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BRI: The Infected Project of the Century

The closely guarded bilateral BRI partnerships are either with autocracies or economically weak and politically fragile nations. Financing is through enticing loans convertible into debt traps. No elements of grant or aid. No free lunches.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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The BRI envisaged infrastructure and construction projects at a mega scale — Railways, Highways, Ports, Energy Projects, and Industrial Estate Developments across 70 odd countries. The crown jewel being the CPEC. The Chinese ambitions are to displace the US from the top. Engage countries in bilateral economic partnerships. Deploy excess Chinese capital and capacity overseas to boost the economy. Chinese merchandise was to flow in outbound streams. Inbound traffic ensures food, energy, and resource securities for China. BRI consolidates Xi Jinping’s role in perpetuity in creating a Sinocentric world.

The closely guarded bilateral BRI partnerships are either with autocracies or economically weak and politically fragile nations. Financing is through enticing loans convertible into debt traps. No elements of grant or aid. No free lunches. Execution by Chinese contractors. Locals excluded from even trickle-down employment.  All BRI projects are opaque, overpriced and tainted with corruption. That is par for the course and known. 

 The BRI, dubbed as “The Project of the Century”, has been infected by the “Wuhan Virus” and is in standstill mode. It was the main instrument to make China a superpower. In this context it is interesting to see how some similar economic corridors of the past have fared. Each is an interesting story. When seen alongside the BRI they show you the future. 

The Basic Model

Fundamentally, the BRI is a mega copy of the British Empire which was founded on trading posts and colonies. The British mercantile system established it with a strong Navy in the 16th17th centuries. The Empire was built over a century. However Xi Jinping wanted BRI in a hurry. The other superpower model is the US with its global network of military bases, strategic alliances, and reconstruction efforts of the post WW-II era. China lacked the sea power of the British, or the military might of the US. Hence it used cheque book and debt trap diplomacy as hard power currency to establish the BRI. As BRI expanded, its overseas military power could simultaneously grow to eventually consolidate China as the sole superpower.

The Panama Canal

 The Panama Canal (83 km), one of the seven wonders of the modern world, began operations in 1914. It was built by the US to connect its eastern and western coasts and avoid sailing around South America. To build and control the Canal, the US created Panama by carving it out from Colombia in 1903. The US has “as if it were sovereign” rights to the Canal “in perpetuity” though it is being run by Panama today. The traffic has grown from 1,000 ships in 1914 to approximately 14,000 annually. Its annual revenue of $2 billion is the biggest element in Panama’s GDP.

 Despite constantly increasing revenues, Panama went through political and economic turbulence. By 1983 it was in economic ruin under Manuel Noriega’s dictatorship (set up by the US). Noriega ran a parallel economy of drugs, money laundering and human trafficking. He supported guerrilla uprisings in neighbouring countries. Political opponents were assassinated.  Finally, he turned coat in the US too. Retaliatory US sanctions destroyed Panama’s economy. Ultimately the US invaded Panama in 1989 to safeguard its interests. The invasion pushed many people back into poverty. Later, Panama stabilised due to US intervention. In a loose sense, Panama can be termed as an “Independent” state of the US with limited sovereignty. In some sense it is a colony. Despite an economic boom and an upper-middle per capita GDP, more than 25% of Panama’s population live in poverty. Many debt-trapped BRI countries could end up as tomorrow’s Panamas including Pakistan. 

 A century after commencing operations, the Panama Canal has benefitted USA and the rest of the world immensely. Has it benefitted Panama as much? It continues to be a mosquito and insect infested tropical country with bouts of economic ruin, civil strife, and political instability. Its sovereignty is questionable.  Without the US, it might collapse.   

 Berlin-Baghdad Railway

 The 19th century Europe saw great opportunity in the resources of a weakening Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman agricultural system could whet European food requirements. Minerals (Chrome, antimony, lead and zinc mines and some coal) and abundant oil of the Middle East were on offer. Hence a transcontinental rail link through the Ottoman Empire was conceived with Britain, France and Germany competing. Ultimately, the Germans won out. Work began on the Berlin-Baghdad Railway in 1903.

