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India: Popular anti-liquor movement in Tamil Nadu

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]oday Tamil Nadu, like in most of states, is undergoing serious crises. Communal flare-ups by the government and Hindutva parties is worst problem the nation is facing now.

Tamil Nadu is often in news for wrong reasons. Besides the rift within the ruling AIADMK sweeten the warring factions led by former CM and Jayalithaa’s Lieutenant O. Panneerselvam and jailed Sasikala represented by CM Palanisamy, there are other problems like the strong farmers’ movement for justice and the people’s movement to make the state from liquor by implementing the prohibition in total, among other strikes by state government employees with demands.

On the one hand, people of India, the land of Mahatma Gandhi who opposed liquor, seeks total prohibition and on the other the governments lift prohibition in order to get more revenues and help the rich and liquor traders make more profits to let them grow richer while the poor suffer from the ill-effects of liquor consumption against popular will and wishes.

That is violation of popular democracy.

Prohibition in India

Logically speaking entire India should be a non-liquor nation and a total prohibition should be put into practice sincerely. .

Anti-liquor campaign is not restricted to Tamil Nadu alone. Though Gujarat is popularly known as the ‘dry state of India’, Nagaland and Lakshadweep too have implemented total prohibition.

Bihar banned sale and consumption of liquor from April 1.Manipur, which was under total prohibition until 2014, lifted curbs in select areas. Kerala is in the process of phasing out liquor. It was the only other State, where a government-owned corporation sold liquor. Haryana tried its luck in bringing total prohibition in 1996. The move affected the government revenue to the tune of Rs. 1200 crore. The State suffered loss of over 20,000 jobs as breweries were closed down. The Haryana Vikas Party-led government introduced more taxes. As a result the party lost the 1998 parliamentary elections. The same year it lifted the liquor ban.

After the first general elections for free India in 1952, the Congress came to power in Tamil Nadu. The Prohibition Act was enforced throughout the State. Tamil Nadu continued to impose prohibition, while Andhra Pradesh and Mysore (later renamed as Karnataka), which were carved out of Madras Presidency, did not have any such restrictions on alcohol. In 1971, the DMK government headed by M. Karunanidhi lifted prohibition, despite stiff opposition from many quarters, including Rajaji, who unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the then chief minister against reintroduction of liquor.

Karunanidhi’s argument was that while he was always for prohibition, since it was not enforced across the nation, the State was only incurring loss of revenue and liquor was always available to the people from the neighbouring States. He brought back prohibition in 1974. Decades later, Karunanidhi has now vowed to bring back total prohibition, if voted to power.

The AIADMK founder M.G. Ramachandran (MGR) who actively canvassed against liquor, lifted prohibition in 1981, only to close down all arrack and toddy shops early in 1987. In 1983, the MGR government established the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation for procurement and selling of alcohol in the State. Licenses to liquor-selling outlets and bars were granted through auctions. Incidentally, in 1981, the government created Tamil Nadu Spirit Corporation too and manufactured liquor until 1987, when the company was shut down.

Successive governments tweaked the policy on sale of arrack and toddy, but the policy by and large left Indian-Made Foreign Liquor untouched. Whenever prohibition was imposed, the illegal sale of toddy and arrack would peak, resulting in loss of several lives, and thus paving way for lifting the ban.

Another prominent reason given for lifting curbs on liquor sales was rampant increase consumption of methanol, an industrial solvent. In January 2002, the Tamil Nadu government under >O. Panneerselvam started selling low-cost liquor after over 100 people died the previous year due to methanol consumption. Low-cost liquor was, in fact, sold in the 1990s by the government.

Anti-liquor movement

People of Tamil Nadu spearhead the anti-liquor movement earnestly and continue to struggle to get all liquor outlets run by the state government. As common folk take steps to shut down the liquor vending shops, there exists a tensed situation all over the state. In many places people and police clash as they demolish the state liquor shops.

In August 2015, a dawn to dusk bandh called by some opposition parties in Tamil Nadu did not disrupt normal life even as the state witnessed a series of protests demanding total prohibition. The anti-liquor movement in Tamil Nadu appears to be growing stronger with the protestors demanding that all liquor stores be shut. Outside the Madras High Court, a group of law college students staged a protest demanding prohibition. The police were out in large numbers to prevent violence across the state after student protesters ransacked a state-run liquor store in Chennai. A protestor said, “The police is the one protecting the The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) . We are protesting against the government in peaceful manner.”

