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JULY 19,2017

Partners in regional security and prosperity – INDIA -AUSTRALIA

  • Australia is committed to working with India and other nations to ensure our region continues to be underpinned by a predictable and resilient rules-based order.
  • The existing post-World War II order has underpinned the extraordinary economic growth we have seen in many parts of the world, and more recently in our region.
  • It has allowed Indo-Pacific states — large and small — to pursue their national and collective interests, while also providing the mechanisms to resolve any disputes peacefully.
  • India’s growing economic weight has the potential to help lift standards of living in India as well as contribute to prosperity in the wider Indo-Pacific.

A new phase of investment

  • Australia welcomes India’s ambitious reform agenda, including the recent introduction of a Goods and Services Tax, and stands ready to lend support, drawing on our own experience.
  • Economic growth and prosperity in the region will also require continued investment in infrastructure.
  • Increasingly, China is lending its enormous economic weight to a new phase of investment in the region and beyond.
  • The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank — which Australia and India joined as founding members — has a role to play in funding infrastructure.
  • Likewise, Japan makes a significant contribution to investment, both commercially and through development banks.
  • We endorse the concept behind these investments — of enhancing connectivity, in land, air, sea and cyber.
  • The more connected our region, the more business opportunities there will be for the private sector, including Australian firms.
  • India is also fully committed to supporting the role of key regional institutions and to strengthening collective leadership.
  • While less developed than the extensive regional architecture in Southeast and East Asia, the regional architecture of the Indian Ocean is increasingly promoting coordinated approaches with South Asia, in response to shared interests and emerging challenges.
  • India and Australia need to increase our bilateral cooperation and our collective efforts with other like-minded countries.


‘We are slow to adopt science for conservation’

  • The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has estimated a rise in the number of tigers killed in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.
    • The real concern is whether these deaths are due to poaching and if they are being killed inside protected zones where the breeding is taking place.
  • The latest government figures estimate 2,226 tigers, which translates to 60% of the world’s tiger population of about 3,890.
  • We have roughly 3,00,000 sq. km of forest suitable for tigers and we have only about 10% of it capable of holding them naturally.
  • We are spending too much money in too few sectors and that’s generally true of wildlife conservation in India, not only of tiger conservation.
  • Some tiger reserves have budgets of Rs. 10 crore when the job can be done in Rs. 2 crore. This (lopsided funding) attracts the worst elements of bureaucracy to come here. Places like Bandipur, Nagarhole and Ranthambore reserves — these spectacular ones — are examples of those flush with funds and boast large tiger habitats.
  • You need money for, say, relocation and resettling of foresters; but, beyond that, spending money on areas such as procuring water for reserves (during droughts) and mangroves. This needs to be fixed first.
  • Interlinking the Ken and Betwa rivers by building a dam and a canal will inundate a portion of the tiger reserve . But it won’t wipe out the tigers there however the proposed reservoir is massive and Panna is among the few good reserves that we have. So we should have seen if there were alternative locations or if a suitable alternative site could have been established to compensate for the loss of forests.

Is poaching as big a threat to tigers — and other wildlife — as it was a few decades ago?

  • Law enforcement has worked to an extent, else we wouldn’t have had any tigers left. However this efficiency is again uneven. In the Northeast, for instance, law enforcement is practically non-existent. This is due to a number of social and cultural factors. The attention should be over there rather than pumping more and more money into reserves where there are enough resources in place.

Too much money is being spent on tiger conservation

  • There is certainly a lack of attention to several other key species. These include, for instance, wolves and the bustard because they don’t share a tiger habitat.
  • We are the 10th largest economy in the world. We should have at least 5,000-10,000 tigers and not pat our back with 3,000

Major obstacles:

  • government is slow to adopt good science for conservation purposes
  • The other key hurdle is the lack of access to data.