 It was built from 1903 to 1940. It was approx 4900 km long, traversing modern-day Turkey, Syria, and Iraq to Basra, in the Persian Gulf. Germans wanted to counter the British Empire by bypassing the Suez Canal to threaten its dominance in colonial trade. Turkish interest was twofold. Firstly, countering its Russian rivals. Secondly control of Arabian Peninsula and expansion across the Red Sea into Egypt, then under British control. Expansion into Egypt was through an offshoot called the Hejaz railway (Aleppo to Damascus to Medina). The Hejaz Railway was targeted through guerrilla warfare by Lawrence of Arabia. He never let it function fully.

 The Berlin-Baghdad (and ultimately Basra) Railway would enable German goods to reach the warm waters of the Gulf. From there trade could be extended to German colonies farther. The return journey would bring oil. Axiomatically, economic interests would expand political influence. The Railway was to strengthen ties between the Ottoman Empire and Germany to shift the regional balance of power. Similarities to the CPEC are eerie though predated by a century. 

Funding, engineering and construction were mainly German. The Railway became a source of international disputes. It was one of the leading causes of WW-I. When WW-I broke, the Railway was still 960 km short of its objective. By 1915, the Railway was still 480 km short. It had limited utility during WW-I. Baghdad was captured by the British. The Hejaz Railway in the South was sorted out by Lawrence of Arabia.  Construction resumed in the 1930s. The last stretch to Baghdad was built in the late 1930s. The first train from Istanbul to Baghdad departed in 1940.

 Did it serve the purpose for which it was envisaged? Clearly no. By the time the Railway was built, empires and nations ceased to exist the way they were. Colonial contours had changed. Technical difficulties, funding issues, cultural outlooks, geopolitical alignments, and divergent interests stretched construction time to breaking point. The project was so contentious, and ambitious that it was bound to fail on all fronts. It failed — never to meet any one’s aspirations. Fits the infected BRI well? Of course it does.

Suez Canal

 The Suez Canal, constructed between 1859 and 1869, connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.  It opened on November 17, 1869. It has been operating for nearly a century and a half. In 2012, 17,225 vessels traversed the Canal. Initially the Canal was British owned. Nasser nationalized it. Suez Canal Authority of Egypt now owns it. Expansion and canal widening commenced in August 2014, to double its capacity from 49 to 97 ships a day. The “New Suez Canal”, was opened on 6 August 2015. In the fiscal year 2014-15, the revenues of the Canal were $5.7 billion.   

A highly profitable Suez Canal should have given stability and progress to Egypt over the past century and a half.  However, the opposite is true. President Nasser ran an inefficient Soviet style centralized economy. The Arab-Israel wars debilitated growth. The 90s saw a series of IMF arrangements once fences with Israel were mended. Egypt received external debt relief due to participation in the Gulf War coalition. Since 2000, structural reforms helped Egypt move towards a market-oriented economy and prompted increased foreign investment. The reforms and policies propelled growth, which averaged 8% annually between 2004 and 2009. However, the trickle-down effect was poor. Wealth distribution was inequitable. Economic conditions worsened. Unemployment burgeoned. After the 2011 revolution, Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves fell from $36 billion in December 2010 to only $16.3 billion in January 2012. Egypt’s long-term credit rating was lowered in 2013.

 Egypt has seen peaceful growth only for about two decades. It has been involved in strife – externally or internally. After the Arab Spring, growth rates have plummeted to 2-3% with double digit inflation. The economy is in poor shape. The stark lesson is that if successful projects did not guarantee growth of nations or people, the largely unsuccessful BRI projects can destroy nations. Have doubts? Examine Hambantota. 

 Analysis

 When seen in the overall context, the BRI has shades of all previous corridors but with its own defining characteristics. Old models had investors and invested nations. In BRI there is one creditor nation and a host of debtor nations. The creditor has been indemnified and guaranteed profits irrespective of the outcome of the projects. The host nations in BRI will end up with non-performing assets and a non-repayable loan with partial loss of sovereignty. The host countries need to see which model they fit in.