Popular anti-liquor movement positively influenced the policies of major parties. It came as nothing short of a shock to other political parties when Jayalalithaa did a volte-face barely a month before the elections – promising phased prohibition in the state. The move virtually pulled the rug from under the opposition DMK, which wanted to make prohibition one of its main poll planks.

In April 2016, while kicking off the AIADMK’s campaign seeking a second term, the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had announced that her government will implement prohibition in a phased manner if her party is voted to power. A couple of months before the poll, minister for prohibition and excise Natham Viswanthan declared in the assembly that liquor prohibition was not on the state’s agenda – a move that was welcomed by employees in the liquor trade as well as the Tamil Nadu liquor consumers’ association.

It came as nothing short of a shock to other political parties when Jayalalithaa did a volte-face barely a month before the elections – promising phased prohibition in the state. In fact, the move virtually pulled the rug from under the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which wanted to make prohibition one of its main poll planks. Former deputy chief minister and party treasurer MK Stalin had dedicated his mass contact programme – Nammakku Naame – last year to affirming that the M Karunanidhi-led party would enforce prohibition in the state if voted to power. The DMK in its election manifesto released on Sunday promises total prohibition in the State. The P-word is likely to figure in the manifestos of all major political parties and alliances.

The AIADMK government’s eleventh-hour move – seemingly aimed at appeasing the state’s sizeable chunk of women voters – also exposed her to sharp attacks from opposition leaders. “What has she been doing for five years now?” chorused opposition leaders EVKS Elangovan of the Congress, Tamilisai Soudarrajan of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Anbumani Ramadoss of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and Captain Vijayakanth of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) – alleging that her move was inspired by politics, not public welfare.

DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi promised total prohibition in the party manifesto released on Sunday, an assurance that Jayalalithaa criticised by saying that the DMK leader did not have the moral right to assure any such thing when it was he who had lifted the ban way back in 1971.

Tamilisai Soundarrajan, president of the BJP’s Tamil Nadu unit, claimed that neither the DMK nor the AIADMK were serious about enforcing prohibition. “Jayalalithaa’s promise of phased prohibition is as unbelievable as Karunanidhi’s declaration of total prohibition,” she told mediapersons on Monday, adding that the BJP stood for prohibition in the state because it cared for the plight of the poor.

While PMK chief ministerial candidate Anbumani Ramadoss wondered why Jayalalithaa had suddenly remembered prohibition, he did not fail to notice the silver lining in the announcement. “Even so, it is a victory for us as we were the ones who first launched the campaign for total prohibition,” he said.

Prohibition law

Alcohol Prohibition in Tamil Nadu is governed by State Prohibition and Excise department as per Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act, 1937. TASMAC, state government owned company controls the wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages in the State. On 2016 may 24, After swearing-in J. Jayalalithaa has announced to close 500 liquor shops and reduce the business hours of State-run liquor shops across the State.[1] On 20 February 2017, The first office order signed by the Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami was the closure of 500 liquor outlets owned by the public sector TASMAC. This is in addition to the 500 liquor outlets closed down by late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa in May 2016.

Madras Abkari Act, 1886 was imposed and set in place a strict regulation which banned the local manufacturing of alcohol and confined it to central distilleries where excise duty was paid prior to being sold.[2] This British tax policy favored the consumption of foreign liquors over more traditional drinks such as toddy and country liquors. One fifth of the Madras Presidency population consumed alcohol. Excise revenue from Madras Presidency accounted for as much as 38% of its total revenue. Though prohibition was relaxed on other states after independence including former Madras Presidency regions, Tamil Nadu continued to adopt total prohibition until 1971. In 1971 the DMK government led by M. Karunanidhi suspended it in 1971 and allowed the sale of arrack and toddy. But later, the same government stopped the sale of these in 1974.

