Sunday, December 6, 2015

Article: Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Foreign Policy (

Date: 6th Dec 2015
By Cleo Paskal

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's foreign policy has shown a remarkable deftness of action and cohesion of vision. As a result, the last eighteen months have marked one of the fastest changes in the international profile of a major state in recent years. Whatever the outcome, it is worth taking a closer look at some of the elements that have catapulted India back to the center of global affairs. These lessons learned have relevance for anyone in management.

Consolidate your base

Modi's inauguration was the first indication that there was going to be a major redesign of Indian foreign policy. By inviting SAARC leaders, Modi highlighted the neighbourhood's importance to India, and India's importance to the neighbourhood. The 'peer pressure' component ensured that anyone tempted to not attend would be put on the back foot; Modi would look magnanimous, and they would look out of step with the mood of the times. In the end, all SAARC nations sent top leaders. And so, from his first day in office, Modi not only signaled to the region that 'India is back', he signaled to the wider world India's centrality in the region.

Be clear about your goals

From the beginning, Modi made it clear that his top priority was inclusive growth, and to create that growth he wanted to attract investment, 'make in India' and encourage entrepreneurship. On the international front, that meant doing what anyone expanding their business would do, going forth and selling their product, in this case India. He was always clear, however, that the core goal wasn't just growth, it was inclusive growth, so potential partners would understand from the outset this wasn't about throwing open the doors to all comers. It was about looking for the right partners. In that way, the most unrealistic expectations would be avoided.

Additionally, it meant that at various negotiations, for example at the Paris COP, India's 'red lines' were clear. If the West wanted India to shift away from fossil fuels, it would have to make renewables more affordable because growth would not be sacrificed. Others might not like India's position, but at least it wasn't fuzzy, making negotiations more straightforward. White House spokesman Josh Earnest recently told reporters that Modi "is honest and direct. He is also somebody that has a clear vision for where he wants to take his country. And that makes him not just an effective politician but an effective Prime Minister."

Understand and leverage your partners' priorities

One of the most remarkable moments was Modi's September 2014 Madison Square Garden event. It was his first US trip since he took office, and some media were still roiling with stories about his past visas issues. The Madison Square Garden event steamrolled right through those issues, and set a completely new standard for foreign leaders visiting the US. 

Modi understood that the Indo-American community is one of the wealthiest, most engaged and best-educated groups in the US, making it a very desirable demographic for American politicians. As they are not strongly aligned to either political party, Indo-American votes and campaign funding could be seen as 'up for grabs'. That is the reason that over three dozen US congress members from both houses, and both parties, happily shared the stage with Modi at the Garden. They included Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair) and the Republican Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley. In one deft move Modi showed US politicians that he held sway over a chunk of their own political system. 

Identify overlooked opportunities

Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Mongolia, and the first in over three decades to visit the UAE, Fiji, Seychelles and elsewhere. The visits, especially to smaller nations, garnered enormous positive local media coverage that often highlighted linkages with India, reawakening old bonds. By visiting often-overlooked areas so early in his tenure, he showed that India was interested in engaging in a much deeper and more complex way than previously seen. 

This dovetailed with a widespread desire, especially in smaller states, to have a 'third option' to supplement the West and China. Both the West and China carry a certain baggage with them that, in many sectors, India doesn't have. For example, Indian pharmaceuticals are often cheaper than Western products and more reliable than Chinese ones. Similarly, Indian education is seen as more affordable than Western education, but more linguistically and culturally compatible than Chinese education.

By spending the time to visit these less obvious parts of the world, Modi is signaling that India seriously wants to engage with all. 

Follow through

However good Modi's foreign policy may be, it will need effective implementation to sustain it and ensure that it accomplishes its goals. And that is something that Modi can't do alone. However sharp the tip of the spear, if the shaft and bow are weak, the target won't be reached. 

As of now, follow through on a wide range of foreign policy initiatives has been lackluster. While there are major efforts to reform the bureaucracy, there are still large cracks that can swallow up policies. At the same time, there are those inside and outside the system who would benefit from Modi's failure. 

So far, Modi's foreign policy has exhibited intelligence, focus and vision. Time will tell if that vision becomes a reality or stays a mirage.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Article: India Ideas conclave discusses Wahhabi threat (Sunday Guardian)

