At the government-subsidised ration shop in Sargasan, a village in Gujarat, Chandana Prajapati places her thumb on a fingerprint scanner. A list of the staples she and her family are entitled to this month appears on the shopkeeper’s computer: 10kg of rice, 25kg of wheat, some cooking oil, salt and sugar. The 55-year-old housewife has no cash nor credit card, but no matter. By tapping in an identifying number and presenting her thumb one more time, Mrs Prajapati authorises a payment of 271 rupees ($4.20) straight from her bank account. It is technical wizardry worthy of Stockholm or New York; yet outside buffaloes graze, a pot of water is coming to the boil on a pile of firewood and children scamper between mud-brick houses.
Like most Indians, Mrs Prajapati would have struggled to identify herself to the authorities a few years ago, let alone to a faraway bank. But 99% of adults are now enrolled in Aadhaar, a scheme which has amassed the fingerprints and iris scans of over 1.1bn people since 2010. With her authorisation, any government body or private business can check whether her fingerprints or irises match those recorded against her unique 12-digit identifying number in its database. When it comes to identification, India has unexpectedly leapfrogged every country with the possible exception of Estonia, a tiddler with a penchant for innovation.
Being visible to the state is assumed in rich countries, if only because the taxman insists on it. But India had no equivalent of a Social Security number, and less than half of all births are registered. Only a small minority are required to pay income taxes. Plenty of those entitled to government services, meanwhile, have not received them, because they have not been identified as eligible or because middlemen have stolen their share. At the same time, the benefits rolls are filled with fake beneficiaries, created by those seeking to palm undeserved rations of fertiliser, food or some other subsidised good.Ghosts v the machineLinking ration cards to an Aadhaar number, and thus to the biometric data tied to it, means a single person cannot have more than one and ghosts can have none. The original pitch to politicians—the scheme was adopted by the previous government, but has been embraced by Narendra Modi, the prime minister—was that Aadhaar would help make welfare more efficient. The potential gains are huge. One official estimate suggests that “leakage” in subsidy payments meant that only 27% of the money ended up in the right hands: not so much a leaky bucket as a sieve.
Over 400,000 ghost children were struck off school rolls in just three states after schools were required to match their pupils to Aadhaar numbers to keep receiving state funds. By weeding out false claims, authorities say they have saved $8bn in two-and-a-half years; the annual central-government budget for subsidies is about $40bn. That may be an exaggeration, and critics say there are other ways to improve the administration of subsidies. But the savings clearly outstrip the roughly $1bn cost of deploying Aadhaar.
Changing the mechanics of how a benefit is received is often just as important as the benefit itself. Development experts like the fact that, at least in theory, a villager can gain access to a subsidy in a distant city. This removes a big barrier to internal migration. A project to purge electoral lists found 800,000 fictitious voters in Punjab, a state of 30m. The authorities suspect that 30% of driving licences are fake, many of them duplicates to help drivers evade bans—a ruse that would be impossible if all licences were linked to Aadhaar.
Indeed, the improvements in accuracy and efficiency are so enormous that the government now wants to use Aadhaar more broadly than originally advertised. Recent edicts propose to make it compulsory for everything from booking train tickets to owning a mobile phone. If implemented, these new uses would put paid to the notion that enrolling in Aadhaar is voluntary, which was the promise of its backers—led by Nandan Nilekani, an IT grandee who used to chair the agency that set up Aadhaar. This in a country with no overt privacy laws, let alone a tradition of handling sensitive data competently (many ministries’ websites contain spreadsheets teeming with Indians’ personal data).
But Aadhaar is a poor way to build up an Orwellian panopticon, Mr Nilekani argues, given the wealth of information already available from telephone records, GPS data, bank statements and the like. A bigger problem may be the impracticalities of the system. Unlike reading an ID card, checking someone’s identity through Aadhaar requires an internet connection and, often, electricity. Ration-shop owners in out-of-the-way places are known to march their customers to the top of a hill, roof or tree—wherever a phone signal can be found—to check their identity. Even then, samples seem to show that roughly a third of authentications come back negative, an extraordinarily high failure rate for a technology that people rely on for necessities. The chafed fingers of manual labourers often cause problems, for example.
Those high failure rates are just teething troubles linked to Aadhaar’s many new uses, says Ajay Bhushan Pandey, the head of the agency overseeing the scheme. Devices that scan irises (which offer more reliable readings) are becoming cheaper and should become the norm, he says. Already the Aadhaar database is being tapped 20m times a day, 20 times the rate of a year and a half ago. That thrills cheerleaders as much as it alarms critics.