In 1981, the AIADMK government headed by actor turned politician M.G. Ramachandran lifted prohibition and reintroduced the sale of arrack and toddy. Due to wide use of the methanol in industries and there were no restrictions in other States, In 1984 September methanol was removed from the purview of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act. In 1987, the sale of arrack and toddy was again banned. During 1975-76 and 1988–90, illicit liquor claimed many lives in Tamil Nadu. In 1990, the DMK government revived the sale of arrack and toddy. In 1991 July 16, again the sale of arrack and toddy was banned by new government led by J. Jayalalithaa. Methanol was substituted and consumed under the illegal liquor trade. In 2002, Methanol brought again under Prohibition act.

The erstwhile Madras Presidency had implemented prohibition in Salem district as early as 1937 and gradually expanded it to several other areas. In order to compensate the loss incurred, sales tax was introduced by the Congress government headed by C. Rajagopalachari aka Rajaji. The government would grant ‘permits’ to individuals, who wish to consume liquor.

On October 30, 2015, police arrested Kovan alias Sivadas, a folk singer and a member of extreme Left group Makkal Kalai Iyakkam, who was criticising government’s way of earning revenue by selling liquor. He was slapped with sedition charges claiming that his songs were anti-state and criticised Ms. Jayalalithaa. Most of the opposition parties rallied behind Kovan and sought his immediate release. Kovan is now out on bail.

Liquor policy

Prohibition was first introduced at Salem in 1937, and then implemented in other parts of the state in phases. In 1971, the DMK government headed by M Karunanidhi withdrew prohibition in view of the state’s “bleak economic situation”.

Even at the height of the anti-liquor movement in Tamil Nadu last October, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government slapped sedition charges against folk singer S Kovan for criticising chief minister J Jayalalithaa over her reluctance to ban liquor trade in the state.

Calls for prohibition in Tamil Nadu have grown louder after activist Sasi Perumal died while demanding the closure of a liquor store in Kanyakumari on Friday. Following his death, opposition parties like the MDMK and the VCK called for a state-wide dawn to dusk bandh. But normal life remained largely unaffected with shops remaining open and buses plying across the state. Leading the protest, former MP and VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan said, “We are protesting not to get votes, but for people’s welfare. Today the Tamil Nadu government has reached a point where they protect the TASMAC shop rather than the people of its state.”

The ruling AIADMK has however dismissed the anti-liquor protests and the bandh as a political stunt by its rivals in the run up to the 2016 Assembly elections. Considered the cash-cow for the government state-run liquor stores brought in over Rs 26,000 crore last year. CR Saraswathi, Spokesperson of the AIADMK on the eve of poll sharply reacted to the protests describing them as a mere election gimmick. She said “all these opposition party people whether MDMK or otherwise – just for election they are creating a problem. It’s not for the welfare of the people. Even Vaiko was with AIADMK and DMK alliances. They can’t face Amma on political ground. They want to create a law and order problem. People will never support them”.

But with AIADMK’s arch-rival the DMK also planning to hold protests demanding total prohibition in the days to come the question then was: will the state-wide agitation force the Jayalalithaa government to re-think its liquor policy?

TASMAC

The TASMAC is governed by a board of five IAS officers, including a Managing Director, and the State Minister for Excise and Prohibition. The company earns revenue not only from liquor sales but also by granting annual licences to run bars near its retail outlets. According to its website, the TASMAC has 41 depots in five regions and runs over 6,800 retail outlets across the State. It procures beer locally from three manufacturers and hard liquor from six manufacturers. Certain alcohol products are imported from other States.

The annual revenue of TASMAC stood at Rs. 26,188 crores in FY 2014-15.>According to government data, more than 70 lakh people consume liquor every day through TASMAC outlets. In January 2016, the company sold 48.23 lakh cases of liquor.

There was a time when alcohol consumption was linked to antagonists and Tamil cinema ‘heroes’ would avoid drinking on-screen. MGR the chief minister might have had a different stand on prohibition, but MGR the actor never drank on-screen.

In the Tamil movie Neenga nalla irukkanum, which deals with alcohol addiction, the then chief minister Jayalalithaa played herself. Her government would help a woman rehabilitate her alcoholic husband.

TASMAC has replaced ‘wine shops’, the slang to denote retail IMFL outlets. These days, Tamil protagonists and female leads do not shy away from drinking on-screen. It is common to have words such as ‘party’, ‘drinking’, ‘open the bottle,’ ‘ thanni’, ‘kudi’ and ‘TASMAC’ in Tamil film songs. There is even a Tamil cinema named Madhubaanakadai.

