Showing posts with label South Asia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Asia. Show all posts

19 February 2018

Is This the End of the Two-Party System in Bangladesh?

By K.S. Venkatachalam

Less than a year ahead of national polls, the leader of Bangladesh’s opposition party has been convicted of corruption.

Bangladesh’s democracy stands at a crossroads with the arrest and conviction of Khaleda Zia, chairman of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the main opposition party. Zia, twice prime minister, was recently convicted by a Bangladeshi court and sentenced to five years in prison in a corruption case. Zia was accused of transferring 21 million taka($252,200) from the Zia Orphanage Trust to her personal account from 2006 to 2008.

18 February 2018

Understanding China’s Response to the Rakhine Crisis

Following attacks on police posts by an armed Rohingya militia in August 2017, reprisals by the Burmese government have precipitated a humanitarian crisis. More than six hundred thousand Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, where they face an uncertain future. Publicly stating that the root cause of conflict in Rakhine is economic underdevelopment, China—Burma’s largest neighbor and closest trading partner—has put itself in a position to promote its large-scale infrastructure investments as a means of conflict resolution. This Special Report examines the reason why Chinese engagement is likely to continue to prioritize a narrow range of issues in Rakhine that reinforce its own economic and diplomatic interests, but fail to influence the complex drivers of the current humanitarian conflict or the Burmese government’s involvement in human rights abuses. 

14 February 2018

Religion and Violence in Myanmar

By Matthew J. Walton

Since late August, more than 600,000 Rohingya have left Myanmar, fleeing a state-led campaign of violence against them. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority and predominantly live in Rakhine State, in Myanmar’s west. They have experienced persistent, institutionalized discrimination for years. (The members of the state’s Rakhine Buddhist majority believe that they, too, have been discriminated against, mostly by the central government.)

12 February 2018

India's New Gateway to Bhutan Northeast India could be Bhutan’s new gateway to the world.

By Nihar R. Nayak

India's New Gateway to Bhutan
Northeast India could be Bhutan’s new gateway to the world. 

Adding another feather to 50 years of diplomatic relations, Bhutan opened its second consulate office in eastern India on February 2, 2018 at Panjabari in Guwahati, Assam. Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay, who attended the Global Investors Summit 2018 hosted by Assam, was present at the inaugural ceremony. The office was inaugurated jointly by Bhutan’s Foreign Minister Damcho Dorji and Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal. Later, in the opening session of the investment summit, Tobgay said, in The Shillong Times’ words, that “Bhutan stands to benefit from a prosperous Assam and the country was looking forward to capitalize on the Global Investors Summit.”

21 December 2017

What Caused the Left Alliance's Landslide Victory in Nepal?

By Kamal Dev Bhattarai

In the recently concluded elections for the House of Representatives (Nepal’s lower house) and provincial assemblies of Nepal, the two communist parties, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and CPN (Maoist Center) — which joined forces for the elections under the banner of a left alliance — won a landslide victory. The left alliance has now secured overwhelming majorities in both the federal bicameral legislature (the House of Representatives and National Assembly) and the provincial assemblies. The left alliance is also likely to form governments in six out of seven provinces.

14 December 2017

Maldives downgraded to ‘fragile state’ by IMF

The Maldives has been downgraded to a “fragile state” by the IMF because of the tense political situation, the way business is regulated and how the country’s finances and budgets have been run in recent years. The new classification is the latest blow to the Maldivian economy from the institution, which has repeatedly spoken of the high levels of debt being driven by the current administration’s ambitious infrastructure scale-up.

Sri Lanka signs share ownership agreement with China on Hambantota Port commencing operations

Dec 09, Colombo: Sri Lanka on Saturday signed share ownership agreement with China on Hambantota Port formally handing over the operation of port to the state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings Company (CMPort). The agreement was signed today between Sri Lanka Ports Authority and China Merchant Port Holdings, Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) and Hambantota International Port Services (HIPS) under the patronage of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the parliamentary complex.