By CLEO PASKAL | GOA | 22 November, 2015
From 15 to 17 November, over 350 world leaders, academics and writers gathered in Goa for the 2nd India Ideas Conclave, hosted by the India Foundation. The Conclave, as one journalist put it, “shows a large intellectual ecosystem, in India and abroad, bound by a common concern for what is good for India”.
There were panels devoted to Indian digital innovations, new economics, Dalit entrepreneurships, and more.
But, given the timing, it was inevitable that the recent terrorist attack in Paris infused many presentations. The Valedictory session of the Conclave began with a minute of silence for the departed and many presenters warned that the Indian cultural underpinning of Islam in the subcontinent was at risk of being replaced by, as attendee Sultan Shahin put it, a Saudi-funded “desiccated Salafist/Wahhabi version of Islam”.
At the same time, presentations lauded India’s “unity without uniformity”. For example Dattatreya Hosabale, joint general secretary of the RSS said, “Unity is when all treat a person who comes to their door as a God. But that is not uniformity. How you do that might be different.” Ambassador Muhammad Zamir of Bangladesh said, “SAARC countries have a shared culture.” And Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, director of BJP’s Public Policy Research Centre, said, “Unity gives you the space for diverse manifestations. In India there is a spiritual democracy that is the cornerstone of our sustainable pluralism.”
However, there was widespread concern that Wahhabism was threatening that unity. Attendee Tshering Tobgay, the Prime Minister of Bhutan said, “The attacks on France were an attack on humanity.” While Sultan Shahin said, “The idea that life begins in the grave is a ticking time bomb that should be defused by all governments, Muslim and otherwise.”
Daniel Pipes, President of the Middle East Forum said, “There have been three earthshaking radicalism in 20th century: Fascism, Communism, and Islamism. The first two have been defeated, now we must defeat the third.”
It was acknowledged, however, that it wouldn’t be easy. M.J. Akbar noted, “You can’t scare a suicide bomber with the threat of death. When you think your stupidity is endorsed by your culture and your God, you can be proud of your stupidity. This is an existential challenge.”
However, Pipes also noted that Islamism has major flaws: adherents fight each other, as seen in Syria and elsewhere, and Muslims living under Islamist rule don’t like it, as seen in Egypt and elsewhere.
Tufail Ahmad, author of Jihadist Threat to India, made concrete suggestions on how to counter the threat in India. The core was to follow the Indian Constitution and ensure that the fundamental right to education.
Ahmad said: “Madrasas capture the Muslim child’s mind during the critical 6-14 years of age, an age when children are required to be protected by the Right to Education Act. All children must be in proper schools during the school hours of the day. A proper school means: students must achieve the same educational outcomes in mathematics and other material sciences which students from mainstream schools achieve. If a specific madrasa does not deliver these educational metrics, it must be banned as unconstitutional, in violation of the Right to Education Act.”
Ahmad said: “I don’t want quotas, I want my daughter to learn math and sciences,” adding, “the Muslim siege mentality and minority syndrome reside in Hindu-Muslim riots and quota politics. To remove siege mentality, India must ensure radical zero-tolerance police reforms and we must make quota politics redundant by developing a national policy of free books, free clothes and free schooling for children of all BPL card holders, irrespective of their religion and caste.”
“As a long-term strategy” Ahmad said, “the Indian government must introduce three textbooks from Grade 1 through 12: One on Indian classics such as Upanishads, Mahabharata, Gita and classical Indian thinkers; a second primer on the Constitution’s ideals; and a third primer containing good points from all religions. History gives us hopeful lessons: In India itself, Hindu youths abandoned castes and sati. Christianity and Judaism went through their internal conflicts; the Bible and the Torah are removed from public life. Since Islam is the youngest of the Middle Eastern religions, there is hope. The cause of Islamic Reformation in India must begin in the age group of 6-14 years.” The Conclave also explored vibrant Indian technology, literature, spirituality, and culture. It was a glittering kaleidoscope of hope and innovation — even brighter in comparison to the dark shadow of Wahhabism.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Article: Under Justin Trudeau, Canada’s global profile set for Major Rejig (Sunday Guardian)

