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Indian GST: Another Modi gambling for perpetual economic disorder?

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Indian PM Modi is in news again with a new economic project called GST.  GST could mean two big things, one: Global State terrorism and two, Goods and Services Tax.  While Indians are still struggling with the impact of demonetization, the Modi government has come out with yet another shock called GST.

Apparently, Modi is still eager to be in the news and he does things only to promote that goal at a heavy cost for the people of India. His foreign tours, being arranged jointly by PMO, foreign ministry and Indian embassies abroad,  are meant to boost Modi’s image as a fast running PM of India. In fact, Mod runs into wanting state plane to take him for foreign tours. He thoroughly enjoys his foreign tours, meeting big leaders and having food with them and “shake hands” photos with them for Indian media lords.

The Modi government keeps trying various economic strategies, even if for fun, that harms the people at large. But neither Modi nor BJP nor RSS is worried about the consequences of their actions. It seems the BJP regime is targeting the people of India for ignoring them for too long to offer it the mandate to rule the nation. PM Modi is also not sure if people would repose their faith in his party or government when the next general poll take place.

The Modi government thus punishes the people of India while Mod himself keeps visiting big nations as his prime hobby along with big entourage of media lords and  government officals. Modi just ignores the sentiments of Indians by going to Israel against  Indian support for the support for the Palestinians. In order to make his visit to Israel easy without any criticism in India, PM Modi has launched the GST so that people of India and media are busy with the issue while he would enjoy life in Israel. 

The Goods and Services Tax being introduced by Indian regime aiming at a standard tax system for entire country and in every state and region. Either could destabilize the weak nations and common people and could only promote capitalism and support global imperialism. Here we are talking about the second problem of new Indian economic law GST, relating to uniform taxes. PM Modi has called it Good and Simple Tax. But common people are puzzled as they care confused about the consequences of GST. After their disastrous experience with demonetization drive, Indians are scared f of any new shock therapies by the Modi government. Certainly, they want to live with fewer problems.

 One party, one system, one religion, one tax

Taking the one time victory as the permanent vote  by Indian people, the RSS/BJP government is bent upon one  system, one party and one religion system in India. A nationwide Goods and Services Tax (GST), came into effect on Saturday from midnight, has faced criticism for its complex design.  GST, being billed as the biggest tax reform since Independence, will subsume all indirect state and central levies, making India a single market. Under GST law, the producer must have to pass the added benefit of tax reduction. Businesses and their consultants have opposed it and said that it’s against the free market concept.

 Union finance minister Arun Jaitley has likened the roll out of the GST – whose bill was cleared by both houses of Parliament last month after six years of stormy debate – to a revolution and the “most significant taxation overhaul in India.” PM Narendra Modi said the GST reflects the spirit of “one nation, one aspiration, one determination.” Opposition parties oppose it.

 FM Arun Jaitley on June 29 asked opposition parties such as Congress and the Left to reconsider their decision to skip the midnight GST launch tomorrow saying they were all consulted on the indirect tax reform and cannot run away from it. “I hope every political party will reconsider and revisit its decision” on not participating in the launch event to be organised in the Central Hall of Parliament, he said. The government, FM Jaitley said, remains committed to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) as any other reform. “It is single most important taxation reform in 70 years.” All decision on GST, including rules and tax rates, were taken in consultation with states and political parties must display broad shoulder and own up their responsibility, he said.

The leader of Indian opposition Congress decided to keep away from the special midnight June 30 meeting convened by the government on GST implementation. Trinamool Congress has already announced its decision to boycott the event. Left parties also boycott the meeting as they reject the GST. CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury has already questioned the government on “hurrying” into introducing GST and recalled that the ruling BJP had opposed the system when it was in the opposition.

The Left parties will not take part in the special midnight meeting on June 30 convened by the government to launch the Goods and Services Tax (GST), CPI leader D Raja said today. He said the parties will not take part in the meeting in view of protest by small and medium scale entrepreneurs, traders, weavers and informal sector workers on the way the GST is being implemented. “The Left will not be participating in the midnight GST meeting. People are agitating across the county. ..We cannot be celebrating when people are agitating,” the Rajya Sabha member said.

