Wednesday, January 22, 2020

India’s Act East Policy Post RCEP

Manas Kakumanu

Image source:

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has gained a lot of attention because of various ongoing trade wars around the world. The agreement can even bolster ties among the participating nations. So, does India’s withdrawal from the RCEP affect its Act East Policy?

India’s withdrawal from the RCEP is significant and is based on its national interest. The RCEP agreement certainly raised questions on India’s credibility as a reliable economic and strategic partner. India because of its strategic geographical location, huge market and being one of the largest spenders of defence in the region has been a prominent player in the region. With liberalisation and globalisation, India has emerged as a player with the potential of changing balance of powers in the international system and cannot be ignored by the international conglomerates.

India’s withdrawal from the RCEP can have overarching impact on its Act East Policy, since the primary objective of the policy is to improve ties with ASEAN and East Asian Nations. Withdrawing from the agreement is deterrent to its core objective and its impact can be seen on various regional organisations.

India’s trade deficit with ASEAN is gradually increasing annually, standing at $105 billion, which is bad for Indian economy. So, withdrawal from the RCEP is a coherent move. The engagement between the nations will keep on increasing irrespective of the RCEP because of the growing connectivity. The cultural ties between Indian’s North-eastern states and nations in South East Asia under Act East Policy will continue to remain intact. However, India needs to be concerned about China, especially with its ambitious projects such as the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), and North Korea that are terrorising the region in the east.

The BRI is a mega project undertaken by China in 2013 to construct infrastructural projects and revive old silk trade routes. But critics say Beijing is playing debt trap diplomacy, making countries to fall in debt and gain strategic control over the countries who are part of the BRI. ASEAN countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore are part of the initiative. With the RCEP and BRI on its hold, China has a better chance to exert influence on these countries and region. North Korea on other hand shares bilateral ties with both ASEAN and India for decades. But its strong ties with China and its nuclear provocation in the region is a concern to India’s Act East Policy.

In the meantime, New Delhi has shifted its focus from SAARC to BIMSTEC in the last few years. As a result, BIMSTEC has proven to be an important platform under India’s Act East Policy. India is the only nation with huge economic and military prowess and enjoys a significant amount of influence on the forum. BIMSTEC has evolved to be an important bloc and good alternative to SAARC because of the ongoing tensions with Pakistan and other nations and the significant economic potential of member states in BIMSTEC. Modi government figured the potential of BIMSTEC and has spent a huge amount of resources on it in recent years. Some of the mega projects under BIMSTEC are Trilateral Highway connecting India, Myanmar and Thailand, BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) Motor Vehicle Agreement and Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project that seeks to connect India and Myanmar. Thus, through BIMSTEC India can counter Chinese growing influence in the region.

Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) is relatively smaller compared to others but it has its own significance under Act East Policy. MGC is the only platform that involves five ASEAN nations. With changing economic dynamics, India can use MGC as a platform to exert its influence on post-RCEP economic system.

India has Free trade Agreements (FTA) with almost every participating country in the RCEP except China, New Zealand and Australia. In that way, withdrawing from the RCEP can be seen as a good decision since it basically leave the door open for FTA with China, leading to furthering its trade deficit. India’s withdrawal is based on its interests and past mistakes. Even though it is against Act East Policy, India chose economic and strategic interests which play a dominant role in our future relationship with ASEAN and East Asian nations.

India after its independence has faced diplomatic crisis with the western nations because of the differences in ideology but that has changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and has opened the pathway in search of new friends. With India’s economic reforms of 1991, doors were opened for strong bilateral and multilateral engagements with the outside world. Thus, in that way, Act East Policy will act as a medium to further the relationship with ASEAN and East Asian Nations.

With growing challenges and obstacles, India should act diligently on its internal and external policies. The previous FTAs with other nations did not work exactly as envisioned because of its poor diplomacy. In that way, a withdrawal from the RCEP is not a positive step for India. To be a regional power, India should focus on its domestic competitiveness and its bilateral relationship with the countries in the Southeast and Far East to its advantage.

Manas Kakumanu is Research Intern at CPPR. Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.

Monday, January 13, 2020

How Does Critical Thinking Promote Creativity?

Gazi Hassan

When one hears the word ‘critical thinking’, the first thing that comes to the mind may be the negative connotations attached to it. This is because the focus is on the word and one assumes that thinking critically must be negative, requiring to criticise or be critical of something one reads, hears or watches. Critical thinking should not be assumed to be synonymous with criticising. Once a person learns to think critically, he/she might criticise an argument or claim but the thinking will be thoughtfully reasoned, considerate, quick and not reflexive.

The term critical thinking refers to a way of thinking, an analytical stance one takes with regards to assessing claims that he/she has read, heard or seen. It is “the careful application of reason in the determination of whether a claim is true.” “Judicious reasoning about what to believe and therefore, what to do.” It requires a careful intentional thinking using reason and logic and applying that to real-world problems. Its helps in evaluating all parts of a claim and allows to determine whether one agrees or disagrees.