By CLEO PASKAL | MONTREAL | 7 November, 2015
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the crowds outside Rideau Hall after the Cabinet’s swearing-in ceremony in Ottawa on Wednesday. REUTERS
The new 30-member Cabinet includes a record four Indo-Canadians, making it 13% Indo-Canadian.
There is a very good reason you haven’t been thinking much about Canada for the last ten years. Inspite of being a G7 country, one of the world’s biggest energy exporters, having strategic installations on the Atlantic, Pacific and even Arctic coasts, and many of the other usual indicators of being a “major” country, Canada has seemed largely invisible for the last decade or so.
Under the Prime Ministership of Conservative Stephen Harper (2006-2015), Canada’s role on the international stage became increasingly focused. Some areas were of interest, for example strengthening important ties with India on counter-terrorism and nuclear power, others weren’t, for example the United Nations and the climate negotiations. Additionally, Canada’s diplomats, like its civil servants, scientists, and even government ministers, were constrained by PMO policy in their public interactions. 
So, unless you were interested in something the Canadian government was interested in, Canada probably didn’t appear on your radar. And, even if you were, its good work on things like strengthening security cooperation with India weren’t widely known outside the relevant institutions due to messaging constraints.
Canada’s new National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan gestures after being sworn-in during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Canada on Wednesday. REUTERS
Canada’s new National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan gestures after being sworn-in during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Canada on Wednesday. REUTERS
For better or for worse, all that is about to change. With the October election of a Liberal Party majority under Justin Trudeau (son of the late former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau), Canada’s international profile is set to undergo a major relaunch.
The difference in style was made clear with the announcement of the Trudeau Cabinet on 4 November. There are 30 Cabinet members plus the Prime Minister. In a deliberate move, half the Cabinet members are women. When asked why, newly minted Prime Minister Trudeau replied: “Because it’s 2015”.
Trudeau also said his Cabinet “looks like Canada”. It includes two Aboriginal Canadians, including the new Justice Minister/Attorney General. The new Minister of Veterans Affairs is paraplegic.
But the big demographic story is the enormous electoral success of Indo-Canadians. As of 2011, people of Indian ethnic origin comprise roughly 3.5% of all Canadians, but a record 19 of the 338 of members of the new Parliament are Indo-Canadians (approximately 5.6%). 
The Indo-Canadian parliamentarians were elected from a range of parties, though overwhelmingly for the Liberals, and from across Canada. This wasn’t just block voting by Indo-Canadians for Indo-Canadians. One new Member of Parliament, young lawyer Anju Dhillon, was elected in a largely French speaking Montreal riding with a negligible Indo-Canadian community.
Also, while overwhelmingly Punjabi, the elected Indo-Canadian Parliamentarians also included men and women with roots across India, and who are Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim. For example, in 2004, the Liberal Party’s Yasmin Ratansi became the first Muslim woman elected to the Canadian Parliament.
Even more striking, the new 30-member Cabinet includes a record four Indo-Canadians, making it 13% Indo-Canadian. That number includes the new Defence Minister, retired Canadian Armed Forces Lieutenant-Colonel Hon. Harjit Singh Sajjan. 
By comparison, Canadians of Chinese ethnic origin comprised about 4.5% of all Canadians and there are few in Parliament and none in Cabinet. So, while Chinese-Canadians (and African-Canadians, and others) may wonder if the new Cabinet looks like their Canada, it certainly looks like an Indo-Canadian Canada.
What does this all mean and, in particular, what does this mean for India?
It is very hard to tell so far. Once you start to dig beneath the seemingly clear message in the political optics, the picture gets very fuzzy, very quickly. For example, Sajjan unquestionably has a distinguished record of service to Canada. He served honourably in Afghanistan and Bosnia, was a special adviser on Afghanistan, and was the first Sikh to command a Canadian army regiment. However, the way in which he came by his seat caused controversy in his riding. 
Some in Sajjan’s riding, Vancouver South, saw him as a “star” candidate parachuted in by the Liberal Party, displacing a popular choice for the ticket, local businessman Barj Dhahan. The key issue was that while Dhahan was known as a moderate Sikh who stood up to Khalistani-supporters, Sajjan’s father, Kundan Sajjan, was on the board of the hardline World Sikh Organization. The younger Sajjan has repeatedly affirmed he is “not a member of the WSO”. Regardless, his selection triggered the resignation of many long-term Sikh Liberal Party supporters. Rajinder Singh Bhela, the former general secretary of Vancouver’s largest gurdwara, the Ross Street Temple, was quoted as saying “we think this Liberal Party’s been hijacked by the WSO”.
As per his track record, Canada’s new Defence Minister has served honestly, diligently and honourably. The controversy around his selection is an indicator not of his character, but that the new Liberal Party can still play the top-down hardball of the old Liberal Party. 
And that is where the key questions lie. Trudeau has said that his government will be more open and collaborative than those of the last ten years. His Cabinet, diplomats, and civil servants have all been told they will be given much more leeway to influence policy. From the “looks like Canada” Cabinet to the “unmuzzling” of government officials, the new government is being presented as far more democratic in governance style.
However, the parachuting in of opaquely chosen Party candidates (Sajjan was not the only one) indicates there are some deeper currents also at play. In the past, the Liberal Party was known as a cozy closed club, replete with special interests. Trudeau will have to prove that it is not just optics, that his Liberal Party is truly different. 
This has direct implications for India. Under Harper, the bilateral strategic relationship with India quietly grew substantially stronger, built around common security concerns.  Trudeau has stated that his foreign policy is going to be much more vocal and multilateral. So, for example, while Harper disengaged from the climate negotiation process, that meant that Canada was not criticising India for its emissions. If Canada reengages and becomes more vocal, it is possible it may revert to some of the old Liberal Party habits of castigating India on its policies, including domestic and strategic ones. 
Trudeau stated his foreign policy will harken back to a time when “everyone loved Canada”. Unfortunately, that is a fictional time, as those in the Indian strategic community know. Patronising statements about countries that face a very different reality to the one faced by wealthy, largely secure Canada are likely to produce a much stronger response than they did in 1998.
The role of the Indo-Canadians in Cabinet in helping their colleagues understand that times have changed is unclear. The India they or their parents (or grandparents, or great-grandparents) knew, doesn’t exist anymore. 
It is very difficult to know what Canada’s new foreign policy will actually be. Will it reinforce the positive bridges to India forged by the previous government or change course? Will it be more collaborative and, if so, who are the collaborators? Will the Canada it projects truly be the Canada of today, or a reimagined version of a mythical nostalgic Canada? 
One promising sign is that Canada’s new Foreign Minister, Stéphane Dion, is highly experienced. But we don’t yet know how much actual input he will have.
The only thing we know for sure is that Canada is about to make noise again. Whether it will be music to India’s ears is yet to be discovered.
Cleo Paskal is the Visiting Trudeau Fellow at the Center for International Studies at the Université de Montréal and Associate Fellow at Chatham House, London.’s-global-profile-set-major-rejig

