Prem Shankar Jha

If there is anything to be learned  from Blinken’s visit, it is that the era of the cloistered nation state, which enshrined the absolute right of governments to deal with their people as they wished, has come to an end.

Anthony Blinken Conveyed a Warning to the Modi Government But Did the Prime Minister Hear It?
Indian external affairs minister Dr. S Jaishankar with US secretary of state Antony Blinken during their meeting in New Delhi. Photo: PTI

In the joint press conference that ended his one-day visit to India, United States secretary of state Anthony Blinken did not try to hide the US’s discomfiture over the turn that Indian democracy has taken in the past several years under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Answering a question posed by the Wall Street Journal’s correspondent, he readily admitted that “shared democratic relations and high ideals were very much a part of our conversation”. Since busy world leaders do not waste time having conversations on things they completely agree on, Blinken was signalling, in diplomatese, that the two sides do not see eye on the fate that has befallen these high ideals.

“The relationship between our two countries,” he elaborated, “is strong and important because it is a relationship between democracies and at its core a relationship between its peoples. One of the elements Americans admire the most about India is its steadfast commitment to democracy, to pluralism, to human rights and fundamental freedoms. We see ourselves reflected in that. India’s democracy is powered by its free-thinking citizens.”

The language of diplomacy has its own conventions. One of these is to disguise admonition as praise. The former was abundantly visible in Blinken’s statements. The secretary of state lavished praise on India’s democracy, but its underlying message was that the Biden administration’s relationship with India would depend upon the  extent to which the Modi government respects the written and unwritten rules and conventions of democracy. He softened the message by admitting that American democracy too was a work in progress, but his message was clear: violations of human rights and freedoms occurred in the US too, but its federal and state governments did not shirk from taking corrective action. The Modi government had to stay the course too: backtracking was unacceptable.

Jaishankar is far too seasoned a diplomat not to have got Blinken’s message. Members of Biden’s administration had expressed their discomfiture over the Modi government’s disregard for civil rights and liberties more than once in the past six months. The Pegasus revelations have only served to heighten that concern. So Jaishankar’s response to Blinken was anything but spontaneous. His response was chilling.

“…it is the moral obligation of all polities,” he responded, “to really right wrongs, when they have been done, including historically and many of the decisions and policies you’ve seen in last few years, fall in that category. …freedoms are important,” he elaborated, “we all value them, but never equate freedom with non-governance or lack of governance or poor governance. They are two completely different things.” (emphasis added)

After seven years of Modi rule, it is not difficult to read between the lines of his response: the Modi government will continue to pay lip service to democracy but, as a sovereign nation, it had the right to decide why, when and how it will curtail the rights and freedoms guaranteed to the people by India’s constitution. Jaishankar did not stop there, but claimed further that this was not merely a constitutional, but a moral right, in short a right that transcended those inscribed in the constitution because it came directly from some higher authority.

Jaishankar then claimed that this “moral right” did not cover only present day wrongs but ‘historical’ ones as well. To describe this response as outrageous would be an understatement. Every government has not only the right but a duty to set perceived wrongs right. But it can only do so in the present, while the instruments for doing so still exist. As the last Ming emperor of China wrote before hanging himself, he had forfeited his right to live because he had not kept himself informed of his peoples’ plight, and therefore failed them in their hour of need.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with US secretary of state Antony Blinken during their meeting in New Delhi. Photo: PTI

But how can a government correct a historical wrong, especially the ones the BJP the believes happened? For history is irrevocably a part of the past. It can be studied. We can learn lessons from it. But it cannot be changed. A wrong done in the present can be undone. But how does one undo a wrong done in the past?

The Sangh parivar’s answer has been staring us in the face for the past seven decades: it is to punish the descendants of the ‘wrongdoers’. These are the descendants of “the Muslims” who  conquered  north India. The ‘historical wrongs’ the parivar constantly harps upon is the pillage that accompanied the conquests, the destruction of temples, the driving out of the Brahmin priesthood and  the forcible conversion of a large section of Hindus to Islam.

As innumerable historians have pointed out, many of these assertions, especially of forcible conversions to Islam, are greatly exaggerated. But to the extent that they happened, they did so hundreds of years ago. The perpetrators have been dead for centuries. So the moral right that Jaishankar, perhaps unwittingly, claimed was not the right to seek justice but to inflict retribution.

How could a seasoned diplomat have made such a remark? The most plausible answer is that he was required to do so by his prime minister. Blinken had made no secret of the purpose of his visit to Delhi. Not only had he made it clear that the continuation of close relations with the US depended upon India remaining a democracy in letter and also spirit, but that the Biden administration would not allow India to drag it into a conflict with China. In a few terse sentences, therefore, he had destroyed every pillar of the ‘special relationship’ with the US, that Modi had made the talisman of his success in foreign policy.

