Blinken as new US Secretary of State to push India UN role and closer ties

Antony Blinken, US President-elect Joe Biden’s closest foreign policy adviser, has been nominated for Secretary of State.

What will be the Biden-Blinken approach to India?

India a “High priority relationship”

On July 9, Blinken spoke at the Hudson Institute, Washington DC. “Strengthening and deepening the relationship with India is going to be a very high priority.”

Biden role

“During the Bush administration, then Senator Biden partnered with that administration to help get the peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement, the 123 agreement through the United States Senate, usually important to solidifying our relationship,” Blinken said.

Defence Cooperation

Blinken talked about the Biden administration making India a “major defence partner”. This is a major new statement on defence.

Paris Climate Change Pact

“Having sort of set that foundation and made the relationship stronger, guess what? We then worked hard to persuade India that it would be more prosperous and more secure if it’s signed on to the Paris Climate Agreement. We succeeded… It was a challenging effort but Vice President Biden was one of the leaders of the effort to convince our partners in India and they did. I think that’s a reflection, again, of the fact that we cannot solve common global challenges without India as part of the deal,” Blinken said. 

Kashmir & CAA

Blinken flagged concerns on the human rights situation in Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act.

India leading role in UN

On August 15, Blinken again participated in a panel discussion on Indo-US ties and flagged the issue of UN reforms. “In a Biden administration, we would be an advocate for India to play a leading role in international institutions and that includes helping India get a seat on a United Nations Security Council,” he said.

China challenge

“We have a common challenge which has to deal with an increasingly assertive China across the board, including its aggression toward India…I think you’d see Joe Biden as president investing in ourselves, renewing our democracy, working with our close partners like India, asserting our values and engaging China from a position of strength. India has to be a key partner in that effort,” he said.

Cross-border terrorism

Blinken also addressed New Delhi’s concern of cross-border terrorism, without naming Pakistan. “We would work together to strengthen India’s defence and also I might add its capabilities as a counterterrorism partner.”

Biden’s vision 2020

Blinken quoted Biden from 2006 — just before he was going to take charge as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007-2009 — “My dream is that in 2020, the two closest nations in the world will be India and the United States.”

Can China become a likeable, trusted power?

China is living in a hostile external environment – mostly of its own making.

Recent aggressive rhetoric plus trade restrictions on Australia and border battles with India are leading examples of how China is projecting itself and the world is worried.

But China also means to become moderately prosperous by 2035. It will need to overcome global misgivings if this is to be achieved.

Andrew K.P. Leung is an independent China strategist and has written about this for the South China Morning Post.

Here are 10 steps China should take, according to Leung

First, get the message firmly across that China is neither able nor willing to unseat the US as the global superpower. China cannot compete with America, which has a military presence in 80 countries and whose military expenditure is 38 per cent of the global total – more than the next 10 countries’ combined.

Second, cut out the wolf warrior rhetoric, whether in diplomacy or on social media.

Third, work with the US and the World Health Organization to end the global pandemic.

Fourth, actively cooperate with the Biden administration on climate change.

Fifth, conduct regular joint naval patrols with the US forces in wider waters of the South China Sea.

Sixth, set aside territorial disputes and work with neighbouring countries in the South China Sea on the joint management and exploration of natural resources, including fisheries, habitats and deep-sea energy resources.

Seventh, embrace free and fair trade. For starters, seek to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which a Biden presidency may wish to join too.

Eighth, China should help North Korea become a rising economic powerhouse like Vietnam.

Ninth, reform the Belt and Road Initiative. Make it more transparent and include more participants.

Tenth, meet more milestones on the path to reform and opening up, whether or not they have been set in the 14th five-year plan – including issues like market reciprocity, state-owned enterprise subsidies, transparency, rule of law, human rights and goals including technological self-reliance and quality growth.

Leung writes that China has vowed to double the size of its economy and become moderately prosperous by 2035.

China is unlikely to act on Leung’s 10 suggestions – but to move on some would send positive signals to the world.

Andrew K.P. Leung is an independent China strategist. 

 andrewkpleung@gmail.com

How did India miss out on being part of the world’s biggest trading bloc?

India is missing from the world’s biggest trade bloc which has just been formed – 15 countries representing 2.2 billion people have signed on to a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Talks on RCEP began in 2012 and it has now created a bloc which accounts for about one third of the world economy.

