Google CEO Sundar Pichai Receives Padma Bhushan

International Desk,
Google CEO Sundar Pichai Receives Padma Bhushan

Google CEO Sundar Pichai Receives Padma Bhushan

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Sundar Pichai one of the most renowned CEOs in the world has been awarded Padma Bhushan, one of India's highest civilian awards.

India's ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu awarded the civilian award to Google and Alphabet CEO in San Francisco.

Sandhu on Twitter said, "Delighted to hand over Padma Bhushan to CEO @Google& Alphabet @sundarpichai in San Francisco. Sundar's inspirational journey from #Madurai to Mountain View, strengthening India-US economic and technology ties, reaffirms Indian talent`s contribution to global innovation."

After receiving the honorary award, the Google CEO in a blog post expressed his gratitude and thanked Sandhu. According to the blog post, Pichai said he is fortunate to grow up in a family that cherished knowledge. He said that he is blessed to have parents who sacrificed a lot to make sure that he gets opportunities to explore his interests, ANI reported.

Pichai added, "India is a part of me. I carry it wherever I go. (Unlike this beautiful award which I will keep somewhere safe)."

The Google CEO also appreciated Indian PM Modi's Digital India vision, saying that the has certainly been an accelerator in the process. He said that he felt proud of the investment that he had made in the digital vision project. They recently announced an investment of $10 billion in India to make internet access easy and build products for India's unique needs using AI.

Talking about India, he said that out of 24 languages on Google Translator, 8 of them are native to India.

He added, "We're also investing deeply in digital skilling, and have trained over 1 million women through our WomenWill Entrepreneurship Program and over 55,000 teachers in partnership with the government and local organizations. We`ve also sponsored over 100,000 Google Career Certificate sponsorships in collaboration with the NASSCOM Foundation and Tata Strive."

Pichai said that he is looking forward to continuing a great partnership between Google and India.

Deep Mistrust that Afflicts India-China Relations

Claudia Chia
Deep Mistrust that Afflicts India-China Relations

Deep Mistrust that Afflicts India-China Relations

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On December 9, 2022, armed forces from India and China clashed near Tawang in the eastern sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), resulting in injuries on both sides. After the two sides disengaged, local commanders held a flag meeting two days later.

Only on December 13 were official statements released, in which Beijing indicated that the border situation remained "generally stable" and New Delhi stated that the issue had been taken up “through diplomatic channels.”

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, both sides gave different accounts of what caused the incident: China’s Western Theatre Command claimed that its soldiers came across Indian troops "illegally crossing" the border during a routine patrol, whereas the Indian Army claimed that it was Chinese troops that had “tried to transgress the LAC…and unilaterally change the status quo."

Considering the longstanding disagreement over the alignment of the LAC and the deep mistrust that afflicts India-China relations, the latest border clash in December hardly comes as a surprise to observers. Notably, the LAC, albeit known as the de facto border between India and China, has not been delineated or mapped. Bilateral discussions in the early 2000s came close to an exchange of maps, but the talks were abruptly halted.

In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed resuming the process of LAC clarification during a lecture to students at Tsinghua University, but this was not accepted by China. Both countries continue to harbour different perceptions of the LAC’s position in thirteen locations along the border. The absence of a formal agreement on the exact location of the line has naturally led security patrols on both sides to come into frequent contact in grey areas.

Further, there has been an upsurge in the level of military activity and tensions along the LAC ever since the lethal Galwan Valley crisis in June 2020, which saw fatal casualties on both sides.

Reportedly, there has been sporadic minor border troubles, occurring on an average two to three times per month. In the western sector, there are still ongoing talks on troop disengagements post Galwan. The most recent round of China-India Corps Commander Level Meeting—its 17th edition—took place after the Tawang clash on December 22 and failed to produce any breakthroughs. In other words, the disengagement negotiations have not been followed by a de-escalation of border tensions.

In addition, both India and China have continuously strengthened their infrastructure-building activities in the border areas. China’s border infrastructure development can be traced back to the 1990s in Tibet. More recently, satellite images, echoed by US intelligence reports, continue to occasionally reveal Chinese construction of new roads and villages, as well as upgrading of existent infrastructures in disputed areas.

In order to catch up, India has begun to accelerate its own border infrastructure construction. India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently inaugurated the new Siyom bridge in Arunachal Pradesh as part of a series of infrastructure projects by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Of the 6,000 km of roads built across India over the past five years, 2,100 km have been along the country’s northern borders. India has also increased its number of troops along the LAC and deployed US-made weaponry to boost its defence capabilities.

