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Author: Krishnendra Meena, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Many have hailed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly as a historic shift away from the speeches of past Indian heads of state. But in reality, Modi’s speech is more a continuation of the Indian government’s stance on many international issues, albeit with more flourish and charisma, which comes naturally to Modi when he speaks in Hindi.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, 27 Sept, 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Modi’s speech covered international issues like terrorism, UN Security Council reform, global development, climate change, the Pakistan question in India’s foreign policy and India’s neighbourhood. Modi’s remarks on most of the issues bore a close resemblance to the previous government’s views. First, Modi began with the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, or ‘the world is one family’, which has often been used by Indian heads of state in the United Nations since  the 1960s and 1970s. More recently, in 2005,  his predecessor, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opened his UN speech with the same phrase from Hitopdesha and Panchatantra, Sanskrit fables with morals relevant to statecraft. The phrase is appropriate to express globalist ideas. Many such instances are visible in Modi’s speech to the UN.

The call for reform of the UN Security Council has been a constant feature of India’s UN policy since the end of the Cold War. For the last ten years former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh consistently spoke about reform at international fora. The previous United Progressive Alliance government was thus able to garner support from the international community with President Obama declaring US support for reform during his visit to India in November 2010.

In his speech, Modi called for UN Security Council reforms in the coming years, particularly in light of the post-2015 development agenda. Modi’s call for a world without the various ‘G’ groups — like G7, G4 and G77 — and emphasis on ‘G-All’ resonates well in the UN. But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political party to which Modi belongs and the largest party of the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance, don’t agree. The BJP believe states should maximise their own relative power through such groupings. India actively takes part and has been at the forefront of groups like the BRICS and IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa).

Modi’s implicit argument that terrorism is exported to India, a snide reference to Pakistan, has been part and parcel of India’s policy on the issue for decades. But the call for ratification and adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism is a novel one — no previous Indian head of state has expressed it in such clear terms. The issue plaguing the Convention — which has been under discussion since 1996 — is the definition of ‘terrorism’ itself. The acceptance of the definition depends on clarifying whether terrorism can be committed by states as well as non-state actors. Many believe that in many parts of the world terrorism is sponsored by state actors and many state activities are not covered under the current definition.

The Pakistan question was also mentioned in the UN General Assembly address. But the reference was more benign than previous remarks made by Modi in alluding to the recent floods and the continuity of India’s policy of bilateral negotiations between the two countries on crucial issues.

The novelty in Modi’s speech was on two counts: the emphasis on the importance of India’s immediate neighbourhood in South Asia and the importance of yoga as a lifestyle. On the former, Modi declared that ‘a nation’s destiny is linked to its neighbourhood. That is why my government has placed the highest priority on advancing friendship and cooperation with her neighbours’. Nothing could be more relevant in the present context, especially if India intends to project out of the region, and as China’s expanding economic reach is felt in South Asia. This and promoting yoga is in perfect harmony with the BJP’s ideas of cultural nationalism. A peaceful neighbourhood may be the first phase for India’s grand ambitions.

Modi’s first address to the UN dispelled hopes that he could deliver what India has been waiting for since independence. There were glimpses of pragmatism and change in Modi’s speech but it mostly represented a continuation of India’s foreign policy under previous governments.

Krishnendra Meena is an Assistant Professor in Political Geography at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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Modi’s UN speech shows his foreign policy will walk a well-worn path

South Korea’s Justice Ministry said Friday it deported a Chinese student for “aiding North Korea” earlier this year, a rare instance of a foreign national facing action for violating Seoul’s controversial National Security Law.

Annual inflows of foreign direct investment rose to nearly $108 billion in 2008.

Economic development has been more rapid in coastal provinces than in the interior, and approximately 200 million rural laborers and their dependents have relocated to urban areas to find work.

The country’s per capita income was at $6,567 (IMF, 98th) in 2009.

Available energy is insufficient to run at fully installed industrial capacity, and the transport system is inadequate to move sufficient quantities of such critical items as coal.