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Expert Comment: Cleo's Chatham House analysis of Canada's new government

Trudeau Election Marks New Start for Canada by Cleo Paskal

"The Liberal Party likes to think of itself as ‘Canada’s natural governing party’. Though they have been out of power for 10 years, and newly elected prime minister Justin Trudeau is relatively inexperienced, the party has deep and old networks across the country. The backroom is full of experienced old hands, including former prime ministers who have known Trudeau since he was a toddler. With a number of bold shifts promised in Canadian foreign policy, and a willingness to be fiscally expansive (Trudeau has said he is willing to run deficits for three years to implement their policies), the change is likely to be dramatic, fast and unrelenting."

To read the full analysis, including possible changes to energy and climate policy, and the implications of the growing role of First Nations in resource management please click here

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Interview: Cleo on John Batchelor Show with Gordon Chang talking about Xi's visit to UK and more

Cleo Paskal joined John Batchelor and Gordon Chang to discuss the implications of Chinese President Xi's visit to the UK, as well as what Canada's new government might mean for Canada-China relations.

You can hear the interview by clicking here

Monday, October 19, 2015

Interview: Cleo Paskal on Background Briefing with Ian Masters talking about the background to Canada's election

"We begin with the elections today in Canada that will decide whether incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper will get a fourth term or whether Justin Trudeau, the son of a former prime minister will lead his Liberal Party to victory ending a ten year stretch of conservative rule in Canada."

To hear the interview, click here.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Policy Paper: Modi-fied Engagement: Will India's Reinvigorated Foreign Policy Change History?

Cleo Paskal has published a policy paper reviewing Indian Prime Minister Modi's foreign policy to date. Released by Le Centre d'études et de recherches internationales (CÉRIUM) de l'Université de Montréal and the Pôle de recherche sur l'Inde et l'Asie du Sud (PRIAS), the paper is available in English. 

The summary is below, and the whole paper can be found here.


In this time of shifting multipolarity, the reawakening of India has the potential to shape the global future. Since the election of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May 2014, policy makers around the world have watched with interest, anticipation and/or concern to see what, if anything, would change in India’s previously lackluster foreign policy. Would it prove to be a global civilizational power? Would it be bogged down in regional conflicts? Would it offer a ‘third option’ for partners looking for engagement that is neither reliant on the West nor China?

There is enormous potential in India. While it has unquestionable domestic challenges, it is also fundamentally democratic, with a fast growing middle class, increasing formal education levels, an expanding English-speaking population with deepening access to the global economy, and a vast domestic market that can partially insulate the country from global economic shocks.

However, for decades (punctuated by brief exceptional periods), there has been a phalanx of impediments slowing India’s domestic recovery and, by extension, its options for global engagement. These include: corruption, ineffective economic policies, a barely post-colonial legal system, lack of political vision and drive, and a complacent, or at best, unmotivated civil service.

Modi was elected on a platform of tackling those challenges. His stated goal of achieving 10% annual growth combined with social policies to tend to the needs of the ‘last man in line’ is contingent on reinvigorating India’s economy. Reinvigorating the economy means not only handling those domestic issues, but also encouraging foreign investors to ‘Make in India’. Accordingly, foreign relations that encourage trade and investment have been one of Modi’s key priorities, and initiatives are very much led from the top.

Modi has been here before. He proved adept at handling foreign relations during his more than a decade as Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat (2001-2014). While denied a United States (US) visa in 2005, he continued to foster relations with the Indo-American Diaspora. Meanwhile, he worked with, among others, Japanese, German, Chinese and Israeli firms to develop Gujarat’s infrastructure, renewable energy, agriculture and tech sectors. He showed himself to be pragmatic and non-dogmatic about partners, focusing primarily on what he thought would be good for his state.