Concurrently, China has stepped up its recruiting efforts for personnel to join local militias and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) stationed along the border. Fortunately, despite the volatile situation, both parties have continued to adhere to the prohibition of guns and explosives within 2 km of the LAC as stipulated in their 1996 agreement. Any fighting that has taken place has been hand-to-hand, occasionally accompanied by clubs, sticks and rocks.

In Indian and Western media, several analysts have suggested the recent clash was triggered by the India-US military exercise in the nearby northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, about 100 km from the LAC, in late November. The joint exercise was condemned by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for being inconducive to mutual trust between the two countries and violating the "spirit" of India-China bilateral agreements. China’s state-owned English-language newspaper, Global Times, labelled it as an American effort to “strengthen military cooperation with India to embolden India to provoke China in a more aggressive manner.” In a similar vein, Chinese analysts cautioned India of being bamboozled by the US.

There is relatively scant attention on the December border clash in China’s media. Global Times published only two brief articles directly addressing the incident. It did feature an op-ed by Qian Feng, Director of the Research Department at the National Strategy Institute in Tsinghua University, who wrote that India has perpetuated the “victim mentality” despite being the perpetuator of the border tensions. Other Chinese news outlets also framed the December incident as an Indian provocation, urged India to restrain its front-line troops and stressed China’s call for peace.

Within the Indian media landscape, there are ubiquitous reports highlighting "Chinese aggression" and India’s efforts to bolster security along the LAC. Interestingly, there appears to be internal divisions within the India’s policy circles and political class regarding India-China dynamics and how to deal with China. The opposition criticised the Modi administration for being a "mute spectator" to increased Chinese pressures, and staged several walkouts in the parliament to protest the government's refusal to discuss India-China boundary issues in the Indian legislature.

Another potential irritant could be the maiden visit of Penpa Tsering, President of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, to Tawang in early November. He interacted with the Tibetan community as well as Arunachal Pradesh officials, where he spoke of Tibetan grievances under Beijing. Following the December clash, he publicly criticised Chinese actions and stated his recognition of Tawang (and the entire Arunachal Pradesh) as an integral part of India.

The Tawang region is of particular geographical significance and political salience to Beijing. It is the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama and home to Tawang Monastery, the second largest monastery in the world, built by the fifth Dalai Lama and where the current Dalai Lama sought shelter after fleeing Tibet in 1959.

According to official Chinese rhetoric, Tawang is a part of South Tibet, also known as Zangnan; it is an inherently Chinese territory and under the Chinese Communist Party’s governance. From China’s standpoint, India has long been providing sanctuary to Tibetan troublemakers and threatening Chinese national security on its southwestern frontier. Dai Bingguo, former State Councillor and China’s Special Representative for the boundary talks with India in the early 2000s, once highlighted that the "disputed territory in the eastern sector of the China-India boundary, including Tawang, is inalienable from China's Tibet in terms of cultural background and administrative jurisdiction.” The visit to the region by US ambassadors in 2016 and 2019, and by the Dalai Lama in 2017, had been met with strong objections from China. Since Beijing does not accept the term "Arunachal Pradesh," it has made efforts in 2017 and 2021 to “standardise” the names of localities in Zangnan.

In parallel, Indian counterparts also engage in the act of “restoring” names to places within Tawang. Over the last decade, New Delhi has come to regard Beijing as a serious security threat in its neighbourhood. Due to the repeated border skirmishes, India’s initial assumption that trust-building through robust confidence building measures along the border and closer economic cooperation with China would help resolve bilateral differences have fallen through.

From the Chinese perspective, the underlying boundary dispute is only a minor part of the overall India-China relationship and should not harm the development of bilateral ties. During his visit to New Delhi in March 2022, then-Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi posited that "China and India pose no threat but offer development opportunities to each other" and urged India to put border differences “in a proper place.”

This approach is unacceptable to India, which believes that only when the border situation is stable and peaceful can bilateral relations normalise and improve. In a recent interview with Austrian state broadcaster ORF, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar claimed that China had violated bilateral agreements not to mass forces in border areas.

It is abundantly clear that China and India have fundamentally different approaches to their bilateral ties. Unless and until there is a reconciliation of the two approaches, as well as an easing of the infrastructure race, their bilateral relationship will remain tense, and the LAC will continue to slip deeper into the cyclical pattern of clash-disengage-talk.