Its mineral resources are probably among the richest in the world but are only partially developed.

China has acquired some highly sophisticated production facilities through trade and also has built a number of advanced engineering plants capable of manufacturing an increasing range of sophisticated equipment, including nuclear weapons and satellites, but most of its industrial output still comes from relatively ill-equipped factories.

By the early 1990s these subsidies began to be eliminated, in large part due to China’s admission into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, which carried with it requirements for further economic liberalization and deregulation.

China now ranks as the fifth largest global investor in outbound direct investment (ODI) with a total volume of $56.5 billion, compared to a ranking of 12th in 2008, the Ministry of Commerce said on Sunday.

In 2009, global ODI volume reached $1.1 trillion, and China contributed about 5.1 percent of the total.

China is aiming to be the world’s largest new energy vehicle market by 2020 with 5 million cars.

In large part as a result of economic liberalization policies, the GDP quadrupled between 1978 and 1998, and foreign investment soared during the 1990s.

Since the late 1970s, China has decollectivized agriculture, yielding tremendous gains in production.

In terms of cash crops, China ranks first in cotton and tobacco and is an important producer of oilseeds, silk, tea, ramie, jute, hemp, sugarcane, and sugar beets.

Hogs and poultry are widely raised in China, furnishing important export staples, such as hog bristles and egg products.

China is one of the world’s major mineral-producing countries.

There are also deposits of vanadium, magnetite, copper, fluorite, nickel, asbestos, phosphate rock, pyrite, and sulfur.

Major industrial products are textiles, chemicals, fertilizers, machinery (especially for agriculture), processed foods, iron and steel, building materials, plastics, toys, and electronics.

Shanghai and Guangzhou are the traditionally great textile centers, but many new mills have been built, concentrated mostly in the cotton-growing provinces of N China and along the Chang (Yangtze) River.

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South Korea Booted Out Chinese Student For ‘Aiding North Korea’

Author: Mahendra Sethi, National Institute of Urban Affairs

With more than half of the global population now living in urban areas, some in abject poverty, the path to sustainable development must pass through cities. In a meeting in July, the Working Group for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals set a target to build ‘inclusive, safe resilient and sustainable’ cities and human settlements.

India is embracing this push for smart cities. By most estimates the level of urbanisation will reach 50 per cent in India by 2039. To manage this change, India would have to spend US$1.2 trillion in its urban areas over the next 20 years.

During his recent visit to Japan, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed a memorandum of understanding with his counterpart Shinzo Abe, to develop the city of Varanasi into a ‘smart city’ with help from Kyoto. The Union Budget has earmarked Rs 7,060 crore (US$11.5 billion) for the 2014–2015 financial year to develop 100 smart cities in the country. The Modi government seems to perceive the ‘100 smart cities’ scheme as a massive greenfield project that is set to change the Indian landscape.

But, surprisingly, there is neither an internationally accepted definition of a ‘smart city’, nor does India have any national policy on urbanisation in the first place. The scholarly definition of smart cities is cities where ‘investments in human and social capital and traditional (transport) and modern (ICT) communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic growth and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources, through participatory governance’.

Smart cities help promote sustainability, resource management, energy efficiency and participatory engagement. Among the 135 to 143 smart cities identified globally by IESE and Stanford University, Japanese cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, Kawasaki, Kitakyushu and Toyama are pioneers. They lead the world in promoting solar energy and smart waste sector management including segregation, load and emission reductions, smart grids with community and household energy management systems in place, and e-mobility that prioritises light rapid transit and electronic vehicles. Indian cities could learn immensely from them.

But, unlike smart chips, cards or phones, smart cities can neither be imported nor transplanted — they need to be adapted to the local context and thus face several ideological, technical, societal, financial and governance related challenges.

Many Indians still live in villages and most of the urban population faces poverty, homelessness, resource scarcity and a lack of adequate sanitation. Is building IT savvy cities in this context ethically justified?

