15/09/2017

China declares itself a global power

N RECENT days government employees across China, from postal officials in the north-east to tax auditors in the south-west, have been corralled into watching state television.

The Communist Party often orders bureaucrats to study propaganda. This time, however, the mandatory viewing has deviated from the usual themes of domestic politics and economic development. Instead, it has focused on China’s emergence as a global power, and the role of the president, Xi Jinping, in bringing this about.In late August and early September the state broadcaster aired six 45-minute programmes on this topic at peak viewing hours. The Chinese title could be rendered as “Great-Power Diplomacy”, but some state media prefer to call it “Major-Country Diplomacy”. That sounds a little more modest. Describing China’s growing global clout has long been a problem for propagandists. In 2003 they seemed to have settled on the term “peaceful rise”, only to abandon it a few months later in favour of “peaceful development”—the word “rise”, they thought, risked causing alarm abroad.

There is not a hint of reticence, however, in the series’ portrayal of China’s purported foreign-policy successes under Mr Xi, and his personal involvement in them. The programmes, made with the help of the party’s own Publicity Department, are peppered with fawning remarks by Chinese and foreigners alike. In a clip from a speech given in 2015, Zimbabwe’s leader, Robert Mugabe, says of the smiling Mr Xi: “We will say he is a God-sent person.” (China has long admired Mr Mugabe’s contempt for the West.) “I really liked him, we had a great chemistry, I think,” America’s president, Donald Trump, is shown telling an American television interviewer after meeting Mr Xi in Florida in April.

Must-Xi TV

The main message is that Mr Xi is responsible for crafting a new approach to foreign policy that has won China global admiration: “great-power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics”. Mr Xi emphasised the need for this in November 2014 in a speech on foreign affairs (official translations of which often used the words “major country” instead). Last year the term appeared for the first time in the government’s annual work report. Like Deng Xiaoping’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, the phrase serves more to obfuscate than enlighten.

The nub of it is said to be “win-win co-operation”. But its introduction marked a clear departure from Deng’s more reticent approach to foreign policy, which was often described in China as taoguang yanghui, or “hiding brightness, nourishing obscurity”. By contrast, in the television series, the narrator says: “Maintaining world peace and stability is the unshirkable responsibility and burden of a great power.” It shows Chinese troops evacuating Chinese (and others) from strife-torn Yemen in 2015, the Chinese navy on anti-piracy missions off the Horn of Africa and Chinese marines setting off in July to establish the country’s first overseas military base in Djibouti.

While the series was being aired, a party newspaper published an article by the foreign minister, Wang Yi, on Mr Xi’s “diplomatic thought”. It said the president’s approach to foreign affairs had “blazed new trails and gone beyond traditional Western international-relations theory of the past 300 years”. The programmes aim to show that, unlike other rising powers in history, China (thanks to Mr Xi) has managed to maintain stable relations with established powers. They gloss over huge underlying tensions with Japan and America. Time and again Mr Xi is shown standing still while foreign leaders walk towards him to shake his hand. “It’s the ancient Chinese tributary system re-enacted,” says a Chinese academic, referring to emissaries from neighbouring states who brought gifts to the Chinese emperor as a means of securing peace.

But for all the talk of Mr Xi’s skills as a global leader, he still shares Deng’s aversion to risk-taking abroad. The series skates over the crisis on the Korean peninsula (a day after the final episode was shown, North Korea tested what appeared to be a hydrogen bomb.) Mr Xi’s great-power diplomacy had clearly failed to avert a grave international crisis—one that has developed not least as a result of China sitting on its hands.

Source: China declares itself a global power

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15/09/2017

India launches first bullet train project – BBC News

Mostly funded by a $17bn loan from Japan, the bullet train will run between Ahmedabad and Mumbai

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has launched work to build India’s first high-speed train in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat.Mostly funded by a $17bn (£12.78bn) loan from Japan, the bullet train will run between Ahmedabad city and Mumbai.

When the service starts operating in five years’ time, the 500km (310-mile) journey time is expected to be cut to three hours from the current eight.

Mr Abe is making a two-day visit to India, a close ally of Japan.

“My good friend Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a far-sighted leader. He took a decision two years ago to bring high-speed train in India and to create a new India,” he said, after laying the foundation stone on Thursday.

“I hope to enjoy the beautiful scenery of India through the windows of the bullet train when I come back here in a few years.”