Aside from the boundary dispute, both China and India have challenged each other in the maritime realm. The curious case of the first China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation, held in Kunming on November 21, 2022, saw the conspicuous absence of India, which is a prominent player in the Indian Ocean.

According to its official statement, Beijing invited over nineteen countries, fourteen of which, were members of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). India was not apparently invited. Given that China is an IORA dialogue partner—not a member—this initiative highlights China’s efforts to further strengthen its position in the Indian Ocean, by consolidating friends and partnerships in the region to counter the influence of the Quad and the US-led Indo-Pacific framework.

The increasing participation of India in the Quad initiatives and growing strategic convergence between India and the US have stemmed largely from concerns about the rise of China. India’s drive to forge deeper relations with like-minded Indo-Pacific powers who are equally concerned with Chinese assertiveness could constitute an ‘external-balancing-for-security strategy.’ Additionally, over the last few years, India has devoted substantial resources to develop its indigenous defence industry to build self-reliance. On dealings with China, Jaishankar noted that he hoped India occupied more of China’s foreign policy “mind space” and asked Beijing to recognise India’s aspirations and equivalent status as a rising power.

Both Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi made initial efforts to improve relations as evidenced by the two informal summits in April 2018 and October 2019, the latter being the last bilateral summit-level meeting. Post-Galwan however, there has not been any meaningful interaction between the two leaders. In 2022, their encounters at various international summits like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in September 2022, the G20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in November 2022, have witnessed either zero or minimal interactions. At the G20 and APEC summits, Xi spoke separately with each of the Quad leaders (Australia, the US and Japan) except Modi. Moving forward in 2023, with India serving the presidencies of the G20 and the SCO, officials from both sides are bound to have opportunities to meet, but minimal interaction is expected. In its presidential role, India would certainly have the chance to shape the global agenda; it remains to be seen what New Delhi will make of this opportunity. The new year also marks the tenth anniversary of Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative, a timely opportunity to take stock of how far China has come in its grand foreign policy endeavours.


NATO and Turkey

News Desk,
ছবি: সংগৃহীত

ছবি: সংগৃহীত

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According to the latest analysis of the 'Foreign Policy' journal on global situation, there was so much emerging hope in the conflicting context of the the world, particularly regarding NATO.

When Finland and Sweden officially applied for NATO membership last May, abandoning decades of neutrality in Helsinki and more than a century of nonalignment in Stockholm, U.S. and European officials celebrated the historic step as a major strategic defeat for Russia, stemming from its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The only thing NATO leaders needed to do to lock this in was get their house in order to admit them.

Cut to eight months later, and 29 of NATO’s 30 members have signed off on expanding the alliance, but there’s still one holdout blocking the whole thing: Turkey. (Hungary, the other holdout, has said it will ratify Sweden and Finland’s bids in February.)

Sweden and Finland, backed by NATO powers, have carefully tried to court Turkey to agree to greenlight NATO expansion through a painstaking, monthslong diplomatic campaign that appears to have run aground. Turkey, Finland, and Sweden signed a memorandum at the NATO summit in Madrid last June signaling there’d be an end to the impasse, but no one spoils otherwise routine NATO business better than Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has dug his heels in—amid a critical election season in Turkey—over claims that Sweden harbors militants from a separatist Kurdish group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group designated as terrorists by the United States and European Union that Turkey has been fighting for more than 30 years.

In the early months of the NATO expansion process, Finland and Sweden vowed to move in lockstep with each other and coordinate entering NATO at the same time. Now, after eight months of impasse, Finland is reportedly considering going for a membership bid alone. And the prospect of expanding the alliance to 32 members—once seen as a foregone conclusion—now appears more remote than ever.

Turkey had already been stalling on a parliamentary vote needed to ratify Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership for months by the time the clock rolled around to 2023, looking for a variety of concessions—such as deportations of people from Nordic countries viewed by Erdogan as terrorists—that seemed like nonstarters.

But the prospect of Swedish membership, which was first jeopardized by the past government’s ties to Kurdish parties (which their successors distanced themselves from), now appears much more remote after a far-right politician in Sweden burned a Quran at a protest early in January, a move that directly angered Erdogan. That led to Turkey canceling a meeting to hunker down with Swedish and Finnish officials to talk about their NATO membership—indefinitely.

