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New Delhi, India - May 22, 2024: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the first round of elections in New Delhi in Dwarka

Modi’s narrow win suggests Indian voters saw through religious rhetoric, opting instead to curtail his political power

by Sumit Ganguly

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском Narendra Modi, India’s two-time prime minister, was elected on June 5, 2024, as the leader of the National Democratic Alliance, a coalition of political parties that won with a slim majority in the recently concluded parliamentary election. Modi is expected to be sworn in for his third term as prime minister on June 8. The BJP had hoped for a landslide victory in the country’s six-week general election – the largest display of democracy, by far, in a year of voting around the world. But the party scored only 240 parliamentary seats in the final tally and needs coalition partners to secure a majority of 272. The Conversation U.S. spoke with Sumit Ganguly, distinguished professor of political science and the Tagore chair in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University, to understand more about the election results and what they mean for Indian democracy. The BJP had talked about an overwhelming victory, but it seems it will not get a majority. How do you explain these results? Part of the answer lies in the Modi government’s failure to realize that while economic benefits had been substantial, their distribution has been uneven. India has seen a growth in inequality and persistent unemployment both in rural and urban areas. Unemployment of those aged 20 to 24 years is at a high of 44.49%. And that is the overall national number; that data does not tell us that it may be much worse in certain regions. The other explanation is that Modi’s exploitation of historic Hindu-Muslim tensions seems to have run its natural course. You can beat the religious drum – and Modi did with rhetoric including calling Muslims “infiltrators” – but then the day-to-day issues of jobs, housing and other such necessities take over, and these are the things people care about the most. BJP made a miscalculation, in my analysis. It failed to realize that in a country where only 11.3% of children get adequate nutrition, Hindu pride cannot be eaten – ultimately, it’s the price of potatoes and other essentials that matter. Let’s talk about Uttar Pradesh, the northern Indian state with 80 parliamentary seats. It plays a crucial role in any national election, and Modi and his alliance are set to lose the state. What happened? It’s another example of the same miscalculation we are seeing nationally by the BJP. The chief minister of the state,Yogi Adityanath, saw himself as a firebrand Hindu nationalist leader and likely a successor of Modi. But he, too, failed to take into account how his policies were playing out in the poorer segments of the state’s population, who are mainly Muslims and those at the bottom of India’s caste hierarchy. He pursued grand infrastructure projects such as new highways and airports, and those might well have appealed to the middle class – but not to the poor. Additionally, years of presiding over a state government that has used police power to suppress dissent, often those of the poor and marginalized, have taken their toll on Adityanath’s support. What explains BJP’s inroads into the southern state of Kerala, where it is on course to make history by winning a parliamentary seat for the first time? The gains in the south are perplexing and will require more data on voting patterns for a more accurate analysis. Historically, the BJP has not been able to make inroads into the southern states for a number of reasons. These include linguistic subnationalism owing to the hostility toward Hindi. The other issue in the south is that the practice of Hinduism is quite different, including festivals and other regional traditions. The BJP’s vision of Hinduism is based on the “great tradition” of northern India, which believes in the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva as the creator, the sustainer and the destroyer gods. The southern states are also engines of economic growth and end up subsidizing the poorer states of the north. As a consequence, there is resentment against the BJP, which has long had its political base in northern India. In July 2023, 26 opposition parties formed a coalition called INDIA – the Indian National Developmental and Inclusive Alliance – to challenge the BJP in the election. Were they given a fair chance? No, the playing field was far from level. The mass media has been mostly co-opted by the ruling BJP to advance its agenda. Apart from one or two regional newspapers, all the national dailies scrupulously avoid any criticism of the BJP, and the major television channels mostly act as cheerleaders of the government’s policies. A number of intelligence agencies are alleged to have been used for blatantly partisan purposes against the opposition parties. Political leaders have been jailed on charges that may prove to be dubious. For example, Arvind Kejriwal, the highly popular chief minister of New Delhi, was charged with alleged improprieties in the allocation of liquor licenses and jailed just days after election dates were announced. Despite the electoral losses, Modi is expected to return as prime minister for a third term. Given that the BJP got just two seats in the 1984 elections, what factors led to the party’s meteoric rise? The BJP has built a solid organizational base across the country, unlike the Indian National Congress, the principal opposition party. And the Congress party has done little to revitalize its political foundations, which had eroded in the 1970s after then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed a state of emergency and a non-Congress government came into power for the first time. The BJP has also appealed to the sentiments of the majority Hindu population through slogans that paint India’s principal minority, Muslims, as the source of myriad societal problems. Hate crimes against Muslims and other minorities surged across India over the past few years. Finally, the BJP also benefited from economic reforms that the earlier Congress government had set in motion from the 1990s, including a national goods and services tax and the privatization of the loss-making, state-owned airline, Air India, thereby contributing to substantial economic growth in India. In December 1992, Hindu nationalists destroyed the 16th-century Babri Mosque. How crucial was that to BJP’s rise to power? And what should we read into BJP losing its seat in Ayodhya? The destruction of the Babri Mosque certainly galvanized an important segment of the Hindu electorate and led to a growth in support for the BJP. In 1999 – just seven years after the event – the BJP first came to power in a coalition government in which it had 182 out of 543 seats in the Indian Parliament. Two national elections later, in 2014, Modi assumed office as the prime minister with a clear-cut majority of 282 seats. In January 2024, just a few months before the election, Modi inaugurated a newly constructed temple in Ayodhya, the site of the Babri Mosque. It was a carefully stage-managed event with an eye on votes. However, BJP lost its seat in Ayodhya. It’s possible that all the fanfare around the new temple appealed to people outside of Ayodhya – but not to the city’s residents who continued to deal with waste mismanagement and other issues. What’s next for Modi? And what do the results tell us about Indian democracy? It’s certainly possible that Modi will form the government with coalition partners. I believe that Modi, as an astute politician, will most likely learn from this setback and adapt his tactics to new realities. The results might also be a useful corrective – the Indian voter has once again demonstrated that he or she might be willing to put up with some things but not others. Indian voters have demonstrated in the past that when they see democracy being threatened, they tend to punish leaders with autocratic tendencies. We saw this when the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suffered a crushing defeat in the elections in 1977. The elections followed a state of emergency that Gandhi had imposed on the country, suspending all civil liberties. Back then, it was India’s poor who voted her out of power. This time around, we might need to wait on additional electoral data about how particular caste and income groups voted. This article was updated on June 5, 2024, with the final election results and other developments.

Narendra Modi Prime Minister of India during a roadshow ahead of the Lok Sabha election 2024 in Guwahati India on Tuesday April 16, 2024.