The 750-seat train is scheduled to run from August 2022.

Does India need bullet trains?

  • Japan and India sign bullet train deal amid closer ties
  • India’s railway system carries more than 22 million passengers a day and much of the equipment is out of date, leading to frequent accidents and chronic delays.

It is part of the government’s ambition to link major cities with high-speed trains, but critics say passengers would be better served if investments were made to improve safety on the current, ageing rail network.

Supporters of the project say high speed trains will lead to improved commuter convenience, reduced congestion in big cities, more business, and improved infrastructure along the route.

Mr Modi has promised to make vast improvements to the network, and the bullet train was one of his key promises in the 2014 election.

India’s bullet train

Japan is a pioneer in high-speed rail transport

It will travel a distance of 500km (310 miles), cutting the journey time from Ahmedabad to Mumbai from eight to three hours.

  • There will be 12 stations on the route.
  • The majority of the route will be elevated. A part of it will run through a 7km long undersea tunnel.
  • It will have top speeds of up to 350km/h (217mph), more than double the maximum speed offered by the fastest trains running in India.

Japan is a pioneer in high-speed rail transport and some of their trains are ranked among the fastest in the world.

“This technology will revolutionise and transform the transport sector,” Indian Railways Minister Piyush Goyal was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

India’s railway tracks need to be modernised

Mr Modi recently replaced his railway minister after a series of accidents, including one last month which killed at least 23 passengers in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

A previous accident in the same state last November killed 150 people, while one the year before killed 39.

Mr Modi and Mr Abe are expected to sign several agreements during the visit, and also inaugurate a Japanese industrial park. Gujarat already hosts Japanese automobile plants.The two leaders enjoy a close friendship – Mr Modi chose Japan as the destination for his first bilateral visit outside South Asia as prime minister.

Both countries are in territorial disputes with China, and their close ties are seen by some as a response against China’s growing influence in the region.

Source: India launches first bullet train project – BBC News

12/09/2017

Why inequality in India is at its highest level in 92 years – BBC News

Did India’s economic reforms lead to a sharp rise in inequality?

New research by French economists Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty, author of Capital, the 2013 bestselling book on capitalism and increasing inequality, clearly points to this conclusion.

They studied household consumption surveys, federal accounts and income tax data from 1922 – when the tax was introduced in India – to 2014.

The data shows that the share of national income accruing to the top 1% of wage earners is now at its highest level since Indians began paying income tax.

The economists say the top 1% of the earners captured less than 21% of the total income in the late 1930s, before dropping to 6% in the early 1980s and rising to 22% today. India, in fact, comes out as a country with one of the highest increase in top 1% income share concentration over the past 30 years,” they say.

How India’s currency ban is hurting the poorIs India winning the war on poverty?

To be sure, India’s economy has undergone a radical transformation over the last three decades.Up to the 1970s, India was a tightly regulated, straitlaced economy with socialist planning. Growth crawled (3.5% per year), development was weak and poverty endemic.

Some easing of regulation, decline in tax rates and modest reforms led to growth picking up in the 1980s, trundling at around 5% a year. This was followed by some substantial reforms in the early 1990s after which the economy grew briskly, nudging close to double digits in the mid-2000s.

Last November’s controversial cash ban slowed down the economy

Growth has slowed substantially since then, but India still remains one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The ongoing slowdown – growth was 5.7% in the April-June quarter, the slowest pace in three years – largely triggered by feeble demand, a controversial cash ban, declining private investment and weak credit growth, is a cause for concern.

And the need for fast-paced growth, according to Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen, is “far from over since India, after two decades of rapid growth, is still one of the poorest countries in the world”.

From their latest work on income inequality, Lucas Chancel and Thomas Piketty contend that there has been a “sharp increase in wealth concentration from 1991 to 2012, particularly after 2002”. Also, they conclude, India has only been really shining for the top 10% of the population – roughly 80 million people in 2014 – rather than the middle 40%.

The economists plan to release the first World Inequality Report, produced by a network of more than 100 researchers in December, where they will compare India’s inequality with other countries and suggest ways to tackle it.

Striking transition

They agree that unequal growth over a period of time is not specific to India, but market economies are not bound to be unequal. India’s case is striking in the fact that it is the country with the highest gap between the growth of the top 1% and that of the full population. Incomes of those at the very top have actually grown at a faster pace than in China.