No common ground on the Doklam plateau

  • The Doklam plateau has become the unlikely scene of the latest India-China imbroglio.
  • The region falls within Bhutanese territory, but this is now questioned by China. The Chumbi valley is vital for India, and any change is fraught with dangerous possibilities. The incident stems from differences between Bhutan and India on the one hand and China on the other as to the exact location of the tri-junction between the three countries.
  • In 2007, India and Bhutan had negotiated a Friendship Treaty to replace an earlier one. According to the revised treaty, the two countries are committed to coordinate on issues relating to their national interests.

Cartographic aggression

  • China’s current claims over the Doklam plateau should be seen as yet another instance of cartographic aggression, which China often engages in. It is, however, China’s action of building an all-weather road on Bhutan’s territory, one capable of sustaining heavy vehicles, that has prompted Bhutan and India to coordinate their actions in their joint national interests, under the terms of the 2007 Friendship Treaty.
  • The Sikkim (India)-China border was the only settled segment of the nearly 4,000-km-long India-China border. It adheres to the Anglo-Chinese Convention of 1890, signed between Britain and China, though the exact location of the tri-junction is today in dispute. The Indian side puts it near Batang La, while China claims that it is located at Mt. Gipmochi further south. The Bhutanese are rather equivocal about China’s claims, acknowledging that Tibetan graziers had free access to the Doklam plateau and the Dorsa Nala area, but accept the fact that the tri-junction is at Batang La.
  • With China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) gaining momentum, and completion of infrastructure programmes such as the Lhasa-Shigatse Railway, China appears to have turned its attention to the Doklam plateau, eying an opportunity to establish a strong presence close to the Indian border.
  • It would be a serious mistake to treat the present incident as another run-of-the-mill border incident on the pattern of incidents reported from different points on the disputed Sino-Indian border. There are substantial differences, for instance, between the current incident in the Doklam plateau and past stand-offs such as the ones in Depsang and Chumar, or even for that matter, the 1986-87 Wangdung incident near Sumdorong Chu in Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The rhetoric from the Chinese side has been unusually shrill with China laying down ‘conditionalities’ that “India should withdraw its troops to the Indian side of the border to uphold the peace/tranquillity of the China-India border areas as a precondition for essential peace talks”. Implicit threats of an even more serious situation developing, leading to even more serious consequences, if India did not step back have also been made.

Unintended consequences

  • China and India see the Doklam stand-off very differently.
    • For China, the issue is one of territorial ‘sovereignty’.
    • For India, the issue is one of national security.
  • If Chinese claims to the Doklam plateau are accepted and the tri-junction is accepted to be further south at Mt. Gipmochi. It would bring China within striking distance of India’s vulnerable ‘Chicken Neck’, the Siliguri Corridor, the life-line to India’s Northeast. This has always been seen as India’s ‘Achilles heel’, and ensuring its security has figured prominently in India’s calculation from the beginning. The possibilities and consequences are both immense and serious.
  • No bilateral meeting took place between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Hamburg earlier this month. There were no consequential meetings subsequently, including during the BRICS conclave.

The play for Bhutan

  • One implication could possibly be that the Chinese wish to convey the impression that this is an issue between China and Bhutan, and it does not recognise the India-Bhutan ‘special relationship’ which provides an Indian guarantee for Bhutanese sovereignty.
  • Another is that the Chinese believe that on their own they can make peace with Bhutan and it is India’s ‘interference’ that is complicating matters. China can be expected to pursue this line vigorously from now on.
  •  India’s friends are most unlikely to pressurise or persuade China to step back. This leaves India to play a lone hand.
  • The only silver lining is that both India and China, though for different reasons, are reluctant to engage in an open conflict — one that could prove detrimental to both.
  • The Chinese economy is slowing down at present and the main preoccupation is to regain its past momentum. China is also preparing for its 19th Party Congress, at which Xi Jinping hopes to establish full control. It is, hence, anxious to avoid any kind of major distraction.
  • India’s reluctance again centres on the economy. Its concerns are that a conflict would stymie economic growth.
  • If the deadlock is to be broken, and if diplomacy is ruled out for the present, other measures will need to be considered. One available option is the Special Representative Meeting (SRM) that was set up primarily to deal with border issues.
  • The Special Representatives should, hence, urgently establish contact and work out a modus vivendi that would ensure a solution without loss of face for either side.