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30 January 2016,

New Emerging Global Trends

Ambassador Neelam Deo, Director, Gateway House delivered a lecture at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata on 30 January, 2016.

Director, Gateway House

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I would like to begin by thanking Professor Vaneeta Patnaik for inviting me on behalf of the National Institute of Juridical Sciences, and the Ministry of External Affairs for making it possible for me to come to Kolkata. I also want to commend Pranaav Gupta and his open minded student collaborators, for inviting me to speak based on having found my writings interesting and I hope provocative.

My name is Neelam Deo and I write for a foreign policy think tank based in Mumbai, Gateway House, which I cofounded in 2009 after a satisfying career in the Indian Foreign Service.

I am delighted to be back in Kolkata, where I had spent four months in 1976 as part of my training to be a diplomat. That turned out to be a lucky coincidence since I subsequently spent three and a half years, from 2002 to 2005 at the head of a division in the Ministry of External affairs grappling with the challenge of relations with Bangladesh, and other neighbouring countries to the East. In those four months, I had the opportunity to travel all over this beautiful and diverse state from Kalimpong to Murshidabad, to islands like Patherpratima in the Sundarbans. I also enjoyed living in Kolkata – very different from the Delhi I grew up in – while trying to learn the arcane secrets of how West Bengal was administered.

Since then not only Kolkata, but India itself and indeed the world has changed. Profound changes are again underway globally. This takes me straight to the subject of my talk today – trying to identify changes underway and  how they impact our country.

In the time at my disposal I will try to deconstruct some of the major trends which underlie the many new developments around us. These trends intersect sometimes reinforcing each other and at other times pulling  in different directions. I will elaborate the consequences of the  astonishing scale and speed of the rise of China (and some other large countries, including India) on the global stage, which is paralleled by diminishing western economic and political domination. That change in the global pecking order makes the   reform of global governance institutions like the United Nations (UNSC), the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank-International Monetary Fund) and the World Trade Organisation, an imperative. Very briefly, I will also touch upon the stresses created by the economic shift from West to East in both developed and evolving democracies. These changes are manifesting themselves in the weakening of some nation states, particularly in West Asia, and the rise of the politics of extremes especially of the right, in Europe. Simultaneously we see the heightened salience of religion in public and political life. Finally, I acknowledge the magnification of these trends through the technology revolutions especially in communication technologies including social media, smart phones etc. This listing is certainly not exhaustive and there are other powerful currents which can be identified and which you may wish to take up in the Q&A that will follow.

Rise of China

In late 1978, China began a programme of economic opening to the rest of the world. This programme was so successful that by 2010 China overtook Japan to become the second largest economy in the world with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) exceeding $10 trillion compared to the USA, which remains the largest at $17 and a half trillion.

In purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, China became the biggest economy in the world in 2014. Compared to China, India’s nominal GDP is only 2$ trillion but in PPP terms, India is already the third largest economy after China and the USA.

As China grew rapidly its appetite for raw materials shot up making it the world’s largest consumer of commodities such as oil, iron ore and copper. At the same time, China needed markets for its rapidly growing industrial output. It quickly became the largest trading partner of most countries in the world, including India. In 2009, China surpassed Germany to become the world’s largest exporter of merchandise. Comparing China’s merchandise exports worth approximately $2.3 trillion with USA’s at $1.6 trillion, and India’s at only $317 million gives an idea of the extent of the export orientation of the Chinese economy. However, trade with China is so one-sided that while it has accumulated massive foreign exchange reserves, countries like the USA and India have suffered a trade deficit with China in 2015 of $338 billion and $48 billion, respectively.

China’s rising economic trajectory fuelled by more than 50% saving and investment rates yielded historically unprecedented double digit growth rates for thirty years from 1982 to 2011, making it the lynchpin of global manufacturing. Foreign investment inflows into China rose from just $1.6 billion in 1985 to $289 billion in 2014. Simultaneously China’s growing surplus, now nearly $3.3 trillion in foreign exchange earnings enabled it to become the largest investor in Latin America, Africa and Central Asia. These investments  helped China to supplement its already large imports of oil from the Middle East. Consequently a China, now fully integrated fully integrated into the global economy exerts influence globally.