The economists contend that the growth strategy pursued by successive governments has led to a sharp increase in inequality. China also liberalised and opened up after 1978, and experienced a sharp income growth as well as a sharp rise in inequality. This rise was however stabilised in the 2000s and is currently at a lower level than India.

In Russia, the move from a communist to a market economy was “swift and brutal” and today has a similar level of inequality to India.

“This shows that there are different strategies to transit from a highly regulated economy to a liberalised one. In the arrays of possible pathways, India pursued a very unequal way but could probably have chosen another path,” Dr Chancel told me.

India’s economy grew at its slowest pace for three years in the April-to-June quarter

While inequality is rising in most parts of the world, certain countries are resisting this trend. For example, he says, the rise in inequality is much lesser in western Europe than in the Anglo-Saxon world or in emerging markets.

“This largely owes to social security mechanisms that are relatively more favourable to workers than capital as compared to other parts of the world, to relatively more efficient tax systems and government investment in public goods such as education, housing, health or transport.”

Clearly, the new research should help promote a vigorous debate on what more can be done to promote more inclusive growth in India and the need for more transparent income and wealth data.

Source: Why inequality in India is at its highest level in 92 years – BBC News

05/09/2017

Xi and Modi mend ties after border standoff – BBC News

Their meeting at the Brics summit in China’s port city of Xiamen came just days after the two countries resolved the three-month border dispute.

According to Chinese state media, Mr Xi told Mr Modi that “healthy, stable” China-India ties were necessary.

This was Mr Modi’s last engagement before an official visit to Myanmar.

In a meeting that lasted over an hour, Mr Xi called for putting its bilateral relationship with India on the “right track”, reported Xinhua, China’s official news agency. The Doklam border standoff and reported clashes between the Chinese and Indian army had strained diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The latest row between the two countries erupted when India opposed China’s attempt to extend a border road through the Doklam plateau.

India and China clash along border

China claims victory in India border row

Why is the India-China border stand-off escalating?

Mr Modi congratulated Mr Xi on a “very successful” execution of the three-day Brics summit, in a show of conciliatory support between the two leaders.

At a media briefing, India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said that the two countries would move forward with mutual respect. He made a reference to a June meeting between the two leaders, held in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Astana, where both countries reached a consensus that India and China must not allow differences to become disputes.

“Both sides agreed that there should be better communication and co-operation so that such occurrences don’t happen again,” Dr Jaishankar told reporters.

The Brics summit brings together the world’s five large non-Western economies – the other members are Brazil, Russia and South Africa – who are seeking a greater say in world affairs.

Economic ties were the focal point at the three-day gathering which began on Sunday. Both North Korea’s nuclear test and the border standoff between China and India were also discussed.

Source: Xi and Modi mend ties after border standoff – BBC News

01/09/2017

‘We must send our best to the front line’: Xi Jinping goes all out to rid China of poverty in three years | South China Morning Post

If China success, it will have proven wrong Matthew 26:11: “The poor will always be with you”.

China is going all out in an unprecedented effort to lift its population out of poverty by 2020, while simultaneously strengthening its grip at the grassroots level.

Xinhua has released the full transcript of President Xi Jinping’s remarks in June on the ambitious campaign. The speech contains many specific details regarding how Xi intends to achieve the goal of meeting the basic needs of all of the country’s rural poor in three years.

The transcript was released on the same day as Beijing’s announcement of the October 18 opening date for the 19th Party Congress. Poverty alleviation is expected to be a policy priority for Xi in his second term.

In the June speech, Xi highlighted the importance of combining the building out of the Communist Party’s grassroots apparatus with poverty alleviation.

“We must send our best talents to the front line of the tough battle with extreme poverty,” Xi told cadres while announcing his precise measures aimed at reducing poverty.

Beijing vows to get tough in war on poverty“All levels of government should actively send cadres to station in poor villages in an effort to fortify the party leadership,” he said.

County governments should take the lead in poverty alleviation, Xi said, adding that having stable leadership at the county level was essential. County leaders who perform well in poverty alleviation should be promoted, he said.Xi said the government should precisely identify its poor and the reasons for their poverty to derive appropriate measures to help them.“

The priority for the next stage is to solve the problems of social services, infrastructure and a basic medical services shortage in areas with deep-rooted poverty issues,” Xi said.

