Jun 26 2014

In Singapore, the Shangri-La Dialogue reflected tensions in Asian security

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By Kamila Pieczara, PhD student in Politics and International Studies (PaIS), Warwick University


2002 was a year of crisis between Pakistan and India, which almost resulted in war.[1]

140530-M-EV637-359This was also the year of the first Asia Security Summit, convened in Singapore by the London head-quartered International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS): the Shangri-La Dialogue. The IISS chief executive Dr John Chipman informed the audience in that year’s Dialogue about the connection between the Indo-Pakistani conflict and the summit’s mitigating role, showing that summit diplomacy can mean more than simply words to be forgotten. Apart from the role of the Shangri-La Dialogue in appeasing the Indo-Pakistani conflict, another example he quoted was of the IISS’s Middle East Manama Dialogue 2013, where Chuck Hagel promised to foster links with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and followed up on that task in 2014.

A specific dialogue at the Shangri-La emerged between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army General Wang Guanzhong and the U.S. Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel, and between the Chinese representative and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. China took note of the indirect messages aimed at it in Shinzo Abe’s speech at Shangri-La, which approved of the ‘rule of law at sea’, and of the direct messages in Hagel’s statement: that the United States will “not look the other way” in response to China’s “unilateral” actions. Furthermore, General Wang noted that Japan, in Shinzo Abe’s speech, went against the “spirit” of the Dialogue, by indirectly criticizing China. Wang’s responses came in his speech on Sunday, 1st June, while Abe’s speech took place on Friday (30th May) , and Hagel spoke on Saturday (31st May).

While many reports focus on the interaction of Gen. Wang with Prime Minister Abe and Chuck Hagel, it would be unbalanced to portray three intensive days as containing only one dominant theme. Notable was also the French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian’s speech, in which he drew lessons from the French engagement in Africa for their possible application in the Asia-Pacific region. Of further note was also the discussion on crisis management in the region, with reference to the missing plane of Malaysian airlines (MH 370). Another Asia-Pacific power to participate was Russia, represented by the deputy defence minister, Anatoly Antonov, who curiously fell short of including Ukraine in his prepared remarks, and chose to elaborate on the so-called “colour revolutions” of the Middle East and North Africa.

What could we have expected from this year’s Summit? It would be refreshing if China took home the message that some rationale underpins the generally critical reception of its actions, and a mixed reception of Gen. Wang’s speech, which was followed by a multitude of remarks from the audience. If China instead perseveres on the course of collision, on which it is now, then its Shangri-La speech will be a true reflection of its actual position.

China is now in a serious spat over the Senkaku Islands (in Japanese)/ Diaoyu (in Chinese), and is also in conflict with Vietnam. China placed an oil rig recently in disputed waters. That other Asian countries, especially in Southeast Asia, seem to welcome Abe’s promise of Japan’s increased participation in dealing with those security issues should come as no surprise. Why is China surprised by such a course of events? What would China expect of Japan: to completely withdraw from voicing its position on regional affairs? That is unrealistic. Japan will certainly not guard other states’ interests, if this is what China fears. Instead, a more intensive Japanese participation will lead to more balance, which is needed for smaller countries that cannot shape events on their own. Of course, China’s position is to some extent understandable. If it acted according to international law, as it stands, it is likely to lose its claims. This was rightly observed by Singapore’s Defence Minister, Dr Ng Eng Hen, in his closing address at Shangri-La on the 1st June.

It would be over-optimistic to expect that a summit could change the course of events. This year’s Shangri-La Dialogue was a rather faithful portray of tensions which haunt the region, and added to these were the many divisions that have spread throughout maritime Asia. While the Shangri-La Dialogue witnessed many reproaches of major nations vis-à-vis one another’s behaviour, it is indisputable that these open statements served transparency and an exchange of information, rather than the escalation of conflict. Next year, and in the years to come in Singapore, it should be possible to say whether the interaction of Asian powers, ASEAN members, and external actors, led to any betterment in Asian disputes and tensions overall.

As the opening dinner and Abe’s speech at the 13th Shangri-La Dialogue was attended by Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister, the long history of Singapore’s place at the heart of Asian diplomacy became clear. Many tensions will persist, but efforts such as this security summit bring some peace to the troubled region.