Pre pandemic indications itself were clear. All completed BRI projects were economically, politically, and socially unviable. They were being dubbed as “Roads to Nowhere”. Ever since the Wuhan virus has infected the BRI, the projects are firmly on the back-burner. As the virus rages, economies have shrunk. Tax revenues plunged, and expenditure is up. Supply chains from China are disrupted. Migrant Chinese workers have been quarantined, repatriated, or banned. BRI infrastructure lies unfinished. Upstream manufacturing has declined in China. Some projects are into legal problems. This will only magnify.  Many nations are seeking debt write offs/rescheduling. The status of the flagship CPEC is too well known. China is now shifting focus to concentrate on two nonphysical components of BRI namely “Health Silk Road (HSR)” and “Digital Silk Road (DSR)” which are only sops to save its image.

  The longer the Virus lasts the greater the effect. Even if a vaccine is found, the poor host nations are not high priority to get them. So BRI projects will languish to deteriorate. Restarting them means refinancing. Poor nations cannot afford it as they recover from the Virus. In case of defaults, China will own an asset which has no value. In the meanwhile Governments can change and politics winds can turn. The unfinished Chinese projects dotting the global landscape will constantly remind people of the Wuhan Virus.

There is a larger issue. Chinese investment in BRI is estimated to be anything between $1.5 Tn and $5.5 Tn. That is between 15- 40% of its GDP and at risk. As per reports $200-520 Billion have already been sunk with no tangible return. See this against the historic backdrop of fate of corridors analyzed above. All one can foresee shuttling in the BRI are bats and pigs carrying viruses up and down. Does the infected BRI seem to be an instrument to propel China to superpower status? In my opinion if the bats do not kill it, the pigs will.

Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology

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Defence

MoD releases draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy 2020 with focus on self-reliance

Ashish Singh

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In order to provide impetus to self-reliance in defence manufacturing, multiple announcements were made under ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ package. In implementing such framework and to position India amongst the leading countries of the world in defence and aerospace sectors, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has formulated a draft Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy 2020 (DPEPP 2020).The DPEPP 2020 is envisaged as overarching guiding document of MoD to provide a focused, structured and significant thrust to defence production capabilities of the country for self-reliance and exports. The policy has laid out following goals and objectives:

1. To achieve a turnover of Rs 1,75,000 crore including export of Rs 35,000 crore in aerospace and defence goods and services by 2025.

 2. To develop a dynamic, robust and competitive defence industry, including aerospace and naval shipbuilding industry to cater to the needs of the armed forces with quality products.

 3. To reduce dependence on imports and take forward “Make in India” initiatives through domestic design and development.

4. To promote export of defence products and become part of the global defence value chains.

5. To create an environment that encourages R&D, rewards innovation, creates Indian IP ownership and promotes a robust and selfreliant defence industry.

The policy brings out multiple strategies under the following focus areas:

1. Procurement Reforms

2. Indigenisation & Support to MSMEs/Startups

3. Optimise Resource Allocation

4. Investment Promotion, FDI & Ease of Doing Business

 5. Innovation and R&D

6. DPSUs and OFB

7. Quality Assurance & Testing Infrastructure

8. Export Promotion

The draft DPEPP 2020 can be accessed at https://ddpmod.gov.in/dpepp and https:// www.makeinindiadefence.gov. in/admin/webroot/writereaddata/upload/recentactivity/ Draft_DPEPP_03.08.2020.pdf for public consultation and seeking inputs/comments from the stakeholders. Based on the comments received, the policy would be promulgated by the MoD. Inputs/comments on the draft DPEPP 2020 is solicited latest by August 17, 2020 to the email id dirpnc-ddp@nic.in.

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Defence

India’s ‘Quadratic’ Equations

It can’t be business as usual for India. On the global stage, the country needs to have the confidence of making hard choices based on its interests. We must get our ‘Quad-ratic’ equations right.

LT GEN PR SHANKAR (Retd)

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India has reinforced the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with 35,000 troops. It is considering banning more Chinese apps. Chinese entities are being excluded from—telecom, railways, non-essentials, infrastructure and more. Our stance against the Chinese is hardening. The question is: Should we continue to do it alone or as part of the Quad? Needs a logical examination.

In the article “Quad 2.0 and Tianxia”, it was brought out that China is waging an intensifying multi-domain war. Despite India being in the forefront to contend it, our external environment is fast deteriorating.