For the prime minister, this was a double blow because it also punctured the larger-than-life image he had sought to create for himself as the heroic defender of India’s dominant position in South Asia and challenger to China’s hegemonic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region. He cannot therefore be blamed for concluding that the US has not only emboldened his political rivals within India, but within the Sangh parivar itself. That would account for the belligerent manner in which Jaishankar asserted his government’s right to redress the wrongs of history. It was, in effect, a warning to the US to mind its own business.

That is not going to happen. If there is anything to be learned  from Blinken’s visit, it is that the era of the cloistered nation state, which enshrined the absolute right of governments to deal with their people as they wished, has come to an end. The revolutions in transport and communication technology of the past half-century, and the mass migration of highly educated workers from the developing to the developed world, have made every government’s business a part of the business of its peers.

The era of insular nation states is over, but the Sangh parivar remains locked within the cage of its outmoded perceptions. This has prevented Modi from perceiving how far he has taken India down the road to becoming a state of questionable democratic credentials. That his own foreign minister should have been unable to prevent this, speaks volumes for the way in which he has centralised power within the government without understanding how to use it.

Prem Shankar Jha is a Delhi-based former journalist and editor. He is the author of Managed Chaos: The Fragility of the Chinese Miracle, and Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger—Can China and India Dominate the West.

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Starting 1980s, a considerable number of Americans in relatively poor rural and suburban America have slid into poverty as globalisation and costly wars wreaked havoc on American society.

Joe Biden's Victory: It Is High Time the Concerns of 'Middle America' Are Addressed
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is joined on stage by her running-mate, U.S Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, after she accepted the Democratic vice presidential nomination during an acceptance speech delivered for the largely virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., August 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

 

Joseph Biden’s victory has been greeted with the expected exhilaration and apprehension, which every newcomer to the White House experienced before. This time the exhilaration is more striking because it marks the end of a presidency that had trivialised American democracy, and held it up to global ridicule. But the apprehension will surface soon when the hoorahs are over and the changeover in Washington has been completed. The new administration will face the same challenges that its predecessors have faced since the end of the Cold War, and failed to address them.

Three decades after winning the Cold War the American state is facing a crisis that no one could have foreseen when the Soviet Union disintegrated. Instead of bringing peace, these decades have brought incessant war; instead of creating a new global order these wars have created global anarchy and fostered terrorism.

Abandonment of Middle America

In place of prosperity that followed the Allied victories in World War I and World War II, these decades have seen the withering away of blue- and white-collar employment, the end of working class job security, status and affluence. It has also brought to fore an obscene widening of the income gap between rich and poor, and a steady shrinkage of the state’s capacity, or even intention, to safeguard the health, lives and peace of mind of its poor.

black lives matter
A demonstrator holds up a “Black Lives Matter” sign during a protest over the death of a Black man, Daniel Prude, after police put a spit hood over his head during an arrest on March 23, in Rochester, New York, US September 6, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

Cruelest of all, it has created a world in which young people no longer control their future. Today more and more young Americans cannot plan to marry, cannot take out a mortgage on an apartment, cannot even think of having children, and can only buy a second-hand car, because they do not know when they will find a job, and how long it will last.

Calculated neglect over decades has caused the nation’s infrastructure to run down to a level below that of China, let alone Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. China, for instance, has constructed a high-speed rail network spanning 19,000 km of track in the past 15 years, on which it is running 2,300 bullet trains every day. America has built none.

But none of this compares with the abandonment of middle America to chronic stagnation, hopelessness and despair. This began as far back as the 1980s, and neither the Democrats nor Republicans have considered it necessary to check the region’s slide into poverty. A great deal has been written on economic, social and political consequences of this neglect, but much less on its cause, and how it can be ameliorated.

The roots of today’s Blue-Red schism lie buried in the de-industrialisation of America and northern Europe, which began with the onset of globalisation half a century ago. As manufacturing began to move from the high wage economies of Europe and North America to low-wage, skill-intensive industrialising countries in Asia and Latin America, the share of manufacturing in the US GDP fell, from 26% in 1968 to 12% in 2009. Its place, as the prime mover of economic growth, was taken by business and financial services whose share in the GDP rose from 19% to 35% during the same period.

But while the bulk of the de-industrialisation has occurred in middle America, where job losses have ranged from 8% to 75% of the workforce during the last 40 years, nearly all the increase of employment in business and financial services has been concentrated in the two coastal ‘blue’ fringes, and in the Florida-Texas sunbelt. Middle America has been left to fend for itself.