He said the government would step up the campaign to move residents from areas with extremely poor living conditions, hire local people to protect forests in ecologically fragile areas, and strengthen assistance to rural poor who suffer with serious illness.

Xi Jinping’s biggest ally returns to the limelight to support Chinese leader’s war against poverty

Meanwhile, Xi also is prepared to strengthen government funding and prioritise land distribution to meet development needs as part of a basket of precise measures aimed at eradicating extreme poverty.

His programme also includes improving public services such as medical care, education, vocational training, transportation and infrastructure to add jobs and develop industries in some of China’s poorest areas.

Ever since taking the helm, Xi has researched and travelled extensively to extremely poor areas as poverty reduction is a key political target for the Communist Party and the central government. The official goal is to eliminate poverty, defined as annual income of less than 2,300 yuan (HK$2,728), and build an “all-round well-off society” by 2020 with all resources available.

In China, rural rich get richer and poor get poorer

The 13th Five Year Plan has set important targets for the country on this matter and progress in poverty alleviation would play a role in assessing cadres’ performance.

Shanghai-based political commentator Chen Daoyin said poverty alleviation is close to Xi’s heart as it helps the party to solidify its political support in the grassroots where most of the nation’s population lives.

“As his next term begins, one can expect that’s where he will dedicate his power on,” Chen said in an interview.

“Not only it is an easy way out for him to win hearts of the mass but also a way to justify the party’s governance on a grassroots level in order to maintain political stability.

China’s final push to eradicate poverty will be difficult but not impossible if handled in a clean, transparent manner“

China’s poorest takes up the majority of the population and all their problems are about staying warm and fed, which is easy to address compared to the more affluent bunch on the eastern part of the nation,” Chen said.

As of last year, China still has more than 55 million people in rural areas who live below the poverty line. Twelve million people were lifted out of poverty last year and another 10 million people would be taken off the rolls this year.

Source: ‘We must send our best to the front line’: Xi Jinping goes all out to rid China of poverty in three years | South China Morning Post

15/08/2017

China imposes import bans on North Korean iron, coal and seafood – BBC News

China is to stop importing coal, iron, iron ore and seafood from North Korea.

The move is an implementation of UN sanctions, which were imposed in response to North Korea’s two missile tests last month.

China accounts for more than 90% of North Korea’s international trade.

Beijing had pledged to fully enforce the sanctions after the US accused it of not doing enough to rein in its neighbour.

Economic impact

The UN approved sanctions against Pyongyang earlier this month that could cost the country $1bn (£770m) a year in revenue, according to the figures provided to the Security Council by the US delegation.

Although China’s coal imports from North Korea totalled $1.2bn last year, the figure will be much lower this year because China had already imposed a ban in February, experts said.”China has already imported its quota of coal under sanctions for 2017. So no net impact there, and North Korean exports to other countries are minimal,” said David Von Hippel, from the Nautilus Institute -a think tank based in Oregon -who has researched North Korea’s coal sector.

North Korean labourers work beside coal mound near the Yalu River

The sanctions might have more of an impact on iron and seafood, experts said.

Although they are both much smaller sources of export revenue for North Korea, the two industries have seen a rise in exports this year.

Iron ore exports grew to $74.4m in the first five months of this year, almost equalling the figure for all of 2016. Fish and seafood imports totalled $46.7m in June, up from $13.6m in May.

The sanctions do not apply to the growing clothing assembly industry in North Korea.Mr Von Hippel said in gross terms, it is nearly as large as coal, but in reality it is worth much less because North Korea has to import the inputs.

Trade and security tensions

The sanctions come against a backdrop of increased tensions between the US and North Korea, as well as heightened trade tensions between the US and China.

After weeks of heated rhetoric between the US and North Korea, on Tuesday North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has decided to hold off on a strike towards the US territory of Guam, state news agency KCNA reported.

The apparent pause in escalating tensions comes after US President Donald Trump warned of “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if Pyongyang persisted with its threats.

On Monday, the US President Donald Trump ordered a trade probe into China’s alleged theft of US intellectual property, which the Chinese state press saw as an attempt to force China to act more decisively on North Korea.

Officially, the US has denied any link between the two issues, although the president had previously suggested he might take a softer line on China in exchange for help on North Korea.