13 December 2017

China-Maldives FTA among 12 agreements penned during Yameen’s visit

A controversial Sino-Maldives free trade deal was among 12 bilateral agreements penned during President Abdulla Yameen’s three-day state visit to China. The FTA was signed by the Maldivian economic development minister and the Chinese minister of commerce at a ceremony held Thursday at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing as President Xi Jinping looked on with President Yameen. The opposition cried foul after the country’s first FTA was rushed through parliament last month but the government says it will open up the world’s largest consumer market for tariff-free fish exports. The Maldives also committed to waive import duties for Chinese goods.

16 November 2017

Bangladeshi Hindus: Less Than 5 Per Cent, Very Soon

“‘Below five per cent’ is a huge psychological and physical setback for non-Muslims in an increasingly Islamist country. Once our population falls below 5 per cent, we are doomed. We will have to convert or leave the country.” Last week’s attack on Hindus at Thakurpara in Rangpur in which about 30 houses belonging to Hindus were torched and many more were looted follows a pattern. Islamist mobs, egged on by radical Wahhabi clerics, started burning and looting houses and attacking Hindus and temples after an alleged Facebook post by a Hindu defaming Islam. Investigations have revealed that the rumours about the Facebook post were patently false and spread by hardline Islamist clerics. Last year, too, false rumours about a fake Facebook post triggered widespread attacks on Hindus at Brahmanbaria that left hundreds of families homeless and 15 temples destroyed.

25 October 2017

Nepal: The Grand Leftist Alliance and its Aftershocks: update No. 353

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

The Grand Leftist Alliance forged on October 3 by the two major Communist Parties and the newly formed Naya Shakti of Baburam Bhattarai took the political circles by surprise. In the just concluded local body elections, the two parties- UML and the Maoist Centre fought bitterly with no holds barred in most of the constituencies and yet soon after the conclusion of the last group of elections in province number 2, the two joined together to form the alliance and thus pushing the democratic forces into a “panic mode.”

16 September 2017

No simple solution to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar

Lex Rieffel

Reporters on the scene are saying that 300,000 or more members of the Rohingya community (of Muslim faith) in Buddhist-majority Myanmar have fled across the border into Muslim-majority Bangladesh in the past two weeks. The refugees have been describing to reporters a litany of human rights abuses: homes burned, women raped, men beheaded, and more. 

Editorial writers and columnists around the world have slammed Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor and leader of the National League for Democracy of Myanmar, for allowing the atrocities to occur and have even demanded that the Nobel Committee withdraw the Peace Prize awarded to her in 1991.

As a scholar focusing on Myanmar for the past 10 years, during which I have visited the country more than a dozen times, I know how horrible the situation is. I have been to Rakhine state and have seen the Rohingya confined to a refugee camp on the outskirts of the state capital of Sittwe. At the same time, I believe that much of the media commentary is misdirected. It fails to describe the complex origins of the problem and explain how intractable it is.


Why is Aung San Suu Kyi, the political leader of Myanmar, being “dethroned” by the international media and denounced by people who once idolized her? 

She has not publicly condemned the operations of the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, that prompted the flight of Rohingya to relative safety in Bangladesh. I will explain later why “Daw Suu,” as she is referred at times by Burmese citizens, has not done this.

Why is the Tatmadaw conducting these operations?

11 September 2017

India’s Balancing Act in Myanmar

By Harsh V. Pant

India’s approach to Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis demonstrates the tension between its geopolitical interests and values.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Myanmar this week has once again underlined why New Delhi struggles to maintain a delicate balance between its strategic interests and its democratic ideals when it comes to its neighborhood. This visit came at a time when the Myanmar government and Aung San Suu Kyi are facing global condemnation for their handling of the Rohingya crisis in a repeat of what had happened five years ago during a military campaign that displaced more than 100,000 Rohingya.