India 2024: anatomy of an election

by Julio Sotes

한국어로 읽기 Leer en español In Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français Читать на русском Last March 16th, the Election Commission of India informed the public media about the schedule for the upcoming legislative elections in the country for the period 2024-2029. However, this announcement does not mark the beginning of the Indian electoral process, as since 2023, different national political parties had been shaping their candidates and, in some cases, initiating their political campaigns in preparation for the elections. The schedule, announced by the electoral authority, is divided into seven phases, and will be extended from April 19th, 2024, until June 1st of the same year, with vote counting taking place on June 4th. India’s independence from the British Colonial Empire in 1947 marked the beginning of a profound process of political, economic, and social transformations that determined the life of the society and the surrounding countries. The founding fathers of the country, not without setbacks, promoted the drafting and subsequent approval of a constitution that recognized the secular character of the country, reinforcing the idea of a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual, and multi-religious India. Additionally, in the text, the foundations of the country's political system were declared, and consequently, its electoral system. India’s political and electoral system: General aspects India is a federal parliamentary democratic republic, so its political system is a combination of the parliamentary and presidential systems with a greater emphasis on the parliamentary system, where the President is the head of state, and the Prime Minister is the head of government. The President is elected by an Electoral College composed of members of Parliament and cannot act without the approval of the Council of Ministers, who are chosen by the Prime Minister. This is why the Prime Minister is more important than the President. The Indian Parliament is bicameral, meaning it consists of the ‘Lok Sabha’ (House of the People or Lower House) and the ‘Rajya Sabha’ (Council of States or Upper House). The ‘Rajya Sabha’ comprises 238 members, representing the States and the Union Territories, and 12 members designated by the President. Candidates are elected by the Legislative Assembly of the States and Union Territories through the single transferable vote system via proportional representation. On the other hand, the Members of Parliament of the ‘Lok Sabha’ are elected every five years directly by the electorate; the Prime Minister is typically the leader of the party with the most seats in the ‘Lok Sabha’. The party which has the majority of the 543 seats in the Lower House of Parliament can form a government and appoint a Prime Minister from among its winning candidates. In case that no party holds a simple majority, different parties form coalitions until they acquire the necessary number of seats to elect a Prime Minister. [1] While some alliances are formed before elections, many alliances are negotiated after results are announced and may even change during a government's term. The legal framework to conduct elections specifies that the supervision, direction, control, preparations, and behavior of the elections shall be established in the Election Commission, independently of the incumbent government (Article 324). The Election Commission also establishes the principle of adult suffrage (Article 326) and makes a general stipulation regarding the reservation of seats for backward castes, tribes, and the so-called Anglo-Indians (Articles 330-333). A person is qualified to be a candidate for election if they are over 25 years old for the ‘Lok Sabha’ and 30 for the ‘Rajya Sabha’, in addition to being a voter in a parliamentary constituency (Times of India, 2024b). The seats are distributed among the states in proportion to their population: more people mean more seats. Approximately 25% of the seats are constitutionally reserved for members from two disadvantaged communities: the Scheduled Castes (SC), also known as Dalits, and the Scheduled Tribes (ST), which represent India’s tribal populations or Adivasis. Eighty-four seats are reserved for SC candidates, and forty-seven seats are reserved for ST candidates (Times of India, 2024a). In these electoral constituencies, only candidates from the protected groups can participate in the elections, although all eligible adults can cast their votes. Although the Indian Parliament recently passed a new measure to reserve one-third of legislative seats for women, the implementation of this law has been postponed until after 2024. 2014 and 2019 general elections in India. A comparative analysis India’s unique characteristics make any political process there highly complex. The extensive geographical dimension, the contrasts between different climates and terrains, the remote nature of settlements, especially in mountainous regions, and the challenge posed by large, overpopulated cities, make election, whether state or general, become an event of immense proportions. In fact, general elections in India are considered the largest political, democratic, and logistical exercise in the world. In the electoral process of 2014, according to the numbers published by the Pew Research Center, there were 788 million voters, including nearly 150 million who would have been eligible to vote for the first time. In a survey conducted by the same Center between December 2013 and January 2014, the Indian public, by a three-to-one margin, preferred the BJP over the then-ruling INC. Additionally, 60% of the respondents stated they had a very favorable opinion of Modi, while only 23% held the same opinion about Rahul Gandhi, the INC candidate (Stokes, 2014). From April 7th to May 12th, 2014, the Sixteenth General Elections were held in India, they were divided into ten stages across the country's 35 states and Union Territories. Voting took place for representatives from 543 constituencies, with 412 for the general population (General), 84 for the Scheduled Castes, and 47 for the Scheduled Tribes. The total number of candidates for these constituencies was 8,251, of which 7,577 were men, 668 were women, and 6 were "others". The average number of candidates per constituency was 15. There were 927,553 polling stations distributed across the country. The electoral roll consisted of 834,082,814 citizens, with 553,020,648 voters participating, reaching an effective electoral participation rate of 66.30% (Moreno Hernández, 2015). The BJP campaign, which presented Narendra Modi for the first time as its strongest candidate for Prime Minister of the country, was characterized by building an image around Modi as the "development man" — the man who would facilitate comprehensive development in India, having successfully implemented his governance model for over 10 years as Chief Minister in Gujarat. The campaign capitalized on popular discontent and sought to focus its message on the upper and middle classes, as well as the youth, through a developmental discourse that extensively utilized information technologies such as social media and unprecedented media bombardment in India at that time. Modi personally addressed over 400 rallies in a span of 7 months, traveling more than 300,000 kilometers to participate in nearly 200 campaign events, while the holographic projections of his figure and broadcasts of his speeches reached nearly all Indian constituencies (Muralidharan, 2014), effectively transforming the parliamentary campaign into what resembled a presidential-style elections. On May 16th, 2014, the total vote count was conducted. The results showed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP, as the clear winner, securing most of the constituencies, specifically 336 out of 543, which represents 61.8% of the total seats. It is noteworthy that the BJP alone won 282 seats, accounting for 31.34% of the total votes, meaning that out of the 834,082,814 citizens eligible to vote, only 171,660,230 decided to cast their ballots in favor of the BJP. However, the indisputable victory of the right-wing requires a deeper analysis, as the outcome in 2014 does not compare to the 1984 elections when the Congress Party won 414 seats. This highlights the need for caution when referring to the "orange wave" as a pan-Indian phenomenon (Moreno Hernández, 2015). Voter turnout in Indian elections tends to be high: the parliamentary elections of 2019 saw a 67% turnout of the total eligible population. Votes are cast electronically in over a million polling stations, requiring around 15 million employees during voting. To reach all possible voters in villages and isolated islands in the Himalayas, electoral officials travel by any means available, including trains, helicopters, horses, and boats. In 2019, the elections took place in seven phases between April 11th and May 19th, with all votes being counted on May 23rd. Typically, the first phase of elections is held in a specific set of geographic regions, and subsequent phases gradually move across the country to cover other regions. Without primary elections, party leaders have complete control over the nomination of their candidates. If candidates fail to secure the party endorsement, they may run as independents, putting them at a disadvantage compared to party-backed candidates. Out of 543 Members of Parliament elected in 2019, only four were independent candidates (Roy-Chaudhury, 2019). While they are considered the elections with the highest number of voters in the world, due to being the most populous country globally, this exercise is also considered one of the most expensive. According to studies, in the 2019 elections, political parties spent over $7 billion. Specifically, parties and candidates spent approximately $8.7 billion to attract more than 900 million eligible voters (Roy-Chaudhury, 2019). Regarding the total number of candidates fielded and the electoral roll, in 2019, 8,054 candidates representing 673 parties contested the elections to have the opportunity to become Members of Parliament. Nearly 615 million people (67.4% of Indians) voted in 2019: this was the highest voter turnout recorded. For the first time in history, the persistent gender gap between male and female participation disappeared. In these elections, the ‘Bharatiya Janata Party’ (BJP), in power since 2014, increased its strength by 21 seats to 303 in the ‘Lok Sabha’, securing 38.55% of the votes cast. The number of seats won by its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) also rose to 350, but fell short of a two-thirds majority, and its percentage of votes increased to 45%. In monetary terms, the BJP received over 73% of the declared donations from India's largest political parties in 2017-2018 and over 94.5% of the electoral bonds, totaling at least £19 million. Overall, it is estimated that all political parties spent a total of over £6.7 billion, more than three times the cost of the United States presidential elections in 2016 (Roy-Chaudhury, 2019). Mistakes made by the principal opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC), led to it winning only 52 seats out of 545, just eight more than in the 2014 elections. This was a result of differences among political leaders within the organization, a complacent approach to its program in the elections, betting on its voters repeating the trend of rejecting the incumbent government, and a refusal to accept pre-electoral alliances with regional parties in key States (Roy-Chaudhury, 2019). India’s 2024 General election: approximations On March 16th, 2024, the Election Commission of India publicly announced the schedule for the ‘Lok Sabha’ elections to appoint the 543 seats. This schedule will be implemented nationwide in seven phases, from April 19th to June 1st, with the vote count taking place on June 4th, including assembly elections, by-polls, and general elections. The current government’s term ends on June 16th, 2024 (Hindustan Times, 2024a). Additionally, the data provided reveals that in this political process, the electoral roll amounts to a total of 968.8 million voters, of which 497 million are men and 471 million are women. It was also reported that 18.4 million voters fall in the age group of 18 to 19 years, 26.3 million are new voters, and 48,044 are senior citizens.  Source: The Times of India Similarly, according to the mandate of the Supreme Court of India, data related to electoral bonds issued to each contesting party between April 12th, 2019, and January 11th, 2024, were published. The figures revealed that the largest recipient of donations was the BJP, and the largest national donor was the company Future Gaming and Hotel Services. This company accounted for bonds worth 1,365 million rupees distributed among several parties. The second-largest donor was Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Limited (MEIL) with 966 million rupees, of which 60.5% went to the BJP. In financial terms, the BJP received a total of 6,061 million rupees, with MEIL being its largest donor, followed by Qwik Supply Chain and Vedanta. For the INC, the largest donor was Vedanta with 125 million rupees, followed by Western UP Power Transmission Company Limited and MJK Enterprise, amounting to a total of 1,422 million rupees (Hindustan Times, 2024b). Currently, in India, there are two main coalitions competing in the 2024 general elections: the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), both of which include several parties. The NDA, led by the BJP, is a coalition of right-wing conservative parties formally established in 1998 to counter the then-dominant INC. Prominent parties in the alliance include the National People's Party (NPP), Shiv Sena, Janata Dal, Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Janata Dal, Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party (RLJP), and the currently dominant Bharatiya Janata Party since 2014. The candidate for prime minister is the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has stated the intention of securing over 400 seats for the NDA in these elections (Mint, 2024). The INDIA bloc was formed in 2023 by 26 opposition parties. It is currently led by the president of the INC, Mallikarjun Kharge, who is also the leader of the opposition in the Upper House of the Parliament. Other parties comprising the bloc include the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (WION, 2024).  Source: Hindustan Times On Friday, April 5th, the INC released its manifesto, this time focusing on equity, youth, women, farmers, workers, the Constitution, the economy, federalism, national security, and the environment. Its 2019 counterpart, mainly focused on the economy and livelihoods, also committing to cover government contracts and eliminate regulations to start a business. It also promised a budget for farmers and pledged to make the non-payment of agricultural loans a civil crime (Hindustan Times, 2024c). On the other hand, for the 2019 general elections, the BJP's electoral manifesto (Sankalp Patra) addressed issues related to nationalism, agriculture, infrastructure, governance, and zero tolerance towards terrorism. Similarly, commitments to amending the citizenship law to protect religious minorities from neighboring countries and the revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution addressing the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir and its change to a semi-autonomous position were fulfilled during the party's and Modi's mandate over the last 5 years. In the 2019 manifesto, the BJP also promised a pension scheme for all small and marginalized farmers in the country, a macroeconomic stability, as well as job generation and gender equality (Hindustan Times, 2024c) Final Considerations The main surveys point to the BJP with Modi at the helm as the primary winning force in the elections. While the intention of both his party and the alliance he leads to conquer more than 400 seats is somewhat ambitious and hasn't been achieved since 1984 when the INC won 144 seats, the NDA is poised as the clear winner in these elections. On the other hand, India is divided by rivalries, political defections, and ideological clashes. "Analysts say that discussions about the allocation of seats within the alliance have cooled off, partly due to the demands of the Congress Party to field its own candidates in most seats, even in states where it is weak" (Agrawal and Anand, 2024). The truth is that the 2024 elections in India are shaping up as an exercise where the BJP and its coalition appear as clear winners. At the same time, it is very challenging for opposition leaders and parties to confront Modi, who after 10 years of national governance and 13 years of state administration, has demonstrated mostly successful implementation of his governance model. The INC and INDIA start from a very disadvantaged position when facing an overwhelming media machinery, a government that promotes laws to silence opposition, thus playing on favorable ground. Additionally, it's worth noting the growing popularity of the Prime Minister, who ranks as one of the most popular leaders worldwide with a 78% national approval rating. In a politically and religiously polarized India, where the government has been promoting an economic, social, and religious agenda aligned with the leading party for the past 10 years, and with a powerful technological and media mechanism, it is unthinkable to imagine that Modi will not secure his third consecutive term at the helm of the country. References Agrawal, Aditi y Anand, Utkarsh (2024). Electoral bonds: Donor-party link public after SC push. Hindustan Times. Mint (2024). BJP’s first list of candidates for Lok Sabha elections 2024 to be out today. Rai, Indrajeet (2024). How BJP’s strenghts and weakness match up with Congress’s. Times of India. Times of India (2024b). Congress releases fourth list of 46 candidates for Lok Sabha polls. Wion (2024). Lok Sabha Elections 2024: List of parties competing in the upcoming polls. Moreno Hernández, Dulce J. (2015). De Gujarat a India: Análisis de la trayectoria política y candidatura a Primer Ministro de Narendra Modi. Tesis de Maestría en Estudios de Asia y áfrica, Centro de Estudios de Asia y África, Colegio de México. Stokes, Bruce (2014). Indians’ support for Modi, BJP shows an itch for change. Pew Research Center. Molina Medina, Norbert y Duarte Peña, Juan J. (2015). Narendra Modi y la India de hoy (Primera Parte). Universidad de Los Andes, Centro de Estudios de África, Asia y Diásporas Latinoamericanas y Caribeñas “José Manuel Briceño Monzillo”. Muralidharan, Sukumar (2014). Modi, media and the feel-good effect. Himal Southasian. Roy-Chaudhury, Rahul (2019). Modi’s return as prime minister of ‘New India’. International Institute for Strategic Studies. Hindustan Times (2024a). Lok Sabha Election 2024 Highlights: Polls begin on April 19, results on June 4; MCC kicks in. Times of India (2024a). Lok Sabha elections: BJP releases fifth list of candidates, fields Kangana Ranaut, Naveen Jindal. Hindustan Times (2024b). BJP’s 5th candidates list for Lok Sabha election: Kangana Ranaut from Mandi, Arun Govil from Meerut. Hindustan Times (2024c). In 2019, Congress’s manifesto primarily focused on economy, livelihoods. [1] An important feature of the process of electing the Prime Minister of India is that all candidates must be a member of the ‘Lok Sabha’ or ‘Rajya Sabha’, which means the candidate must contest elections to secure a seat representing a particular locality.