On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was “meaningless” to hold a trilateral meeting to clear the air this month in Stockholm.

Finland is now considering moving ahead with a solo effort for NATO membership if Turkey continues to balk at Sweden’s bid, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said on Tuesday.

But on the other hand, Turkey’s gambit may be time sensitive. Turkey’s elections are set for May 14, and Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades, faces his toughest test yet, with critics calling out the 68-year-old leader for presiding over a severe economic downturn and the erosion of democratic freedoms. (The six-party opposition group opposing Erdogan has yet to put forward a candidate.)

Months ago, when your trusty SitRep writer was in Finland reporting on NATO issues and asking how Sweden and Finland were preparing for a new era of showdowns against Russia, a Finnish official joked to him that “the Swedes are prepared to fight to the last Finn.”

A good natured joke between two neighbors, but the underlying point stands. Finland shares one of the longest borders with Russia in Europe, and friend or not, it acts as a giant, country-sized buffer between Sweden and Russia. So while many U.S. and NATO officials are quietly fuming over what they see as Turkey’s intransigence, they also concede that from a purely geopolitical or defense planning perspective, it may be better to get Finland—the “front-line” country—into NATO as soon as possible.


Natural gas runs short in China

News Dask,
Natural gas runs short in China

Natural gas runs short in China

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China is the latest country to be affected by the global energy disruptions that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But after spending on costly “zero Covid” measures, local governments have few resources to to buy expensive natural gas.

According to news agencies, China’s national government has told local governments to provide heat, but it has not given them money to pay for it. Mass-testing campaigns in the final days of “zero Covid” drained their coffers. As a result, provincial and municipal governments have reduced customary subsidies for natural gas, which used to keep a lid on heating bills.

Now, gas is effectively being rationed, with households receiving the minimum needed for cooking food but very little for heat. Tens of millions of people are angry, and their frustration has spilled over to social media. “Nothing seems to be working, partly because nobody seems to have much cash,” one expert said.

China, like Europe, has long relied on Russia for some of its gas. But Europe has had an unusually warm winter, which has pushed gas prices lower there and helped countries get through the squeeze. In China, by contrast, unusually bitter temperatures have pushed gas prices higher. Climate change may usher in an era of trade wars.

It’s in the best interest of the U.S. to help China develop new treatments to blunt Covid’s spread, Michael V. Callahan, an expart argues.


Security Disorder: Is There a Way Out?

Herbert Wulf
Photo: Collected

Photo: Collected

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Putin's war against Ukraine has not only damaged the cooperative security architecture but destroyed it permanently. The Helsinki Act of 1975, the Paris Charter of 1990 and the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 created a basis for security cooperation in Europe – even "a new era of democracy, peace and unity" as the Paris Charter titled euphorically. At least that's how state leaders saw it at the decade after the end of the Cold War.

Today, the war in Ukraine casts a long shadow over European security. Cooperation has been replaced by military confrontation. Economic cooperation has been destroyed, fear of dependence in the energy sector has led to a turning point, and the concept of the positive effects of economic interdependence has not only proven to be a misperception in the case of Russia, but also does not work in the relationship between the US and its Asian and European allies vis-a-vis China. On the contrary, the shift towards confrontational, essentially military-based, defence policy is felt globally.

Global military spending is at its highest level ever at over $2 trillion ($2,000,000,000,000). Considering the budget announcements for the next few years, this sum will continue to rise rapidly year after year. Nuclear weapons have come back into focus – both their modernization as well as an expanded nuclear sharing of non-nuclear states and the possible use of nuclear weapons. After Russia's surprise attack, which most experts did not consider possible, it is understandable that now—as a first reflex—most countries are rearming, economic dependencies are being reduced and that there are concerns about critical infrastructure. Nor is it just about traditional military threats. The boundaries between war and peace are blurred. Hybrid warfare, deployment of mercenaries, cyberwarfare, destruction of critical infrastructure, undermining social cohesion with disinformation campaigns and election interference, sanctions and other measures of economic warfare have become standard measures of international confrontation.

Is there a way out of the constant political, economic and, above all, military escalation? Despite the seeming hopelessness of an end to the power struggle with Putin, despite the escalating situation in East Asia, despite the many wars and conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Mali etc. that are now less noticed but nevertheless characterized by brutality – it is necessary to think about the possibilities for ending these wars. In my opinion, this should happen in parallel at three levels: security, political/diplomatic and economic.