But this time the scale of the crisis is huge and Suu Kyi’s reputation itself is at stake. The United Nations has warned that up to 300,000 Rohingya could stream into neighboring Bangladesh as they flee “clearance operations” by Myanmar’s armed forces. For her part, Suu Kyi – the de facto leader of Myanmar – has blamed “terrorists” for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” and has refused to take a conciliatory position. In her first remarks since the crisis started in Rakhine state last month, Suu Kyi has suggested that her government was facing its “biggest challenge.”

“It is a little unreasonable to expect us to solve the issue in 18 months,” she said. “The situation in Rakhine has been such since many decades. It goes back to pre-colonial times.” Though she made it clear that the government needed to “take care of everybody who is in our country, whether or not they are our citizens,” she also underlined that “our resources are not as complete and adequate as we would like them to be but still, we try our best and we want to make sure that everyone is entitled to the protection of the law.”

30 August 2017

The Bumpy Relationship Between India and Myanmar

By Amara Thiha

The relationship between Naypyidaw and Delhi is not smooth sailing, despite the recent visit of Myanmar military officers to India. Naypyidaw’s announcement about not setting up a trading zone at the Indian border, due to a lack of basic infrastructure and low trading volume, ends the series of negotiations between India and Myanmar for border trading. Although the India-Myanmar border is more than 1600 kilometers, border trading is still a castle in the air, as Myanmar needs infrastructure upgrades.

Three weeks after this announcement, India imposed a restriction on importation of pegon pea, toor dal, uradand moon dal. This restriction directly affects the Myanmar, with over 700 tons of pea and dal, approximately worth $500 million, now holding at warehouses. Although the trading guild informed the government of negotiations on the August 8, Naypyidaw’s diplomatic attempts on securing a safety net seem to be failing. This commodity represents approximately four percent of total export from Myanmar.

India is not the only country to impose restrictions on the import of agricultural products. China also restricted rice and sugar importing from Myanmar; however, commodities are smooth flowing through border trading. There may still be border trading along the Myanmar-India border and Tamu trading post, but dal is already a surplus commodity in India and the competition may tight for imported dal.

28 August 2017

Myanmar’s problem state

Lying on the border with Bangladesh, with more than 100,000 internally displaced people following bouts of violence in 2012 and 2016, Myanmar’s Rakhine State is racked with communal tensions that show no sign of abating. For the Rohingya Muslims, who account for roughly a third of the state’s population but who are deprived of citizenship, access to education and healthcare is severely limited by the government.

At the same time, the majority ethnic Rakhine, who are Buddhist, also face entrenched poverty after decades of neglect by government. Overall, 78 per cent of the population lives in poverty making it the poorest state in Myanmar, which is the poorest country in Southeast Asia.

On June 13, 2017, news broke that Renata Lok-Dessallien, the United Nations top official in Myanmar, was being replaced. A BBC report at the time cited her shortcomings as a leader: there were tensions among her ‘dysfunctional’ team, and her approach was perceived as failing to give priority to the rights of the Rohingya. Lok-Dessallien was known for her co-operative − some say sympathetic − relationship with the government that sought to coax decision-makers into changing their behaviour, rather than the uncompromising and very public approach to human rights protection advocated by others. Her dismissal has been taken as a repudiation of her strategy. It has raised questions for aid donors and diplomats in Myanmar. Can the international community effect change in Rakhine? And if so, how could this be done in a country where the military still holds the levers of power?

27 August 2017

India Feels the Heat From China's Belt and Road

By Dhruva Jaishankar

In May, when China organised a major summit in Beijing around its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as 'One Belt, One Road', or OBOR), one invited country was completely absent: India. In response to queries, New Delhi issued only a short statement that underscored the benefits of 'enhanced physical connectivity' but listed a set of criteria that such initiatives must follow. These included avoiding 'unsustainable debt,' taking into account 'environment protection,' making a 'transparent assessment of project costs,' guaranteeing the transfer of 'skill and technology' to local communities, and respecting 'sovereignty and territorial integrity.'

The message was clear: BRI did not satisfy these requirements. India's concerns have since been partially echoed by other major countries and companies including the European Union, the United States, and Japan.