This is a massive new initiative for global trade.

India and the USA have missed out – India because of concerns for farmers produce, and the USA because President Trump pulled the pin on the concept.

India is the mystery case in the region because opting out of RCEP is not going to help its economy. Concerns over lower tariffs hurting local producers won the day and India moved out of the deal.

Did India also withdraw because the relations between India and China are sour, with border disputes and other issues on the rise?

But India could ultimately join RCEP – the doors for India to join the bloc will remain open in future, according to the participant countries.

Otherwise, India looks like being one of the two big losers in this move.

The RCEP group is composed of the 10 Southeast Asian (ASEAN) countries along with China, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.

Vietnam “hosted” the final deal online and said the deal will help to lower trade tariffs between the participant countries, over time, and is less comprehensive than the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

“RCEP will soon be ratified by signatory countries and take effect, contributing to the post-COVID pandemic economic recovery,” said Nguyen Xuan Phuc, prime minister of Vietnam.

The actual legacy of President Donald Trump’s “America First” withdrawal from multilateralism and deals like TPP and RCEP could be a declining US role in world trade.

In contrast, China could be the big winner – experts say that this pact is a testament of China’s strong influence in the region.

The RCEP will lower or eliminate tariffs on various goods and services, although the scope of the agreement—essentially an extension of free trade under existing frameworks—is limited.

So, what is the biggest benefit of RCEP? The pact will create so-called rules of origin, which make it easier for companies to set up supply chains spanning multiple countries.

This is super important – it will be much easier to manufacture and sell goods in the region once RCEP comes into force.

Is your city like Melbourne – optimistic for a “better normal” post Covid19?

Australians’ practical response to a problem –“She’ll be right mate” – remains true of Melburnians, despite months of COVID lockdowns. This was a key finding of an international “Better Normal” survey conducted this month by the Melbourne-based global thinktank, the Centre for Optimism.

The “Better Normal” Survey asked 3000 people from 37 countries whether they made positive changes to their lives during lock-down and what were their expectations for the future.  Two-thirds of respondents and two-thirds of Melburnians said: Yes! They want a better normal, not a return to old ways of working.

With most businesses still awaiting a full return to work, the Centre found considerable change in people’s attitudes to work, with the majority seeking more co-operation and productivity, a greater balance between work, life and home and a greater focus on wellbeing.

“The results show the need for all businesses and agencies to ask their workforce, customers and other stakeholders about the improvements they have made and what they expect,” said Victor Perton, Founder of the Centre for Optimism. “It is a change that management needs to be aware of and to address because the expectations are now considerably different to a year ago.

“We have a people – young and old – changed and strengthened by the pandemic and the lockdown state of disaster!  Government and business would be crazy not to understand it better and respond.”

The Centre’s Chairman, Robert Masters said the change highlights that organisations need to be prepared for the unexpected.

“The pandemic has been a global societal shock,” he said. “Through the collective conversations in the survey, the greatest damage to an organisation lies in unsuccessful management of the new expectations of stakeholders. This can be achieved only by complete and accurate data and insights.”

Check out the Centre for Optimism – highly recommended:

https://www.centreforoptimism.com/

What is Diwali all about? Professor (Dr) Singh provides some inspiring thoughts

What is Diwali all about? Here are some thoughts from my friend the very distinguished Prof (Dr) Gurinder Singh, Group Vice Chancellor, Amity Universities:

Celebrations that invoke the blessings of the Almighty are very special. This is what makes our vibrant festivals a true symbol and universal propagator of our rich heritage, culture, customs & traditions.

The auspicious festival of Deepawali encourages us to celebrate the many lights in our lives.

It marks the triumph of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, nobility over wickedness, virtue over vice, brilliance over obscurity and peace & harmony over discontent & conflicts.

‘Diyas’ can lighten our life with lot of affection, can remove the darkness in us, can ignite more spirituality, can bring us closer to each other, can add lots of sweetness in our relationships with everyone, can inspire us to achieve the highest limit during our journey of excellence of making our organization and our world most memorable, exciting & festive.

We are confident that together with you, we will fulfill our dreams of building Amity as a truly International brand with world class research, innovation, industry-academia linkages, international collaborations and exemplary best practices & governance standards in which all of us will feel satisfied, proud and blissful.

