THE INDIAN ELEPHANT AND SOUTHEAST ASIA’S TIGERS are the theme of this issue. These powerful symbols of the natural world define the relative global political and economic power of the regional neighbours. We are delighted to publish three research articles by Southeast Asia specialists. Julie Banerjee-Mehta, author of several books on Indo-Southeast Asian culture, explores the ancient political, cultural, and religious links between India and Southeast Asia, explaining that the Hindu kingdoms from southern and southeastern India had spread their political and social cultures in a peaceful manner, ensuring the easy adoption and assimilation of both Hinduism and Buddhism. A whole range of migrants and travellers from the Hindu kingdoms contributed to the host countries without appropriating their territory or treasure. Kamaran Mondal, a specialist on Indian international relations, examines India’s institutional links with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and the initial stumbling blocks to integration. He argues that in order to accomplish the full trade potential and product integration, it is of crucial urgency to facilitate business-to-business connections, information flow, and harmonisation and mutual recognition of standards, as well as the removal of non-tariff barriers. Harish Mehta, who has spent more than thirty years researching Southeast Asia, analyses Asean as the group celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. Its balance sheet shows rich gains and massive losses during the 1967-2017 period: it has resolved some intra-Asean territorial disputes, but it is riven with internal differences in its diplomacy with China over the South China Sea disputes. Its drive to integrate the economies of its ten member countries has been a partial success, and the Asean human rights commission has given much cause for concern over its silence on the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas of Myanmar.
The opening pages feature three commentaries—two of them on the Asia policies of the administration of the U.S. president, Donald J. Trump. Harish Mehta argues that Trump’s tough stance on America’s Asian allies, and his threat to renegotiate defense treaties with them, appears like a rehash of the Nixon Doctrine that asked allies to bear a greater burden of their defense—but it really is not. Trump has also misinterpreted the America First policy, which again is not new, by carrying through on his threat to impose trade tariffs, which will harm the American people in the end. The China specialist, Toh Han Shih, explains that although Trump’s National Security Strategy identifies China as a threat to U.S. interests, compared to the Cold War era, it will be much more difficult for the United States to implement a competitive strategy against China, given the increasingly close economic links between the world’s biggest economy, the United States, and the world’s second largest economy, China. If the United States punishes China economically, it risks hurting itself since the global supply chain for products, for instance, like smart phones includes both the countries.
In the third commentary the poet-novelist, Anjana Basu, explores the role of diplomats as poets. The author argues that while many diplomats do practice the vanishing art of poetry writing, their poems do not have the power to change the world as their hardnosed diplomacy does. The author explains that poetry may suggest change of a global nature, but few poems have affected the world order in the way diplomacy does. And if it did, it would be a misuse of literature, turning it into a tool of policy.
In our Books section, we feature excerpts from Old Europe, New Asia by the former Indian foreign secretary, Krishnan Srinivasan, who demonstrates that Europe and emerging Asia could be natural partners with considerable synergy in fashioning a new multi-polar world, but they are handicapped by their respective internal weaknesses, lack of self-confidence, and the considerable influence of the United States despite its rebalance to Asia proving to be a non-starter. Ambassador Srinivasan identifies the limitations of current Europe-Asia relations, and explores the potential for the future. John Ranjan Mukherjee reviews Nirmal Ghosh’s book Unquiet Kingdom—Thailand in Transition, which offers an insight into Thailand’s political turmoil. Ghosh’s firsthand account as a correspondent for The Straits Times, lays bare the continuing divisiveness in Thai politics which has led to frequent army coups and rule by Thailand’s elite and its military.
We present reports on two conferences organised by the journal’s parent, CENERS-K. The conference, “Voices From Arunachal: Indo-China Border Problems & Related Arunachal Folklore,” has recommended that New Delhi needs to address major grievances of the Arunachalees over the under-developed state of Indian infrastructure along India-China border, and that there is a need to tackle the causes of a pervasive sense of neglect. New Delhi must record Arunachal’s oral history and folklore because it could reinforce Indian territorial claims vis-à-vis China. India, further, needs to internalise its bargaining strategy with China as it will help in the management of perceptions. India should also recognise that the Chinese claim is not inflexible, but since China respects strength, India needs to continue to build capabilities to negotiate from a position of equality, if not strength.
The seminar on Indo-Bangladesh cooperation recommended that owing to their shared history and geography, it was essential for India and Bangladesh to have a harmony of interests and concern for mutual prosperity, peace and stability. Yet, the two countries need to cooperate to address problems facing their populations, and move towards sustainable development, prosperity and stability. In order to achieve this goal, the seminar recommended that an environment of security, peace and stability in the region must be created.
The journal welcomes articles on Asia in general, on India (as well as India’s North East), and India’s role in world affairs; South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia (Japan, the Koreas, Taiwan, and China); and the policy towards Asia pursued by the United States, Russia and the West, as well as West Asia, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand. The journal’s focus is on diplomacy, conduct of foreign policy, international relations, soft power (use of film and the arts as tools of diplomacy), diplomatic history, war and peace, defense issues, geo-strategy, national and global economic issues, peace studies, informal diplomacy and Track Two diplomacy, revolution and counterrevolution, terrorism and counterterrorism, colonialism and decolonisation, and hegemony and resistance. The journal carries articles on contemporary world affairs, and major events and policies of the twentieth century that are still shaping the world today and are being revisited in light of the new historical material that is declassified and becomes available from time to time.