Beyond big game hunting: the ‘Quadrilateral’ meeting: THE HINDU EDITORIAL

Beyond big game hunting: the ‘Quadrilateral’ meeting: THE HINDU EDITORIAL  

Ahead of the Quadrilateral meeting, PM Modi must be cautious about bringing big powers into South Asia
By accepting an invitation to join the Japan-proposed, U.S.-endorsed plan for a “Quadrilateral” grouping including Australia to provide alternative debt financing for countries in the Indo-Pacific, India has taken a significant turn in its policy for the subcontinent. Explaining the need to invite other countries into what India has always fiercely guarded as its own turf, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar was remarkably candid. “Our neighbours also feel more secure if there is another party in the room,” he said recently, giving examples of working with the U.S. on transmission lines in Nepal or with Japan on a liquefied natural gas pipeline in Sri Lanka. His words contain a tacit admission: that having India in the room is no longer comforting enough for our neighbours.
The Quad pivot?
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to the East Asia summit in the Philippines next week, where the first ‘Quad’ meeting is likely to be held, it is necessary that India analyse the impact of this admission on all our relations. It would also serve as a useful exercise to understand why India has conceded it requires “other parties” in the neighbourhood, even as it seeks to counter the influence of China and its Belt and Road Initiative. One reason is that as a growing economy with ambitious domestic targets, India’s own needs often clash with those of its neighbours. More connectivity will eventually mean more competition, whether it is for trade, water resources, or energy. Take, for example, the case of Bhutan, which is working, with India’s assistance, on its own goal of producing 10,000 MW of hydropower by 2020. Even as Indian and Chinese troops were facing off at Doklam on land claimed by Bhutan, a very different sort of tension was claiming the attention of the government in Thimphu. The first indicator came on May 8, when in his budget speech at the National Assembly, the Bhutanese Finance Minister warned that the external debt is about 110% of GDP, of which a staggering 80.1% of GDP (or 155 billion Nu, or $2.34 billion) is made up by hydropower debt mainly to India. In April, the International Monetary Fund’s world economic outlook had already put Bhutan at the top of South Asia in terms of the highest debt per capita, second only to Japan in all of Asia for indebtedness. The budget figures attracted much criticism for the Bhutanese government, and opposition taunts that Bhutan could become the “Greece of South Asia” forced Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay to appoint a three-member committee. In a government order he said that said the negative media, public perception and “absence of strategy” could even affect the “larger and more important relationship between Bhutan and India.” Among the committee’s findings were that Bhutan’s external hydropower debt financed by India at 9-10% rates was piling up, with the first interest and principal payments expected in 2018, and construction delays, mainly due to Indian construction issues, were taking the debt up higher. Above all, despite several pleas to the Ministries of External Affairs and Power, the Cross Border Trade of Electricity (CBTE) guidelines issued by India had not been revised, which put severe restrictions on Bhutanese companies selling power, and on allowing them access to the power exchange with Bangladesh. In the Power Ministry’s reckoning, relations with Bhutan took a backseat to the fact that India already has a power surplus, and its new renewable energy targets come from solar and wind energy, not hydropower. Moreover, given falling prices for energy all around, India could not sustain the Bhutanese demand that power tariffs be revised upwards. Eventually, it wasn’t until early October that Mr. Jaishankar visited Thimphu and subsequently the visit last week of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck began to address the problem that has been brewing for more than a year.
History of forgetting
Another problem is what one diplomat in the region calls ‘India’s big game hunting attitude’: “India chases its neighbours to cooperate on various projects and courts us assiduously, but once they have ‘bagged the game’, it forgets about us. As a result, crises grow until they can no longer be ignored, and the hunt begins again.” Over the past decade, since the defeat of the LTTE, India passed up offers to build the port in Hambantota, Colombo, and Kankesanthurai, despite Sri Lanka’s pressing need for infrastructure. At the time, given India’s crucial support in defeating the LTTE, Sri Lanka was considered “in the bag”. With the U.S. and other Western countries also taking strident positions over human rights issues and the reconciliation process, Chinese companies stepped in and won these projects, for which Sri Lanka recklessly took loans from China’s Exim bank. New Delhi has changed its position on Hambantota several times, going from initial apathy, to disapproval of the Chinese interest, to scoffingat the viability of the project, to open alarm at the possibility of any Chinese PLA-Navy installation in Sri Lanka’s southern tip. Finally this year, upturning everything it has said, the government decided to bid for the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport at Hambantota, a $205 million investment for the empty facility that sees an average of two flights a day. Even as a ‘listening post’, it is an expensive proposition, with some officials now suggesting a flight training school at Mattala to defray the cost. India is also hoping to win the bid to develop Trincomalee port with several projects. Clearly India is moving in now to build a counter to China in the neighbourhood, but it may be too little, too late and a little too expensive. India has also been ambivalent on tackling political issues in its region, often trapped between the more interventionist approach of the U.S., which has openly championed concerns over ‘democratic values’ and human rights in Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh, and the approach of China, which is to turn a blind eye to all but business and strategic interests. In Nepal, India lost out to China when it allowed a five-month-long blockade at the border, calling for a more inclusive constitution to be implemented by Kathmandu — but in the case of Myanmar, it lost precious ground in Bangladesh when Mr. Modi refused to mention the Rohingya refugee situation during a visit to Nay Pyi Taw. In both cases, India reversed its stand, adding to the sense that it is unsure of its next steps when dealing with neighbours on political issues.
Multiple rivalries
Finally, it is important to note that while the government’s new plan to involve the U.S. and Japan in development projects in South Asia will yield the necessary finances, it will come at the cost of India’s leverage in its own backyard. India’s counter to China’s persistent demand for a diplomatic mission in Thimphu, for example, could be to help the U.S. set up a parallel mission there — but once those floodgates open, they will be hard to shut. In Sri Lanka, the U.S. and Japan will now partner in India’s efforts to counter China’s influence, but whereas India objected to Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean, it will not be able to object to an increase in U.S. naval warships and Japanese presence there. Writing about Myanmar in a new book, India Turns East: International Engagement and US-China Rivalry, the former French diplomat Frédéric Grare says the emergence of new players like the U.S., Europe and Japan has only increased multiple regional rivalries in the region.“This does partly benefit India, who is no longer isolated vis-à-vis Beijing,” he concludes. “But New Delhi’s political profile has consequently diminished.” Mr. Modi, who began his pitch for his “neighbourhood first” plan by inviting the neighbours to his swearing-in ceremony in 2014, must look before he leaps while inviting other powers, howsoever well-meaning, into the neighbourhood.