There are certainly reasons to be somewhat sceptical about BRI's future success. There are gaps between the sums promised and delivery on the ground. New investment commitments might bedeclining. Chinese companies have often struggled in new operating environments. Much of the financing has gone to pet projects or constituencies of local leaders. Chinese initiatives have sometimes resulted in popular protests (and occasionally violent opposition) in Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and East Africa. And Beijing's propensity to sweep many existing initiatives under the BRI umbrella or shower state support on nominally-linked projects tends to inflate its importance. Despite the bold public face, some Chinese analysts and businesspeople acknowledge these deficiencies in private.

25 August 2017

Nepal-China-India: Three’s a Crowd?

By Narayani Basu

Time will tell how Kathmandu chooses to navigate strategic waters that have become undoubtedly tricky sailing. 

On August 23, Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba will arrive in India to begin a four day state visit. The visit will be Deuba’s first trip abroad, and comes as the Himalayan nation struggles to find its footing in a regional rivalry that is literally and metaphorically bigger than Nepal itself. Since the standoff between India and China in Doklam — a hitherto little-known strip of land at the tri-junction between Bhutan, India and China — began in June this year, the question of where Nepal stands in the conflict has been worrying Kathmandu.

Theoretically speaking, Nepal’s preferred (and pragmatic) stance has been one of what it terms “equidistance” — essentially a fine balancing act between an erstwhile strategic protector and a new (and far richer) investor. In practice, of course, matters have been a little different, with ties between the two countries sliding backwards since 2015. India’s tactless (but unofficial) five-month blockade at the border with Nepal over its concerns about the rights of the Madhesi people saw bilateral relations take a severe hit, both economically and politically. Coupled with the earthquake that further crippled the Nepali economy in 2015, it was the perfect time for China to make its official entry. This it did in the form of massive investments in infrastructure, a trump card that it has played with unfailing success in smaller, poorer countries (and continents, in the case of Africa), which are always desperately in need of a helping hand. Not surprisingly, then, 2016 saw China sailing past India into the list of top assistance providers to Nepal, and with $3.8 billion being pledged by Beijing this year alone, India’s own commitments, at $317 million, are embarrassingly dwarfed. In a move that is very welcome to Nepal, feasibility studies are underway for a Beijing-backed railway connecting Kathmandu to Lhasa in Tibet, cutting straight through the formidable barrier of the Himalayas, at an estimated cost of $8 billion.

22 August 2017

Nepal's China Challenge

An unprepared Nepal has been blindsided by the glitter of proposed Chinese investments which could compromise its sovereignty

Nepal’s International Airport, even before Kathmandu gets a chance to introduce itself, a large flex-banner advertisement yells from the ground-floor landing: ‘shop from the ‘Made in China’ mall, only one-hundred-and-fifty kilometres away from Kathmandu.’ The mall called Gyidragon, which is a cross border-shopping platform working out of Gyirong port in China, holds special significance for the people of Nepal. During the Madhesi blockade of 2015, supplies were sent from the port to ease the distress in the country. The drift of this message is that distances between Nepal and its northern neighbour have collapsed: goods can travel either two days by road, or two days by train and China is willing to move mountains to come closer.

This high decibel propaganda is not just limited to a random hoarding but is overwhelmingly visible in the discourse and the manner in which the Chinese are pushing hard to enlarge their control and influence in the landlocked Himalayan country. Nepal’s decision to sign the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of the Chinese government is whetting their appetite for sneaky expansion and spread of their hegemony. They are taking advantage of the schism in the Nepalese society between the people of the hills and the Madhesis, the people of the plains and the angst towards India to push for their geostrategic objectives.

21 August 2017

Asian Security 2017 Endangered by China and its Proxies War-Mongering

By Dr Subhash Kapila

China and nuclear weapons states created as proxies by China, that is, North Korea and Pakistan, have rendered Asian security as explosive in 2017 by their unrestrained war-mongering and sabre-rattling impacting Indo Pacific Asia pointedly.