My addition – Amity University is one of the world’s great universities building a tradition of learning, entrepreneurship and research that will leave a lasting legacy for India and the world.

Pictured – Amity University campus, Noida

India’s Adfactors PR chief sets out a post Covid-19 reputation strategy

Madan Bahal, Managing Director, Adfactors PR, (pictured above) has said that both startups and mature companies have to navigate the post-COVID-19 world through effective communication and reputation management.

I would agree, and add that when you join climate change, Industry 4.0 and the generation gap into this equation you have uncharted territory that demands immediate action to protect and enhance reputations.

His view: “The COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment where customers may not blindly trust a new product, service, or business. As a result, reputation management and effective communication strategies for businesses have become increasingly important.”

So, how do you start?

Madan Bahal advises that with new market realities emerging in the post-pandemic world, a strong line of communication between a business and its customers can instil positivity and reliability around the brand.

“The post-pandemic business environment will be one represented by growing geopolitical complexity, a more polarised society, and the chance for backlash if the popular sentiment is hurt.”

His advice works for startups and mature companies alike, saying they have to navigate these challenges through effective communication and reputation management.

Despite the rising popularity of public relations (PR) services for business communications and crisis management, some fledgeling companies are still reluctant to give PR a serious thought.

According to Madan, there is often temperamental incompatibility between young startup founders and PR firms due to a mismatch in expectations. However, founders eventually realise the importance of public communication for attracting talent, announcing fundraises, and dealing with crises, he added.

Madan has been an entrepreneur since 1981, co-founded Adfactors PR in 1997. Adfactors PR is India’s largest PR firm, serving over 300 retained clients across 40 cities in the country.

Madan compares startups to fragile organisms vulnerable to risks in a complex environment.

“For these startups, public relations and reputation management add a ring of protection, trust, and credibility. This gives them a competitive advantage across the board,” he said.

Madan highlighted the positive and negative perceptions the media held about the young startup founders. “Startups were perceived to be transformational and big contributors to economic growth, however, they suffered from insensitive hire-and-fire policies or toxic work culture,” he said.

Now, getting down to what you do when facing all these challenges – here is his list of seven actions which can protect and build reputations:

  1. startups should view every action from the lens of public interest
  2. invest time in maintaining healthy media relations
  3. establish listening posts to guide and alert potential reputation risks
  4. place CXOs, CFOs, or CHROs as reputation leads
  5. build crisis protocols to enable rapid responses
  6. make the purpose of sustainability, diversity, and inclusion the guiding principles for actions and communications
  7. realise a sincere apology goes a long way in reputation management

It is hard to imagine any organisation which would not greatly benefit from his advice.

(Thanks to YourStory India and “TechSparks 2020” for much of the above content)

India and Japan closely watching USA elections


India and Japan might feel better about regional affairs if Biden wins the Presidency of the USA next week.

Why? Because neither country feels comfortable with the bombast and cold war rhetoric emerging from the Trump Administration and US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Even Australia, which is often too keen to outdo the US, was cautious in response to Pompeo and alluded to our interest in a good relationship with China.

These are some of the key points I take from a recent very thoughtful analysis by John McCarthy AO, a Senior Advisor to Asialink and former Australian Ambassador to the United States, Indonesia, Japan, and High Commissioner to India.

McCarthy makes the point that Pompeo went much further than Japan or India would like when he told the recent Quad meeting in Tokyo that they should “build out a true security framework”.

McCarthy wrote: “Apart from not sharing Pompeo’s buccaneer spirit, Japan continues to seek some equilibrium in its relations with China and has constitutional issues with security groupings. And while India continues to have serious border issues with China, it shows no inclination to veer from its doctrine of Strategic Autonomy.”

“If the Quad is to be in our interests, it has to be a cautious Quad. It is acknowledged—at least formally—by Quad members that ASEAN remains central to regional interstate architecture,” he said.

McCarthy also illustrated how “cause and effect” works in diplomacy: “The more the Quad develops a distinct identity, the greater the risk of growing regional fracturing between three groups—China, the Quad, and ASEAN—possibly with China pulling at Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, and the Quad pulling at Vietnam. This will make it all the harder to develop even the loose regional approaches on managing China’s rise-particularly on the South China Sea.”

Important to note, as McCarthy does in his conclusion, that Biden’s main priority on election would be to get his own house in order.