Energy & Economics
Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi addresses BJP activist during an election campaign rally ahead of Lok Sabha or general election 2019 on April 03, 2019

Strategic Advantages of India in Shaping the Global Order

by Talal Rafi

한국어로 읽기 Читать на русском Leer en español Gap In Deutsch lesen اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français India, being the largest country by population, has a great responsibility and right to show global leadership. Having chaired the recent G20 summit successfully, and as a member of important global partnerships such as BRICS and Quad, India is strategically placed to play a crucial role in geopolitics in the coming decades. Being the world’s largest democracy places a responsibility on India to drive a global agenda that will foster democracy in other countries. As a member of the Quad, with three other democracies, India can play a key role in upholding a rules based international order. Today, we live in a world that is much different to the world that emerged in 1945, after the Second World War, or in 1991 when the Cold War ended. In both instances, the United States emerged as the dominant superpower. American power, relative to the rest of the world, is now in clear decline and therefore even a loose alliance of democracies that includes India shifts the tide against competing structures of governance. Economic Rise of India India is the fastest growing major economy in the world today and is set to be the third largest economy in the world by the end of this decade. Of course, an alternative way to assess India’s development may be to measure its gross domestic product (GDP) per capita which is relatively low at less than US$3,000. However, the sheer size of its overall GDP and growing population gives the overall economy serious importance. India’s large population and the steady expansion of its middle class positions India as a lucrative economic ally for many countries in the world, both as a market and supplier of goods and services. It also makes India an attractive market to invest in, particularly in the current climate of de-risking and diversifying supply chains. Many global corporate powerhouses such as Facebook, Google, Apple, and Saudi Aramco have invested in India. Economic cooperation also inevitably results in stronger political relations, and it is very likely that this trend will continue. Strategic Advantages of India India’s greatest asset in terms of geopolitics and economics will be its democratic system of governance. India presence in the Quad for instance has legitimising effect. All members are democracies, but India is by far the world’s largest democratic nation. Democracy will also help India on the economic front. All advanced economies, with the exception of a few oil rich nations and city states, are democracies. That is because, as argued in a piece for the IMF in 2022, economic growth needs innovation, and innovation is better fostered in a democracy where there is free thinking and creativity. Many nations can become middle-income nations without democracy, but to transition to an advanced economy, they need stronger democratic values. South Korea and Taiwan provide examples of middle-income nations that evolved into high-income economies after a stronger transition toward democracy. Democracy together with population diversty can be a major factor that pushes India to break through the middle-income trap. Meanwhile, the median age of India, which is 32 years, is around 10 years younger than China’s. This is a strategic advantage not only in economic terms but also politically in international relations for India. This will mean an increase in the workforce which can help produce India’s industrial and services goods. A younger population will also result in a larger consumer market and will, more importantly, drive greater inward foreign direct investment. Additionally, a younger population will also result in larger tax revenue for the Indian government which can be used for development. It also results in less financial resources being directed towards an ageing population. As countries such as China, Vietnam, and Bangladesh grow, with outsourced manufacturing playing a large role in their economic agendas, India, which is weaker on manufacturing, has the advantage when it comes to services exports, such as consulting, IT-BPM, and education. India is a center for services outsourced by Western companies, with services exports anticipated to hit US$2 trillion by 2030. English proficiency in India adds to the advantage, but many other factors also play major roles. India has a large skilled workforce especially in information technology, software development, and business process outsourcing. Technology hubs around the country, such as in Bangalore where large global tech companies and startups are based, and government support, add to the scale at which India can expand this critical export in the coming decades. The software services industry, for example, has matured, resulting in sector upscaling. Interestingly, 20 percent of the world’s semiconductor design engineers are employed in India. These aforementioned attributes position India as an ideal strategic partner for many countries. Countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, European nations, Japan, Australia, Canada, and South Korea consider India a natural ally. India is also building ties in its region with the Gulf nations to its west and with the ASEAN nations to its east. India’s neighbour to its south, Sri Lanka, recently went through its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948. After defaulting in April 2022, Sri Lanka came to a standstill with no fuel for 3 weeks, 12 hour power cuts, and food and medicine shortages. It was India that came to the rescue, with US$4 billion at its most vulnerable time, giving a clear message to the world that India is a partner that will stand up for them. Talal Rafi is an Economist and Expert Member of the World Economic Forum. He is currently a Consultant on Economic Policy at the Asian Development Bank, and also a Regular Columnist for the International Monetary Fund. His work has been published by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, World Economic Forum, London School of Economics, UNFCCC, Chatham House London, Deloitte and Forbes.

Map Indo-Pacific. RCEP country overview.

