China from taking territory in the South China Sea.

Beijing has so far responded cautiously, expressing “serious concern” about Mr Trump’s position on the One China policy, and urging the US to maintain close ties with China.

It also lodged a protest over the phone call with Ms Tsai, dismissing it as a “petty trick”, and maintained it would “defend its rights” in the South China Sea.

But state media outlets have been less restrained and have issued strongly-worded rebukes, blasting Mr Trump for “playing with fire” on the Taiwan issue.

They also warned of serious action and a “resolute battle” against Mr Trump.

Source: Trump breaks ice with China in letter to Xi – BBC News

07/02/2017

Call the mayor!: Chinese officials use hotlines to take the public’s pulse | The Economist

IN 1375 a secretary in the justice department wrote a long petition to the Ming emperor. Bored by the endless preamble, the Son of Heaven had the functionary dragged to the court and flogged. That night he read to the end of the petition and discovered four sensible proposals crammed into its final page. He ordered them to be enacted the next day.

Xi Jinping, China’s president, is less attentive to petitions (called “memorials to the throne” in imperial times) than was his Ming predecessor. China still has bureaus where citizens can appeal against official injustice, but the government discourages people from using them. It often locks up those who try, putting them in “black jails” without trial. But if appeals to the emperor now fall on deaf ears, humbler forums for complaint are encouraged. The two main ones are known as “mayor’s mailboxes” and “12345 hotlines”.

There are mayor’s mailboxes on the websites of every municipal government, usually indicated by a button next to a biography of the official with an exhortation to “write me a letter” (or, in practice, send an e-mail). The hotlines allow people to be put through to a local bureaucrat. The first one was set up in 1983. Since then they have proliferated, creating an unco-ordinated tangle. But the past few years have seen rounds of consolidation. Shanghai announced a single hotline in 2013. Guangzhou, in the south, did so in 2015. The unified ones all use the same number, 12345.

Such services may sound parochial, but they play an important role. Chinese officials find it hard to gauge what citizens are thinking. There is no free press and no elections to give them clues. Internet chatter is censored automatically, often before criticism reaches officials’ ears. So e-mails to the “mayor” and hotline calls provide rare and valuable guides to public concerns about a wide range of issues: local governments handle everything from social housing to education and health care. The Communist Party hopes that the hotlines and e-mails will make local administrations more accountable, more efficient and—perhaps—more popular. But do they?

In recent months state media have been promoting what they call a model example—the 12345 hotline in Jinan, capital of the coastal province of Shandong. It was launched in 2008, has about 60 operators on duty and gets nearly 5,000 calls a day, rising to 20,000 on busy ones. In 2014 Wang Zongling of the Standardisation Administration, which sets national standards, looked at the hotline’s impact on the government in Jinan. Before it was set up, the city had 38 hotline numbers for contacting different departments. That was “chaos”, the administration said.

The single hotline brought some order. The average time for handling a complaint fell from 10-15 days before it was set up to five afterwards. The share of calls put through to the right person rose from 80% to 97%. Partly because it is now possible to call city hall without wasting your time, enquiries rose from just over 4,000 a day between 2008 and 2011 to almost 5,000. Since the 12345 operators were better trained than before, they processed calls more quickly and the cost per call fell.

But Jinan is a special case. A survey last year by Dataway Horizon, a consultancy in Beijing, found wide variations in the quality of service. In Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing, which are among the richest cities, all hotline calls were put through right away. In Yunnan, Tibet, Shaanxi and Qinghai—less-developed provinces in the west—only a fifth of calls were even answered on the first attempt. A meeting last July to introduce a hotline in Wuxi near Shanghai reportedly degenerated into a squabble between a deputy mayor and district councillors who argued that it would waste money. In nearby Hangzhou the hotline crashed last month when parents flooded it with calls complaining that school exams were too difficult.

In an attempt to improve widely varying levels of service, the central government recently laid down rules for running 12345 hotlines. Starting in July, calls must be answered within 15 seconds, at least one person on duty should be able to speak a language other than Mandarin and the line should be open 24 hours a day.

Perhaps because they are often poorly run, hotlines do not seem to be making local governments any more popular. These form the most despised tier of authority in China: many of the most egregious face-to-face abuses of power take place locally. In Jinan, despite all those efficiency gains, the survey found that “enquirer satisfaction” was only 1.3% higher after the hotline was established than before it. The spread of hotlines has had no discernible impact on the rise of anti-government demonstrations, most of which are aimed at local governments (see chart).

But it is possible that there would have been even more protests without the safety-valve of hotlines. State media say one of their roles is to help with “stability maintenance” by alerting officials to potential flashpoints. Many public protests relate to bread-and-butter issues, such as the ones a local newspaper said were most frequently raised by callers to the 12345 hotline in Nanjing, a southern city: the management of apartment blocks, the water supply, illegal construction, violations of consumer rights and shoddily built housing.

The same topics flood mayors’ mailboxes (both virtual and real). Diana Fu of the University of Toronto and Greg Distelhorst of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have trawled through over 8,000 letters and e-mails sent to mayors’ offices in nearly 300 cities. They found that environmental problems headed the list of concerns. Four of the top 15 involved various kinds of dispute over property.

Arguments over property are among the most frequent causes of unrest. Local government is largely financed by selling land, which is often seized without fair compensation. Very few people dare to protest explicitly about political issues, but all politics is local—and in China local politics is all about land.