[1]                       Andrew C. Winner and Toshi Yoshihara, ‘India and Pakistan at the Edge,’ Survival, 2002, 44 (3).

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May 27 2014

BJP Victory: Leadership Cult or Institutional Change?

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By Dr Manali Desai, Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Cambridge.


BJP Leader Narendra Modi Campaigns In GujaratThe BJP’s resounding victory in the 2014 elections is undoubtedly the start of a new era in Indian politics. It will reverberate regionally within South Asia, as well as globally with international investors and governments keen to enter the Indian market. In retrospect we might see the Congress victories of 2004 and 2009, significant as they were, as merely an aberration in the longer march of the BJP since the 1980s. Rising from the margins with a base among traders and small business, the BJP with its superior organizational skills and energetic cadre gradually extended the party’s reach not only among the urban middle classes but to farmers, tribal communities, and sections of the working poor. Its mantra has always been anti-corruption, but the particularly strident pro-business and Hindu nationalist combination has had massive appeal in the country’s majority Hindu population, and is unlikely to fade in the near future. Even a section of Muslim voters, not least in the state of Gujarat where a pogrom in 2002 killed nearly 2,000 people[1], have expressed a willingness to vote for the BJP. With others the pogrom barely registered as a concern. The BJP has steadily and astutely adjusted its Hindu nationalist appeal to fall in line with a global market orientation, modernizing its image, and trumping the Congress as a party of youth, aspiration and forward thinking.  Although analysts have rushed to draw comparisons between Narendra Modi and Obama, Lee Kuan Yew or Thatcher, a better comparison may well be Tayyip Recep Erdogan of Turkey whose Islamist neoliberalism has resonated with the lower middle classes in urban and rural areas. Indeed, among the bitter ironies the Congress Party will be contemplating in the lonely days ahead is that the party that initiated market reforms in 1991 is now seen as having failed the markets. The party leadership has been overall pro-business, although sections of the party under Sonia Gandhi supported ‘social democratic’ policies such as rural employment guarantees, free school meals, health care and education for the poor.  It is a second bitter irony, then, that these well-intended reforms should have brought the party little success. The 2014 election is indeed the worst ever defeat for the Congress Party, and may well beckon the end of the Gandhi dynasty. The mix of frustration, rage, and growing aspiration among its largely youthful population, where unemployment stands at record high, has propelled a somewhat anticipated anti-incumbent spirit into a powerful message to India’s leaders.

This heady mix could produce a dangerous and volatile polity when reality confronts inflated promise. As the Head of Emerging Markets for Morgan Stanley argues, the performance of the Indian economy has been closely tied to the global economy rather than to which party is in power[2]. In other words it makes little difference to the economy whether Congress or BJP rule. The real question we should be asking is what kind of party can harness a developmentalist momentum similar to Korea or Taiwan, prioritizing a medium and long term policy horizon rather than merely immediate political interests. Although many economists and media experts have counter-posed market growth to social development, in reality the experiences of Korea and Taiwan suggest that massive investments in education, health, and relative equality of rural assets (land reforms) are vital underpinnings for a high growth economy. At present neither has Modi’s state government in Gujarat, nor have the two Congress national governments (2004 and 2009) succeeded in arresting the pitiful condition of education, health, land inequality, environmental degradation, and gender inequalities that plague India. Although Gujarat boasts superior infrastructure, ease of doing business and a hospitable environment for investment compared with the national average, it is hardly unique. States such as Tamil Nadu, for instance, easily match this record; moreover, Tamil Nadu has a strong pro-welfare public policy regime which has eluded successive governments in Gujarat. Health indicators for women and children in Gujarat, for instance, are incredibly poor –  44.6% of children below the age of five suffer from malnutrition, while nearly 70% of children suffer from anaemia[3]. To create a judicious and mutually reinforcing relationship between growth and development (one that raises the overall levels of freedoms and capabilities as the economist Amartya Sen argued), requires a deeper level of institutional change than a mere change of party.  There are many mechanisms and laws, most significantly the Right to Information Act (2005) which empowers ordinary citizens to hold officials accountable for implementing the range of programs that exist on the books. This requires an active and procedurally just functioning of democracy.