That, at least, would yield positive outcomes for us all and be a relief from the bombast.

Modi pushing hard on reducing imports and increasing exports

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi set out an ambitious plan to boost exports while reducing imports – and it is working.

According to data collected from the Centre Government, India’s exports to the USA amounted to USD 5.1 billion in September 2020, 15.5% more than the figures for the corresponding month (USD 4.4 billion) in 2019.

In addition, imports from the United States decreased by a substantial 34.3% to USD 1.8 billion in September 2020, compared to USD 2.8 billion in September 2019.

Similarly, in the period from April to September this year, imports from China, one of the largest producers of commodities across industries, decreased to USD 27.4 billion. Therefore, imports have decreased by 24.5% from the USD 36.3 billion amount for the same duration last year.

Meanwhile, Indian exports to China increased by 26.3% to hit USD 10.6 billion in the above-mentioned period, a substantial increase from USD 8.4 billion for the period April-September 2019.

It’s a stunning turnaround and more is to come…

India boosts Quad naval cooperation as China hostility continues

New defence ties in the Indian Ocean region are rolling out on a regular basis – the latest one reports Australia will join three-way Malabar naval exercises – involving the United States, Japan and India.

Australia left the program after participating in 2007 – leaving following some strong criticism from China.

The move back by Australia shows how much regional attitudes to China have changed.

This new move could raise concerns in China, which has criticised similar joint drills as “destabilising”. China has been slamming import restrictions on Australian cola, cotton, wine and other products.

In contrast to declining relations with China, Australian PM Morrison and Indian PM Modi are working closely together.

India took the initiative of inviting Australia back in a sign of cooperation between the “Quad” countries.

The Malabar exercises are held in the Bay of Bengal.

The joint drills are super significant because they are the first concrete action of the Quad grouping.

China has denounced the Quad as an attempt to contain its development.

India’s decision on expanding the exercises comes at a time when it is locked in a military stand-off on the disputed land border with China.

Indian economic indicators positive for investors – Kotak

As India moves gradually from tough “lockdown” to enter an “unlock’ phase, economic and market indicators remain positive for investors – according to the latest Indian Markets report from Shibani Kurian, Head – Equity Research, Kotak Mahindra Asset Management Company Limited. Extracts from their report:

Key highlights

  1. High frequency economic indicators in India continued to show improving trends
  2. All eyes are now on the festive season starting from the end of October till the first half of November.
  3. Government sticks to its borrowing plan for dated securities in H2FY21; Bodes well for bond yields though some concerns on increase in supply still linger on; state finance remain vulnerable
  4. Monetary Policy Committee (MPC): New external member appointed; Rates likely to remain on hold in the upcoming policy meet on October 9, 2020
  5. GST collections: Trends improve in August; Trend is positive but partly due to a low base as well as collections pf payments due during May-July 2020
  6. Rainfall trends remain healthy; This bodes well for farm cash flows and rural demand; Food-grain production likely higher by 2.8% YoY

Indian markets witnessed a fair degree of volatility in the month of September 2020 on the back of global uncertainty heading into the US elections. The large cap Nifty Index fell 1.50% while the NSE midcap index fell 1.52% in September (both in USD terms).

Among the indicators we track, the e-way bill generation is now up to the Feb’20 peak run-rate levels, and up YoY for 7 weeks. Expressway-toll collections are now 3% above pre-COVID levels. Rail freight, unemployment data, electricity consumption and petrol consumption were some of the other indictors which showed improvement.

The key to the direction of the domestic equity markets would be the trajectory of demand post the festive season and the path towards economic growth normalization.

There are expectations around a possible announcement on the fiscal front along with market awaiting the outcome of the monetary policy meeting now scheduled on October 9.

Even as the high frequency activity indicators improved, some cities like Pune, Bengaluru and Mumbai saw a “second wave” of infections with a rise in daily new cases. However, while the new additions rose, the pace of recovery also improved resulting in the reduction in the addition to the active cases. The case fatality rate in India remains below the global averages thereby significantly reducing the probability of another nationwide lockdown.

Thanks to Shibani Kurian, Head – Equity Research, Kotak Mahindra Asset Management Company Limited, and Nikhil Iyer, EVP, Kotak Mahindra (UK) Ltd. – Singapore Branch