When we engage in critical thinking, our goal is to determine whether the claim before us is true or not and then use the assessment to decide what action or actions need to be taken. Ultimately, when we are asked to think critically, we are being asked to take a position regarding the truth or acceptability of something we have read, heard or watched. Critical thinking means being creative, and adaptable; evaluating the evidence to decide for yourself what is accurate, what is relevant and do you have the sufficient information to take a decision on a particular topic or issue.

While assessing any claim we come up with arguments—basically a collection of statements. There is a need to ask what an argument stands for. Making an argument and evaluating it is one of the key functions of critical thinking. Once the arguments are reached to differentiate on merits, one should see whether there is a logical connection between these arguments.

For this, we need to again go back to the sources and ask various questions. For example, if it is a research, ask questions like when was it written, how was the research funded and what methods were used to find the evidence? The question over the objectivity of the findings needs to be taken care of. Personal bias should be kept aside while assessing a claim. We need to look for more perspectives or views that could be looked upon. With these questions, we analyse the sources, compare them with other sources and on the basis of that reach findings or a conclusion.

Critical thinking begins with formulating a question or assessing a problem. This is succeeded by gathering information. The information gathered is then applied to the problem and while doing this we need to consider its implication. The concepts, assumptions and interpretations should be taken into consideration and end the analysis with exploring other point of views.

Thus, critical thinking is crucial for self-reflection and helps to separate facts and opinions. It also enhances an individual’s reasoning ability, analytical skills, creativity, efficiency, decision making, comprehensive skills and problem solving skills.

Gazi Hassan is Senior Research Associate at CPPR-Centre for Strategic Studies. Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

India’s Approach to Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Mona Thakkar
Image source: Daily Mail

In the recent meeting between Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Haseena and Narendra Modi, both the leaders agreed on the need for greater efforts to facilitate the “safe return of Rohingya refugees”. This declaration came even after the UN fact-finding mission reaffirmed that the Tatmadaw has committed genocidal crimes and crimes against humanity and the conditions are not conducive for Rohingya’s safe return.

Bangladesh, which hosts around 750,000 refugees from Rakhine State, has been complaining about the overwhelming pressure on its resources, environment degradation due to the sprawling camps and Rohingya taking hold of the marginal jobs. It has also been blaming Myanmar for the failure of the recent attempt to repatriate Rohingya refugees, showing its frustration over the lack of resolution of the issue. Instead of backing Bangladesh on the repatriation deal, India has chosen to help by providing financial assistance to Rohingya in Bangladesh’s camps and shield Myanmar at the UN from international sanctions.

Unlike Bangladesh, the Modi government has paid lip service to the Myanmar’s brutal crackdown on Rohingya and has threatened to expel 40,000 Rohingya migrants, 16,000 registered with the UNHCR, who it says have illegally settled in the country. The government views them not as refugees fleeing a genocidal humanitarian crisis but as infiltrators or terrorists who pose a security threat to the nation and claim to eat up the limited resources available to its citizens. The government has translated this rhetoric into action by deporting the first batch of Rohingya in October and later in January on the guarantee given to the Supreme Court that Myanmar recognises them as citizens. Unease further mounted among Rohingya when the government instructed the states to take prompt actions to identify illegal migrants by taking their biometric details and asking them to fill national reverification forms. 

India, though not a signatory to the UN Refugee convention of 1951, has openly welcomed millions of refugees from Bangladesh during the 1971 War, Buddhist refugees from Tibet and Tamil refugees during the Civil War in Sri Lanka in 1983. In defence of deporting Rohingya, India has said it will not adhere to the principle of non-refoulement as it has not ratified the UN refugee treaty of 1951. Non-refoulement prohibits forced repatriation of a person to his country of origin where he may face persecution. But as India is a party to the UN Convention against Torture and Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is obliged to non-refoulement. Therefore, India’s deportation of Rohingya refugees becomes a violation of the international law.

Indian Parliament has recently passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, that seeks to grant citizenship to Jain, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Parsi and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who have been living in India for the past six years, even if they do not have valid documents. It also implies that the threat the government faces is only from the undocumented Muslim refugees. The Bill goes against the social fabric of the Constitution of India and helps the BJP and its hard-line Hindu organisation RSS to flex their muscles of majoritarian nationalism. The recent hate rhetoric against Rohingya has forced many to flee and go to Bangladesh, raising the prospect of skirmishes between India and Bangladesh as the latter is already finding it difficult to deal with the crisis.

Further, India’s and even China’s backing to Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis stems from its geopolitical pursuits and India’s Look East policy. India and China have huge projects in Rakhine state of Myanmar—the Indian-funded Kaladan Multi Modal project linking its remote north east through sea, river and land; and China’s Kyaukpyu port project which is the terminal for the oil gas pipeline to its inland western province. Moreover, the threat of terrorism from ARSA spilling over to other parts of Rakhine worries India. Any criticism of Myanmar’s leadership will throw these strategic projects into turmoil and bolster China’s influence in India’s gateway to South East Asia.

Though realpolitik has to be pursued to deal with war, conflict, occupation and ethnic sectarian tensions, it does not have to be unethical, inhumane and unjust. The crises in Yemen, Syria and Myanmar reflect that the international community follows realpolitik at the expense of human rights because the costs outweigh the benefits. This may result in people, who suffer from conflict, losing faith in the international system.

Mona Thakkar is Research Intern at CPPR. Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.