Learn Vocabulary from THE HINDU EDITORIAL  

1) Turf
Meaning: Force (someone) to leave somewhere.
Example: “they were turfed off the bus”
Synonyms: Remove, Eject
Antonyms: Add, Include
2) Comforting
Meaning: Serving to alleviate a person’s feelings of grief or distress.
Example: “we would like to thank our family and friends for their support and their comforting words”
Synonyms: Console, Solace
Antonyms: Distress, Depress
3) Conceded
Meaning: Admit or agree that something is true after first denying or resisting it.
Example: “I had to concede that I’d overreacted”
Synonyms: Admit, Accept
Antonyms: Deny, Decline
4) Ambitious
Meaning: (of a plan or piece of work) intended to satisfy high aspirations and therefore difficult to achieve.
Example: “an ambitious enterprise”
Synonyms: Difficult, Exacting
Antonyms: Modest, Easy
5) Staggering
Meaning: Astonish or deeply shock.
Example: “I was staggered to find it was six o’clock”
Synonyms: Astonish, Amaze
6) Taunts
Meaning: Provoke or challenge (someone) with insulting remarks.
Example: “pupils began taunting her about her weight”
Synonyms: Torment, Provoke
7) Perception
Meaning: Intuitive understanding and insight.
Example: “‘He wouldn’t have accepted,’ said my mother with unusual perception”
Synonyms: Insight, Percipience
8) Reckoning
Meaning: The action or process of calculating or estimating something.
Example: “the sixth, or by another reckoning eleventh, Earl of Mar”
Synonyms: Calculation, Estimation
9) Hunting
Meaning: Search determinedly for someone or something.
Example: “he desperately hunted for a new job”
Synonyms: Search, Look
10) Assiduously
Meaning: With great care and perseverance.
Example: “leaders worked assiduously to hammer out an action plan”
Synonyms: Care
11) Strident
Meaning: (of a sound) loud and harsh; grating.
Example: “his voice had become increasingly strident”
Synonyms: Harsh, Grating
Antonyms: Soft, Dulcet
12) Reconciliation
Meaning: The restoration of friendly relations.
Example: “his reconciliation with your uncle”
Synonyms: Reunion, Conciliation
Antonyms: Alienation, Feud
13) Recklessly
Meaning: Without regard to the danger or the consequences of one’s actions; rashly.
Example: “he was driving recklessly and lost control”
Synonyms: Without danger
14) Scoffing
Meaning: Speak to someone or about something in a scornfully derisive or mocking way.
Example: “Patrick professed to scoff at soppy love scenes in films”
Synonyms: Mock, Ridicule
15) Upturning
Meaning: Turn (something) upwards or upside down.
Example: “a sea of upturned faces”
Synonyms: Improvement, High Level
Antonyms: Downturn
16) Bid
Meaning: An attempt or effort to achieve something.
Example: “he made a bid for power in 1984″
Synonyms: Attempt, Effort
17) Ambivalent
Meaning: Having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.
Example: “some loved her, some hated her, few were ambivalent about her”
Synonyms: Equivocal, Uncertain
Antonyms: Certain, Unequivocal
18) Interventionist
Meaning: Favouring intervention, especially by a government in its domestic economy or by one state in the affairs of another.
Example: “an economy currently dominated by state ownership and interventionist policies”
Synonyms: Intervene
19) Floodgates
Meaning: A gate that can be opened or closed to admit or exclude water, especially the lower gate of a lock; a last restraint holding back an outpouring of something powerful or substantial.
Example: “his lawsuit could open the floodgates for thousands of similar claims”
20) Rivalries
Meaning: Competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.
Example: “there always has been intense rivalry between the clubs”
Synonyms: Competitiveness
21) Isolated
Meaning: Having minimal contact or little in common with others.
Example: “he lived a very isolated existence”
Synonyms: Solitary, Lonely
Antonyms: Sociable
22) Vis-à-Vis
Meaning: In relation to; with regard to.
Example: “many agencies now have a unit to deal with women’s needs vis-à-vis employment”
Synonyms: Compared
23) Diminished
Meaning: Make or become less.
Example: “the new law is expected to diminish the government’s chances”
Synonyms: Decrease, Decline
Antonyms: Increase
24) Swearing-in
Meaning: An official ceremony in which someone starting a new official job formally promises to be loyal and honest and to perform their duties well.
Example: She had a good seat at the president’s swearing-in ceremony.
Synonyms: Initiate, Ceremonial
26) Leaps
Meaning: Move quickly and suddenly.
Example: “Polly leapt to her feet”
Synonyms: Spring, Jump
26) Well-meaning
Meaning: Wanting to have a good effect, but not always achieving one.
Example: I know he’s well meaning, but I wish he’d leave us alone.

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