The Modi government wants smooth rollout of the GST the 30 June in the parliament. A war room will monitor and take immediate action on a complaint. Government officials have specially alerted to thwart any attempt of cartelization or disruption in the new tax regime. The government said it will use the circular-shaped Central Hall to launch the new taxation system that is set to dramatically re-shape the over USD 2 trillion economy. A gong will be sounded at midnight to usher in the GST. Prime Minister Modi will be the key speaker at the function. President Pranab Mukherjee, who is enjoying finals days at Presidential palace with Mogul Garden, , is also likely to attend the function, where former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and H D Deve Gowda have been invited too. Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) chief said that “The finance ministry has set up a GST feedback and action room specifically for government officials to approach it with any urgent queries related to problems of GST in any area”.

The PMO and Indian government officials have specially alerted to thwart any attempt of cartelization or disruption in the new tax regime. The government has created a ‘war room’ to monitor GST (Goods and Service Tax) implementation process, a new indirect tax system which will roll out on Saturday. In North Block, the office building of Finance ministry has allotted a space named as ‘GST Feedback and Action Room’. Former Chairman of CBEC said that “The government wants these benefits to reach the consumers through these Anti- Profiteering Rules. On the other hand, its rampant application will create chaos and serious disruptions in business”.

Equipped with multiple phone lines and computer systems and manned by tech-savvy youngsters, a “mini war room” has been set up in the Finance Ministry to deal with crises related to the implementation of GST or goods and services tax. War room is also ready for prompt action from tax evasion to technical confusion on rates to transportation related issues. War room responsibility is more crucial as the anti-profiteering body is still in the process of being.

GST- one tax and several problems

GST is not as simple as Modi and Arun want us believe. It is highly complicated at different levels. BJP, a party of  finical lords,  cannot devise any policy to multiage the poor or common people.

The GST, a worldwide accepted tax system, was first introduced by France in 1954.  Presently, around 160 countries follow the GST or VAT in some form or the other. In some countries, analysts say, VAT is the substitute for a GST, but conceptually it is a destination-based tax levied on consumption of goods and services. However, only Canada has a dual GST model, akin to what India intends doing.

Indian government wants to replace it with a more streamlined nationwide Goods & Services Tax (GST) that is hailed by many as the country’s most pathbreaking tax reform and deplored by others who fear it will turn the economy down. The new system will eliminate India’s notorious complex layers of taxation including purchase, entertainment, excise, luxury and sales taxes (VAT) and others. Analysts predict that the GST, if properly implemented, will likely bolster the country’s GDP by 2 percent.

One of the major objectives of GST is to make the tax incidence on consumers less by reducing compliance costs, removing cascading of taxes, increasing the tax base, reducing logistics costs and reducing the effective rates of taxes from the present level. Other country experiences suggest that GST led inflationary pressures in an economy because producers have refused to pass added profit to consumers.

GST law said, “Any reduction in rate of tax on any supply of goods or services or the benefit of input tax credit shall be passed on to the recipient by way of commensurate reduction in prices”. Revenue secretary Dr Hasmukh Adhia had said that “We expect companies to cooperate. We hope we don’t have to use the weapon.”

A unified tax system is likely to remove a slew of indirect taxes as well as the cascading effect of taxes. Manufacturing costs will be reduced; hence prices of consumer goods – cars, phones, FMCG goods – will also likely plummet. A unified tax regime will also be a deterrent to corruption which will benefit the common man. Other benefits include simpler administration which will ensure an easier collection of revenues, widening of the tax net and plugging of leakages and multiple taxations which will boost the government’s revenue stream and efficiency. For the consumer/tax-paying citizens, the GST would mean more transparency, proportionate taxation, relief in overall tax burdens, slightly cheaper goods and services.

India’s gold industry is optimistic that the gold supply chain will be more transparent and efficient. The GST, some hope, will also provide an edge to the travel and tourism industry by reducing costs for customers, streamlining taxes and thus promoting overall growth. Under the GST, rates finalized for air travel, flying economy will attract a 5 percent tax.

India currently has one of the worst tax-to-GDP ratios among major economies at 16.6 percent, less the half the 34 percent average for the members of the OECD and also below many emerging economies. Improved tax compliance should shore up public finances, augmenting resources for welfare and development spending and giving a lift to the $2 trillion economy.

