Manila on the Chinese bandwagon

The Philippines becomes the first Indo-Pacific country to declare itself for Beijing

On the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific, I have long argued that “the small- and medium-sized countries of the region will prefer a balance where no single power dominates over them. If they do not see this forthcoming, they are likely to join the stronger side.”

Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, appears to have decided that that stronger side is China.

“America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow,” he said at a business forum in Beijing on Thursday. “And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.” [CNN]

There were indications of this for the last few months, but the manner in which he announced a “separation” from the United States, the Philippines’ treaty ally since 1951, could not have been more designed to ingratiate Beijing, his newfound benefactor. Mr Duterte calculates — correctly, in all likelihood — that China will now shower the Philippines with exemplary largesse. It is in Beijing’s interests to demonstrate that those who decide to join the Chinese side will be rewarded, as long as they are willing to ignore some trifling territorial disputes and international arbitration verdicts.

I have also argued that there is a Chinese wedge between ASEAN states that have a dispute with Beijing and those that don’t. That wedge has just gotten deeper and wider. The ASEAN agenda on maritime cooperation is now in question, as Philippines joins other pro-China ASEAN members in being uninterested in confronting China. Vietnam, in particular, will be under a lot more pressure.

The Philippines remains a pro-American country. It is also likely that parts of the country’s security establishment have deep links with the US armed forces. How Mr Duterte’s policy will go down with the people and the security establishment remains to be seen.

G-20, East Asia and high-profile foreign policy

The focus on G-20, East Asia and raising India’s foreign policy profile are all the right things to do, and long overdue.

Notes for my television appearance on CNN-IBN at 9am IST today:

The Brisbane G-20 statement is so closely aligned with India’s own growth agenda: India must capitalise on this opportunity.

G-20 should become India’s most important international engagement (as my Pax Indica article from June 2010 argues). What the UN was to newly independent India, G-20 should be for a newly resurgent India. New Delhi should invest in high forums that India is already a member of is more valuable than pleading to enter stodgy old clubs like the UN Security Council.

India must contribute to the Asian Balance because it is in our interests to do so. As China and the United States contest for global power, India must project power in regions like East, West and Central Asia to defend its interests. [This is the central argument of The Asian Balance, my monthly column in Business Standard.]

It is good for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to invest time in international engagements: India’s growth is influenced by the world and the world’s situation influences India’s growth [This is the subject of an ongoing research project between Takshashila and the Hudson Institute]. India’s policy discourse will benefit from the prime minister’s international engagements & exposure.

(Point made in response to other panelists)
Mr Modi’s personal popularity among expatriate Indians and the enthusiasm they have shown around his visit to Australia help elevate India’s foreign policy profile. However, it is important for the media to not hype it beyond a point. It is in India’s interests for Indian-Australians to be good Australians: by being loyal, responsible and successful members of their communities.

INILive Pilot: Bin Laden’s killing and implications for India

A live, online interactive programme on strategic affairs, public policy and governance

Here’s the recording of today’s INILive pilot.

Update: Edited transcript of the initial remarks:

In today’s programme I will analyse the issues related to the killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan last week. I will also try to address some of your questions and comments. Today, you can interact with me over twitter, using the hashtag #inilive

Now, there can be very little doubt over whether the Pakistani military leadership, Generals Ashfaq Kayani and Shuja Pasha were aware of Osama bin Laden’s location. The ISI is competent enough for this. Usually, top leaders have “plausible deniability”, they can claim that they didn’t know what their organisations were up to. In this case, General Kayani was ISI chief at the time bin Laden supposedly moved to Abbottabad. His denials are not plausible.

But what about the operation to get bin Laden? What role might the Pakistani military have played here? There can be many explanations. Let’s talk about the three most interesting ones:

One, it was, as the Obama Adm claims, carried out unilaterally by the United States, without informing the Pakistanis. Two, it was orchestrated by the Pakistani military establishment as a card in the endgame of the war in Afghanistan. Three, and it was an outcome of an ongoing power struggle among various sections of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. Continue reading “INILive Pilot: Bin Laden’s killing and implications for India”

To be a real power

On the real challenges facing India’s foreign policy

Here’s a video of my opening remarks at a roundtable a few days ago at the India International Centre, New Delhi. It dealt with India in a globalised world and was organised by Vivek Dehejia, featuring Ashutosh Varshney (professor of political science at Brown University) and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (journalist and documentary film-maker) in addition to me. You can watch the entire 90 minute programme on Mr Dehejia’s Vimeo page, of which the following is a short excerpt.

Note: In the talk I state that Singapore has more diplomats that India. This is an exaggeration, but only just. According to Daniel Markey, Singapore has 487 professional foreign service officers while India has 669. However, not all of India’s foreign service officers are engaged shaping foreign policy or conducting diplomacy. Some of them, for instance, are passport officers.

An exchange at Five Rupees

A conversation with a Pakistani foreign affairs scholar

Ahsan Butt, at Five Rupees, proposed a public conversation on India-Pakistan relations after the Nov 26th terrorist attack on Mumbai. He has posted our email exchange on his blog.

You should see it, and perhaps add your thoughtful two cents worth.