The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is much more than just the Quad. There are multiple centres of power that encompass the region today. Here, I analyse the term’s metamorphosis from a geographic convergence of two oceanic landscapes into its current form as a geostrategic deterrent to the expansionism of one single power.
The Malabar naval exercise kicked-off this month with all four ‘Quad’ partners as participants in India’s maritime sphere nearly after 13 years since Canberra walked out of it, even though its continued participation in the coming years is not a guarantee. But it is certainly a possibility worth reckoning, considering Canberra’s close security relationship with the United States and also taking its own troubles with Beijing into account.
However, the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is much more than just the Quad powers alone. Its metamorphosis from the conceptualization of a geographic convergence of two oceanic landscapes into its current form as a strategic deterrent to expansionist endeavours of one single great power is an engrossing story to tell.
Origin, break-up, and re-birth of the idea
Even though this concept today finds an irreplaceable place in the daily foreign policy lexicon of all key democracies in Asia, Oceania, and most recently with Europe’s two great powers – France and Germany – the idea has its actual origins in the writings of Karl Haushofer, a German geopolitician, in the first half of20th century itself.
But, with an initial stall, the idea wouldn’t resurface in the public domain until former Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, rejuvenates it in his 2007 address to the Indian Parliament, titled, ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’. But, the idea was brewing up in the strategic circles of New Delhi to imbibe its new avatar in the mid-2000s itself.
Haushofer looked at the inter-related cultural dimension of the region from a German perspective alone. But today, it has evolved into a broader strategic construct that could potentially act as a ‘balance of power’ mechanism, while it can also be imagined as a geographic region.
And, with multiple centres of power in existence, differing in conceptualization of the term, unlike the politically neutral term ‘Asia-Pacific’, the region in the 21st century, could potentially rise to the significance of what the North Atlantic was in the previous century.
Asia-Pacific’s striking absence of India
What necessitated a transition from the Asia-Pacific to the Indo-Pacific? To understand that, the term ‘Asia-Pacific’ needs an introspection first.
Asia-Pacific emerged in the mid-1980s as a means to ensure co-operation in trade and commerce. But, it never included an unavoidable Asian power, both geopolitically and demographically in a stronger position, India.
Not only the Republic of India, but the Subcontinent and Ocean named after India also never found its place in this initial conceptualization of the geographic continuum that was restricted to the east of the Straits of Malacca, comprising of Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific only.
Asia-Pacific was focused more on trade and commercial co-operation. But, Indo-Pacific does have a political dimension, as it considers including ‘democracies’ primarily, along with other considerations like the geographic setting of the country.
Moreover, regional organizations like the Singapore-based Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) and the Jakarta-based Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) have significant potential to influence multilateral trade and international relations of the Asia-Pacific region.
Well, what about West Asia then? The need to include that region never arose at point of time, as it went with the socio-culturally different Middle-East, which glued well with North Africa owing to their similarity of Arab-dominant culture.
Rising China as a contributing factor
The significance of the Indian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean surged in the evolving geopolitical and geoeconomic scenario marked by a U.S. – China face-off that specifically deteriorated after 2012, when the over-ambitious Xi Jinping rose to power in Beijing, adding to America’s trepidations of a new superpower competitor from Asia.
In the past seven to eight years since Xi Jinping is elevated as China’s Supreme Leader the country gave revisionist expressions through its new policies and projects around the world, particularly like the 2013-initiated Belt and Road Initiative – the most ambitious infrastructure development project in modern history – spanning three geographically connected continents – Asia, Africa, and Europe –with China as its centre.
Beijing’s increased presence in areas where it historically never involved in, such as the Indian Ocean, in the past five years, where a strategy known as the ‘String of Pearls’ in which Beijing attempts to build or take control of strategically-located ports and bases in a way encircling India, has been perceived as expansionist.
It’s renewed aggressiveness with regard to Hong Kong, where Beijing recently established a security office and Taiwan where threat of an overnight invasion looms, or its building of artificial islands from previously what was coral reefs in the South China Sea for military purposes.
