US holds its tongue on India’s democracy – Asian Media Report

Jul 1, 2023
Map showing China, SE Asia and Australia

In Asian Media this week: Modi should tackle public concerns. Plus: Blinken’s Beijing visit ‘achieves little’; China fights back against de-risking pressure; Australia’s dismal Asean investment record; the laggard in the middle of G7 gender campaign; environmental harm cruise ships cause

Australian media lash China over its human rights performance but shrug their collective shoulders when India’s record is raised. Asian media look at the two countries with both eyes open.

The Hindu newspaper reported positively on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent trip to Washington. In an editorial, it noted with approval President Joe Biden’s that the US-India partnership would be one of the defining relationships of the 21st century.

But it also said it was difficult to avoid increasingly loud questions about democracy and human rights in India – which 75 US lawmakers had raised in a letter to Biden (with some boycotting Modi’s address to Congress).

The paper suggested Modi might tackle public concerns in India, discussing his stated belief that “if there are no human values and there is no humanity, there are no human rights, then it cannot be called a democracy”.

The Korean Herald published a commentary by pro-democracy campaigner Ricken Patel under the headline “Why is Biden silent on Modi?”

Patel says India now ranks #161 on the World Press Freedom Index and both Freedom House and The Economist Intelligence Unit say it is no longer a fully free democracy.

“India’s democracy is in danger,” Patel says. “There is no sound moral, political or economic case for President Joe Biden and other democratic leaders to pretend this isn’t happening.”

An opinion piece published by ucanews.com, the pan-Asia Catholic news service, said that on his return to India Modi attacked opposition parties and minority communities but remain silent on mass killings in the state of Manipur, where more than 300 churches had been burned since May 3. More than 130 people had been killed and 50,000 displaced.

During Modi’s US trip, Sabrina Siddiqui, the Wall Street Journal’s White House correspondent, had been trolled by leaders of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. Her sin was to ask Modi at a news conference what he would do to improve the rights of Muslims and other minorities and to uphold free speech. Modi dodged the question.

The White House and the State Department maintained a diplomatic silence on the violence in Manipur.
“The US, despite its public posturing and attacks on the human rights record of China and Russia, knows when to politely close its eyes and hold its tongue,” the article said.

With thin-skinned leaders, personal diplomacy is dead

Antony Blinken’s recent trip to Beijing has left at least one seasoned observer of US-China relations clearly underwhelmed. Stephen S. Roach, a Yale University economist and former chair of Morgan Stanley Asia, says relying on personal diplomacy brings serious problems.

“Despite the predictable optimistic spin on the visit – both sides agreed to strengthen people-to-people exchanges and promised to continue talks – it did little to defuse the increasingly fraught conflict between the United States and China,” Roach said in a commentary distributed by Project Syndicate, the expert writers’ group, and published in the South China Morning Post.

“The underlying problem is over-reliance on personalised diplomacy. Yes, that played a crucial role in the early days of the US-China relationship,” he said. “But those days are over. Personalised diplomacy has outlived its usefulness.
“With management of the US-China relationship in the hands of politically constrained, thin-skinned leaders, disputes between the two superpowers have become exceedingly difficult to resolve.

“Neither leader can afford to be seen as weak. Conflict-resolution is now more about face, less about grand strategy.
“President Xi Jinping, for example, insisted on sitting at the head of the table… casting the senior US diplomat in a decidedly subservient light. No sooner had Blinken left the country than… Joe Biden referred to the Chinese leader as a dictator, further inflaming China’s sensitivities.”

Roach said the two countries should shift to a more institutionalised method of engagement, taking conflict resolution out of the hands of hyperactive, politically constrained leaders. A new architecture of engagement would involve greater technical expertise at a working group level and be more focused on mutual problem-solving.

An opinion piece in India’s The Statesman said that Blinken’s meetings with Foreign Minister Qin Gang were business-like but top diplomat Wang Yi adopted the role of “scolder-in-chief,” listing Washington’s transgressions. Xi’s role was to play the “great statesman”, smiling benevolently at Blinken while shaking his hand.

“Blinken’s Beijing trip reiterated that there is unlikely to be any dramatic reappraisal of Sino-US ties,” the article said. “Yet it hints at the fact that both powers may just be preparing to live with each other.”

Make trade, not war

Beijing is fighting back against moves in the US and Europe to decouple their links with China, or to “de-risk” the economic relationship. It wants an open trading system to continue into the future.

China’s Premier Li Qiang has warned against politicising economic issues, using the opening of the World Economic Forum’s Summer Davos, in Tianjin, to make his case. He conveyed a similar message visits to Germany and France last week.

Singapore’s The Straits Times reported him as saying countries should work to maintain stable global supply chains. Businesses were sensitive to risk and should make their own judgments.