Source: China imposes import bans on North Korean iron, coal and seafood – BBC News

05/08/2017

China tries to keep foreign rubbish out

CHINA dominates international trade in many goods, but few more than waste for recycling.

It sucked in more than half the world’s exports of scrap copper and waste paper in 2016, and half of its used plastic. All in all, China spent over $18bn on imports of rubbish last year. America, meanwhile, is an eager supplier. In 2016 nearly a quarter of America’s biggest exporters by volume were recyclers of paper, plastic or metal. Topping the list was America Chung Nam, a California-based supplier of waste paper which last year exported a whopping 333,900 containers, almost all of them to China.

This may soon change. On July 18th China told the World Trade Organisation that by the end of the year, it will no longer accept imports of 24 categories of solid waste as part of a government campaign against yang laji or “foreign garbage”. The Ministry of Environmental Protection says restricting such imports will protect the environment and improve public health. But the proposed import ban will disrupt billions of dollars in trade. Recyclers worry that other categories of waste may soon receive the same treatment.

Imports of rubbish have helped feed China’s voracious appetite for raw materials. It is often cheaper to recycle scrap copper, iron and steel, as well as waste paper and plastic, than to make such materials from scratch, especially when commodity prices are high. So as commodity prices rose during the 2000s, the burgeoning trade in waste benefited both exporters, who made money from previously worthless trash, and importers, who gained access to a reliable stream of precious feedstock. Between 1995 and 2016 Chinese imports of waste grew tenfold, from 4.5m to 45m tonnes.

But imports of recyclable waste are often dirty, poorly sorted or contaminated with hazardous substances such as lead or mercury. In 1996 factories in Xinjiang inadvertently imported more than 100 tonnes of radioactive metal from Kazakhstan. The following year an American businessman was convicted of smuggling over 200 tonnes of unsorted rubbish labelled as waste paper. Even when the intended material is imported, it is often recycled improperly. In 2002 the authorities faced widespread criticism after a documentary showed workers in Guangdong province crudely dismantling discarded electronic devices and dumping the toxic remains into a river. Officials may have been spurred into the latest restrictions by the release of Plastic China, an unflattering documentary about the plastic-recycling industry which was screened at Sundance, a grand American film festival, in January.

The government had already been campaigning to block imports of illegal and low-quality waste under a crackdown called Operation Green Fence launched in 2013. Customs officials have ramped up inspections of scrap metal for circuit boards, plastic for syringes and other medical waste, and waste paper for plastic or wood. Since then, China’s imports of waste have fallen sharply (see chart).

Whereas Green Fence was aimed at improving the quality of imported waste, the government’s latest move bans several types of waste outright, threatening some $5bn in trade. The Ministry of Environmental Protection says the ban will cut pollution. But most of the waste consumed by China’s recycling industry comes from domestic sources, not imports, notes Joshua Goldstein of the University of Southern California: “This is not really where the problem lies.” Indeed, recyclers who rely on imports may now switch to grubbier domestic stock. “This is going to be very hard on our industry,” says Adina Renee Adler of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. As it is, Operation Green Fence has put lots of small recyclers out of business. Exporters will suffer too. Derek Kellenberg of the University of Montana says, “My suspicion is that the lower-quality stuff is more likely to end up in a landfill.”

Source: China tries to keep foreign rubbish out

28/07/2017

India’s once-shoddy transport infrastructure is getting much better

JUST after 1pm on July 31st 2012 lights blinked out across northern India. It was the world’s biggest-ever blackout, affecting more than 600m people. It was also a swingeing blow to a transport system that had struggled to cope at the best of times. Hundreds of trains came to a halt in open country and in the tunnels of Delhi’s underground railway. Some passengers had to wait for hours in shirt-drenching heat.

Five years on, India’s famously creaky transport infrastructure is starting to look strong. The power on which parts of it depend has also become far more reliable. The embarrassing system-wide collapses of 2012, and an earlier one in 2001, are now scarcely conceivable. A rush to expand the electricity supply has been so successful that analysts now warn of a looming excess of generating capacity.

On paper, India has long claimed some of the world’s most extensive road and rail networks. That belied reality: roads were twisting, bumpy, crowded and dangerous. Railways were largely single-track, which caused delays, or narrow-gauge, which limited their ability to carry large loads. By car or train it was rare to sustain speeds of more than 50kph (30mph). Puzzled tourists wondered why distances that looked small on a map took forever to traverse. The rail network had barely expanded since the days of the British Raj, despite having to handle some 8bn passengers a year. India’s remoter corners were tied to the centre by the thinnest of infrastructure threads. Snows blocked passage to Kashmir for days at a time in winter; floods regularly cut off much of the north-east.

