Academic Theory

The elephant trumpeting at the Dragon:Stealth Diplomacy in South Asia.

Now you see it and now you don’t. China’s recent display of a stealth fighter has in many ways served its purpose. It is still a long way from being operational and posing a treat to the only other competitor. But it has provoked India and the US to respond with counter moves of their own.India has reacted very strongly to China’s issue of a stapled visas to people of Arunachal Pradesh (or South Tibet) as the Chinese would like to call it and set in motion a diplomatic offensive on China. The Indian Army Chief has denied indian media reports that Chinese Troops have intruded across the Sino-India Border, but accepts that both Armies have engaged in Infrastructure development at the borders.   I am not been paranoid here, but one needs to ask why India took this moment to announce a major revamp of its Army. It has embarked on a $100 Bn drive to acquire capabilties. A new strategic command has been set up and a mountain strike corps aimed at China has been announced.The Indian Navy ties up a pact with Vietnam to modernise Vietnam’s fleet.The US in its big brother role has said it needs to be in the pacific to counter China agressiveness and technological advances.Hillary Clinton has also joined the fray with the usual cry of asking China to revalue the RmB, perhaps thinking that this would decrease trade imbalances as well as reduce China’s soveriegn reserves.It also moves to continue the encirclement policy by engaging with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.What about our part of the world?, Opinions is as usual divided on anything chinese. The UK has welcomed Chinese Pandas and investment into the isles but is furious accoding to the MEP, Daniel Hannan on the EU’s decision to lift the arms embargo on China. Portugal and Spain are happy that the Chinese are buying its debt, but some have concerns of the effect on the relationship between the Euro and a Yuan.What these actions lead, to apart from reaffirming the economic might of China and India,is a dangerous shift to a strongly polarised world where the struggle for regional dominance rides over the more pressing needs of the 2.4Bn people resident in these countries. Where economic growth has created vast opportunties that are squandered on geopolitical games in either Gwadar or Chabhar.Do we need more MAD weapons to shore up national pride or do we take 50% of the people out of poverty? Do we provide more access to health care and education? Or do blow it up on a stealth fighter that none sees anyway or on supporting a huge army which serves no purpose in times of peace. History has a bad way of reminding us of the fate of dominating powers and perhaps these irresponsible emerging states would look back once and think of a better tomorrow

From Raising Chickens in India to Running an English Club

Today’s news that India’s Venkateshwara Hatcheries(VH) has bought the Blackburn Rovers is another milestone for the innovative Indian group. Being the first Indian Owner of a English Premier League (EPL) club is certainly interesting for a company that many in India would associate with being the first to scientifically rear Chickens!!! Not that the Government run research institutes did not do this part of their raison d’être. Venkys was the first commercially successful one and many farmers still swear by their hatchlings.
Why would anyone operating in this industry in India want to be associated with English Football? The answer is strange and yet simple. Anuradha Desai,CEO of VH has been quoted as saying that football would provide a linkage for their global ambitions. It will provide a global reach to markets where they do not currently have access or they cannot compete with their existing suite of products. The group has been integrated vertically in the eggs and chicken business by opening restaurants as well as setting up research facilities to breed better chickens. VH has also diversified into unrelated activities like films, wine retailing, biscuit sales, pet foods and even disinfectants. Some of these forays have failed spectacularly too.
However in their core business, VH’s international strategy seems well thought out. They have tried to source products from several low cost nations like Bangladesh and also have tried to build market share in Africa and the Middle East. But today’s move is radical indeed! Want to use the EPL to launch a European base for future operations? You would have thought running a football club is a different ball game- a tricky one with no relation to the core business. If the Indian newspaper- the Economic times is right, the only possible link is the friendship a VH director has with the Bollywood actor, Sanjay Dutt. Football you see is also entertainment!
Time will tell if this was a right strategy – radical thinking out of the box sometimes does help in Internationalisation. Think NOKIA and the radical shift from Paper to Mobile phones, eh? Will this add more value to the firm or will it be like VH’s other forays and be a £46M loss making move? The answer might blow in the wind sometime in the future.

In the name of a Just God

Having read Damian ‘s Thompson’s piece in today’s Telegraph , on the destruction of Islam’s heritage in its holiest place, I begin to wonder if there is a politico-demonic agenda behind state driven attempts at destroying the purity within religions. How else can you condone the modernization of Mecca by trampling on its link to antiquity, which has for centuries ensured a steady stream of devotees? How else can you justify as the Taliban blasted 3rd Century Bamiyan Buddha statues to oblivion? or in the recent past, the destruction of 15th century Muslim shrines in Timbuktu, northern Mali by hardliners. 

Even within stable democratic systems, this logic still prevails,-the destruction of the Babri Mosque in India with the world’s 3rd largest security apparatus watched in mute spectacle as 2000 lives were lost in the name of God, is yet another case. Another case was the bombardment of Sikhism’s  holiest Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, in 1984 .
Moving down into history, the story of Jerusalem, holy to three major religions and yet claiming its share of daily human lives while politicians dither, stands out as another case of deliberate unresolved political stalemate

Within the emerged world, the secularization agenda of governments in the UK has brought its share of trampling on the sanctity of religions whilst creating more fundamentalists in the process.