The three-pronged Chinese threat: First, China is trying to settle the LAC as per its perception with a Nine Dash Line approach—do what you may, we will do what we want. Reports of deployment of troops in the Central Sector are surfacing. The direct threat is explicit. Second, the threat through Nepal and Pakistan is transparent. The PLA hand behind the recent attack on our troops in Manipur is suspected. Myanmar is being pressurised to join the BRI. Bangladesh is veering sharply towards China. Bhutan is under pressure on the Sakteng issue. The indirect and insidious threat is manifesting in increasing proportions. Third, the recent Iran-China deal reduces Indian influence in West Asia and constricts our gateway to CARs. With Iran and Pakistan in its lap, Afghanistan falls into the Chinese plate. An alternative CPEC axis via Gilgit Baltistan-Afghanistan-Iran opens up. China gets to control Gwadar and Chabahar. Chinese dreams of a twoocean superpower seem real. This puts our IOR strategy at greater risk. Overall, the Chinese footprint is expanding exponentially.

Two-toned Pakistan: While dealing with an impoverished Pakistan of 200 plus million radicalised people headed by an ineffectual government, we must contend with the supra national Pakistani Army (China-funded) with regained “Strategic Space” in Afghanistan. The threat from Pakistan hereafter could also be a Chinese one. These two tones will get more complex and jarring.

Internal dimension

Reality check: Internally our status is tight. Lack of political consensus or internal strength even when China is at the gates is disturbing. The future political landscape appears fractured which China to exploit. Coronavirus is raging unabated. While coping with health issues, the effect on the economy is debilitating. The industry is working at 30% efficiency. Our economy will not rebound soon. In a couple of years, we might stabilise if we decouple successfully from China, attract relocation and make Aatmanirbharta a great success. Our strength will grow only thence. Our defense establishment is off track. Lack of budgets, inability to procure, fast track imports during every conflict, lack of long-term focus or priority, bureaucratic ineptitude and many more issues will constrain capacity building. OFB unions going on strike when war is imminent! Still amending DPPs and procurement rules? Oh bureaucracy! Our ‘neighbour first’ policy is in tatters with China being ‘first’ with all our neighbors. Overall, the mirror on the wall suggests that India cannot tackle China on its own. It might hold it off now. But just that. There is no Cinderella story around.

Options: What are the options available to keep China at bay? First, go alone. Only feasible when India’s comprehensive national strength relative to China improves. Second, form an alliance or partnership with Southeast Asian Nations who are also affected by China. A sort of “Chini Peedith Samaj”. Even if it is done, the combined heft cannot stop China. India cannot sail into the South China Sea for glory. The others are not strong to come to our rescue. Third, join the Quad. That needs examination and understanding.

Quad equations

US: India and the US are the largest democracies with increasing interest convergence on bilateral, regional and global issues. The Indian American community is a thriving US ethnic group of increasing consequence. India-US bilateral relations have matured into a “global strategic partnership”. We have a major civil nuclear cooperation agreement. We are major defence partners. The India-US Defence Relations framework has culminated in the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Association (LEMOA) and Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA). We conduct more bilateral exercises with each other than any other country. Progressively, we are getting more defence equipment from the US. Most importantly we have a common adversary. Only India and the US can take on China in a military confrontation.

Japan: Indo-Japanese religious and cultural relations date back to the 6th century through Buddhism. Prominent Indians associated with Japan include Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, J.R.D. Tata, and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Bilateral ties have been singularly free of any kind of dispute—ideological, cultural or territorial. The ubiquitous Maruti Suzuki transformed India in the 1980s. Japan has always stood by India including bailing it out during the balance of payments crisis in the 1990s. Indo-Japanese relations have grown stronger with time. India and Japan have a Special Strategic and Global Partnership (2000) and have inked the India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA in 2011). Put it simply. Japan has been India’s trusted friend. The Quad is Japan’s initiative. Japan and India are the only countries with territorial disputes with China.

Australia: Indo-Australian ties date back to the Commonwealth. Notwithstanding this, the relationship was lukewarm since both countries existed in separate strategic spheres. Ties in cricket were greater. China’s rise has driven both towards greater cooperation. We entered into a Strategic Partnership in 2009. Worsening ties have forced Australia to completely reassess its relationship with China. At the same time Australia and India entered into a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership recently.

