Daily Editorial Analysis for 2nd Sep 2021

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Where liberalism and nationalism are placed in Asia

Why in News

  • India and China have used the present world system to fashion their rise, with no alternative based on Asian nationalism.
  • Liberalism and nationalism mean different things to different people, and the two concepts are often considered mutually exclusive.
  • Over 70 years after Indian independence, it is worth recalling that the British claimed that their empire rested on liberal foundations and the transfer of power to nationalists evidenced this claim.
  • But liberalism often clashed with anti-colonial nationalism; the greatest material support to anti-colonial movements during the Cold War came from the illiberal Soviet Union.

A cause of war

  • After the rise of the nation state, wars were attributed to the power and expansionist policies of nations.
  • In Europe, nations were in almost constant conflict, and Japanese nationalism led to wars, particularly with China.
  • In the early period of the last century, nationalism was regarded as the root cause of war, but this was an oversimplification, since many, especially Marxists, would argue that capitalism, which led to colonialism, was equally if not mainly responsible.
  • In Europe, it became ethnic-oriented and increasingly illiberal, with an exception being Giuseppe Mazzini’s nationalist activism.

The early decades

  • Before Indian independence, nationalism was regarded with suspicion; Rabindranath Tagore had considered it a malign ideology, making a subtle distinction between the Nation of the West, which he critiqued as a mechanical and soulless, and the Spirit of the West representing Enlightenment values of internationalism and universalism.
  • There were alternative strands of thinking; Vinayak Damodar Savarkar contrasted his espousal of Hindutva nationalism with Buddha’s universalism, the latter’s non-violence being regarded by him as weakening Indian patriotism, since “Buddhism had its centre of gravity nowhere”.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru saw merit in nationalism as the focus of the Independence movement.
  • In 1950, he asserted that “the strongest urge in Asia …is the anti-colonial urge and the positive side of it is nationalism”, and in 1953, “nationalism has been and is a very good thing. It has been a great liberating force in certain stages of a country’s history”.
  • Yet, he feared that extreme nationalism among colonised peoples could degenerate into fascism and expansionism.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party’s dogma harks back to the thinking of Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar, representing Indian cultural nationalism and attempting an impossible balance between the projection of hard power and promotion of peace.
  • Nationalism may take various forms but essentially, it is about collective identity, whereas liberalism implies the defence of individual freedom and self-determination, the state’s role being to protect the private sphere.
  • In practice, liberalism has advantages and disadvantages; it can underpin universal rights and Adam Smith’s natural laws of economics, but its appeal is mainly to the professional educated class, and lacks nationalism’s emotional appeal.

Asian democracy

  • Asian politics are politically conservative when the economy is booming, shown by lengthy autocratic governments in China, Singapore and Vietnam, whereas the Asian financial crisis of 1997 led to a democratic impulse in Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, and intermittently in Thailand.
  • Democracy in Asia is not shaped by the liberalism of the West; the centrality of civil and political rights is less dogmatic and a degree of state intervention considered acceptable when it comes to individual autonomy.
  • The liberal tradition contributes the ideas underlying the post-Second World War international system, embracing democracy, free trade, international law, multilateralism, environmental protection and human rights.
  • Problems arise when such ideas become a doctrine for nation-building irrespective of context, with western intervention in the developing world and its consequences of turmoil and Islamist extremism and terror. The current example of Afghanistan is a case in point.

Power hierarchy

  • Liberalism is now attacked in the West by both the far-right populism illustrated by former U.S. President Donald Trump, and the left represented by such as Senator Bernie Sanders who regard the global situation as the neo-liberal preserve of the rich and powerful.
  • Despite American diplomatic rhetoric, there never has been a community of mutually supportive liberal democracies.
  • International relations are conducted at the axial point of an egalitarian order of law and a hierarchical order of power: The United Nations represents this tension in the differing principles on which the Security Council and General Assembly are based.
  • This is why the reform of the UN to include India, Japan, Germany and a few others as permanent members of the Security Council proves so difficult to achieve.

In a future Asia

  • Both India and China were at the receiving end of western imperialism and emerged as supporters of principles of international society reflected in the Panchsheel, namely sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference.
  • This implies rejection of western efforts to qualify sovereignty by making it dependent on human rights protection.
  • The Non-Aligned Movement and Afro-Asianism were efforts to project a soft power model, but soon China, India and Pakistan joined the nuclear weapons club of hard power.
  • The two leading Asian nations, India and China, used the present world system to fashion their rise while protesting against the control of the United Nations and world financial institutions but have not formulated any alternative based on Asian nationalism.
  • Their current rivalry makes such a desirable outcome a remote prospect.