While there is no official estimate of the potential fiscal gain, some tax experts say the measure, after the initial teething trouble, would lift the tax-to-GDP ratio by as much as 4 percentage points as the number of tax filers is estimated to more than treble to 30 million. In future, compliance is going to be extremely crucial

True, not many are interested in paying taxes and as corruption, being religiously promoted by the regime and politicians, has badly affected the tax officials as well, most pay taxes not properly.

The unorganized sector of India’s economy is vast, employing an estimated nine out of 10 workers. While staying outside the GST regime risks losing business, joining it will necessitate an overhaul of firms’ accounting systems and an investment in technology.

The new tax system requires three filing a month plus an annual return – a total of 37 filings – for each of India’s 29 states in which a firm operates. For smaller companies operating on wafer thin margins, hiring accountants and technical staff could substantially dent their bottom line. A head of portfolio management services at financial firm in Mumbai says all consumer-facing industries will be big beneficiaries of the GST

Most of those who argue for GST are also the supporters of BJP government. Only time will let the peole know the real move of GST as India has long ago under the corrupt Congress misrule mortgaged its economic policy to IMF and World Bank and increasingly work to promote American economic interests in order to gain some favors from Washington. The Hindutva fanatics are too eager to promote those “structured” relations with USA.

Of the eight million existing tax payers, 6.6 million tax assesses have already enrolled for GST. And about 1.7 lakh new applications for GST have come in. However, the silence inside the headquarters of Goods and Services Tax Network or GSTN, housed on the fourth floor of an imposing glass building aptly named World Mark I right next to Delhi’s international airport, is misleading. Behind white and blue cubicles, professionals with expertise in IT and taxation are putting in extra hours to ensure that the switch over to GST is a smooth affair. The biggest task for GSTN – a not-for-profit company set up to manage and collect indirect taxes – is to help traders and businessmen migrate to the GST platform.

Indian GST Network has developed a tool where you can work offline and upload when there is connectivity. It will take seconds to upload your returns. As the officials test and retest their programs and applications, our question “when was your last off day” made everyone burst out. “We will have to check our records,” said a former banker who’s “measuring end user results of the GST software.” “This is our national service.”

However, some chief ministers of Indian states have already expressed their dissent. How is one-nation-one-tax good politics for all 29 states and several Union territories and the center given the fact they all have diverse economic strengths and weaknesses?

Observation

GST interferes with federal arrangement and imposes its will on the states and thereby encroaches upon state rights and privileges. In other words, federal government tries to control entire nation and state resources.

One tax indeed means big problems for the people of India.  Conscious people in India feel if India has been purchased by international frauds that play with the psyche of Indians who want to see their nation a super power as soon as possible to challenge both USA and Russia while making China a non-issue.  

GST is likely to harm the common masses. GST is exorbitant. Tax is likely to increase on a massive scale. Traders are not going to reduce the prices.

Who will benefit? Any reform or policy is supposed to help the people of the nation. Corporate lords will have more profits under GST.

Once lauded as path-breaking, which is now causing rancor in the European Union.  Lesser-developed economies like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain have had to adopt extreme austerity measures that have sent unemployment soaring all over southern Europe. This has led many of the anti-EU states to consider a referendum on exiting the union a la Brexit.

In India too, there is a strong chance that the GST, the country’s boldest and riskiest tax reform yet, may give the ruling political establishment a greater headache than it may have bargained for.

The country’s biggest tax reform since independence is promising to bring millions of firms into the tax net, boosting government revenues and India’s sovereign credit profile. Until now, all rundown premises and small scale operation has kept the business below the radar of India’s tax officials. Since July 1, however, the party will be over. The new tax will require firms to upload their invoices every month to a portal that will match them with those of their suppliers or vendors. Because a tax number is needed for a firm to claim a credit on the cost of its inputs, many companies are refusing to buy from unregistered businesses. Those who don’t sign up risk losing any customer who has.

The nation is waiting for the real problems of GST to come to fore.

There are serious apprehensions in the minds of people over GST’s implementation. Unfortunately, India is under the grip of international frauds like the BJP MP and IPL boss Mallya. Unless corruption is contained and done away with, a new tax system won’t be fruitful. If the regime let its supporters to loot the nation’s resources and evade taxes, nothing good or positive is going to come of the envisaged tax reforms.

