Monday, May 26, 2014

Will the wind blow from the East?

The tides are changing.
As Narendra Modi takes oath as the new Prime Minister of India, Asia is fast becoming the center of the world.
Agence France-Presse reported that China and Russia signed in Shanghai “a long-awaited natural gas supply deal, securing the world’s top energy user a major new source of the clean-burning fuel and opening a market to Moscow as Europeans look elsewhere for their energy”. A big big deal!
For Reuters, it represents a triumph for Putin “as he seeks to forge new markets in Asia as European countries reduce their reliance on Russian gas in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.”
Xi Jinping, the Chinese President and his visiting Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said in a statement: “This is another major milestone achievement in China-Russia energy strategic cooperation.”
According to the terms of the deal between the Russian state-controlled company Gazprom and China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), the Russian company will supply 38 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas to CNPC each year for 30 years; a contract of more than 400 billion US dollars.
The gas will be transported along a new pipeline linking Siberian gas fields to China’s main industrial centres in southern China.
This comes at a time when a strong leader comes to the helm in India.
No doubt that the new occupant in the Minister’s room in South Block will have to take into account this new development.
The economic accord happened on the sideline of the 4th Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA). This not well-known grouping wants to be ‘a multi-national forum for enhancing cooperation towards promoting peace, security and stability in Asia.’
Behind the words and the string of ‘Confidence Building Measures’ to fight against new threats, one can see Beijing’s and Moscow’s will to counter the US presence in Asia.
President Xi Jinping urged the participants (mainly from Central Asia) “to settle differences and disputes through consultation and negotiation.”
This was good to hear after watching for months Chinese expansionism in the South China and East China Seas. How it will translate on the ground (or in the seas) is another question.
Xi also said: "We need to innovate in our security concept, establish a new regional security cooperation architecture, and jointly build a shared and win-win road for Asian security."
The South China Morning Post quotes Li Lifan, an expert in Russian affairs at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences who analyses: "The suspicions towards the US have pushed China and Russia to move closer, forming a 'sub-alliance' relationship that sees both sharing a common stance."
There is no doubt against whom the new ‘sub-alliance’ is directed: the US and Europe which ‘dared’ to slap sanctions against Putin after the developments in Ukraine.
Xi noted that Asia enjoys a rising status in the international landscape and the continent will “play an increasingly important role in promoting a multi-polar world and democracy in international relations.”
Promoting ‘democracy’ in China will make many observers smile. Interestingly for Delhi, Xi warned against “the establishment of military alliances in Asia and called for a new regional security co-operation mechanism.” Xi was probably delighted by Modi’s return call to Obama.
The new Chinese stance means that, while Beijing is ready to go for a alliance with Moscow and some of other Central Asian ‘friends’, India should not think to share its security concerns with Vietnam or Japan.
But what are the views on Modi in China?
Soon before the results of the Indian elections were announced, The Global Times, the English mouthpiece of the Communist Party said that Beijing expected ‘a tougher [Indian] stance on political disputes [i.e. the border, more particularly the disputed LAC], but [that Modi will] take a more flexible economic policy toward China.”
The Global Times asserted that “Modi, 63, who serves as chief minister of Gujarat in western India, is famed for his pro-business approach, and has made four trips to China to woo Chinese investment.”
Quoting The Economist, Gujarat was described as ‘India's Guangdong’, with “the state accounted for 5 % of India's population but 16 % of its industrial output and 22 % of its exports.”
After the announcement of the results, Liu Zongyi, a research fellow of Shanghai Institute for International Studies, admitted in the columns of the same newspaper: “This is a turning point in Indian politics because no party has managed to get a simple majority since 1984 when the Congress party won over 400 seats riding.”
The Chinese scholar affirmed: “This is Modi's victory. The prime minister-elect has won a thumping endorsement from Indian industrial and commercial circles, middle class, young people and the ‘low castes’ due to his resolute governance style, clean image, outstanding record, as well as his low caste background, which sharply contrast with his counterparts from the Congress.”
Where Liu is probably wrong, (like his US and Western colleagues) is when he said: “it's possible that he may fan religious conflicts”, though he acknowledged: “The narrow-minded and extreme nationalist stand of the BJP has changed and the major task facing Modi is to create a stable domestic and neighboring environment to revive the ailing economy.”
Liu believed that “some Western media are fomenting discord between China and India. They portrayed Modi as ‘India's Abe’ who will take a tough stance against China,” however, Liu predicted that “Modi is unlikely to act as vehemently as Abe, as it would be of no benefit to India's economy at all.”
Many observers in China see the border issue as the main obstacle to a smooth bilateral relationship. However, according to Liu: “China and India have established a spectrum of effective cooperation and communication mechanisms including China-India strategic dialogue, special representatives meet on border problem and trilateral talks among Russia, India and China.”
The new government is advised to “reflect on its relationship with the US over the past decade in which India has only been a chess piece of the US to contain China.”
Modi does not really need China’s advice.
There is however another important, not often mentioned, factor which is bound to play a role in case of tensions. While the situation on China’s borders (see the new bomb blast which killed some 30 people in Urumqi yesterday) is extremely instable, the Indian electorate (an unknown concept in China) has massively voted for Modi and the BJP in the Himalayan belt. From Ladakh (1/1) to Himachal (4/4), Uttarakhand (5/5) and Arunachal (1/2), 10 out of 12 Lok Sabha seats have gone to the BJP (Sikkim has voted for the Sikkim Democratic Front). As the local populations become more and more restive in Tibet and Xinjiang and often violently oppose Beijing’s rule, the Himalayans in India have massively voted for Modi and shown their strong patriotic fabric. One can easily imagine that it is a game changer in case of a conflict.
It will certainly play a crucial role if, in the months to come, China continues with its expansionist policies. The tide has changed here too.

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