Saturday, 25 June 2016

India and NSG Membership: Is China at Fault?

       India applied for NSG membership on 12 May 2016, although according to the MEA spokesperson the engagement began some 12 years ago. The point to note, the spokesperson emphasized, was that 'this is not a new subject'. However India's hopes for membership were belied at the Seoul plenary session of the 48 NSG member countries meeting; for as the MEA spokesperson put it "one country" raised procedural hurdles consistently. It is a no brainer that he was singling out China for the obstruction.
* The Chinese delegate to the Seoul plenary Wang Qun, however, maintained that "China does not support Pakistan or India to enter the NSG until they follow rules established by NSG members. NSG consensus is in favor of the NPT, hope India will join first. Rules are not made by China, but by the group as a whole[emphasis added]'.
* At the conclusion of the Seoul meeting the NSG member states issued a two page statement, but the key para was that NSG members reiterated the "firm support for the full, complete and effective implementation of the NPT as the cornerstone of the international non-proliferation regime[emphasis added]".
* Of note is the fact that all of India's friends, including the US and France, are a party to this NSG statement!
* But look a little closer at the NSG and its rules and guidelines. The NSG has already made its rules that cover every aspect of the nuclear trade and it has also spelt out its trigger lists. Complying with the "demands" of the US Congress, India has already harmonized its export control legislation with those of the NSG. The original NSG guidelines were first established in 1978 and subsequently revised in 1992. In 2010 the NSG adopted 54 amendments and issued them in 2013.
*The crucial point is that under paras 6 and 7 of the new guidelines nuclear trade and re-processing is prohibited with any country that has not signed the NPT. This means that, even if we become full members of the NSG, no country can co-operate with India [emphasis added]. But India obtained a waiver in 2008 and that still holds.
* It is not in the public domain if India protested or contested these new guidelines as clearly the 2010 amendments were set to target India.
*But these are not technical matters alone. Politics plays a major role. When China decided to supply nuclear reactors to Pakistan in the  last few years, under the spurious plea that these were being "grand-fathered", no NSG member including the US objected, as clearly they should have done for gross violations of NSG guidelines. All 47 NSG members looked the other way and China continues to supply nuclear reactors to Pakistan even as the latter is not under any safe-guarded regime.
*It is also not in the public domain whether the MEA consulted other stake holders on the proposed initiative that put our President and PM so visibly on line. Certainly as MR Srinivasan, Member of the Atomic Energy Commission, has publicly stated the AEC was not consulted.
*If our Ambassador to China was consulted, did he not warn that the Chinese position had hardened to a point that they would disregard any request, even if it came from the US? Certainly the US, unlike in 2008, did not take up India's case at the President's level, but simply left it to the Secretary of State to write an inconsequential letter pleading for India's membership. The Chinese would immediately have noticed the difference and concluded that it was not worthwhile spending political capital on a lame duck US administration.
*Clearly the MEA should have forewarned the political leadership of the state of play in the international arena and the fact that 2016 was vastly different from 2008, particularly as it pertained to the balance of power equation between the US and China. Not only that, but the Sino-Pak nexus has significantly hardened since then. China has demonstrated its capability to look after its client state! There is no point in castigating China when we may not have done our homework. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

How will China react after UNCLOS Tribunal ruling on SCS?

     It is widely believed and the Chinese themselves seem to concede that the UNCLOS Tribunal ruling on the SCS dispute, due shortly, would in all probability go against them. The question on everyone's mind is: How will the Chinese react?
* The core Chinese arguments are contained in three basic points. These are [1] that the UNCLOS Tribunal has no legal right to hear the Filipino case. [2] that it is the US that is instigating the 'trouble' in the SCS area and [3] that China is the unintended 'victim' of this American ploy.
* Another question that arises is that do the Chinese consider their territorial claims in the SCS as "core national" interests? For if they do, then the whole complexion of their response would change.
* In March 2010 the NYT reported that the Chinese, for the first time, in a meeting attended by NSC Asia Director, Jaffrey Bader and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg had confirmed to them that their territorial claims in the SCS were indeed "core" interests. This was followed by the then Chinese Counselor Dai Bingguo telling Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in May 2010 in Washington that this was indeed so. She later confirmed this at a press conference in Australia.
* After President Xi Jinping assumed office in 2012 there has been "strategic ambiguity" in that the Chinese officials have neither denied nor confirmed whether their claims in the SCS were of "core interest". This position remains till today. In other words, the Chinese have maintained diplomatic flexibility and practiced "strategic ambiguity".
* The Chinese rightly complain that all the major countries, such as the US and Japan, that are loudly proclaiming the need to "respect" international law are themselves violators when it suits them. For example, Japan has completely ignored the ICJ ruling of 2014 on whaling operations that went against Japan. Similarly the US ignored the 1986 ICJ ruling on support to contra rebels in Nicaragua that went against it. So to loudly rail against China on not following international law rulings is to say the very least "hypocritical".
*China will play the "victimhood" card as vociferously as possible, since it has internal political dimensions. Already Xu Hong, Director General of the Chinese Foreign Office characterized the expected ruling as a "vicious act". Not to be left behind the Chinese Ambassador to the EU said that "China is a victim of the SCS issue" and Xu Bu the Chinese Ambassador to ASEAN accused Washington as the "conspirator behind this move" and that the US was "dictatorial and over-bearing".
* That the Chinese are going out of their way to line up support from diverse countries such as Kenya, Vanuata, Afghanistan etc. indicates that the expected ruling would probably  have internal repercussions on the ruling group within the CCP.
* The Chinese will ignore the ruling, since it can not be enforced, but will mount a huge propaganda effort against it to show to their domestic audience that the Chinese have been unfairly treated.
* As Fu Ying, Chairperson of the NPC said in the US recently that when it comes to Chinese territory, China will give "not an inch".
* So expect a large scale outpouring of nationalist sentiment, perhaps even large scale demonstrations and an even more rigid Chinese stance. The SCS area is likely to see some turbulent times; but in all probability the jousting would hopefully remain verbal!        