The GST is in fact a regressive tax, which will consume a higher proportion of poor people’s income, compared to those earning large incomes.  Many feel that imposition will also result in a surge in prices of services like telecoms, banking and airlines. If the actual tax benefit is not passed to consumers, and sellers increase their profit margin, the prices of goods will go up instead of down. Even assuming the GST delivers on the revenue front after an initial lag, one has to realize that it goes counter to the long-term trend of devolving greater powers to states.  It centralizes in the GST Council the powers of indirect taxation, and could thus be a constant source of friction between center and states, or between states if some gain or lose more than the others.

One also suspects if the governments of Congress and BJP are trying to eliminate the poor and have-nots from the Indian economic system by GST and other such measures as the IMF and World Bank, committed to capitalism and colonialism, are pressing the third world to do away all subsidies to the poor. .

The BJP government that worships cow and Israel as real gods, has been searching new ideas to boost the image of the Modi led RSS government which is shattered by false promises to the people and issues like black money and demonetization. GST therefore is crucial for the BJP government which has lost the blackmoney issue as part of gigantic demonetization drive that spelt disastrous for the common people for months and the impact is not completely worn out.

Uncertainty cannot be the foundation of any government because people suffer not knowing how to deal with new threats to their ordinary lives.

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South Asia

The problem of pellet guns in Kashmir

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Jammu and Kashmir is the only northern state of the Indian union dogged with an overridden unhealthy political atmosphere. The valley of Kashmir is beset with a major governance deficit which has given renewed impetus to the dissenting voices of the masses day in and day out. Dissent is the hallmark of a democracy which acts as a medium for the expression of the masses against the system. There are certain rights and duties guaranteed by the Indian constitution for the citizens, including the right to freedom of expression and right to life. Caught in the quagmire of a political crisis that has deeply permeated the society, the people in Kashmir from time to time vent up their dissent. Hartals are the tools for the masses through which they ventilate their pent up emotions. Kashmir is not a different case. It is also amuck with crisis and caught in a looming distress day in and day out. Kashmir is the most sensitive zone of the whole Asian sub-continent, where situations turn awry with the passage of time, like the seasons of the year and is the only state of the Indian Union where there has been a reckless use of the pellet guns without any regard for the precious life of the common man. This is a sort of dichotomy.

The use of pellet guns is a major problem which has not only maimed, blinded and killed the masses, but also shaken the collective conscience of the people, who have fallen prey to a different approach of dichotomy of the government. The killing of militant commander Burhan Wani in 2016 brought about a volcanic eruption in valley which not only deteriorated the situation in Kashmir, but also increased the massive alienation of the masses. The waves of grief and anger against the day-to-day killings and maims that the people felt increased with each passing day. In order to control the crisis, the security agencies used the deadly pellets which caused heavy damage to the sufferers. More than 1200 people lost their vision in 2016. According to a report of State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), more than 75% people suffered injuries due to pellet guns, ranging from minor to major in 2016.There was a heavy loss of life.

Although small in size, these black metallic balls have deteriorated our young generation. The use of pellet guns has wreaked crisis in Kashmir. For the security agencies, it is meant to disperse the crowds, but, for the common masses, it is a problematic affair. Pellet guns are pump-action shotguns which fire a cluster of small, round, metal pellets with high velocity over a broad range.

Recently, after the killing of a militant from Pahalgam area during the anti-establishment protests, a number of people were injured due to pellet A nurse working in the same area personally told me that we healed at least 100 plus pellet injured victims. The bloody Sunday of this year’s April and the subsequent clashes of the protestors with the security agencies left many injured, with multiple cases of pellet injuries to the eyes of the protestors.

Naseer Ahmad Bhat of Seer Hamdan, Anantnag was killed by the security forces during the post-Burhan phase of 2016 protests in Kashmir. He was an able worker and a good cricketer who fell silent to the pellets. Not only the collective conscience of the people was shaken, but also a state of disparity ensued. These deadly pellets have not even spared the school going children and snatched the power of seeing of the victims. Insha, a pellet victim who passed her matriculation examination last year despite odds is an inspiring hope for the likewise victims.

Pellets cause a number of biological ramifications in the victim, like the loss of vision, the state of paralysis, in case, the damage is caused to the spinal cord, defacements, and death in case of damage to the vital organs of the body, like, heart, kidneys, lungs, brain, etc. Moreover, the pangs of guilt that a victim suffers in silence dishearten one and all. The use of pellet guns as a crowd-control method during protests, whether in case of cordon and search operations (CASO) or common protests has added a volley of questions to the psyche of the common man? Being a part of the Indian union, that two acing the crown, Kashmir has been treated otherwise all through the passing times. People have got million queries, but, there are no solid answers to their problems and subsequent tactful solutions.