China’s Global Times newspaper’s story on the conference was under the heading: “Summer Davos kicks off in Tianjin, in rejection of ‘decoupling’ and ‘de-risk’ noise.” Dignitaries, delegates and entrepreneurs lambasted decoupling attempts, it said.

China Daily published an opinion piece by Harald Bruning, director of the Macau Post Daily newspaper, saying the idea of decoupling from China seems to have ended up in the ash heap of history.

As a result of Li’s visit to Germany and France the two countries have dumped the “Trumpian trade-war threat” of decoupling.

China Daily also carried an article by John Gong, a professor at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics, arguing that the US had adopted “de-risking”, a European term, as a cover for its decoupling policy.

Gong said continued investment in China by foreign companies spoke volumes about the resilience and reliability of the country’s supply chains.

“In terms of geopolitics, ideology and national security, it is hard to change the mindset of Cold War-obsessed Western powers,” he said. “China should do its best to ensure its supply chains continue to be the most reliable in the world.”

Veteran business journalist Anthony Rowley provides a broader perspective in a regular South China Morning Post column. World trade, he says, provides the best guide to the immediate future of the global economy and stock prices. And the outlook is bleak.

“This is no mere accident,” Rowley says. “It is a self-inflicted wound. Economic sentiment, along with trade and investment, is deteriorating rapidly around the world as a result of geopolitical tensions. We face further discriminatory trade, economic sanctions, declining prosperity or even real wars unless we get we get better leadership.

“The name of the game has changed from ‘free’ trade to ‘weaponised’ trade.”

The heading on Rowley’s commentary includes the phrase: “Make trade, not war.”

Chance to lift Australia’s Asean investment

Australian trade with Asean countries is strong but direct investment is dismal. Last year, Australian investments amounted to $A28 billion. Asean investments from New Zealand were valued at $A75 billion.

A report in the South China Morning Post said Indonesia, with a $US1.2 trillion economy, appeared to have attracted no Australia direct investment between 2018 and 2022.

The report, by former Australian Financial Review journalist Su-Lin Tan, said direct investments reflected a willingness to take long-term stakes in a country.

“Low levels of direct investments in Asean convey a weak financial commitment to the region,” the report said.
Tan said the relationship could be headed for a turning point as Canberra tightens its focus on the region because of the difficult relations with China.

She quoted former Australian trade minister Andrew Robb as saying Australian institutions were increasingly convinced that Asean was “on its way to the first world”.

The combination of businesses trying to find manufacturing hubs outside of China and the maturing of Asean economies could change Australian appetites for investment, Robb said.

Tan noted that two-way trade between Australia and Asean reached $A150 billion in 2021-22, much more than with the European Union ($A97 billion) or the US ($A77 billion).

She said a new official strategy to be launched later this could help Australian businesses increase Asean investments.
The Southeast Asia Economic Strategy to 2040 aimed to match Asean trade and investment opportunities to Australian capabilities.

Country #125 for gender pay gap hosts G7 equality meeting

Gender-equality ministers from the G7 countries met in Japan last weekend and called for an end to the economic disparity between men and women. The Japan Times reported the ministers said movement towards gender equality had reversed as there were fewer employment opportunities for women during the COVID pandemic.

There was one little hitch and another bigger one.

The little hitch showed up in the inevitable group photo: the host minister, Masanobu Ogura is a man. The optics were poor.

The bigger problem, the subject of the headline on the Asahi Shimbun story, is that Japan’s gender pay gap rating is 125th out of 146 countries.

The paper published an editorial the day before the G7 meeting started, saying Japan needed to step up its effort to narrow the gap.

“It is crucial for Japanese society to make efforts to create a more women-friendly work environment and support their career development,” the editorial said.

Cruise ships, the early curse of the COVID pandemic, are plying the oceans again

For Hong Kong journalist David Dodwell, the colossal ships now being built remain a curse: they are so big they have created ecosystems that threaten everything they touch.

Dodwell, a trade-policy think tank director and South China Morning Post columnist, says the ships were once called floating hotels but they are now more like floating cities.

He says in a recent column that 218 cruise ships were working European waters last year and they pumped into the air more than four times the sulphuric oxide emitted by all of Europe’s cars. (Dodwell uses the term sulphuric oxide. Perhaps he means the pollutant sulphur dioxide and the other oxides of sulphur). “[The] newest ships are… able to plug into shoreside electricity supplies, enabling them to switch off their engines while in port,” he says. “The problem is that only 2 per cent of the world’s ports can provide shoreside power.” China this month launched its first locally constructed cruise ship, the 135,500-tonne Adora Magic City. Dodwell says it is putting down a marker that it wants to join the world’s cruise industry leaders. “It is now, before serious environmental harm is done that China and its cruise-ready tourists should take a cold, hard look at the damage the industry can inflict and perhaps how to prevent it,” he says. “For boats to retain a special place in our lives, it is imperative for cruise ships to revert to environmental equilibrium. What are the chances that an emerging industry in Asia can take the lead?”

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