The 100 smart cities project must not detract from the urgent need to make India’s top 100 cities liveable. Hi-tech and posh greenfield projects should not be a costly alternative to developing basic infrastructure and fostering urban-renewal in India’s degenerating cities. From a social perspective, smart cities must be inclusive, not gated communities for the uber rich. If the state overlooks the existing city’s situation and privileges new enclaves, the urban fabric will be torn into two unequal parts.

Financially, Rs 70.6 crore (US$110 million) per smart city is piecemeal. But the Indian government needs to ensure that the smart cities initiative is self-sustaining without invoking controversial land acquisition processes, like special economic zones (SEZ), lest the project turn into another land-grabbing real estate venture that speculates higher returns while running over time.

The Modi government needs to clarify how it perceives ‘smart cities’. Is a smart city merely a functional city or would it have a specific constitutional mandate like the SEZs? Will smart cities be developed by strengthening the existing powers of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), as envisioned in the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act in 1992? Separate allocation by the Finance Commission to ULBs could potentially boost not just smart cities but also the entire third tier of governance.

Also, would the 100 smart cities project be executed like a program, as individual projects or through a special purpose body? The Modi government needs to determine how the private sector will be involved in the creation of smart cities — will this be done on a technical and consultative basis or will it be a free lunch for all? The above issues can be sufficiently addressed if the 100 smart cities initiative is founded on sustainability, metrics, adaptiveness, reporting and technology for inclusiveness (a new acronym for SMART).

From a technical and a financial perspective, smart cities do not pose much of an issue. Throughout the world, smart cities show that innovations in transport and the power sector are low-hanging fruits. The biggest challenge is to internalise high-tech solutions within the existing social ethos, urban planning and governance of the country. This could be achieved if the 100 smart cities project focuses on sustainable urbanisation, good governance, transparent metrics and reporting and, importantly, keeping poor people in the spotlight.

Mahendra Sethi is an urban environment expert and editor at National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi and visiting fellow at the Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability, United Nations University, Tokyo.

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India needs to be clever about smart cities

Author: Peter Warr, ANU

Bangkok’s iconic Democracy Monument is currently fenced off. A large, hand-written sign reads ‘closed for renovation’. In April the monument was damaged by shots fired at protesters demonstrating against the Pheu Thai government of Yingluck Shinawatra. At least three protesters died.

Ironically, Thai democracy is itself ‘closed for renovation’. On 22 May a military coup claimed power, for the 12th time since the 1930s. Yet again, a familiar cycle has been acted out: a military government gives way to a democratic opening, there are violent protests against the elected government, the military stages a coup to ‘restore order’, an authoritarian military government promises ‘reform’ and a later return to democracy, and so on.

Thai democracy is seemingly unstable, but why?

The new military junta’s program of ‘reform’ is still unclear, but the central focus is apparently on reducing corruption. Successive Thai governments have been known for their corruption and protests against the allegedly high level of corruption within the Pheu Thai government was a focus for at least some of the popular movement against it. Corruption wastes public resources, contributes to inequality and is an important source of public discontent. Reducing it is clearly desirable. But although corruption is a problem, it is not the problem. The focus on this one issue misses a key feature of Thailand’s political instability — its regional nature.

The Pheu Thai party of Thaksin Shinawatra and his followers derives its strength from the rural-based North and Northeast regions of the country, where it has won huge majorities in every election this century. Pheu Thai has never won an election in Bangkok and its support in the South is only slight, where the opposition Democrat Party wins most elections and minor parties win the rest. But the population and parliamentary representation of the North and Northeast regions are so large that Pheu Thai’s popularity there is sufficient to capture government at the national level.

This regional divide has been acted out in street protests in Bangkok and elsewhere. During the Democrat Party government led by Abhisit Vejjajiva, from 2008 to 2011, protests by the ‘Red Shirt’ supporters of Pheu Thai were primarily people who either normally resided in the North or Northeast, or whose families had recently relocated from there. During the more recent anti-Pheu Thai protests, led by former Democrat Party deputy prime minister and leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee Suthep Thaugsuban, the demonstrators were overwhelmingly from Bangkok and the South. Regional differences lie at the heart of Thailand’s political conflict.