Tea Party movement

In 2009, after four decades of sustained neglect, middle America found a political sponsor in the Tea Party movement. Liberal America considered the Tea Party an embarrassment – an extremist movement that backed every reactionary cause and wanted to turn the clock back to a vanished past, because it could not connect with the future.  What it lost sight of was that the Tea Party was also a protest movement, born of desperation, among people who had been robbed of their future. The Tea Party needed understanding, not condemnation. It got none.

Donald TrumpU.S. President Donald Trump addresses supporters during a Make America Great Again rally in Johnson City, Tennessee, U.S. October 1, 2018. Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

 

Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 was its first major political success. Since then liberal America has done everything in its power to pretend that this was an accident and to trivialise its significance. It has taken this to the point of portraying it as the product of Russian intervention in the election campaign. But Biden’s relatively narrow win last week has shown that the new, hard-Right is here to stay, and that its rancour will continue to fester and grow so long as the neglect and injustice that gave rise to it remains unaddressed.

Enormous task lies ahead of Biden-Harris

This is the responsibility that American voters have asked Biden and Kamala Harris to shoulder. Judging from his speeches, Biden is fully aware of its weight: in his victory speech he repeated his commitment to be “a president who seeks not to divide but unify…who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only sees the United States”.

But similar promises were made by his predecessors in their moments of triumph. So, what prevented them from fulfilling such promises when the hoorahs ended and the work began? One, amidst the plethora of explanations put forward over the years, stands out: it is ‘legislative gridlock’.

Intra-party discipline has never been the US Congress’ strong point, for the American system contains no penalties for cross-voting. This has allowed legislators in both houses to become representatives of special interests in their states, instead of representatives of the people of their states. To make matters worse, in only 10 of the 28 years after the Cold war, there has been a president whose party has enjoyed a majority in both houses of Congress. Thus, the American democratic system did not have the capacity for united action in domestic affairs that was needed to cushion the wrenching impact of globalisation and de-industrialisation upon those who stood to lose from it.

Costly wars and the detrimental effects on the American economy

The only area in which the gridlock has not paralysed policymaking is foreign policy. Achieving a consensus in this area has been made easier by the heady sense of entitlement imparted by victory in the Cold War. This has created a brand of liberal imperialism which is shared by both Democrats and Republicans, whose goal has been the creation of unipolar world order under the leadership of the US.

American soldiers. Representative image. Credit: Reuters

This was a democratic party goal long before President George W. Bush adopted it formally in the wake of 9/11. In February 1999, after bombing Iraq daily for 11 months till there was not even a milk plant left to destroy, and on the eve of doing the same in Kosovo, Clinton justified unilateral intervention in the following words:

“It’s easy … to say that we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brushland in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordan River. But the true measure of our interests lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names. The question we must ask is, what are the consequences to our security of letting conflicts fester and spread. We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so.”  

The significance of his declaration lay hidden in what he did not say. The right to intervene was already a part of the UN Charter.  But it had to be exercised collectively through the Security Council. Clinton’s declaration did away with the need for creating an international consensus, and therefore ruled out the creation of a multipolar, democratic, world order.

The wars that followed have bankrupted America. In December 2014, the Congressional Research Service of the US estimated that the wars the US had waged in the 13 years since 9/11 had cost the treasury 1.6 trillion dollars. ‘Continued funding’ to maintain military preparedness in the occupied added  $95.5 billion in 2014, and no doubt continue to add similar sums till today. Add Operation Desert Shield in Iraq (1998), and the war on Serbia (1999), and the figure probably exceeds $2.2 trillion.

But that is only the military part of the expenditure that the US has incurred. A 2016 study by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz estimated that the total military and economic cost of America’s wars was well over 3 trillion dollars. Had this money been used to modernise the country’s dilapidated infrastructure and encourage the shift of service sector businesses to the middle of the country, the blow dealt by globalisation to middle America could have been softened, and the ‘Red-Blue rift’ might not have reached the crisis level that it is at today.

‘Leveraging’ climate change

Biden is fully aware that healing this rift is the obligation, beyond all others, that his victory has thrust upon him. And he has made it clear that he intends to meet it. Fortunately, he has a new ally in this venture, the threat of climate change.


A crowd of thousands march in a climate strike featuring climate change teen activist Greta Thunberg in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada October 25, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Gauthier/files.

Technologies that can harness the energy of sun, wind, and biomass have now matured to a point where they can supplant fossil-based energy at a competitive price. Unlike fossil fuels, these technologies need vast amounts of land, sunshine and wind. These are precisely what the states of the Midwest and the Great Plains have in abundance.  Harnessing these have already begun: In 2016, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Kansas were meeting 20% to 35% of their electricity demand from wind. Other states like Texas and Minnesota were joining them.