The question is whether that approach can be scaled up to the national level. So far, the results have been mixed. There have been some marked accomplishments, starting with the unprecedented attendance of almost all the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders at Modi’s swearing in. Modi’s triumphant visit to the US in September 2014 was soon reciprocated by a visit to India by President Obama in January 2015. His visit to Canada (the first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minster since 1973) resulted in important agreements regarding uranium sales and cooperation on the fight against terrorism.

There are lingering concerns, however, about whether the headline grabbing visits can evolve into long-term gains for India. The success of Modi’s personal drive for increased engagement depends in large part on effective follow-up. Bureaucratic support (or at least lack of obstruction) is necessary to unlock the engagement potential of wider India, including the business sector and civil society. So far, that facilitation has been somewhat hit and miss. The reasons for the
impediments are varied. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs is comparatively understaffed, something Modi has tried to rectify by introducing the use of external experts drawn from academia, think tanks, and elsewhere. More problematic are those in the civil service keen on protecting their previously powerful and privileged positions and, in the worst cases, those engaged in active sabotage to cover past, or ongoing, misdeeds.

Many in the region, and beyond, want to see a stronger, prosperous and stable India. What would be good for India would also be good for most of its neighbors including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and others. Their stability and economies are tied to India’s. It would also be good for those looking for a supplement, if not an alternative, to increased Chinese engagement.

Many around the world are ‘waiting for India’. As, indeed, are Indians. After just sixteen months in office Modi’s much-needed re-creation of Indian foreign policy is still very much a work in progress.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Interview: Cleo Paskal on Background Briefing with Ian Masters talking about India's PM Modi's foreign policy

From Ian Master: "Then we go to London to speak with a specialist on India, Cleo Paskal, who is a visiting Trudeau Fellow at the University of Montreal’s Center for International Studies and a Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London. We discuss India’s Prime Minister Modi’s remarks to the U.N. today that were preceded by a trip to the Silicon Valley where Modi pushed his “Digital India” project and met with the leaders of the giant tech companies, many of which are headed by Indians or Indian Americans."

To hear the interview, click here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Interview: Cleo on the John Batchelor Show with Gordon Chang talking about Modi's foreign policy

Cleo Joined John Batchelor and Gordon Chang to talk about Indian Prime Minster's Modi's evolving foreign policy in the lead up to Modi's visit to the US.  You can hear the interview here.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Cleo Paskal Awarded 2015 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Visiting Fellowship

Cleo was awarded a prestigious Trudeau Visiting Fellowship. The Fellowship will help fund a 2-3 year research project into geopolitical, geoeconomic and geophysical changes (including effects of climate change, etc.) in the Indo-Pacific. In conjunction with the Fellowship, Cleo has been appointed a Visiting Trudeau Fellow at the Montreal Centre for International Studies (CÉRIUM) at the Université de Montréal.

For more on the Fellowship, click here.

For more on the CÉRIUM appointment, click here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Interview: Cleo on John Batchelor Show Talking about India - South Pacific Leaders Summit and Shifting Geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific

Cleo Joins Gordon Chang and John Batchelor on the John Batchelor Show to talk about the India - South Pacific leaders summit and shifting geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific.

You can hear it here

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Article: Act East, engage Pacific Island Countries (Sunday Guardian)

