The Hindu Editorial Analysis
15 April 2021

1) Why less may be more for India and China

A conversation-driven by hard talk and finding shared interests, even if modest ones, maybe amply rewarding

GS 2: International Relations


Context:

Both countries (India & China) seek a new equilibrium after a major rupture in relations following the border crisis.

That was the consensus shared by the two sides at a Track-II dialogue held in early April, possibly the first of its kind to be held after the border crisis.

This brought together former ambassadors and military officials from both sides, organized by the Ananta Aspen Centre in New Delhi and the China Reform Forum in Beijing, which is affiliated with the Central Party School.

Hampered by expectations

  • The history of India-China relations is rife with examples of how misplaced expectations have burdened the relationship, often only leading to recurring disappointment.
  • In the 1950s, relations veered from being led by idealized notions of restoring some pan-Asian, civilizational partnership — one that, in truth, never really existed through centuries of historical exchanges — to confrontation and ultimately war in 1962.
    • For an example of a more recent vintage, the holding of two “informal summits” in Wuhan in 2018 and in Mamallapuram near Chennai the following year, was seen as marking the start of another new promising era in ties, only to turn out to be another false dawn.
  • Rather than once again veer from high expectation to familiar disappointment, perhaps the search for a new equilibrium with China should instead be driven by modest goals, led by conversations driven by hard talk and self-interest, rather than lofty goals of the partnership.

At the core

  • At the recent dialogue, the shared view was that key to arriving at this new, more realistic state of relations will be managing three issues —
    • The boundary question,
    • Trade, and
    • The increasing impact of third-party and multilateral engagements on the two-way relationship.
  • On all three fronts, setting the sights on limited goals may end up paying rich dividends.

Consider the boundary dispute.

  • Ten months after the clash at Galwan Valley, which marked the worst violence on the border since 1967, both sides are nowhere near full de-escalation.
  • The initial optimism of a quick end to the crisis, following disengagement on the north and south banks of Pangong Lake, the most thorny of the disputes in eastern Ladakh, has now given way to an apparent stalemate.
  • The readouts from both sides after the eleventh round of talks between Corps Commanders on April 9 suggested as much, with no joint statement – for the first time since the sixth round in September – and no mention from the Chinese side of early disengagement.
  • At the Track-II dialogue, Chinese speakers, unsurprisingly, offered no clarity on what prompted the People’s Liberation Army’s mass mobilization along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) last summer and the hammer blow dealt with agreements that ensured decades of a carefully managed peace.
  • The absence of a permanent peace does not, however, mean both countries are necessarily destined for conflict. What they do need, in the view of military planners of both sides, is small steps to restore a shattered trust.
  • If China has made clear there is little likelihood of clarifying the LAC — a process that has been stalled for 19 years — one possible way forward is to, at least, clarify the most sensitive spots, and arrive at understandings, such as coordinated patrolling either by time or area.

The view on trade

  • On the trade front, Chinese billionaires from Alibaba’s Jack Ma to Wanda’s Wang Jianlin all received audiences with the Prime Minister on their India visits — to talk now of “decoupling”.
  • If the idea of roping in China as a major economic partner now seems premature in light of the many unresolved political problems, so is talk of a complete disengagement on trade.
  • One only needs to look at the trade figures for a year that saw the biggest border crisis in decades.
  • Trade reached $87.6 billion and China was India’s largest trading partner, with India importing $66.7 billion worth of machinery and medical equipment, among other goods, and exporting a record $20 billion to China, mostly ores to fill the appetite of China’s rebounding economy.
  • Or, for that matter, at the prompt restoration of Chinese mobile phone company Vivo as the sponsor of India’s biggest cricket tournament after a suspension last year, even if the border crisis is nowhere near resolution.
  • Jettisoning all activity with China is neither realistic nor prudent.
  • Instead, what is needed is a clear-headed, all-of-government approach that decides where both sides can cooperate —
    • Infrastructure that has no security implications is an obvious area,
    • As is clean energy is given China’s capacities on solar and wind, to name but two —
    • Another area where Delhi may find it needs to tread with caution, such as the roll-out of 5G.
  • The Track-II dialogue made it clear how China is viewing relations with India through the prism of its relations with the United States that is its abiding priority.
  • Beijing has increasingly hit out at what President Xi Jinping called “small circles” when he spoke to Davos, which has now become shorthand for U.S.-involved groupings including the Quad.
  • India has its own grouses with China-involved “small circles” of which there are many, to certain multilateral efforts on Afghanistan that India has been kept out of.

