Russia's Strategic Alliance With BRICS Partner India At Risk

Russia's leadership position in Indian markets appears to be at risk after several high-profile military bids were rejected, and a joint nuclear power plant delayed by local protesters.

Singh and Medvedev at a recent gathering of BRICS leaders
Singh and Medvedev at a recent gathering of BRICS leaders
Sergei Tamilin

MOSCOW - Ahead of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's planned December visit to Russia, the "privileged strategic partnership" between the two countries has been running into major problems.

The construction of a nuclear power plant in which Russia is involved is threatened by protests, Moscow lost a recent bid to provide the Indian Air Force with high-tech helicopters, and a joint project for multi-function military transport planes appears to be stalled. Experts think that these are not unrelated events, but the result of persistent factors that will make it more and more difficult for Russia to maintain its leadership in the Indian market.

The situation at the construction site in the southern Indian state of Tamiland became critical at the end of last week. Several hundred locals went on a hunger strike to protest the planned opening of the first reactor in December, and blocked off the entrances to the plant, effectively putting it under siege. The protesters were able to paralyze work on two reactors simultaneously (the first reactor, which is scheduled to be brought on-line in December, is 99% finished, while the second reactor is 93% completed, and expected to begin operations in August 2012).

In the past several days, several thousand seasonal construction workers have abandoned the plant. The protesters have used whatever means possible to encourage these workers to leave, including breaking rental agreements with the seasonal workers. Indian media reported that after the Indian workers left, Russian specialists followed them out the door, but that does not jibe with an announcement made by the power station's director, who said that every one of their Russian specialists continues to work on site.

The agreement to build the atomic power station with Russia was signed in 1998 by the then Russian Atomic Energy Minister Evgeny Adamov and the head of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission R. Chidambaram. Since then, Russian representatives have not once spoken about the uniqueness of the project, nor about its safety. As the press agency of the Atomic Energy Department explained, however, the project in Tamiland has third-generation reactors, which meet all modern safety requirements.

However, the activists protesting against the power plant, who seem to be taking their cues from larger global movements against nuclear energy, insist that after the nuclear accident at the Japanese plant in Fukushima, a similar disaster could happen in India. One of their arguments is that the planned power plant is located on the coast and could, like Fukushima, be vulnerable to tsunamis. The protesters don't believe Russian assurances about the safety of the plant.

The crisis surrounding the plant has put the Indian government in a difficult position in the run up to Prime Minister Singh's official visit to Moscow, and his discussions with Russian President Dimitri Medvedev. Up until recently, the power plant was a symbol of the "privileged strategic partnership" between the two countries, which Medvedev announced last year during an official visit to Delhi.

Nuclear lobby rep?

In an attempt to calm the protesters, Singh appointed a government commission of 15 experts to study the technological conditions at the station. In addition, former Indian President Abdul Kalam will visit the site with other experts to act as a mediator between the government and the protesters. But the activists have already rejected his services. "Kalam is another representative of the nuclear lobby, and he will not be able to convince us," said an announcement from the people's movement against atomic energy.

The scandal surrounding the power plant coincides with yet another failure for Moscow's military technology partnership with India. Earlier this week, Indian authorities announced that Moscow had lost a bid to sell India military helicopters, preferring US-built Apaches.

This is the second failed Russian bid of the year. Last April, Russia lost a bid to sell India multipurpose military planes, which the Indians decided to buy from France instead.

A source close to the Indian Defense Ministry said there were more than 20 reasons the Russian helicopters were refused, and that the Russian bid had no chance of winning.

"One of the reasons for Russian's loss was India's desire to diversify its weapons' sources and not to be dependent on Russia for 80% of its arms, as was the case in previous decades," explained Nandan Unnikrishnan, vice-president of the Indian research center Observer Research Foundation. "In addition, the decision-making process looks like this: The Indian Air Force announces specific parameters that are needed by the leadership to make a decision. The Indian government can't ignore those demands to facilitate the development of a strategic political relationship."

There are also the difficulties encountered by yet another dual project - to build multi-feature military transport planes. According to a source at the Indian Defense Ministry, Delhi was not satisfied with Moscow's proposed business plan because it did not include Indian engineers and researchers, as had been expected.

According to experts, the problems that Moscow has run into with Delhi mark a new tendency in the two countries' relations. "In spite of the declaration of ‘privileged strategic partnerships', going forward things are not that simple, " said Nandan Unnikrishnan. "To keep its leadership position in India's markets, Moscow is going to have to show more flexibility and innovation."

Read the original article in Russian

Photo - dilmarousseff

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.
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