The change that renewable energy is making to the lives of the people affected by it cannot be captured in aseptic data on energy generation, costs and returns. A recent, heart-warming article by Elizabeth Wiese in USA Today that describes the impact of wind farms on the farmers of Cloud County, Kansas, is worth quoting:

“In an increasingly precarious time for farmers and ranchers, some who live in the nation’s wind belt have a new commodity to sell – access to their wind. Wind turbine leases, generally 30 to 40 years long, provide the landowners with yearly income that, although small, helps make up for economic dips brought by drought, floods, tariffs and the ever-fluctuating price of the crops and livestock they produce. 

Each of the landowners whose fields either host turbines or who are near enough to receive a “good neighbor” payment, can earn $3,000 to $7,000 yearly for the small area – about the size of a two-car garage – each turbine takes up.  

The median income in Cloud County is about $44,000, according to the 2018 U.S. Census. For Tom Cunningham, who has been farming between Glasco and Concordia, Kansas for 40 years, the Meridian Way Wind Farm income has made an enormous difference. Cunningham’s lease payments allowed him to pay off his farm equipment and other loans. 

Before the wind turbines, things were rough, he recalled. Depending on the national and international economy, some years he broke even, some years he made money and, for more years than he cares to think about, he was on the edge. He had to take a job in town to make ends meet and for a time was what he calls “functionally bankrupt.”

“This isn’t money that other people would think is very much,” he said. “But it made an enormous difference to us.”

What wind is doing in the Great Plains states is what solar energy can do in arid and semi-arid states like Arizona, Nevada, Nebraska, and parts of Texas and California. Straw and other crop residues in the wheat-growing states can be converted into the transport fuel of choice through the exciting, relatively new, technology of plasma-assisted gasification in far larger quantities than it can be converted into cellulosic ethanol through fermentation.

America’s way out of the increasingly poisonous partisan politics in which it has been trapped, therefore, lies in precisely the same technologies that it needs to harness, in order to fight climate change.

To many, it might come as an unsettling thought that the way out of the relentless militarism in which America is trapped may also lie in rejuvenating middle America by enlisting it in the battle against climate change. But it is a thought that is worth pursuing.

Prem Shankar Jha is a Delhi based former journalist and editor. He is the author of Managed Chaos: The Fragility of the Chinese Miracle, and Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger—Can China and India Dominate the West.

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Despite the caution expressed by Indian defence analysts, the de-escalation is likely to hold. But, the agreement to withdraw needs political endorsement from the prime minister.

India and China Are on the Verge of Lasting Peace, if Modi Wants It
File photo of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Reuters

A policy blunder of the greatest magnitude, a humiliating defeat, and six decades of hiding the truth about what really caused the war between China and India in 1962, has so completely embedded a visceral distrust of China in the Indian mind that whenever there is a turn for the better in our relationship, our media, and the majority of our China-watchers, look for the hidden catch in it first before allowing themselves to believe that our relations might actually start improving.

The reaction of some of our best-known commentators to Beijing’s announcement that China and India would begin a synchronised disengagement on the north and south shores of Pangong lake in Ladakh with the intention of eventually returning to our April 2020 positions, is a case in point. While General H.S. Panag welcomed the development in a recent video interview, his scepticism about China’s intentions was writ large in his words and his body language.

Colonel Ajai Shukla was more forthright in voicing his distrust of the Chinese: “a 10-km stretch between Finger 3 and Finger 8. Indian Army has patrolled this area since the 1962 Sino-Indian war but now cannot enter the zone. ….  China has been granted right to patrol to finger 4. that means LAC effectively shifted from finger 8 to finger 4,” he tweeted (emphasis added.) Others, including some in the political opposition, echoed his scepticism.

Criticising Shukla for creating a ‘false perception’, another Twitter user, ‘Sunny Shikhar’, claimed that “China (whose version of the LAC runs through Finger 4, the fourth of eight ridges coming down to the north shore of Pangong lake) has had a road till F4 since 1999 and a naval Radar base on F6 since 2006. “We patrolled till F8,” he points out, “on the road made by China because they let us, not because we controlled it. Now (under the terms of the disengagement)” China cannot even patrol on its own road between F8-F4”.

I have no idea who ‘Sunny  Shikhar’ is, but if the facts he cites are correct, it means that China has forfeited as much of its claimed right to patrol as India has.

If that is indeed so, then Shikhar’s clarification substantiates Rajnath Singh’s statement in parliament, that both sides have agreed that neither will patrol the intervening area after the mutual withdrawals, till ‘an agreement is reached through future talks’.