The subtleties of soft powerChina is spending billions to make the world love itCan money buy that sort of thing? From the print edition IMAGES of China beam out from a giant electronic billboard on Times Square in the heart of New York city: ancient temples, neon-lit skyscrapers and sun-drenched paddy fields. Xinhua, a news service run by the Chinese government, is proclaiming the “new perspective” offered by its English-language television channel. In Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, children play beneath hoardings advertising swanky, Chinese-built apartment complexes in the city.
Buyers are promised “a new lifestyle”. Across the world, children study Mandarin in programmes funded by the Chinese state. Some of them in Delaware don traditional Chinese robes and bow to their teachers on Confucius Day.
For many years, shoppers around the world have been used to China’s omnipresence: “Made in China” has long been the commonest label on the goods they buy. More recently, however, the Chinese government has been trying to sell the country itself as a brand—one that has the ability to attract people from other countries in the way that America does with its culture, products and values. A decade ago the Communist Party declared a new goal: to build “soft power”, as a complement to its rapidly growing economic and military strength. It spends some $10bn a year on the project, according to David Shambaugh of George Washington University—one of the most extravagant programmes of state-sponsored image-building the world has ever seen. Mr Shambaugh reckons that America spent less than $670m on its “public diplomacy” in 2014.
The party borrowed the idea of soft power from an American academic, Joseph Nye, who coined the term in 1990. Mr Nye argued that hard power alone was not enough to wield influence in the world. It had to come from “the soft power of attraction”, too. China was acutely conscious that it lacked it. Many in the West were deeply suspicious of its authoritarian politics. In Asia people feared China’s emergence as a regional hegemon. China knew it could use its economic might to win over governments, such as by building roads, railways and stadiums for them. But Mr Nye saw those kind of investments as expressions of hard power. China decided it needed more of the soft kind as well, so that foreigners would feel naturally inclined to do its bidding.After several years of debate about soft power, or ruan shili, among Chinese academics, China’s then president, Hu Jintao, spoke up on the topic in 2007, telling a party congress that China needed to build it. Mr Hu’s successor, Xi Jinping, has stepped up the effort. In 2013, about a year after he took over as China’s leader, Mr Xi convened a meeting of the ruling Politburo to discuss soft power. Its members agreed that it was a vital ingredient of Mr Xi’s “Chinese dream of the great revival of the Chinese nation”—the term “Chinese dream” being one of Mr Xi’s favourites.
Mr Xi has made himself promoter-in-chief of this new form of power (helped when he travels abroad by the highly visible presence of his elegant, smiling wife). His efforts to boost it were on display at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, where he won plaudits for extolling globalisation and calling for unity in the fight against climate change. Even Mao Zedong, who enjoyed a cult status abroad among some left-wing academics, put far less work into winning over foreigners.
Raise the red lanterns
According to Mr Nye, whom Chinese officials acknowledge as a guru on the topic, there are three main ways that a country can gain soft power: through its political values, its culture and its foreign policies. But winning on all fronts is not easy. The party knows that its ideology has little chance these days of attracting others. Arguably China’s soft power was stronger in the 1950s and 1960s when Mao, a brutal but charismatic dictator, espoused a socialist Utopia that inspired many people around the world. Nowadays some Chinese academics speak of a “China model”—the winning combination, in their view, of authoritarian politics and somewhat liberal economics (with a big role for the state). But Chinese leaders prefer to gloss over the politics when describing their country to foreigners. In 2008 the opening ceremony of the Olympics Games in Beijing barely hinted at the party or its principles.
Instead, China’s soft-power strategy focuses mainly on promoting its culture and trying to give the impression that its foreign policy is, for such a big country, unusually benign. The culture that the party has chosen for foreign consumption is mainly one that was formed long before communism. Confucius, condemned by Mao as a peddler of feudal thought, is now being proffered as a sage with a message of harmony. Since 2004 China has established some 500 government-funded “Confucius Institutes” in 140 countries. These offer language classes, host dance troupes and teach Chinese cooking. Many of them are on campuses (an activity involving one, at the University of Delaware, is pictured). China has also set up more than 1,000 “Confucius Classroom” arrangements with foreign schools, providing them with teachers, materials and funding to help children learn Mandarin.