Beijing’s vaguely perceived historical claims to the sea as expressed in the ‘Nine Dash Line’ theory all have exacerbated Western and Indian fears of an expansion, which in turn necessitated the ideation of an alternative mechanism for balance of power, as articulated by Indo-Pacific. If the circumstances where such that Beijing’s rise was zero-disruptive to the existing world order, then perhaps, Asia-Pacific remained the same. But, that’s not the case now.
Thus, from an Asia-Pacific that was restricted to those countries in Asia and Oceania that shared maritime borders with the Pacific Ocean, a strategic thought-shift to include the ‘Indo-sphere’, consisting of the subcontinent and waters beyond the Straits of Malacca till the eastern shores of Africa took effect, as conceptualized by the ‘Indo-Pacific’. But, there was another problem – differing perceptions on the ideation of Indo-Pacific.
Power centers and differing outlooks
Well, it is widely perceived that the ‘Quad’ grouping of India, United States, Japan, and Australia is the major power center of the region, may be militarily. But actually it doesn’t give a complete picture.
There are other power centres, namely the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations), and the European Union, represented individually by France and Germany. Each of these nations and ASEAN as a whole has their respective separate outlooks on how to perceive the term Indo-Pacific, whether as a containment strategy aimed at Beijing, or as an all-inclusive one.
New Delhi views it as a region for mutual co-operation, rules-based order, without excluding any players, and it do not wish to view Indo-Pacific as a limited club of nations as articulated by PM Modi, two years back, in Singapore. However, it could be in line with New Delhi’s ‘Act East’ and SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) policies.
Tokyo’s strategy is also multilayered, from minilateral cooperation to an emphasis on more multilateral initiatives as articulated by the ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ outlook while maintaining a conditional engagement with Beijing. It envisions a hybrid future regional order in the Indo-Pacific.
ASEAN wishes to shield itself from a potential great power competition with an emphasis on mutual economic co-operation and rules-based order in the region.
But,the United States, particularly under Donald Trump, has been openly critical of Beijing’s moves in the region and never wishes to include China in its conceptualization of the Indo-Pacific, as it lacks the democratic values it stands for.
Washington, therefore, wants a containment of China’s expansionism to deal with the threat posed to American dominance in the region. Washington even renamed its Hawaii-based Pacific Command as the ‘Indo-Pacific Command’ in 2018 to reflect the importance of the term in a symbolic gesture. It wants to ensure that Beijing occupies only its rightful place in the world.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo embarked on an Asia tour in the last week of October, this year, including India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Indonesia, and Vietnam to strengthen Washington’s ties with friends and allies in the region and to bring more countries on its side.
Australia has its shores both in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Canberra views that it’s economic and security engagement in the Indo-Pacific will be anchored by long-term interests of Washington, with which it has a security alliance.
What France and Germany has to do with the Indo-Pacific?
French President Emmanuel Macron, in his speeches, reiterates that France is a great power in the Indo-Pacific. This is vindicated by the fact that Paris has its presence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans with five overseas departments or territories — New Caledonia and French Polynesia in the Pacific, and Reunion Island and Mayotte in the western Indian Ocean near to the shores of Africa.
Considering the aforementioned fact, with the region’s increasing geopolitical significance highlighted, France has recently appointed its first envoy for the Indo-Pacific an additional charge given to its Ambassador in Canberra.
Paris also wishes to focus its attention on regional peace and stability through confidence-building measures, maritime cooperation and sustainable development, among other things.
Germany is the most recent, and the second, European power to devise a strategy, or rather a policy, for the Indo-Pacific. For the EU’s economic heavyweight, this came as a means to secure its commercial and economic interest in the region.
At a time when the Berlin holds the EU Presidency, the German outlook for the region aims to promote a European Union strategy for the Indo-Pacific’ of which it will be a segment of, without exercising any real power, but with a support for multipolarity of the region.
Two months after Germany unveiled its Indo-Pacific policy, Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer recently stated that a German warship will patrol the Indian Ocean from next year, as part of Berlin’s plan to deal with Beijing’s recent moves in the region that has triggered a ‘rethink across Europe’.