False democracies in the Indo - Pacific

by Juan Antonio Sacaluga

In the first two months of the year, general elections (presidential and/or legislative) were held in three countries of the Indo-Pacific, the area towards which the center of gravity of the world balance is shifting, according to experts: Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Together they account for nearly 700 million inhabitants, almost 9% of the world’s population, and host the largest number of Muslims in the world. The authoritarian bias there is so significant that the elections are mere ceremonies of power legitimization, more directed outside than inside of the country. The same happens in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, etc. Dynastic democracies, tutelary democracies, or both at the same time. False democracies. Bangladesh: a party-state? In Bangladesh, the Awami League won three out of four seats in the Parliament in January, a slightly lower percentage than in the 2018 elections, but with no diminution of its overwhelming power. The country’s prime minister is Sheikh Hasina Wajed, daughter of the father of independence, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman [1]. Abstention, estimated at 60%, best explains the electoral result. The main opposition parties boycotted the elections in protest against the lack of transparency of the process and, above all, against the attacks on basic freedoms. Some of the opposition leaders are serving prison sentences for unjustifiable reasons. Reports of arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial executions are frequent [2]. Hasina claims to maintain the progressive line of her father, but the evolution of her regime indicates otherwise. The Awami League has maintained a power alternation with the conservative nationalists. But lately, her most feared enemy has been the Islamist radicals. In this fight, Hasina has counted on the support of India. The current government of Narendra Modi was more sympathetic to the nationalists, but pragmatism has imposed a close collaboration. Authoritarian drift in both countries has favored this convergence. Pakistan: a dictatorship in disguise In Pakistan, the elections have been even more controversial and stormy. The army is the real – if not the only – effective political actor [3]. The parties have wielded power since the military formally ceded it to them in 1998. Only nominally. The military domination over the institutions of the State remains unchanged. The reactive coup d’état has been replaced by preventive actions that determine or strongly condition the electoral result. Those who deviate or threaten to step out of the military script are discredited. It happened again this year. The populist movement of Isham Khan (a former cricket champion, the national sport) was until just two years ago the ruling party, having won the 2018 election. But he was covertly accused of a series of crimes, convicted, and imprisoned in 2022. Ironically, Khan had been the military’s preferred candidate, without whose favor he could hardly have secured victory. He believed that with his popularity, he could sideline his former protectors. Grave mistake. The military pulled the strings of justice, and Khan’s party was prevented from contesting in the elections [4]. The cricketer did not give up. From jail he denounced the military tutelage (which he had previously accepted with better or worse taste) and promoted candidacies related to his party under the label of “independents”. The challenge has been successful but insufficient. The “independents'' won a hundred seats, which are not enough to form a government majority [5]. The two parties that have been alternating in power in the last decades, the Muslim League (led by the conservative Sharif Brothers) and the People’s Party (political structure of the Bhutto family, of a confused and debatable center-left) hastened to agree to form a coalition government. Between them they have more than 130 deputies [6]. The cynicism of Pakistani politics is more than remarkable. The two parties now joining forces have been close enemies with a shared fate: both have been battered by the military, which has imprisoned and forced their leaders into exile on several occasions. In fact, the founder of the Bhutto dynasty (Zulfikar Ali) was overthrown after a military coup in 1971, charged and convicted in 1974 for the alleged murder of a political opponent and finally executed in 1979. His daughter Benazir was twice prime minister, deposed, exiled, and assassinated by an alleged Islamic extremist in 2007, when she was returning to her country. The Sharifs, powerful businessmen, have had a less tragic fate, but they have lived between favor and disgrace. Corruption has been the legal basis for their downfalls, with no little foundations. But it has been used as a weapon when it was convenient for the headquarters. Nawaz Sharif has now preferred to step back from the front line and reinstate as prime minister his brother Shehbaz, who held the post after the fall of Khan. The head of the clan went into exile in Saudi Arabia and only when he successfully negotiated the cancellation of the penalties, he returned to Pakistan to control the political process after the partial liquidation of Imran Khan. The post-election pact also has a prize for the Bhutto family. Although the formal leader of the PPP is Bilawal, Benazir’s son, who really pulls the strings is his widowed father, Asif Ali Zardari, who has also served sentences for corruption, of which there are few doubts. Zardari will be the new President, a more ceremonial position, but not without power to maintain his privileges. The outlook for the two now coalited dynasties is frightening. By 2026, Pakistan will have to pay $78 billion in foreign debt service, one of the highest in the world. This represents almost a quarter of its GDP (340 billion). Negotiations with the IMF are a dogfight, but the room for maneuver is almost nil [7]. Economic deterioration has been unstoppable in recent decades. At the beginning of the century, Pakistan’s economy was five times smaller than that of its rival, India; today it is one tenth [8]. Neither the military nor the political elites have been able to redirect the successive crisis. Pakistan is a ship adrift, in a permanent state of war with India. Both enemies have nuclear arsenals, which adds an enormous factor of danger to their recurrent disputes. Pakistan has been a major player in the protracted war in Afghanistan, as both, an ally and a rival of the United States, successively or alternately. In Washington they never knew whether the Pakistani military was helping or boycotting them. Bin Laden was killed by an American commando while hiding in Abbottabad, a city where many officers live, but the powerful military intelligence always denied knowing his whereabouts. After the withdrawal from Afghanistan, relations between Pakistan and the United States have lost weight. In Washington, the “Indian card” is now a priority. However, the traditional economic and military ties between Pakistan and China compel Americans not to neglect this elusive and chaotic partner. Indonesia: Duo of former rivals In Indonesia, things are not looking any better. In the presidential elections, the winner was Prabowo Subianto, an authoritarian military officer who played an outstanding repressive role during the military dictatorship of his father-in-law, General Suharto, who led the country in the last third of the century, amid atrocious violations of human rights [9]. If the pacts in Pakistan lack any political ethics, in Indonesia it is three quarters of the same. Or worse. Five years ago, the current President, Joko Widowo (known as Jokowi), abandoned the pale progressivism of the ‘Democratic Party of Struggle’, founded by Megawati, Sukarno’s daughter, and joined the populist current in vogue. With this tactical shift he managed to defeat the conservative nationalist of GERINDRA (Great Indonesia Movement), who had turned to Prabowo as a ‘strongman’ figure to seize power. Widowo consolidated his hold on power with a populist policy of large infrastructure projects, partly financed by China, a tough hand against crime and radical Islamism, and an ambiguous balance in relations with Washington and Beijing. When he felt strong, Widowo integrated Prabowo into his government as no less than the Minister of Defense. Sukarno would have turned in his grave. That was not all. Jokowi wanted to form his own dynasty, but his son Gibran was still too young to inherit his post. He even had to twist the law (with the complicity of a judge who was his brother-in-law) so that he could be a candidate… but not for his party, from which he definitely separated, but as Prabowo’s second [10]. Success was guaranteed. The duo of former rivals has won the presidential elections by a wide margin. But in the legislative elections the result was more disputed. According to provisional data, the former general will not be able to count on an aligned Parliament. In any case, in such a corrupt and institutionally fragile country, cohabitation could be smoother than expected [11]. The director of the Asia-Pacific program at London’s renowned Chathan House anticipates changes, but he is confident that Prabowo’s pragmatism will limit his authoritarian instincts [12]. This ‘wishful thinking’ by Western analysts when assessing authoritarian regimes with a democratic façade is very recurrent and responds to the persistent logic since the Cold War. After all, what determines their blessing is not the democratic quality of political systems but their willingness to defend or act in accordance with Western interest. And in today’s times, being on the “right side” of history essentially means taking sides with the West in the strategic dispute with China. NOTES [1] [2] “Bangladesh is now in effect a one-party state”.THE ECONOMIST, 8 de enero. [3] “The Military is still pulling the strings in Pakistan’s election”. MUNEEB YOUSUF & MOHAMAD USMAN BHATTI. FOREIGN POLICY, 5 de febrero. [4] “Pakistan’s real test begin after elections”. AL JAZEERA, 8 de febrero. [5] “The rise and fall, and rise again of Imran Khan”. THE NEW YORK TIMES, 11 de febrero. [6] “Imran Khan’s opponents reach deal to shut his allies out of government”. THE NEW YORK TIMES, 14 de febrero. [7] “Pakistan can’t stop the cycle of discontent”. HUSAIN HAQQANI. FOREIGN AFFAIRS, 16 de febrero. [8] “Pakistan is out of friends and out of money”. THE ECONOMIST, 14 de febrero. [9] “Indonesia’s election winner has a dark past and a cute image”. JOSEPH RACHMAN. FOREIGN POLICY, 14 de febrero. [10] “Indonesia’s election reveals its democratic challenges”. THOMAS PEPINSKY. BROOKINGS, 12 de enero. [11] “La démocratie indonésienne résistera-t-elle à la presidence de Prabowo Subianto?” COURRIER INTERNATIONAL, 16 de febrero; “The world’s third-biggest democracy could be sliding backwards”. ISHAAN THAROOR. THE WASHINGTON POST, 14 de febrero. [12]; “Indonesia’s democracy is stronger that a strongman”. BEN BLAND. FOREIGN AFFAIRS, 13 de febrero.

Defense & Security
Map of the border between Iran and Pakistan

Opinion: Iran's Strikes In Pak Reveal Islamabad's Strategic Collapse

by Kabir Taneja

In the middle of December last year, Jaish ul-Adl (also known as Jaish al-Zolm, translated to "Army of Justice" in English and formerly known as 'Jundullah'), a Sunni militant group operating around the Baluch insurgency across Pakistan's Balochistan region and Iran's Sistan and Balucchestan province, attacked a police post in the small Iranian city of Rusk. 12 Iranian police personnel were killed in a gun battle that lasted hours. The attack on Rusk was one of many attributed to Jaish ul-Adl over the years. Yesterday's Iranian missile strikes inside Pakistan brought to the forefront long standing differences between the two countries over Baluch militancy and the ethnic tensions that revolve around it. The missile attacks come at a moment of fragility in not just a regional but also the global security order. Pakistan responded by condemning Iranian actions and summoning their charge d'affaires. According to Iranian press, Jaish ul-Adl have confirmed the strikes on their positions in Balochistan's remote mountains. Interestingly, Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Pakistan's caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar Ul Haq Kakar had met hours before at the Davos economic summit in Switzerland while Iran's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Hassan Kazemo Qami, visited Pakistan for consultations. During his visit, Qami was quoted by the Afghan press as saying that "Islamabad and Tehran have reached an agreement on interaction with Kabul". This has spurred a wave of rumors on whether Tehran sounded out Islamabad about the strike against Jaish ul-Adl before it took place. With Pakistan already facing serious security challenges from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Islamic State Khorasan (ISKP) and its deteriorating relationship with the Afghan Taliban - a group it sheltered for decades - direct aggression by Iran is another frontPakistani military may be unable to afford. The tri-nexus between Iran, Pakistan and the Taliban on Baloch militancy is very complicated. The Afghan Taliban is often blamed for both privately supporting and more publicly decrying groups such as Jaish ul-Adl. The complexities do not stop within these impoverished geographies. The founding leader of Jaish, Salahuddin Farooqui, has also previously opposed Iranian support for Syria's president Bashar Al-Assad. Tensions between Pakistan and Iran over Jaish's activities around their borders go back to 2011-12. Iran, since then, has blamed Pakistan for being soft regarding its concerns over these entities, and has blamed its other foes such as Israel, US and even Saudi Arabia and the UAE for offering their support. While some analysts are looking at the Iranian action in Pakistan from the lens of its ongoing strategic play in the Middle East, this hypothesis may be a bit of a stretch. The issue of groups such as Jaish and tensions between Iran and Pakistan over Baluch militancy pre-date the ongoing war in Gaza or the deteriorating security situation in the Red Sea. Iran has often reiterated that it would target Jaish safe spaces inside Pakistan over the years, and the exchange of fire between troops at the border between the two countries has been a regular occurrence. This incident is uniquely a bilateral and border management matter between the two countries, which is today further complicated with the Afghan Taliban seizing power in Kabul in 2021. The ideological nature of Jaish makes it difficult for the likes of the Taliban to shun them or their cause, in exchange for political and geopolitical upmanship, considering they are an Islamist ideological movement first, and a political entity later (as showcased by the continuing logjam within the Taliban regarding girls' education in the country). For Pakistan, this new theatre is another gash on a rapid disintegration of its now institutionally failed policies of promoting state-sponsored extremism and terrorism. As the country's economy collapses further and it fails to control its own strategic assets from turning against its rule, other countries and interests seem to be looking at this time in history as the most opportune to target these ecosystems unilaterally as well. With only caretakers managing the madhouse, political will seems limited, and the military has been too busy undermining its parallel civilian challenges from figures such as Imran Khan who got too big for the military's comfort level. A significantly disconcerting fact around events such as the Iranian missile strike is that Pakistan, in fact, is a nuclear power. Nuclear deterrence was clearly not in play as Tehran planned its targeting of Jaish ecosystems in Baluchistan, which begs the question on what kind of strategic thinking, if at all, is taking hold in the corridors of power when it comes to its position as one of the very few nuclear powers in the world. The fact that Pakistan's all-powerful army chief reportedly requested American help to take on the TTP threat as part of a counter-terrorism narrative went unsold in Washington. The only other good use Pakistan could make of its nukes today is to create a fear of the weapons landing in hands of militants. As noted scholar Stephen P Cohen had once said, Pakistan negotiates with the world by pointing a gun to its own head. Finally, this event has brought to the forefront for the international community the fact that the Afghanistan - Pakistan theatre has not disappeared and cannot be ignored. For Iran, despite strong disagreements with the Taliban, it is working with the regime towards a longer goal, to make sure the West, and particularly the US military power, never returns that close to its borders again. Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