China hopes foreigners will take up some of its traditional customs. For example, it has set out to make Chinese new year as popular as Christmas. In 2010 the government put on fewer than 100 new-year events in foreign countries. This year it sponsored some 2,000 of them in 140 countries to mark the year of the chicken. Red-coloured Chinese lanterns swayed in city streets thousands of miles from the home of the lunar festival. The Communist Party wants China’s cultural presence to reach everywhere: it recently staged a fashion show in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, featuring the qipao, a sleeveless dress that gained popularity among fashionable Chinese women in the 1920s.
China’s diplomats have been busy trying to convince foreigners that China’s rise is nothing to fear. Mr Xi speaks of a “new type of great-power relations”, suggesting that China can co-exist with America without the kind of rivalry that caused the two world wars. His “One Belt, One Road” scheme—involving Chinese investment in infrastructure across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe—aims to reinforce China’s image as a country eager to use its newfound wealth for the good of the world (see article).
To help craft such an image, China has been investing massively in its foreign-language media. Xinhua, the government’s main news agency, opened nearly 40 new foreign bureaus between 2009 and 2011, bringing its total to 162—at a time when cash-strapped media organisations elsewhere were shutting them down (it hopes to have 200 by 2020). The number of Xinhua correspondents based overseas doubled during that time. In December the state broadcaster rebranded its international media service, calling it China Global Television Network. Its six channels aim to compete with global services such as the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. (Mr Xi urged the network to “tell the China story well, spread China’s voice” and “showcase China’s role as a builder of world peace”.) China Daily, the government’s main English-language mouthpiece, pays for inserts in newspapers such as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
The government is trying to extend its reach online, too. Last year a government-affiliated media group spent 30m yuan ($4.35m) to launch a free, English-language website called Sixth Tone. It tries to sell China’s message by being more sassy, and sometimes more critical, than other state media. With the party’s blessing, private companies are getting involved, too. In 2015 Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce firm, paid $260m for the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s flagship English-language newspaper which has incisive—and often critical—reporting on Chinese politics. The deal has raised fears that Alibaba will try to turn the newspaper into a cheerleader for the party. China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, is trying to buy film studios and production companies in Hollywood, the epicentre of American culture (China’s clampdown on capital outflows may have been frustrating his efforts recently—earlier this month he withdrew a $1bn bid for Dick Clark Productions, an iconic Hollywood firm).
China wants its message to be clearly visible in the heartland of America’s capitalist culture. It began advertising itself in Times Square in 2011 (see picture). Last year Xinhua used its billboard there to broadcast a video 120 times a day for two weeks defending China’s territorial ambitions over disputed rocks in the South China Sea. Sometimes the party uses covert means to sway foreign opinion. In 2015 an investigation by Reuters, a news agency, revealed that a Chinese state broadcaster, China Radio International, controlled at least 33 radio stations in 14 countries, including the United States, but was using front companies to mask its ties with them. Reuters said the stations avoided airing anything that might portray China in a negative light.
Sweet and sour
But when Mr Nye wrote about soft power, he suggested that governments could not manufacture it. He argued that much of America’s had sprung from its civil society: “everything from universities and foundations to Hollywood and pop culture”. The party is distrustful of civil society; its soft-power building has been almost entirely state-led. China has tried to combine elements of soft power with the hard power of its illiberal politics. Far from enhancing China’s global image, this approach has often served to undermine it.
Take the Confucius Institutes and Classrooms. In 2007 a senior party leader described these as “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.” But many cash-strapped universities have gratefully supplanted their own language courses with ones led (even funded) by Confucius Institutes. In some places Confucius Institutes have replaced or started up entirely new China-studies programmes. Most of them do not actively push the party line, but Confucius Institutes usually skate over sensitive political topics such as the crushing of pro-democracy protests in 1989.
They often attract controversy. In 2013 McMaster University in Canada severed ties with its on-campus Confucius Institute after one of the institute’s employees was forbidden to follow Falun Gong, a spiritual sect that is banned in China (the institute subsequently closed down). At a European Chinese-studies conference in 2014, the Chinese head of Confucius Institutes worldwide ordered pages referring to a Taiwanese educational foundation to be ripped from each programme. Such attempts at censorship only help to reinforce Western misgivings about China’s politics and undermine its soft power.
China’s efforts to use its global media to paint a rosier picture of the country also face a tough challenge. Its television networks employ foreign anchors (and plenty of panda footage) to try to win audiences abroad. But foreigners can also see the Chinese state’s heavy hand, such as when it mobilises pro-China crowds to drown out protesters during visits by Chinese leaders, or when it arm-twists foreign politicians not to complain about China’s human-rights record (Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese human-rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 2010, languishes in a Chinese jail, rarely mentioned in public by Western leaders). In February an official at the Chinese embassy in London warned Durham University not to host a vocal critic of the party: a former Miss World contestant who was born in China and raised in Canada—the country she represented.