China’s 1960 claim line in Ladakh is marked in yellow, the LAC at Pangong Tso is in pink. As can be seen, Thakung, the site of the latest standoff, is inside the LAC but within the 1960 Chinese claim line. Map: The Wire

A breakthrough has been achieved

To say that this has been a crucial breakthrough in the longstanding border dispute would be an understatement. For the agreement is not only an explicit acknowledgement that a ‘Grey Area’ or ‘No Man’s Land’ has existed between the two countries’ conflicting definitions of the LAC, but also marks a formal elevation of this area to the status of a ‘buffer zone’.

The difference between the two concepts is that whereas both Chinese and Indian patrols were entering “No Man’s Land” frequently, and waving placards stating that ‘This is Chinese/Indian Territory, please withdraw’ at each other when they met, now neither side will enter it till the misunderstandings and apprehensions that have arisen between the two countries are cleared through talks.

To a generation that has grown up in the era of the nation-state, this will look like an unsatisfactory resolution of the issue, for don’t all countries need hard, clearly defined, constantly patrolled borders? What our generation can only learn from the study of history is that hard boundaries replaced porous border regions, or belts, only in the era of the nation-state which first took shape after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, and attained its full, malignant form with the widespread introduction of passports as recently as in the 1880s.

For reasons best known to itself, China has been studiously avoiding giving India its maps of the Ladakh-Aksai Chin area ever since the 1993 Agreement was signed. But it has been equally reticent about this in 15 out of the 24 border agreements it has signed. This has created unease in other countries as well, and has vindicated the belief among China watchers here and in the West, that Beijing is following a salami-slicing strategy to acquire more and more territory in Ladakh.

But we need to be as wary of preconceptions and prejudices imported from the West as we are of the inexplicable reticence of the Chinese. For the unalterable fact is that if the disengagement that has now begun at Pangong is completed without any hitches, a similar process is likely to take place all along the LAC, at least in the Western Sector. If that takes place, a de facto border belt, as distinct from a de jure border line, will come into being between the two countries in the Himalayas, in an area that China considers vital to its security, but for reasons totally unconnected with India. That has the potential to finally bring to our countries the lasting peace that both have been seeking ever since they signed the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility in 1993.

Such historic breakthroughs are usually made at the highest political levels. What makes the present disengagement very different, perhaps unique, is that it has emerged almost entirely out of an intense, and continuous discussion between the two military commands, with no overt intervention by the political leadership.

Since June last year, there have been nine well-publicised conferences between the corps commander of the 14th corps stationed in Leh, and his Chinese counterpart from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Western Theatre Command. But, behind these, there have been between 25 to 30 meetings, many of them online or telephonic, at every level from battalion to brigade to division commander, to answer questions, allay suspicions, and clear misunderstandings that could have led to flare-ups of the kind that so nearly happened on the South Bank of the Pangong Tso when our forces’ foiled the PLA’s attempt to establish its presence opposite Finger 4 in late August by pre-emptively occupying several commanding heights over the area.

That confrontation was the closest China and India came to war, but it showed to the Chinese that India was building up its forces around the lake in earnest, and that any more covert attempts to establish advantageous positions to use as bargaining chips in future negotiations would be met with military force. It, therefore, acquired for the Indian Army a respect that had previously been lacking in the PLA.

Two other factors reinforced this: the first was the Indian Army’s resolute reinforcement of its troop strength, including artillery and armour, throughout the killing winter months. The Chinese were, of course doing the same, albeit outside the Indian definition of the LAC, so they fully understood India’s determination not to give any more ground.

The second was the army’s preparation of launchpads at places where it had the advantage of terrain, from where it could capture ground inside China’s definition of the LAC if the PLA crossed a Lakshmana Rekha into our territory. These preparations sent a clear signal that, should the PLA be tempted to try any more salami slicing of territory in Ladakh, it would become an extremely expensive operation.

But as the tragic Galwan incident (triggered by a Chinese soldier from a newly inducted unit manhandling Colonel Babu) showed, muscle-flexing can be a dangerous strategy if it is not backed up by confidence-building measures that reassure both sides that the promises being made will indeed be kept.
Indian Army vehicles moving towards the Line of Actual Control (LAC) amid border tension with China, in Leh, Sunday, September 27, 2020. Photo: PTI

The crucial ingredient

This is the crucial ingredient in the negotiations that has brought China and India from the brink of war to the brink of peace. For, as of February 2020, the army commander of Northern Command has been Lieutenant General Y.K. Joshi, who has served four tenures at various levels in Ladakh, from brigade commander to army commander in Leh, to the chief of staff of the Northern Command, based in Jammu, and finally Army Commander in February 2020.

What may have been far more important from the point of view of confidence-building is that from 2005 till 2008, General Joshi served as India’s defence attaché in Beijing, and developed a good working knowledge of Mandarin when he was there.

