Global perils for India Inc.

The airport in Male, capital of the Maldives

Indian diplomats are having to navigate a tricky course in supporting Indian businesses in the Maldives and elsewhere

A couple of seemingly unconnected stories this week have more in common than expected, IISS’s Sanjaya Baru suggests in a new column in the Economic Times. Indian-born British tycoon Lakshmi Mittal has found himself at the centre of an attack by French politicians: he is accused of ‘lying’ and failing to keep his promises to France over plans to close blast furnaces owned by his firm ArcelorMittal. Meanwhile, a spokesperson from India’s ministry of external affairs set a new benchmark in diplomacy by publicly complaining about a decision by the Maldives government to cancel Indian group GMR’s contract for the upgrade and management of the airport in Male, the Maldives capital.

Both cases raise interesting questions about government backing for domestic businesses. In these instances, the businesses are Indian, but the phenomenon cuts both ways. Western governments have also often expressed concerns about their firms and brands being targeted by campaign groups in India. ‘More recently, even Chinese diplomats have had to step in to protect the interests of their firms in India,’ Baru writes.

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Myanmar ‘delivers’ nuclear transparency

President Barack Obama tours the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Burma. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

In the run-up to presidential visits aides look for achievements that can be announced, typically agreements on trade and the like. Called ‘deliverables’ in the diplomatic argot, they are often the currency of exchange for deciding on travel destinations.

So when it was announced that US President Barack Obama would include Burma in his mid-November trip to Southeast Asia, there were concerns and questions, including from Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, about whether Myanmar deserved the honour. What ‘deliverable’ would warrant bestowing a presidential visit on a country that had not yet fully emerged from its decades of authoritarianism and human-rights abuses?

But as it turned out, the quid pro quo for Obama’s visit was significant indeed. To the delight of the
non-proliferation community, Myanmar said it would accept the global standard for nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), known by the catchy name of the ‘Additional Protocol’.

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Iron Dome: a double-edged shield?

Iron Dome in action in Ashdod: Photo: IDF on Flickr

By Brigadier Ben Barry, Senior Fellow for Land Warfare

‘Missile defence saves lives,’ the Financial Times declared this week, ‘in Israel (and Gaza too).’ Of the many observations being made about the recent exchange of rockets and missiles between Hamas and Israel, and Israel’s decision to step back from the brink of a full-scale invasion of Gaza this week, a recurrent theme has been the success of Israel’s Iron Dome short-range rocket-defence system.

The eight-day conflict was the system’s first operational test, and some have even suggested that by limiting Israeli deaths to five civilians and one soldier it may have helped to avert a ground invasion. Four batteries of system, part-funded by the US, had been fielded outside Gaza by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) during the past two years. A fifth battery that was being used for test purposes was quickly pressed into service to protect Tel Aviv, while Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence to halt Hamas’s rocket attacks from Gaza.

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Japanese election with a difference

Japan's National Diet building. Photo Credit: Flickr/chaojikazu

By Jens Wardenaer, Research Analyst and Editorial Assistant

Japan is facing another general election in December, after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda dissolved the Lower House of the Diet last week. Noda – Japan’s sixth premier in as many years – announced his intention to go to the polls during a parliamentary debate, saying: ‘Let’s do it’.

The main campaign issues will be tax and nuclear power. The emergence of a nationalist ‘third force’ involving Shintaro Ishihara, the nationalist former governor of Tokyo is also making this election one to watch. Ishihara triggered the current flare-up with China, and is now helping to challenge the dominance of Japan’s two main groupings: Noda’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is currently in opposition.

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Engaging Kim Jong-un’s North Korea

© Korean Friendship Association

By Carolyn Mullen, Research Assistant and Programme Co-ordinator, IISS Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

When I learned of Kim Jong-il’s death last December, many questions came to mind. Perplexed by the spectacle of Pyongyang’s public mourning, I wondered how his successor could hope to fill the shoes of the ‘Dear Leader’. Relatedly, would the power transition in North Korea be a stable process? If not, what sort of unrest, internal and external, could be expected? Or, if the transition did go smoothly, what impact might a new leader have in terms of the DPRK’s foreign policies – should we expect more of the same petulant behaviour, or prepare for something worse? Something new?

Since ascending to power 11 months ago, it has become apparent that Kim Jong-un – Kim Jong-il’s son and North Korea’s new ‘Supreme Leader’ – rules with a distinctly different style than his reclusive father did. He has given multiple public speeches, hobnobbed with soldiers and students, and even openly acknowledged the failure of the 15 April rocket launch – a concession that would have been unthinkable under his father’s purview. Kim Jong-un, sometimes accompanied by his fashionable and photogenic wife, Ri Sol-ju, has attended events that feature Disney characters, Rocky Balboa and Frank Sinatra – Western cultural icons that the DPRK’s leaders have never fully approved of. Last summer, analysts fixated on photos of women in Pyongyang wearing short skirts and high heels instead of their more traditional grey, drab outfits.

What are we to make of these colourful changes?

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ASEAN: India’s other neighbours

Phnom Penh: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with others Head of States  pose a group photo during a 10th ASEAN-India Summit  at Peace Place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Monday. PTI Photo by Kamal Singh

The tenth summit between India and ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is under way in Cambodia during the first half of this week – as part of the 21st ASEAN summit. And to coincide with the ASEAN-India meeting, IISS Director for Geo-economics and Strategy Sanjaya Baru has an article in the Hindu discussing  the concept of India’s ‘neighbourhood’. He starts with the recently redesigned website of India’s External Affairs Ministry (mea.gov.in), which ‘has a link right on top of its home page, just below the photograph of the new Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, to ‘India and Neighbours’.

‘Sadly,’ Baru continues, ‘the ‘neighbours’ listed are only her so-called ‘South Asian’ neighbours, the inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent. One cannot blame just those who have constructed this website for this myopic view of what constitutes India’s neighbourhood. The occupants of New Delhi’s Raisina Hill have for long seen only the Himalayas, the deserts and the Gangetic plains around them. When one thinks of the ocean as a barrier rather than a bridge one cannot come around to thinking of countries on the other side of the waters as ‘neighbours’.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has never been a victim of this common Delhi affliction. Why, only earlier this year he told the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations, Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, that India and Thailand are ‘maritime neighbours’. That is a message that Dr Singh has proudly carried in recent years to Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

However, in repeating that message to his hosts at the ASEAN-India Summit on Monday, Dr Singh must remember that India’s eastern maritime neighbours expect a little more attention than they are getting.
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End of the Hu era

Place marker for President Hu Jintao during official White House visit/ Official White House photo/Chuck Kennedy
By Christian Le Miere, Research Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

We all knew Hu Jintao was saying farewell this week, but perhaps few suspected just how little influence China’s president for the past decade would retain in the upper echelons of the communist party politburo that succeeds his.

Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang have been installed as secretary-general and deputy secretary as predicted, and will assume their positions as president and premier in March. But there have been some surprising omissions from the new politburo standing committee (PSC) announced at the end of the week-long 18th national party congress.

The ‘Shanghai faction’ associated with Hu’s  presidential predecessor, Jiang Zemin, appears to have triumphed in the Chinese Communist Party’s internal tussles, while several of  Hu’s  associates were left on the side lines of today’s slimmer, seven-strong standing committee (down from nine members).

The 69-year-old Hu has also unexpectedly stepped down as the chair of China’s Central Military Commission (CMC).

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