CLEO PASKAL  Manipal | 15th Aug 2015

Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako of Japan in the Kingdom of Tonga, South Pacific, in July, greet the newly crowned King and Queen of Tonga. India didn’t send any representatives.
rime Minister Narendra Modi will meet with representatives from the 14 Pacific Island Countries (PICs) in Jaipur on 21 August. Part of India's reinvigorated foreign policy, this will be an important opportunity to show that India is serious about building a comprehensive, long-term "Act East" policy.
The engagement with the PICs started off extremely well. For the first time since Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister Modi made a point of visiting Fiji in 2014, and meeting with leaders from the region.
The visit was an acknowledgement of the already large and growing importance of the region. Covering almost 1/6th of the planet's surface, the countries of the Pacific aren't small island states as much as large ocean territories, with vast exclusive economic zones, increasing strategic importance, major untapped resources and 14 critical votes in international fora.
The PICs' value as partners is an open secret. For decades, both Australia and New Zealand have justified their position on the world stage by claiming they can "deliver" the PICs. However many of the PICs are becoming disenchanted with those "traditional partnerships".
For example, most recently, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea made a statement clearly targeted at Australia. He said that after 1 January 2016, he would no longer allow foreign advisors in the government, in part because he was concerned they were spying, and not acting in the best interest of PNG. Similar feelings can be found across the PICs, and came into the open after Edward Snowden revealed that New Zealand intelligence was operating a "full take" policy on every Pacific nation it could, intercepting all calls, texts, emails, etc.
In a parallel to developments in Africa and elsewhere, this discontent has been identified as an opportunity by China.
China has been heavily involved in the region for well over a decade. There are the usual loans and infrastructure, but also the military-to-military engagement, leasing satellite slots, setting up a spy station, and discussing building ports. While India is playing catch-up in the South China Sea, China is trying to surround and consolidate by locking up influence in the vast area between Asia and South America.
And it isn't just China. Abu Dhabi used the help of the PICs to get the headquarters for IRENA. Dubai worked with them to win as hosts of the 2020 Expo.
In spite of almost all the PICs being stable, democratic, well educated (many with close to 100% literacy), and English speaking — all things that should have been a natural bond between India and the region — India has been very slow off the mark.
India has a range of institutional impediments slowing it down. For a start, India has only two high commissions in the 14 PICs. One is in Fiji, because of the Indian diaspora, the other in Papua New Guinea, because of resources and trade.
India representation in the rest of the 12 PICs is fragmented. The Indian mission in Fiji is accredited to Tonga, Tuvalu, Nauru, and Cook Islands. The mission in Papua New Guinea is accredited to Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. The Indian mission in New Zealand is accredited to Kiribati, Samoa, and Niue. The mission in the Philippines is accredited to Palau, Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia. The mission in France covers French Polynesia and other French possessions in the region. The mission in Washington covers American Samoa and other US possessions in the region.
This means a cohesive policy (or even an understanding of the region) would mean coordinating half-a-dozen missions, four of which have much larger primary responsibilities. As a result, there are very few PIC experts in the MEA.
It is not uncommon to hear members of the diplomatic service say they would like to visit the PICs because of the tropical islands, warm waters and beaches. It sounds like a tourist from Detroit saying they've been on a houseboat in the backwaters near Kochi and so know all about Kerala politics. The listening posts, strategic ports, banks, mining operations, military bases, etc., seem to be invisible. These are real countries, not postcards.
A report in the Business Standard last week quoted one government official as saying that India provides annual grants-in-aid of $200,000 to every PIC: "The amount is enough for them, as they are not big countries."
Throwing pennies to what you imply are beggars is not the best way to build friendships. Nor is it accurate. PNG, for one, has a GDP of over $16 billion and a projected growth rate of 15% for the year. Additionally, India's $200,000 is nothing compared to, for example, the $11.7 million China just gave Tonga for a new government building.
Also, size is no indication of importance. One of the most important events in the region took place in the Kingdom of Tonga (population 100,000) in July: the coronation of a new king and queen. Tonga, never colonised, is the last surviving PIC kingdom, and the royal family of Tonga has deep, ancient connections throughout the region, and to royal houses around the world.
Attending the event were heads of states and traditional leaders from across the PICs, as well as a range of nobility from Europe, including the Archduke of the House of Habsburgs, Baron Glenarthur from the UK and the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan. As an indication of the strong relationship between "tiny" Tonga and Japan, it was only the second time in decade that the Crown Princess has left Japan on an official visit.
Rather than sending someone from Delhi, India was represented by someone from the regional diplomatic corps, meaning it was not invited to the closed events attended by the VVIP visitors. If it had, it would have been an opportunity to show not just the region, but London, Tokyo and others that India is serious about its role in the Pacific.
Clearly, someone in the MEA thought size matters, and missed the opportunity of a generation. Perhaps coincidentally, Tonga won't be sending its head of state or government to Jaipur.
Another fallacy echoed by the government source is that the PICs want handouts. Actually, they really don't want aid, they want trade, and real partnership. Their goods are often blocked from the markets of Australia and New Zealand on spurious grounds, while the same countries dump overpriced goods across the region.
So for many shoppers in the region, the choice is expensive western goods, or suspect cheap Chinese products. A paracetamol in Tonga costs eight times what it does in India. The average car in Tonga is a 10-year-old Japanese, which sells for twice the amount as a new Tata Nano.
Pacific islanders are buying paracetamols and cars, and sending their kids abroad for university, and healthcare. If India wants to make real friends, it should help in the sectors that can increase the region's connectivity, and so broaden its options in deciding its own future. In particular, transport, communications (including tele-education and healthcare) and energy.
Want to pull the region closer to India? Weekly direct flights to Fiji; Indian mobile companies entering the markets to compete with overpriced monopolies; Indian wind and solar tech.
It also means developing real Indian experts on the PICs. For decades, India has taken the lead on many Pacific issues, including Fiji, from Canberra and Wellington. Or worse, been led by an ethnocentric approach to the region.
One of the inspiring aspects of Prime Minister Modi's win was that it showed India valued skill, hard work, and heart over family background. Unfortunately, in the PICs, the impression is that India is only interested in ethnic Indo-Fijians. This poses a few challenges to a true partnership with the PICs.
The first is a logical inconsistency. The argument for Indo-Fijian rights is that they are as Fijian as everyone else. However, by singling them out, India is implying they still have strong ties to India. So is India saying they are just like all other Fijians, or is India saying they have a dual identity? Everyone understands the natural warmth towards distant "relations", especially the family-oriented PICs. It just may not be the best thing to base a foreign policy on.
Maybe India could fight for the rights of all Fijians, irrespective of background, not just the ones that look like someone from back home; otherwise it is undermining the position that Indo-Fijians are fundamentally Fijian.
Second, by so heavily focusing on the Indo-Fijians, India is picking up baggage it may not want to carry. For example, just this last week, a couple of dozen Fijians were arrested for sedition for allegedly attempting to create a breakaway Christian state.
It doesn't seem to be primarily a response to Hindu Indo-Fijians, but rather flamed by concerns over perceived growing Wahhabi influences coming in partially via the Muslim Indo-Fijian community. Real or not, the perception is there. And the nation of India risks being conflated with various conspiracy theories, unless it does what the Modi-era promised: build respect-based, lasting, non-corrupt, international partnerships for a stable, mutually beneficial future.
Cleo Paskal is Adjunct Faculty, Department of Geopolitics, Manipal University.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Cleo is one of the Climate 25 (Weather Channel)

