Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Ethnic Politics of Canada's Asia-Pacific Relations

 For a long time, I have criticized leaders for their efforts to develop better economic relations with China.  I always found China to be, at best, the Tony Soprano of international economic relations.  That is, if things are going well, China would be getting a large cut just for the privilege of operating.  That it made more sense to try to work with another billion person market that might be more compatible.  However, recent events have made it clear that this is not likely to work out so well, and it comes down to ethnic politics in India and how that interacts with Canada.  

This tweet captures some of the complexity but not all of it:

For Canada, it is not just that Modi's Hindu nationalist party is making India less democratic, which is very important and problematic, but that Modi and his party are not just exalting how wonderful it is to be Hindu.  This nationalism is aimed at a series of others--mostly Muslims in India (which is why Modi and Trump could get along so well--not just populism but shared Islamophobia) but also Sikhs.  So, when Trudeau goes to India with prominent Sikhs traveling with him or when he meets with Sikhs in India, it annoys the Hindu nationalists and gives Modi and his pals opportunities to demonstrate their sincerity about being Hindu nationalists.  Attacking Canada will be seen as a good thing since Canada is viewed as being Sikh-friendly.  After all, one of the most prominent members of Trudeau's cabinet is a Sikh--Minister of Defence Sajjan.  A core logic of ethnic politics is that the friend of my enemy is my enemy.

 To be clear, I am not asking for Trudeau or for any Canadian government to exclude Sikhs so as not to offend the Hindu nationalists of India.  Far from it, even as I am critical about Sajjan's handling the abuse of power within the Canadian Armed Forces.  Instead, I am just saying that we should not be naive or overly optimistic about Canadian relations with India at a time where India is run by a party that aims to exclude religious minorities at the expense of its democracy.  

There has been a lot of discussion of the Indo-Pacific, which has partly (mostly?) been an effort to get India to join the US and its allies to balance against China.  The good news is that India is going to do that anyway--because China poses a significant threat to India and their relationship has gotten more tense over the past year or two.  The bad news is that India is going to be a shaky partner in anything else because it is increasingly autocratic, increasingly focused on symbolic politics, and much less focused on the common good either in India or beyond.  

So, don't bet the farm on good relations with India.  There will be room for cooperation, but it will be highly circumscribed.  And, yes, embracing India will have the same kind of moral compromises as working with China, just at a slightly less intense level.


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