That is changing, too. In recent months Narendra Modi, the prime minister, has inaugurated India’s longest road tunnel and longest bridge. The tunnel slashes driving time between Jammu and Srinagar, the winter and summer capitals of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, by two hours. It also makes the route passable all year round. The new bridge (pictured when it opened in May) spans the vast and moody Brahmaputra river, a once-formidable barrier running through the north-eastern state of Assam. Another one nearing completion will, for the first time, link Kashmir by rail to the rest of India. Rising a dizzying 359 metres (1,178 feet) over a gorge, it is the world’s tallest railway bridge.

China does it quicker

With less drama, transport networks are being overhauled. The central government has doubled budgets for both road- and rail-building since 2012, to a combined total of close to $30bn a year at today’s exchange rate. Progress on building expressways has been unimpressive. Unlike in China, where the government has been able to build big roads at astonishing speed thanks, not least, to its ability to kick farmers off their land at will, in India a more litigious system makes it harder to appropriate land. India’s government is also more sensitive than China’s to farmers’ political opinions (in India they can vote in proper elections). Building roads from which their animals and tractors are excluded is unpopular in the Indian countryside. But local governments are paving and widening rural roads at a rate of 117km a day.

On the railways, better signalling and tracks have pushed up the speed of faster trains to a respectable 140kph. Work is about to start on India’s first dedicated high-speed rail link, a 500-km track between the western city of Ahmedabad and the commercial capital, Mumbai. When the first line of the Delhi Metro opened 15 years ago, many passengers were surprised by its fast, clean and efficient service. India’s capital now has six such lines, some running below ground. Seven cities have such rapid-transit systems. Eight more are building them.More striking still is the growth in air traffic. Domestic passenger numbers have doubled since 2010, to nearly 100m a year. Last year alone the number surged by 23%. Indian airlines are snapping up new aircraft, with some 450 in operation and more than 1,000 on order. Mr Modi’s government has brought cheer to fast-growing private airlines. It plans to privatise much or all of the loss-making national carrier, Air India, and has also pushed through an ambitious scheme to encourage the use of smaller airports. Through a mix of subsidies and guarantees to airlines, plus ticket-price caps for passengers, the scheme aims to put 31 unused airports into passenger service and boost connectivity to 12 more that are reckoned to be underserved.

There will be plenty of power to operate them. Installed generating capacity has more than doubled since 2007. The capacity of power projects now being built should double it again from the present level, assuming they are all completed. Improvements to transmission are no less impressive. “We have a more advanced, more flexible grid than Europe’s,” enthuses Vinayak Chatterjee, an infrastructure consultant. He says the country can now more easily transmit power over long distances, such as from the north-east (which has a surplus) to the often undersupplied south.

The boost to India’s infrastructure has not been problem-free. An exuberant rush into public-private partnerships for big projects a decade ago left many private firms taking on bigger financial risks than they could manage. Many ventures stalled. Infrastructure-related deals are reckoned to account for around 10% of the nearly $200bn in non-performing loans that currently bog down India’s financial system.

The government’s own projects have not all run smoothly, either. A grim report by the state’s main auditing agency earlier this year painted a picture of incompetence and corruption in the Indian army’s Border Roads Organisation, which is responsible for building strategic roads along India’s mountainous border with China (see Banyan). Out of 61 roads that the agency was supposed to have built between 1999 and 2012, only 36% had been completed by 2016, the report revealed. Some of the unfinished ones came to a dead end in impassable gorges, or were abandoned because different stretches turned out to be impossible to join.

That is galling for India, which often rates its progress by comparing itself with China. Having spent three decades beefing up its own infrastructure before India began to get in on the act, the northern giant has set standards that India will still take decades more to match.

Source: India’s once-shoddy transport infrastructure is getting much better

27/07/2017

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

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

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

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

What actually happened at Dunkirk?

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk film reviewed

Has India’s contribution to WW2 been ignored?

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

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

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

An Indian soldier who was evacuated from Dunkirk

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

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

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

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

‘Survival story’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27/07/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toby Melville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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