Albanese, Biden woo Modi with flattery – Asian Media Report

Jun 3, 2023
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese embrace following a community event at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, Tuesday, May 23, 2023. Image: AAP /Dean Lewins

In Asian Media this week: India Special: West’s one-two soft-soaping of country’s leader; anti-colonial Modi pushes ‘new’ future; forecasts of Indian century ‘magical thinking’. Plus: tighter US, Japan, South Korea ties; Timor-Leste’s ASEAN ambitions; Bangkok backing key to poll winner’s survival.

India I: Anthony Albanese’s gushing greeting last month for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi dovetails with similar fawning by US President Joe Biden. They might even have co-ordinated their flattery.

“The one-two soft-soaping by Messrs Biden and Albanese of the 72-year-old Mr Modi is a calculated play to the ego of the Indian leader,” says a detailed analytical piece in Singapore’s The Straits Times.

The article, written by Ravi Velloor, an associate editor and senior columnist of the paper, says Biden showered Modi with praise in a meeting during last month’s G7 summit in Hiroshima.

Biden talked about the state dinner planned for Modi in Washington DC on June 22. He was quoted as saying: “Everyone in the whole country wants to come. I have run out of tickets.”

Only days later, Albanese called Modi “The Boss” at a public event in Sydney.

India, the article says, is moving closer to Washington. “The Quad extends this tightening relationship with the US to also wrap in America’s closest regional allies, Japan and Australia,” it says.

India is making a huge flash of hosting the G20 summit in September, the piece says.

China would not object to India gaining the global limelight but it would be less sanguine about any tightening of the US security embrace or a tilt towards turning the Quad into an “Asian NATO”.

This week the Global Times, one of China’s official English language newspapers, praised Modi for his anti-colonial stance, including replacing India’s pre-Independence parliament building (See story below).

“To drive a wedge between China and India, the West has repeatedly flattered India, deceiving India to ‘replace China’,” it said in an editorial. “They concoct and emphasise the concept of ‘dragon-elephant’ rivalry.”

Modi opens new parliament but snubs the president

India II: Narendra Modi opened India’s new parliament building on Sunday and the thrust of the speech he delivered, The Hindu newspaper reported, was that it represented a new India that had left behind a slave mentality and was moving forward to being a developed country by 2047 – the 100th anniversary of Independence.

He used the word “new” more than 40 times, the paper said.

Modi said: “It is not only a building. It is a reflection of the aspirations and dreams of [1.4 billion] Indians. This is the temple of our democracy giving the message of India’s determination to the world.”

Modi spoke for 35 minutes. Not present, because they were not invited, were President Droupadi Murmu and Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar. Ms Murmu said she was deeply happy that Modi was opening the building but her absence led to a boycott of the event by 22 Opposition parties.

The paper said Congress party leader Rahal Gandhi had accused Modi of treating the ceremony like a coronation.

The Japan Times published a Bloomberg story that said Modi was spearheading a sweeping revamp of the colonial-era centre of New Delhi. The four-storey modern building would replace one built 100 years ago.

It was part of a project called Central Vista – a redesign of a historic stretch of monuments and government buildings. The redevelopment was controversial as it erased a portion of the capital’s architectural heritage.

“Modi is accused of using it to promote his Bharatiya Janata Party’s Hindu nationalist ideology,” the story said.

Juggle the numbers as you like: India will lag China

India III: The media and political enthusiasm India has attracted recently has revived interest in two related questions: why has India always lagged China? And, is that about to change?

The issue has arisen again, in part because last month the UN declared India to be the world’s most populous nation. It has also been driven by Narendra Modi’s promotion of his country as an international leader.

Another factor, says David Dodwell, an observer of Asian economies for 40 years, has been America’s remorseless efforts to slow China’s rise. India is the only economy with a big enough market and workforce to have a hope of competing with China.

Dodwell, CEO of a trade and international relations consultancy called Strategic Access and a South China Morning Post contributor, argues in a recent column that China’s Maoist revolution swept away ancient power structures, opening the country to the potential for change.

But India retained old power structures and vested interests that blocked radical political or economic changes.

“There is a magical thinking among forecasters who talk of an ‘Indian century’, with Modi’s India set to overtake China,” Dodwell says. “[But] so many factors sit in the way of sustainable strong growth in India.”

India has a much greater agricultural workforce than China; its literacy rate is much lower; its rate of female participation in the workforce is only 30 per cent that of China’s.