The Equation: The Quad nations are democracies with which India has historical equations. We have common economic and security interests. India has an ongoing 2 plus 2 dialogue with a comprehensive strategic partnership with all the countries. Converting this multilateral arrangement into a formal/ semi-formal Quad arrangement is the next step. Till recently India did not commit fully to the Quad since it had a border relationship and deep economic ties with China. However, the changed geopolitical equations make India potentially one of the strongest pillars of the Quad. If the Quad has to be of substance India needs to play a big role. The talk that the US will use India and will let it down is self-serving sanctimony. If India wants to join the Big League, it should learn to play in it. It should have the confidence to look after its interests in any condition. The Quad is not an IndiaUS deal. It is four nations supporting each other with each stabilising the others.

Quadratic solution

The effect: Quad nations have already conveyed unequivocally that Chinese assertiveness has limits. Space for China to scare smaller nations into submission is reducing. India taking on China militarily and enhanced US presence in the South China Sea has emboldened Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines to declare that Chinese claims in the South China Sea are illegal. Their resolve to get involved with decoupling and relocation from China is apparent. Militarily, the worst case option for China is a two front situation. The current situation allows the Quad to refine and develop scenarios to tackle China militarily in future also. While land forces need not come to aid for each other, the air and naval forces can. A couple of air and naval exercises (which are on the cards) are good enough for China to get the message. Very importantly the Quad gives a framework for military cooperation in communication, logistics’, intelligence and strategic movement.

Economic framework: The opportunity value of an economic framework is far greater. Indian economy can only revive if it becomes a base for relocated manufacturing and be part of the global supply chain. Quad is an ideal platform for that since it is a combination of raw material, manufacturing, consuming and innovating nations. Also, China is not a country which is endowed with resources. Resources and raw materials come from outside. Quad enables leveraging this capacity collectively. It also gives India the counter leverage in the neighbourhood. There is already a talk of Quad Plus with Vietnam, South Korea and New Zealand joining in. Taiwan will automatically come in to increase the economic weight. So the economic angle is taking shape and will be heavy. It will spill over to the regional nations and EU eventually.

Diplomacy: The US, Japan and Australia have come out openly to support India. Strong Australian support is clearly the Quad effect. Something unheard of in the past. The pressure on China on issues pertaining to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang can only come through a joint diplomatic effort.

‘Quad-ratic’ format: The Quad can operate in three formats. It can carry on as an ‘Informal Grouping’ as of now. One can see certain coordinated actions and reactions on play. However informal groupings can be divided and dissipate due to trivial factors. They are suboptimal. The Quad can become an ‘Alliance’. A very big ask for all countries in the pandemic situation. The middle path is a ‘partnership’ with a formal framework and a consultative mechanism for dialogue and action. Yet each country can retain a degree of freedom to pursue its other interests. The middle path of a ‘partnership’ suits all including India the best at present.

The crunch

Whatever has brought India this far will not take it where it wants to go. The point of diminishing returns has arrived. ‘Change of Course’ will have to be more than rhetoric. Can we do business as unusual? On the global stage, India needs to have the confidence of making hard choices based on its interests. Look at it from any point of view: Do we have a better choice? We must get our “Quad-ratic” equations right.

Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on his blog www. gunnersshot.com.

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Defence

CCP taking over Nepal: Oli is just the tip of the iceberg

While Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s recent behaviour is the most visible part of the CCP’s growing influence in Nepal, there is far more that needs to be recognised.

Ashish Singh

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The ongoing political crisis in Nepal has caught the attention of the world. The casual observer may be forgiven for dismissing it as an isolated incident, caused by the internal fault lines in Kathmandu’s ruling political dispensation. This is both an incorrect and a dangerous assumption, since it overlooks the radical changes which are being pushed in Nepal by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). While PM K.P. Sharma Oli’s recent behaviour is the most visible part of the CCP’s influence in Nepal, there is far more that needs to be recognised.

Ever since the Nepal Communist Party led coalition regained power in Kathmandu in 2018, the CCP has unleashed a multi-pronged strategy to bring the Himalayan nation under its absolute control. The trademark Chinese strategies of ‘debt trap through development’ and ‘territorial salami slicing’ have been supplemented by overt ‘political interference’ and ‘social engineering’. In the last two years alone, the effects of this all-out effort have been felt by the people of Nepal across their country. This is an example of the CCP using its Sun Tzu inspired playbook for ‘winning without fighting’, and it is vital that the people of Nepal as well as all stakeholders in Nepal’s future, realise the gravity of the situation and act before it is too late.

