Pass impasse

The giant neighbours are more rivals than partners

China and India: Prospects for Peace. By Jonathan Holslag. Columbia University Press; 234 pages; $37.50 and £26.

FOR a book about two countries whose most recent war was five decades ago, “Prospects for Peace” seems a quirky subtitle. Jonathan Holslag, a Brussels-based think-tanker, argues that, since China’s swift and bloody humiliation of India in 1962, the neighbours have “tottered at least five times on the verge of war”. But the last time troops massed on the border was in 1986. Since then the territorial dispute that sparked the war has been “put to one side”. Bilateral trade has boomed, and hundreds of thousands of Indians and Chinese now visit the other country each year, including a succession of senior politicians toasting a beautiful friendship.

As Mr Holslag explains, however, the relationship is still marked as much by unremitting strategic mistrust as by burgeoning co-operation. His contribution to a recent flurry of India-China books attempts to reconcile these contradictory trends. His conclusions are rather unsettling.

Most of the other books on the area concentrate inevitably on the implications of the two countries’ economic rise. The simultaneous emergence into the global economy of two countries containing nearly two-fifths of the world’s people is after all an unprecedented phenomenon. Moreover, China’s dominance of global manufacturing seems matched by India’s arrival as an important provider of information-technology and other services. Mr Holslag quotes Zhu Rongji, a former Chinese prime minister: “You are number one in software. We are number one in hardware…Together we are the world’s number one.” That is India’s misfortune. Hundreds of thousands of Indians work in IT services whereas manufacturing for export provides China with tens of millions of jobs. Mr Holslag predicts that India will challenge China’s role as the world’s manufacturer, but that seems far-fetched.

This complementarity has been accompanied by a number of alliances of convenience, most notably in resisting pressure from the rich world to agree to fixed targets for limiting carbon emissions. There was even an agreement in 2006 to work together to avoid bidding up the prices of energy resources in third countries.

The limited effect of that pact, however, is one reason to believe Mr Holslag’s prognosis of a “fiercer economic rivalry and more aggressive regional diplomacy”. Another is what Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian diplomat, calls “the ghost at the banquet”: China’s increasing diplomatic and military influence in Asia—and India’s fear of it.

As Mr Holslag notes, the defeat in 1962 has left a deep suspicion of China in India’s political, academic and diplomatic circles, which is reflected in public opinion. India claims an area of Chinese-held territory in Kashmir the size of Switzerland, while China claims an area three times larger in what is now Indian Arunachal Pradesh. The border dispute remains unresolved. What had lazily been assumed to be the obvious solution—the status quo, in which each country keeps large swathes of territory claimed by the other—seems, if anything, further away than ever. The political difficulties of selling such a deal in India have long been obvious. But China’s renewed harping on its claim in recent years suggests that it in fact does want more than it already has.

In putting the strategic rivalry at the centre of his analysis, Mr Holslag provides a useful corrective to some of the more starry-eyed visions of a semi-cohesive “Chindia”. He cannot, however, overcome the two biggest difficulties of tackling the subject. One is that both countries are so big and so complex that at times broad-brush simplification of their histories and policies veers into distortion.

The second is that India is full of voluble politicians, academics, diplomats and ordinary people with fiercely held views on China. Across the border, however, fewer Chinese regard India as an issue of immediate importance, and debate on the relationship is far more circumscribed. Cyberspace may be the exception, but it is largely ignored in this account. A consequence of this—and it is something many Indians are painfully aware of—is that Indian policy often appears fragile, contradictory and self-defeating, whereas China’s seems coherent, single-minded and effective. Yet it is hard to imagine that China can have a higher foreign-policy goal in South Asia than keeping relations with India on a fairly even keel. Maybe, for once, it is Chinese policy that is in disarray.


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Back to basics

India and climate-change negotiations

What India has to offer in Copenhagen

Poor, hot and politically constrained

A STEELY lot, India’s negotiators for the Copenhagen climate talks, to be held from December 7th, are still afraid of abandonment by China. India’s position looks formidable, so long as the world’s other and mightier billion-strong developing nation shares its demands: for the sanctity of the principles enshrined in the Kyoto protocol (KP), which exempts developing countries from having to curb (or mitigate) their carbon emissions. India’s champions therefore had a fright last week when China said it would undertake to cut the carbon intensity of its economy—or the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of GDP—by 40-45% by 2020, compared with 2005 levels. As The Economist went to press, India was rumoured to be following suit, by announcing its own targets for carbon-intensity cuts.