Now China has reached the limits of growth of its state dominated model with its massive savings invested either in low yield US Treasury bonds or in wasteful building of unnecessary infrastructure resulting in catastrophic environmental degradation.  Therefore it is attempting to shift away from export led growth to a domestic consumption led economy. The consequent slowdown in China’s rate of economic growth is hurting, first of all, commodity exporters like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Russia, Kazakhstan and Brazil which had earlier benefitted from China’s runaway growth. The recent meltdown of China’s own stock exchanges has also set off  massive instability in global stock exchanges, including in India.

As its economy slowed China has sought to export its excess capacity in infrastructure building through an initiative called the “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) project. This audacious project involves enhanced connectivity through building ports, road and rail links and energy pipelines linking China through Central Asia to Europe. This would enable China to dominate the Eurasian landmass and the Indo-Pacific maritime space. As far as India is concerned OBOR has strategic implications – given that the part of OBOR already under construction, is the $46 billion economic corridor in Pakistan. In addition China is expanding its presence in the Indian Ocean – through port construction in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and most recently through a naval base in Djibouti- encircling India by land and sea.

As China became both the “factory of the world” and also the largest investor in most countries abroad, it naturally wanted  to influence global rules relating to trade and investment heretofore crafted by the west. After China (already a permanent member of the UNSC) was granted entry into the World Trade Organisation in December 2001, it began to break out of its earlier self-imposed restraints in global forums. China’s shift to a more assertive foreign posture was helped along by the commencement of the global financial crisis in the USA in 2007, which then spread to Europe driving down economic growth and job creation.

The relative decline of the West

Upending the old political equations has been the relative decline of the west in parallel with the economic rise of China. Thus while China grew at an average of 8-9 % since 2008, the US average was only 1% and Europe stagnated at near zero rates of growth.  That scorching pace enabled China to increase its defence budget exponentially from just $10 billion in 1997 to approximately $145 billion in 2015.  This happened just as the West grew increasingly fatigued from prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the ongoing confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. While the United States’ defence budget is still five times bigger than China’s, the USA is no longer willing or able to be the world’s policeman – just as it is no longer the growth engine of the global economy.


In this fluid global matrix China has begun to flex its military muscle over island disputes in the East China sea with Japan (a U.S. ally), and with Philippines (also a U.S. ally) and Vietnam, in the South China Sea. India and China also have a disputed land border on which China stubbornly resists engagement towards a resolution. The transformed power equations have also been playing out in regional forums such as ASEAN, where China manipulated small countries such as Cambodia and Laos, beholden to it for trade and investment to break up ASEAN unity over a code of conduct, to address the disputed islands issue in the South China Sea.

Unsurprisingly Chinese assertiveness has prodded large Asian countries to respond by increasing their own defence budgets and forging new security arrangements. The most important new trend has been that Japan has amended  its post-Second World War pacifist constitution to allow its defense forces to operate alongside other militaries to confront military threats. Other Asian countries, including India, Japan and Vietnam have begun to increase cooperation among themselves as well as collaborate more with the U.S.A  and Australia in defence, intelligence and maritime security arrangements.

As this competition plays out globally  the West is engaged in a rearguard action to preserve its dominance rather than engaging the rising power constructively. While China has cooperated with western countries in the UNSC over the nuclear deal with Iran, it has ignored western concerns over its trade and investment policies in Africa, especially with countries such as Zimbabwe which the West wants to isolate. Similarly while China has joined the United States in talks over Afghanistan, it has not supported the West in its quarrel with Russia over Ukraine – instead taking advantage of European cuts in gas imports from Russia to enter into price favourable, long term gas deals. China’s role in Afghanistan’s peace process in cohorts with its all weather ally Pakistan, is causing India serious concern.

India leans West

China is not the only large country that has grown rapidly in the last quarter century.  Countries such as Turkey, Nigeria, Brazil and Indonesia are wielding more influence in their respective regions.  The Indian economy  at 2$ trillion  is already almost as large as Italy and is set to outpace France next year and the UK in 2019. Russia and Brazil are both resource rich and, despite their current slowdown remain global powerhouses.  The BRICS brought together Brazil, China, India and Russia in 2009, with South Africa joining in 2011. These countries at times collaborate and at other times work in different group-dynamics at global forums to exert pressure to expand their influence at institutions like the IMF-World Bank, influence negotiations on trade and shape policy to arrest climate change – with as yet limited success.