Energy & Economics
EURO vs. Yuan. European and Chinese flags

Overcoming an EU-China trade and trust deficit

by Shairee Malhotra

Beijing seeks normalisation of ties with Europe; however, for Brussels, reconciliation will be conditional on Beijing’s willingness to address fundamental divergences On 7-8 December, European Commission President von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel will be in Beijing for the 24th European Union (EU)-China summit, but the first in-person one in four years, taking place at a critical juncture in EU-China ties. At the previous EU-China virtual summit in April 2022, the Ukraine conflict was the primary talking point for the Europeans and other issues such as climate and economics were relegated to the back burner. This time, the focus is likely to be economics. A relatively constructive meeting between United States (US) President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on 15 November, which led to the resumption of US-China high-level military dialogue and Xi’s assurances on Taiwan, has contributed to paving the way for the EU to focus on ironing out economic irritants. Deficits, dependencies and de-risking With daily EU-China trade amounting to 2.2 billion euros, the EU is concerned about its widening goods trade deficit with China—400 billion euros in 2022—referred to by EU Ambassador to China, Jorge Toledo, as the “highest in the history of mankind”. In the context of China’s restrictive environment for foreign companies, the EU is keen for a level playing field and greater reciprocity in trade. Another major area of contention is Chinese overcapacity through subsidies in key industrial export sectors such as electric vehicles (EVs) that are undermining European automotive industries. The European Commission has already launched a probe for the EVs sector and is now considering other major sectors including wind energy and medical devices. In addition, Europe is heavily dependent on critical raw materials such as lithium and gallium from China, which are intrinsic to its green transition. While over 90 percent of the EU’s supply of raw materials comes from China, the EU aims to address this dependency through its Critical Raw Materials Act. Factors such as Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, human rights violations in Xinjiang, and pandemic-era supply chain disruptions have deteriorated European perceptions of China. The downswing in EU-China ties was further accentuated by Beijing’s posture in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the failure of European leaders to coax China to positively use its influence with the EU’s most immediate security threat, Moscow. Thus, a major trust deficit has accompanied the trade deficit. On 6 November, only a month before the summit, von der Leyen in her speech warned against “China’s changing global posture” with its “strong push to make China less dependent on the world and the world more dependent on China”. While acknowledging China as Europe’s most important trading partner, she emphasised the “explicit element of rivalry” in the relationship. Another dialogue of the deaf? The EU and its member states are recalibrating their China policies, with countries such as Germany even releasing China-specific documents outlining their approach. The EU’s “de-risking” strategy aims to reduce dependencies in critical sectors, and through an expansion of its policy toolbox, the Union is implementing a range of measures including greater scrutiny of inbound-outbound foreign investments, anti-coercion instruments, and export controls for dual-purpose technologies. In this context of an evolving European approach, the upcoming summit is a much-anticipated one for EU-China watchers. Despite the strain in relations, high-level diplomatic exchanges have continued in full swing, many of which, such as von der Leyen’s visit to China in April, EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis’s visit in September, and EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell’s visit in October were conducted in preparation for this summit. A sluggish Chinese economy gives Europe room to wield its economic leverage. However, grey areas in Europe’s China policy remain, especially with regard to the implementation of measures and the need for more effective coordination, often compromised by a lack of unity amongst member states and tendencies of leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to prioritise business interests over all else. Thus, straddling the fine balance between economic opportunities and security risks will continue to be a test for how Europe manages its interdependence with the lucrative Chinese market. Previous EU-China summits have not produced a joint statement, and according to sources, this summit is unlikely to produce one as well. Yet it is an opportunity for the EU to put forward unresolved concerns and forge some common ground. Without concrete deliverables, the upcoming summit risks being another “dialogue of the deaf” as Borrell famously described the previous one. Amidst renewed transatlantic solidarity, Beijing’s rhetoric indicates that it seeks normalisation of ties with Europe and a more independent European policy towards China away from Washington’s influence. Yet for Brussels, reconciliation will be conditional on Beijing’s willingness to address fundamental divergences.