Indian fears of being left high and dry by China had anyway calmed somewhat on November 28th, at a meeting in Beijing of representatives of China, India, South Africa and Brazil, the “Basic Group” of big developing countries. It concluded with a reiteration of their shared “non-negotiable” demands. They insisted on their freedom from mitigation obligations, except when they are sponsored by industrialised countries to undertake them. They also decried a recent proposal to fix the year by which all nations’ carbon emissions should peak. Denmark suggests this idea, tentatively mooting 2025 as the cut-off year, in a draft agreement that it has promulgated in the absence of any workable draft emerging from the two years of pre-summit negotiations.

After the talks in Beijing, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, expressed confidence that China would not “ditch us”. Should industrialised countries seek to override their “non-negotiables”, he added, the four countries would stage a collective exit from Copenhagen. This week Basic Group representatives in Copenhagen presented their own draft agreement listing their demands to envoys from various industrialised countries.

As a tigerish negotiator, India was bound to seek solidarity with China—just as some developed countries were bound to seek more and comparable anti-warming measures from them both. The world’s most populous countries, they are the world’s biggest and fourth-biggest carbon emitters. As the world’s fastest-growing big economies, moreover, their emissions will continue to grow rapidly. In 1990 their combined emissions accounted for 13% of the world’s total; in 2030 the proportion is expected to reach 34%, of which China will account for 29%. The disparity is even more pronounced today. China’s emissions per head—the benchmark for an equitable global carbon-cutting agreement—are around 5.5 tonnes. India’s are 1.7 tonnes, among the lowest outside Africa.

If this disparity is not widely appreciated, as Indian officials claim, the rigid distinction between developed and non-developed countries in the KP, which they so rigorously endorse, must be partly to blame. Mr Ramesh, who was appointed in May, has already tried to make India’s negotiating position more flexible, partly by stressing the measures the country is voluntarily undertaking to curb its emissions: through a proposed $20 billion investment in solar energy; a plan to return a third of its area to forest; and many energy-efficiency measures. His ministry’s calculations, which predate China’s announcement, allegedly show that such emission-curbing steps could reduce the carbon intensity of India’s economy by around 25% by 2020 compared with 2005 levels.

India, however, is unlikely to show more flexibility than this. In a recent leaked letter to the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, Mr Ramesh mulled going further, floating the idea that India should be less bound to its developing-world allies and take bolder mitigation steps. But Indian environmentalists, businessmen and politicians proceeded to slam this notion venomously. The world’s biggest democracy, though already suffering badly from climate change, is in this respect as politically constrained as its richest one. Mr Ramesh, however, seems to have won at least some support for his suggestion that India should appear “pragmatic and constructive, not argumentative and polemical”.


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Growing, Yes, but India Has Reasons to Worry

Military trucks in Arunachal Pradesh, where India has maintained a heavy military presence since its 1962 war with China.

During President Obama’s recent visit to China, many in India speculated that an emerging “G2” would leave their nation out in the cold.

“Obama’s China (credit) card casts shadow on PM’s US visit” ran a headline on The Times of India’s Web site shortly before India’s prime minister left for America and his own meeting last week with Mr. Obama — highlighted by the president’s first state dinner.

The country’s prickly response points to the lingering distrust with which India, which often leaned toward Moscow during the cold war, still views the United States. It is a reminder, also, of the many sensitivities that drive Indian foreign policy — sensitivities that are not always recognized in America.

For all the talk of a new era of Indo-American collaboration, Americans tend to view India through the narrow prisms of two shared concerns — a battle against Islamic extremists, and the benefits of international trade. But India is a complicated country in a complex part of the world — buffeted by internal insurgencies, surrounded by hostile neighbors, marginalized until recently as underdeveloped.

In the last decade, four of India’s neighbors (Pakistan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka) have dealt with rebellions that, to varying degrees, have filtered into India. Since independence in 1947, India has been involved in armed conflicts in at least five nearby lands (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, the Maldives); it has also become a nuclear power.