For countries of its size, the Thai state is one of the most centralised in the world. There are 76 provinces and the governors of all but one — Bangkok — are appointed by the central government’s Ministry of Interior. The provincial government’s powers and revenues are modest and derive from the central government. Beneath the provincial level, local governments are elected, but their meager resources are directly dependent on the central government.

Thailand’s major problem is the incompatibility of a regionally divided populace and a highly centralised government. It is not exaggerating too much to say that attaining government at the national level is a winner-takes-all victory for either the North-Northeast coalition or for Bangkok and the South. Only one long-term solution is seemingly possible — political decentralisation to empower and democratise regional governments. Thailand needs more democracy, not less.

At the end of the 20th century, Indonesia was hardly a promising candidate for a successful democracy. Decades of highly centralised, authoritarian government under President Soeharto had ended with collapse of the government under violent street protests. But something remarkable subsequently happened. A radical decentralisation was implemented. Some say it was too radical, but Indonesia’s democracy is now the success story of Southeast Asia. The country has now experienced a most unusual event: the loser in a presidential election has grudgingly accepted defeat and walked away.

Indonesia’s decentralisation did not remove corruption. It probably increased it, as checks and balances have been undermined by the huge task of monitoring disbursement of funds at the regional level. But the contest for control of the central government is no longer the sole political struggle. Regions not close to the central government’s ruling elite can still exercise a substantial degree of autonomy, with considerable resources at their disposal. This is not so in Thailand.

Significant decentralisation is not included in the Thai military government’s understanding of ‘reform’. The policy package being proposed apparently contains no such measures. It may be too much to hope that a group of command-and-control generals could implement a decentralisation of power, even if they wanted to. They are doing the opposite. The budget allocated to local governments has been halved, on the grounds that local government is too corrupt.

The prognosis is not good. When the generals relinquish power and restore electoral democracy, as they must, more of the same seems probable: regionally-based conflict that an overly centralised system of government cannot resolve, except through repression.

Peter Warr is John Crawford Professor of Agricultural Economics, emeritus in the Arndt-Corden Department of Economics, Crawford School of Economics and Government and Executive Director of the National Thai Studies Centre at ANU.

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Why Thailand must decentralise

Author: Tansen Sen, City University of New York

Chinese president Xi Jinping’s forthcoming visit to India will achieve nothing unless the new leaders of India and China can overcome existing inertia and seriously start revamping their bilateral relations. It is true that the two sides have managed to avoid a repeat of the 1962 armed conflict, and that diplomats have to be credited with limiting the border differences to a few ‘incursions’ and a tense standoff at Daulat Beg Oldi near the disputed Aksai Chin region in May 2013. But, as these episodes accumulate and are sensationalised by the media and dramatised in the blogosphere, they perpetuate mutual distrust and harden negative public perceptions.

Clearly the policy pursued during the last two and a half decades of emphasising trade while taking incremental steps towards managing, without resolving, the border issue has not worked.

Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi have to take prudent steps to move from just managing the relationship to making it truly open and trustworthy, something that was envisioned in the Panchsheel Treaty of 1954 but never attained, despite the celebratory events marking the 60th anniversary of the treaty this year.

The problem lies in the bottom-up policymaking that has defined the post-1962 relations between India and China. Mutually suspicious bureaucrats have hesitated to facilitate people-to-people, industry-to-industry or sub-region-to-sub-region exchanges and collaborations. This is clear by the limited educational interactions between the two countries due to the Indian Ministry of Home Affair’s reluctance to issue visas to Chinese students and instructors and the failure of the Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar sub-regional collaborative initiative.