Pakistani protestors holding up Pakistani flags

Pakistan’s Political Crisis - A country in transformation

by Joel Moffat

An unpredictable political establishment and a swiftly deteriorating economic situation; recent developments in Pakistan expose the instability at the core of the state, threatening its intricate, yet delicate, domestic power balance. The political chronicles of Imran Khan’s and his treacherous challenge to the political establishment retain a prominent shadow over the countries upcoming elections. The ex-cricketer’s ousting last year and his subsequent extensive legal ordeals are indicative of the entrenched political dynasticism of Pakistan. The transitional governments that have overtaken Khan have experienced persistent shock and tragedy in their first year of power. With the turbulent context surrounding Khan, the build-up to the upcoming general elections early next year could prove to be some of the most consequential periods of the country’s recent history. With the recent return of three-time PM Nawaz Sharif to the political sphere, the situation remains dynamic. By: Joel Moffat Keywords: South Asian Politics, Military leadership, Internal Rivalry A Background on Pakistani Politics Following the violent cessation of Bangladesh in 1971, Pakistan has shifted between intermittent eras of military dictatorship and civilian governance. The latter periods have been characterised by the intertwining dynasties of the Bhuttos and the Sharifs. Through their associated political parties, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the various incarnations of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), respectively, the two families have long dominated civilian governance. However, even during these intervening periods of civilian control, the military has retained its domineering influence over domestic politics in a clandestine manner. Indeed, it is often seen as the country’s ‘kingmaker’. Pakistan is territorially divided into four provinces (Baluchistan, Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh) and two administrative units (Azad and Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan). The capital Islamabad operates as a distinct federal territory. These divisions are generally distinguished by their linguistic and ethnic characteristics but are also indicative of distinctive voting patterns. Indeed, Pakistan’s predominant parties have often defined themselves along these regional cleavages. For instance, Sindh has been the historic centre of PPP support, whereas the PMLN has generally been favoured in Punjab [1]. With the latter province being by far the most populous of the country, it holds a fundamental role in the political process. Indeed, governments are often made through winning a majority vote in Punjab. The creation of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Movement for Justice, PTI) party by Imran Khan in the late 1990s significantly upset a political status quo defined by entrenched dynasticism. At the creation of the PTI party, Khan had already cemented his position as arguably Pakistan’s most recognisable face, enjoying a notorious playboy lifestyle during his Oxford education and then gaining international stardom by bringing Pakistan to it’s one and only Cricket World Cup victory in 1992. Despite the publicity of its figurehead, the party initially achieving little success for the first few decades of its existence. In one election the only Parliamentary seat the party won was for Khan himself [2]. However, its victory in the 2018 General Elections proved a historically unprecedented moment, becoming the most voted party in Punjab in the 2018 General Elections. This robbed the PMLN of its regional stronghold. The Ousting of Imran Khan and the Pakistani Judicial System Despite riding a seemingly perfect storm of political ascension, Khan’s Prime Ministership was cut short by the no-confidence vote placed against him in April 2022. Khan attempted to block this vote by dissolving parliament, an action the Supreme Court quickly ruled unconstitutional [3]. Khan persistently stressed a US-backed conspiracy against him during his tenure, founded on a continued unwillingness to reduce support for Russia and China [4]. For example, Khan travelled to Russia to meet with Putin just prior to the Ukrainian invasion. It was this move away from dogmatic adherence to US interests that he claims prompted the military elite to facilitate his downfall. Following his removal, Shehbaz Sharif (brother of three-time PM and recent returnee Nawaz Sharif) took the position of interim Prime Minister. The aftermath triggered a period of heightened internal political tension. The subsequent year has witnessed Khan’s fight for his political future. This has been met with widespread protest across Pakistan. Khan’s fate has been tested through an extensive legal battle and a seemingly infinite set of allegations. The first arrest of Khan was based on multiple corruption accusations that he has consistently rejected as “biased” [5]. These attacks have allowed the ex-PM to depict himself in a classically populist fashion. The continuous strain of legal charges against Khan only serve to facilitate the image of an individual struggle against the corrupt establishment, as a true representative of the people’s will. The first arrest of Khan in April allowed for the mobilisation of the populace, actualising grievances that had simmered for the preceding months. Following the claims of Khan, pro-PTI protesters targeted their indignation at the military. The official residence of an army commander in Lahore and the army headquarters in Rawalpindi were both targeted [6]. This extensive legal battle has exposed a previously unseen rift between the courts and the military. The military has long acted as the domineering influence on the judicial system, in many cases covertly dictating its rulings [7]. Where it was in the interest of the military for dissidents to be removed or journalists pushed away, the courts provided legal recourse. Indeed, they even granted three military coups the legal stamp of approval [8]. Shortly following Khan’s arrest, the Supreme Court issued a declaration that the act was unlawful and ordered his immediate release [9]. Furthermore, the Islamabad High Court granted Khan pre-emptive bail on several corruption cases [10]. The emergence of the judicial system as an independent power broker within the Pakistani political domain is historically unprecedented. The conflation of interest between the courts and the military regarding Khan’s political campaign against corruption facilitated his successful rise to power in 2018. It is ultimately the break of this coercive alliance that is facilitating Khan’s survival, with the Supreme Court issuing several rulings that have undermined the military’s attempts to permanently remove Khan from the Pakistani political realm. However, more recent legal proceedings appear to expose this as a temporary phenomenon, as the courts are seemingly once again swept under the wing of the military. The 5th of August saw a further arrest of Khan, representing the culmination for months of turmoil. This has proved a significant upset to the ongoing political drama of the preceding year. The final verdict found Khan guilty of financial corruption, forcing him to serve a 3-year term [11]. During this time he will be unable to run for office. Following the arrest, Khan posted a video to his personal twitter page demanding the immediate mobilisation of his supporters. As the battle against the state appears increasingly futile, Khan’s political future appears increasingly dim. These allegations have been reinforced by an additional legal case. Mr. Khan is alleged to have leaked a clandestine cable that proved the US had pressed the Pakistani military to orchestrate the fall of his government in 2022 [12]. Despite proving to be evidence to legitimate Khan’s narrative, the evidence has yet to be released publicly. The chances of this happening are now very slim. The Transition Government and The Upcoming Election The arrest of Khan saw a subsequent transitionary government come to power. The first incarnation of this was headed by Shebhaz Sharif, younger brother to three-time PM Nawaz Sharif. Last month saw the former step down following the completion of the Parliamentary term [13]. Though currently holding an interim government, Pakistan looks to be pre-emptively establishing its post-election government. Despite initial plans to hold elections in November, these have been pushed back. This is to allow the interim government to allow completion of a census to redraw electorates [14]. As has been illustrated throughout the political history of Pakistan, much of the political movement of the state appears to concern elite military manoeuvring and not the democratic will of the people. In late October, Nawaz Sharif stood in front of thousands of PLM-N supporters in Lahore, a grand gesture to mark his return from exile in the UK [15]. The older brother of until-recent PM Shehbaz Sharif, Nawaz is a storied figure of Pakistani politics. This is his fourth bid for power, with three preceding terms marking him as the countries longest serving PM. Despite only escaping his seven-year prison sentence due to an artificially extended medical leave in the UK, Sharif appeared to face no fears of arrest when re-entering the country [16]. Just prior to Mr. Sharif’s arrival he was granted protective bail by the Islamabad High Court [17]. The appointment of his younger brother as PM certaintly facilitated this environment of re-acceptance into the Pakistani political establishment. As with Khan, the military have rewarded or punished Sharif relative to their interests. The same elite-military establishment that ensured his arrest in 2017 is the very same establishment that is now facilitating his return. With the PLM-N losing Punjab to the PTI in 2018, it is notable that the signal of Nawaz Sharif’s return was held in Lahore. It is clear that the winds of changing favour in Pakistan are reserved to the realm of its dynastic political parties. Their success or failure is ultimately at the will of the entrenched elite military establishment. The domestic political strife of Pakistan is not beholden to the realm of elite political manoeuvring. The Pakistani people are victims of severe national financial insolvency. Indeed, the country is surviving month to month. It is predicted that a failure of IMF support will ensure a near 100% chance of government default within 6 months [18]. Sharif’s government worked to unlock at least a portion of the $2.5 billion left out of a $6.5 billion programme Pakistan entered in 2019, which was set to expire by the end of July [19]. The government was able to secure this money by the middle of that month [20]. The recently proposed budget must satisfy the demands of the IMF lest Pakistan be plunged further into a fiscal crisis. Furthermore, the interim government is still dealing with the previous year’s traumatic floods that submerged much of the country early in its tenure. The financial resources needed for reconstruction and safeguarding the vulnerable are simply not available domestically, with foreign aid and investment also being dreadfully insufficient [21]. With Pakistan under significant risk from climate-induced threats, securing financial resources to ensure future climate security is an existential threat. Yet, the internal power politics and kingmaking of Islamabad have left little time for politics to leave the confines of the capital’s courts and ministries. Despite retaining significant historic support across Punjab, the PLM-N party will need to modernise and adapt its public appearance. The PTI have long retained their effective use of social media [20]. This use of social media is particularly attractive to the significant Pakistani diaspora, who’s engagement with their home country may remain online. With the expulsion of several PTI politicians, the party is in dire circumstances. Indeed, the witch-hunt of PTI members, with disappearances lasting weeks. The preceding year has witnessed a domestic crisis engulf Pakistan. Since the ousting of Khan, the provisional government has fought a political battle for the future of the state. The continued contention of Khan against this transitory government has exposed the dissolution of the delicate power balance between Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the military that has historically been a tenet of the state. The transitional government’s management of this situation is beset by several domestic challenges that have disputed their tenure since its initiation. Politics work fast and unpredictably in Pakistan. With the return of Nawaz Sharif and protest to the arrest of Khan, anything is possible in these months leading up to the election. The stakes of control have never been higher. References [1] - “Explainer: Pakistan’s Main Political Parties”, Al Jazeera, 6 May 2013 [2] - “Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf: Pakistan’s Iconic Populist Movements”, Populism Studies, February 3 2021 [3] - “Pakistan court rules presidents move to dissolve parliament is unconstitutional”, NPR News, April 7 2022 [4] - “Imran Khan ousted as Pakistan’s PM after vote”, BBC News, 10 April 2022 [5] - “Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan arrested by paramilitary police”, CNN News, May 9 2022 [6] - “Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Ex-Leader, is Arrested”, The New York Times, May 9 2023 [7] - “Pakistan’s Powerful Military Faces New Resistance From Courts”, The New York Times, May 31 2023 [8] - “Pakistan’s Powerful Military Faces New Resistance From Courts”, The New York Times, May 31 2023 [9] - “Pakistan’s Powerful Military Faces New Resistance From Courts”, The New York Times, May 31 2022 [10] - “Islamabad Court Grants Imran Khan Bail”, The Diplomat, May 12 2023,usually%20is%20renewed%20in%20the%20Pakistan%20judicial%20system [11] - “Imran Khan: former Pakistan prime minister sentenced to three years in jail”, The Guardian, 5 Aug 2023, [12] – “Pakistan court extends ex-PM Imran Khan’s custody in ‘cipher’ case” Pakistan court extends ex-PM Imran Khan’s custody in ‘cipher’ case | Imran Khan News | Al Jazeera [13] – “Pakistan Imran Khan Custody Extended” [14] – “Imran Khan family fear former Pakistani PM may be killed in jail” [15] – “Pakistan looks back to the future as Nawaz Sharif eyes fourth stint as pm” [16] – “Pakistan looks back to the future as Nawaz Sharif eyes fourth stint as pm” [17] – “Pakistan’s ex-PM Nawaz Sharif to return from exile for political comeback” [18] - “Pakistan lays out budget but may not satisfy IMF”, Al Jazeera, 9 June 2023, [19] - “Pakistan lays out budget but may not satisfy IMF”, Al Jazeera, 9 June 2023, [20] - “Will Pakistan’s IMF agreement save its economy”, Al Jazeera, 14 July 2023,'s%20board,the%20South%20Asian%20country's%20economy [21] - – (Pakistan’s FM: ‘We’re at the fork in the road towards democracy’: Talk to Al Jazeera) [22] - “Pakistan’s ex-PM Nawaz Sharif to return from exile for political comeback”