India had conceptualised a policy of ‘non-alignment’ even before it became independent in 1947, and has been essentially consistent since with this policy.  However, it began a process of leaning towards the West after the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. This westward orientation became prominent with the signing of the U.S.-India civil nuclear co-operation (123 agreement) in 2008. The Modi government has taken it much further with the Joint Statement with the United States endorsing the ‘Vision statement for a strategic partnership’. President Obama went onto state that the US-India relationship can become the defining partnership of the century. With Japan, India shares a vision for a deep , broad based and action-oriented partnership – spanning the sale of defense aircrafts as well as inviting Japan to participate in naval exercises in the Indian ocean. India and Australia have committed to strengthening the  bilateral strategic partnership and have already signed a Civil Nuclear co-operation agreement. At the same time India has identified Vietnam as an important pillar of its ‘Look East’ policy and expanded defense co-operation, thus enhancing moves to balance China. These decisions are also intended to counter the China-Pakistan nexus against India, by collaborating in the nuclear, defense and even terrorism arenas with these countries. At the same time, India like other countries is attempting to pursue a relationship of cooperation and competition with China to fulfil its own need for building infrastructure using China’s expertise and surplus foreign exchange reserves.

Global Governance Institutions

Although the need is self-evident, the West has not been prescient enough to accommodate large countries with fast growing economies like China and India in global governance institutions. Complicating matters is the reality that developing countries all do not have a commonality of interests on all issues. For example, the biggest difference between India and China is that the former is already a permanent member of the UNSC. Therefore, China has obstructed India’s quest, as well as that of Germany, Brazil and Japan for permanent membership of the UNSC. Similarly because China is already a recognized nuclear weapons power, it has obstructed the normalization of India’s status as a nuclear weapons power.

Historically, Indian independence in 1947 at the end of the World War II marked the end of political colonialism. However, India and other former colonies are still grappling with the many negative economic and social legacies of decades of colonial exploitation. It is no coincidence that the poorer and less developed countries in the world today – in Asia, Africa and Latin America – are all former colonies.

The horrors of World War II which lasted from 1939 to 1945 was fought mainly among European countries, but also involved the USA, Japan and Turkey. Their battles over land, sea and in the air across Europe, Asia and Africa caused horrific casualties – 72 million dead, 13 million injured, among them 89,000 dead and injured Indians.

The revulsion at the bloodshed, the destruction of infrastructure and private properties, but most of all the extermination of 6 million Jews by Germany and the use of nuclear weapons by the USA in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, forced the creation of institutions of global governance to prevent a repetition. But because these new institutions of global governance were born out of the experience of European contestations and created by the victors of the war, they were dominated by Western powers – led by the US – and designed structures to perpetuate their advantage. This applied equally whether the institution was the United Nations, the World Bank- IMF or organizations like the WTO.

Reflecting the power equations that emerged at the end of the second World War, the most powerful organ of the United Nations – the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) had five members. They were China, France, Russia, UK, and USA – all nuclear weapon powers. They have veto power which is mostly used to promote their national interests (the extension of the NPT), protect their allies (US vetoes resolutions aiming to criticize Israeli actions in Occupied Palestinian territories) and hurt their challengers (sanctions against Iran). The United Nations Security Council is paralysed when rivalries amongst the permanent 5 are irreconcilable as witnessed over Ukraine, which is the locus of confrontation between the USA, UK and France on one side and veto wielding Russia on the other. Similarly in Syria, the West and Saudi Arabia are faced off against Russia and Iran rendering the UNSC irrelevant.

The need to reform the UNSC, 70 years after it was established to reflect the current economic and political realities is obvious. But the demand by Brazil, India, Germany and Japan for permanent membership of the UNSC Council is ignored by the present members because they fear dilution of their exclusive privilege, especially as the likes of UK and France are no longer consequential powers. Excluding a country like India, which is a pluralist society, is now the third largest economy in the world in PPP terms, has a standing army of 1.3 million and has contributed 180,000 troops to peacekeeping over the last 70 years makes the UNSC increasingly ineffective. Today the UNSC is ignored even by its own members like the USA and Russia which engage in military actions without its sanction – US invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 and the Russian annexation of the Crimea. The UNSC is unable even to contain the human suffering in civil wars which some among them foment, such as that in Syria. Meanwhile countries like India are asked to bear the burden of peacekeeping in places like Sudan, Congo, Cambodia, Liberia amongst many others, where some of the permanent members of the UNSC (P5) have been and are even now part of the problem.  This trend of UNSC irrelevance is increasingly dangerous in a world experiencing violent contestations.

