A club of 10 democracies is being proposed to combat China’s telecommunications might. India’s inclusion, however, has raised eyebrows.
The British media outlet The Times has reported that the British government has approached the US with a proposal to create a grouping of 10 democracies which also includes India, in a bid to counter China’s telecommunications prowess.
Described as the “voice of the official class,” The Times is well known for its close links with the state and the report is likely to be credible.
The so-called grouping would see the UK, US, Italy, Germany, France, Japan and Canada – plus Australia, South Korea and India coalesce to create an alternative supply network for 5G equipment.
India’s inclusion in the grouping of 10 democracies comes as the country has seen “democratic backsliding” under the rule of Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi.
The country's potential involvement has also occurred against a backdrop of increasing tensions between Beijing and New Delhi.
“Western countries want to use India as a tool against China,” said Khurram Parvez, a Kashmiri human rights activist.
“Rather than making [the] Indian leadership accountable for its failures against their own people on economic and political issues, western countries are pushing India to work for their agendas,” said Parvez speaking to TRT World.
India has been described as the world largest democracy, however, in recent years a raft of new laws has made life difficult for minorities.
Recently, legislation that would ostensibly fast track citizenship for individuals from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan resulted in protests with human rights groups campaigning against it. The law only applied to non-Muslims, putting the citizenship status of at last 200 million Indian Muslims at risk.
The Citizenship Amendment Act, as it’s called, has even seen the UN challenging the law for its discriminatory components.
The US has moved aggressively against Huawei, one of China’s leading telecommunication companies, by placing sanctions against the firm and lobbying aggressively against other countries using its equipment.
The US war against Huawei is part of a broader push under the Donald Trump administration to contain China. Many senior advisers in Washington view China as a threat to US power around the world.
UK proposals to create the new grouping come amidst a backdrop of increasing tensions between the world's largest and second-largest economy.
“We need new entrants to the market. That was the reason we ended up having to go along with Huawei at the time," said a British government source speaking to The Times.
The UK government has labelled Huawei a “high risk” vendor, however, it has been unable to find firms that compete with cost and quality.
India’s inclusion in the grouping is, therefore, a recognition of the country’s technological edge in the telecommunications industry. Over the last three decades, India has carved out a role of being an innovator in information and technology software and hardware business.
While many western countries outsourced their capabilities to China, India developed a robust local industry.
Dr Farhan Chak, however, is wary about India’s acceptance in the 5G club of countries.
“I believe it may be interpreted as whitewashing the crimes of the Hindutva government not only against minorities in India but in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir,” said Chak who is also an associate professor of political science at Qatar University.
“The China and India border regions are extremely tense, and this must be seen through the prism of escalating US-Chinese tensions. This may be another tactic to put pressure on China,” added Chak speaking to TRT World.
Dr Chak who is also the secretary-general of Kashmir Civitas, an international civil society group with a focus on Kashmir, is worried that international democratic accountability could be overlooked if India becomes a central component in the grouping.
The attempt to create a team of like-minded democracies to confront China may stumble, undermining the larger aim of the 5G grouping.
“I would like to add that by no stretch of the imagination is India a democracy today. Not with the lynchings, raping of nuns, and discriminatory policies against minorities. And, its attempts at demographic changes in the disputed territory of Kashmir verify this,” Chak said.
In recent years India's normally robust and boisterous press has been muzzled by Modi in what has been described as a clamping down of dissent.
Late last year Modi's government also revoked Indian-administered Kashmir’s special status, a move with far-reaching consequences in the disputed territory.
In a bid to stop protests in the Muslim majority region, Modi’s government has blocked internet communications and stopped outside observers from entering the region while also placing much of the population under a lockdown.
Nokia and Ericsson are the only European firms that can supply the necessary 5G infrastructure, however, they have struggled to compete with Chinese firms in cost and innovation.
As of May, the Trump administration threatened to inflict another blow to Huawei by barring American companies from selling chips and software to the company.
With the US and China creating the vast majority of the world's digital wealth, countries around the world will be pulled into choosing which networks to use in what some are calling a “digital cold war.”
Analysts are warning that if the trade war between the countries escalates and pulls in other countries, ultimately both sides may end up on the losing end.