South China Sea on a map

Beijing’s Aggression Behind Emerging India-Philippines Defense Relationship

by Peter Chalk

The People’s Republic of China’s increasingly assertive stance on affirming its territorial claims in the Indo-Pacific is informing the evolution of a closer defense relationship between New Delhi and Manila. On September 25, the Philippine Coast Guard removed a floating barrier that China had installed at Huangyan Dao (黄岩岛, an island in the Scarborough Shoal) in the South China Sea (SCS) the previous day. Responding to questions about the incident, PRC Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin (王文斌) maintained that “China Coast Guard did what was necessary to block and drive away the Philippine vessel,” and that “Huangyan Dao has always been China’s territory. What the Philippines did looks like nothing more than self-amusement” (FMPRC, September 26; FMPRC, September 27). Earlier in September, New Delhi’s Ambassador to the Philippines Shambu Kumaran expressed solidarity with Manila by pointedly rejecting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s new extended ten-dash map of its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea (SCS) and Line of Actual Control (LAC). He criticized the move from Beijing as unhelpful “cartographic expansionism” (Manila Times, September 3). These two incidents, occurring in the space of less than a month, are only the most recent in a string of aggressive acts in recent years. The reactions of both India and the Philippines are indicative of growing unity among some of China’s neighboring countries as a direct response to the security threat that China poses. In recent years, these two partners have increased the areas of engagement for security collaboration and expressed an intent to further such initiatives. The PRC lambasts the Philippines for choosing “to ignore China’s goodwill and sincerity” (MOFA, August 8), but this rhetoric only reaffirms Manila’s shifting calculus. There are limits to how close the Indo-Philippines defense relationship will get, but there is still ample room to explore various forms of cooperation short of a mutual defense treaty. The coming years will see much more of that exploration start to materialize. The PRC has several options in terms of responding to this emerging dynamic. These range from economic coercion, influence operations, and leveraging its relationship with Russia to put pressure on India. It is unclear which combination of these the PRC will ultimately pursue, though the PRC has made it abundantly clear that backing down in the South China Sea is not an option it is willing to entertain. India’s Reorientation over the SCS and Growing Defense Cooperation with the Philippines In June, the fifth session of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) took place at Hyderabad House in New Delhi. At the meeting, the Philippine Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Enrique Manalo, and Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM), Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, issued a joint communiqué calling for full adherence to the 2016 Arbitral Award on the SCS. This was the first time that the Narendra Modi government explicitly endorsed the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA)’s ruling in favor of Manila. Until then, the administration had adopted a neutral stance on the issue, merely stressing that it supports freedom of navigation, overflight, and unimpeded commerce in the region, based on the principles of international law. Even after the 2016 judgment, India only acknowledged the outcome of the award, and did not take sides on the legitimacy of the decision (Observer Research Foundation, July 12; South China Morning Post, July 9). The June 2023 statement is therefore a highly symbolic diplomatic gesture, indicating a burgeoning bilateral relationship between New Delhi and Manila to promote an open, rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific. India’s tensions with China have long revolved around managing disputed territory along their 2,100-mile-long northern border in the Himalayas, known as the Line of Actual Control. For a long time, the Modi administration maintained a neutral stance on the SCS disputes. This is not just to avoid unwanted provocation: The Modi government has also been sensitive to the possibility that blanket opposition to the PRC’s stance in the SCS could provoke Beijing to expand naval deployments in the Indo-Pacific, potentially undermining the regional balance of power—and concomitant stability—that is critical to India’s own economic development. New Delhi has also generally been unwilling to comment on the domestic policies of its neighbors in Southeast Asia, lest this be construed as violating the two cardinal principles of the so-called “ASEAN way”: non-interference in internal affairs and mutual respect for national sovereignty. Although these considerations are still germane, the Modi administration has recently exhibited a more outspoken and proactive position on the SCS. Not only is preserving peace and stability in this body of water now a central tenet in the prime minister’s reinvigorated Act East Policy (EAP), in August 2021 his government sent naval ships to the region to take part in a series of coordinated sailings and exercises with Australia, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam (The Tribune, August 3, 2021; South China Morning Post, August 13, 2021). New Delhi is also a member of the Quad, a grouping of like-minded states that in 2022 declared their joint opposition to any unilateral or coercive actions that seek to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas. While the wording of the declaration does not mention the PRC by name, its message clearly aims to denounce Beijing’s activities as a threat to stability, transparency, and the rules-based order in the region. Indeed, during a state visit to Washington, DC in June 2023, Modi and President Biden declared themselves “among the closest partners in the world” and committed to forging a more robust relationship—within the parameters of the Quad—to countering a clear and upward trend of Chinese aggression in the SCS (Asia Financial, June 29). India has also been more direct in articulating its concerns over the harmful effects the PRC is having on diplomatic efforts to resolve territorial disputes in the SCS. For instance, at the 15th East Asia Summit in November 2020, EAM Jaishankar expressed concern about actions and incidents in the SCS that “erode trust” and said ongoing negotiations on the proposed code of conduct “should not be prejudicial to legitimate interests of third parties and should be fully consistent” with the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (The Hindustan Times, November 14, 2020). It is in this context that India has steadily moved to ramp up its defense cooperation with the Philippines. Security Collaborations In recent months, New Delhi and Manila have closely collaborated on a range of security matters beyond the explicit recognition of the 2016 PCA’s ruling against Beijing in the SCS. In January 2022, the government of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. signed a deal worth $374.96 million to obtain a shore-based variant of the BrahMos supersonic anti-ship cruise missile system. This makes Manila the first foreign customer for the weapons platform jointly developed by India and Russia (The Hindu, January 28, 2022). The Philippine Marine Corps’ newly developed Coastal Defense Regiment (CDR) will receive three batteries, the first of which will arrive before the end of 2023 (Indian Aerospace & Defence Bulletin, August 3). Notably, during Balikatan 23 (April 11–28), the most recent iteration of the annual military exercises between Manila and Washington, the CDR played a leading role in helping to retake the Filipino island of Bosco from a fictitious foreign aggressor, i.e. China. During the 13th India-Philippines Foreign Office Consultations in August 2022, both sides expressed their desire to deepen security cooperation, which they again reiterated at the conclusion of their 4th Joint Defense Cooperation Committee and 2nd Service-to-Service meeting in March 2023 (Manila Times, August 23, 2022; The Economic Times, June 30). To give substance to this commitment, the two countries agreed to work together on projects related to cyber and space security, military medicine, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. They also pledged to look into the possibility of deploying a permanent Indian Defense Attaché (DA) to Manila (Philstar, April 4). This latter possibility was again highlighted as a shared desire by both parties at the fifth JCBC meeting in June 2023, as was enhancing security ties through regular or upgraded interactions between defense agencies and combined maritime drills. India also offered the Philippines a concessional line of credit to buy indigenously manufactured military equipment, including naval and aviation assets (The Hindu, June 29; South China Morning Post, June 30; Mint, August 15). In August 2023, the Philippine and Indian coast guards signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to enhance professional maritime linkages in the areas of law enforcement, search and rescue, and pollution response. The MoU additionally mentioned exploring future avenues for joint exercises and training collaboration, while the two services also inked a Standard Operating Procedure for exchanging “white” (aka, licit) shipping information (The Economic Times, August 23). Rationalizing India’s Recalibrated Policy to the SCS and the Philippines Accounting for India’s recalibrated approach to the SCS issue and its defense relations with the Philippines relies on several interrelated factors. First, the Modi government has clearly balked at the CCP’s growing assertiveness in the region. New Delhi views it as a direct threat to freedom of navigation in a strategic sealine of communication that plays a crucial role in fostering the Act East Policy’s long-term goal of deepening engagement with Southeast Asia. Beijing’s extensive territorial claims in the SCS also undermine political and economic stability in the broader Indo-Pacific region and challenge the legitimate sovereign rights of littoral states. All of this runs counter to New Delhi’s prioritization of a peaceful, transparent, and inclusive maritime order. Second, India’s membership of the Quad has further reinforced and entrenched the country’s commitment to offsetting the PRC’s rapidly rising influence by supporting an open and rules-based Indo-Pacific and opposing unilateral actions that unduly raise tensions in the South and East China Seas. This was precisely the message that emanated from the Quad’s most recent Ministerial Meeting in New Delhi on March 3, 2023, where the grouping expressly presented itself as a force for regional and global good (The Hindu, March 3). Third, the June 2020 border clash with China in the Galwan Valley on the LAC (and subsequent periodic flareups) have encouraged New Delhi to assume a much more forceful stance against Beijing. Modi’s government now sees the PRC as the only major power in the region that poses a direct threat to its core national security interests (China Daily, July 27). Moreover, the border clash, which left 15 Indian soldiers dead, has encouraged India to be more supportive of countries in the Indo-Pacific that have similarly suffered from China’s belligerence. The Philippines is one such country, having borne the brunt of the PRC’s incursions in the SCS (especially in and around the Manila-controlled Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Island chain). Fourth, forging a closer defense relationship could open the door for India to ink more high-tech arms agreements with the Philippines. In this way, the sale of the BraMos cruise missile system in 2022 could be the first of many. As noted above, in June 2023 the Modi administration offered Manila a concessional line of credit to buy indigenously produced military hardware, so a suitable funding mechanism for orchestrating munition transfers is in place. Any future agreement to send advanced weapon platforms to the Philippines would represent a significant export revenue stream for New Delhi. The country’s coast guard has already expressed interest in buying a batch of MK III multi-role light helicopters from India (The Print, July 17; The Eurasian Times, August 24). Just as importantly, such deals would send a strong signal to the PRC of the type of security and diplomatic headaches India is willing to instigate for Beijing if it pushes its territorial claims along the LAC too aggressively. Fifth, since assuming office on June 30, 2022, President Marcos has reversed the previous administration’s foreign policy agenda to one that is now largely congruent with India’s: emphasizing adherence to democratic principles, ensuring the country’s sovereign border rights, reconsolidating the military alliance with the United States, and shoring up links with regional allies to counter Chinese intimidation. With similar outlooks on regional affairs and no immediate conflict of interests, it should come as no major surprise that the two nations have found common ground in strengthening and enhancing their bilateral defense cooperation. Deepening Collaboration Short of Alliance The PRC’s aggressive advances in the Indo-Pacific provide a mutual motivation for New Delhi and Manila to cooperate militarily. A serious escalation of tensions along the LAC or an act of overt aggression in areas of the SCS that fall within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone could well precipitate a renewed push to further intensify bilateral ties based on a common commitment to deter and blunt Chinese adventurism. The likelihood of a codifying bilateral defense commitments, however, is low. India has always been wary of such formalized arrangements, especially in the conflict-prone Indo-Pacific theater, as they could ultimately force the country into a costly confrontation with China. The statutory strategic partnership agreement that Australia concluded with Manila in September is therefore something that the Modi administration would likely eschew. Rather, future defense relations can be expected to take the form of more flexible MoUs and protocols calling for greater information sharing, additional port calls, a higher tempo of exercises and training, and increased support for international rulings on the law of the sea. None of these will transform the Indian-Philippine partnership into a “mini alliance.” Nevertheless, opportunities for deepening the strategic coordination of two nations that already engage in a range of security collaborations represent a enhancement of India’s positioning in the region, to the exclusion of China. The PRC will doubtless interpret closer ties between New Delhi and Manila as part of a wider U.S.-led containment policy aimed at shutting China out of its own geostrategic “backyard.” As it routinely does when outside nations dispatch forces to the SCS, Beijing will almost certainly reject any Indian naval presence in the area as an unjustified—if not illegitimate—intrusion in its sovereign sphere of influence. For instance, an August article from Baijiahao, one of China’s largest blog platforms for independent writers, argues that New Delhi’s approach to the Philippines in part of a broader plan to wrest control of the entire SCS (Baijiahao, August 27). This echoes a line that CCP propaganda has often deployed in recent years (Remin Zixun, March 3, 2021). Despite these rhetorical protestations, the PRC would probably not move to actively counter any such deployment for fear that this could spark a direct clash both with New Delhi and its partners in the Quad. The preferred strategy would likely default to economic coercion—wielding the country’s considerable financial leverage to pressure pliable Southeast Asian actors into distancing themselves from the Indo-Philippine partnership. As has been evident with past “lobbying” efforts directed at Cambodia, a precedent exists for this type of economic offensive. The PRC may also look to subversive foreign influence operations (FIOs) as a means for decoupling Indian-Filipino maritime defense cooperation. The CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), which has a remit for exercising political influence inside and outside China, enjoys an active presence in the Philippines. Local intelligence sources have already linked the Department to FIO campaigns aimed at manipulating public and elite opinion in favor of Beijing’s claims in the SCS (China Brief, May 19). As it has done with regards to negatively shaping popular attitudes on Manila’s alliance with Washington, the PRC could easily use the UFWD as a conduit for generating opposition—if not outright hostility—to Marcos’ closer security collaboration with Modi. Finally, the CCP may move to capitalize on Russia’s growing reliance on Chinese support—which has become more pronounced in the wake of the Kremlin’s international isolation over its war in Ukraine—to pressure President Vladimir Putin into towing an anti-India agenda in the Indo-Pacific. While Moscow and New Delhi have historically enjoyed warm ties, bilateral relations have cooled somewhat in recent years due to the latter’s closer alignment with the United States. This, combined with the fact that Russia continues to have strategic relevance for India, accounting for around 45 percent of the country’s arms imports (The Hindu, March 13), could make Putin a useful ally in backing a PRC drive to counter Modi’s evolving defense outreach to the Philippines.