Alternate Financial Architecture

Similar dysfunction afflicts the institutions of economic governance – the World Bank and the IMF, especially the latter. Several of the IMF’s own Chief Economic Advisors, like Nobel prize winner, Joseph Stiglitz, have become vocal critics of the structural adjustment policies the IMF imposes on countries in a fiscal crisis, in return for budgetary or foreign exchange support funds. These one-size-fits-all policies include lowering of trade tariffs and cut backs in provision of social services including, health and education to reduce budgetary deficits. In many African and Asian countries, they have caused immense pain to the ordinary citizen while benefitting foreign creditors and the entrenched ruling coteries. After the Asian financial crisis in 1997, countries like India have built up their foreign exchange reserves (350 billion dollars) so they that they do not have to seek IMF bailouts. In recent years the IMF which lent $21 billion to South Korea with a population of $50.4 million and $16.7 billion to Thailand with a population of 67.7 million – accompanied these bailouts with threats and close monitoring. The same IMF has instead coddled European countries like Ireland with a population of less than 5 million ($22.5 billion), Portugal with a population of 10 million ($26 billion) and Greece with a population of 11 million ($62 billion dollars from the IMF plus $305 billion from the European Central Bank, European Commission and  European Stability Mechanism)  as their economies flailed. This pampering has cost China ($43 billion), India ($10 billion) through their contribution to the IMF’s bailout Fund.

By misusing IMF support funds in furtherance of the political objectives of NATO countries in Ukraine and small EU countries like Greece as well as imposing UNSC sanctions on their opponents such as Iran and Russia, which prevent normal commercial exchanges,, western powers, more or less forced the emergence of an alternate financial architecture. This urge was strengthened by reserving the Managing Directorship of the World Bank in American hands and that of the IMF in the hands of France and resisting any increase in the vote share of rapidly growing developing countries. New institutions consisting of the BRICS New Development Bank, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and China’s One Belt One Road funding mechanism have already been set up. This parallel system will gradually grow large enough to diminish the monopoly the dollar has in the present system and erode the dominance of the USA and its allies on the mechanisms of international trade and financial flows. For now, it is only China with its financial clout and economic heft, which has the potential to initially challenge and eventually provide alternate channels for financial transactions.

Sidelining the World Trade Organisation

The western effort to retain its dominance in trade matters has polarized the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The December 2015 meeting in Nairobi dropped all pretence that new rules for global trade were being devised to assist the developing countries to enlarge their participation in global trade.  This was followed by an informal WTO meeting of  trade ministers of around 22 countries, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos on 23rd January of this year to begin negotiating new rules of trade amongst themselves – a meeting to which India was not party. The creation of mega trade agreements,  such as the Trans-Pacific partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, are already leaving out the majority of developing countries and shrinking even the present limited access that most Asian, African and Latin American countries have to developed country markets.  Importantly, India is not a member of any of the mega trade agreements.

Failure of Climate Change Talks

Something similar to the sidelining of WTO has happened in climate change negotiations. At the twenty –first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP-21) in Paris in December, the developed West, led by the US, was adamant in pushing its agenda of denying its historical responsibility in creating the present problem. Developing countries were more or less coerced to assume responsibility for reducing carbon emissions. At the same time, the rich west  refused to commit financial assistance towards mitigation and adaptation, for developing countries that will suffer the worst consequences of climate change. Out of COP21 in Paris the world got an agreement in name but the programmes put forth do not even arrest the growing carbon emissions to  keep the rise in global temperature below the 2°C mark required to preempt catastrophic climate outcomes.

Rise of politics of the extreme

Another consequence of the non-representational character of institutions of global governance, is the emergence and growing influence of non-state actors. These can work for the good as, for the most part, do NGOs like the Gates Foundation which has at its disposal more funds for the social sector than the financially starved  UN agencies as well as more than even the aid budgets of the rich world. But non-state actors can also do immense harm when terrorist organizations like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) in Pakistan and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) In West Asia, become dominant players. These non-state actors are masters in the use of social media to amplify their message and recruit people to their causes –both good like the environmental lobby groups but also violent ones like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic state.