Cleo was honoured to be part of the Weather Channel's Climate 25 project. You can see her interview here

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Interview: Cleo on the John Batchelor Show Talking About Modi One Year On

Cleo Joined John Batchelor and Gordon Chang to talk about Indian foreign policy after PM Modi's first year in office.

You can hear it here.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Interview: Cleo on Background Briefing with Ian Masters talking about Climate Change and Geopolitics in the Pacific

"We begin with the worst cyclone or hurricane in the history of the Pacific which struck the island chain of Vanuatu with winds up to 180 miles per hour. Cleo Paskal, a Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London, and author of “Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map”, joins us from the Pacific island of Tonga to discuss the impact of global warming on the tiny island nations of the Pacific, and the roles of regional powers New Zealand and Australia who are coming to the aid of Vanuatu, as well as the growing influence of China in the region."

You can hear the interview here.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Interview: John Batchelor Show With Gordon Chang

Cleo Joins Gordon Chang and John Batchelor on the John Batchelor Show to talk about the elections in Sri Lanka and what it might mean for regional relations.

You can hear it here. The segment starts around 10.30. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Article: World leaders look for new ideas at conclave (Sunday Guardian)

CLEO PASKAL  Goa | 10th Jan 2015
Participants at the India Ideas Conclave: former Prime Minister of Jordan Abdelsalam al-Majali, former Belgian Head of State Anne-Marie Lizin, former Prime Minister of Slovenia Alojz Peterle, India’s Union Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha, for
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's declared vision is "new thinking, new hope". In late December, as part of the search for new ideas, the India Foundation, a think tank with close ties to the new government, hosted the first India Ideas Conclave in cooperation with the government of Goa.
The range of invitees consisted of a wide cross-section of informed input. The speakers included Former Prime Ministers of Bhutan, Jordan, Netherlands, and Slovenia; former heads of state of Belgium and Lithuania; the Sikyong (equivalent of Prime Minister) of the Tibetan Government in Exile; the former secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; and Indian Ministers of External Affairs, Defence, Railways, Finance, and Power.
The approach and the range of ideas discussed give insight into the challenges and promise of this era of change. For example, an oft-repeated message was that many countries in the region want India to play a larger role. This is a now common theme. There is desire regionally, and in some places globally, for engagement with a major power that is not pro-economic policies that are considered damaging to local economies, and are not China.
High-level representatives from both Bhutan and Sri Lanka pointed out that India's economic health was of great importance to the region, and when India's economy grows by 3%, theirs grow by 2%.
Former Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Thinley said that with Modi's arrival a "wind of optimism" was sweeping across the region. He spoke of the inevitability of the leadership role of India in the region, adding, "Large countries only become great countries when they have good relations with smaller neighbours... if even the smallest countries find more security within the EU, why can't South Asia be the same?"
The former Prime Minister then asked the room to imagine a South Asian Commonwealth, with full economic integration, adding, "I will even go so far as to suggest shared regional security arrangements, including for natural calamities". He suggested that the first step be to create and promote cooperation within region, then work on relations with others, including China.
Former Sri Lankan Ambassador to India (currently Sri Lanka's Ambassador to Washington) Prasad Kariyawasam echoed the analysis, saying India and Sri Lanka's "destinies are intertwined". Noting that Pakistan would block any proposed South Asia economic union, he proposed following Modi's "let's move at a pace everyone is comfortable with" policy, and begin with an eastern economic union including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Ambassador Kariyawasam also called for more cooperative solutions in maritime and cyber security, and a need for people-centric collective security. He added that "the region remains hostage to colonial interpretation of what divides us, rather than what unites us" and said it was important "to step back to our roots to find traditional strengths of harmony, inclusivity is an ancient part of the South Asian value system". He evoked Sri Lanka's deep Buddhist ties to India, and called for a closer spiritual union.