When Ms. Jayalalithaa came back to power in 2002, she not only cancelled her predecessor Panneerselvam’s order on cheap liquor, but also brought the retail sales of alcohol under government control. This move gave TASMAC monopoly over liquor sales in Tamil Nadu.

Ever since the TASMAC’s outlet was opened in 2012 near a school and a church, the residents of Unnaamalaikkadai in Kanyakumari district have been demanding its closure. Fifty nine year old Gandhian and anti-liquor activist Sasi Perumal joined their protest, which went to 1000th day on June 30, 2015. During the protest on July 31, Perumal climbed up a mobile phone tower and began losing his consciousness in the high altitude and was rescued and rushed to a government hospital, where he breathed his last. Following his death, protests erupted across the state targeting TASMAC outlets.

Liquor politics

Prohibition has taken centre stage in the 2016 Tamil Nadu Assembly polls, after a series of protests in 2015. Parties such as the PMK and the MDMK have consistently demanded total prohibition in the State. Former Union Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, the CM candidate of the PMK, in his ‘blueprint for development’ not only mentions closure of government-run liquor shops, but also claims to have alternative revenue sources to offset revenue loss from prohibition.

Tamil Nadu was probably the first State to have a blanket ban on liquor. Today, several of the State’s welfare measures, including freebies, are funded by the revenue earned through liquor sale.

Government had to give police protection to these shops. The outlet in Unnaamalaikkadai was shut down immediately after Perumal’s death, but only to be reopened few days later.

Targeting the upmarket segment, the company opened its first premium outlet, TASMAC Elite, inside a shopping mall in Chennai in 2013. There are plans to open over 450 Elite outlets in urban and semi-urban areas in every district.

While political parties such as the PMK and the MDMK were consistent in demanding a total prohibition, they often protested against setting up new TASMAC outlets and the recent TASMAC Elite. Gandhian movements, women’s groups and civil society have voiced against more individuals, especially youths, being lured into alcohol consumption. But three recent agitations are worth mentioning in the anti-alcohol fight. In August 2015, residents of Kalingapatti, a village in Tirunelveli district, tried to lock down a TASMAC outlet functioning there. The village is the hometown on MDMK chief and coordinator of the People’s Welfare Front (PWF) Vaiko. The protest was lead by his nonagenarian mother Mariammal. When protestors tried to ransack the outlet, police resorted to lathi-charge and fired tear gas. The Kalingapatti Panchayat, earlier passed a resolution demanding closure of the liquor shop. Workers of the VCK, an ally of MDMK, too joined in later.

Liquor trade thrived whether the liquor is allowed or banned by the state as most of the liquor lobbyists and traders belong to DMK or AIADMK. . Whenever government imposed prohibition, the illegal sale of toddy and arrack along with consumption of methanol, an industrial solvent resulting in loss of several lives, Which paving way for lifting the ban.[6] In 2001, prohibition was lifted again and TASMAC became the wholesale monopoly for alcohol. In January 2002, the Tamil Nadu government under O. Panneerselvam started selling low-cost liquor through TASMAC. In 2014-15, the annual revenue of TASMAC was Rs. 26,188 crores and the company sold 48.23 lakh cases of liquor.

However, nobody seems to be talking about how the revenue loss of up to Rs 27,000 crore per annum made through the government-monopolised liquor trade will be compensated. The Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC), which controls the liquor trade in the state, has grown steadily over the years – from Rs 139.41 crore in 1983-84 to Rs 7,335 crore in 2005-06 and now to over Rs 27,000 crore. There are about 6,800 liquor outlets in the state.

Observation

Tamil Nadu government must, in view of strong anti-liquor movement at all levels, impose total prohibition at least for full year and then v review the situation later to make remedial steps to help the poor.

The continued mass movement against liquor evils makes their life difficult as they are unable to go for daily work to earn money, make their livelihood complicated and perplexed. This in the long run would affect economy of the state. Implications are disastrous for the people and state, though the rich and liquor lobbyist continue to mint huge money.