Pakistan is the most intense flashpoint, and was on many minds in a week that marked the first anniversary of attacks by Muslim extremists, traced by India to Pakistan, that left 163 people dead in Mumbai. But it is only one potential flashpoint.

Another is China, which humiliated India in a border war in 1962. Last summer, after reports surfaced in the Indian media about increased border incursions by China’s army, India began moving aircraft and soldiers closer to China. In October, an editorial in The People’s Daily, a Chinese Communist Party publication, accused India of “recklessness and arrogance.” For Indians, the verbal and military jousting that followed has stirred deep anxiety, now heightened by suspicions that America is playing up to China. When Presidents Obama and Hu issued a joint statement that appeared to open the door to Chinese involvement in South Asia, the Indian press and political establishment responded with fury, born out of a sense of betrayal.

In adddition to its regional challenges, India is entangled in a host of complicated global negotiations — on climate change, trade, nuclear proliferation, intellectual property rights. As the country emerges onto the world stage, it has often had a hard time balancing its parochial interests with its desire to play the role of a responsible global power.

India’s response to all these challenges is complicated by its own difficulty in articulating an overarching strategic doctrine.

Writing in 1992, the late American political scientist George Tanham drew attention to the lack of a broad cohesive vision. Indian foreign policy, he argued, was fragmented; he pointed, for example, to the very different threat perceptions in northern India, which tends to worry about Pakistan and China, and in the south, which is more focused on northern dominance and seaward threats.

It hasn’t always been this way. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, envisioned his nation as a force for global peace and justice. He committed India to policies of nonproliferation and anti-imperialism, and professed nonalignment in the cold war. Arguably, India’s moral high ground was always somewhat shaky; the country has rarely hesitated to use force to protect its interests. (After Indian troops marched into the then-Portuguese colony of Goa in 1961, President John Kennedy was reported to have remarked that maybe now he could be spared India’s lectures about a moral foreign policy.) Nonetheless, India’s expression of a moral foreign policy did provide an element of cohesiveness that has frayed in recent decades.

Today, as India tries to define its role as an emerging superpower, the search for a cohesive foreign policy that could articulate a response to the myriad challenges confronting the country continues.Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an Indian political scientist, says a big question for India is how to handle its new status, and in particular whether it wants to adhere to the notion of a moral foreign policy. “Now that we have in a sense arrived, what do we do?” he asked. “Do we participate in the standard great-power exceptionalism, or do we leverage our power to create a rule-bound system?”

Just as for any great power, that would be an easier question for India to answer were it not for problems in its own backyard. Indeed, Mr. Mehta argues that India is in a sense caught in a “defensive crouch” — tied to its neighbors, forced to react to regional security threats, and held back in its aspirations as a global superpower by the volatility of its neighborhood.

Akash Kapur, New York Times


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India’s Eternal Crisis

ON the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, I hurried through a dark apple orchard to the nearest television in this Himalayan village. My landlord opened his door reluctantly, and then appeared unmoved by the news I had just received by phone. I struggled to explain the enormity of what was happening, the significance of New York, the iconic status of the World Trade Center — to no avail. It was time for his evening prayers; the television could not be turned on.

I did not witness the horrific sights of 9/11 until three days later. Since then, cable television and even broadband Internet have arrived in Mashobra and in my own home. Now the world’s manifold atrocities are always available for brisk inspection on India’s many 24-hour news channels. Indeed, the brutal terrorist assault on Mumbai that killed 163 people a year ago was immediately proclaimed as India’s own 9/11 by the country’s young TV anchors, who seem to model themselves on Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. Yet, on the first anniversary of “26/11,” it seems as remote as 9/11 to the inhabitants of this village.

There is no great mystery behind this indifference, which is distinct from callousness. India, where most people still depend on agriculture for a living, has just suffered one of its most serious droughts in decades. The outlook for winter crops is bleak; many farmers have committed suicide in recent months, adding to the epidemic of rural suicides over the last few years.

Politically, too, India has lurched from one crisis to another in the last year. Prudent financial regulation saved India from the worst effects of the worldwide economic recession. But the rage of people who feel themselves not only left behind but victimized by corporate-driven and urban-oriented economic growth has erupted into violence; the Indian government has called for an all-out war against the Maoist insurgent groups that now administer large parts of central India. Anti-India insurgencies in Kashmir and the northeast continue to simmer, exacting a little-reported but high daily toll.

