It was only a matter of time before growing anxiety over food supplies and prices across the globe induced action by nation-states and citizens alike. As 2022 motors along, concerns about the health of the global economy, the lingering hangover of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as its recent return to China, and the economic consequences of the war in Ukraine have come together to create a perfect storm. Food prices are going through the roof in a number of nations, and it was only a matter of time before citizens took to the streets and protested.
Over the weekend Iran saw a wave of protests break out across the country over cuts in state subsidies on food. To be fair, Iranians already have a laundry list of grievances with their government and economic conditions always serve as a barometer of the population’s feelings. It comes as no surprise to see Iranian citizens come out in large numbers to protest the subsidy cuts, as well as other issues. The swift and brutal response by the Iranian government, however, has raised some eyebrows around the world. Tehran’s readiness to clampdown on and make an example of anti-government protesters is an indication the government expects prices to rise even more in the coming weeks. With the cut of subsidies last week, prices on a number of flour-based food staples rose in excess of 300%
There are also protests and street violence over rising food prices and inflation going on in Sri Lanka and Tajikistan. Those situations will be discussed in more detail later in the week.
Then there is the increasing worry over food supplies. India is moving to take pre-emptive action by restricting exports of wheat to create a safety cushion of sorts for its own population. The Indian government seeks to control rising prices and diminishing output due to global economic conditions and the extreme heat wave that has affected Indian wheat production. Predictably, India’s move has sent global prices skyrocketing and prompted the US and European Union to begin searching for solutions to improve food supply chains. Given the current conditions, Washington and Brussels need to hurry. At the present time, the situation worldwide appears fated to become significantly worse unless measures are taken within weeks.
Last week we discussed the new strategic realities India is contending with at the present time as China is replacing Pakistan as the nation’s primary adversary. The solidifying Chinese military footprint in areas near the Sino-Indian frontier was touched upon, as was the absence of a similar response by India. Whatever the hesitancies were that prevented New Delhi from formulating an effective countermove appear to have disappeared. The Indian military will be shifting 50,000 troops towards the border region in an effort to increase the number of options available to Indian commanders. The shifting of these forces to the north will reduce the number of troops allocated to the defense of India’s western border with Pakistan. This is a prime indication of the shift in strategic focus from Pakistan to China.
The timing of this move must be taken into account as well. India has just been ravaged by a recent wave of COVID-19 cases and the economy is contracting at a dangerously rapid pace. There will be less money available for defense in future budget cycles, meaning this shift of troops needs to take place now. However, even as this troop movement plays out and India continues to realign its strategic priorities, China continues to hold an advantage along the border.
This is an area that we will certainly explore a bit later in the week, along with today’s drone attack on an Indian Air Force installation in Kashmir. Tomorrow’s post will take a look at the dueling NATO and Russian naval exercises now kicking off in the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Hope everyone has had a good weekend!
It has been just over a year since the bloody clash between Indian and Chinese troops at the Galwan Valley. Since then, despite the partial disengagement between Indian and Chinese forces in the Galwan area and other parts of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as well as complete disengagement at Pangong Lake, tensions remain high. The risk of conflict, inadvertent or otherwise, continues to persist. On some levels that danger is even more pronounced at the present time. China’s current troop deployments and dispositions in the LAC area has increased Indian uncertainty about Beijing’s commitment to make troop reductions in the region. At the Qatar Economic Forum today, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that despite promises made, China’s “close-up deployment still continues, especially in Ladakh.”
China is improving its military and civilian infrastructure in Tibet and Xingjian, two border provinces along its border with India. China is upgrading five airbases in that region and building three new ones as well. Logistical facilities for the Chinese military are also being expanded at a hurried pace. Simultaneously, new civilian infrastructure links which would be invaluable to the military in times of crisis and war are being constructed. Highways and rail links in particular.
The purpose behind these preparations is clear: In the event of a future Sino-Indian conflict China intends to bring overwhelming force to bear in a minimal amount of time. What remains is determining if the nature China’s moves here are defensive-minded or offensive.