When a government denies the rights of people and does exactly what the people do not ask for the government commits serious crimes, unless people are ultra fanatic like Hindutva minded Indians. Tamils are not demanding anything fanatically communal but only genuine needs without harming the interests of any section of the society. Tamil Nadu is committed to welfare of people and they must read and the writing on the wall and listen to their own conscience.

Instead of piling up problems, the government would do better by trying to honestly solving the people’s problems one by one. That is perhaps democracy.

India should strive for total prohibition. The Modi government should make law to declare India a liquor free nation.

Liquor should be avoided even at high parties by the government.

That is the way a government should show for the people emulate. Empty words of principles do not any sense.

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South Asia

Pakistan not a Threat for Israel: Clearing Misconceptions

Uzge A. Saleem

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Ever since 1998; the beginning of Pakistan’s nuclear age, the state’s self-defense mechanism has been a source of worry and unrest for India and the US. Both these states never really accepted that a small state like Pakistan could develop the prestigious asset and was now well capable of defending itself against external threats. US opposed the program on the grounds that it had been tested after the signing of NPT and that it is an “illegitimate” program. Their basic concern was Pakistan not being a party to NPT and US non-proliferation efforts failing. India, though very much against the program, could not openly oppose it on the same grounds because its own Nuclear Program had the same issue i.e. it was tested after the signing of NPT and they had also not signed the treaty.

There  are  a  lot  of  ambiguities  surrounding   Pakistan’s  nuclear  program  which  are  there intentionally for the benefit and security of the program and state. However, there is one thing which has been kept very clear since day one and that is the Indo centric nature of Pakistan’s nuclear program. The program was developed because the conventionally strong next door neighbor had developed their program. Pakistan, in an attempt to ensure territorial security, had to develop its own program as well. US, China, Russia, France or the UK were never a threat to Pakistan nor was Pakistan on their attack agenda. India on the other hand was in close territorial proximity, a historic enemy, conventionally stronger and now also a nuclear power. After evaluating all these factors any national strategist would suggest a nuclear program for Pakistan and that is exactly what the state did.

There have been news in an Israeli newspaper,  Haaretz, that Pakistan is more of a threat to Israel than Iran. This was published on 20 May, 2018. The grounds for this allegation have been identified  as  Pakistan’s  growing  arsenal  and  other  similar  reasons  which  have  always  been popular in the western policy circles. Iran, a conventional enemy, one with which there have been numerous conflicts, has been ruled out as a threat to Israel since they do not have a nuclear arsenal.

However, there are many concrete facts that have been ignored in this propagating debate. For instance Pakistan has had no wars with Israel. Both the states have never even been on the verge of an all-out war. The states have never even had a conflict that could’ve led to war. Although Iran does not have  a nuclear arsenal at present but that did not stop the states from indulging into conflicts before and although initiating a nuclear war might not be a possibility for Iran but a conventional war is very much within their skill set.

Pakistan is already indulged in a two front defense strategy on its eastern and western borders. The Taliban threat from the west and the ever present Indian threat from the east, particularly along the  line of control is already consuming most of the state’s energy, attention and resources. Under such circumstances, jumping into any sort of venture as far as Israel without any apparent or direct conflict seems like an amateur move which is not expected from Pakistan whatsoever. If any linkages are being made based on the fact that Iran and Israel have cordial ties then they are weak to begin with. On the other hand India and Iran have more than friendly ties and India’s nuclear arsenal is growing rapidly with the US help. However, this does not mean that just because India is a nuclear state and a friend of Iran, it will be inclined to attack Israel.

Pakistan’s nuclear program is solely for the safety and security of the nation against any external threat.  The program  is not for the state  to pick  and choose  enemies  and start  non-existing conflicts. That is definitely not how Pakistan intends to use its resources and deviate from the real agenda which is to protect the state of Pakistan. The only condition under which Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons against any state would be if they choose to attack the territory of Pakistan in a nuclear or non-nuclear manner. The state has been absolutely clear about this from the very beginning of its  nuclear era.