There are contradictions between the India–China joint declarations about promoting people-to-people exchanges and the implementation of these measures. Intra-ministerial disagreements, mystifying constraints, narrow visions and a reluctance to involve competent people often render these processes ineffective. These initiatives are usually categorised as ‘public diplomacy’ and epitomised by heavy handedness and restrictions imposed by bureaucrats who treat them as no more than symbolic gestures. In fact, free interactions at the grassroots levels — that could potentially advance mutual awareness and knowledge — have never been fully encouraged seemingly for ‘security’ reasons. Consequently, the rhetoric and false narratives of friendship get recycled while the general public remain in the dark and utterly confused about the actual policy goals.

For Xi and Modi to redefine the bilateral relationship, the existing policymaking structures and thinking have to be discarded. These leaders are the ones who should outline the relevant policies and order the bureaucrats to implement them. Their aim should be to dilute the dogmatic thinking of the respective diplomatic corps, military commanders and intelligence chiefs so that they become decisive and committed to the long-term prospects of India–China relations.

A first step could be for the two leaders to be frank about the historical ambiguity of the territorial claims and acknowledge publicly that there is no other option for resolving the border issue other than recognising the Line of Actual Control. In the short term, such a joint declaration might lead to condemnations by a few members of the public and — especially in India — political factions. But after numerous rounds of border talks without any substantial outcome, this might be the only way to come to terms with the legacies of colonialism and imperialism, and heal the scars of the 1962 war.

The persistent lack of mutual trust and the continued suspicion of each other’s wider geopolitical intentions are apparent in China’s failure to unequivocally support India’s aspiration to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council and India’s resolute efforts to keep China out of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Xi and Modi could unreservedly support these ambitions and wishes of the other side — not as quid pro quo steps but as gestures of genuine confidence-building.

Even at the early stages of their careers as national leaders, Xi and Modi already have firm standing in their respective countries. They may not be able to resolve the border issue immediately, but the two leaders have enough political capital to at least be magnanimous in backing each other in the wider global arena. In order to redefine the bilateral relationship, they have to go beyond the usual auguries of the bureaucrats about possible repercussions for national interests. Trust between India and China needs to be built on confidence and convictions, not on the computations of career bureaucrats.

President Xi Jinping will mostly likely try to entice India to join his so-called ‘Silk Road’ project. Xi must understand that he will be unable to draw India into a cookie-cutter plan given the existing scepticism in India about Chinese soft power schemes. Any utterings of support from the Indian side during Xi’s visit will be superficial and are unlikely to yield any substantial breakthroughs in bilateral relations. Likewise, Modi must refrain from his own pet proclamation of ancient Gujarat-China relations through the visit of the seventh-century Chinese monk Xuanzang, who merely traversed through the present-day Gujarat region. Instead of highlighting this historically irrelevant episode — Xuanzang passed through several other Indian states — Modi could elucidate his success in bringing Chinese investors to Gujarat — about 20 companies as of last year — and make a commitment to allow such investments in the ‘sensitive’ northeast regions of India.

The India–China relationship is already brimming with rhetorical pronouncements. What it lacks is concrete steps towards building better awareness and eradicating undue suspicions and scepticism. It is time for the two leaders to lay a new foundation not only for the improvement of bilateral relations, but also for reshaping intra-Asian connections and exchanges.

Tansen Sen is an Associate Professor of Asian history at Baruch College, City University of New York.

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India and China must think outside the ‘bureaucratic box’

Author: Pallav Purohit, IIASA

India needs economic growth for sustainable development, which in turn requires access to clean, convenient and reliable energy. An estimated 400 million people still lack access to electricity, and blackouts are still common across the country. A combination of rapidly increasing energy demand and fuel imports plus growing concern about economic and environmental consequences is generating growing calls for innovative policies and mechanisms to promote increased use of abundant, sustainable, renewable resources.

Locals on a boat pass by panels at a solar energy farm at Gunthawada in Gujarat state, about 175 kilometres north of Ahmadabad, India. There are growing calls for increased use of renewable energy resources in India. (Photo: AAP).