Focus on shared platforms

  • Rather than view every element of such engagements as a threat, that both sides would be better served to have a conversation about what the red lines are was a shared view at the dialogue.
  • Moreover, as relations stabilize, India and China could start injecting more energy into their own shared platforms such as BRICS, which, for instance, could come up with its own vaccine initiatives as the Quad has done.
  • They could also revive their bilateral cooperation in Afghanistan.

Conclusion:

  • As both sides chart a course forward after last year’s rupture in ties, they may find a conversation that is driven by hard talk and finding shared interests, even if modest ones, more rewarding than bearing misplaced expectations. As India and China go back to the drawing board, less may indeed be more.

2) Institutions, caste, and the vital cog of trust

The findings based on the IHDS on castes and their trust in State governments, the judiciary and the police are revealing

GS 1: Society


Context

  • Trust impacts income and growth through markets and public institutions.
  • There is a positive relationship between trust and the development of financial markets.
  • The operation of these markets is contingent on the trustworthiness of debtors, as legal methods of recovery of dues are fraught with delays and heavy expenses.
  • Turning to labor markets, higher trust manifests in ‘higher levels of cooperative relations between labor and management and higher levels of unionization.
  • In fact, firms that have unions representing their employees are better able to adapt to new management methods and show better productivity.
  • Evidence suggests a strong positive correlation between trust and the quality of the legal system.
  • There is a similar correlation between trust and the quality of governance’.
  • Here, our focus is on whether trust in institutions such as state government, judiciary and police varies by caste.

India Human Development Survey

  • The India Human Development Survey (IHDS) was organized by the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER)

The key term is confidence

  • A unique feature of the 2005 and 2012 rounds of the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) is that they ask a question on trust.
    • Trust in public institutions is measured in terms of levels of confidence: a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, and hardly any confidence.
  • Caste hierarchy reflects socio-economic status.
  • A vast majority of households surveyed lacked confidence in State governments in 2012.
  • The most trusted was the judiciary, followed by State governments and the police.
  • To avoid circularity, trust in institutions is for 2012 and the caste hierarchy is for 2005.
    • In the composite caste category, General, the highest proportion (under half) had only some confidence, under 30% had a great deal of confidence while about a quarter had hardly any confidence.
    • A high proportion of OBCs also reported a great deal of confidence, a much higher proportion displayed a great deal of confidence and a much lower proportion had hardly any confidence.
    • In sharp contrast, among SCs, the highest proportion (under 45%) displayed a great deal of confidence, a smaller proportion had only some confidence and a much smaller proportion with hardly any confidence.
    • STs, however, display a pattern not dissimilar to OBCs.

Quota as a reason

  • SCs confidence in State governments:
    • One reason is quotas.
    • Another is a conjecture.
    • While those higher-up in the socio-economic hierarchy is likely to have other options (stemming from relative affluence), SCs are largely reliant on state munificence.
    • STs, in contrast, while also dependent on quotas, are so isolated that they have limited experience of social safety nets.
  • Trust in the judiciary is highly pervasive with a slight variation across castes.
    • For each caste, a large majority displayed a great deal of confidence, with nearly three-fourths of STs reporting a great deal of confidence.
    • The proportion of those with hardly any confidence was extremely low, ranging between 5% and 7%.
    • These findings are indeed surprising given the judicial overload of cases and prolonged delays.
    • Yet another striking contrast emerged for the police as a law enforcement agency.
    • A great deal of confidence varied within a narrow range of 13%-18%, with the lowest among STs.
    • Over 30% displayed hardly any confidence, with the highest among SCs and STs.
    • This is not surprising given rampant corruption and discrimination against lower castes.

Need for inclusion

  • One component of trust is shaped by beliefs inherited from earlier generations, and another by a contemporaneous environment.
  • Trust in these institutions rose between 2005 and 2012.
  • However, recent accounts indicate a sharp erosion of trust, presumably because of
    • State government policies that are far from inclusive,
    • Judicial verdicts that do not conform to high standards of autonomy and fairness, and
    • Police actions violate the rights of citizens and are often brutal.
  • While inculcation of initial beliefs is bound to be slow, transition to a policy environment that is inclusive and transparent is daunting too but growing awareness among the citizens is likely to facilitate it.