This is significant considering New Delhi giving its approval for such a move in its own backyard. Same with the United States being permitted to open it’s first-ever Embassy in the Maldivian capital, Male, during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent visit to the archipelago. This can be seen as the beginning of a new geopolitical script being written in the Indian Ocean.
Potentiality of a new North Atlantic
With more and more countries rising up to Chinese expansionist and revisionist tendencies, particularly in the South China Sea, it naturally drives them closer to the United States and the Ind0-Pacific in the context of an unfolding cold war between Washington and Beijing. However, both sides have their own strategic, diplomatic, and economic leverages at use.
In the near future, the mechanism could possibly turn into an alliance if New Delhi dares to shed its highly-held policy of ‘strategic autonomy’ and apathy towards the alliance system.
The new logistics agreements which New Delhi signed in the past four years to expand the operational reach of the Indian Navy and the foundational agreements that it signed with Washington could see an upscale in terms of military-level and diplomatic-level engagements.
The other three Quad partners are already in formal security alliances with Washington, which makes India as the only country in the grouping that could determine the success or failure of the grouping in the near future.
The US has more overseas military bases than any other country on the planet. But, Beijing with challengeable economic and technological power, moving ahead with BRI projects and an expanding People’s Liberation Army (PLA), which recently became the world’s largest navy as estimated by the US Department of Defense in a report submitted to the US Congress this year.
The faultline of Taiwan is poised to escalate into a wider conflict in the near future as Beijing turns impatient on re-uniting the island with the mainland. Same with worldwide distrust of Chinese 5G technological companies such as Huawei and ZTE, that allegedly has links to Chinese Communist Party ruling establishment.
More national governments could follow Canberra and London soon in banning these companies for 5G trials and rollout, including perhaps New Delhi which has banned Chinese apps recently owing to the clashes it has with Beijing in their Himalayan borders.
Meanwhile, countries like Sri Lanka, where Beijing successfully operationalized its irrevocable ‘debt-trap diplomacy’, will be left with no other option but to throw their weights behind Beijing, and the same goes with many African countries where China is making huge investments despite having losses, supposedly for strategic gains.
With all pieces in place, the world may witness the Indo-Pacific emerging in this century as what the North Atlantic was in the past century. However, the region still lacks an institutionalized framework or organizational set-up like NATO or OSCE to formalize and legalize its purpose, which might see a change soon enough as more and more countries come out recognizing the looming threat posed by Beijing.
India’s Unclear Neighbourhood Policy: How to Overcome ?
India has witnessed multiple trends with regards to its relations with its neighbours at a time vaccine diplomacy is gaining prominence and Beijing increasing the pace towards becoming an Asian superpower, whereby making these reasons valid for New Delhi to have a clear foreign policy with respect to its neighbourhood.
The Covid Pandemic has led to increased uncertainty in the global order where it comes to power dynamics, role of international organisations. New Delhi has tried to leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with its immediate neighbours. It has distributed medical aid and vaccines to smaller countries to enhance its image abroad at a time it has witnessed conflicts with China and a change in government in Myanmar. These developments make it imperative for New Delhi to increase its focus on regionalism and further international engagement where this opportunity could be used tactically amidst a pandemic by using economic and healthcare aid.
According to Dr. Arvind Gupta, New Delhi has to deal with threats coming from multiple fronts and different tactics where it is essential for New Delhi to save energy using soft means rather than coercive measures.. India under Vaccine Maitri has supplied many of COVAXIN doses to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka where many have appreciated this move. The urgency of ensuring humanitarian aid during these periods of unprecedented uncertainty are essential in PM Modi’s Security and Growth For All ( SAGAR) initiative, which focusses on initiating inclusive growth as well as cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.
This pandemic witnessed various threats coming in India’s neighbourhood through multiple dimensions which include maritime, land, cyber as well as air threats where adversaries are using these to put pressure on New Delhi to settle land as well as marine disputes as per their terms. These encirclement strategies have made it necessary for India to open up various options such as holding maritime joint exercises with like-minded countries, developing partnerships, providing economic as well as healthcare support to weaker countries plus having a clear insight about changing global dynamics and acting as per them.