Since the formal talks held so far have been at the corps commanders’ level, General Joshi had to work with the Leh Corps Commander Lt General Harinder Singh, who did a creditable job in the first six rounds of talks despite not having served previously in the Himalayan Theatre, his specialty having been in counter-intelligence.

But on October 15, when General Singh was replaced by General P.G.K. Menon, who had served as a  brigadier in the Leh-based XIV corps some years earlier, India finally had a negotiating team that had the necessary knowledge of the terrain and a far better understanding of its Chinese counterparts and was, in turn, understood better by them.

On the Chinese side, although one can at most hazard a guess, it would seem that President Xi Jinping also made a crucial change at the top of the Western Theatre Command that has helped to bring about the present agreement. On December 18, he replaced General Zhao Zongqi with General Zhang Xudong. Relatively little is known here about General Zhang, but General Zhao had headed the Western Theatre Command during the 2017 Doklam standoff. He could hardly not have been miffed at the way that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had claimed a victory of sorts – what the hyper-nationalist section of our media hailed as ‘a draw’ when the PLA withdrew itChinese and Indian Army troops. Photo: PTI/Filess bulldozers from the ridge where the confrontation took place. President Xi may therefore have been advised that after that searing experience, General Zhao would be the least suited person to take the risk that a negotiated withdrawal entailed.

Chinese and Indian Army troops. Credit: PTI/FilesChinese and Indian Army troops. Photo: PTI/Files

The full story of how the disengagement was achieved will only be available decades later, when official documents get de-classified, if at all they ever are, but what cannot be denied is the magnitude of the achievement. By agreeing to create a buffer zone around Pangong, the two commands have opened the way to the settlement of the seven decade-long border based upon a new, ‘post-national’, concept of an international border. They have therefore taken the first essential step towards a lasting peace between China and India.

But the peace is tenuous, and will not last if Modi and his policymakers do not give it an explicit and public endorsement. For, the Chinese have developed an almost neurotic, and well-founded, distrust of Modi’s sudden, radical and secretive changes of policy towards China and the US, since his government came to power.

This is because in all of the 25-30 less formal interactions that have taken place in the lead up to the agreement, the single, almost neurotic, refrain from the Chinese side has been “will your government live up to the commitments we have chalked out”. The anxiety arises from their lack of understanding of the adversarial way in which democracies function. They are therefore extremely sensitive to the statements of sundry government and opposition political leaders, and to the overt hostility to China they see displayed almost daily by TV anchors and the defence analysts they hear and read in the Indian media.

The nervousness of the Chinese has increased as the two sides have inched closer to an understanding. The Indian interlocutors have therefore had to spend as much as half of the time at each meeting convincing their Chinese counterparts to disregard this ‘democratic noise’ and concentrate on what the government is doing and not saying.

Generals Joshi and Menon have succeeded in conveying the needed reassurance, but if the current agreement is even to last, let alone become the foundation of a final resolution of the border issue, it absolutely needs political endorsement from Prime Minister Modi himself.

This is because it was Modi who, without any prior discussion with his foreign office, and possibly even his national security adviser Ajit Doval, made an unannounced, volte facefrom the long term strategic cooperation with China that had been the policy of all previous governments since 1993, and joined the US-led bid to ‘contain’ China in the Indian Ccean, but also the South China sea.

He did this only 11 days after hosting President Xi in a state visit to India that could have restored China-India relations to where they might have been, had the 1962 war not taken place.

Today, Modi has an opportunity not only to do this, but do it without loss of face. All he has to do is restore all the economic and digital ties with China that he broke so abruptly in May after the Chinese occupation of the grey zone at Pangong lake. The rest will follow.

https://thewire.in/security/india-china-standoff-peace-withdrawal-modi-lac

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Starting 1980s, a considerable number of Americans in relatively poor rural and suburban America have slid into poverty as globalisation and costly wars wreaked havoc on American society.

Joe Biden's Victory: It Is High Time the Concerns of 'Middle America' Are AddressedU.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) is joined on stage by her running-mate, U.S Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, after she accepted the Democratic vice presidential nomination during an acceptance speech delivered for the largely virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., August 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

 

Joseph Biden’s victory has been greeted with the expected exhilaration and apprehension, which every newcomer to the White House experienced before. This time the exhilaration is more striking because it marks the end of a presidency that had trivialised American democracy, and held it up to global ridicule. But the apprehension will surface soon when the hoorahs are over and the changeover in Washington has been completed. The new administration will face the same challenges that its predecessors have faced since the end of the Cold War, and failed to address them.