Geopolitically, India’s room to maneuver has shrunk since the Mumbai attacks. Last November, middle-class nationalist fury, though initially directed at inept Indian authorities, settled on Pakistan, where the attacks were partly planned and financed. The writer Shashi Tharoor described “India’s leaders and strategic thinkers” as watching Israel’s assault on Gaza last winter with “empathy,” and wondering “why can’t we do the same?” One hopes Mr. Tharoor, who has since become India’s junior foreign minister, is today more aware of why India can’t do a Gaza or Lebanon on its nuclear-armed neighbor.

As Western anxiety about nuclear-armed Pakistan’s stability deepens, India can barely afford aggressive rhetoric, let alone military retaliation, against its longtime foe. Pakistan remains vital to Western campaigns against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Aware of its strategic importance, Pakistan has been in no hurry to accede to India’s demands to prosecute those it holds responsible for the Mumbai massacre. (One hopes the charges filed against seven radicals on Wednesday mark a real change.) Islamabad has also upped the rhetorical ante by accusing India of backing the violent secessionist movement in Baluchistan, in western Pakistan.

India’s seeming impotence enrages those in the new right-wing news media who are eager to commemorate 26/11, and to make that ersatz shorthand signify India’s unavenged humiliation and shame. Prabhu Chawla, the editor of India Today, the country’s leading newsmagazine, expressed the frustration of many middle-class nationalists: “India, divided by politics, doesn’t know what to do with its enemy or with its much-mauled nationalist soul. We are as clueless as we were on that dreadful November night one year ago.”

That may be true, but in a country where 400 million live without electricity, it isn’t easy to manufacture, or sustain, a national consensus. In any case, things are not as bad as the pundits make out. The lone surviving Mumbai killer is already on trial; his accomplices are being gradually apprehended. There have been no major retaliatory attacks against Muslims. There are stirrings of a civic, even political, consciousness among rich Indians who, until the Mumbai massacre, were largely unaffected by our frequent terrorist bombings.

India may have been passive after the Mumbai attacks. But India has not launched wars against either abstract nouns or actual countries that it has no hope of winning or even disengaging from. Another major terrorist assault on our large and chaotic cities is very probable, but it is unlikely to have the sort of effect that 9/11 had on America.

This is largely because many Indians still live with a sense of permanent crisis, of a world out of joint, where violence can be contained but never fully prevented, and where human action quickly reveals its tragic limits. The fatalism I sense in my village may be the consolation of the weak, of those powerless to shape the world to their ends. But it also provides a built-in check against the arrogance of power — and the hubris that has made America’s response to 9/11 so disastrously counterproductive.

Pankaj Mishra is the author of “Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond.”


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Seeking justice

India and Pakistan

Pakistan charges seven over the Mumbai terrorist attack. Ties with India may improve

ALMOST a year to the day after a spectacular three-day assault by Pakistani terrorists on the Indian city of Mumbai, in which at least 170 people were killed, a court in Pakistan has charged seven men with organising it. The announcement of the prosecution on Wednesday November 25th appears to represent a hopeful step in relations between Pakistan and its old rival India. India withdrew from a promising four-year diplomatic peace process after the Mumbai attack and, in July, its prime minister, Manmohan Singh, reiterated that talks would not restart until suspects within Pakistan were brought to justice.

Thus the trial is an important test of Pakistan’s promises to punish those thought to be responsible for the carnage of November 26th 2008 (dubbed as “26/11” in India). The arrested men have all, reportedly, pleaded not guilty. They are accused of training and equipping the heavily armed gunmen who opened fire in Mumbai at the swanky Taj hotel, a train station, a hospital, a Jewish centre and a café popular with foreigners. Those charged include Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the plot. Nine others have been charged in absentia.

India and America want to see evidence that Pakistan is serious about the prosecution. According to officials in Pakistan, the seven men charged this week were linked to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), a Pakistan-based extremist group that has claimed responsibility for attacks in Indian Kashmir and for bombings elsewhere in India in recent years. The group is thought to have built a network of sleeper cells in India, working with disaffected Indian Muslims who call themselves the Indian Mujahideen. Indian police have said that LET trained 30 militants for more than a year, in three or four camps in Pakistan, for the seaborne assault on Mumbai attack. But they say that only ten, all Pakistani, were used in the end.