This piece will discuss about various changing tactics, pros and cons which India has with respect to developing its national security vis-à-vis its neighbourhood, why should it prioritise its neighbourhood at the first place?
India’s Neighbourhood is filled with many complexities and a lot of suspicion amongst countries, some viewing India because of its size and geography plus economic clout as a bully where it is wanting to dominate in the region putting others aside. This led to New Delhi play an increased role in nudging ties first with its neighbours with whom it had multiple conflicts as well as misunderstandings leading to the latter viewing Beijing as a good alternative in order to keep India under check.
Ever since PM Modi has taken charge at 7 RCR, India’s Neighbourhood First Policy has been followed increasingly to develop relations, to enhance understandings and ensure mutual cooperation as well as benefit with its neighbours. The relations with Islamabad have not seen so much improvement as compared to other leaders in the past. Even though former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited for PM Modi’s 1st Swearing In ceremony in 2014, terrorist activities have never stopped which could be seen through Pathankot, Uri and Pulwama terror attacks which killed many of the Indian soldiers. Even though surgical strikes were conducted on terror camps in retaliation to these bombardments, Islamabad has not changed its heart at all about its security or regional demands. New strategies and friendships are being developed where Beijing has played a major role in controlling power dynamics.
The Belt and Road initiative, first time mentioned during President Xi’s 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, then officially in 2015, lays emphasis of achieving a Chinese Dream of bringing countries under one umbrella, ensuring their security, providing them with infrastructure projects such as ports, railways, pipelines, highways etc. The main bottleneck is the China Pakistan Economic Corridor when it comes to India’s security threats, passing through disputed boundaries of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir till Gwadar. Other projects have been initiated in Chittagong, Hambantota, Gwadar , Kyapkyou. These projects form a String Of Pearls in the Indo Pacific where New Delhi is being balanced against through economic plus development incentives being given to the member countries under the project. That’s why in the recent past, New Delhi is asserting its influence in the region, looking at new dimensional threats where Beijing’s threats in the maritime domain in the islands in East as well as South China seas are not being seen favourably in many countries such as ASEAN, US, Australia and Japan which is giving India an opportunity to look towards countries with a common threat. Amidst this great power struggle between Washington and Beijing, New Delhi is stuck between a rock and hard place i.e., having a clear and strong foreign policy with its neighbours.
In this region, India has a sole threat which is mainly Beijing where the latter has achieved prowess technologically and militarily where New Delhi lags behind the latter twenty fold. So, there is a need for improvising military technology, increase economic activities with countries, reduce dependence on foreign aid, ensure self-reliance.
South Asia is backward when it comes to economic development, human development and is a home to majority of the world’s population which lives below poverty line. The colonial rule has left a never-ending impact on divisions based on communal, linguistic and ethnic grounds. Even, in terms of infrastructure and connectivity, New Delhi lags behind Beijing significantly in the neighbourhood because the latter is at an edge when it comes to bringing countries under the same umbrella. Due to these, many initiatives have been taken up by New Delhi on developing infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid to needy countries.
There have been numerous efforts made by India with respect to reaching out to the Neighbours in 2020 through setting up of the SAARC Covid Fund where many Neighbourhood countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka gave contributions to ensure cooperation, joint scientific research, sharing information, healthcare kits where the countries contributed USD $ 18 million jointly towards this fund where New Delhi made an initial offer of USD $ 10 million.
New Delhi has even mustered ties with the Association of Southeast Asian countries during the pandemic under its Act East Policy where proper connectivity through the Northeast could be useful in easing movement of goods but currently, the infrastructure in Northeast needs more improvement where issues such as unemployment, poor connectivity are prevalent whereby disconnecting it from rest of the other states. This region could play an important role in linking Bangladesh, Myanmar to New Delhi along with the proposed India-Thailand –Myanmar Trilateral Corridor. Focus has also been laid to develop inland waterways, rail links and pipelines to ease connections between countries, making trade free and more efficient.