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Behind Indo-Pacific Vision

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Mike Pompeo’s recent speech titled, ‘America’s Indo-Pacific Economic Vision – at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum’ at the US Chamber of Commerce, Washington DC has been carefully observed across Asia.  Beijing has understandably, paid close special attention to it. Pompeo emphasized on the need for greater connectivity within the Indo-Pacific, while also highlighting the role which the US was likely to play (including financial investments to the tune of 113 Million USD in areas like infrastructure, energy and digital economy). The US Secretary of State while stating that this vision was not targeted at anyone, he did make references to China’s hegemonic tendencies, as well as the lacunae of Chinese connectivity projects (especially the economic dimension).

The Chinese reaction to Pompeo’s speech was interesting. Senior Chinese government officials were initially dismissive of the speech, saying that such ideas have been spoken in the past, but produced no tangible results.

An article in the Global Times ‘Indo-Pacific strategy more a geo-political military alliance’ response is significant. What emerges clearly from this article is that Beijing is not taking the ‘Indo-Pacific vision’ lightly, and neither does it rule out the possibility of collaboration. The article is unequivocal, in expressing its skepticism, with regard to the geo-political vision of the Indo-Pacific vision. Argues the article:

While the geopolitical connotation of the strategy may lead to regional tensions and conflicts and thus put countries in the region on alert

It is optimistic with regard to the geo-economic dimension, saying that this would be beneficial, and would promote economic growth and prosperity. What must be noted is that, while the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ has been put forward as a counter to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the article also spoke about the possible complementarities between the US vision for ‘Indo-Pacific’ and China’s version of BRI. While Mike Pompeo had spoken about a crucial role for US private companies in his speech, the article clearly bats in favor of not just between Indian, Japanese, Chinese, US governments as well as companies. This is interesting, given the fact that China had gone to the extent of dubbing the Indo-Pacific vision as the foam on the sea” “that gets attention but will soon dissipate”

While there is absolutely no doubt, that there is immense scope for synergies between the Indo-Pacific vision, and BRI especially in the economic sphere. China’s recent openness towards the Indo-Pacific vision is welcome, but one of the propelling factors is the growing resentment against the economic implications of some BRI projects. While in South Asia, Sri Lanka is a classical example of China’s debt trap diplomacy, where Beijing provides loans at high interest rates (China has taken over the strategic Hambantota Project, since Sri Lanka has been unable to pay Beijing the whopping 13 Billion USD). Even in ASEAN grouping, countries are beginning to question the feasibility of BRI projects, Malaysia which shares close economic ties with Beijing is reviewing certain Chinese projects (this was one of the first steps undertaken by  Mahathir Mohammad after taking over the reigns as Prime Minister of Malaysia).

Second, that while for long the Indo-Pacific Vision has been dubbed as a mere ‘expression’ and one of the criticisms has been a lack of gravitas in the economic context (and even now 113 Million USD is not sufficient). Developments over recent months, including the recent speech, indicate that The Department of State seems to be keen to dispel this notion that the Indo-Pacific narrative is bereft of substance. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that Pompeo’s speech was followed by an Asia visit (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore).

Countries which are key stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific narrative need to keep in mind the following:

US needs to walk the course and apart from investing, more it needs to think of involving more countries, including Taiwan and more South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Indo-Pacific partnership.

Second, the Indo-Pacific speaks in favor of democracy as well as greater integration, but not only are countries becoming more inward looking, even their stand on democracy, and Human Rights is ambiguous.  Japan is trying to change its attitude towards immigration, and is at the forefront of promoting integration and connectivity within the Indo-Pacific. Neither US, nor India, Japan or Australia have criticized China for its excesses against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang province.

Finally, there is scope for China to be part of the Indo-Pacific, but it needs to look at certain projects beyond the rubric of the BRI. A perfect instance is the Bangladesh China, India Myanmar BCIM Corridor which India was willing to join, but China now considers this project as a part of BRI.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Beijing can not be excluded from the ‘Indo-Pacific’ narrative, but it can not expect to be part of the same, on its own terms. It is also important, for countries like US and India to speak up more forcefully on issues (within their domestic contexts, as well as external) pertaining to Freedom of Speech, Human Rights and  immigration issues, given that all these are essential for a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’

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Chimeras and Realities of the Indo-Pacific Partnership

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The new American initiative for the creation of the Indo-Pacific Partnership (IPP) has grabbed the spotlight in many political discussions of late. Although the idea to set up such a forum was proposed at the end of 2017 and to this day has been no more than a general slogan, now the Trump administration seems set to stake on it. Why?