The principal manifestation of China’s interest in Nepal is the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network. 20 projects associated with this Network were signed between the two countries, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative when Xi Jinping visited Kathmandu in October 2019. Xi’s visit was the first by a Chinese Head of State in 23 years and underscored the growing importance of Kathmandu in Beijing’s plans for South Asia. Interestingly, the centre piece of this Network is a Kathmandu-Kerung railway line, which is estimated to cost 2.3 billion USD. This approximates to 10% of Nepal’s GDP – how the project would ever become economically viable remains unclear. If anything, the major quantity of trade carried would be from China to Nepal, which in time, would exacerbate debt issues for the latter. Echoes of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota experience loom large in this case!

 The minor territorial disagreements between India and Nepal have drawn much political attention in recent weeks. This issue will undoubtedly be addressed bilaterally in the days ahead. In the same period, PM Oli has quietly ceded 36 hectares of Nepalese territory to China. This has been caused by CCP’s unilateral constructions on rivers in Tibet (Autonomous Region), regardless of the impact on lower riparian nations. In Nepal’s case, changes in the routes of rivers have changed the defacto border at 11 locations in just two years. In addition, the Rui village of Nepal found itself becoming a part of China recently… leaving the 72 Nepali families there stranded in a foreign country! There has been no official pushback from Nepal on these aspects.

Mount Everest has been a major source of tourism for Nepal over the last several decades. However, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the peak has been closed for a few months now. The CCP immediately seized the opportunity to ‘capture the peak’, which lies close to the border between Nepal and Tibet (Autonomous Region). Recently, a team of scientists and surveyors sponsored by the CCP climbed the peak from the Tibetan side to identify suitable locations for the Chinese 5G network. A Chinese daily also claimed that the peak, called Qomlangma in Chinese, lies in Tibet. It has long been a strategy for the CCP to gradually change the status quo by renaming a feature, developing it, and thereafter claiming full ownership. This has been seen in multiple locations in the South China Sea and an effort is definitely being made to gradually seize ownership of the world-famous mountain, which has long been a source of pride and revenue for the people of Nepal.

Socially conditioning the citizens of Nepal for greater control by Beijing is also underway. The most overt action has been the forceful implementation of ‘Mandarin’ classes in Nepal’s schools. While this has been disguised as a ‘trade-off’ for payment of teachers’ salaries, it is undoubtedly an attempt to enhance Chinese influence over the population. Moreover, Chinese tourists in Nepal have steadily grown over the years, and have become a mainstay of the tourism sector. Weaponisation of tourism by Beijing has already been seen in South Korea, and the potential impact of this on Nepal’s economy provides significant power to the CCP.

The CCP has used this power effectively to gradually step up its influence on the Nepalese Communist Party (NCP). A series of interactions and ideological exchanges have taken place in recent times. According to some observers, the CCP aims to gradually shift the NCP’s political ideology towards the recently formulated Xi Jingping Thought. This would allow the Chinese Premier to become the ‘de facto’ leader of the NCP (like Mao had been for some Communist parties in the region) giving the CCP near absolute control over Nepal.

Implementing this strategy has required very nimble and strong local effort, which has been made possible by Hou Yangi, Beijing’s Ambassador at Kathmandu. Hou, who has previously served in Islamabad, has established unprecedented ties with the senior political and military leadership of Nepal. She is said to have complete access to the Prime Minister, Chief of Army Staff as well as the Ministers of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Tourism, etc. Hou has also established a huge social media following in Nepal and has recently also been seen as instrumental in drawing Chinese tourists and trade to Nepal in large volume.

In the last week of April 2020, when PM Oli was nearly removed from office by the ruling alliance, Hou met with leaders of all political factions in a series of closed door, intense meetings which ultimately allowed PM Oli to cling on to his chair. It is understood that the core message of these interactions was — “if we remove Oli, then India wins… which is unacceptable”.

Such overt and aggressive political influence would undoubtedly have raised objections from the political class and the media. However, local media houses have allegedly been warned off from such reporting. It is alarming how the political representation of the proud Nepalese people has been quietly and comprehensively subjugated by the CCP.