India is focussing on developing the Sittwe and Paletwa ports in Myanmar under the Kaladan Development Corridor, at the cost of INR 517.9 Crore in order to provide an alternative e route beneficial for the Northeast for getting shipping access
These above developments and power display by a strong adversary, give good reasons for New Delhi to adopt collective security mechanisms through QUAD, SIMBEX and JIMEX with a common perception of having safe and open waters through abiding to the UNCLOS which China isn’t showing too much interest in, seen through surveillance units, artificial islands being set up on disputed territories which countries likewise India are facing in context to territorial sovereignty and integrity. These developments make it important for India to look at strategic threats by coming together with countries based on similar interest’s vis-à-vis Chinese threat.
There is a need for India to develop and harness its strength through connectivity and its self reliance initiative ( Aatmanirbharta ) so that there is no dependence on any foreign power at times of need . Proper coordination between policy makers and government officials could make decision making even easier, which is not there completely because of ideological differences, different ideas which makes it important for the political leadership to coordinate with the military jointly during times of threats on borders. Self-reliance could only come through preparedness and strategy.
India is in big trouble as UK stands for Kashmiris
A London-based law firm has filed an application with British police seeking the arrest of India’s army chief and a senior Indian government official over their alleged roles in war crimes in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Law firm Stoke White said it submitted extensive evidence to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Unit on Tuesday, documenting how Indian forces headed by General Manoj Mukund Naravane and Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah were responsible for the torture, kidnapping and killing of activists, journalists and civilians – particularly Muslim – in the region.
“There is strong reason to believe that Indian authorities are conducting war crimes and other violence against civilians in Jammu and Kashmir,” the report states, referring to the territory in the Himalayan region.
Based on more than 2,000 testimonies taken between 2020 and 2021, the report also accused eight unnamed senior Indian military officials of direct involvement in war crimes and torture in Kashmir.
The law firm’s investigation suggested that the abuse has worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It also included details about the arrest of Khurram Parvez, the region’s most prominent rights activist, by India’s counterterrorism authorities last year.
“This report is dedicated to the families who have lost loved ones without a trace, and who experience daily threats when trying to attain justice,” Khalil Dewan, author of the report and head of the SWI unit, said in a statement.
“The time has now come for victims to seek justice through other avenues, via a firmer application of international law.”
The request to London police was made under the principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which gives countries the authority to prosecute individuals accused of crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.
The international law firm in London said it believes its application is the first time that legal action has been initiated abroad against Indian authorities over alleged war crimes in Kashmir.
Hakan Camuz, director of international law at Stoke White, said he hoped the report would convince British police to open an investigation and ultimately arrest the officials when they set foot in the UK.
Some of the Indian officials have financial assets and other links to Britain.
“We are asking the UK government to do their duty and investigate and arrest them for what they did based on the evidence we supplied to them. We want them to be held accountable,” Camuz said.
The police application was made on behalf of the family of Pakistani prisoner Zia Mustafa, who, Camuz said, was the victim of extrajudicial killing by Indian authorities in 2021, and on behalf of human rights campaigner Muhammad Ahsan Untoo, who was allegedly tortured before his arrest last week.
Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the past two decades in Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.
Muslim Kashmiris mostly support rebels who want to unite the region, either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
Kashmiris and international rights groups have long accused Indian troops of carrying out systematic abuse and arrests of those who oppose rule from New Delhi.
Rights groups have also criticized the conduct of armed groups, accusing them of carrying out human rights violations against civilians.
In 2018, the United Nations human rights chief called for an independent international investigation into reports of rights violations in Kashmir, alleging “chronic impunity for violations committed by security forces”.
India’s government has denied the alleged rights violations and maintains such claims are separatist propaganda meant to demonize Indian troops in the region. It seems, India is in big trouble and may not be able to escape this time. A tough time for Modi-led extremist government and his discriminatory policies. The world opinion about India has been changed completely, and it has been realized that there is no longer a democratic and secular India. India has been hijacked by extremist political parties and heading toward further bias policies. Minorities may suffer further, unless the world exert pressure to rectify the deteriorating human rights records in India.