LET is an especially important target for India, but Pakistan is not entirely committed to eradicating the group. Many believe that the outfit, which is thought only to launch attacks outside of Pakistan, remains closely linked to the army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Agency. The ISI denies supporting the group, though it did foster it early on.

Those within Pakistan who are loyal to the extremist group believe that, in the event of a war with India, it could offer a useful means of defence. In addition the government in Islamabad might be reluctant to take on new enemies as it battles the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan.

Outsiders who are critical of Pakistan, however, point to evidence that the government has long been half-hearted in taking on LET. Its founder, Hafiz Saeed, was briefly arrested last year, but was then freed because of a lack of evidence. Similarly, dozens of members of the organisation have been detained, only to be released soon afterwards. Indian officials grumble that LET has planned other assaults since the 26/11 attacks and that Pakistan’s government is pursuing a selective campaign against terrorists. They point to Mr Saeed’s long history of preaching jihad against India, even suggesting that he might have masterminded the Mumbai killings. Mr Saeed denies any involvement.


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In Delhi, doing as we do, not as we say

In the five years I worked as a reporter in India, I sat through many uncomfortable silences during interviews about Pakistani terrorists, the pervasive caste system and Indian Muslims — sensitive issues that, on the face of it, seem more controversial than carbon parts per million. But these subjects rarely stirred up as much ire as India’s stance on climate change. The topic has become a matter of national pride, a symbol of sovereignty and growing global clout. If you want to make an Indian government official really angry, bring up his carbon emissions.

This fall, when I mentioned to the Indian government’s chief economic policymaker that the United States considers India “intransigent” on climate change, the poised, Oxford-educated Montek Singh Ahluwalia looked slightly stunned for a moment. Pursing his lips, he seemed to struggle to suppress anger. “If I were using a cool description, those are either gross misperceptions or deliberate distortions,” he said in clipped British English. “The Indian approach on this has been, ‘Let’s first decide a fair pollution entitlement for different countries.’ ”

India’s position on climate change — as the hard-line negotiator standing up for the moral rights of the developing world — is a familiar one. India is the world’s fourth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, but for months now, it has come across as an obstinate child, leading the developing world in insisting that industrialized countries bear the brunt of the responsibility for global warming and have no right to dictate reductions to poor countries.

The international climate conference in Copenhagen next month won’t be the showdown it was originally billed as, but the United States and other nations are certainly not going to let up in their insistence that India and China accept hard emissions targets. During Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to India this summer, the country’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, rubbed the United States the wrong way when he had a climate outburst of sorts. Standing beside Clinton, he declared to a bank of reporters, “There is simply no case for the pressure that we, who have among the lowest emissions per capita, face to actually reduce emissions.”

In a country where almost half a million children die each year from water-borne diarrhea, providing access to basic services such as clean drinking water is more pressing than cutting emissions. And to do so requires energy. “You cannot say that because there is climate change the developing world shouldn’t grow,” was the outraged response when I asked Chandra Bhushan of the Center for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based research group, to explain why it is unfair to ask India to cut its emissions. “You’re essentially saying, ‘No more electricity to your house, close your factories, go back to the fields.’ ”

Even under the spinning ceiling fans in his office, drops of perspiration kept springing onto Bhushan’s forehead as we talked. Like many in India, he draws a bright line between India’s “survival emissions,” from burning energy to produce food, for instance, and American-style “luxury emissions,” from things like SUVs and central air conditioning.

In every conversation I had about climate change in India, the lines were clearly drawn: Americans, who emit 20 times more than the average Indian, are greedy over-consumers refusing to make lifestyle changes that would allow the rest of the world to grow. There was no dissent among the ranks. In a country with a healthy tradition of civic engagement and anti-government protests, I was surprised that no environmentalists were urging India to accept international limits. But high-minded nationalism has a proud history there, too; when officials use phrases such as “climate injustice” and “Gandhian moral authority” to describe India’s position, it rings a bell.