The cultural and spiritual importance of India in the region was also highlighted by Ambassador O. Nyamdavaa, the former Mongolian Ambassador to Delhi. He chronicled the extensive and ancient ties between Mongolia and India, adding, "India is very important for Mongolia. Indians are our brothers and sisters in dharma." He called for a new role for India in the development of "Buddhism for peace in the world", and proposed India to take a greater role in cultural development in the region.
Delegates from further afield made their own cases for more Indian attention, with European delegates saying that India and Europe should focus on technology transfer and cooperation, US delegates saying now is the time to engage with Washington, and Professor H.K. Chang saying that if China and India can work together, the Asian Century will arise. If they can't, it won't.
Many made an effort to show an understanding of some of India's priorities. Former Slovenian Prime Minister Alojz Peterle said there was no need to innovate dharma, and economic growth could be sustainable if it was dharma based. He also called for a fundamental rethinking of global governance, saying "we can't play the same game with different cards", and calling for a shift from alliances to true partnerships.
Echoing that, German European Member of Parliament Jo Leinen said the World Bank and IMF do not reflect today's world, and certainly not tomorrow's world, and called for UN reform. Former Lithuanian head of state Vytautas Landsbergis quoted Rabindranath Tagore.
On the India delegates' side, there was a wide range of proposals. Former Union Cabinet Minister and Harvard Professor Dr Subramanian Swamy noted that India's high interest rates were primarily benefitting foreigners who were borrowing in the West and lending in India. He proposed interest rates to be maxed at 10%, and the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India be sacked. He also called for a national water grid.
The vice chancellor of Delhi University, Professor Dinesh Singh, noted that Indian mathematics was highly advanced 5,000 years ago.
In reference to the need for innovation, Vallabh Bhansali of Enam Securities made a plea to Indian parents: "please let your children join start-ups".
The vice chancellor of Delhi University, Professor Dinesh Singh, noted that Indian mathematics was highly advanced 5,000 years ago. Part of the reason for this, he said, was that (part of what is now) India was a maritime power that needed and encouraged constant technological innovation. India's scientific decline, he said, was tied to "Indian technology unlinking from knowledge ecosystems". He called for a reintegration of Indian technological innovation with societal, political and economic need.
The Indian government ministers listened to all ideas, took notes, took questions, and — speaking as individuals not as government representatives — openly explained their own priorities and constraints. Minister of State for Finance, Jayant Sinha, said, "We need to come up with the next generation of capitalism. The only way is by entrepreneurship and innovation. We can't follow the China model — it is very destructive to the environment, and forced. We need a unique Indian model."
But he was clear that this wasn't going to be a revisiting of the Central planning model. "We've had the state as a player on the field, when in fact it should be the umpire. My job is to get you to do it, I can't do it". And then came an idea: "Maybe what we need is a Grand Challenge on solving key problems for India."
The Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power, Coal and New and Renewable Energy, Piyush Goyal, was aware of India's need for power. He said, given current low oil prices, he was willing to sign five-year contracts immediately, but no one was willing to offer at a reasonable price. "Getting energy to the people, etc., is nothing extraordinary. It is something government is supposed to do. One would have imagined India would have planned for energy security many years ago. But when I took office, I found we were literally living on a day-to-day basis."
He said he thought he could cease thermal coal imports in 2-3 years, but coking coal would be more of a challenge. He added that he was certainly not closed to nuclear power, but needed to look at lifecycle costs and public sentiment. In the interim, renewables could help rural areas with off-grid and micro-grid solutions so at least people would have lights, phone charge, etc. now.
Minister of Railways, Suresh Prabhu, one of the main drivers behind the Conclave, summed up the impetus for the search for new ideas with: "If something has been de-formed, it should be re-formed".
There is no question that decades of dubious policies and corruption have affected the health of the Indian body politic. The Government of India is looking for ideas, from the deep past, from the neighbours, from new sources, from the soul.
The Conclave was one small part of the ongoing process — many key people weren't there. But the search for ideas continues. It will be difficult, there will be mistakes, and there will be detractors. Many benefited from the way things were. And many are concerned about who will benefit from any change.
Many are watching closely. As the former Prime Minister of Bhutan said at the Conclave, "When India sneezes, her neighbours catch cold". The question is, with the right ideas, will it be possible for India to smile, so her neighbours can laugh?