Can we leave this behind and return to being normal children of a just creator? Can we return to the simplicity of practicing our beliefs within personal spaces and respecting everybody else as we practice them?  In the process, can we also strip statues/relics/tourist sites of its religious overtones and admire them for being works of Art that they are. In doing this, we respect the effort that would gone into creating them as well honour the creativity of religions in helping preserve culture for generations. And we also deny fundamentalists of the support, they crave to promote deviant behaviour as the destruction of cultural artifacts.

Are we as Karl marx would have put it ,moving into an era where” Religion is an opium to hold the vast masses in the state’s thrall”? Or is there something more sinister in the air?

Why ‘ revolution’ is the new buzz word in the MENA region.

Last week was so tumultuous that some of us rediscovered TV. The Middle East & North African region has come to life and is now the new Mecca for news producers. Revolution, people/mob power, state sponsored killing sprees, toppling of established power structures and the re-affirmation of the right to protest against the ignominies faced by the common people was staple fare.
What is needed now is a perhaps an analysis into the forces that prompted this?
Some commentators have linked this to the domino effect of Tunisia & Egypt where people tasted success. History has provided many examples of this effect. The crumbling of the Berlin wall followed by a series of government failures in the Soviet Bloc is a related event, You can also argue that 1997 Asian Flu that brought chaos and a recession across many states was a harbinger of the more closely linked one in 2008 that brought many of the G7 states to their knees.
What are then the common linkages in the MENA states that are facing turmoil? My first bet would be on the forces of Globalisation as seen through the lenses of a news hungry media empire. The Twitter/face book inspired street protests were brought to life by tantalizing newsfeeds from embedded reporters and a generous support of Arab nationalism.
The second is Economic: Declining state revenues in states like Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and Oman combined with anger against a growing income disparity in states like Libya, Kuwait & Saudi Arabia. To this when you add a growing young unemployed population with no hopes of earning a decent living, you set the scene for revolution.
The third linkage is the most quoted one, a lack of democracy and the promulgation of ruling dynasties. Imagine your reaction as an unemployed Libyan to the news that the Gaddafi family & cronies control almost everything from lucrative business empires down to the way you think and live your life. The situation is similar to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, where thousands of ‘Princes’ have state salaries, freebies and immunity from almost everything while over 40% of the populace live in poverty.
The fourth linkage is geopolitical: a reflection of a transforming Multi Polar world where the Americas of the world must yield to the IRANs and CHINAs of an emerging world. Iran has set this in motion with trying to send two frigates into the Suez across to Syria, leading to a rethinking of our understanding of the military balance in the region. Most of this has been attributed to an isolation of Iran and the Cooperation between Egypt, US and Israel. With regime change in Egypt, there is a fear that this ménage a trios would have to accommodate Iran.
When all of this madness ends, what most commentators argue is that regardless of whether there is regime change or if a transition to democracy happens, the MENA region would have changed so drastically that many of the ‘Power Actors’ would have to rethink their own privileged existence and spend more on the welfare of their states. When that happens, Globalisation would have earned itself pat on the back for changing lives in region long ignored by the rest of the world.

When flying machines refuse to fly

This week has seen a flurry of articles on the engine travails of the A380 with issues on the Rolls Royce variant of the powerful engines that propels the biggest passenger aircraft. The latest news today is of another competing aircraft – the Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s testing being stopped due to an emergency landing on tuesday following smoke in the cockpit. Both these aircrafts have been powered by Rolls Royce engines.(Sic)The similarities with both aircrafts have been the leap in innovation and design that airframe manufcaturers wanted to see in a field that had stagnated after the development of the 747 in 1970s. So we had the Airbus A380 with its large passenger capacity and long range design and the dreamliner with its emphasis on innovation& effieciency.In the background of recent safety issues, can we as mere mortals boarding these aircrafts ask if aircraft design has reached a technological barrier? Is there a limit on how much power and thrust can be developed for large passenger planes? I know that engineers could argue that these are teething problems with a new aircraft and that there is no limit. But then why is that after the 747 in 1970, the next major development was only the Airbus A340 and the Antonovs? Why do we have problems when a radical development is designed in airframes. Will these issues be resolved?As for me, the next time , I book a flight, I will be looking out of the window for smoke.

Still on the Aircrafts

Still on the A380 fiasco, has anyone thought of linking up 3 news articles that came out on the subject. The first is that of Singapore and Lufthansa replacing their trent 900 engines. the second is Pratt & Witney suing RR for copying a Fan blade design and the third is Boeing halting the testing of the dreamliner. Put all of these together in a sequence and try to correlate this with the BP fiasco. What do you get? Do you see a rival to protect its share at the expense of others in a niche market? RR provides over 50% of aircraft engines and many of these have been tested and proven reliable? When  1 model experiences issues, you get a lot of negative media coverage while you try and sort out what when wrong. But then your only rival walks in the party and says you cheated on design and your net value declines by almost 10%. Methinks, RR will wait out all of this.The company is still innovative, reliable and has capabilty. At least the Chinese think so!. Long live British Engineering