Although India accounts for only about 5 percent of the world’s emissions, that includes a wide range of carbon output. The 800 million people who earn less than $2 a day have a carbon footprint of almost zero. But the tiny fraction of rich Indians who use air conditioners and drive big cars are “eating into the carbon space of millions of poor in India,” in the words of Vinuta Gopal of Greenpeace. The polluting middle class should be forced to pay a kind of carbon tax, she says, just as the industrialized world owes a debt to the developing world for its historical emissions.

Most U.S. officials consider it unhelpful and misleading to assign blame according to the past hundreds of years of emissions, since we did not know then what we know now. But in India, environmentalists often bring up the greenhouse gases the West emitted not only during its decades of industrialization but also in fighting wars. And they aren’t referring just to Iraq and Afghanistan — the world’s carbon waste in 1941 was mentioned in my interviews more than once.

Essentially, the United States wants India to commit to reducing its emissions, and India wants to be able to do so at a pace of its own choosing. But the two countries actually have a remarkably similar position: The international community isn’t going to tell us what to do. This doesn’t bode well for action on global climate change — not next month or in the sessions that are sure to follow in the future, now that world leaders have agreed that there will be no binding agreement at Copenhagen.

India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, will be in Washington this week, and the Obama administration will almost certainly use the visit to try to wheedle India into softening its position. India, for its part, will try to pressure the United States to commit to giving it funding and low-carbon technology transfers, its key demand from Copenhagen. But no one expects any “deliverables” — despite the fact that India has lately assumed a more flexible posture internationally, with Ramesh, the environment minister, making the case in New York and Washington in September that India is a “dealmaker, not a deal-breaker.”

Meanwhile, at home, the government has proposed sweeping laws to help steer a less-polluting path to development. India will tighten fuel-efficiency standards by 2011, set voluntary targets to improve energy efficiency and aggressively promote solar power generation. The domestic initiative is a diplomatic volley at the industrialized world, showing that India doesn’t need an international agreement to do the right thing. It is also a tacit admission that the country needs to mitigate global warming for its own sake. Environmentalists warn that rising sea levels and melting glaciers will hit India especially hard because of its long coastline and its proximity to the Himalayas.

Nevertheless, the question in India now is not whether its emissions will increase, but how, and by how much. Spending time there is a good reminder of how far India has to go. At least half of the population — mostly people in rural areas — have no access to electricity. Even in the capital city of one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, the pretty middle-class enclave where I lived from 2002 to 2007 suffered almost nightly power cuts during the long months of summer. The neighborhood guard would blow his whistle and holler “Light gone!” in Hindi, as though he wanted to make sure no one managed to sleep through it. Without the AC, my room would soon become unbearable, and I would join the rest of the neighborhood in shuffling out to our patios to take advantage of what breeze there was. Each summer, bands of furious city residents decide they’ve had enough of this and storm through the streets to protest their unsteady power supply.

To try to meet their demands, India plans to build more coal-fired power plants; more than 70 percent of India’s power needs are already met by coal — the most carbon-intensive source of power — and that is sure to increase in the coming years. As far as India is concerned, it has no choice but to use dirty power. Now that it has opened up its economy and given its citizens a taste of the good life, it can’t just call it all off and leave half the country behind.

But government policy adviser Ahluwalia promised me that India knows better than to make the mistakes of other nations that rapidly industrialized. “We are willing to guarantee that our per capita emissions will never exceed of those of the industrialized countries,” he said, spreading his hands generously, as though revealing a major dispensation. “If, as a result of technology, self-denial and determination, you were to cut your emissions by 50 percent — the moment you achieve it yourself, we will accept that cap.”

When I pointed out that it was inconceivable that that United States would halve its greenhouse gas emissions anytime soon, he smiled ever so slightly, with just a hint of righteousness, like a man who knows he has played a match fairly — and won.

Miranda Kennedy’s book about women and globalization in India will be published in January 2011. Her latest reporting trip to India was funded by the International Reporting Project.


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Himalayan histrionics

Asia’s two giants still cannot agree where one stops and the other begins

IF THIS is to be Asia’s century, a small prerequisite is that its two rising powers rub along together. Yet recent bonding between China and India has turned to repulsion. Breathless Indian commentary talks of irreconcilable rivalry, even future conflict. As for the Chinese, few had bothered much about India. The superiority of China’s economic and political models was taken as read. That makes an October editorial on the website of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, all the more striking.