With all due understanding for the now hectic procurement of new weapons, it must be borne in mind that security policy is more than defence with weapons. Even if there is currently no obvious way in sight for a negotiated solution to the Ukrainian war, it nevertheless needs attention. Ultimately, this war can only be ended by agreements at the negotiating table. To this end, it is necessary to consider the interests of the warring parties. Even if Russia has launched the Ukraine war in violation of international law and is obviously committing war crimes, in the long term there will be no security in Europe without Russia and certainly not against Russia. The consideration of Russian security interests is a prerequisite for de-escalation, for serious negotiations, as difficult as this is facing Russia’s aggression and Putin’s image of a future Russia.

Politically/diplomatically, it is necessary to question the current geopolitical orientation in the concert of powers. Many countries rely on a military-based geostrategic foreign policy. China's assertive military, foreign and economic policies are rightly viewed with concern. But the EU also wants to become militarily autonomous. The US is trying to find partners for its policy of rivalling with China. Other powers such as Australia, Japan and India are also positioning themselves in the competition with China.

Instead, it is necessary to focus on values (democracy, human rights) and binding rules (international law), even though Putin has blatantly violated international law and democracy is a foreign word in China. It is necessary to radically change the narrative. The "West", which rigorously demands the rule of law and democracy, has all too often emphasised these values and principles in a know-it-all manner. ("The West against the rest"). It often applied double standards and ignores these values themself, as in the so-called War on Terror and the Iraq war. If these principles and projects pro-democracy and against autocracy are to be convincing, then the concept of the "West" must be completely abandoned and instead a partnership and not Euro-centric (or "Western-centric") relations with democratic countries must be maintained. In short, geopolitics that maximises only one's own advantages leads to a dangerous dead end; the clash is inevitable.

Is the sole answer of the "West" really to use military means to prevail in geopolitical competition? Economically, it makes sense to reduce dependencies and diversify supply chains. This cannot be done by radical decoupling but must happen gradually. Apparently, the shock of the pandemic, but above all Russia's ability to blackmail by stopping energy supplies, has changed priorities somewhat. But by no means all priorities. Never since the early 1990s has the military burden on global income been as high as it is today, well over two percent with a trend towards further increases.

Arms control is currently not on the agenda. The United Nations and other arms control forums are side-lined. Politically ambitious powers such as China, India, Turkey and Saudi Arabia must be involved in arms control efforts. The G20 summits offer themselves almost "naturally" as the appropriate forum. The G20 initially focused its talks primarily on macro-economic issues, but have now also negotiated sustainable development, energy, the environment, and climate change, but not seriously on global security policy. However, the 19 G20 member states and the EU, which is also a member, are responsible for 82 percent of global military spending. Almost all arms exports are accounted for by the G20 and 98 percent of nuclear warheads are stored in their arsenals. Today's military-based defence efforts are concentrated in the G20.

Climate change and armaments policy are interconnected – most clearly reflected in the wars and violent conflicts of recent decades, refugee movements, migrant flows, and corresponding counter-reactions. If our societies are to become more resilient and ecologically sustainable, then priorities must be changed. Such a large proportion of resources cannot be permanently invested into the military without the prospect of de-escalation.

Although the risks of climate change and armament are known, there is currently no reversal of the trend in sight. The two crises are heading for a seemingly irrefutable catastrophe, reminiscent of the image of lemmings and their fall into the abyss. After the old world order with a halfway functioning multilateralism, with compromises and give-and-take, was replaced by nationalist aspirations—which then led to the violation of international law in the case of Russia, by emphasising nuclear weapons and the ruthless pursuit of supposed self-interests—climate agreements are being called into question and even terminated, arms control forums and corresponding treaties are being scrapped.

The members of this exclusive club are the main perpetrators of climate change. The climate change deniers can also be found here. The G20 members bear the main responsibility for the current disastrous trends. Thus, it is time to remind them of their responsibilities and urge them to reverse their policies.

[ Herbert Wulf is a Professor of International Relations and former Director of the Bonn International Center for Conflict Studies (BICC). He is presently a Senior Fellow at BICC, an Adjunct Senior Researcher at the Institute for Development and Peace, University of Duisburg/Essen, Germany, and a Research Affiliate at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago, New Zealand. He serves on the Scientific Councils of SIPRI and the Centre for Conflict Studies of the University of Marburg, Germany. ]

This article was first published by Toda Peace Institute on 21 December 2022 and is reproduced with permission.