The Indian government initiated a renewable energy program to diversify national energy sources about three decades ago. The government aimed to add 455 GW of renewable capacity by 2050. Currently, renewable sources contribute about 13 per cent (32 GW) to India’s 249 GW installed capacity base.

The National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC) sets a target for the share of renewables-based power generation from the current 4 per cent to 15 per cent by 2020. As a result, renewable projects currently benefit from several policy initiatives: accelerated depreciation benefits, feed-in tariffs, a ten-year tax holiday and generation-based incentives. As part of the NAPCC, the government launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) in 2010 which aims to add 20 GW of grid-connected solar capacity by 2022, along with other solar targets for off-grid space.

The government plans to launch a similar program for wind. The National Wind Energy Mission, announced in January, will aim for 100 GW of wind power by 2022, a third of India‘s estimated wind energy potential. While the government has taken certain measures for the promotion of renewables, these need to be scaled up and expedited. The development of the sector suffers from a number of constraints, overlaps and gaps in the current policy and regulatory environment.

The government’s ambitious goals for solar energy, coupled with the country’s rapid progress in developing wind energy, raise many questions regarding the sources and costs of the investment that will be needed to install and operate this infrastructure. Stressing the need for India to start addressing its emissions, a government report released at the end of May 2014 put the costs of investing in low carbon energy systems at US$834 billion up to 2030.

The National Clean Energy Fund (NCEF), announced by the Indian government in its Union Budget 2010-11, is seen as a major step in India’s quest for energy security and reducing the carbon intensity of energy. The objectives of the NCEF are to fund research and innovative projects in clean energy technologies and to harness renewable sources to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The former UPA government had decided to levy a tax of $US0.84 per tonne on both domestically produced and imported coal to build up the NCEF, and fund research and innovative projects in clean energy technology. However, the NCEF has been widely criticised for inconsistencies between the stated objectives, operational guidelines and final approval of the projects. The government had collected over US$6.5 billion through the tax. But it has allocated just over 1 per cent of this amount to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), out of which just US$267,000 has been spent so far on renewable energy projects in the past three years. There was a high degree of policy and regulatory uncertainty for investment in the renewables sector.

The newly elected Modi government announced a suite of initiatives for solar energy across the country and promised a ‘saffron revolution’ that will include ambitious targets for small, large and off-grid solar and a switch away from an assumed reliance on coal as the country seeks to deliver on its momentous task of bringing electricity to the entire country. The new government increased the coal tax to US$1.67 per tonne in July 2014. While this proposal was welcomed by renewable energy experts, there is uncertainty over what the additional revenue will be spent on, based on past experience.

The scope of expenditure from this fund has also been widened to include environmental projects and research and development projects in the clean energy and environment sectors. The new government will fund its ambitious Ganga rejuvenation plan with the tax on coal. It is also planning to spend as much as US$167 million on projects earmarked for this financial year and has earmarked US$84 million for the initial implementation work for four ultra-mega solar power projects each with a capacity between 2 GW and 4 GW — the energy situation could change rapidly.

Another US$67 million would be provided for installation of 100,000 solar-powered irrigation sets and water-pumping stations. Moreover, the canal-top solar power plant will receive US$17 million this year. The new government also plans for a 5 GW solar power project in the Ladakh region. This further emphasises the scale of India’s renewable ambitions. The recently-announced Wind Energy Mission has also pinned its hopes on the NCEF for potential funding.

The increase in the clean energy tax can be still considered an innovative attempt by the Modi government to acquire additional resources to support its environmental plans. It can be seen as a step towards helping India meets its voluntary target to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released per unit of gross domestic product by 25 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. The NCEF must be used to provide much-needed impetus for the development of emerging renewable and clean energy technologies, and the financial capital to early-stage and high-potential projects. It is important that the government provides easier access to finance through NCEF for the renewables sector.

Pallav Purohit is Research Scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

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Increase in coal tax will scale up Indian renewables