Technological progress upended the old divisions of labour whereby the underdeveloped countries provided resources to factories in the developed west and served as markets for their manufactured products. As the processes of production became more an assembly of parts, manufacturing began to move to places where labour costs were low. The trend was bolstered by the transport, information technology and telecommunications revolutions of the 1980’s and 90’s. As Western MNCs shifted production to East Asia, that enabled formerly underdeveloped countries to grow rapidly -especially those like the East Asian tigers and China which had invested in educating their populations. Just as the end of the last century saw the transformation of manufacturing and its shift to lower labour cost economies, primarily China, now the invention of 3D printing and progress in robotics is reshoring manufacturing to the developed economies as the cost of labour plummets. The advent of technology based innovations of the twenty-first century are transforming the services economies too. Taxi drivers and the traditional hotel business employees, are protesting the arrival of the sharing economy that has been monetised by companies such as Uber and Airbnb. Together, these new technologies will profoundly alter which countries benefit the most as well as impact employment generation.

The rapid expansion of the global economy in the decades before the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007 created the illusion of infinite linear growth. That illusion was effectively busted by the collapse of the New York based investment behemoth, Lehman Brothers, highlighting two trends that continue to be significant today: one is a revival in economic growth without employment generation, the second trend is rising inequality as returns to capital grow exponentially while returns to labour stagnate. Today just one percent of the population own roughly half of global wealth.

This economic malaise has manifested in the rise of xenophobic political formations in the West.  In the United States, this Xenophobia suffuses Donald Trump’s campaign for the Republican party’s candidacy for the presidency based as it is  on threats of military action against non-state actors like ISIL, increasing hostility towards immigrants, and extreme Islamophobia. The same paranoia is expressed in Europe by right wing groups and parties like the Danish People’s Party in Denmark, the National Front in France, Podemos in Spain, Pegida in Germany which are anti-immigrant, anti-European Union and Islamaphobic at the same time. Such parties are already in power in Hungary and Poland and are part of governing coalitions in  Sweden, Denmark and Finland. At the other extreme are left wing political formations such as Syriza in Greece, Alternate for Germany (AfD) in Germany which are also anti-European Union and anti-immigrant. Mainstream European political parties, as with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats are overwhelmed by the inflow of over a million refugees from the civil wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – all wars in which the same European countries have participated as members of NATO.

These refugees are flowing out of West Asia and North Africa characterized by the breakdown of state structures and  elimination of national borders, which were imposed at the end of the first World War. This region has been subjected to continuous western interference because of its immense oil wealth. The manipulation of local regimes has led to endless wars worsened by the manipulation of historical and sectarian animosities. The most recent and ugly outcome has been the Islamic State purporting to replace the Ottoman caliphate in West Asia. But disorder is rife as much in Afghanistan-Pakistan as in Iraq-Syria, Libya and perhaps even Saudi Arabia. Considering the importance of this region from which India gets 60% of its oil imports, where 7 million Indians work and remit billions to their families, India is raising the frequency and level of its political engagement with Governments in the region via visits by the President to Israel, Palestine and Jordan in October of 2015,  by Prime Minister Modi to UAE in August of last year and by the External Affairs Minister  to Israel, Palestine and Bahrain in January of this year.

But we will have to tread carefully not to be drawn into the hostilities which have divided the region between Sunni-Saudi Arabia and Shia-Iran.

Balancing Diverging Tendencies in West Asia is critical as India and other countries manoeuvre for economic opportunities in Iran, newly unshackled from sanctions by the United Nations, United States and European Union. But reaching out to Iran only exacerbates the paranoia of countries like Saudi Arabia, which already leads a Sunni coalition against Iran backed formations in hostilities in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. At the same time countries like Turkey and Israel are fishing in troubled waters to settle their own scores with the Kurds and the Palestinians respectively.

Falling price of Oil 

While traditionally troubled West Asia grapples with its sectarian differences, they are being forced to do so in a global situation in which the price of their most important export has fallen from a high of $ 145 in 2008 to a low of $30 last year. This trend of oversupply and falling oil prices may persist because of the new technologies that have made the extraction of shale oil and gas cheaper and more efficient. Simultaneously, the cost of alternate energy, especially solar power has become comparable with the cost of thermal power. At this moment, these trends are devastating the budgets of energy exporters like Saudi Arabia and Russia but in the medium term, they may help to ameliorate the environmental damage that fossil fuels are blamed for.