Beijing has made it no secret that it views itself as the leader in Asia and seeks to establish a hierarchical structure with itself at the apex. The implications of these ambitions for the people of smaller countries like Nepal, could be significant. Oli’s anti-India stance highlights how effective the CCP has been so far… and how the ancient cultural, traditional and civilisational relations between our two nations are being eroded. It is essential that the people of Nepal, as well as India and all other nations which have a stake in the future stability of the region, realise the extent of the CCP’s expansionist plans and act now, in concert, to safeguard the future of the Himalayan nation.

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Defence

New appointments in Western and Central Air Commands

Air Marshal V.R. Chaudhari is the new Western Air Command Chief; Air Marshal autonomous free flight D.K. Patnaik becomes the Central Air Command Senior Air Staff Officer.

Ashish Singh

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Air Marshal V.R. Chaudhari has been appointed as the new Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Western Air Command, Indian Air Force (IAF). The Air Marshal took over command from Air Marshal B. Suresh. Air Marshal V.R. Chaudhari was commissioned into Fighter Stream of the IAF on 29 December 1982 as a Fighter Pilot. In a distinguished career spanning nearly 38 years, the Air Officer has flown wide variety of fighter and trainer aircraft in the inventory of IAF. He has a flying experience of more than 3800 hrs, including operational flying on MiG-21, MiG-23 MF, MiG 29 and Su30 MKI fighter aircraft.

During his illustrious career in the IAF, the Air Officer has held numerous important appointments. He was Commanding Officer of a frontline fighter squadron and has also commanded a frontline Fighter Base. As an Air Vice Marshal, he held the coveted appointments of Assistant Chief of Air Staff Operations (Air Defence), Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Personnel Officers) at Air HQ Vayu Bhawan. As an Air Marshal, he held the appointment of Deputy Chief of the Air Staff at Air HQ Vayu Bhawan. Prior to his present appointment, he was the Senior Air Staff Officer, Eastern Air Command. The Air Marshal is an alumnus of the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. In recognition of his distinguished service, the Air Marshal was awarded Vayu Sena Medal in January 2004 and the Ati Vishist Seva Medal in January 2015.

Air Marshal D.K. Patnaik

Meanwhile, Air Marshal Dilip Kumar Patnaik has been appointed as the new Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO), of Central Air Command (CAC), Indian Air Force (IAF). The Air Marshal was commissioned into Fighter stream of the IAF on 8 June 1984 as a Fighter Pilot. The officer has flown wide variety of fighter and trainer aircraft in the inventory of IAF. He has a flying experience of more than 2500 hrs including operational flying on MiG-21 and Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft. He was also a Mission Commander on Searcher MK-II & Heron Aircraft with nearly 800 hours on type.

 During his illustrious career in the IAF, the Air Officer has held numerous important appointments. He was Commanding Officer of a frontline Fighter Squadron and has also commanded a frontline Fighter Base. As an Air Vice Marshal, he has held the coveted appointments of Chief Staff Officer (Air Vector) at HQ Strategic Forces Command and Assistant Chief of Air Staff Operations (Air Defence) at Air HQ Vayu Bhawan. Prior to assuming the present appointment he was Commandant of the Prestigious College of Air Warfare. He is an alumnus of Defence Services Staff College and done the Higher Air Command Course. In recognition of his distinguished service, the Air Marshal was awarded Vayu Sena Medal (Gallantry) in Aug 99 and Ati Vishist Seva Medal in Jan 2020, by the President of India.

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Defence

VSR700 prototype performs first autonomous free flight

Ashish Singh

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The prototype of Airbus Helicopters’ VSR700 unmanned aerial system (UAS) has performed its first free flight. The VSR700 performed a ten-minute flight at a drone test centre near Aixen-Provence in the south of France. This is a significant step in the programme following the first flight in November 2019 when the prototype was tethered to comply with regulatory requirements.