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Fiasco at China -ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting at Beijing

           Last Tuesday the China-ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting took place in Beijing to discuss the vexed South China Sea dispute and the impending ruling of the Hague Tribunal, widely expected to go against China. The problem that arose was how to characterize the meeting and on how to present its conclusions to the public and the press. And that's where the problem arose and the farce began.
* First the Singapore FM who was to hold a joint press briefing with his Chinese counterpart, openly walked out of the briefing allegedly as the Chinese FM tried to put pressure on him to "soften" the rhetoric. The Singapore FM was there as the representative of the 10 ASEAN FMs.
* Next the Malaysians issued a statement that was strongly worded, on behalf of the ASEAN group, that voiced "serious concern" and "opposed" China's militarization and land reclamation in the SCS area.
*Hours later the Malaysians retracted the statement and said that a revised statement would be issued. None has been issued so far. Apparently the Malaysians beat the gun, since no ASEAN consensus had been achieved before they issued the statement.
*Thereafter several ASEAN states issued their own individual statements. The Vietnamese statement came closest to the original Malaysian statement.
*Not to be left behind, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson maintained that any ASEAN statement issued did not reflect the "official" stance of the ASEAN states during the meetings. The Chinese also maintained that the Singapore FM has not walked out of the joint press briefing, but had left as he had a plane to catch!
*The ASEAN Secretariat then clarified that they had not received any joint ASEAN FMs statement from the member states and as such there was nothing to circulate.
* The above fiasco just shows that ASEAN member states are very divided on how to deal with China. They cannot even formulate a joint statement. Just to recap, except for tiny Brunei, China is the largest trading partner of all other ASEAN states. China has been very indulgent in advancing aid, loans etc. to all of them.
* Thus who wants to give up the Chinese largess?     

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Travails of Chinese Students

     Last week about 9.4 million Chinese high school graduate students sat for entrance exams, known locally as gaokao, in a fierce competition for a place in Chinese universities for higher education. As in India so in China, this was a moment of great stress and anxiety not only for the students, but also for their anxious parents. For at stake were their future careers and prospects for jobs in an increasingly difficult environment, considering that China is at present going through an economic downward slide where lucrative jobs are becoming increasingly harder to find.
*In the Chinese system there is one national exam [gaokao] for the whole country, where the position gained by a student determines which university he/she would be admitted. The higher the position obtained in the exam, the more renowned the university available.
*Of the 100 top universities in the world, 4 Chinese universities figure; namely Tsinghua, Peking U, Fudan and Shanghai Jiao Tong U. It is the ambition of most Chinese students and their parents for them to obtain admission in the above top four universities. Once a student gains admission in the top four, he/she is assured of an "iron rice bowl" [colloquial Chinese for assured employment]. On the other hand, there is no Indian university that figures in the world's top 100!
*In 1949 when the People's Republic was founded there were only 117,000 students in the whole of China. By 2015, the figure had increased to 37 million making it the largest student population in the world. This massive increase is one of the reasons for China's rapid economic growth.
*As the exams are tough and very competitive there is considerable family pressure on the students to do well and this in turn has led to allegations of cheating. The most common practice is to use wireless sets and substitute exam sitters.
* Taking cognizance of this practice the Chinese authorities have recently introduced draconian laws. Cheaters caught and convicted will now be given 7 year jail terms under amended laws and disbarred from other national exams for a period of 3 years. The severity of the sentences would indicate the scale of the problem of cheating that exists.
*On the other hand, there has been an uproar and even some angry demonstrations,particularly by parents, over the authorities decision to allocate extra seats to students from the poorer western provinces of China.
*Although there is no formal "reservation" system in China, minority communities have benefited from affirmative action. For example, this year 3,800 Tibetan students will get "extra" points for the gaokao exam. In Xinjiang in 2015, minority students were given 50 "extra points" if either parent belonged to one of the 11 ethnic groups identified by the authorities. Interestingly, this concession is limited to only if the student came from one of the four prefectures identified; namely Hotan, Kashgar, Aksu and Kizilsu Kirgiz.
 * According to the China Youth Daily in 2014, more than 64% of the 46,659 respondents polled believed that "extra points" harmed the interests of the majority Han community [emphasis added].
* Although never officially admitted it is believed that suicides amongst failed students is fairly common, but nevertheless China continues to produce some outstanding students.
* It would thus seem that this is one area where problems faced are common for both China and India!