As for China’s message of peace to other countries, many in Asia are far from convinced. Its grabs for territory in the East and South China Seas have fuelled widespread resentment. The rapid expansion of its navy and air force, and its build-up of missiles, have sown anxiety in America, too.
China’s soft-power push has made some gains. In global opinion polls respondents from Africa tend to be more positive about China than people from other regions. That is partly because of the money China has poured into the continent—in Angola every professional football match is staged in one of four, Chinese-built, stadiums. Younger people everywhere often view China more favourably than older people (see chart). This is a sign, perhaps, that the country is capable of being cool—who does not get a buzz out of Shanghai’s skyline? Portland Communications, a public-relations firm, has conducted surveys of public attitudes towards 30 countries—most of them, apart from China, rich ones. China ranked bottom in 2015. Last year it crept two places higher, above the Czech Republic and Argentina.
But money has not bought China anything like the love it would like. A year before Mr Xi took over, just over half of Americans had positive impressions of China, according to the Pew Research Centre. By the end of 2016 that share had fallen to 38% (see chart). Pew found a similar trend in other countries. In 14 out of 19 nations it polled between 2011 and 2013, views of China became less friendly.
No thanks to the party
China’s rapid economic development has won it many admirers. But the social and environmental costs of this have also produced many critics. A country can have soft power and smog as well (America has had plenty of both in much of its recent history). But China’s air pollution undermines its soft power: it is widely seen as evidence of a callous government that cares more about making the country richer than the health of its people or the planet. Many foreigners now associate the country with smog—an important reason why 37% fewer international tourists visited China in 2015 than in 2007. (Other reasons for the drop included the cost and increasing hassle involved in obtaining visas, and the yuan’s exchange rate.) Mr Xi’s eagerness to join the fight against global warming is partly driven by a desire to regain the soft power China has lost owing to its environmental horrors.
Some people in China privately grumble that the party itself, with its intolerance of dissent, is the biggest obstacle to the country’s soft-power development. Since taking office, Mr Xi’s relentless efforts to clamp down on civil society have hardly helped. He has also been trying to strengthen the party’s control over the arts: in 2014 he said they should promote socialism rather than be “slaves to the market”. That is unlikely to help China emulate the success of America’s television shows, which project an attractive vision of American culture into people’s living rooms the world over.
Few people outside China want to watch its programmes, which are often thinly disguised propaganda. The success of China’s most successful film globally, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, a co-production involving American companies, has not been repeated since its release in 2000. “Kung Fu Panda”, an American-made animated film series, has perhaps done more to boost China’s soft power than any movie made by the country itself. Small wonder that China was keen to enter into a co-production for the third in the series, which came out last year.
State-controlled media in China have reported with relish on commentary in America suggesting that Donald Trump’s presidency may deal a heavy blow to the United States’ soft power. If that arises from the appeal of a country’s culture, political ideals and foreign policies, as Mr Nye reckons, then America’s soft power is threatened in two of these domains. China’s political system may not exert much of a global pull, but it could begin to look a bit more attractive to some people when compared with America’s.
China has some attributes that it can play to its advantage. For example, it has no colonial history beyond its current borders and has started no wars in nearly 40 years. In a turbulent world, China’s leadership appears relatively stable and predictable (at least to the casual observer—Mr Xi’s determination to crush dissent suggests he sees serious threats to his power).
When Mr Xi became the first Chinese president to address the global elite at Davos, only days before Mr Trump was inaugurated, he appeared to sense an opportunity to bask in a rare glow. But the upswing in China’s soft power is likely to be limited. Chinese officials themselves quietly ask whether China’s strategy can ever succeed. In 2015 a senior official, Zhou Hong, wondered aloud what state-sponsored soft power could achieve. “Without the broad participation of the people,” he wrote in the party’s main mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, “the external propagation of culture not only loses its meaning, but also loses its intrinsic energy.” Mr Zhou was right about the Chinese people’s role. China will find it hard to win friends and influence nations so long as it muzzles its best advocates.