The United States which is the main intended target of China in 2017 in China’s bid to emerge as the “Strategic Equivalent” of America, needs to awaken to the dangers posed by China and its nuclear proxies not only to Asian security but also to United States more pointedly. Successive American Presidents have failed via their China-accommodative strategies to persuade China to act as a responsible stakeholder in Asian and global security.

The Asian security environment in 2017 presents the sordid spectacle where an aggressive China reminiscent of Hitlerian Germany and totally oblivious to its responsibilities as a “Responsible Power” by virtues of its Permanent Membership of the UN Security Council has unleashed a ‘tsunami’ of war-mongering and sabre-rattling directly against its peer Asian rival India, besides against Japan in the East China Sea and against Vietnam in the South China Sea.

China’s main target, however, is not Asian nations but the United States. China is targeting the United States in a two-pronged strategy. The first prong is war-mongering and sabre-rattling against Asian nations perceived by it to be close to the United States----India, Japan and Vietnam. The second prong is aimed at the United States directly by proxy use of North Korea and its nuclear and missiles arsenal capable of hitting the United States.

Sri Lanka’s Hambantota gambit


Sri Lanka’s pact with China for Hambanbota port may well be a case of strategic deception, and not just a political balancing act between India and China.

Late last month, Colombo inked a revised version of a $1.1 billion deal for leasing the Hambantota port to a Chinese state-run company. The port has been controversial ever since the China Merchants Port Holdings (CMPort) signed a framework agreement in December 2016 with Sri Lanka, taking an 80% stake in the project. Following the deal, however, there was much domestic unrest and accusations by Sri Lanka’s opposition parties of a sell-out to China, forcing Colombo to reconsider its position.

Sri Lanka also recognised regional concerns that Chinese control of Hambantota would result in its greater use by the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). In particular, Colombo empathised with a growing sense in New Delhi that China’s expanding naval presence in South Asia represented a deliberate violation of India’s strategic redlines.

Sri Lankan leaders say the new deal corrects all that was wrong with the 2016 agreement. Besides restricting CMPort’s stakes to 70% (the lease period remaining at 99 years), Colombo has ensured that the port will not be used for military purposes. The pact limits CHPort’s role in running commercial operations by splitting the administrative functions between two companies. With a capital of $794 million, Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) will run operations at the port and its terminals. Controlled by CMPort, it will hold an 85% stake, with the rest held by Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). The second company, Hambantota International Port Group Services (HIPS), will have a capital investment of $606 million and oversee security operations, with the SLPA holding a 50.7% stake and CHPort, 49.3%. Colombo says the agreement gives it full control over security matters, as also the right to inspect ships entering the port.

20 August 2017

Sri Lanka's Debt and China’s Money

By Umesh Moramudali

Faced with difficult choices, Sri Lanka has to hope China’s Belt and Road can bring prosperity. 

Recently, the Sri Lankan government signed a concessionary agreement for a joint venture between the China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (CMPort), China’s state-owned port company and the Hambantota port, which is the second largest port in Sri Lanka. According to the agreement, 70 percent of the Hambantota port will be owned by the Chinese company while the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) owns the remaining shares.

The port deal, which has led to many controversies, was not the most favorable choice for the government but it was perhaps the only choice.

By now, Sri Lanka’s situation in terms of managing the external debt is quite distressing. As Sri Lanka was upgraded to a middle income country, most of its concessionary debt was cut off and this scenario forced the government to obtain commercial debt. In addition to the Export-Import Bank of China (China Exim Bank) loans taken at a higher interest, funds were raised through sovereign bonds at commercial interest rates.

As a result, over the last decade the composition of the country’s external debt has changed dramatically, with a shift toward costlier, non-concessional debt from previously available concessionary debt. Accordingly, in 2006, only 6 percent of external debt was commercial debt, but by 2012 it exceeded 50 percent of the external debt. This has resulted in a drastic surge in interest paid on external debt, leaving the country rather vulnerable to an economic crisis.