The substitution of pellet guns with PAVA shells can in no way control the crisis. The way people of other parts of the country are treated should form a close semblance in case of protests in Kashmir. Why the security forces are using pellets and bullets against the people whom the system claims with a sense of belonging. There can be other alternatives, like the use of water cannons without any damage and subsequent ensuing crisis that engulfs the society and creeps the psyche of the common men. If this is the notion of the system to punish dissent, then dissent itself takes a u-turn of additions and alterations with the passage of time. The bleeding valley is giving a close call for one and all to unite and ensue a state of peace and order. There is an urgent requirement of the administrative and political will to stop the use of pellet guns in Kashmir.

Whatever is happening to the people of Kashmir has not been experienced by the other people of the country. After all, it is a question of humanity. People suffer out of the ways as circumstances decide or may be destined otherwise. But to expect a peaceful valley without the intervention of a political will would be an underestimation of statements. There is a dual intolerance in Kashmir, one from the people and next from the system. The systematic targeting of the protestors from a point blank range irrespective of regard for the human life has shattered several families in Kashmir

Kashmir is passing through the phases of testing times with each passing day. The ugly turn of the situations and recurring events and the amateur dealing of the same has created an unhealthy atmosphere everywhere, where people have lost faith in the governance systems. The safety and security of every Tom, Dick and Harry is the looming question of the hour. Exits from dwellings and adieus from home don’t guarantee the safe return of the leavers. The interlocutor of the centre in vale, Mr. Dineshwar Sharma once reiterated that, ‘the priority is to prevent Kashmir turning into Syria’. The imbroglio has crippled the educational scenario, down slowed the economy, increased the unemployment, but, above all, the ultimate question is the redressal of the problem at stake, which for God sake can erupt into a lava-laden volcano one day and engulf the whole peace, stability and order of the South Asia, if not tactfully handled in the current times by the government.

The victory of BJP at the centre with the thumping majority after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with the slogan of ‘minimum government, maximum governance’ falls short of words and has partially failed in the state of J&K.The killings of the common masses are in no way remedies to the political ailments. There should be the ultimate regard for the human lives. Why has the blood of the people become so cheap .When will peace return to the valley of Kashmir? The government of India had constituted an expert committee in July 2016 to explore other possible alternatives to pellet guns as non-lethal weapons. Although, the committee submitted its report and the recommendations were taken into account by the government for implementation. But, what happened afterwards lies in the public domain for discussion. The use of pellet guns is tantamount to the violation of rights of the people.

In order to direct the valley towards the state of peace and development, the role of multiple players of India, Pakistan and Valley is necessary. This way the government can make a significant contribution in the restoration of normalcy. The need of the hour is the unity of all the stakeholders of the society, like government, non-governmental parties, NGO’s, etc. to help these pellet victims via financial or other means.

Although, there has been a strong criticism of the use of pellet guns not only at the local level ,but also at the international level, but the main part of the problem resolution lies with the government of India and the state. Although, much has been said and written about the people of Kashmir with the flow of waters of the river Jhelum, but the stability of the region is a farfetched dream. Here, comes the role of the government into play. The use of pellet guns against the dissenting masses has wreaked havoc and wounded the collective psyche of the people, particularly those who have lost their near and dear ones due to the deadly metallic balls. Those who have fully or partially lost the vision and are living in dark suffer in silence. The government should review the situation and put a full stop for the future use of pellet guns. Those who have lost their dear ones should be financially compensated or by provision of bread and butter. However, the clarion call of the people is the complete ban and stoppage of these pellet guns in order to prevent the further damage and restore the faith of the people in the system. The government of India should pass a resolution to put a terminal pause to the use of pellet guns in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The vital task for the current times is to build a consensus for the total pellet ban. The use of non-lethal methods by the security agencies like water cannons could be the best alternatives. This will not only restore the faith of the people in governance, but also generate a feeling of belongingness among the masses. The bruised scars of the pellets have defaulted the trust of the people in the political system. Although, the situation is worrisome for one and all, but, in which direction the boat sails lies with the future course of action. After all action speaks louder than the words.

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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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South Asia

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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