The editorial cranked out insults not levelled in decades. India’s superpower dreams, it said, might appear to be justified. But they are mingled “with the thought of hegemony”. This was setting India on the road to “repeated failure”. Damnable, too, was India’s policy of “befriending the far and attacking the near”. Indian hegemony, the editorial decided, was “100% the result of British colonialism”, when the Raj ruled from Pakistan to Burma. Now, the victim was trying to out-empire even the British.

After wondering where all this leaves China—past colonial victim of Jurchen, Mongol, Manchu, Western and Japanese aggression—it suggests the relationship is pretty dire. Yet, although it has its problems, none seems unmanageable. Trade frictions have increased as Chinese goods have penetrated Indian markets. India has lodged more anti-dumping actions against China than has any other country. It also temporarily banned Chinese toys, citing safety concerns. India’s signature last year of a nuclear co-operation pact with the United States has created distrust in China. Many Indians, for their part, see China’s building of roads, ports and pipelines in friendly countries around the Indian Ocean as a “string of pearls” strategy designed to choke India. They even worry about its involvement in Afghanistan. A rabid Indian press is fed by retired military officers and some serving ones. Some scaremongers are out to earn a buck from American defence contractors hunting for business. China seems to accept this. Until recently, it turned a deaf ear to most of the commentary, and Chinese bloggers give as good as they get.

In truth, the real problem remains the two countries’ long, shared border. Disputes over the western and eastern ends have been unresolved since a bloody war in 1962. In the west, India claims Aksai Chin, a high plateau controlled by China, as part of Kashmir. In the east, China disputes the McMahon Line, agreed by British India and a Tibet then under British rather than Chinese sway. The line is in effect the border today, but China claims a large chunk of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which it calls South Tibet. It includes a revered Buddhist monastery at Tawang, near the 17th-century birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama.

In a “good neighbour” policy, China has now resolved every serious land-border dispute, bar this one. A solution had seemed within reach. In 2005 the two sides laid out the approach. Principles would be agreed, then compromises made, and lastly a line drawn. Only marginal adjustments were expected to the present border. But the prospects of such a deal have crumbled as China has hardened its position. Earlier this year Chinese soldiers crossed the presumed line of control in the west and sent a herder family packing. China has blocked a water project in Arunachal Pradesh financed by the Asian Development Bank. In October it grew shrill over an electioneering trip to the state by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. China has also begun issuing different visas for Indians from Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir.

What has changed the equation is restive Tibet. Anti-Chinese riots last year highlighted the vulnerabilities for China of the vague, porous Tibetan lands. The Communist government, borrowing its impulse from the reviled Manchus of the Qing dynasty, wants once and for all to hammer down the borders of its supersized empire. All the ambiguities of borderlands and the people who wander about them must submit to the central will.

China’s urgency is reinforced by the Dalai Lama. His flight from Tibet in 1959, via Tawang, fed into border tensions then and he backs India’s border claims today. He plans to visit Tawang on November 8th. There is even talk that his reincarnation might one day be found there. That would be an excruciating outcome for the Chinese Communists, who demand the right to control Tibetans’ relations with the divine. For they could hardly declare such a reincarnation illegitimate on territorial grounds.

Seize the hour

Hence the People’s Daily’s strong words. China may feel that now is a good time to get a border settlement on its terms. After all, India grows economically stronger by the day. And recent signs of American readiness to appease China will have encouraged China to think that America will not do much to back India. Before his first trip to China as president in mid-November, Barack Obama declined to meet the Dalai Lama in Washington. China’s polemics are also designed to resonate with India’s smaller neighbours, who have their own gripes about its overbearing style. They also enjoy China’s material support. The part of the former kingdom of Jammu & Kashmir controlled by Pakistan, for example, is criss-crossed with Chinese infrastructure projects.

In recent days both China and India have called for cool heads and warm hearts. A former Chinese ambassador to India blamed all the two countries’ serious differences on the Indian media. In Thailand on October 24th Mr Singh and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao even made common cause on climate change, before December’s Copenhagen summit. Yet as with earlier alliances over global trade talks, this looks like a tactical marriage in the face of rich-country demands. As for whether India and China can bury the hatchet over the border: that depends as much on China’s understanding of its internal threats as on its robust, sometimes rabid, southern neighbour.

Banyan, The Economist


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