The future seems wide open, not unlike at the moment of Obama’s victory. But some directions seem more likely than others, based on the BJP’s former tenures in power at the national level (1999-2004) and state level. First, undoubtedly its majority in parliament will give the BJP a mandate to proceed with market reforms at full steam. Among these will be the much anticipated labour reforms – India’s labour laws are likely to be liberalized further, but to do so will mean confronting the large public sector unions who have successfully opposed major labour reforms until now.  Given his close corporate links, Modi is unlikely to challenge the ‘race to the bottom’ model of global capitalism – Gujarat is the archetypal model of low-wage, informal sector driven growth where industrial and agricultural workers have few rights, and union representation and advocacy is among the lowest in the country. Second, less controversially, much needed investments in infrastructure such as power, transport, railways will be prioritized and bottlenecks removed. This will be a major boost for international investors, and is likely to create jobs in some areas.  Whether the quality and quantity of jobs will be enough to satisfy young voters is impossible to predict; the cost of failure, however, is potentially tremendous. Third, beyond the economy this decisive victory will undoubtedly embolden the BJP’s voluntary and activist arm. With a history of extreme intolerance, they are likely assert a Hindu cultural agenda in education[4], and attempt the police venues of artistic expression, as the recent controversy and withdrawal of Wendy’ Doniger’s book The Hindus suggests.  Fourth, Modi is likely to take a firm stance on internal and national security; among other issues including terrorism, he is likely strengthen his predecessor’s tough approach  to the Maoist guerrilla warfare raging in parts of eastern and southern India with major implications for the security and livelihoods of poor tribal communities in these regions. Finally, the election campaign with the rise of social media, holograms and other means of dissemination suggests that we are seeing the start of a new politics of personality cult which will change how democracy and dissent are accommodated in India. There is much to anticipate, and perhaps much more to be concerned about.

[1] Jaffrelot, Christophe (July 2003). “Communal Riots in Gujarat: The State at Risk?” Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics: 16.

[2] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/opinion/edit-page/Indias-unreal-election-debate/articleshow/33192451.cms?

[3] http://www.iamrindia.gov.in/ihdr_book.pdf

[4] http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/newdelhi/history-books-might-change-again-bjp/article1-1081239.aspx

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Apr 15 2014

The element of citizenship and the current political climate in Israel

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By Dr Lauren Banko, Senior Teaching Fellow, School of Oriental and African Studies, London.


Israeli PassportThe peace talks between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators that started in the summer of 2013 under the auspices of US Secretary of State John Kerry are likely to fizzle out with little fanfare in the beginning of this April. Palestinians express little faith in the process pointing to the continued policies of settlement building, plans for new settlements, recent bombings of the Gaza strip and the latest killing of three Palestinian ‘militants’ in Jenin in the West Bank.   Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu characteristically blamed the Palestinian negotiators for the failure claiming the Palestinian leaders breached trust by making steps to sign international treaties; meanwhile, Kerry blamed continued Israeli settlement-building.  It appears that the prospects of granting concessions to the Arabs in the occupied territories were surely no more than pipe dreams for Kerry and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas.

The debates surrounding the question of citizenship in Israel is complicated further still by recent developments. The first being protests in support of Israel’s 50,000 refugees mostly from Sudan and Eritrea who are granted few civil rights and lack the Israeli citizenship.  At the same time, the current government in Israel has passed a law to end the privileges of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish citizens, namely that of their exemption from military service.  This law should be implemented in 2017, provided that the legislation is not overturned.  Additionally, factions in the government are also close to ratifying a bill to include ‘Israel as a Jewish state’ in the country’s Basic Laws.

These issues come together in an interesting way when one considers the meaning of Israeli nationality versus Israeli citizenship, if these two things can be said to exist as separate statuses.  As David Sheen has recently shown, Israel, a state built upon refugees (often secular refugees) who arrived in the late 1930s and early 1940s, has now began to systematically target for detention and deportation the African asylum seekers in recent years.  In places like Tel Aviv, African asylum seekers are discriminated against on nearly all social and civil fronts in welfare, jobs, housing and even hospital care.  The discrimination and deportation of the non-Jewish refugees is not so different from the decades of work by successive Israeli governments to keep Palestinian Arab refugees from inside Israel’s borders, the latter shown here by Mark LeVine.