Three decades after winning the Cold War the American state is facing a crisis that no one could have foreseen when the Soviet Union disintegrated. Instead of bringing peace, these decades have brought incessant war; instead of creating a new global order these wars have created global anarchy and fostered terrorism.

Abandonment of Middle America

In place of prosperity that followed the Allied victories in World War I and World War II, these decades have seen the withering away of blue- and white-collar employment, the end of working class job security, status and affluence. It has also brought to fore an obscene widening of the income gap between rich and poor, and a steady shrinkage of the state’s capacity, or even intention, to safeguard the health, lives and peace of mind of its poor.

black lives matter
A demonstrator holds up a “Black Lives Matter” sign during a protest over the death of a Black man, Daniel Prude, after police put a spit hood over his head during an arrest on March 23, in Rochester, New York, US September 6, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

 

Cruelest of all, it has created a world in which young people no longer control their future. Today more and more young Americans cannot plan to marry, cannot take out a mortgage on an apartment, cannot even think of having children, and can only buy a second-hand car, because they do not know when they will find a job, and how long it will last.

Calculated neglect over decades has caused the nation’s infrastructure to run down to a level below that of China, let alone Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. China, for instance, has constructed a high-speed rail network spanning 19,000 km of track in the past 15 years, on which it is running 2,300 bullet trains every day. America has built none.

But none of this compares with the abandonment of middle America to chronic stagnation, hopelessness and despair. This began as far back as the 1980s, and neither the Democrats nor Republicans have considered it necessary to check the region’s slide into poverty. A great deal has been written on economic, social and political consequences of this neglect, but much less on its cause, and how it can be ameliorated.

The roots of today’s Blue-Red schism lie buried in the de-industrialisation of America and northern Europe, which began with the onset of globalisation half a century ago. As manufacturing began to move from the high wage economies of Europe and North America to low-wage, skill-intensive industrialising countries in Asia and Latin America, the share of manufacturing in the US GDP fell, from 26% in 1968 to 12% in 2009. Its place, as the prime mover of economic growth, was taken by business and financial services whose share in the GDP rose from 19% to 35% during the same period.

But while the bulk of the de-industrialisation has occurred in middle America, where job losses have ranged from 8% to 75% of the workforce during the last 40 years, nearly all the increase of employment in business and financial services has been concentrated in the two coastal ‘blue’ fringes, and in the Florida-Texas sunbelt. Middle America has been left to fend for itself.

Tea Party movement

In 2009, after four decades of sustained neglect, middle America found a political sponsor in the Tea Party movement. Liberal America considered the Tea Party an embarrassment – an extremist movement that backed every reactionary cause and wanted to turn the clock back to a vanished past, because it could not connect with the future.  What it lost sight of was that the Tea Party was also a protest movement, born of desperation, among people who had been robbed of their future. The Tea Party needed understanding, not condemnation. It got none.

Donald TrumpU.S. President Donald Trump addresses supporters during a Make America Great Again rally in Johnson City, Tennessee, U.S. October 1, 2018. Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst.

Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 was its first major political success. Since then liberal America has done everything in its power to pretend that this was an accident and to trivialise its significance. It has taken this to the point of portraying it as the product of Russian intervention in the election campaign. But Biden’s relatively narrow win last week has shown that the new, hard-Right is here to stay, and that its rancour will continue to fester and grow so long as the neglect and injustice that gave rise to it remains unaddressed.

Enormous task lies ahead of Biden-Harris

This is the responsibility that American voters have asked Biden and Kamala Harris to shoulder. Judging from his speeches, Biden is fully aware of its weight: in his victory speech he repeated his commitment to be “a president who seeks not to divide but unify…who doesn’t see red states and blue states, only sees the United States”.

But similar promises were made by his predecessors in their moments of triumph. So, what prevented them from fulfilling such promises when the hoorahs ended and the work began? One, amidst the plethora of explanations put forward over the years, stands out: it is ‘legislative gridlock’.

Intra-party discipline has never been the US Congress’ strong point, for the American system contains no penalties for cross-voting. This has allowed legislators in both houses to become representatives of special interests in their states, instead of representatives of the people of their states. To make matters worse, in only 10 of the 28 years after the Cold war, there has been a president whose party has enjoyed a majority in both houses of Congress. Thus, the American democratic system did not have the capacity for united action in domestic affairs that was needed to cushion the wrenching impact of globalisation and de-industrialisation upon those who stood to lose from it.

Costly wars and the detrimental effects on the American economy

The only area in which the gridlock has not paralysed policymaking is foreign policy. Achieving a consensus in this area has been made easier by the heady sense of entitlement imparted by victory in the Cold War. This has created a brand of liberal imperialism which is shared by both Democrats and Republicans, whose goal has been the creation of unipolar world order under the leadership of the US.