The Westland Lynx, British military helicopter with Royal Navy ship on the background

The UK’s new direction: Prioritising the Indo-Pacific

by Girish Luthra

The recent steps undertaken by the UK show the growing engagement with the Indo-Pacific and the clear intent to accelerate the same In March 2021, the United Kingdom (UK) released ‘The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development, and Foreign Policy’, outlining its vision, priorities, and strategies for ‘Global Britain in a Competitive Age.’ While it covered a broad range of areas aligned with its national objectives, two aspects stood out from a policy-reorientation perspective. One, a departure from its earlier approach of cordiality and accommodation with China; and two, its decision to deepen engagement with and play a more active role in the Indo-Pacific region. It included a separate section ‘The Indo-Pacific Tilt: A Framework’, which stressed that “we will be the European partner with the broadest and most integrated presence in the Indo-Pacific.” The ’tilt’ framework met with scepticism, in some cases with cynicism, because the UK had remained somewhat withdrawn, in general, and peripheral to the Indo-Pacific region, in particular, in the preceding few years. There were questions about the UK’s seriousness and headroom available for resource allocation to follow through with this new strategy. Notwithstanding, the UK government started to take new steps, as well as moving forward with some earlier initiatives related to the Indo-Pacific. The big announcement in September 2021 of AUKUS (Australia, the UK, and the US), an informal security alliance focused on the western Pacific, sent the clearest signal that the ‘tilt’ was more than just a strategy paper. It also indicated that the plans “… to enhance China facing capabilities to respond to systemic challenges it poses to our security, prosperity, and values…” would be realised through partnerships and alliances. The UK seeks to contribute to deterrence against China through the AUKUS, which has taken numerous steps in the last two years to expand defence collaboration in emerging technologies and industrial capabilities. The UK’s ‘tilt’ implementation challenges were compounded by the post-pandemic economic slowdown and the Russia-Ukraine war. At the same time, there were rapid changes in the global and regional strategic environment. For the UK, these implied the continued indispensability of the US, the criticality of the EU, and the importance of the Indo-Pacific. A revised strategy articulation was accordingly done through a comprehensive document titled ‘Integrated Review Refresh 2023: responding to a more contested and volatile world’, published in March 2023. It updated the broad strategic framework across geographies, sectors, and themes and was more explicit about the China challenge. With respect to the Indo-Pacific, it outlined the progress made since the announcement of the ‘tilt’ strategy. These included FTA agreements with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and Vietnam. It highlighted deepening several bilateral relationships, partnership roadmaps with India and Indonesia, dialogue partner status with ASEAN, applying for joining the ASEAN regional forum and ADMM Plus, progressing negotiations to join the CP-TPP, deployments by the Royal Navy to the region, digital partnerships, and working together on green transitions. It pointed out that the Euro-Atlantic would continue to be the overriding priority, followed by the Indo-Pacific. Overall, the ‘Refresh’ document showed that the UK’s engagement with the Indo-Pacific was progressing well and that there was a clear intent to accelerate the same. The last two and a half years have firmly established the UK’s new direction, with emphasis on outcomes that are based on diplomatic and cooperative instruments. This trend is supported by a growing anti-China sentiment, increasing consensus for alignment with the Indo-Pacific framework, and a broader agreement on strengthening resilience against coercion and unforeseen events. A recent report by the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, released on 30 August, has brought out a detailed assessment of the evolution and progress of the Indo-Pacific ‘tilt’ strategy. While recognising the steps taken towards implementation, it has made several recommendations. Some of these include a cross-government approach, focus on long-term objectives and outcomes, seeking to join the Quad, inviting Japan and the Republic of Korea to join AUKUS for ‘Strand-B’ activities of defence cooperation, pushing for Japan to eventually join AUKUS, campaigning to admit Taiwan to CP-TPP, dropping overcaution about offending the CCP over Taiwan, and releasing an unclassified version of its China strategy. This stems from a broad assessment that while Euro-Atlantic is the overriding priority, the long-term threat is from China. Another report on China by the Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK parliament, presented in July 2023, has highlighted that the Chinese approach to pursuing its global ambitions makes China a national security threat to the UK. The report covers diverse challenges emanating from espionage, interference, influence operations, and investments (the UK receives the highest FDI from China, compared to any other European country). It concludes that the response and preventive actions have been slow and inadequate, and recommends a proactive approach to counter China, with increased allocation of resources. These reports are indicative of increased political convergence on the need to take forward the plans for the Indo-Pacific and China with a sense of urgency. The coming months are likely to see increased momentum in the implementation of priorities indicated in the ‘Refresh’. In addition, delivering on the India-UK comprehensive strategic partnership and the 2030 Roadmap for India-UK future relations is being accorded high priority. It is important that this joint roadmap, the UK’s integrated review, and its plans for the Indo-Pacific are seen in sum and as mutually reinforcing. While attention is currently focused on the ongoing negotiations for the India-UK FTA—expected to come to fruition soon—it needs to be highlighted that there are many other important lines of action being pursued under the 2030 roadmap. The term ‘Tilt to the Indo-Pacific’ has also been a subject of debate since it was unveiled. To many, it seemed to suggest movement at the cost of some other important region. The ‘Refresh’ document refers to it but appears to somewhat deemphasise the term. The recent Foreign Affairs Committee report also recommends moving away from using it. While the use of ‘tilt’ in official language may fade away, the UK is likely to continue to lean heavily towards the Indo-Pacific. This priority can be expected to become more enduring, and increasingly credible in the coming years.

Narendra Modi with Secretary Antony Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris

India and Vietnam are partnering with the US to counter China − even as Biden claims that’s not his goal

by Leland Lazarus

This fall, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is slated to lead a bipartisan group of U.S. senators to China. The planned trip, like other recent visits to China by high-ranking U.S. officials, is aimed at improving the relationship between the U.S. and China. Such efforts to ameliorate U.S.-China diplomatic relations come amid growing tensions between the two economic giants. They also run parallel to U.S. efforts to strengthen ties with Indo-Pacific countries to limit Beijing’s influence. Take, for example, President Joe Biden’s September 2023 trips to India for the G20 summit and to Vietnam, where U.S. competition with China was a focus of Biden’s discussions. While he was in Asia, Biden made several agreements in science, technology and supply chain security designed to bolster U.S. relations with India and Vietnam. “I don’t want to contain China,” the president told reporters in Hanoi on Sept. 10, 2023, shortly after meeting with Vietnam’s communist party leader. U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher and Raja Krishnamoorthi echoed similar sentiments during an event held by the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York City the following day. But even if the U.S.’s stated goal isn’t to limit China’s global influence, its recent agreements with India, Vietnam and other countries may do exactly that. What US-led G20 deals mean for China The U.S. is actively looking for ways to blunt one of China’s best tools of influence: international loans. During the G20 summit Sept. 9-10 in New Delhi, the U.S. pledged to help reform the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to make them more flexible in lending to developing countries to finance renewable energy, climate mitigation and critical infrastructure projects. Biden committed the first US$25 billion to make those reforms possible and secured additional financial pledges from other countries totaling $200 billion in new funding for developing countries over the next decade. The U.S. also signed onto a deal with the European Union, Saudi Arabia and India that will help connect the Middle East, Europe and Asia through rails and ports. Characterizing it as a “real big deal,” Biden said the rail and ports agreement would help stabilize and integrate the Middle East. These plans are aimed at providing an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Commonly referred to as BRI, the initiative is China’s international infrastructure loan program. Over the past decade, Chinese government agencies, banks and businesses have loaned more than $1 trillion abroad, and 60% of the recipient countries are now in debt to these Chinese entities. The U.S. and other countries have long criticized BRI as “debt trap diplomacy.” One study suggests that the trillions of dollars in infrastructure loans to countries by the government and quasi-government bodies in China typically lead to debt problems that the borrowing countries can’t manage. As China grapples with a slowing domestic economy, it may become more difficult for Chinese entities to keep shelling out funding for big-ticket overseas projects. The new U.S.-led agreements that come out of the G20 could fill the coming gap. These G20 plans complement existing Western economic initiatives to compete with the BRI, including U.S. trade pacts for the Indo-Pacific region and the Americas, the EU’s Global Gateway and the G7’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. What the US’s agreement with India means for China In their meeting on the sidelines of the G20, Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to deepen collaboration on developing critical and emerging technology, such as quantum computing and space exploration, as well as 5G and 6G telecommunications. This will help India compete with China in the technological arena in the Indo-Pacific. The telecommunications portion of a joint statement by Biden and Modi specifically mentions the U.S.’s Rip and Replace program. It is about helping smaller telecommunications companies rip out technology from Chinese companies like Huawei or ZTE and replace them with network equipment from the West that will protect users’ data. The U.S. has banned Huawei and ZTE equipment from its telecommunication networks, deeming those companies national security risks. The U.S. and India’s pledge to support Rip and Replace is a direct counter to China’s telecommunication technology expansion. What the US’s agreement with Vietnam means for China In Vietnam, Biden elevated the bilateral relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership, expanding the relationship in everything from economics to education to technology in a country that has long counted China as its top trading partner. The enhanced partnership includes the U.S. providing $2 million to fund teaching labs and training courses for semiconductor assembly, testing and packaging. One company in Arizona and two in California have already pledged to set up semiconductor factories and design centers in Vietnam, and the U.S. artificial intelligence company Nvidia will help Vietnam integrate AI into automotive and health care systems. All these investments will make Vietnam even more attractive to U.S. and Western companies that don’t want China to be the sole source of their supply chain. As Vietnam becomes a key player in the semiconductor market, it will shrink China’s share of the market as well as its regional technological advantage. The U.S. also agreed to provide nearly $9 million to help Vietnam patrol the waters around its borders and beef up port facility security, as well as boost efforts to fight illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, or IUUF. While not explicitly mentioned, China is the target of this initiative; China and Vietnam continue to be at loggerheads over disputed claims over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and Chinese industrial fishing vessels are the largest culprits of IUUF around the globe. By inking these agreements at the G20 in India and in Vietnam, the U.S. broadened its circle of allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific that can help counterbalance China. Along with similar diplomatic accomplishments by Vice President Kamala Harris at the recent ASEAN summit in Indonesia; security partnerships like AUKUS, between the U.S., Australia and the UK, and the Quad, between the U.S., India, Australia and Japan; increased military sales and training to Taiwan; and the recent Camp David meeting Biden held with Japan and South Korea, the U.S. is building partnerships all across Asia. These actions are aimed at restraining China’s political, economic and military might, even if U.S. leaders don’t explicitly say that is their intention. Regardless of rhetoric, actions speak louder than words.