The Law of Nationality gives something more akin to ethnic identity to the Jewish population of Israel.  This is not exactly citizenship and thus Arab Israelis are classified differently to Jewish Israelis.  In the absence of a written constitution, civil and political rights of citizenship are codified elsewhere, such as in the above-mentioned Basic Laws.  The differences between nationality and citizenship have been debated in Israel in recent years and indeed since the founding of the state.  In the twentieth century as the nation-state emerged as the dominant political formation, nationality took on a meaning more akin to an ethnic identity whilst citizenship has been developed as a legal identity between an individual and his or her state.  Nationals might not necessarily be citizens, and thus can be deprived of the same rights of citizenship that citizens of the same territory receive.  Clearly then, as others have pointed out, it is difficult to reconcile the principles of equality of citizenship with an ethno-cultural determinate for membership in a democratic nation-state.  Hence the legislation to officially term Israel as a Jewish state fits into this debate on how to reconcile two different types of membership in a territorial and political entity.

The debate is not a new one in the history of former colonies.  ‘The citizen’ as an analytical category in the Middle East is currently a highly politicized topic of discussion, from Egypt to Palestine and from the United Arab Emirates to the Kurdish or Alevi populations of Turkey.  It was also a sort of analytical category at the time that citizenship was developed in the interwar Middle East, as it involved analysis as to which inhabitants of the Arab mandated territories were more ‘white’ or ‘European’ and thus qualified to receive the rights citizenship conferred.

After the First World War, the League of Nations conceived of nationality as flexible and thus transferable: Ottoman nationals (and Jewish immigrants to Palestine) could simply ‘become’ citizens of their new mandated states.  Still, colonial officials did not unanimously agree upon provisions for the transfer and grant of nationality in the Middle East.  Mandate officials became increasingly concerned with ensuring that legislation cultivated a sense of loyalty to the governments of Britain and France, as well as the mandate administrations.  This loyalty became a significant part of the naturalisation process in British-ruled Palestine before 1948.  According to British thinking at the time, colonial subjects could not become ‘British’ unless they were white.  Colonial officials based the national home policy of the Palestine mandate on a racial hierarchy between Jews immigrants and native Arabs, and looked toward the Jewish immigrants as the civilising influence in Palestine.  The markers of character and the nativist ideologies often behind this view “permeated debates over immigration restrictions,” as historian Ann Laura Stoler has shown in numerous colonial situations.  Character did not derive from abstract or universal values, argues Stoler, but rather “at its heart was a conception of being European that emphasised a bearing, a standard of living, a set of cultural competencies and practices to which members of the European community were to subscribe.”[1]  Hence, in early colonial discourse, citizenship was connected to having particular cultural and racial characteristics.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the Dutch and French in the Indies, Indochina and North Africa began to recognize, within colonial laws, that jus soli (right of the soil) and jus sanguinis (right of blood) could not determine national identity in the new colonial nation.  The British in Palestine adopted the same ideology and rendered birthplace and descent to no longer be the only determinants for the acquisition of nationality by inhabitants of colonies.  By the late nineteenth century, new criteria to mark citizens and nationals included middle-class values and morals as well as privileged ‘white’ backgrounds.

It seems that the Israeli nationality legislation is geared much toward the same objective of granting nationality to certain types of individuals—the religious component is not the only requirement taken into consideration yet it is a good excuse to deny asylum seekers and refugees the right to acquire citizenship.  With the colonial and postcolonial precedents in mind then, Israel’s denial of nationality to refugees, be they African or Arab, after significant time spent residing within Israel’s borders, is not a without firm settler-colonial basis.  Law-makers see the cultivation of loyalty and certain ‘civilised’ values through demanding that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state and that its potential nationals be required to possess Jewish ancestry.

To come back to the nearly-extinguished peace talks, the combined elements of discrimination against ‘black’ refugees in Israel, the law to force all Israelis to serve in the military and the proposal to term Israel a Jewish state in the Basic Laws, all pose new stumbling blocks for negotiators which are not part of the long-standing ‘Arab-Israeli’ conflict.  However, these elements are crucial in determining the nature of belonging in Israel, which will affect the Palestinian Arabs within the country’s borders, in the occupied territories and elsewhere in the refugee diaspora.  Indeed, this nature of belonging currently in effect will not be sufficient if it comes to the fore in peace negotiations especially as citizenship and nationality are core issues behind all attempts at progress towards either a one or two-state solution.

[1] Ann Laura Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 27.

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