As a reminder I would like to point out that on May 30 the US Secretary of Defense announced the renaming of the Pacific Command into the Indo-Pacific Command (although the Command’s responsibility zone a priori included the Indian Ocean waters).

A few days later, at the Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD) conference in Singapore, the idea of IPP was spelled out by the American side, with an emphasis on the aspects of regional security. When commenting on the change of the name of the American command, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked that for India the unification of the Indian and Pacific oceans into a single geographic array looked “natural”.

The practical implementation of the IPP strategy will most likely be carried out both through the strengthening of US bilateral relations with countries of the region and through the creation of multilateral cooperation formats. The most important of these cooperation initiatives is the so-called. “Quadro”, which is designed to bring together the four “democracies” of the Indo-Pacific region – the United States, Japan, Australia and India.

It is believed that the United States, Australia, Japan and India, united in the Quadro, will consider the two oceans a single strategic space. Since 2016, the United States, India and Japan have been conducting joint naval exercises “Malabar”. Washington is clearly giving New Delhi ever more attention, counting on India as one of the future regional security poles, along with Japan, Australia and its other allies.

The feasibility evaluation of IPP was proposed in the concept of “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy”, FOIP). And the recent report of the US National Security Strategy states that “in the Indo-Pacific region, there is a geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of the world order.”

Apparently, this is about China. Therefore, the idea of IPP, which is motivated by the value and geostrategic approach, did not cause immediate enthusiasm from the American allies in the region.

Assessing the US initiative to establish IPP, Japanese experts, for example, say that Japan has no objections in principle to such an initiative as long as it is “transparent and inclusive”. To this, they add that this initiative can play a role in the development of interregional relations involving East Asia, South Asia, Africa and Eurasia; the main thing is that it should not be directed against China, since Japan is interested in China’s sustained development and Japan-China relations.

In response, South Korea argues that it is too early to suggest a full approval for the IPP as this initiative has been put forward in the form of a general slogan. Seoul has yet to understand what it is and needs more time to examine it in more detail. If it turns out that the initiative aims to deter China, participation in it of the Republic of Korea will be a “difficult choice” to make.

According to experts of the US Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Indo-Pacific region may account for half of the global economy within decades, but this requires investments of almost $ 26 trillion. Now it is obvious that from the point of view of trade and economic cooperation, the IPP is set to replace the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TPP), which Donald Trump chose to reject, and offer an alternative. US Secretary of Commerce William Ross explains in this respect that TPP agreements require too much effort to conclude and too complicated: “With such major geopolitical phenomena as the TPP, it is impossible to carry out a controlled experiment.”

Verbally, Washington welcomes China’s contribution to regional development, emphasizing that IPP will not be aimed at containing China or opposing China’s Belt and Road Initiative. At the same time, the emphasis is put on the need to adhere to “international standards of transparency, the rule of law and sustainable financing”.

However, in practice, the main reason underlying IPP is the attempt to conduct a “controlled” geostrategic and geoeconomic experiment, by constructing a partnership framework artificially, in the American interests, without taking into account the interests of potential partners who are not interested in political or economic deterrence of China

Supporters of conventional geopolitical approaches say that the creation of IPP means the advance of the US into Eurasia still further from the east to the west by strengthening ties with predominantly “naval” powers in the eastern and southern peripheries of the Eurasian continent (from South Korea to countries of the Arabian Peninsula) and with island states of the Pacific (from Japan to New Zealand). The main purpose of the IPP is the political and military-strategic deterrence of China, the creation of a rigid “framework” that would prevent Beijing from assuming a dominant position in the region.

Whatever the case, American attempts to artificially “patch together” the IPP “from the material at hand” indicate the need for the Russian diplomacy to boost efforts to cement the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership by developing security mechanisms and fostering cooperation in the land areas of the Eurasian “heartland”.

In the first place, such mechanisms involve the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), measures towards linking the Eurasian integration and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and the consistent implementation of the Russian initiative to establish the Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP).

India’s participation in these organizations and initiatives is a matter of special concern, while the three-party consultative arrangement Russia-India-China needs further strengthening as well.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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