THE fetishisation of British Imperialism is inescapable. Last December, Theresa May cited the East India Company as an example of Britain’s historical trading prowess. Contestants on a recent season of “The Apprentice”, an entrepreneurial reality show, created batches of “Colony Gin”; Marks & Spencer, a retailer, included an “Empire Pie” as part of its Gastropub collection. This nostalgia is borne out by a YouGov poll from 2016, which found that 44% of respondents are proud of Britain’s colonial history.
Those colonised, though, see the empire rather differently. A charge sheet of Britain’s efforts in India—and every territory colonised can produce an equivalent—might list partition, the man-made Bengal famine in 1943 (which resulted in an estimated 3m deaths), the wretched labour system of indenture and the looting of state wealth. Partition alone resulted in 1m deaths and created 15m refugees in a matter of weeks; Hindus and Sikhs fled their homes in what was the become the Muslim state of Pakistan, while Muslims in India took flight in the opposite direction.
“Viceroy’s House”, a new film written and directed by Gurinder Chadha, seeks to document Britain’s role in partition and the cleaving of the Punjab region. In the final months of the Raj, Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) arrives to oversee the transfer of power to Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule), and reconcile the demands of independence leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru with those of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Sir Cyril Radcliffe (Simon Callow)—who had never set foot in India before—is drafted in to assess how 175,000 square miles, home to 88m people, should be split. Ms Chadha carefully balances high politics with its impact on ordinary citizens; relations between Hindu, Sikh and Muslim staff become tense as the prospect of annexing India’s Muslim-majority regions emerges.
The film is good in exposing the Machiavellian motives behind this rushed decision, as well as the gut-wrenching suffering that followed (the house, which “makes Buckingham Palace look like a bungalow”, becomes a camp for the displaced). It is not perfect, however. “Viceroy’s House” absolves everyone—Lord Mountbatten, the British, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims—of blame for the suffering. Some critics have complained that it does not give any attention to the Indian independence struggle, or catalogue the horrors of British rule. These are deserving of films in their own right; Ms Chadha’s decision to focus her lens solely on how partition unfolded is a wise one.
With millions of people involved in the story of partition, “Viceroy’s House” was always going to be a tricky undertaking, likely to be deemed unsatisfactory by many. Ms Chadha tells the story of this multifaceted moment in the region’s history through the lens of one building, framing it as the tale of “the people’s partition” rather than dealing in factionalism and blame. She has subverted the period-drama genre—how many period dramas close on a shot of a desperate refugee camp?—to produce something akin to a “Dummy’s Guide to partition”.
Yet even as a superficial primer, “Viceroy’s House” fills a gap in Britain’s collective consciousness and cultural memory. In the canon of modern British films about India, partition features in “Gandhi” (1982) and “Midnight’s Children” (2012) but gets scant treatment elsewhere. “Viceroy’s House” stands out from these offerings as a British film narrated with heart, soul and profound sadness by a Punjabi film-maker with a personal investment in the story: the closing credits reveal that Ms Chadha’s grandmother lost a child to starvation while fleeing to India.
It will be hard for some to maintain a sense of nostalgia and triumphalism for Britain’s empire after watching “Viceroy’s House”: Ms Chadha intersperses the drama with Pathé news footage of communal violence and Churchill’s dejected newscasts explaining the collapse of law and order. The film has ensured that partition, which is rarely taught in British high schools, has a place in the nation’s shared public culture again. Too right. Partition is as much a part of modern Britain—home to 700,000 Indian and Pakistani Punjabis, many of whom are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of partition—as butter chicken, saag paneer, naan, bhangra and Bollywood.
State Councillor Yang Jiechi is the first senior Chinese official to meet Mr Trump since his inauguration.
Mr Yang also discussed security matters with the new US national security adviser, HR McMaster, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.
It follows tensions over trade and security between the two countries.
On 9 February Mr Trump spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping by telephone.
In that call he agreed to honour the “One China” policy, backing away from previous threats to recognise the government of Taiwan, which China regards as a breakaway province.In December Mr Trump, as president-elect, had spoken on the phone to the president of Taiwan – a break in protocol which angered Beijing.
In his visit on Monday, Mr Yang also met Vice-President Mike Pence and strategist Steve Bannon, Chinese state media reported.White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Mr Yang then “had an opportunity to say hi to the president”.
The talks with the Chinese delegation covered “shared interests of national security”, Mr Spicer said.
In January, China’s foreign ministry warned Washington against challenging Beijing’s sovereignty in parts of the South China Sea.
It came after Mr Spicer said the US would “make sure we protect our interests there”.
Barack Obama’s administration refused to take sides in the dispute.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.