Salience of Religion in public life

In this fraught global situation religion has assumed a higher salience in public life than at any other recent time. This is true whether considering the attention paid to what the Pope has to say on climate change or exploitative capitalism. This is also the case when European leaders talk about ‘European values’, the sub text is ‘Christian values’, providing a basis for  rejecting predominantly Muslim refugees flowing in from North Africa or the Middle East. Even in India with its secular constitution politicians are using religious motifs during elections and more seriously, social customs that relate to one or other religion are framed in opposition to each other.

While talk is bad enough, religious identities are already engendering violence – whether it is Buddhists against Muslims in Myanmar or Muslims against each other in a Shia-Sunni frame in the Middle East or Muslims against Christians in African countries like Nigeria. This trend can only add to instability in a world organized on the basis of nation states in which most countries are already multi-religious like India or becoming more so like the European Union, where the Muslim population is now estimated at 4% of the total population at 19 million.

Even a robust democracy like India with a rapidly growing economy, is not immune to political polarization as the aspiring young receive neither a good education nor have improved employment prospects. Fortunately, while the region to India’s west is experiencing a violent sectarian conflict, the blurring of national boundaries and the breakdown of state systems,  the countries to India’s east, the ASEAN states as well as  Myanmar, are plugged into a virtuous economic relationship of growth flowing out of China.

Trends magnified by the Information technology revolution

As young people you would understand that the trends that are emerging around the world, especially of the rise of populist extremist parties in democracies across the globe and of religious fundamentalism, are amplified in real time by the tools of the digital era. We see this most strikingly in the widespread use of social media by young people resulting in creation of like-minded communities narrowing the range of opinions across the board. Although the internet has been a ‘democratising’ phenomenon providing an equitable knowledge platform, it also possesses immense possibilities for distortion.  Often it seems that the internet is increasingly becoming an echo chamber where information is sought only to confirm one’s own inclinations.

India in South Asia

Before closing, I want to say a few words about our neighbours in South Asia – each of which is trying to improve the lives of the people while struggling with the rapid socio economic changes within their countries as well as with the geopolitical upheavals around them.

Pakistan with which we have such a difficult relationship is undergoing some rethinking of its previous policy of nurturing terrorist organizations to pursue its objectives in India and Afghanistan after the awful massacre of school children at the Army Public school in Peshawar in December of 2014. This change will be neither easy nor quick but the general population seeks normal relations with India, unlike the armed forces which project India as a mortal enemy.

Bangladesh on the other hand is fighting the fundamentalist demons injected into its body politics by Pakistan. It is doing so by attempting to recover the secular ethos of its language and culture by a long delayed reckoning with the local collaborators of the Pakistani army atrocities committed during its war of independence.

While the Sirisena government in Sri Lanka seeks improved relations with India, it finds itself trapped in debt to China for large loans foisted on it for vanity projects such as the massive airport at Hambantota which receives only one flight a day.

Only four months after the adoption of a new constitution last September, Nepal has been forced to amend its latest constitution which had undermined the rights of ethnic minorities, eroded the right of Nepali women to equal treatment and ignored the concerns of India by playing off its relationship with China.

Maldives is perhaps the most troubled of our neighbours grappling simultaneously with rising religious fundamentalism, drug trade and the overbearing presence of China in its tourism economy.

All our neighbours may have to take the Myanmar route – which was forced to preserve its national sovereignty by  turning to India, opening up to the West and working towards democratization so that it would  not be smothered by the embrace of China.

In closing I want to remind you of the legend of the samudra manthan – the great churning of the Ocean of milk (Kshirasāgara) to obtain the nectar of immortality. Just as the churning of the ocean initially threw up poison which Shiva had to partake to protect the universe, the  churning underway in the world will hopefully lead to a more cohesive, more peaceful World.

Neelam Deo is Co-founder and Director, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations; She has been the Indian Ambassador to Denmark and Ivory Coast; and former Consul General in New York.

This speech was delivered as a lecture at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata on 30 January, 2016.


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