Calling for the resignation of a mayor may be risky, but the correspondence read by Ms Fu and Mr Distelhorst shows that complainants are not shy about pointing fingers at lower-level officials. “Zhou’s behaviour is despicable,” seethes one writer about a civil-service examiner caught up in a bribery case in Zhaotong city, Yunnan province. Another, from Shaanxi province, asks: “Is it possible that the budget for road repairs has been swallowed up by corruption (just a suspicion)? I would not rule out reporting it to the media…”

For bureaucrats, such accusations may be a salutary surprise. Most officials spend their lives talking to one other about party business, not listening to the public. Over the next few months, party committees across the country will hold tens of thousands of meetings to discuss preparations for a five-yearly congress in Beijing later this year. As some officials admit privately, none of these gatherings will help them understand any better what most of the country is thinking. Perhaps the hotlines and mailboxes may.

Source: Call the mayor!: Chinese officials use hotlines to take the public’s pulse | The Economist

03/02/2017

In Punjab, jobless youth take a chance with anti-establishment party AAP | Reuters

Twenty seven-year-old Rupinder Kaur Ruby is a political novice but her message is clear: jobs for young people.

Grabbing the microphone, the law student tells a few hundred supporters in a dusty village square in the northwest Indian state of Punjab that the ruling parties have failed them.

“Punjab is not in a good place. And the youth are the most affected. They want to fight back,” she said, raising her fist to cheers, as the crowd covered her in garlands before heading off to canvass for votes in a state election on Saturday.

Ruby is one of several inexperienced candidates her Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party is fielding to tap anger among an increasingly aspirational but frustrated youth, and to challenge Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his party heads into five state polls over the next month starting with Punjab.

A strong showing by AAP, which won a handful of seats in Punjab in the 2014 general election and governs the city-state of Delhi, would serve as a mid-term warning for the still-popular Modi as the economy fails to fulfil expectations.

The young in Punjab have been hit hardest by factory shutdowns, amid allegations that corruption has hastened the economic decline of a relatively rich state of 28 million people bordering Pakistan.

Unemployment tops voter concerns there, according to a recent poll, and young people are less and less willing to work their parents’ fields in the state known as India’s “bread basket”.

GENERATIONAL SHIFT

Most recent opinion polls show Congress, India’s main opposition party, in the lead in Punjab, ahead of AAP which has been criticised by rivals for failing to flesh out how it would boost employment were it to come to power.

But Ruby’s party is most popular among the young, reflecting a generational shift in India that poses a problem for Modi as newer parties seek to capitalise on the lack of jobs.

Nearly two-thirds of India’s 1.3 billion people are under 35 – a demographic “bulge” that will create the world’s largest working-age population before 2050.

Despite average annual economic growth of 6.5 percent between 1991 and 2013, India added less than half the jobs needed to absorb new entrants into the workforce.

The incumbent Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) party that rules Punjab alongside Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, and Congress, have governed the state alternately for decades with a focus on Sikhism, the state’s dominant religion, and farm subsidies.

Those priorities resonate less among the young, and now all the main parties are promising free smartphones and 2,500 rupees ($37) a month for the unemployed.

“The other parties are all the same,” said 30-year-old Jaskaran Sharma, who works as a truck driver in the Middle East and was helping with Ruby’s campaign in between jobs.

“She is energetic, and young people understand the system,” he told Reuters in the village of Teona.

Punjab’s official unemployment rate in 2015/16, at 6 percent, was above the national average of 5 percent, according to the Labour Bureau, although economists say the figures do not reflect the true picture.

Levels of underemployment are higher; only 17 percent of Punjab’s population earns a regular wage.

VOLUNTEERSAAP, which scored surprise wins in local elections in Delhi in 2013 and 2015 on a broad anti-corruption platform, is led by 48-year-old Arvind Kejriwal, a former tax inspector who hopes to expand into other regions by channelling anger over unemployment.

AAP workers like Ruby, daughter of a local government retiree, have built young teams to fan out across villages and campaign door-to-door.

“We depend on our volunteers. This is a ground-up campaign,” she told Reuters over tea and biscuits, while young men snapped photos with her.

Ruby has the lowest declared wealth, at 175,000 rupees ($2,600), of any candidate in the state, according to reports. The 10 poorest candidates are from AAP, although the party has also chosen several well-off politicians as candidates.

“The youth are looking for change, and for that they are going to take a risk with AAP,” said Ashutosh Kumar, a professor of political science at Panjab University.

The ruling party, led by the wealthy Badal family, still commands support among older generations and better-off farmers, while Congress is attracting voters who see AAP as inexperienced.

Sitting outside the office of his SAD party in the Badal heartland of Lambi, landlord farmer Bagga Singh said Kejriwal was a “traitor” who had fooled people.

The protest vote boosting AAP would peter out, he predicted, because the Badals had established skill centres, curbed corruption and job creation would soon pick up.

Still, he acknowledged more needed to be done.

“Young people don’t want to work in agriculture. The margins are down and they don’t want the hard work,” the bearded 70-year-old said, wearing a pink Sikh turban. “They want to sit in an air conditioned office.”

($1 = 67.4900 Indian rupees)

Source: In Punjab, jobless youth take a chance with anti-establishment party AAP | Reuters

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