For India, the writing on the wall was made clear after the Galwan clash. China, not Pakistan is now the main enemy. This realization has caused India to increase its partnership in the Quad, an informal anti-China alliance of sorts that also includes the United States, Japan and Australia. Further, China’s new assertiveness has also turned Indian foreign policy and defense priorities upside down. Beijing is not going to ease the pressure and it will probably expand farther into the economic realm in coming months.
This is where India is facing its real predicament. Excluding Chinese companies from doing business in India is nearly impossible. A large part of this is because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The increasing demand for pharmaceutical ingredients and India’s present dependence on China for antibiotics and painkillers means New Delhi will not be able to adopt stringent anti-China policies in the foreseeable future. This economic dependence runs the risk of becoming India’s Achilles’ heel in its growing competition with the People’s Republic of China.
The standoff between India and China along their shared border area in the Himalayan region continues. The mutual troop withdrawals which took place earlier in the year, and subsequent rounds of negotiations, have failed to bring the crisis closer to a conclusion. In fact, negotiations have stalled and do not appear to be going anywhere. India’s attention is not on the northern border at present. The COVID-19 resurgence has gripped the national focus while Sino-Indian relations continue to worsen.
Meanwhile, on the Chinese side of the border, the People’s Liberation Army is reinforcing military positions and rotating troops along the border. The number of soldiers at the border has not changed, but China’s shift to ‘depth-areas’ has made reinforcing the border with additional forces much easier. This makes clear that China is in no hurry to de-escalate tensions. Quite the opposite. China has paid considerable attention to the military infrastructure in the Line of Actual Control (LAC) region. Beijing is constructing roads, military encampments, air defense positions and more. Several PLAAF airbases have increased their ability to bed down more combat aircraft.
India has not responded in kind. Its present forces in the region, including the Galwan Valley, have not been reinforced this year. Nor have they been rotated. Diplomatically, India has not made a major issue of the Chinese military activity. Given the present situation on the sub-continent, it is unlikely to do so any time in the near future.
Author’s Note: Apology for the short post. Allergies have been a major problem this week, but are beginning to improve.
As India struggles beneath the weight of a major COVID-19 outbreak, promises of assistance are coming from around the world, most notably from Beijing and Washington. Not surprisingly, it is the words and actions of the United States and China that are attracting the lion’s share of attention and commentary from inside of India at the present time. The Indian government has remained silent on China’s offers to provide medical assistance, and with good reason. There is a great deal of suspicion about China’s motivations, both in government circles and in the population at large. The sentiment is that China is not concerned about India and is only looking to use the moment as an opportunity to highlight the Biden administration’s failure to respond swiftly and decisively to India’s latest outbreak. Washington and New Delhi have enjoyed a good relationship over the last five years, in large part due to the importance each nation has placed on countering China. Beijing would love nothing more than to drive a wedge in between the two nations and highlight how the US reluctance to help India has compounded the effects of this latest outbreak for India’s citizenry. In fact, for the past few days the CCP-backed Global Times has criticized the US for dragging its heels in providing aid to India.
This type of criticism is a major reason for New Delhi having not accepted China’s offer of assistance. Public opinion is a powerful weapon and taking Beijing’s offer would’ve painted the US as an unreliable partner. With anti-China sentiment still high and the border dispute unresolved, the Indian government is compelled to consider how its moves will appear both domestically and on the international stage. Needless to say, last thing the Indian government needs is to paint itself into a corner geopolitically.
Fortunately for India, there are a great number of other nations willing to help, the majority of whom are not handicapped by a geopolitical agenda driving its humanitarian aid. Oxygen supplies in many Indian hospitals have been depleted. Great Britain and Singapore are two nations who’ve delivered on their promises, providing oxygen tanks and ventilators. France has sent oxygen production units, while Germany and Canada have also stated their intentions to provide assistance.