S. Jaishankar’s ‘The India Way’, Is it a new vision of foreign policy?
S. Jaishankar has had an illustrious Foreign Service career holding some of the highest and most prestigious positions such as ambassador to China and the US and as foreign secretary of India. Since 2019 he has served as India’s foreign minister. S. Jaishankar also has a Ph.D. in international relations from JNU and his academic background is reflected in this book.
His main argument is simplistic, yet the issues involved are complex. Jaishankar argues that the world is changing fundamentally, and the international environment is experiencing major shifts in power as well as processes. China is rising and western hegemony is declining. We are moving away from a unipolar system dominated by the US to a multipolar system. Globalization is waning and nationalism and polarization is on the rise (p. 29). The old order is going away but we cannot yet glimpse what the future will look like. This is the uncertain world that Dr. Jaishankar sees.
Dr. Jaishankar also argues that India too has changed, it is more capable and more assertive. The liberalization program that began in 1991 has made the Indian economy vibrant and globally competitive and it is well on track to becoming the third biggest economy in the world, after China and the US. The war of 1971 that liberated Bangladesh, the liberalization of the economy after 1991, the nuclear tests in 1998 and the nuclear understanding with the US in 2005, Jaishankar argues are landmarks in India’s strategic evolution (p. 4). So given that both India and the system have changed, Jaishankar concludes, so should India’s foreign policy.
But his prescription for India’s foreign policy, in the grand scheme of things, is the same as before – India should remain nonaligned and not join the US in its efforts to contain China. India will try to play with both sides it seems in order to exploit the superpowers and maximize its own interests (p. 9). But he fails to highlight how India can find common ground with China other than to say the two nations must resolve things diplomatically. He also seems to think that the US has infinite tolerance for India’s coyness. In his imagination the US will keep making concessions and India will keep playing hard to get.
Jaishankar has a profound contradiction in his thinking. He argues that the future will be determined by what happens between the US and China. In a way he is postulating a bipolar future to global politics. But he then claims that the world is becoming multipolar and this he claims will increase the contests for regional hegemony. The world cannot be both bipolar and multipolar at the same time.
There is also a blind spot in Jaishankar’s book. He is apparently unaware of the rise of Hindu nationalism and the demand for a Hindu state that is agitating and polarizing India’s domestic politics. The systematic marginalization and oppression of Muslim minorities at home and the growing awareness overseas of the dangers of Hindutva extremism do not exist in the world that he lives in. He misses all this even as he goes on to invoke the Mahabharata and argue how Krishna’s wisdom and the not so ethical choices during the war between Pandavas and Kauravas should be a guide for how India deals with this uncertain world – by balancing ethics with realism (p. 63). Methinks his little digression in discussing the ancient Hindu epic is more to signal his ideological predilections than to add any insights to understanding the world or India’s place in it.
One aspect of his work that I found interesting is his awareness of the importance of democracy and pluralism. He states that India’s democracy garners respect and gives India a greater opportunity to be liked and admired by other nations in the world (p. 8). Yet recently when he was asked about the decline of India’s democratic credentials, his response was very defensive, and he showed visible signs of irritation. It is possible that he realizes India is losing ground internationally but is unwilling to acknowledge that his political party is responsible for the deterioration of India’s democracy.
This is also apparent when he talks about the importance of India improving its relations with its immediate neighbors. He calls the strategy as neighborhood first approach (pp. 9-10). What he does not explain is how an Islamophobic India will maintain good relations with Muslim majority neighbors like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Pakistan.
The book is interesting, it has its limitations and both, what is addressed and what is left out, are clearly political choices and provide insights into how New Delhi thinks about foreign policy. So, coming to the question with which we started, does India have a new foreign policy vision? The answer is no. Dr. Jaishankar is right, there is indeed an India way, but it is the same old way, and it entails remaining nonaligned with some minor attitudinal adjustments.
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