 To enable this free flight, Airbus Helicopters implemented geofencing, a virtual perimeter, which enabled and justified a flight clearance from airworthiness authorities for free flight. The flight test programme will now evolve to progressively open the flight envelope. “The free flight achieved by the VSR700 is a major step leading up to the sea trials that will be performed at the end of 2021 as part of the de-risking studies for the French Navy’s future drone,” said Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO. “Thanks to the French PlanAero, the programme will make full use of two demonstrators and an optionally piloted vehicle to develop and mature the technical and operational aspects for successful UAS operations in a naval environment.” The VSR700, derived from Helicopteres Guimbal’s Cabri G2, is an unmanned aerial system in the 500- 1000 kg maximum takeoff weight range. It offers the best balance of payload capability, endurance and operational cost. It is capable of carrying multiple full-size naval sensors for extended periods and can operate from existing ships, alongside a helicopter, with a low logistical footprint. This VSR700 prototype has evolved over the last nine months since its maiden flight. The programme implemented the geofencing function, as well as a Flight Termination System allowing the mission to be ended if necessary. Modifications have equally been performed to the air vehicle, alongside autopilot software evolutions and updates, as well as structural modifications and reinforcements.

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Defence

Western Air Command chief B. Suresh retires

Ashish Singh

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Air Marshal B. Suresh, Air Officer Commanding-inChief, Western Air Command, Indian Air Force, superannuated on 31 July 2020 after an illustrious career spanning nearly 40 years. The Air Marshal was commissioned as a Fighter Pilot in the Indian Air Force in the year 1980. An alumnus of the Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehradun and National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, the Air Marshal is a ‘Sword of Honour’ recipient from the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment. The Air Officer did his post graduation from the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington and from Cranfield University, Shrivenham, UK.

 Air Marshal Suresh is a highly experienced Fighter Pilot and has flown a variety of aircraft. During his distinguished career, the Air Marshal held a number of coveted Command and Staff appointments. He commanded a Fighter Squadron which specialised in maritime and night air strikes and was deployed along the western border during the Kargil conflict. Before taking over the appointment of Director Operations (Joint Planning) which is responsible for Tri-service coordination, he commanded Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment. The Air Marshal has commanded one of the largest air bases of the IAF in the western sector as an Air Commodore. He was also the Air Assistant to the Chief of Air Staff. As an Air Vice Marshal, he held the important appointed of Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Operations (Air Defence) for nearly four years, wherein he was also the Air Force member of the Tri-service Joint Operations Committee (JOCOM).

Widely acclaimed as a strategist and tactician of repute within Air Force circles, he is credited with having been the mastermind behind IAF’s superlative performance during Exercise Cope India 2004 – the first International bilateral exercise with the United States Air Force, held after a gap of nearly 40 years. He was again nominated as the ‘Exercise Director’ for the first ever bilateral exercise with the Republic of Singapore Air Force – Ex SINDEX 2004 – where once again, the IAF excelled. The role played by the Air Officer in ensuring IAF’s recognition internationally as a force to reckon with was acknowledged by awarding him the Presidential award of Ati Vishist Seva Medal (AVSM). He, as a Group Captain, was one of the youngest recipients of the Presidential Award.

After being promoted to the rank of Air Marshal in 2014, he was appointed as the Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) of Western Air Command wherein he brought about remarkable improvements in the operational orientation and battle readiness of the Command with increased synergy with the three associated Commands of the Indian Army viz – Northern Command, Western Command and South Western Command. As Air Officer-in-Charge Personal (AOP) at Air Headquarters, his decisions and foresight left a significant impact. He was instrumental in initiating online conduct of Air Force Common Admission Test (AFCAT) and Scheduled Test for Airmen Recruitment (STAR) – the recruitment examination for officers and airmen respectively.

The Air Marshal was the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Southern Air Command prior to his appointment as Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Air Command. Under his leadership, Southern Air Command grew exponentially in capability and functionality. The entire ‘Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) efforts during the Kerala floods in 2018 were spearheaded by Southern Air Command under his leadership. This was one of the highest intensity HADR efforts undertaken by IAF in recent history.

During his tenure as the AOC-in-C Western Air Command, he ensured a high state of operational and security preparedness and laid the foundation for the induction of the formidable Rafale fighter into the IAF. He has also been instrumental in operationalisation, both by day and night, of IAF’s new inductions viz., Chinook heavy-lift helicopter and Apache attack helicopter. In a first of sorts, airfields in Ladakh sector were operationalised for night fighter operations, thus giving a tremendous boost to 24X7 capabilities of IAF.

 The Air Marshal is a highly decorated officer having been awarded Vayu Sena Medal, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal and the Param Vishisht Seva Medal in recognition of his distinguished and dedicated service to the Nation. He was also appointed as Honorary Aide-de-Camp to the President of India.

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