“One can juggle data ad nauseam,” Dodwell says, “but the reality of the past 40 years remains unchanged. Indian progress is welcome but slow and the country will continue to lag behind China.

“There is no way (US President Joe) Biden can magically think away the reality of China as a global economic force.”

NK spy satellite launch pushes US allies closer

North Korea’s attempted, but failed, launch of a spy satellite has given impetus to the efforts to forge closer military co-operation between the US, Japan and South Korea.

Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin met in Tokyo on Thursday, the day after the rocket carrying North Korea’s first military satellite crashed into the sea.

Hamada said the launch highlighted the need to strengthen ties between the three countries, The Japan Times reported.

The paper said trilateral defence co-operation had grown in recent months, as chilly ties between Tokyo and Seoul has begun to become warmer.

The paper quoted Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as saying America’s condemnation of the failed launched was hackneyed gibberish. The satellite would be put into orbit soon, she said.

The Korea Herald said the South Korea military was working to salvage a segment of the North Korean rocket. The paper said South Korean Intelligence believed one reason for the failed operation might have been a rush to launch the satellite even though construction of its launch site was not finished.

In an earlier story, The Japan Times said the Chollima-1 rocket carrying the Malligyong-1 satellite, failed after the first-stage separated.

It said the North Korean Central News Agency attributed the failure to engine problems and the unstable character of the fuel used.

Xanana’s ASEAN goal at the end of a bumpy road

Timor-Leste independence hero Xanana Gusmao is returning to the prime ministership following his party’s victory in last month’s elections. According to The Jakarta Post, he is moving closer to realising his ambition to have his young nation join the ASEAN grouping, a market of 600 million people.

Xanana’s CNRT party won 31 of the 65 seats in parliament and can govern in coalition with the small Democrat Party, which gained six seats.

AN opinion article in The Post says Indonesia, the former coloniser, is giving strong backing to Xanana’s ASEAN ambitions. Other ASEAN leaders, notably Singapore’s Lee Hsien Loong, were at first reluctant to accept a new member but Indonesia persuaded them Timor-Leste’s inclusion was in the interests of the bloc, given the US-China rivalry in the region.

The country applied for ASEAN membership in 2011 but the bloc began considering it seriously only last year. It appears set to gain full membership but there is a bumpy road ahead, as it must accede to some 66 agreements ASEAN has signed.

The article, by senior editor Kornelius Purba, says Lee has been quoted as saying: “I think it is important that Timor-Leste completes all this process so that by the time it joins ASEAN it’s really truly an ASEAN member and not just a half-member or member-in-waiting.”

Move Forward backed by the power of Bangkok

In Thai political circles, a saying has it that Bangkok makes – or breaks – governments.

The thinking is that Thai elites – military, royalist, bureaucratic, corporate – have the power to decide the fate of national governments. This happened, for instance, in 2006 and 2014 when elite-led Bangkok street protests paved the way for coups and military-dominated administrations.

Canadian political scientist David Matijasevich thinks it is important that Bangkok glows Orange – the colour of the Move Forward Party that won last month’s national elections and is working on forming a coalition government. Move Forward gained 32 of the 33 seats in Bangkok.

“Thai governments over the last two decades have survived when Bangkok has supported them and fallen when Bangkok has opposed them either electorally or in the streets,” he writes in The Diplomat magazine.

Matijasevich says Move Forward has been bolder than any other party in proposing policies that would declaw the elites that have dominated society and politics for decades.

Its goal of decentralisation puts it at words with the traditional bureaucracy; its policy of de-monopolisation puts it up against powerful tycoons; de-militarisation would be opposed by the army; and its willingness to open up debate Thailand’s lese-majeste laws threatens to upset royalists and, he says, perhaps even the palace itself.

“Remarkably, after 15 years of leaning towards conservative and pro-military parties Bangkok currently has no electoral districts represented by any of these forces,” Matijasevich writes.

“With the people of Bangkok clearly calling for change, the use of dirty tricks like party dissolutions and the banning of party executives could result in a level of urban unrest that the Thai political establishment may be reluctant to unleash and subsequently deal with.”

In the recent past, the Thai elite could count on Bangkok, especially the middle class, for support when faced with political forces from the provinces.

“This assumption no longer seems to hold,” he says. “It could indicate a sea-change in Thai politics.”

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