India must commit to net zero emissions

Why in News

  • India is at the risk of being cast globally as an outlier on climate action, with a negative fallout.
  • With over 50% of the global economy already committed to net zero emissions by 2050 — and China committing to be so before 2060 — this is not where you want to be.
  • The pace and scale of climate action is only set to increase, with the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report unequivocal on the need for urgent and stronger responses.
  • Events around the world underline the point — towns washed away in Germany, subways turned into storm water drains in China, forests fried in the United States and so many more lives lost to flooding in India.

Massive opportunities

  • It is not only governments that are increasing climate action. The business world is too, not just to protect themselves against the risks of climate change but also to take advantage of the massive opportunities arising as the global economy shifts to net zero emissions.
  • Last year, investors injected over $500 billion into climate transition. In Australia, the number of major companies that have put in place a target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 has more than trebled in the past year.
  • The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November in Glasgow is shaping up to be the most important climate meeting since the Paris Agreement in 2015.
  • It is squarely focused on supercharging global ambition and action on climate change, as all countries, including India, agreed to do in the historic Paris Agreement.
  • Over 100 countries have already committed to net zero emissions by 2050, with more expected at COP26.
  • Two key holdouts are India and Australia. In case of Australia, under mounting pressure at home and internationally, the government is moving toward such an announcement.
  • But India may shoot itself in the foot by resisting net zero by 2050.
  • First, India itself has a national interest in ambitious global and national climate action. Like Australia, it is among the most vulnerable countries to climate change and, therefore, should be among the more active against the threats.
  • India faces harmful impacts related to sea level rise, heat stress, drought, water stress and flooding, biodiversity and natural disasters.
  • Second, as a rising power, India naturally seeks stronger influence globally.
  • India is already the third largest emitter in the world, and is set to be the largest as the United States, China, and the European Union are all now signed up to net zero.
  • This will become a significant drag on India’s international diplomacy.
  • This applies not just to key relationships like with the U.S., where President Joe Biden’s administration is mainstreaming climate action into its economic, foreign and security policy, but also with much of the Group of 77 (G77) states, who are increasingly concerned to see climate action, and in multilateral groupings such as the United Nations and ASEAN-APEC.

No longer a trade-off

  • Finally, as the famous phrase goes, “it’s the economy, stupid”. There is no longer a trade-off between reducing emissions and economic growth.
  • Solar energy costs have fallen 90% in recent years, providing the cheapest electricity in India ever seen.
  • Also, given the negative impacts, addressing climate change in India’s economic development is now central to success, not an added luxury to consider.
  • For example, agricultural policy that does not consider adaptive approaches to maximise productivity in the face of increased flooding and drought due to climate change is derelict.
  • The transition of the global economy to net zero emissions is the biggest commercial opportunity in history.
  • In just the energy sector alone, an estimated $1.6 to $3.8 trillion of investment is required every year until 2050.
  • China gets this, which is why it is investing heavily in gaining an advantage in the technologies of the new economy, be it renewable energy and storage, electric and hydrogen transport, low emissions industry, green cities or sustainable agriculture.
  • It is not as if India is at a standing start. It is set to significantly exceed its Paris Agreement commitment of reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33-35% below 2005 levels by 2030, providing ready room for higher ambition.
  • India is impressing the world with its leading roll-out of renewable energy and target for 450GW by 2030, linked to its leadership on the International Solar Alliance and recent national hydrogen strategy.
  • India’s national interests on climate action are now engaged in ways that go significantly beyond waiting for donor support to drive ambition, notwithstanding reasonable arguments about historical responsibility, per capita emissions and equity.
  • With growing wealth and stature, India is increasingly disinclined toward handouts. But that does not mean well-targeted donor investments and international partnerships should not be a factor in raising India’s climate ambition.
  • This could come in many guises, from stronger political engagement and dialogue to policy support in areas of mutual challenge such as energy policy, carbon markets and post-COVID green economic recovery.
  • Practical support and cooperation in areas like rolling out renewable energy and integrating it with the national grid, zero emissions transport, decarbonising hard to abate sectors like steel, cement and chemicals and decarbonising agriculture offer significant scope to raise ambition.
  • As does working with India on innovative green financing for decarbonising investments, including using donor support to mobilise private sector finance, green bonds and climate transition funds. Whichever it is, they need to be lasting partnerships that deliver results.


  • Yet, in the end, India’s tryst with destiny rests in its own remarkable hands, as it always has been.
  • In a land where the earth is called mother, and Mahatma Gandhi, major religions and the Constitution enshrine environmental care, commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 should almost be foretold. The world hopes we will see it soon.


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