American soldiers. Representative image. Credit: Reuters

This was a democratic party goal long before President George W. Bush adopted it formally in the wake of 9/11. In February 1999, after bombing Iraq daily for 11 months till there was not even a milk plant left to destroy, and on the eve of doing the same in Kosovo, Clinton justified unilateral intervention in the following words:

“It’s easy … to say that we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brushland in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordan River. But the true measure of our interests lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names. The question we must ask is, what are the consequences to our security of letting conflicts fester and spread. We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so.”  

The significance of his declaration lay hidden in what he did not say. The right to intervene was already a part of the UN Charter.  But it had to be exercised collectively through the Security Council. Clinton’s declaration did away with the need for creating an international consensus, and therefore ruled out the creation of a multipolar, democratic, world order.

The wars that followed have bankrupted America. In December 2014, the Congressional Research Service of the US estimated that the wars the US had waged in the 13 years since 9/11 had cost the treasury 1.6 trillion dollars. ‘Continued funding’ to maintain military preparedness in the occupied added  $95.5 billion in 2014, and no doubt continue to add similar sums till today. Add Operation Desert Shield in Iraq (1998), and the war on Serbia (1999), and the figure probably exceeds $2.2 trillion.

But that is only the military part of the expenditure that the US has incurred. A 2016 study by Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz estimated that the total military and economic cost of America’s wars was well over 3 trillion dollars. Had this money been used to modernise the country’s dilapidated infrastructure and encourage the shift of service sector businesses to the middle of the country, the blow dealt by globalisation to middle America could have been softened, and the ‘Red-Blue rift’ might not have reached the crisis level that it is at today.

‘Leveraging’ climate change

Biden is fully aware that healing this rift is the obligation, beyond all others, that his victory has thrust upon him. And he has made it clear that he intends to meet it. Fortunately, he has a new ally in this venture, the threat of climate change.


A crowd of thousands march in a climate strike featuring climate change teen activist Greta Thunberg in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada October 25, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Gauthier/files.

Technologies that can harness the energy of sun, wind, and biomass have now matured to a point where they can supplant fossil-based energy at a competitive price. Unlike fossil fuels, these technologies need vast amounts of land, sunshine and wind. These are precisely what the states of the Midwest and the Great Plains have in abundance.  Harnessing these have already begun: In 2016, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Kansas were meeting 20% to 35% of their electricity demand from wind. Other states like Texas and Minnesota were joining them.

The change that renewable energy is making to the lives of the people affected by it cannot be captured in aseptic data on energy generation, costs and returns. A recent, heart-warming article by Elizabeth Wiese in USA Today that describes the impact of wind farms on the farmers of Cloud County, Kansas, is worth quoting:

“In an increasingly precarious time for farmers and ranchers, some who live in the nation’s wind belt have a new commodity to sell – access to their wind. Wind turbine leases, generally 30 to 40 years long, provide the landowners with yearly income that, although small, helps make up for economic dips brought by drought, floods, tariffs and the ever-fluctuating price of the crops and livestock they produce. 

Each of the landowners whose fields either host turbines or who are near enough to receive a “good neighbor” payment, can earn $3,000 to $7,000 yearly for the small area – about the size of a two-car garage – each turbine takes up.  

The median income in Cloud County is about $44,000, according to the 2018 U.S. Census. For Tom Cunningham, who has been farming between Glasco and Concordia, Kansas for 40 years, the Meridian Way Wind Farm income has made an enormous difference. Cunningham’s lease payments allowed him to pay off his farm equipment and other loans. 

Before the wind turbines, things were rough, he recalled. Depending on the national and international economy, some years he broke even, some years he made money and, for more years than he cares to think about, he was on the edge. He had to take a job in town to make ends meet and for a time was what he calls “functionally bankrupt.”

“This isn’t money that other people would think is very much,” he said. “But it made an enormous difference to us.”

What wind is doing in the Great Plains states is what solar energy can do in arid and semi-arid states like Arizona, Nevada, Nebraska, and parts of Texas and California. Straw and other crop residues in the wheat-growing states can be converted into the transport fuel of choice through the exciting, relatively new, technology of plasma-assisted gasification in far larger quantities than it can be converted into cellulosic ethanol through fermentation.

America’s way out of the increasingly poisonous partisan politics in which it has been trapped, therefore, lies in precisely the same technologies that it needs to harness, in order to fight climate change.

America’s way out of the increasingly poisonous partisan politics in which it has been trapped, therefore, lies in precisely the same technologies that it needs to harness, in order to fight climate change.

https://thewire.in/world/joe-biden-victory-it-is-time-to-come-to-terms-with-middle-america

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